Friday, July 30, 2010
to test Rweteera school water Wish I could teach them maps on Smartboard
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Thursday, July 29, 2010
Today was water quality. I had the whole World Water Monitoring Day kit (pH, dissolved oxygen, turbidity), plus hundreds of litmus papers. We tested everything. All of the students had fetched water from boreholes - except maybe one or two had wells. I wrote everything down, so that I can GPS and photograph more of these sources later.
If we could measure water hardness/softness, I could have demo'd the problem that Moses clued me into, the problem with the Kigarama borehole. That thing is definitely rusting out. Fortunately, it and the Kigarama school were on my map photos. But very disappointing to see people getting water from that hole, when a shallow well a hundred feet away is pumping out clean water.
Matthew, who's been helping out me and a Harvard student filmmaker, recommended I chek out Rweteera school, which is a few miles down the road (actually a bit more than a few). Their rain barrels "don't work" and the kids wash in the river. Want more information on this. Tomorrow is a soccer game for all the schools, so I'm going to make a day trip down there.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
School goes on break on August 13th, so I have 3 school weeks left, including this one. I've made it a top priority to do our water quality testing this week (more about that later). Also I'm e-mailing back and forth with Architecture for Humanity about the school roofs idea.
I went to Moses and Matthew and wrote out a schedule:
- Finish mapping lessons - share activity and KML
- Lessons about sensors (smaller P6 class only tried them once)
- Making our own sensors
- RFID activity
- Start mapping lessons
- Making our own sensors
- RFID activity
Water Testing (this week)
- Small group of P5, P6, or mixed students?
- Class 1: Explain water testing and reasons for testing (include Dunkard Creek example). Assign water collection
- Class 2: World Water Monitoring and pH tests - use microscopes
- Next few days: (If possible, and teaming up with Chris) visit water sources, take photos and do GPS
The RFID thing isn't going over well. It's complicated and doesn't seem as relevant. I may need to visit a cellphone repairman in Fort Portal to get it re-soldered. I think it gives the students an opportunity to connect real-world and digital things which they've made themselves, but Matthew keeps asking me how I'll explain it (how did I explain light sensors? I said that they measured solar energy, and that was that). I wish people would trust me more, since the other programs are going so well.
As soon as I got to water testing, Moses asked me if I could check out the borehole in Kigarama. "It looks like it has rust," he says. Now this project is much more serious. I wish I'd talked with Moses about this earlier. Right now I'm suspecting bacteria or actual rust. Matthew knows where this is, so I'll make sure to stop by and check things out. Hopefully I won't have to pull a John Snow and break off the pump handle.
Anyhow, we decided a small P6 class can do the water testing. I'll assign collection sites at the end of their next maps class, and get samples from a variety of water sources (rainwater, boreholes, wells, school)... I will get extra Kigarama and river samples myself.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
A new volunteer arrived and he's also biking to the school, despite having a
badly-sprained ankle. I've shown him the laptops and their programs and he's
looking forward to helping out with the classes. For now, he's working to register
all of the new books for the library.
Barbara is finishing up her work with the school library and literacy outreach to parents of preschool children. She and I reviewed the kid and teacher books which are on my USBs, worked with the teachers to get an audiobook playing ("The Yellow Fairy Book", short stories "The Three Brothers" and "The Cat and the Mouse in Partnership"), and discussed a few ways the laptops can reinforce reading at the school. That could be anything from adding more eBooks, to putting story-related Wikipedia articles on the laptops, or having the students fill out a generic questionaire when they've read a book. The questionaire would replace a more in-depth but practically more difficult policy of having the students write book reviews.
Primate Handshake is helping to develop this questionaire. They're also working on
environmental resources for the laptops, plus they'll be doing a class today on
that. Their suggestion to collect and analyze students' ratings and reviews of the
book reminded me of my idea for a Distributed Content Network for the laptop
projects in Bhutan and Mongolia. But how to make it work without hacking and
reprogramming the school server? I've decided that it should be made into a new activity. The teachers will turn on their literacy laptop, students will join the activity wirelessly, and their forms will be collected, analyzed, and stored on the teacher's machine.
