Archive for the ‘learning’ Category

Birmingham Goes 1:1

As part of our efforts to support low-cost computing and expand on our positive experiences using the XOs in NYC classrooms, Teaching Matters has partnered with Birmingham City Schools and Tala Professional Services to train teachers and technology coordinators in Birmingham.  By the end of this month, every child in grades one through five in Birmingham City Schools will have an XO laptop. This is an incredible opportunity for the 14,000 students who have not had reliable access to technology in school.

In late 2007, Mayor Larry Langford of Birmingham, Alabama purchased the XO laptops, with the goal of closing the digital divide and ensuring that the children of the city have access to the tools they need to succeed in the digital age.  This is the first large-scale purchase of XOs in the United States.  In the spring of 2008, the XOs were piloted at Glen Iris Elementary School.  The pilot had positive results, and plans were developed to deploy the laptops to the other children in the city.  Birmingham was on its way to providing every child with access to technology.

This past fall, Teaching Matters consultants trained 35 technology coordinators on how to operate the XO along with how to support and maintain them at the school level.  Then, we spent a total of three weeks traveling around the city training over 500 teachers on how to use the XOs and integrate them into their classrooms.  The Birmingham teachers recognized the incredible potential these computers brought to their classroom, and they were eager to find ways to use the XOs with their students.

Whether it involved taking pictures to illustrate student writing or using the chat activity to facilitate book club discussions, the teachers saw the opportunities to use the XOs as a tool in their classroom to engage students and teach them skills they need to succeed in the 21st century.


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Opening an XO

Opening Their New OLPC Laptops!

This fall PS005 and Teaching Matters are piloting a new vision for school in the digital age; one where all members of the community can connect to learn at any time. PS 5 was selected as a pilot school for low cost computers (every child will receive an xo laptop). To ensure that ALL students can benefit from a computer that goes from school to home, Teaching Matters will work with the local community to pilot low-cost wireless internet access available to ALL students at home.

Our hope is to marry low cost laptops to low cost community wireless access- making a new vision of school possible for all students.

Low Cost Wireless Access — How?

We found out that almost all students lived within a four block radius of the school. Our plan is to experiment with ten to fifteen apartments (to start!) and create something called a mesh network. This technology extends the reach of existing internet access. In a city where many students lack access to the Internet at home, it is critical that communities start getting creative.

We are seeking private donors to expand this project. Contact us at lguastaferro@teachingmatters.org or call 212 870-3505.

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Based on the KAPPA IV pilot, Teaching Matters recently helped launch roll-outs of XO’s at two public schools in NYC.  Each school received 600 devices – and are still in the process of integration – but I thought the information we have summarized below would still be useful to those out there.  Please keep in mind that this all happened in June (yes, 3 weeks before the end of school). 

Describe the process for deploying OLPC at the pilot schools.

Key dates:
5/21/08 – Teacher training at PS20 (with TMI XO laptops)
5/28/08 – Laptops arrive at PS5 and PS20
6/03/08 – Tech team workshop at PS20 and PS5. 
6/07/08 – Teacher training at PS5

Student Tech Team Workshops

After the laptops arrived at the schools, Teaching Matters held a “Student Tech Team Workshop.” At these workshops we focused three things:  exploring the XO and becoming experts on its use, learning how to install software and configure wireless, and learning how to take apart and repair the screen.  These workshops were a huge success in that the students were very excited about the machines, were prepared to be leaders in the deployment, and were prepared to image the systems.  We also met with the Tech Coordinator to discuss some of the technical considerations associated with the OLPC project.

Teacher Workshops

Although the teacher training workshop at PS20 was held before the Tech Team workshop, the Teacher workshop was designed to occur after the Tech Team Workshop so that updated machines were available for teachers to use.  The teacher workshops introduced the teachers to the XO and various applications, and gave the teachers a chance to brainstorm how they will use the computers in their classrooms.  These workshops were also very well received. 

Imaging Devices

After the Tech Team workshops, the Tech Coordinator, Student Tech Team, and Teaching Matters  Professional Developers worked on imaging the devices.  There were a number of issues that came up in the process of imaging the devices:

  • Releasing students from their normal classes to spend time imaging devices.  Due to the time of year that this was happening (June), the students were caught up in end-of-year events such as graduation, field trips, etc.
  • Editing the wireless scripts from a windows machine alters the encoding and end of line delimiters.  We resolved this problem by working with DIIT and subsequently editing the scripts only on a Linux image.
  • Approximately one in thirty computers did not connect to the internet.  There seemed to be more connectivity issues at PS5 than PS20. 
  • In the end, the tech coach and Teaching Matters staff ended up imaging the majority of the devices.

How long did it take to load the XO software on the machines?

7-10 minutes for updating the operating system.  3-5 minutes for a student to run the wireless script. 

What problems did students and/or teachers encounter with the XOs?

There were issues with collaboration and wireless connectivity. 

