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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Facebook | Your Photos - Student pics for OLPC fundraising

Facebook | Your Photos - Student pics for OLPC fundraising

These are pictures that my 6th grade students took with my camera when I let them run around with it (plus about three pictures that I took myself) after a little digital remastering. I was thinking I could sell prints of them in the States to fundraise for the computer program we have going on here. If you have a locale where you think I could sell the prints, please let me know!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Class Notes, November 28th

November 28th, 2009

Class today was good! I spent the entire time in the teachers' office fixing computers so I didn't get to see much of it myself. Students are losing their ability to access the internet and I'm not quite sure why. I think it is a hardware problem- the computer is simply not sensing the mesh network or the wifi access- and it is frustrating me because it makes me wonder if the kids shouldn't be taking the computers home. Either that or they need to learn even better the importance of caring for these computers.

Yet one student with a broken network seems to care for his. He keeps his in a box. He must care for it, right?

The teachers and I met yesterday to discuss what we would do in class. The newspaper idea took a bit to pick up on last week (it took the teachers a bit- the students were fine- but regardless, I figured they should teach as they are comfortable, otherwise no learning will happen). Two teachers were at a funeral so the other two teachers took over the class at first. All 100 students were there (we are now taking attendance- of both students AND teachers so that we know who deserves the computers they have, otherwise we've threatened to take them away. Also making sure teachers come so they are appropriately paid) and they all sat in a very sweaty classroom as the two male teachers took over class. They picked one topic as a class- malaria- and discussed it length. Then the students interviewed each other, walked around the courtyard taking pictures, and wrote articles about malaria.

I saw the finished result- a collection of articles with pictures of students laying around the courtyard, “sick” with malaria. Other students snuggled up against one another on benches, promoting the use of mosquito netting for mothers and babies. Ned tells me that the malaria campaign has really worked well here in São Tomé, so the articles were very appropriate for the students- something they were really familiar with and knew a lot about. I'm glad that these students were able to do something that worked for them. And the teachers seemed very pleased.

As much as I love interacting with the students, with this being the first of our final three classes, we talked at the teacher meeting yesterday about how the teachers need to be able to be self-sufficient with this program after I leave. I'm hoping to return in the summer to erase the computers for a new group of students and to check in with the program- and maybe even run classes over vacation. The teachers like the idea of a summer program. Students can come to class everyday and use their computers. Yet the teachers can't be paid by the Ministry of Education over the summer so we need to find another way around that. But until then, there are quite a few months of time and the teachers need to be able to continue running class so that these students can explore and grow. Some teachers seemed nervous. I assured them that by this point, students will know how to use their computers. It's just about expanding what they already know and using them in fun projects. As long as the teachers and students are both having fun, that's the most important part!

While I was working on the computers, one of the students came into the office during the class and started to play “SMS” really loudly- a song that is on the radio here in São Tomé. I had no idea how he had gotten that music onto his computer, and I asked him. He explained. For him it was easy. He put his computer up to his radio, turned on the “audio record” program, and bam. Then he saved the song so that he can listen to it whenever he wants. And now this kid walks around class with “SMS” at an incredible volume. I am thrilled. He has already discovered something beyond what I have thought of. The things these kids can and will do with these computers makes me thrilled. I thought maybe someday they can make their own little music videos as a project. It could be fun.

Kadma, the girl whose computer screen was broken last week, was hoping for a new computer this week. She walked into my office with her eyes on a stack of cookie boxes. “Are those computers??” she asked hopefully. I had to tell her no. It broke my heart. I watched her walk around the courtyard, empty handed. I encouraged her to go into class and share with someone else, but somehow she kept slipping out. I asked her if she wanted to sit next to me while I worked on the computers, and she said yes. I took out a globe and asked her to find São Tomé. She couldn't. I asked her to find Africa. She couldn't. I taught her both. Then when another student walked in, she showed him herself where it was.

I also let Kadma take my camera and take pictures around the class of the students with their computers. I think she had a good time being the photojournalist for the day. The kids were finally jealous of HER for once, and that made me feel good. We have to get more computers for these kids though.

The Blessing and Curse of Light

Check out "The Blessing and Curse of Light", a post I made to Go Girl Magazine about the computer program here and its current challenges.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Class Notes, November 21

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Class today was complicated, but this is only a function of the complexity of the material that we are getting into. We had energy until about 10:30am, so roughly the first half of our class period. However, we had forgotten to take the power strips out of the Director's locked office, so even though we had energy, the majority of the students were unable to use it.