Classes: I taught sensors to P5 and it started rough - my solar
panel didn't work (now fixed) and the students weren't too sure of the light
sensors' usefulness. On the plus side, I got them to make enough cardboard sensor cards that the school now has 20 light sensors, 16 temperature sensors, 3 LED
lights, and 2 rotation sensors. In our next lesson, I hope we can try out these
and start making our own devices which play sounds when circuits are connected and
disconnected. In leau of a sound library, the students will make the sounds in
Record and attach them in the program.
I had a table of students working with a sensor on a long wire. I had one student
take the sensor outside so the others could see what was happening. Then I turned
the screen around 180 degrees so she could see for herself. She clutched the
sensor in her hand and waited for the screen to do something. "No, it's you!" I
explained. Sensors are a difficult concept.
On Tuesday, I taught the whole P6 class about adding photos to maps. Fortunately I had extra help from Matthew (a Kasiisi graduate who now works for the project), and most of the computer teachers. A few of the P6 kids from my smaller class also helped their classmates find Kasiisi and go through the photo-adding steps. In the middle of the class, the laptop system and the kids were having some trouble switching between taking photos in Record and browsing in Maps. But by the end of class most screens had their photos placed on Kasiisi School, and one even had
an embedded video! I worked for awhile to get video working *just right* so this
was good to see. In the future, we'll take photos and close the activity before
In the middle of the week I was working a little with Primate Handshake (really nice people, and they had us come to a birthday party! with cake!) and showing students from other grades how to use the laptops and try out the activities. A whole bunch of students wanted to look around Kampala and find people; I found a car, but it wasn't that impressive.
Friday, I taught all of P5 to use sensors. We have 36+ sensors, but only 16 wires, for at least 80 students. I tried to give a sensor wire to each table, and encouraged students to help each other. The students who tried sensors on Monday were really helpful in getting the others to properly use the alligator clips, the microphone port, and the sensors. The science teacher helped me explain the light and temperature sensors, and demo them for the students. I need to bring my flashlight next time. P5 also doesn't know about solar power, that's in P6 classes (P6 actually had a few students talk about 'clean energy' when I showed them the solar panels). Eventually, like Monday, we had to take everyone outside so everyone could see the sensors working. I had a lot of help from the science teacher, so in the end things worked out.
I need to make them 30 or so sensor wires after I go home. I played Hardware Charades in Fort Portal to ask about soldering equipment, but they didn't sell it.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
I arrived early, but before my interview I went with a few other people into Fort Portal. The first time I was in town, it was early on and I didn't know what to get. This time around, I made a list: cellphone charger and minutes, nails for electromagnets, tape, bank for rent money, and cookies to take with my malaria pill. Picked up green headphones too. Most of the items were on one street, but the phone is a rare ZTN Chinese phone and I was told to walk a kilometer or so to see "The Indians". The walk was downhill and I could see the whole city stretched out ahead of me. A hundred stores are loading and unloading mattresses, cookies, televisions, and other goodies. The Indians (I was told to look for a store saying simply 'Electronics') had a kiosk like any US mall, with a hundred shiny chrome BlackBerries, DVD players, and cell phones proudly displayed behind Plexiglass casing. They produced a few chargers, but no luck. They send me to another store, where one employee nodded, and I was told to follow her. She unlocked a one-person kiosk just a half-kilometer away and looked for a charger. This was my 3rd try, so I was thinking about giving up and getting an Obama phone. But fortunately she had the right connector. I thanked everyone as I went back up the road.
Returned to Kasiisi School by taxi.
