Wednesday, August 25, 2010

After-the-Fact Update

[Edit: written Friday, August 20th, at Entebbe Airport - in pencil]

The last few days were a storm of happenings. Getting a mixed 5th/6th grade class on Monday morning, I decided - perhaps unwisely - to show PhotoPacks, note some unfamiliarity with Browse, then move on to Pippy/Python programming. Somehow, we had a few groups with speaking computers by the end. But it would take a lot more preparation before I did a lesson like that again.

Tuesday was a return to Mountains of the Moon, both to present "Technology From Africa: Invented or Shaped by Africans" and to find grounding for a State Department-funded hackathon at the university. The beginning had a few bumps - I do not start presentations well - but the remainder was informative, organized. My top five are Ushahidi, FrontlineSMS, OLPC, Google Trader / QuestionBox, and Google Mapmaker. Most were unknown to the students; a few were recognized by the head of the department. I also introduced the Google Static Maps API to their web classes. This lets less technical people request a custom map (see this blog, which has a map on the right). The State Department offered to hold an event in the future, so I connected them to the university. Still waiting to hear from this [edit: almost a week later, still waiting =( ]

Wednesday - had students make maps if Kasiisi, adding markers to show where they study and where they do activities such as Girl Guides, soccer, and Roots & Shoots. Hope to pass these along to a laptop-using community center in Kampala, which I found about the day before.

Thursday - last full day in Uganda. Last class. We went seamlessly from the start of class "oreire ota" [good morning] to students photographing the school on a beautiful day, to mapping their discoveries, to student-made RFID art, to the end and farewells. Spock's "live long and prosper" seemed appropriate. I got the best photos of my trip: kids holding up laptops to photograph wall murals, kneeling by gardens to capture individual flowers, a student's photo of the cook peeling matoke bananas. Everyone I'd talked to had held back on the RFID activity. Too complicated, impractical, unworkable. Fortunately, ever since the UTL technician Brian did his soldering, the technical parts have been working. I went ahead with my original small group lesson - draw an animal and connect it to a digital description or audio complement. After the first physical-digital bond, I had a queue of students asking for theirs next, now this one, then that one, and so on. All I had were a few student sentences and the artists' names. But when all was said and done, we had 16 students, myself, and the teacher all scanning drawings and marveling as the computer kept pace. I'll send a few photos of this whole thing to the technician [edit: done =) ]

Moral of the story: the kids can learn some pretty complicated technology. Take care, but don't underestimate them. It was hard to end the class, to tear myself away from laptop issues and wires, to pick up and fasten my helmet for the last time. I made my final goodbyes to Patrick, the science teacher, asking him to try using the sensors in his classes.

And then my work was done. I pedaled back to Kanyawara, helped make dinner, and that was that.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Super Photo Update

These are the photos on my camera. I will be getting others from other volunteers and Primate Handshake in the near future. These 800+ should tide you over.

In chronological order:

Preparing for OLPC Uganda

Part 1 - Kasiisi School Assembly, Looking around the Library, Wildlife at MUBFS

Part 2 - Around Kasiisi, Kanyawara Road, Primate Handshake, Kigarama Borehole

Part 3 - MUBFS water sample, Maps Class, Helping the Girl Guides, World Water Monitoring Day, Road to Rweteera

Part 4 - Road to Rweteera, Rweteera School, Rweteera Water Sample, Fort Portal, Mapping at Rweteera

Part 5 - Mapping at Rweteera, Students' Photos, Programming Class, Paper Maps at Kasiisi, Making Sensors, Last Day of Class (photos, maps, and RFID)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

TXT from Nicholas in Uganda

touched down minutes ago in Newark
This is from a message-forwarding program - contact me directly at nick AT
DigiLiteracy DOT org

Friday, August 20, 2010

TXT from Nicholas in Uganda

Last classes were the best Got good photos Now at Entebbe airport ahead of
time with usbs and lesson book at Kasissi Thanks all Next update from usa
This is from a message-forwarding program - contact me directly at nick AT
DigiLiteracy DOT org

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Little Things

The little things that make Uganda, Uganda

* "How are you?" "Fine. How are you?" "Fine, and you?" "Fine and how are - wait!"

* Two giant spiders are on a chair. I casually brush them off while I sit down.

