Wednesday, January 16, 2008

OLPC: G1, B1, G1 someday, S1B (One Laptop Per Child: Give 1, Borrow 1, Get 1 someday, Send Borrowed 1 Back Eventually)

A post for and a bit of explaining.

I have not gotten my XO yet, but there was a contest by the person who runs the site, Wayan Vota, about who needed to borrow his XO. I wrote in haiku form about how my Gateway laptop flying at my head is not a good thing. XO = much lighter. With help from my ballot stuffing Queensryche friends, I won Wayan’s xo last week. Here is my post about my first week with the XO.

I have bonded with Wayan’s XO. I am glad he told me he was going to reflash the memory when it comes back to him – I’ve had to flash the memory a few times already because, well, I do stupid things. Lots of stupid things. So this entry has been written and rewritten and is very late in being published. (It’s no longer hour 30 – more like day 7 or so.) I must learn how to back things up onto a thumb drive.

I am starting to wonder if I should just forward my brand spankin’ new XO to Wayan when it arrives so I don’t have to worry about what the kids at work might do to his. I know it was meant to be sturdy, but did Mary Lou Jepsen test to see what happens when someone licks the screen? Yes, the screen has been licked. Sorry dude.

Still, I’ve gotten see it used in really neat environment. The kids I work with are much more like the na├»ve user Negroponte is aiming at. The best blog post about the G1G1 program ever ( reminds me that every single person I come into contact with through my daily existence has preconceived notions of what computers should do and how they should act in our daily lives. Most of those notions have been conceived by Bill Gates.

I think, for those of us who have grown up with a keyboard in our hands, we should not call this a computer. A laptop is a better word, but still makes one think of the 8 lbs of dual processing flat screened monstrosity. This is a different beast. It’s not designed for YouTube or Disney Channel games. It’s not what many people have in mind when they think “computer.”

So it is for the kids I work with. They have taken to calling this “That little computer,” as in “Are you going to bring that little computer to computer lab with us?”

I explain that “it isn’t as fast as those big computers, so you have to be patient.” That seems to work while we’re waiting for an activity to load. These are kids who might, while waiting for internet explorer to start in the school computer lab, click enough times to open 10 or so browsers, no exaggeration.

The children I mostly use the XO with are elementary school in a special education class. Most of them can read, write, and speak, although at below grade level. They are vociferous consumers of media, including computer games. They are fearless computer explorers but without a lot of understanding of what they are doing. They click and pound. I’m sure some of the games are educational. I’ve seen a boy with autism who is primarily non-verbal pull down the address menu in explorer and click on the words he recognizes. The other kids ask to be put on a specific site if they can’t find it in the drop down menu, then click on pictures of cartoons they like until they come to a game. If a game is too hard, or freezes, they simply open another browser. Or shout for help. Or move to another computer. When it’s time to drag the class of 11 kicking and screaming out of the lab, there might be 5 extra computers to shut down, in various states of stuck.

My XO doesn’t really interest some of the kids, the ones more into their games. But a few kids, particularly 2 girls who aren’t really into their games, and one boy who really has a good understanding of computers compared to the rest of the class, absolutely love this thing. The first day I brought it into lab with me, a few of the girls had a blast on draw. I explained I had just received the computer (literally – I had to run home an hour or so before because the DHL tracking site showed me Wayan’s lonely XO was sitting unloved and vulnerable in a Crate and Barrel box on my doorstep.) and they’d have to figure it out themselves. By the end of the computer session, one girl had figured out how to change colors on paint. It took me another few days. (Dropper is small, arrow is big – I think that’s counterintuitive but an 8 year old didn’t think so).

For two days in a row, I was able to pry an 8-year-old out of a classroom she usually refuses to leave by whispering she could carry “the little computer.” As she swung it happily by the handle, I cringed and again prayed it was as durable as advertised. Still, it was worth the purchase price to get her to get out of the room without a struggle.

The same child loved memorize, saying “Wow, I’m smart, huh?” I’ve put spelling words and vocab words into memorize, but am having trouble saving and returning to them. I’m also having trouble with fitting the definitions onto a square because it auto-crops them.

Write was a blast for her. They are not allowed to open word, which I don’t understand, but word is usually used to type long strings of joyful gibberish, like skhfgshjshgglsdfng. So I let her type long streams of joyful gibberish in write. When we have headphones, I will try to let her type in Speak, which will only pronounce “real” words. Speak will be fun for reciting spelling words. Another child got great joy out of typing her name in speak.

I look forward to getting the GCompris suite running. In one incarnation of my computer, I did have the whole bundle going. But I am trying to avoid “learning games” and staying with activities – things my students can use to construct or explore. I particularly appreciate the kid-friendly word processor and paint programs in GCompris, but I can’t get them to run without the whole bundle yet. Ditto for Tux Paint.