Primate Handshake interviewed me (interviews are so awkward, but I think I kept my composure alright... felt like the scientist in Lost who makes all the videos). They wanted another laptop class. The teachers were meeting with a visiting US teacher to discuss the library, so they suggested I postpone the class, but I was eager to have P6 try Maps again, so they gave me a small class to work with by myself. The students had already seen the Kasiisi map, so after we were all there, I asked them to find another place they knew. Then one student asked if they could look at Jinja, and we have a different-looking roadmap there. They then tried other cities.
One group of students looked up Moyo (it's quite far from here and very low-res on our map) and they were doing well with the program, so I had them try the next phase: taking a photo and adding it to the Kasiisi map. They couldn't agree on which building we were in, so I had them run outside and look for themselves. After some frantic pointing and discussion, they came to a decision and added their photo. Primate Handshake talked to us on camera about what had happened. Then as I walked to the next table, I saw the group showing other students how they could click the map and make their photo appear.
I asked the class a couple of questions, such as "what do you think when
you see the map of Kasiisi School?" They had a couple of points about the
school being small compared to Uganda, "surrounded by vegetation", "near
When more teachers arrived from their meeting, I asked them to summarize
and students said all of the cities where they had looked on the maps: "We have seen Fort Portal" Others chime in: "Kampala!" "Jinja!" "Moyo!" This really happened.
Friday, July 16, 2010
Tuesday and Wednesday, I participated in laptop classes on WikiBrowse. One part of my project is to see how the classes use the laptops. The laptops need to have their settings changed so that Frame does not pop up and frustrate the students. WikiBrowse can be made to work better, and articles interesting to the students, such as 'Barack Obama' are outdated. I will be getting text for this article and some others from simple.wikipedia.org so the students will be able to understand the articles better.
Moses's literacy circle was reading Sadako so I talked to them about the book, Japanese culture, and Hiroshima. I showed them pictures and photos on the laptops. For some reason, 7A was much more talkative than the second class, 7B - it might have something to do with how I told 7A more about my own difficulty speaking Japanese. A teacher who has been to Kasiisi several times, and started the library last year, was happy to see the students in an American-style reading group AND using laptops for supporting content. It's the library of the future, here in Uganda!
Wednesday I re-pitched my plan to have a smaller class of at most 32 students - and that it would be more of a "science class" then a laptop class. We will be working "outside of the box" - both in terms of thinking, and in terms of connecting the laptops with things outside of this computer 'box'. The teachers hadn't heard this metaphor before and they LOVE it. I used the Wright Brothers as an example.
Thursday, Primate Handshake showed up with around 20 people and their cameras in a giant yellow safari truck. We were concerned about trying the sensors for the first time in front of them... but we trusted P5 and it worked great! The students were able to connect the sensors to the 5 Senses which they've already memorized and the 3/5 that the laptop already does (I also mentioned that some computers CAN taste and smell, that was a O_O ). We had some time at the end for the Primate Handshake people and the kids to play with the activities, mostly Record and Scratch.
Side note: when it rains just a little, the metal roof sounds like a torrential downpour. I couldn't believe it when I went outside and it was only dripping. The sound drowns out thunder, even. Need to contact Architecture for Humanity about how their sound-dampening projects.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
On Monday there was a huge, hours-long welcome ceremony for the visiting American teachers. On one side of the square were the teachers, officials (representing Tooro King Oyo, Parliament, and President Musenvi), and other guests (many from secondary schools and Mountains of the Moon University). On two other sides were parents and younger siblings of the students, all staring at the teachers and additional guests (me and the chimp researchers). The fourth and final side was left open for each group of kids to perform a song and dance. Some songs were Rutooro, others in English, others bilingual. There are five (or six?) schools in the Kibale Forest project, and each wore different uniforms and costumes.
The performances were miles ahead of the holiday concerts at my elementary school. Several students had solos. Some songs seemed to be well-known by parents and Ugandan guests, while others had a message about education or conservation. One especially cute skit about deforestation led to a mock battle between chimps and farmers. Of course, Kasiisi School was best.