  • PS5 Connectivity Issues:
    • Computers that never connected to the wireless internet:  Out of a set of 30 computers, 5 never connected (no matter what they tried). 
    • Computers that did could not share via school server:  Here’s the scenario:  Jelbin would image 10 computers with 10 USB drives.  They all successfully connected to the Internet.  Then, he would take those same 10 USB drives and image 10 more computers.  Approximately 8 out of those 10 would fail.  Then, he ran the doeinstall script, which usually fixed the 8 computers that would not connect.  However, when these 8 computers would be brought into a classroom, they could connect to the Internet, but could not share through the school server. 
    • Most classrooms had working “collaboration”, while one classroom did not.  The students in this one classroom could not see others in the neighborhood view.
  • PS20 Connectivity Issues:
    • About one in 40 computers would not connect to the Internet at PS20.  Once the computers were in the classrooms, out of a set of 25 machines approximately 5 would not connect to the internet.  After a reboot 4 would be able to connect, but one wouldn’t.  There were no complaints about the speed of the internet.  Sharing activities was not tested at PS020.

How were these problems handled?

Teaching Matters provided technical support, went out to the schools to troubleshoot problems with the USB drives, and assist with imaging devices. 

Did you ever have to re-install software or replace hardware to fix a problem?

No, not yet.

Looking back on the pilot, what changes would you make to your process?

  • Ideally, the devices would be imaged with the latest versions of the OS and the software that NYC has approved before they get to the schools.  Also, the appropriate scripts would be on the device already so an integrator only had to enter in the SSID(s) and key
  • The school server has the ability to update the devices remotely.  This is something to look into as a potential solution.
  • Make sure that the principal and tech coordinator are aware of the time it will take to configure the machines and understand exactly how long they should expect to allow for students to be released to help. 
  • Increasing the vlans and/or IP addresses for “350 wireless” schools to accommodate 500+ devices for next year would be ideal.  “350” schools will have issues as more devices are integrated. 
  • The asset-tagging process going through Dell was a point of slow-down and extra cost.  Improving on this process would be a big help. 
  • We feel more testing should be done w/ the school server and the wireless connectivity of the devices to scale; meaning, how the network and server react when 30 – 150 devices are online at once. 

What lessons can we learn for future deployments?

  • Many elements of the deployment went well, and should be noted:
    • Delivery of XOs ran smoothly. 
    • Storage of XOs in the classroom worked well.
    • Tech team trainings went well.  Students were very excited about the project and were willing to take on a leadership role in maintaining the machines. 
  • The school leadership should meet first to fully understand the scope of undertaking a 1:1 environment to understand fully what is required in terms of hardware, integration, training and long-term sustainability of their 1:1 infrastructure.
  • In a truly “support-free” environment, more technical training for the technology coaches might be necessary
  • Follow up is needed to resolve issues with wireless connectivity and collaboration. 

What enhancements to the XO would you most like to see?

  • Ideally, the computers would arrive at the school with the newest build, and there would just be one place to enter the ESSID and key.  This would significantly improve the time it takes for the computers to get into the classrooms. 
  • Enhancements to the network manager to work smoothly with the NYC wireless infrastructure
  • A built-in NIC card
  • More memory (at least 512.  1GB would be ideal)
  • A VGA-out port
  • Easier interface for sharing of activities
  • Printing
  • A full-featured web browser w/ flash, java all running (and tested to work w/ Acuity…Scantron…Aris)
  • Easier interface for inserting images into write documents. 

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The KAPPA pilot is now two months old, and we’re taking inventory on what was accomplished, what works and what doesn’t. I’ll break this all out into two areas (1) Teaching and Learning (2) Hardware / Software.

Teaching and Learning

There was a lot of excitement when the devices were first introduced. It took approximately a week for the class to acclimate to using the devices in everyday work. However, after two months, the students are still very excited about the devices.

On the instruction end, the class participated in Writing Matters: Response to Literature – a technology infused writing unit that has online resources, Moodle activities, blogging and animations. We found that because this was a new unit of instruction for the teacher (Mr. Almazar) that Mr. Almazar wanted to keep consistency with his other classrooms (that did not have XO’s). As a result, most of the Moodle activities were not used. Because of the infusion of hardware and the change in curriculum (to one that takes advantage of technology), there was a definite learning curve for Mr. Almanzar acclimating to changing his instruction and becoming comfortable using the 1:1 environment in an effective way. The next unit of instruction is poetry (a unit he is familiar with) – and he is confident that they will take full advantage of Moodle and the online unit.

Hardware / Software

In the two months we have seen 3 out of 28 (~11%) devices “break” to the point where outside support is needed to repair them:

  1. A cracked screen (mostly likely the student dropped the XO on a corner)
  2. A broken keyboard (might be software, might be user-related)
  3. A OS boot “not found” (most likely software related and fixable)

Students do take the XO’s home regularly – and are excited when they can, and we have found it to be a very effective classroom management (threat) tool. No power adapters have been lost / broken. Students charge their devices using power strip “squids” under their tables. Initially there was a learning curve for students – they complained that the OS booted slowly, and were “thrown off” by the lack of icons on the write activity. Since then, they all feel the write activity is much easier to use than MS Word and prefer the journal method of storage over the saving dialogs on Windows and Mac.

