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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

One Small Step for OLPC-Kind

Just won an ebay auction to get Kadema a computer- AND got it at a huge discount- $165!

Like I promised, the first computer is going to her. It's a small step...but we're getting somewhere.

1 down, 499 to go. Please keep donating and sending in your ideas and support. I am so grateful for everyone who has done so much already.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

And back in the States

Back in the States. On my last day in São Tomé, Voice of America came by to do a little special on our computer program. It should have broadcast yesterday over the radio waves though I never had a chance to listen in.

Although I'm back and taking a breather over the holidays, I'm still extremely energized to see what we can do to help these kids out. I'm thinking it might be impossible to gather 500 computers from one organization or company...that maybe asking five companies to each do a sort of "sponsorship" of 100 computers will be better.

Meeting with some OLPC people in Cambridge on the 30th. Hoping to share what I've got and get a little feedback then.

Paul will be in São Tomé soon. I hope his transition over there can be smooth and will keep posted how things go there. Also excited to hear from the teachers about how the program is going.

Peace and happy holidays to all.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Class Notes: December 14 (final class before break)

Today was a frustrating class. We were going to use the Internet today but the energy went out just as we were starting (again). The teachers and I didn't really have anything planned because we had never had an official planning period. They kept looking to me and I was frustrated that they did that- that they wouldn't look to each other instead. I suppose tomorrow it will be necessary to explain to them the importance of these Friday planning sessions, and to always have a backup!

I went around filming the kids. I didn't do any teaching today. The teachers were good at what they're used to- teaching. The planning part, not so much. They ended class way too early. I'm not sure why they did that. But the kids are so excited...I know they have to get there somehow. I'm hoping the guide books will help.

But it's true. There is only so much these teachers can teach ABOUT the computers without actually USING the computers. We need to get more computers to this school STAT. And while we're at it, a generator is also in high order so we can actually use the Internet for ONCE IN TWO MONTHS!!!!

I did get some really good photos and videos of the kids. I'm hoping to save some of the programs that they're working on so that I can show them to people in Boston when I get there. I'm bidding on computers on EBAY so that I can hopefully get my hands on one for Kadema. If not, I suppose that money will go to other things. Hmm.

At one point I'm filming the kids and the interviews they give are very eye-opening. A lot of them say, “My name is _____ and this is my first time in the 6th grade.” What a different world where it is not expected of a child to only go through a grade once!

One of the teachers, Professora Arlete, asked me if the kids will be taking the computers home over holiday break. I say of course; the computers belong to them. Here eyes open widely. She is still a bit cynical about the idea of doing this. But she is also one of the most brilliantly organized teachers- able to take any idea and just run with it, developing a whole lesson plan in seconds. I am hoping to win her over someday.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Kids are Teachers Too

A cute anecdote: There is a guy that hangs around the São João school, probably my age or a couple of years younger, that takes advantage of the wifi there because he lives close by. He brings his laptop and sits in the courtyard when there's energy. Often he sees me and tries to chat me up, telling me about his laptop, his digital camera, his technology.

Today I saw him sitting with an XO, with Kadma by his side. When he was finished using it, he closed the top. “No!” Kadma said to him. “You can't shut the computer down like that! It won't shut down if you just close the top.”

The guy opened it up again, and, sure enough, the computer hadn't shut down. With a slightly embarrassed look on his face, he reached for the power button. Kadma swept his arm away again. “You can't shut it down like that, either,” she told him. She then took the computer into her own hands, went to the “home” view, ran her cursor over the XO icon, and selected “shut down”.

Pride bubbled within me. Here was Kadma, a petite, quiet 11 year-old, teaching this big guy how to use a computer. I could have burst with delight.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


I've been going to the school quite regularly to check in on the kids and to make sure their computers are working ok. I have successfully been able to reflash the computers, thanks to a USB drive that Elves has been hiding from me, which has the reflashing program on it. You should have seen the looks on these kids' faces when I told them their Internet works again. “It WORKS???”


“You mean, the network works???”

“Yes, the network works.”

“So I can USE IT???”

Absolute shock, really. I've also been talking to the teachers to see if they're interested in doing this summer program without me. On top of that, we're planning a trip to the beach on Saturday after class! Each student is required to contribute about 20,000 Dobras to come (the equivalent of about $1.40).

Yesterday, Kadma told me that her mother won't let her come with us on the field trip because she can't pay. I asked the teachers if it would be all right for me to pay for her. Today I am going to go to the school and let her know that I will pay for her. I really want her to be able to experience the fun parts, since her computer broke and she's been sharing with other students.

There is another girl who always finds me when I come to visit. I don't know her name. She has a thin face, long, thin eyes. Really beautiful braids that cover her head. She often sits with me for a while and puts her arm around me. Today she asks me where her computer is. She says that we have it and haven't given it to her yet. There was a time when I had asked to take home a few computers, and I left them with the teachers the next morning. I wonder if she hasn't picked hers up yet. I ask her which computer is hers, and she says computer #100. But that's not right. I know the girl who owns computer 100 and it isn't this girl. I ask Miguel to find the list of names so that we can get everything sorted out.

He takes one look at the girl. “No,” he says to her. “Sweetie, you don't have a computer yet.” Another student who has been trying so hard to get her hands on her own computer, that she has been flat out lying about owning one. The teachers want to get computers into the hands of ALL students. There are about 612 students in the 6th grade. It's a wide goal...but it's amazing that these kids are very aware of how valuable these computers are (if not just plain cool).