During lunch (my first time eating cassava! reminds me of my QuestionBox project last year), I chatted with the Mountains of the Moon registrar. I was telling him about the construction and repairs I'd gotten to see on the road to Fort Portal, and he laughed, "for most that would be an inconvenience.". He suggested I meet with engineers and a web developer at their university. I hope I can convince the web guy to teach HTML in their IT program -- webpages are important, *and* some students could make content for the Kasiisi School as part of their class. Also, I'd like to hear what engineers are working on around here.
Tuesday, I biked to the school for the first time. I'd practiced going over half of the way on Sunday, ending when I reached the main road, so I knew all of the hills where it was best to give up and walk. The road is dusty and bumpy - and you better pull over for trucks - but it was exhilirating to take Uganda in at my own pace. Arriving on time and with all of my limbs felt good. I met with the teachers and discussed my fixes to SocialCalc - one teacher wants it for school records amd has entered 160 names already. Then quite suddenly I was invited into class. The four computer teachers wanted to show me a lesson on copying from WikiBrowse and pasting into Write. Madness. Maybe a hundred students shoulder-to-shoulder with laptops, with machine after machine succumbing to low batteries, the frame blocking the screen, and cryptic errors. Patrick shows me one with a rotated screen and another 404ing (page not found). The kids stall at a 404 or security popup; they wait for a teacher to come, read the entire jargon-filled message, and restart the activity. WikiBrowse needs to start with Search open, not the address bar. I take a page full of notes. When a few students open the second activity and finally paste, they're not sure what it was all for. =(
Wednesday, I install programs and change Frame settings on dozens of machines - the ones with battery power. The class meeting in the library is reading "Sadako." Other students stop by and ask Moses questions about geography and history.
Thursday, I arrive later and install programs. The teachers introduce me to the class and I say a few words about our new Map activity. Some students are playing soccer with the American teachers, so it's a thankfully smaller class. My idea for the lesson is to zoom out to the full map of Uganda, then close in on Kasiisi School. They recognize Uganda from classroom maps and Geoquiz, but blank on finding Kasiisi. I suggest starting with Fort Portal. With remarkable efforts from all of the teachers, students find it and begin zooming in. My control options are onscreen buttons and double-clicking. Students have trouble getting an accurate click or fast double-click.
One student raises his hand and points at the green squares on his map. "Keep going," I tell him. A minute later he is exploring the map. Moses has guided one studemt to Kasiisi School, and at least ten kids cluster around excitedly as he points out the buildings and roads. I help another student at the table get to the same point.
It's time to pack up. A student has lost his view of the school. I adjust the map and he says, "can I see my house?" "Is it near school?" "From Kasiisi, on this road there is Cocho, where I live" He understands the map. Success. He's just north of the hi-res map, but I promise to get more.
The students leave. "Will you come again tomorrow?" "Thank you, Nicholas." "Thank you, teacher." The teachers are also pleased, agreeing that finding Kasiisi was better than just entering it in.
My bicycle has a flat tire, so Moses helps me find the repair shop up the road.
Friday, I wake up early and reprogram the Map activity so it can be controlled with the keyboard. I add satellite photos of the surrounding area (including Cocho, I hope) to the MapPack. Today there's a volleyball match and no laptop class. Thank goodness, because so many of the laptops are out of battery power and I'm feeling out of sorts. After updating a couple dozen, Moses sends a few students from a reading group to get laptops. They want to read the eBooks that I brought. In order to keep four laptops running through the class, I go through at least eight. I start them with the Yellow Fairy Book, Lilac Fairy Book, and Baum's Mother Goose (a short story for each nursery rhyme, written by the author of the Wizard of Oz). The boys debate where to go on the Table of Contents. The girls say they knew "Cat and the Fiddle" but I'm not sure. The boys read a few stories including "one about a fish" and ask me to give them the same story later. These reading groups were unheard of when the American teachers visited two years ago. There were only a few books, and the teacher would read one to a mass of silent students. Through the Kasiisi Project, these programs were started, and reinforced by having Ugandan teachers in the US. A teacher explains to me that reading aloud and discussing in smaller groups will build up "a reading culture" which could do a lot to open students' minds.
