Archive for the ‘olpc’ 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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Article in The New York Sun

Our little project got some press:


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As a possible middle/high school solution, I started looking into getting Ubuntu to run on the XO.  OLPC has some information here – but teapot’stutorial on OLPCNews is definitely the way to go:

http://olpcnews.com/forum/index.php?topic=2240.msg21169#msg21169 – also, do yourself a favor and get a SanDisk SD card (or flash drive)….they’re just easier to work with on Linux.


The latest version of Ubuntu Linux can run on the OLPC XO device off of a 2GB SD card, similar to how Microsoft is running windows XP on the XO.  Configuring Ubuntu to run off of an SD card takes a couple hours.  However, once it is properly running that SD card can be used to run Ubuntu on any XO device and can be easily duplicated using an SD duplicator.


Advantages of running Ubuntu off of an SD card:

1.       A desktop environment similar to windows XP / Mac that feels familiar to U.S. users.

2.       The XO becomes a dual-boot machine with the ability to load into Sugar for younger audiences, or into a more advanced environment for older students and/or teachers

3.       Ubuntu has a wealth of open-source applications that it can run and that can be very easily installed through a GUI installation application including:

a.       Open-office – a full-featured office suite of applications (Word processor, spreadsheet, photo editing, presentation software)

b.      Firefox 3 (with flash and java enabled)

c.       Video editing software and viewing software – allowing for all video formats. 

d.      Web design software

e.      Email / calendaring / communications software

f.        Educational suites of applications

4.       The ability to print wirelessly

5.       A familiar file-structure (as opposed to the journal) – important for things like inserting photos/videos into documents.

6.       An easy to use and configure wireless connectivity application

7.       The ability to have multiple users with different levels of access to programs (a student user / teacher user / admin user)

8.       The ability to access and use NYC student systems like ARIS and Acuity (tested) and Scantron (not yet tested…should work fine). 

9.       There is proven open-source community developing for Ubuntu (as opposed to Sugar)

10.   It is opensource and free – Windows would be an added cost, an office suite even more. 

11.   A school server is not required.



1.       The sharing features of Sugar are not build into Ubutu and its applications

2.       It is running off of an SD Card, and therefore limited to the speed of the card’s transfer rate to the devices resources.  There isn’t anything we can do about this, but it is a limitation.  The same holds true for Windows XP on the XO.

3.       A 2 GB SD card would add ~$15 – $20 to the cost of the device.  4GB (~$25 – $30) might be better and would give the user ~2.7gb of free space for files.


In my mind there isn’t anything that Windows XP and the programs that run on XP can do that Ubuntu can’t do.  Ubuntu and its programs are all free and theoretically should run faster than XP.  There is obviously more testing that needs to be done however. 


The potential here is huge.  A couple things I want to look into – and if anyone out there has any suggestions / recommendations, please comment.  First, speed and testing – how reliable is this running off an SD card?  It seems pretty quick and stable on the two machines I have tested, but if it is replicated 500 times over, will we see a percentage of machines that just don’t run well off of SD?  Stupid question?  Second is edubuntu – I can’t hunt down a tarball of edubuntu to test…I’ll keep looking though. 

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The Institute for Learning Technologies at Teachers College/Columbia University has just completed a four-month evaluation of the OLPC project and Writing Matters at KAPPA IV.  Many thanks to Dr. Susan Lowes and Cyrus Luhr for putting this together.  Here’s a taste of their findings:

“The first and most important ramification was that students used the XOs more than they used the laptops, which means they spent more time doing research, wrote more, revised more, and published more. The second ramification was that the students took much more responsibility for the XOs than they did for the laptops, which means that they that they did not begin work only to find there were missing parts or that the battery was dead. And a third ramification was that the students were less likely to lose their work, not only because they always used the same machine but also because the XO has an automatic save feature that takes the user back to where he/she left off. Because of this, the students felt that they did not spend nearly as much time searching for, saving, moving, or reconstructing previous work as they did when working on the laptops.”

We’re thrilled to share the full results with you all here (also under the “evaluation” link at the top).

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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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I am writing from the OLPC offices in Cambridge, MA preparing to present on the KAPPA IV pilot tomorrow.  There has been a lot of excitement over the last couple days – Windows will run on the XO, and the Gen 2 device looks simply incredible:


Largely our conversations have focused on the technical, and we are looking forward to a change in pace and talk about teaching and learning.  Here’s a preview of our presentation.

More soon….

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