Other activities that have been a hit:
miniTamTam – lots of fun. The other TamTams are a little hard for these guys, but miniTamTam is instant fun. Jessie also had a blast at miniTamTam.

Measure –
endless fun. When the teacher comes in to fetch her kids and you and one of her third graders are barking into a small green machine and then giggling hysterically, it does not make you look all that mature. But it was fun. This student is hearing impaired so measure might translate to something very useful for him. For instance, he has trouble knowing when he is shouting. I don’t know enough about the program to show if measure measures volume, but it’s something the speech path can help me work with.

Picture Quiz –
I have not used this on the kids yet. I’ve had to uninstall it to free up memory, but it’s a project I will visit as soon as I figure out how to make my own quizzes. I enjoyed seeing the inside of the XO. I really wanna open mine, I mean Wayan’s. (Don’t worry – I won’t.)

Story Builder –
ditto. They wanted to type stories for their pictures. These are kids who don’t voluntarily do things like that.

Cartoon Builder --
Not tried on kids yet. I’ve had fun with it.

Record –
What’s not to love about this? This was the activity Jessie licked the screen on, trying to kiss her picture. In about 2 minutes, some of the kids in the class figured out how to take pictures and promptly took a million goofy ones. Computer lab was over before they figured out videos.

Pippy –
One boy tried it and played a little, but was not impressed that he was programming the computer. I don’t think he understands what that means yet.

EToys, Turtle Art –
Neither the kids nor I have figured these out enough to be useful.

There is something about this computer – its small shape, its friendly greenness, I don’t know – that signals to kids that this is okay, this is their computer. It’s inviting. I did have to pry it away from one girl who kept repeating “my computer.” Again, thank goodness for the ruggedness. I’ve had an SD card eaten out of a device before – my work conditions are much more 3rd world than most.

Now might be the best time to speak of hardware issues. I’m struggling with the keyboard, but it wasn’t meant for me! A spare USB keyboard around the house takes care of that. My keyboard and infrared mouse were recognized and functional instantly – no “new hardware wizard.” As I sat in my principal’s office to take notes a few days ago, the sun came in over my shoulder and shone directly on the screen. The screen was amazing – not just readable, but sharp and clear.

I struggle with the upside down sd card insertion, but I’m okay with that. All visible appendages are subject to attack, like I’ve said before. I like my SD card hidden. When Jessie worked on the xo, she immediately picked it up by USB drive. My infrared mouse’s USB adapter sticks out way too temptingly far as well. I want to be able to somehow close the ears and still have a functional mouse. I will keep brainstorming.

What Jessie loved most, besides kissing her picture in record, was miniTamTam and the screen rotate button. Jessie is non-verbal, remember, but has very good expressive language. When she moved the mouse in miniTamTam, it did not go the direction it should have because the screen was flipped. She shrugged, raised her eyebrows, pointed the mouse and said “huh”? That issue really needs to be fixed, but I was happy because it showed me she knows how a mouse should move.

I won’t go into the needing an input mode for ebook mode because that has been covered.

This machine has a lot of potential as assistive tech. At the very least, the simple word processing capabilities put it head and shoulders above the alphasmarts I’ve used. Being able to see the whole screen is great.

Another device this might replace for me personally is my pocket pc. I have a sprint pcs 6700. I bought it mostly because of the keyboard, which is a fraction of the size of the xos (yet everyone marvels at the how large my 6700s keyboard is). I use it to keep quick notes when I travel, snap quick pictures, access email. In fact, my 6700 and xo have comparable processing speeds, memory, and price. Interesting. As soon as I have a reliable way to keep and sync my schedules and bank account info, I might be able to carry a little slim razr like everyone else in the world and ditch the brick I talk into.

Even better – I want to use my 6700 as a modem to access my EVDO Sprint network. That would be awesome!

I’m keeping “learning games” off of this computer. My students have access to lots of solitary learning by computer games. They know how to entertain themselves. What I am envisioning is for them to see this computer as a tool to construct something that is theirs, and then to translate that into using “the big computers” more effectively


Anne Gentle said...

My son, who's four, calls it "the little computer" too! I really appreciated this post. I took the XO laptop to my son's preschool class and they enjoyed Mini TamTam very much. The other activity they liked was Turtle Art, although I had to open the samples for them. I'm very interested in your experiences and would love to have your help developing teacher/leader activities. I'll email you separately, but wanted to comment on your great blog. Thanks for posting your experience!

Rafikh said...

I really enjoyed reading your post.

May be I'm too late to comment on it.

You might have done many experiments with XO till now, I'm interested in this post because one of my colleague sent it to me, we are also trying to use Sugar Learning Platform with special children.

We would like to know more about your work using XO with those kids.