* "The program is using an 'import'. What does Uganda import?" [shouts of "BICYCLES!" and "TELEPHONES!"]

* I used to correct people who thought "I biked here" meant I'd taken a boda-boda (which is a motorbike, not a mystical flying creature). Now I correct people who think "I went to Fort Portal" means I pedaled the whole way there.

* The day I was called into the front of the literacy circle by the library teacher. He asks if I need any preparation to translate Spanish. I say I'll do my best. He gives me a page number in "The Color of My Words" (excellent book and perfect for Kasiisi, fyi). There are at least 30 kids waiting silently, hoping I can translate the strange, the foreign, the completely unknown... arroz con pollo. We all had a good laugh about it.

* The days where the chimp researchers and I sat around the table and typed at our computers until past dark. It didn't feel like "Africa" at all. If we had the 3G internet that's available 5 miles north of here, it would be completely unreal.

* Picking up a piece of paper from the printer and feeling a terrible lurch in my stomach. I can't shake it. Seconds later, I realize the paper is too big (A4, the world's 8.5 x 11).

* Also, when you switch the computer to UK English (necessary to keep our spreadsheet from going all wonky), all of Windows's power icons switch to the UK+Uganda plugs. Really.

* Going into stores and having everyone stop so you can announce something, as if I'm going to shout "I NEED 3 DOZEN PAINTBRUSHES". I just want to look if you have some of those cookies with the green box... they're usually on that shelf... how about the chocolate wafers, then.

* Ugandan handshake versus American handshake versus respectful Ugandan wristhold. You never know what you're gonna get. My default is the Ugandan handshake, but I need to unlearn this before going to any interviews in the US.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Photos from today (part 2 of 2)

Most of this week, I showed some of the Big Picture photos from around the world. Hugely popular with students of all ages and the computer teachers. Some photo sets even have a whole bunch of pictures of kids and the US. Students shared the more interesting photos with some other visitors and volunteers.

Today, I had the students make and test their own sensors (I had a lot more influence than I'd like to on what the groups made). I showed one of the teachers how to code Python programs that read words, spell words, and solve math problems. Then there was a school assembly.

Black and white colobus monkey (with a baby!)

School grounds (during and after school assembly)

A door can be open or closed; so can a ciruit

Photos from this week (part 1 of 2)

Today, I showed some of the Big Picture photos from around the world. I had the students make and test their own sensors (I had more influence than I'd like to on what the groups made). Then there was a school assembly.

Using a box as a footstep sensor / pressure pad

The pliers are a squeeze sensor

The marker is a pointer which senses when you touch Uganda on the map

Seeing tea fields through the forest (between Kiko and Kanyawara)

Viewing Dance around the World from Big Picture

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Last photos for now (4th of 4 posts)

The photos in this post (and one from the last one) are from today!

Showing Kasiisi map to visiting teacher (student photo)

I tried teaching TurtleArt / Logo today (photos by Koojo Matthew, Kasiisi Project)

Red Colobus Monkey

More photos (3rd of 4 posts)


Kasiisi: 4th grade kids draw a paper map (from today!)

Kasiisi: 6th grade kids write on the digital map of their school

Reading class in the Kasiisi library, with Moses

World Water Monitoring Day

More photos (2nd of 3 or so posts)

World Water Monitoring Day

The road to Rweteera

Fort Portal

Some Photos

Since people are following the blog, I ought to add some photos, right? Here is the first set:

Rweteera - Pencils, Paper, and Stickers Maps Lesson

Photo taken by a student at Kasiisi

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Weekend

I saw a microwave the other day. I stopped, stared at it for awhile, and didn't know what to think. My first week back in the US is going to be weird.

It's the weekend, so I'm planning my return and reconnecting with other projects. I have a few places to go the day that I'm in Kampala. Then by the time I get home, there will be a week's worth of data collected in Dhaka, Bangladesh and a page on the site for me to map it. I'll hopefully be starting a project closer to home, profiling towns near Pittsburgh applying for the EPA SuperFund. The Boston laptop team wants to go to New Orleans. And by October I need to be ready for a mock disaster in San Diego and the Crisis Mapping Conference in Boston.