For the most part though, students had appropriately charged their computers before coming to class, so they were ready for a lesson.

Kadma, one of the students, came to class today with her mother and baby sister. Apparently Kadma was struck by another student (one not involved with the program) and her computer was hit. The screen suffered permanent damage and no longer functions. This was the second incident in two weeks of a broken or lost computer. We agreed to find the student who did this and to make him receive consequences for what he did. It is very unfortunate because Kadma is a lovely student who has always been wonderful in class. Yet we don't have a single computer that we can give her, or a part that we can replace. We have absolutely nothing to offer. She can only share with another student now. Her computer is broken forever- her opportunity taken away.

We are worried about losing our computers forever, but we are in a conflicting situation. If we stop letting the students take the computers home and leave them in the Director's office, they will be much safer. However, they will also never be used. Right now, the students are taking these computers home and using them regularly. Their knowledge expands every time they go home with these computers. For now, the information teacher, Miguel, and I agree that a few broken computers is worth the wealth of learning that these students are receiving- that wouldn't be received in the director's office. But we are wondering how far the limit will take us until it is safer to leave them at school.

Another idea is to put them in a sort of laboratory environment- an empty classroom where the students can access their computers during all hours of the school day. However, it still significantly decreases the amount of personal computer time. Also, this “empty classroom” we speak of currently does not exist- and we're not sure how we would get one.

Right now, having only recently discovered that OLPC is not going to be giving us computers every year, we are trying to see if we can get some sort of corporate sponsorship, grant, or other form of funding for new computers each year. We would really only need to buy new computers every two years are so (to recycle them through the fifth and sixth grades), which would be $20,000 every two years (or say $10,000 per year). Not sure how we can get this funding, but doing what we can. It's really a small amount of money for the effect it would make.

Today two teachers come, as well as myself and my friend Kilson, who is São-Tomean and interested in lending a hand. We break into three groups, one teacher in each group and Kilson with my group. We do presentations of the homework that the students had last week, and the students do a great job presenting their parents, neighbors, baby sisters, and other people. They successfully wrote an article and inserted a picture and I am very proud of them for that.

After this, we explained the next project. Each class will make their own “São João School Newspaper”. The classes broke into groups of four. My class consisted of five of these groups of four (including one group of five). We brainstormed different topics of discussion and each group selected a topic. The idea will be to write about this topic in groups of four, using the “record” activity to record video interviews, using the “write” activity to write up the article, and using the “share” function to allow all members of each group to participate. Next week we will have trouble organizing the students again, as we were missing between 10 and 20 students today (and three teachers- and I have no idea why they didn't come to class!). But that's something we'll have to deal with tomorrow.

The students are also quite actively erasing their programs. I'm going to work on getting those programs back over the upcoming week, but we have already explained what not to do in terms of erasing programs. I suppose it will just be handled one student at a time, until they are more able with their computers.

We practiced going on the “browser” activity and connecting to the internet. We put in a website address and hit enter (this took some time itself, because the students had to learn the “erase” button and enter and how to put in colons and slashes). I don't know if the wireless was working, though, because the computers weren't connecting to it. Then the internet turned off. However, students are crazy about internet. They are dying to get on it. The day that it works will be a wonderful day for them.

They also love music. They have successfully found the music library on their computers and play from this library regularly. Often when I am talking I tell them that they have to turn their music off, because at least two people are playing music. The students want to be able to put their own music on their computer, though I'm not sure this is possible. What they CAN do, though, is create their own music using TamTam...and that will have to be another project for another day.

The classes move slowly and the weeks are going by quickly. It's frustrating how little time we have left- only three Saturdays. Three class periods. Maybe we should look into adding another class period per week?? I wonder if I should stay. But with Christmas, even the kids will be on vacation, right? Doesn't it make sense to go back home and see what I can do from there? I just wish the flights didn't cost $2,000. If they cost less, this would be a much easier decision.

Two good things: The teachers have found ways to be paid. They can add the extra hours outside of class to their time sheets and be paid by the Ministry of Education. Ned from STeP UP has also helped me to find a grant program from the American Embassy in Gabon. It is possible that they will be able to fund our great need for a generator, as well as gas and parts. This would be absolutely incredible, if possible.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Class Notes, November 14

Summary of class, November 14th

Students arrive for class by 8am. Class lasts from 9am-12pm. Students have been directed to charge their computers at the school before going home Friday night. This way they will be able to have energy, regardless as to if there is energy at the school. Some students have used their computers the night before so they have no energy. They must wait for it to turn on (it ends up coming on at around 10:45 or 11am).

