Saturday, July 24, 2010

Halfway Done

It's been a busy week at Kasiisi School and the Field Station. This Sunday, I'm halfway through my time here. But not halfway through my projects!

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
starting Maps.

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.

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