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Friday, July 16, 2010

So Proud

Before class, all the kids are sitting around with their computers, enjoying some "free time" before we start. It's a computer programmer's dream. The schoolyard is quiet and the teachers and students are all sitting around, on benches, on the floor, under trees, using their laptops.

I buy five lollipops from the man selling them across the street. I approach the first group of kids with laptops I see. "Are you guys on the Internet?" I ask.

"Yes, Professora." They say. I tell them that we're going to have a contest to see who can find out what the capital of the United States is. The first person to guess wins a prize.

I find a group of boys inside the classroom and tell them to look up the national languages of Belgium.

And to some girls on benches, I tell them to find out the population of Portugal. As I explain their question, one of the boys runs up to me. "Washington!!!!" He is yelling. "WASHINGTON!!!!"

That's right. The kids are learning how to Google (or maybe not Google, but some sort of internet searching). Ten minutes later, the girls all squeal, "ten million, three hundred fifty five thousand, eight hundred twenty four!"

I pass out my lollipops to the winners. Can't believe six months ago some of these kids had never touched a computer in their lives. And now they're conducting research.

Lesson 7 goes great today. The kids are picking up the material as fast as ever. There were fewer kids in class than normal- maybe 30-40 kids total- and five teachers. We all stayed in one classroom.

I was sorting through all the computers that weren't being used, doing some triage- figuring out which ones had bad keyboards, which had bad screens, etc. We definitely have a few damages but most of the screens are still usable so it's only the keyboards that need replacing, of which there are probably five or six. So anyway, I look up in the middle of class, and I see this vision that just makes me smile.

Professora Arlete is standing in front of class. Her voice is strong and powerful. She's giving students instructions on how to set up the slider, the maximum and minimum values. Then there's Professor Nélys, he's writing on the chalkboard behind Arlete, describing perfectly the process that she is verbalizing. Professora Mirian and Professora Adelina are sitting with the students, checking in to make sure they understand. Every once in a while Professora Mirian lifts her eyes and watches Professora Arlete teach. And Professor Miguel is out of the classroom. I actually don't know where he is, but you can't have everything go perfectly.

Anyway, I think to myself, my GOD I am so lucky. These teachers are not only amazing at what they do, but they're a team. They're working together. It's as if these five teachers have been teaching computer class all their lives!

In many ways, this has been a slow and grueling process. It took a whole year to get these teachers comfortable with their computers and with this program. But then, it's amazing took only one year for these teachers to be so good at what they're doing! The kids are using their sliders to make their objects go up and down. They're asking questions and having problems and the teachers are helping them. The teachers are coming to me less, asking me fewer questions. They're figuring things out on their own. And the best part is, they're confident. I'm loving Etoys because it's giving these teachers some real material. It's harder, sure, and I'm sure they're feeling really tired sometimes from all this work, but I know we would all agree that it's going incredibly well.

And the harder they work, the more they are dedicated to this program. Professor Nèlys came with me to the Ministry of Education today (unfortunately they rescheduled us again for Monday morning, but what can you do). Professora Mirian keeps asking for updates about the cabinet that my friend Faia is making for us (I just finished the design and brought a computer home so he can take some measurements. We're hoping he'll be able to finish it before I leave). And Professora Arlete is just killing it on the lessons. She's driving me crazy with excitement. And she's taking my advice to heart- she's saying things like, "make a design, any design! It can be a flower, it can be a star, it can be a tree- whatever you want!" when before she would say "everyone make a house, now!" OK, so it's not the exact opposite of rote learning, but if only you could have seen her last year, not understanding anything, getting so frustrated, not sure if she was all for this computer thing. If only you could see her now.

And now she's standing up in front of the class and so confidently explaining how to make something move with the slider, and I just couldn't be more thrilled!!!

As you can see, things are going well. They're not perfect- we haven't done any lesson planning for next year, I feel so lame for spending money fixing power strips that in the end are just breaking really easily all over again, and I really wish we had enough computers for everyone and I wasn't leaving so early in the financing process. But for what we have going, I am confident that we'll be able to get through another successful year of laptop use.

Things are slower here. It's taken a full three weeks (15 days) to cover 10 days of lessons. In between lessons we've been doing a lot of logistical work, fixing things, discussing other things. In the end, the extra time has been beneficial to us. It has helped the teachers to let things sink in better. And they are already amazing teachers-- that I did not have to teach them. They just had to learn how to use their already-existing talents in this program.

Sent a financing request to the US Embassy for us to have a summer program again next year. Cross your fingers that it works out, though we probably won't know until the end of this year so we have some time to keep them fingers crossed.

1 comment:


Please click the button below to donate to STEP UP OLPC to support the São João school's computer program in São Tomé:

Donate $200 and you will be paying for a computer for at least FIVE very special children at São João (as estimated computer life is five years). Thanks so much!

Want your donation to be tax-deductible? Send a check to STeP UP with OLPC in the memo. Then mail it to:

Eric McClafferty
Kelley and Drye
3050 S St. NW, #400
Washington, DC 20007