Speaking of reading groups, I talked to Moses about "Sadako" on Thursday, and I will be speaking about my visit to Hiroshima and Japan. Hope to shed some light on what Japanese people are all about. I put a few pictures from Facebook and Wikipedia onto my USB, so I can show them using the laptop. I'm also trying to arrange something extra... but that remains to be seen.
* There are always primate researchers stalking the Colobus monkeys around the field station. They also carry foil triangles on long poles, which I imagined to be some sort of mirror on a stick, to see how monkeys react. I found out yesterday that these are to collect urine.
* MUBFS warned us about baboons, and advised "they can't open doors, so just leave yours closed" My comment: "didn't they say that in Jurassic Park?"
* People ask sooo many questions. The Jurassic Park comment is one of my parody questions. "What if there's a solar flare and GPS stops working?" "The trail won't be like Jumanji, will it?" "Is there a store in Fort Portal where I can buy helium, wire mesh, and a nail?" I'm not sure if these questions are appreciated or not.
* They are putting a new concrete floor in the standard latrines, so they've unlocked the nice porcelain restroom the teachers get. Walking in there was like a entering a whole other world. Pooing in there was even better.
* I went on a nightwalk with a chimp researcher, two teachers, and their two daughters. Didn't see nocturnal primates, but we did see fireflies (called "stars"), honking bats, and the incredible night sky. Their younger daughter pointed out a moving star and hoped it was the space station. According to a search on WolframAlpha, it could have been!
* A boy was walking his bike up the same hill as I. He spoke English well, and we had a quick chat about Kanyawara School.
* We're done with cinnamon bread, so I've moved on to corn tortillas and sweet bread lumps that taste like plain donuts. Avocado and tomato are good, too.
Sunday, July 4, 2010
office and post--
Part 2: Out and About in the Tooro Kingdom
In Fort Portal, there's a hilltop palace where King Oto reigns over the Tooro
Kingdom, which contains parts of Uganda, the DR Congo, and Rwanda. I'm told that
people identify themselves as Tooro more than Ugandan. For this
reason, the president of Uganda recognizes many Kings within the country. I saw it in person when we went into town for shopping the other day. I got chocolate snacks to eat with my malaria pill.
The language is "Rutooro" and the people are "Batooro". King Oto isn't at home
- he goes to a nice prep school in England. He became an officially-recognized King in April
when he turned 18. Much pomp and circumstance, and his assistants showed up: the
president of Uganda, local leaders, and the eccentric Libyan Gaddafi.
I'm now on Day 5 of living in the Tooro Kingdom, and have done most everything
except laundry. I wake up, emerge from my mosquito nets, go out onto the
campus, visit the latrine, take a cold shower, brush my teeth without water, and
walk down the road away from MUBFS. At Chimp House, I eat a couple of eggs and a
slice of cinnamon bread with a few chimp biologists. They usually talk shop about
their field excursions and their chimpanzees, while I punctuate with newbie
questions like "how close do you get?" (right next to them) "does a lot of
chewing mean they like the food?" (no) "you ate raw monkey?" (chewed it, not
ate it). A few teachers from Massachusetts are with us the next two weeks,
too. Local religious/political/education leaders met with them the other night,
pushing them to offer advice for their preschool, special-ed, and math programs.
The first couple of days were my first encounters with a line of army ants,
the lizards that scurry across walls and flail on metal roofs, the red-tailed
monkeys jumping from branch to branch in the forest. The other day, when baboons
were fighting and rolling around the yard, I was more annoyed than awestruck.
Quiet baboons, I'm busy programming mesh-friendly color-selection for graphs.
Yesterday I saw a troop of black-and-white Colobus monkeys for the first time.
