Sunday, July 11, 2010

First Week of School - About a Fish

It's my 11th (now 12th-internet was down) full day in Africa, and I'm doing well. I got to visit the school on my second day, to meet with the teachers and show them my OLPC work, but that was just a meet-and-greet. It was a successful day, though, with teachers suggesting changes to SocialCalc and the overall feedback being "let's take time and go through these programs." This week, I was at school every day.

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave me a comment or write to

I will try to answer your questions in future posts.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.