I also have a bit of a todo list built up from all of the other days. I need to complete my first WikiPack - a list of updated and useful articles from Simple English Wikipedia - with a few articles connected to the school's library books and some technologies. I've set it up so we can add 4 more WikiPacks and the Wikipedia activity will search and connect to all of them. Also we've been working on a Book Report activity which I ought to test with one of the reading groups before going home. And I should have lesson plans written out for everything.

I'm a bit stressed about finishing all of this in time, but as long as one class does it, the teachers will be able to continue it.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Doing More, continued

OK, minor cliffhanger on the last post. A lot happened in Fort Portal, then the following Tuesday again in Fort Portal, then just yesterday, Thursday, at Rweteera. Instead of typing it all out while I had internet access up and running, I decidedto wait and post later.

SO, I was directed into this weird hidden attic above the UTL mobile shop. There, the technician was playing some CDs on his computer, surrounded by some decent electronics equipment. After waiting for the first customer to get their phone back, it was my turn to get tech support. A couple of men also came upstairs to ask me questions about where I was from and to see what sort of mobile I had. To their delight, I pulled out my RFID reader, which had no discernible purpose and the four output wires taped or soldered on by a thread. I explained what I needed to the technician and he looked it over. I pointed out my own sloppy wiring and assured him that the 4 wires could be in any position. I offered solder for the connections, but he dismissed that. A few minutes with the soldering iron, and the wires were firmly attached to the reader.

Now I wasn't sure what to do next. The technician wanted to know what the device was, and what the wires connected to. The other customers were very eager to see this, too. I was wondering how I could explain any of that. I told them that I taught science at Kasiisi Primary, that Uganda's UWA uses a similar system (I brought an RFID tag sticker for an example) to track animals, and the students
would use it to learn about uses of technology. We talked for awhile about the school, my work, and African tech, I said something or other about Apps4Africa which I had read about that morning, and I left with a photo and e-mail address of Brian, the technician. Will send him photos of the device working with my class today. On return to the US, I ought to ship him an Arduino and robot parts or something.

My co-volunteers were occupied elsewhere, so I went to the Panga river to collect a water sample. Humming to myself and ignoring the stares of the people on the bridge, I donned gloves, knelt at the riverbank, and filled my water bottle. Above me, a few high school age kids yelled that it was bad water. "I know! I know! I will test it!" I shouted back. A few stuck around to talk to me. One asked me point-blank: "can you test if my water is chlorinated or unchlorinated?" I got his name, Tsuiime Moses, and his school, Kitumba Secondary School. I didn't have extra pH paper on me, so we traded phone numbers and I promised to return in a day or two.

With the help of Professor JMK, I returned to Fort Portal that Tuesday. I'd been meaning to meet with the sysadmin of Mountains of the Moon University, since he knows HTML. I wanted to know his skill level: if he knew JavaScript, if he used DreamWeaver, that sort of thing. After making arrangements, I biked to the professor's house, joined a 4-person carpool into Fort Portal, and had him introduce me to the ICT people there. They showed me the computer labs; I showed them my programs for the XO laptop. We both were impressed by things. Mountains of the Moon is a mostly Windows school, but a non-profit called Camara (do I remember them from my Mombasa project?) gave them a whole Linux computer lab, too. If there were problems with the computers, none were discussed with me. I asked if they had heard of Ushahidi from Kenya, Appfrica in Kampala, or the Google Maps API. Strikeout. The lecturer I spoke to *did* know about Google Mapmaker and that they could edit the maps. That was a good thing. I gave him the paper from announcing Apps4Africa, and underlined the mention of Appfrica from Kampala. To make this long story short, we discussed their web-development certificate program, they showed me the plan for a computer science degree program starting up this August, and everyone agreed that I should return on the 17th after classes have begun. That'll probably be my last day in western Uganda for a very long time, but I agreed. They want me to do a talk, seminar, or workshop... I think I'll ask Appfrica if we can do an event for Apps4Africa, plus I'll talk about five technologies from Africa, instead of the usual "technology for Africa" boilerplate used by so many projects, to get people started. I suspect they'll be contacting me for some help getting FrontlineSMS or Ushahidi running on their computers.

