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Archive for the ‘learning’ Category

XO

Today we used the XO in the class. We did the same thing as we did yesterday. We had to write our work in the software and then share it with our friends. A big difference today was the managers. There were no problems giving out the computers. The class did it pretty quickly. That was nice to see. Its cool to see that the XO is getting easier to use. We did not use the internet today but thats ok. We got to practice our typing. For homework, we have to rewrite the work in our writers notebooks. We look forward to doing our research on the internet. But most of all take them home. I cant wait to show the camera to my family.

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During this lesson, it was clear that the students understood the protocol for distributing, booting, using, and shutting down the XO. There were no management problems whatsoever.

The lesson involved the student writing down the a new angle for the feature article topic. Though the concept is not easy, the students used the write software to type their new angle and share them. It was clear that students used the XO to show their work by turning the screen while others just read their work. Though in a traditional classroom, we would have chosen to write in notebooks. But we are exploring multiple uses of the XO. However, it is important to note that during the whole class sharing, some students forgot their angles. It seems that they did not type their angles, something that I think would have been recorded if they were using their writers notebooks. I think the keyboard might have gotten in the way of their thoughts. Learning how to type is not easy, and so, we have to make sure the students thoughts are not lost in the typing. For the purposes of this pilot, we used the XO. This class is well equipped mentally to rewrite or rethink any lesson. The teachers guidance is extremely effective and provides the necessary scaffolding to reteach lessons. However, I think the writers notebooks are more useful for the beginning stages of ANY unit.

I think that the XO needs to be used for sharing and uploading work, research and looking for extra resources in the moodle site. We will continue to use the XO for those mentioned items but will reserve brainstorming, notetaking, and drafting in the writers notebooks. The research, revisions, and publishing will be on the XO. A major item that we also have to address is to prepare students for when they take the XO home. We have to make sure that the students log what they are learning from the XO through blogging or sharing through the mesh network. We can create a set of questions or log that will organize their experiences in software and hardware. We are working on it.

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Day two on the XO

Today was the second day of the XO pilot. It was a great opportunity to assess how the new unit, feature article, interacts with the XO. Amazingly so, the cooperating teacher and I managed to teach the kids how to get on the internet, log onto the TMI website, and teach about the four main characteristics of feature article in 42 minutes. The reason it worked was because the directions were clearly laid out and the students were already comfortable with some aspects of the XO. The students were motivated to learn and therefore listened carefully to instructions.

As a technology consultant I am seeing that the students are not having problems with the keyboard, the internet, or the screen. They students are eager to learn from these XO and are seeing a different purpose for technology in the classroom. Even better, was the impressions of the teacher and the students. The teacher thought the lesson was a great success for both the XO and the unit. The two students also expressed satisfaction in their experience. They did not find any glitches in the directions and thought that the XO was just like a laptop.

Just like any other tool, clear directions make all the difference. On the smartboard, I displayed the steps to XO success. I also wrote it out on chart paper for future daily use. Remarkably, there were only three problems with the internet. But, as we all know, there are many problems with regular laptops and wireless technology. It seems that the XO offers a VERY similar experience as regular laptops. This is a fantastic observation since the XO was underestimated. Thank you Elizabeth and Evan for spending such long hours figuring out the server configuration.

Tomorrow, we are going to have more time on the XO. I will be able to assess how well the students can open the computer and use the writing software to do writers work time. This should not be a problem since they are used to writing in their notebooks. And ofcourse, we hope to see students sharing their light XO to a peer during sharing time. We will see!