I was walking down the street yesterday in the city. It was about 5:30pm, dusk. I hear behind me, “Professora! Professora!!!” And when I look over, I see one of my students pass by with his mother. His face is glowing, and it's not by the light of his computer, which is in his hands, open and in active use. The boy is actually walking through the city while simultaneously using his laptop. The smile on his mother's face is magic. He can't even let go of this computer for ten minutes to make the trip home.

This is what learning is about!!!!!!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Class Notes, December 5th

December 5, 2009

Today was the day we were planning on showing the kids the beauty of the Internet. We have tried to do this already over two class periods, and have lost power each time; today was no different. After first gathering, we broke into three classes, with two teachers in each class. Upon barely starting up the Navigation program, the power went out.

We then went into a variety of other activities. We talked to the kids about good and bad use of their computers, and had them make a list of things NOT to do with them (ie, give them to babies, drop them on the ground, get the keyboard wet, etc.). Then we had the kids type up this list of things not to do using the writing program. Many kids finished rather quickly, writing up the list correctly with good punctuation and use of accents. We asked them to then change the color of their font, take pictures of other computers and chargers, put them in the document, save the document with a memorable name, etc.

We also experimented with the “paint” program, asking the kids to draw pictures of whatever they'd like. Many drew really beautiful, decorative houses, families, etc. Others played with the different shape and color functions. Another class played with the Scratch program, creating animation masterpieces with cats chasing mice that say “please don't eat me!!”

The kids are all over the map when it comes to ability. Some kids are extremely quick and finish tasks very easily. Other kids still have significant difficulty doing the easiest things- moving their cursor to a different part of the screen in the “write” program, enabling the “undo” function, dragging windows, even powering down the computer. It becomes quite apparent which students are using their computers at home and which are not, because the ones that use their computers at home are already quite proficient in usage.

Next week, after we use the Internet (fingers crossed), we're going on a field trip to the beach for a picnic. The kids are instructed to bring 20,000 Dobras, or the equivalent of about $1.40, to help pay for gas. The Ministry of Education will hopefully be supplying us with a bus (gas not included). It'll be a great way to say goodbye to the kids for our last class, though I am hoping to return in August (though this year's 6th grade will be long gone by then).

The kids cheered upon learning that we're going to the beach, but are saddened that I am leaving. They are not aware that I'm not coming back until much later, though some kids have asked. One girl asked me if I was going to bring all the computers home with me when I left. I told them that they are here to stay, but that everyone has to turn theirs in at the end of the year, but besides that they are for them. Her face lit up. It was as if I had given her the most wonderful gift.

I think it is today that I have finally decided that OLPC is a success here at the São João school. The kids- and teachers- are already mastering the Scratch program; a program I know absolutely nothing about. I am so proud to have been able to walk by a classroom and see teachers writing directions on the board about how to make the cat meow, without knowing anything about it myself. I felt proud to be able to look at one of the kids today and see something they did on their computer, and then be like, “how did you DO that?” Then the student explained to me the process they took to make a file appear, a little mouse run, a program work. Another student today showed me a plethora of activities he downloaded from the Internet, navigating himself through OLPC's wiki without any help from me; something that I had yet to teach the students because I thought it might be too complicated, being in English and all. A few kids crowded around him, asking how he downloaded so many new programs, and he explained to them. I try to encourage the idea of seeking help from your peers rather than your teacher. The kids know so much more than we do already, sometimes. I know that I will still be leaving these teachers behind relatively unprepared to be on their own, but as time passes I am feeling more secure that they will be able to do this themselves. That the students will keep them moving forward.

Not only are the kids (and even the teachers, who are all quite eager) picking up things like crazy, but they are all still very much interested. They like coming to class; they are enjoying the learning experience. When the girl's face lit up when I told her that she would be keeping the computer for some time, I knew that OLPC has re-energized the learning experience in a place where students are often told to write and repeat. It felt good to nourish this inherent sense of discovery.

The teachers are being paid by the Ministry of Education; this is a success. We are not sure if we are doing a summer program because I will not be able to be here until August. We're still deciding if we want to do it or not. If we do, I will have to fundraise to pay for them. There are a number of computers that cannot connect to the internet. I spent about three days downloading the necessary program to reflash the computers, but then, about halfway through the download of 450 MB in a VERY slow connection quite normal to the island, the download failed and I gave up. I am making a list of computers to reflash for when Paul comes in January.

We are hoping to get some spare computer parts from OLPC so that we can be self-sufficient in repairing damaged computers. Elves Reis, who took a computer hardware course and speaks English, is prepared to fix these computers using the website that was given to us by OLPC, once those parts come to us. Kadma, one of the students, still has a smashed computer screen. I am hoping that if we get parts, we will be able to fix her problem, though I am not sure. She has been sharing with other students for a number of weeks now. I so desperately want her to keep learning.

We are also hoping for the funding of a generator from the American Embassy, based in Gabon. If we are lucky, we will be able to have a generator and enough gas for about five years. We'll never have to go another class period without internet or computers that are not properly charged (a problem that made us end class early today).

I am working on a guidebook for the teachers to help them troubleshoot any computer problems they or the kids come up with. I am also working on a work plan with project ideas for the weeks ahead. I am hoping the teachers will keep me posted regularly about what they're doing with the kids. Next week we want to explain basic Internet safety to the kids and help them set up email accounts. That way they will be able to email me in the USA and keep in touch via their XO laptops.

We have one class period left and I am going to miss these kids very much. But I'm also very satisfied today with how everything is working out.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Are Those Computers??

Check it out- "Are Those Computers?", the sequel to "The Blessing and Curse of Light", in Go Girl Magazine:


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