Monday, August 22, 2011
Friday, August 19, 2011
Much as I'd like to believe I can be a bluegrass banjo picker, I am coming to realize I'll be a clawhammer-style banjo player. The old-timey stuff. Pete Seeger would be smiling upon hearing this. Today I installed an armrest, essential for playing in that style...
Friday, August 12, 2011
Now today - I went in hoping to swap out a power supply in one of my student computers. This computer was a back up anyway, and it had failed last April. No time to work on it during the school year. So I gave it a try today. Couple of notes to self: 1) good for you for keeping junkers around for spare parts and 2) do not forget to plug in the cable to the hard drive. That's a pretty important one. Success #1 for the day, the computer is up and running nicely.
While I was working on that somebody came in to take a look at my HP Color LaserJet - down with a real bad jam for almost a year. Well, she managed to clear the jam, but there was no lcd display, no ethernet/usb response, so she had to leave. A few minutes later I got an email from the school district saying the school would have to replace it. Ha. This was a gift from my classroom parents a few years ago. I despondently started looking online for replacements - nothing that I could really afford. As I was getting ready to leave I decided to take the printer apart as far as I could. What the heck, nothing to lose. I didn't have to go too far before I found a little ribbon cable dangling around inside, obviously looking for a connection. I plugged it in to a likely spot, put the thing back together, and bingo. Nice laser color printer again.
Thursday, August 04, 2011
A very brief history: I bought an XO in 2007 in the first G1G1 (Give one Get one). I wasn’t exactly an evangelist for the XO program, far from it in fact. I just believed this was something that would be great for my third graders to try out. I tried to get funding from my school’s PTSA, but no dice. In the end, I just took a leap and went for it – a leap of faith that I would find myself repeating several times over the next few years. Fast forward to the end of the 2010-11 school year. There is now an XO Laptop Lending Library at my school. There are 29 XO’s in that library, including the one I bought way back when. The rest, every single one, have been donated to my classroom. If you’re interested in that part of the story, I’ve told it here.
I began the lending library with my own classroom, since they were already familiar with the XO. I offered the possibility of checking out an XO laptop for the weekend, something I had tried at the end of the previous school year. Next, I extended the invitation to the school’s other third grade classroom, which I already knew pretty well, seeing them for Art twice a week, and having a few in my reading group. To introduce them to the XO, I devoted a couple of Art class times. The first session included the basics of button operation, the mouse, XO vocabulary, etc. - with time to explore of course. The second session briefly reviewed the previous session, and then quickly went into Gnome (ver. 10.1.3), and back - with time to explore at the end. There was just never enough time for the exploration.... After those two sessions I figured the kids were ready to check out an XO for the weekend. Their class would be able to check out XO’s for the next two weekends, a maximum of 12 each weekend.
This then was the model that I held to for the three second grade classrooms which followed. The challenge with them was finding times when I could see them for the introductory lessons - when I was not teaching. We settled on my lunchtime :( My own class was at lunch/recess during this time, so the room and I were available. The kids would come in to my classroom, where I already had the XO’s out for them on desks. I should mention that I used an XO hooked up to a projector via a special adaptor, which made those lessons much more efficient and meaningful for the kids.
I established some parameters, just to make the program manageable. I set up a maximum of 12 checkouts per weekend, based on 12 being about half a classroom and being a number I I figured I could realistically prepare for checkout/check-in tracking. As it turned out, everybody got a chance to check one out during their classroom two weekend period. I came up with a rudimentary paper/pencil sheet. Each XO was named, of course, and that was how I tracked them. Simple - match a student name with an XO name, and that was it. All on the mighty clipboard. Each XO had to be marked ahead of time (masking tape) with the name of the student who was checking it out...
If this seems like an awful lot futzing around and extra work - well, yes, it was. Pick up Friday afternoon and check in the following Monday morning were usually pretty hectic, especially as I was teaching my own classroom at the same time - XO’s, power adapters, kids, clipboard, final reminders, etc. But, thanks to the cooperation of my own third graders, we were able to muddle through. I started the Lending Library in February, and we ended in June, 2011. Each student from the 2-third and 3-second grades at my school had an opportunity to check out an XO for the weekend. XO laptops went home 117 times for the weekend, and 117 times they came back, just fine.