The other students are anxious for class. I arrive at about 9am. A few of the teachers are late, but all in all there are six of us (some leave earlier and later, but for the most part there are at least three or four of us there at a time). The teachers seem uncertain as to what to do. I have asked them to be in charge of teaching the class, but I see that they are a little bit lost, so I decide to take it over myself.

First, we find out that students have been deleting programs off their computers by accident. This is a problem, and one that we tackle right away. The first thing we explain to do is how to delete a program- to show what kids should NOT do! That way we can stop the deleting.

As for the other simple things, the kids are pretty fluent in the computers already. They know how to take pictures. They've used the “escrever” application. Many kids know how to chat and network with each other already. It's hard to keep a class of 70+ 11 year olds focused, but the general plan is to explain something and then go around and help everyone.

After explaining what not to do, I get them to open the “escrever” application. I give them an assignment. Their assignment is to pick a partner and to interview them. They are to write the interview in the “escrever” application, then take a picture and put the picture in with the interview. Together we work to think of good questions to ask each other- name, where you live, what your favorite subject is in school, why, who you live with, what your favorite color is, etc.

The class is three hours but we don't cover much. It's hard to do that with a class so big. Some students take forever to type- it is imperative that we give those students as much time as possible to pick up something that may be quite foreign to them. We explain how to insert accents, and how to rename your file so you can find it more easily in the Journal application. Some students even change the color of their text. Most students are not sure how to add a photograph, but we also explain that and for the most part everything goes smoothly. We try to work off the idea of delegation- once a student understands a program, we ask them to go around and help other students.

When the students get unruly, I clap my hands in rhythm and get them to follow suit. It sort of works. Sometimes they just start clapping in rhythm not listening to the fact that my rhythm is changing. We'll get there.

After the kids finish up the interviews, we break into five groups with five teachers- each leading one group. Then we go into different classrooms where the kids present their partners. They are ashamed to do so, and many kids do not listen. I think presenting is new to them. But it's another good learning experience.

After this, we teachers give them a homework assignment. They must interview someone at home- a parent, a relative, a neighbor- and do the same thing as they did in class. We brainstormed questions to ask, such as “what is your favorite food to cook?” and “what is your favorite thing about São Tomé and why?” Then we instructed the kids to write these questions on either their laptop or in a notebook, to go home, conduct interviews, write up full-sentence summaries of what happened, and take a picture and include it in the article.

Miguel's group is going to be graded on their assignment, which is great!

Now to think of what to do in class on Saturday. I want to keep them involved in different projects so that they can broaden their learning each week. I think this Saturday they should share their interviews- little presentations again. Then...I'm not sure. Maybe starting the idea of a newspaper. Maybe using the video application. Maybe we could introduce the newspaper project, and have kids break up into groups of four to write articles. They can brainstorm what they want their articles to be about. We can teach them how to link up together on a network so that they can all brainstorm using their computers. We can require that they interview at least one person for their articles. Then they can present as groups to the class what their article is going to be about. Then their homework can be to actually do these interviews and work on the articles. They can write them in class the next Saturday if not before. That could work.

The idea is to get them exposed to as much as possible. After the little newspaper assignment, maybe teaching them how to use the internet and get online would be a good idea. Or maybe we should do this before. I'm not sure.

The children are horribly excited about their computers. They love the fact that they can take them home. There has only been one case of theft so far- and the parent is looking fiercely for it, because they know there are no replacements. And apparently there won't BE any replacements either, meaning that we'll have to pass the computers down year after year.

But the kids are excited. There was even one kid at school today that told me she had a computer and couldn't find it. I asked her what her number was and she said #72. We looked around for it. Then another teacher came by and was like, “what?? You're not in this class! Go home!” The kids are so anxious to learn that they are lying about being in the class. They are dying to use these computers. I watch the kids use these machines and I see their brains work. They have had these computers for a week and are already so empowered. Taking them back at the end of the year will be the saddest thing...and then that begs the question if it was ever worth it to begin with.

But no matter. The teachers are also very excited about what the program has brought along so far. Miguel tells me that if the whole school can one day get their hands on these computers, by God, what a difference it would make for the school. I agree. It would make a world of a difference.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Class Notes, October 23 - November 7

Arrival in São Tomé: 23 October, 2009

October 23-30- Learned Sugar platform and general XO use, collaborated with teachers, especially computer teacher Miguel da Boa Esperança, and director, José António, of São João school about how we would organize the program.

