Gary Stager writes a short, readable rant about the state of support for exploration in primary education in the US, inspired by watching an episode of “Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Maker Show“. The show is a sporadic video blog about “everything cool and worth making” by the daughter (now 10) of a veteran tech ninja.
Stager wonders whether educational computing (and now ‘edtech’) is a proper discipline or “just a shopping club”. He suggests many teachers might not support such a bright and curious student in their class, if it meant dealing with distractions or diverting from a fixed curriculum they were committed to teaching. I suspect others would love such a student and find ways to work with them outside of class, but feel constrained within it. Here’s his post:
A stray comment today about Windows not working on ARM machines, by someone who thought all OLPC laptops had moved away from Linux, reminded me to reaffirm something:
Every XO we have ever made shipped from the factory with Linux. The 2M+ XOs running Linux is one of the largest deployments of Linux in the classroom anywhere in the world, and the largest in primary schools.
A few thousand dual-booted into Windows [XP] as well, either at the time they shipped or after being reflashed – after a Microsoft team modded a version of XP for the XO, and our firmware made dual-booting possible. That was an impressive bit of coding and optimization, and Uruguay in particular was interested in dual-boot machines, testing them in classrooms on XO-1′s, but decided not to continue those tests. The only other machines that ever made use of the dual build were part of programs sponsored by Microsoft. In all, under 7,000 XOs have ever run Windows natively, 5,000 in Uruguay. That is less than 0.3% of all laptops we have ever produced. (In contrast, running software under emulation through wine or SugaredWine is popular in Latin America.)
I have heard of a few teachers that had those machines in at least one class, in Uruguay or Peru, but have never seen first-hand reports from anyone using them. If you visit or know of a school that tried this please share your stories; I would be interested to hear about the experience.
Earlier this year, Shelia Cotten and coauthors Hale, Moroney, O’Neal & Borch published an overview of their data from surveying 27 schools during the first year of the city-wide OLPC project in Birmingham, AL. In the 2008-2009 school year, 1st – 5th Grade students and teachers, in every public primary school in the city, received XO laptops via this program. — amounting to over 15,000 students and teachers. and every public primary school in the city.
The paper, “Using Affordable Technology to Decrease Digital Inequality“, appeared in Information, Communication & Society Volume 14, Issue 4. From the summary:
[F]ourth and fifth grade students at 27 Birmingham City schools were surveyed just prior to receiving the XOs and then again about 4.5 months later. A total of 1,202 students were matched between the two surveys… students who used a computer to do homework before receiving the XO, tended to make greater use of the XO and felt it helped them in their education. Teachers’ use of the XO was also an important factor. Students who reported their teachers made greater use of the XOs in the classroom tended to use the XO more and felt that the XO had a positive impact on their education.
These findings highlight the importance of training teachers to make effective use of new technology and the need to develop curriculum to integrate computers into the classroom. Dr. Cotten is currently leading a National Science Foundation funded project that helps… teachers receive training which builds technology-teaching capabilities so that students develop the attitudes and the skills necessary to succeed in a technologically advanced society.
Their research has continued since then, and they will also publish about longer-term results.
The Government of Peru and LEGO’s Education group have been testing the WeDo toolkit in classrooms with XOs since it was released in 2008. This year they have launched a national program to distribute WeDo kits to roughly 20,000 schools.
LEGO’s Lars Nyengaard writes:
“I am happy to announce that the first major deployment of WeDo for XO will happen in Peru, starting this year. An amazing 20.000 schools will be populated with WeDo. 80.000 teachers will be taught in WeDo and the constructionist approach. More than 1,5 million children will experience WeDo across Peru.
We visited Brazil and Peru to understand the challenges for education in some of the underserved areas. Personally, I will never forget my visits to Brazil, the people I met and the children trying out our WeDo prototypes… we have pursued the original idea of bringing robotics constructonism and WeDo to countries, where the OLPC XO is deployed. I am happy, joyful and invigorated by the decision of the Peruvian government to deploy 92.000 WeDo sets with programming software, activities and teacher training.”
OLPC has been testing many different types of sensors and electronics kits, since the earliest work on Turtle Art with Sensors. The XO has also become a fine dedicated Scratch machine, and WeDo kits are easily enabled from within Scratch (with some handy video tutorials). If you can get your hands on an XO and a WeDo kit, try this with your friends, children, and students.
Rwanda aims to complete deployment of their next 100,000 children by next summer. National project coordinator Nkubito Bakuramutsa was interviewed this week for an article in the Irish Times.
They discuss recent successes and policies at the Rwandan schools that have deployed the first batch of XOs in the country. Kagame and the teachers involved are both optimistic that they will transform their society into a leader in technology advances. Kagame aims to triple the nation’s economic output over the next 10 years.
Yirkalla is being well-covered by Australian media. TEN Digital devoted part of a weekend episode to the deployment, including this video from the classroom during the first day of the deployment. They catch a priceless expression on this child’s face 1:10 in, as he either learns to play Maze (as the shot suggests) or discovers Rick Astley for the first time.