I came up with a couple of forms to manage things. One was the previously mentioned checkout form, with cells for dates, student names, and XO names. The other was a permission form that had to be signed and returned two days prior to a checkout. I did not make a big deal out of possible loss or damage to the laptops on the form, going with a vague, “...so we promise to take all necessary precautions to keep it safe and secure.” A few came back a day or two late, which was not much of a problem. The only problem came in the form of frantic contacts via email over the weekend from parents concerned because their child had typed something inappropriate on the XO - and they did not know how to get rid of it. The permission form had this caution, “...all activities conducted on the XO can be tracked and seen later.” This actually happened three times. I reassured the parents that I would clean them up when the XO came back, that kids will be kids, and so on. I’m certain their kids definitely got a pretty severe talking to from Mom or Dad. This reassured me that people were at least reading the permission form carefully :)
That’s it. Next year I’ll start earlier and give opportunities to all the third, second and first graders. If there’s time at the end of the year, I’ll extend the opportunity to fourth and fifth grades - and maybe even kindergarten. I’ll also talk with staff about checking out our XO cart to roll into other classrooms for a week or so at a time. We shall see. To all those who donated their XO’s to my classroom, many, many thanks! Your XO’s are providing learning, exploration, and play opportunities for an entire school community.
Sunday, February 06, 2011
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Thursday, January 20, 2011
I was not alone. Hundreds of thousands of Americans did the same. It was the great vision that Nicholas Negroponte had. Besides being a unique humanitarian gesture aimed at improving the education of the world's underprivileged, the XO laptop was a unique piece of hardware that kick-started the competitive innovations leading to the netbook, the Kindle, and yes, even the iPad.
Here in Seattle, I went to local usergroup meetings in a warehouse kind of space and met with some very cool geeky folks who were so into the XO. I was over my head lost trying to understand how they worked. I mentioned to one of the organizers that I was a third grade teacher. Within 2 weeks I had 2 XO laptops donated to my classroom. I was astounded and overwhelmingly grateful. XO's continued to trickle in from all over the place for the next two years.
When the 2010-11 school year started, I had 11 XO laptops. Three months into that school year I now have 28 XO laptops in my classroom. They have all been donated.
In December of 2010 OLPC News ran a piece about us. A couple of individuals sent us XO's as a result. Then Mid-Michigan XO Repair Center heard about us and began reconditioning and sending us cast-off XO's. The final step was going directly to OLPC with a proposal, asking them to donate XO's that had been unused, returned, or damaged. They said yes (unbelievable!), and the unimagined dream headed toward reality. OLPC sent 10 of them to the Mid-Michigan XO Repair Center, which fixed them up and sent them on to me. The last two arrived yesterday.
What makes this whole thing especially hard to imagine is that we are an affluent school. My classroom was loaded with technology already, tons of it. The XO was not designed for us, no way.
But so what, here we are. My kids love the XO's. We have experimented and explored some. Today I rolled them out, one on each desk. I told the kids that I hadn't even tried out 10 of them. Wasn't sure if they were all charged up enough. I reviewed the basics of operation. We talked about where they came from, who they were designed for, and why they were with us.
When I said, "Go", there were 25 "happy songs" and kids staring, waiting expectantly, for theirs to boot. The XO is definitely not fast, but nobody complained. I said they could explore, play. They knew a few of the "activities".
Then I mentioned Chat. Well, the next 15 minutes was incredible excitement and chaos. Experimentation, sharing, and learning. Even mistakes, and a couple of errors in judgement. We talked about that. We talked about how you could use these to communicate even if you lived in a village without electricity. They got it. We talked about sharing information on the XO, understanding protocols, procedures, and options. Mesh networks, battery life, etc, etc.
We were talking about and grasping a new system. With 8 and 9 year olds. Their curiosity was exciting. Their ability to quickly grasp and explain parts of this to their classmates blew me away. They want to know more. I can't wait to learn with them.
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