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We’re back from Cambridge, MA and have had a couple days to reflect on the OLPC workshops.  Dr. Nicholas Negroponte joined us on the last day and took some questions.  The most interesting, and in a way, most promising aspect of OLPC and their mission is their ability to be honest and open about all aspects of their work.  This has many implications.  Education, and the people who work in education are altruistic in nature.  However, education is a big-business market in its own right; and educators have to sometime work with companies who may have altruistic intentions, but at the end of the day have stock-holders to report to: text-book companies, building contractors, technology companies and a whole list of others.  OLPC, we can all agree, is honestly altruistic in nature.  And Dr. Negroponte was honest in his answers.  He said outright they do not have all the answers and will never say to a district “yes, this will solve your testing or truancy or literacy or classroom management problems.” They are not even sure yet on how to best reach and roll-out their own product.  They do not have a sales force, or a marketing team.  He was even open enough to say that in five years they hope to be out of the manufacturing business.  All this is on purpose in order to stay true to their bottom-line which is providing students a high-quality educational tool at as low a cost possible.  What does all this mean?  For starters, it means:

  • The operating costs of marketing and sales do not factor into the cost of the device (which I will remind everyone, in public schools is paid for by tax-payers)
  • It means the XO laptop was designed so their batteries and AC adapters last longer than a year
  • All the parts are interchangeable and easy to get at to fix
  • The software that runs the laptop is free; and by copyright will always be free and community supported
  • There is no mercury in the device
  • The machine uses as little energy as possible.  Idling it uses 1W of power – your average notebook computer uses 25W.  200 standard notebooks in a school add ~$10,000 a year to the power-bill that tax-payers pay.  200 XO machines add ~$1,000 a year.
  • You can’t pop the keys off the keyboard, you can spill soda all over it, you can drop your backpack by accident without breaking it.
  • There are no 1, 3, or 5 year support contracts

My point is the playing field is different.  It is not fair to compare the XO to a Dell, or a Classmate or an EEE PC because the XO is designed under a different philosophy.  If the XO breaks and you have to buy a new one, OLPC does not profit from that purchase in the same was as a company with a bottom line does.  Intel and Dell would love nothing more than to have the education market think their devices are comparable to the XO – and they have marketing teams and sales forces ready to do so.

Even excepting all this, we can’t hide from that fact that US schools are now familiar with technology and they have defined their expectations about what a laptop means.  US schools expect to call a support line and have a place to return the device.  They expect their devices to be powerful and fast.  They expect hardware to be monetarily valuable, and locked up for safety.  And most importantly, they expect the manufacturers of technology to own the problem when the technology doesn’t work properly.

In order for XO devices to work in the USA, these expectations need to change.  Users of the XO need to expect to own their problems.  We need to expect to try and fix the device ourselves when the hardware breaks or the software doesn’t work correctly.  We need to expect that support will come from a community of users; rather than a company phone bank.  We need to expect that we will participate and contribute to this larger community of users.  We need to expect to take our machines home, experiment with them, understand them, own them, learn through them. 

I know what you’re going to say, and it is a natural initial reaction  – that this is WAY too much to expect out of teachers.  How in the world can we expect our over-burdened teachers to manage all this!  However, that too is an expectation that needs to change.  The device was designed for students – and students need to expect to own their problems.  This means student support teams and communities of knowledge at the student level.  It also means trust on the part of teachers, coaches, principals, districts, central technology department, superintendents, parents, ministers, city-council members and mayors – all agreeing to allow their students and children to own these problems.  It means parents working with teachers.  I guarantee if you say to any parent – “We would like to give your child a laptop – would you be willing to participate in the process.  Perhaps come to a couple workshops yourselves and learn along with us” – the answer will be “Yes, thank you.”  I can’t emphasize this enough – the students need have ownership over the technology, not the school, not the district, not even the parents.  When they own the tools for learning, they own their learning. 

It is not hard to see this as an opportunity for change.  There are a number of problems in NYC schools – access to technology probably doesn’t rank very high.  However, empowerment of our youth in our schools and communities is another matter.

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OLPC Workshop in Cambridge

We just finished day two of a four-day workshop series at the OLPC offices in Cambridge, MA.  There are 30 or so participants representing all sides of the education world – both literally and functionally.  So far, the sharing of ideas and philosophies has been wonderful and the missions and plans we all have is impressive to say the least.  Everyone involved on the OLPC end is outgoing, helpful and extremely thoughtful and dedicated to their mission. 