In terms of internet access, the workaround for the DOE internet we implemented gets them online, but is annoying to have to restart every time they want to “share.” Also, students do not have internet access at home for the most part and will not go to cafes or libraries. Mr. Almazar relied on print handouts largely for this reason. The 800 x 600 resolution was a problem – they weren’t aware that you can “shrink” the page to fit. Flash wasn’t properly installed on a couple devices initially in the first week. And pop-ups were an issue that needed a work-around. Also, the students could not all watch learning animations in class because the sound of 30 devices at once was a problem. Inserting and managing images in the write activity is still a problem – it is not clear how to insert images from the web.

All in all, everyone agrees it has been a huge success so far, and is a very effective and easy to use tool. The above issues are all relatively small compared to the improvement in teaching and learning that is happening. We have found though, that real-classroom-situations do not change just because of technology immersion. There has to be buy in from the teacher, and the school should be prepared to offer teachers a high level of support. Otherwise, the technology does not make it’s way into the curriculum and instruction.

As a foot-note, all this information is coming from the Teaching Matters professional developer who has been (and is) working in-class with the students and teacher.

Up next – a formal assessment!

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Since I have had my XO for the last 4 weeks, I have been able to do a lot of research. I am not able to see the internet all of the time on my XO, but that is o.k.. We were told to just keep writing on the XO and save our work. I have taken the xo home with me like my friends. I get to do extra work with it and catch up when i fall behind in class. My topic is about the rise of game addiction in the u.s. Did you know that 23% of american boys said they were addicted to video games and 18% of american girls said they were too. THe bigger problem is the fact theat they are a whole bunch of people addicted and depressed about video games. They are even people dying from video games. I found out that they are dying because of dehydration.

I am still writing my draft in the xo. But i got to schare my work with my class on the feature unit classroom. Three people responded to me. They said that they agree with my work and comments. I have a lot to say about this topic. I will finish next week.

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During the past week the feature article unit has taken off with the XO. The cooperating teacher, Mr. Almanzar, and his students have taken the XO to another level. Mr. Almanzar who once was reluctant to use technology in general, is now managing this technology brilliantly. Without me being there, Mr. Almanzar has his students using the write software and going on the DOE internet server to continue their research. He also has them using the two computers in the back of his classroom for research as well. Though his success is attributed to his own hard work, I am sure that it can also be attributed to the availability and portability of the XO. Since, the kids can take the XO home, they are very comfortable with their XO. Offering a sense of relief in the classroom and little troubleshooting. The teacher has also learned to troubleshoot the XO, since there arent many issues with them. The students are  not bombarded with extra items on the menu bar or clicking on the wrong program. They have all they need to complete their feature articles.

 As for the students, you can see an ease and comfort level while the kids are typing. The managers distribute the XO’s, the kids access the internet through the terminal, open the write software and continue their drafts. Their is no hassle. All their is is complete control over their learning. This class, ofcourse, will have their work revised before the other two classes. The other two six grade classes are having trouble getting access to the school laptops because of their limited quantities, sharing of classes, overcharged batteries, and recently destroyed keyboards. All of these problems have been relieved with the XO. The students also have not had any problem uploading their work on the TMI moodle classroom. The XO’s have proved to work thus far, despite the issue with distance and chatting.

 As part of our evaluation, Mr. Almanazar are working on two items right now; technology goals for him and how has the XO impacted the learning of different types of learners. We have identified five students; level 4, level 3, level 2, E.L.L., and inclusion student. We have seen how some of these students have approached this unit differently from other units and perhaps have taken more interest and ownership over writing because of the accessibility of these XO. We will discuss these items in more detail during the next couple of week and provide formal documentation that supports our claim for the potential benefits of the XO.

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We thought we were excited about the XO, but our parents loved them even more. After the workshop that teaching matters held for us at KAPPA IV, we took them home. All of us played with the XO software like the camera, the writing, the music, and some of the math stuff too. When we came back to school our teachers told us to talk about our experience with the XO at home. As a class we created a large list of things we did. Out of the whole class, 23 looked at the neighborhood option and only saw ourselves in the XO, 10 of us attempted to chat, 10 used the record activity, 10 used the music activity, 23 were able to go into the writing software and show our parents our work on the feature article angles, and 23 attempted to go on the internet. Though 2 students thought they went on the internet, it turns out at they did not. The best part about this experience was that about 10 of our parents were able to turn on the XO on their own and look at the kids work without help.  We hope to experience more during the February week in a couple of days. The XO managers, us, are responsible for sharing our experience next week.

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