While they move gracefully from tree to tree, when the trees are farther apart the
Colobus monkey drops to the ground and awkwardly gallups (no other way to describe
it) over to the next trunk. It climbs up and looks relieved to be back in the
air. Then, stupidly, it climbs a thin branch. Reaching for a tasty
flower, there is a snap, a crash, and the monkey is soon galluping away to the
There's a lot to be said about Kasiisi School, but it's best saved for after
my second trip. My first trip was definitely a conversation-starter; I have
gotten plenty of advice on who to meet and what to do once regular classes resume
on Tuesday. The teachers are very excited about the programs, but see promise in the badly-needed Excel analogue, SocialCalc, and the talking eBooks I have set up (Treasure Island audio is on its way). They'll be happy to see
their suggested changes in place when I return.
office and post--
Part 1: Getting there (Entebbe and Kampala to Fort Portal)
I arrived rather late - a bit panicky because I had just lost the entry form on
the plane (found later, in use as a bookmark). My visa was accepted in seconds, and
then I was welcomed into the Entebbe Airport. The checked bags (one for
me, one for the school library) were on the carousel, and in the next minute I was
meeting up with the Boma Guesthouse driver. After waiting for a couple to negotiate lost bags,
it took only a short drive and check-in before I could move in and send a message
home on their WiFi.
The next morning, I re-packed and got into a taxi (left side of the car,
since they drive like the British). It was early enough in the morning that
traffic was running smoothly. I try to take everything in: the road, the houses
and shops along the side, the billboards advertising everything from doctors to
cement, the mobile phone company MTN's signs everywhere...
As we entered central Kampala (the capital) I see a skyline bristling with
radio antennae, the minarets of a large mosque, and a few cranes. Cars and
boda-bodas (mopeds) jostle for position on the road, and tons of people walk along the sides of the street.
At one particularly busy street corner, traffic crawls around a fountain of water
gushing ~30ft into the air. I want to use some sort of "go go gadget" and use my
civil engineering skills, but this is neither the time nor the place.
The taxi lets me off directly in front of the bus to Fort Portal. I buy a
ticket for 15000 shillings ($5-$7.50, depending on who's counting) and... well,
it's about an hour until anything happens. I sit by the window, and I'm joined by
a teacher and a charity worker (my understanding is that the charity finds
teachers for orphans). The charity guy is fascinated by my book about William
Kamkwamba, a drop-out from Malawi who built his own electric windmill from only a few diagrams
(reading the book it's even more impressive, as he describes more
inventions, hardships, and his can-do attitude). The bus takes hours to get
anywhere near Fort Portal, so we discuss a lot.
The bus ride comes with remarkable scenery and a brief look into the more
profitable businesses of Uganda. Any roadside business - fresh food,
mechanical repairs, mobile minutes - is sure to have an advantage over less accessible and less busy
ones. One exception is farms - the hardpacked red soil on our elevated road leaves
a thick red powder on nearby plants. I wonder if some net or cheap vegetation
barrier would improve things. The road is also under major construction in a few
places - there is a slowing, a detour, and we look aside into the gaping cut in
the main elevated road. Workers are installing a drainage pipe across the
bottom of the road. I assume that water pools here naturally and erodes the
elevated roadbed, so it is being guided underneath. The roadbed itself is made
with large ground rocks, then gravel, then the ubiquitous red soil packed over and
on top of it. These are similar ingredients to concrete.
At the Fort Portal side, I am picked up by Matthew from MUBFS in a waiting
taxi. We talk on the way about my trip and my project. I get to meet everyone
quickly, and then get set up in a room. The room is two bunkbeds, a fifth bed,
and a small bedside table. I am given a lower bunkbed with netting, and I store my
It's a couple of days before I realize the rest are being left empty for me.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
they also like the audio ebooks but would like treasure island. their childrens classic version is different, so i downloaded the text so we can see if it is still good. otherwise, i could see 200 laptops recording the book for future students in no time.
tomorrow the other teachers are coming, so the school is very busy preparing for them - i will meet up with the school again friday or monday