7 November, 2009- Letter to Paul:

My name is Beth Santos and I am a volunteer with STeP UP (São Tomé and Príncipe União para a Promoção), an NGO based in the city of São Tomé, STP. Though I'm doing a few different things here, my primary role is to help ease the kids at the Sao Joao school into using their XO laptops on a regular basis. Therefore, I took a little do-it-yourself crash course on how to use the XOs, taught the teachers
almost everything I know, and have been developing a program Saturday mornings where the kids can use the computers.

The school has been pretty adamant about not letting the students take the computers home. They are afraid that, for one reason or another, the students will never return them (be it they break them, lose them, the computers are stolen, etc). Finally, after a very long and frustrating non-class today (due to lack of access to the office where the computers were being held, then, finally when we got in, the
electricity went out), I convinced the teachers to let the students take the computers home over the weekend, provided they return them on Monday. At least now they'll be able to have a little at-home time with them. I know that you are planning to return to Sao Tome sometime at the beginning of next year. By that point I'm hoping the students will be well accustomed to taking the computers home regularly. But for now, I thought I'd keep you posted with what's currently happening and the difficulty we're having getting the teachers to bend to OLPC's endeavors!

Currently, we have a computer class arranged every Saturday morning, as mentioned. The teachers feel they should be paid for their attendance and teaching (something I'm working with the director about). This is also something that might need to be addressed when you make your way over. I'm trying to explain to the teachers that the computers should be used as tools, and not as things to be learned and
then subsequently forgotten. Some teachers want to give classes to students and then pass the computers onto other students. I'm trying to explain that learning how to use the computers is only the first part- that actually using the computers in the classroom is most important.

Anyway, "petty" things that will hopefully be resolved by the time you make your way here. I'm also helping OLPC to translate the instruction manual into Portuguese, so that by the time I leave in mid-December, hopefully the teachers will be able to help themselves if they have questions.

Things that I need your help with:

-There are a few new students in the class and they don't have computers. Are we expecting to get a new shipment sometime soon for the students that don't have any?

-I'm curious about the long-term goals of the program. Are you expecting the kids to keep the computers just this year, and then afterward pass them onto other kids? The reason I ask this is because
the computers have been given to 6th grade students. In 7th grade, they move to high school- a completely different school, where OLPC hasn't made an appearance. So either we teach the high school teachers how to use the OLPCs, we return them to the incoming 6th grade class, or (what I suggest) we wait out the year, give them to the 5th grade class next year, allow them to keep the computers over two years, and then continue the cycle again after they go to high school. But I was
curious as to what OLPC expects to do with new students coming in every year.

-Right now energy is a big issue. I'm thinking of raising a little money so that we can buy a generator, but that is only a short-term goal. Ned wants to know what you think about using a pedaling mechanism to create crank energy that we can hook up to a battery and power the laptops with (I think he said he explained this to you already?). The example he showed me was a really slick design that has been used in OLPC Afghanistan.

Paul's response, 16 November 2009:

Hi Beth,

Good to hear from you.  James told me that you had arrived and was working with Sao Joao school with the OX laptops.  I really appreciate your assistance. Let me see if I can answer your questions and provide some clarification.  There will not likely be any more computers.  This was a one time distribution of 100 computers per site (country).  There may be another RFP this winter but it is
probably not likely that additional computers would be headed to STP given that not all the African countries have yet to receive a deployment.  I think your suggestion on the long term use and ownership of the computers makes sense. OLPC (the NGO) wanted the children to take them home but there was some confusion caused by our team of interns and that was not how they and the school director left it during  the summer break.  The idea may be to have as many students have an opportunity to use the computers as possible.  That wold mean handing them out with each incoming 6th grade class.  I think the director has a some leeway on how he wants the computers to be used.
Having said that, I do think that the students should be able to take the computers home to experiment and teach others.  The teachers should also learn how to incorporate the computers into the class.  Payment for the teachers should be a through the school and Ministry of Education.  I think that, we do in the US, as the teacher improves their skills and studies for advanced degrees and certification they are financially rewarded.  This is something I can take up with the Minister when I arrive in January.  Translating the instructions into Portuguese will help in this regard.  Concerning the energy.  it has always been a problem.  The mechanical approach to power is the better solution because of the initial cost of the generator and the ongoing fuel needs. I hope this helps.  Keep me posted and I'll follow up when I arrive on January 1.  Question: how did you connect up with Ned?  Also, my daughter was part of the team last summer.  She had accompanied me for the last three summers to STP and is in love with STP and Africa.  She is a freshman at Truman State University (studying romance languages) and would be happy to help clarify things or just chat.  Thanks.



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