Archive/Current Events/2009-09-03

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Sugar Digest

You are very right that if a person doesn't have firmly in mind just what science is really about, they can confuse a representation of ideas gotten by scientific means with science itself. – Alan Kay

1. The discussion about the merits and pitfalls of the use of simulation in science education continued this week (See [1]).

2. María del Pilar Sáenz led a deployment meeting this week (See [2]). We reviewed the status of Sugar deployments, discussed the most pressing needs from deployments, and alternative communication channels that might result in more feedback from the field. Another discussion on the IAEP list is an indication of just how passionate the community is about being responsive to the needs of deployments.

3. Bernie Innocenti and I spent a day in Barre VT with Paul Flint, Kevin Cole, Nicco Eneidi, Colin Applegate, et al. to discuss the role Sugar might play in various education initiatives in the region. Despite too much driving in pouring rain, it was a fun, productive session. (Bernie helped Colin get up to speed on packaging for Ubuntu (Colin has subsequently built Sugar 0.86 for Jaunty) and did some debugging of Turtle Art while engaging in discussion with some teachers. One provocative question that was raised: What is the advantage of a "platform" as opposed to a bunch of cool applications? There are many cool applications out there and commercial (e.g., kidzui, which caters to parents who want someone else to worry about what Internet content is appropriate for their children) and non-commercial (e.g., Curriki, a place where teachers can pick and choose applications and content that meet specific curricula demands) collections. What is the advantage of the Sugar approach? We can sing the praises of many aspects of the Sugar platform—the Journal, the collaboration model, integrated view source, etc.—but I think it ultimately comes down to the way in which these features enhance the ability to bring multiple learners together around a collection of activities to engage in authentic investigations. This is a potential that is not yet fully realized, but having spent time this summer watching children move fluidly across multiple activities to, for example, build a memory game, is seeing Sugar at its best.

4. The recent FSF campaign condemning the use of Windows 7 in education (See imputes OLPC in complicity with Microsoft. It is disappointing that the FSF is not making any constructive arguments in favor of free software alternatives to Windows such as Sugar on GNU/Linux, which is currently shipped on every machine distributed by OLPC.

Help wanted/help received

5. Google Summer of Code 2009 has officially come to a close. We were fortunate to have five intern/mentor pairs, each of whom had a productive two months. Congratulations to Lucian Branescu, Felipe López Toledo, Sacha Silbe, Ben Schwartz, Vamsi Krishna Davuluri, Bryan Berry, Andres Ambrois, and Assim Deodia. Special thanks to Jameson Quinn for organizing the program for Sugar Labs and to Google for their generosity.

In the community

6. One result of Pilar's revitalization of the Deployment Team is that we are being more explicit in our targeting of feedback from deployments.

Joshua Pritikin reports:

Our school has some 200 students. Counter to OLPC best practices, we have 33 XO laptops using the "computer lab" model. We would like to move to child ownership, but we haven't found enough funding to do that (See photos from the Nashik school here).
This year we issued USB keys to the students. USB keys are not as easy to use as the integrated journal, but at least some kids are successful saving their work.
The teachers are mainly impressed by Moodle. To teachers who had never used a computer, being able to create an online quiz is something of a revelation. I would like to place more emphasis on Turtle Art and Etoys, but teachers don't see the point yet. Children are mostly left to explore the laptops on their own when they have free time.
I have no idea how much the students are learning with the laptops. At this point, everything is about appearances. For example, we convinced parents to pay double what they paid last year by withholding access to the laptops until they paid up. In many cases, the kids begged the parents to use the laptops. We managed to raise our fee to $100 per year.
Indian electrical wiring is notorious. I am particularly proud of our power distribution solution (see attached photos). Early on, there was talk of an XOctoplug. We made something similar.
The lack of child ownership has an upside. It is fairly easy to test new SoaS builds without worrying about backups or deleting a child's work. We are working closely with Martin Dengler to test the latest builds. NANDblaster is a dream come true.

Christoph Derndorfer has been further organizing a framework in the wiki for maintaining an overview of where and how Sugar is used. Please help us maintain it.

Tech Talk

7. Sebastian Dziallas and the Sugar on a Stick team are making progress towards a new release that incorporates Fedora 12 and a number of features that are the result of feedback from "Strawberry". They are producing new builds for testing (not ready for deployment). Please test beta.iso.

8. Bert Freudenberg and the Etoys team released Etoys-103.xo this week. Try it, you'll like it.

9. Simon Schampijer and the Release Team have been busy preparing for 0.86. We had feature freeze last week; the next step is to chase down outstanding bugs. You can help by testing the new Glucose bits that have been released by Simon and Tomeu Vizoso.

Sugar Labs

10. Gary Martin has generated a SOM from the past week of discussion on the IAEP mailing list (Please see SOM).