Saturday, February 09, 2008

A Tale of Two XO's

I haven't had so much fun just playing, since I got my Lincoln Logs set. And this time it was at school.

XO at Barnes and NobleI had bought an XO laptop, and my kids had enjoyed exploring with it. They had blogged about their initial impressions. Some had even read from their blogs on it at a Barnes and Noble "Coffeehouse Night".

A week ago my classroom received a donation of a second XO laptop. Management of "fair" access to the first one in my third grade classroom had been a challenge, to say the least. Then all of a sudden we had TWO.

(Larry, if you are reading here, you have no idea - THANK YOU!)

Anyway, there we were with two of the coolest things you can imagine for an 8 or 9 year old. Sitting on my desk, next to my grown-up laptop.

XO chat 1Yesterday I somehow figured out how the two XO's could chat, via the built in mesh network. This I had heard about, but when I saw it in action, it was amazing. When my kids saw it, well they just about came unglued. The next time we tried it, it didn't work. So we worked on it, me and the kids.

Today, we finally figured out the procedure for starting a chat, extending an invitation to chat to another XO, the acceptance of that invitation, and getting started.

Once the connection was made, all else was easy. Instant IM mode: capital letters disappeared, grammar/spelling entered a different dimension... The kids were entranced.

XO chat 3I had let our new XO sit on the desk of our "student of the week" for 2 days. She could use it whenever she had a free moment. That was bad enough, but imagine the chorus of "Not Fair" when a couple of kids got to actually "chat" with her from the other XO. We dealt with that, weathered that storm. They know their time will come. But waiting is hard.

Enjoying this success during my lunch, sitting at my desk, I wondered whether you could share other applications on the mesh network. Silly me. Besides chat, I found "write" could be shared. It was kind of like having two keyboards with input to the same document - but not side by side. They could be a long ways apart - like maybe even from one side of a village to the other... this will be amazing, I think.

But when I found I could share "Record", I knew I really had something. Take a picture on your XO, and the other XO sees it. Record a video on your XO, and the other XO sees it. And obviously vice-versa. You don't have to "send" anything to the other XO - it is just THERE, instantly. It was mind boggling.

XO chat 4As you might imagine, when I showed my kids, they went nuts. I joined them. Can't remember a time when I had so much fun in the classroom. The school day ended way too soon.

Somebody might ask, "yes, but were you teaching anything, and were your kids learning anything?" Duh.

During the day we talked about what it might be like in a village somewhere where there was no electricity - but many of the kids had XO laptops, powered by hand cranks or pull strings. We talked about what it might be like for a child sitting in a little cottage sending a message to one - or many other - kids in the village on an XO. We talked, and they thought, about what life might be like in that kind of world.

XO chat 2We are just beginning to understand the potential of this amazing machine, just beginning to understand the collaborative vision of its creators, and just beginning to understand that there is a big wide world out there, and that our life on it is blessed with good fortune.



Mrs. B said...

Isn't it fun watching them learn, and learning right along with them? Here's what I experienced with my middle school kids:
And yesterday we discovered how to make the Acoustical Tape Measure work! (Just make certain the XOs are facing each other.)
Looking forward to reading more of your adventures.

Tom Hoffman said...

Ah, yes, mrs. b beat me to suggesting the Tape Measure (it is the dolphin icon). That one's sure to make everyone's head explode.

Brenda Muench said...

Wow! I love the way the kids were able to think outside of themselves. Thinking about the way other people will use the technology is what makes a great tech developer! I'm excited just reading about your interaction! And I too am looking forward to reading more!

Anonymous said...


Ok- that's it! I'm taking a personal day to come over and watch you and your kids in action.

Thanks for sharing your XO adventures with the rest of us envious educators. BTW, anybody else in the district taking notice of this? You need to get some press for's just too cool.

Mark Ahlness said...

mrs. b, thanks for showing the excitement middle schoolers are experiencing. Tom, thanks for all the info you have shared - it's been invaluable. Brenda, you are right to think about the interesting directions these explorations may eventually take the kids - thanks. Ken, you are always welcome! The district and I have been going in different tech directions for way too long. They know where I am, and probably what I'm doing.

So to you all, thanks again for leaving your comments here. You know, sometimes you take a chance on something because it just feels right.

I had tried finding funding for an XO for my classsroom and came up empty handed. So my wife and I spent $400 we didn't have because we thought it was important. I got a little involved with local XO users, and lo and behold, somebody wanted to donate one to our class.

I've made most decisions based on proper planning and what makes the most sense. I've not made many just on a gut feeling. I'm going to have to trust that direction a little more.

Anonymous said...

Mark, Thanks so much for the reminder about the XO. It has been a crazy beginning of the year for me. I have been to two week-long conferences already, so I have forgotten about it and it is sitting at home. I need to bring it in!