The focus of the conversation has not been about the device itself; rather the need to shift thinking about technology and learning at the school level.  It is a very grass-roots concept about taking advantage of opportunities for change and creating model experiences (classrooms and teachers) that can then go on to excite change in the local community.  As someone coming very much from the implementation side of education, it is very interesting to be having these conversations.  The skeptic in me comes out now and again and would like to point out the realities of some NYC schools.  However, looking at the project as a whole, it is very important that OLPC champion their cause in this way.  They are the inspiration and the change-makers (if not them, then who?) and it is important that they continue to inspire and strive to push us implementers to shoot for the pie in the sky.  After-all, they have brought the cost of a fully-functional laptop down to $188 – why would they expect any less from us.

So, in terms of some clear and very real issues that have come up – the top three that have become clear at this point would be:

  1. Sharing of resources and best practices out there in the community.  There are a number of pilots that are going on; and finding information about implementation and assessment plans/results is very difficult.   Technical support is probably the most built out – but there is so much more missing.
  2. Sharing of content and training resources.  Related to the above – the wiki (http://wiki.laptop.org) only goes so far.   It is evident that OLPC is championing constructivist learning – and pushing for a change in teaching styles (using their device).  But curricular content and training resources have not been brought together in useful and extensive way.
  3. Functional sustainable implementation models (again related to the above).  This is tricky because they would vary greatly between locations.  But it is a key question that keeps coming up.  How do we get teacher buy-in?  The best answer has been to look at it as an opportunity – an opportunity to involve the parents and community.  If it becomes an opportunity to better support the teacher in what they do and bring more parents to the table then no teacher will turn down the opportunity. 

Tomorrow I have meetings with Linux engineers and will get some answers and direction onf how to best configure the device for various wireless configurations.  School server is also a topic I’m hoping to find out more about.  Oh, and we’re physically taking the device apart and putting it back together – should be fun. 

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Thank you Opera

We installed the OLPC Opera package today.  Opera is an alternative web-browser that is “out in front of the pack” when it comes to the OLPC project.  They have released their software to run on the device – and, in my opinion, is a vast improvement to the default browser the machine ships with.  Here’s why:

  1. Tabbed Browsing – you can open up multiple websites through the single browser.
  2. Handles popped-up windows (through tabbed browsing) – many websites these days pop-up content or other websites.  I know there are web developers out there who cringe at this – but it is necessary to support!
  3. Defaults to a (although shrunk) 1020 pixel width.  Most modern sites (cnn.com, nytimes.com) these days have designed their websites to fit on a larger screen than the OLPC default browser supports.  Opera fixed this – and also has zoom-in / zoom-out features.
  4. Bookmarks – enough said.
  5. Options to configure plugins/java and a web proxy.  MANY school systems go through a web-proxy and filter these days.

Here’s the installation instructions off of the OLPC wiki:

http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Opera 

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I did some more playing around with the OLPC operating system today – this time with an eye to on-line content, particularly literacy content.  We are thinking about how a pilot might run with the OLPC machines in a k-2 classroom environment; and there are some stumbling blocks, but also a lot of potential.

The number one stumbling block at the moment is the lack of a real flash player on the device.  Gnash is the open-source flash player that runs through the default web browser on the OLPC.  And while it does “play” flash files – it does not support many of the basic scripts that most online flash content uses!  This is a big problem for us (Teaching Matters) because a lot of our literacy content (www.writingmatters.org) uses flash animation and tutorials.  We can and will fix our content if we have to; but there is a vast pool of great resources that already exists out there that may have to do the same:

I’m sure this is just a few – and this is by no means meant as a criticism of these wonderful sites who developed their content the way the rest of the world developed flash content.  It is instead to make the important point that the OLPC device needs a real browser with a real flash player and java client.  I know it goes against the philosophy of the machine in a way – but it is sacrificing SO MUCH without them.  The browser interface is great otherwise, it just needs a simple update on the plug-ins that it runs. 

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