Then I got a call from Moses, back at the river. I met him there, demonstrated the tests, and suggested we give the tests to his secondary school. He found a boda-boda driver and we were whisked away to this unknown place. Somehow this worked out really well. The deputy director of the school nodded politely as I explained pH and dissolved oxygen, and I was afraid he wasn't following. I paused at how to explain the usefulness of the DO test for aquatic life. He suggested "bioavailable oxygen?" and I was silent for a moment, then only able to say, "yes! exactly!" He'd also been to an AFROKAPS meeting (Kasiisi Project's alias in Uganda) just a few days before. Small country. He insisted that I direct a class on litmus paper. The school had hydrochloric acid, ammonia, and some tap water ready to go. I demonstrated the methods to a crowd of 40 or so people who weren't in exams. A few other students wanted to test their water, so I gave them some more litmus papers. I also got to see the exams going on in secondary school. There were kerosene burners and some chemicals in the science labs, stalks of grain and bushels of some plant on tables for agriculture exams, and so on. It looked like a cross between the SAT and Potions class in Harry Potter.

Thursday was my appointed day for Rweteera, if you recall my conversation with their head teacher last week. I rolled up my papers, packed my markers and pencils and stickers, and glided over there on my bicycle. I was directed to teach 7th grade, which I feared would be too many to teach. But there are only 38 kids in 7th grade out of 800 at the school. Richer kids can afford to go to other schools, while other kids start work or get pregnant before graduating the 6th grade. Even the 2nd grade class is far smaller than the 1st grade class. I'd like to have more facts and statistics about how this is.

Numbers aside, this was one of my best and easiest classes. The kids were a bit jumpy at first to have a muzungu teacher, but when we rolled out the satellite map of Rweteera, enough paper for 4 groups, pencils and markers, the whole kaboodle... we had everyone on board. The students have been taught to repeat the phrase "a map is a rep-ree-zent-tation of something from above" but now we could actually make a map. Once the student groups had drawn their way north to the river and south to the Rweteera town trading center, I revealed the farming stickers. First I had to show them how to peel off a sticker and attach it to things. A few minutes later, stickers were everywhere - maps, hands, and faces. The students remembered to include Kibale Forest, and I gave out the jungle stickers. After this third phase of mapping, I took a ton of photos, presented things to the headmaster, accepted lunch from him, talked briefly to a school assembly, and was done.
But two things bothered me. One: what is this from the Uganda exams about representing things from above? My suggestion that we go from a direct top-down roofs-only view to an angled view, at least to represent the school, was rejected. I talked about putting on-the-ground health information on points, and this type of map didn't fit into the Ugandan definition of a map, either. Two: why had two separate groups put a windmill sticker on the Rweteera tea farm?

The kids had insisted on having the windmill, placing it between the tea farm and the forest, and attached belonging to the tea farm. So I headed further south to the tea farm, where I met a woman and a young kid outside a worker dormitory. I fished around in my backpack, and she exasperatedly asked "camera?" I said no, and since I didn't have a pencil, I went for the scissors. I cut out a windmill, like the one from the sticker. By the time I had finished, an English-speaking woman had emerged. "I'm looking for a..." "a windmill" "Yes!" Fantastic. Unfortunately, they don't know of a windmill around here. Maybe there's an old, broken-down windmill on the farm, near the forest, somewhere neither of the women know about yet kids have seen it. But for now, it remains lost.

Kasiisi laptop classes are still going on. Monday, I taught P5 how to take photos and add them to a map. Wednesday, I taught P6 how to use all of the sensors we have at the moment, and demonstrated graphs of what an all-day solar energy thing would look like. They had an eclipse in January, so I used that as an example, too. Today both P5 and P6 are occupied with their exams, so I'm going to teach the RFID lesson to the younger kids who are chilling in the library - kids who may not have used the laptops at all. I'll read them a story that has sounds / onomotopeia(?) and work from there.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Doing a bit more: Rweteera, Mountains of the Moon, and Kitumba

Friday was an unusual day. First, because there was no laptop class. Kasiisi and the other partner schools held a soccer and volleyball tournament at Kigarama (pronounced "CHIgarama"). Second, because I turned left at the main road and traveled south to Rweteera (pronounced "Ritterra", like a cheese maybe).

Although the Rweteera and Kasiisi schools are both in the Kasiisi Project / Kibale School Support Project that I'm working for, Rweteera is the Neptune of the system. still a major planet, but considerably farther out from the others. I was told that I probably couldn't reach Rweteera, and it was a blisteringly hot day, but I took the bicycle up and over the hills to Rweteera. Actually I went through town, passed Ugandan Wildlife Authority (UWA), and got up to the crater lakes (volcanic?) before I decided I'd gone to far. After asking some adults, I turned around and found the school on the way back.

