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.

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