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Appologies for not posting in a few weeks. We have been very busy planning workshops in order to create a more formal training program around the OLPC. I had a tech break-through today however, and thought I should share. Some background first – NYC schools have a robust wifi network of Cisco routers that do not broadcast their SSID’s – and for whatever reason, the traditional work-around of manually editing the networks.conf file doesn’t work. So we wrote a simple python script that connects directly. The problem however, is students have to go into the terminal each time and type in “python wifi.py” – this is fine for grades 4+, but unrealistic for early elem.

From here on out will be a mini-tutorial on how to connect to hidden wifi networks (networks that don’t broadcast their SSID) in NYC and place an icon on the desktop to control the connection:

Step One – download ExecCommand.xo

JT Olds wrote a great little xo application for running shell scripts. Download it from the wiki: http://wiki.laptop.org/go/ExecCommand

and open it from the browser activity – it will place an icon on the desktop that looks like a gear.

Step Two – setup Sudo

Sudo is a linux application that allows you to give special privlages to users.  Since we are trying to connect to the wifi from the desktop, we are the OLPC user – which does not have the correct provlages to run some of the commands we need to.  SO:

  1. open the teminal activity
  2. type in “su -l”
  3. type in “yum install sudo” – let it download (you have to be online obviously) and say “y” to any packages
  4. type in “visudo”
  5. press the “i” key
  6. scroll down and find where it says “Default requiretty” – type a “#” in front of this (comment it out)
  7. scroll to the bottom and add this line “olpc ALL = (ALL) NOPASSWD:ALL”

Step Three – Modify the ExecCommand application to connect to your wifi

  1. still in the terminal as the su user
  2. type in “nano /home/olpc/Activities/ExceCommand.activity/bin/exec-script.sh”
  3. remove the second line (leave the first) and add:
    sudo -i service NetworkManager stop
    sudo -i service network stop
    sudo killall /sbin/dhclient eth0
    sudo /sbin/iwconfig/ eth0 essid <enter your ssid here>> key <<enter your key here>>
    sudo /sbin/dhclient eth0

That’s it!  Unfortunately you disable the NetworkManager – which I guess you could try on your network and see if it keeps the connection.  For some reason, we have to in NYC.

BTW this ExecCommand application is great for lots of this – launching Firefox from the desktop for instance…

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!

The XO Experience

The following are all comments made by students at KAPPA IV in NYC after visiting the New York City Council:

 

Yesterday I was in a council meeting about the XO. Other organizations were there too. A lot of people were there like City Council Member Inez Dickens. I got interviewed by a lot of important people.They asked me about the functions of the xo. How I influenced my classroom was maybe convincing people to let us keep them. Our cooperation can change the lives of other sixth graders.

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My experience yesterday was a real privalage. I am greatful that i was one of the 4 kids that got to represent class 601. My class has worked really hard with the xo’s. We were so exited when we got to work with the xo’s. I hope that we can keep on doing a great job with the xo laptops. When i got to city hall, i was amazed. It was a great experience.

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I really like working with the xolaptop because you learn a lot when it comes to being a better writer and it helps me when it comes to typing faster and doing my home work. Also i am really happy about going to city hall too beacause seeing the mayor and seeing Inez Dickens and showing the xo to basiclly everybody in city hall is a real honor.

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This unit has been fun especially with the xo because with the xo it has been easier because we could take them home and finish it at home i wish this unit did not end because I am having so much fun. the xo is also good because we wont have to look for papers we just go to our journal and find it also we don’t have to worry if we right sloppy. vgb

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My time with the xo computer was amazing. I loved using it and writing my feature article in it. When I first got it, the first thing that came to my head was if it was going to be great. But guest what it came true. I LOVE THE XO and USING THEM!!!!

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Over the course of the 6 weeks with the XO i have felt that my class is lucky. The reason that i say that my class is lucky is because the xo gave us a advantage because if  we didn’t use the XO and we don’t know how to write clearly for our teacher to understand. We would have to write it over.But if you have the XO the writing will look clear and your teacher would understand.

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My experience  with my XO has been fulfilling in every way. My XO inspires and motivates me to work harder and work to my best ability. My work might have not been as good as it was without all the resources my XO offered me. It allowed me to get on the internet, type several drafts, and share my work in class easier.

I took this photo with an XO using the Record activity during class – students are getting ready to draft their feature articles.

Yesterday, the Institute for Learning Technologies at Columbia University conducted focus groups with the students to learn about their experiences with the XOs over the February break. Many of the students dug right in and experimented with all of the activities. They used the Record activity, the Tam Tam music activities, and wrote parts of their Feature Articles for Literacy class. The most surprising thing was their collective interest in the Measure activity. The students liked watching the sound waves move. It made us realize that they are eager to learn how these other activities work!

The students were definitely eager to chat. All of them tried the chat activity, called their classmates, and tried to make it work. None of them could make it work because they live too far away from each other to be in range without the Internet. One student helped her mom crunch some numbers using the calculator activity.

I will try to post some of the data about what students did on their own once ILT tabulates everything.

The past two weeks the students have been completely immersed in the writing process with their feature article unit. Clearly, the students have become very comfortable with the XO’s, as if they had used them for a long time. As I sat in the back of the room helping a student edit their work, I took a glance at the rest of the class and witnessed any consultants dream; independently engaged students with all the necessary resources. The production and cooperation in this class has clearly changed since the last time I worked with the students in the memoir unit. Those memoirs were fantastic, but this unit entailed learning a new genre and a new technology. I have been very pleased with the outcome of this unit and am now planning the final publishing of their work on the TMI moodle site.

Today I played around with two documents; one on the xo and one on a pc.  Because they are feature articles, I pasted the work in a 2 column table so that the writing could look like a newspaper article.  I tried to copy and paste their work on the writingmatters ezine and found several things. I found out that the writingmatters website accepts the xo work in a two column table but not from the pc. Also, I didn’t have to change the font size to 12 on the xo document but I did have to on the pc document. However, a consistent problem is the slow speed of the xo. It’s not  a big difference, but with the lack of classroom time, I can expect impatient students getting somewhat frustrated if the xo is slow to boot. In time though, all of these students have gotten used to the pace of the xo.

As this xo pilot wraps up in the next week, Mr. Almanzar and I are discussing the implications of the xo in the writing process, technology and instruction integration, technology management, and classroom dynamics. Most importantly we are going to compare and contrast the work of the xo students from their previous genre and the current feature article. We will also evaluate the work of students from different levels; E.S.L, special education, level 1/2, and level 3/4. We will also look at the feature articles across the classes, making sure that we can gauge if and how the xo impacted the students writing.

Having an xo for 4 or 5 weeks was a pretty good experience. I learned the functions of it like how to get on to the internet by writing in terminal wifi .py. Its a certain code to acess the internet or block ther users except for the school internet wireless connection. Writing my feature article was fun because I was doing actual research on the xo. I got plenty of information to make my feature feature article a 4 for a grade. Probably, a laptop would of much more work because its for audults and kids wouldnt know anything about it. But really I thought it was slightly similar in a way, we all know its a pc different but it had a voice record and video but highly advanced. Having this xo is really fun and I hope the department of education will let us have one.

Having a xo made me really feel happy because it’s like a little toy but a toy that you helps you get better as a writer and etc. I feel i got a good grade because of the xo it helped me write fast and put me in a position that made me really think of ways of making my feature article better and better every week. There’s really no comparing the XO and the P.C thier both so different in so many ways , you can just tell by the way they look. Also, having a Xo is hard work because it’s a new thing and not everything will work the way it’s planned to.For example, for the first week I had a lot of trobele getting onto the internet.