Students were either home or at the Kigarama soccer matches, so the school was empty. My original mission was simple: evaluate the rainwater tanks (which are "not working" somehow), and collect river water. Right away I noticed the schools have maps of Africa painted on the front wall. I thought of the kids at Kasiisi, who hadn't been able to place Kasiisi on the map. Then, I nearly tread on a discarded piece of paper. Written on it:

1) What is a map?
A map is something seen from above
2) What is a picture?
A picture is drawn on a map

[I learn later these are standard questions and answers for the 5th grade exam]

I wondered what it would take to have kids see their school's maps of Africa for what they are, and to connect them to their own location and position in the world.

Back to work. A few kids from Rweteera town arrived, peeking through windows and from distant corners, to watch me pace to measure the water tank, take photographs of everything, and get a GPS position. They could only imagine what I was doing. A door was open, so I checked out a few classrooms and wall posters. The kids began asking me for money, so I left.

A half mile down the road, I crossed the river and made my way down a steep grassy slope to collect a sample (the road is elevated to avoid flooding out during the rainy season). Gloves on. Watching my footing. The water feels refreshingly cool after a long bike ride, but it's turbid and has less obvious health risks. I cap the samples, package the glove, and look back up to the road to see several kids peering down at me, waiting with their water buckets. A passing adult spoke enough English to ask about my work. Secondary school students study litmus paper, so I discussed that part of my work, and he explained it to the kids. That resolved, I made the long journey back over the mountains and...

Went to Kigarama next, a good 8 miles away. The schools were doing their soccer and volleyball finals, and Kasiisi was leading in both, so I was sure to watch and meet up with the teachers. All schools wore their school uniforms to play, except Kasiisi, which had orange soccer team t-shirts. Another volunteer was videoing the whole thing, so I got to help out with sound. For a few minutes we tried to get the kids around us to avoid the recording equipment, but it was far easier to have everyone try on the headphones and teach the oldest kid to follow the ball with the microphone.

Meanwhile, I told the Kasiisi teachers about my trip to Rweteera, and showed them the quiz I'd found. At some point during the ride home, I'd decided that I needed to go back and teach at Rweteera. At first I thought of a SmartBoard, but I don't have a SmartBoard. Then I remembered, the Kasiisi teachers and kids had been interested in my laptop programs, so I showed them the digital maps before doing the old-fashioned paper, pencils,and stickers map lesson, which is too much of an influence . I was thinking I'd need to hold a class with Kasiisi's 4th grade in order to get an authentic map. Instead, I could do it at Rweteera.

I met the head teacher of Rweteera and, with the help of a Kasiisi teacher, explained my lesson idea. At first he asked if I could teach maps of the world, Africa, and East Africa. Well yes, but... We explained the satellite maps. He asked if this meant laptops for Rweteera. Well no, but... I explained things again. At the time, I wasn't sure if we would get satellite coverage of Rweteera at all.

Saturday, I did. 6 pages of high-res satellite goodness, covering the school and town of Rweteera. I traced my own path and the locations of the crater lakes I'd passed. I'd overshot Rweteera by a mile or two.

On Sunday morning I went to Fort Portal with the other Kasiisi volunteers. An internet cafe there had great internet access, which I used to read the latest from Appfrica and Google Geodeveloper Blog. There's a lot to look over and program with when I go home. Then tilapia for lunch. Then to the UTL office to meet the cellphone repairman. The wires had come loose from my RFID reader, and without a soldering gun it was impossible to get things working. I already played hardware charades looking for a soldering gun, and I'd decided the best thing to do, since my own soldering had failed, was to seek a professional.

The UTL office barely had enough room for a counter and a cashier lady, boxed in
by tons of mobile phones and accessories. I asked about phone repair, wondering
where they would send me. She pointed to a set of steps just to her right, about
wide enough to walk up sideways. Followed these up to a 5-foot high crawlspace.. a makeshift attic.. where I met the repairman, Brian. He's awesome. I've got to send him a thank you e-mail and photos when we use the RFID in class.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Some news

White House blog: Apps4Africa offers promising technology for education and economic development