Archive/Current Events/2010-07-17

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Sugar Digest

1. Between World Cup matches, I have had a busy, but fun-filled June.

The month began with POSSE Worcester, organized by Mel Chua. Mel, Peter Robinson, and I spent five days with about a dozen computer science professors from Johns Hopkins, Clark, Union, University of New Hampshire, and Worcester State in a workshop that covered everything you need to know to become a FOSS developer. We used Sugar as our example and walked them through how to modify an activity: everything from cloning a project on git.sugarlabs.org to requesting a merge to updating the wiki. They really got into it and over the course of the week, some significant patches were contributed to Abacus, Measure, and Physics. It was a bit unsettling to have all of these CS professors digging deeply into my code (Abacus), but in fact, they taught me a lot. (I think we should recruit engineering faculty to review patches). Mel organized a great week and I think the participants will undoubtedly generate interest in their students in FOSS and Sugar when classes resume in September.

At the end of the following week, I headed south. I made a quick stop in Miami in order to pick up a visa for Paraguay. I spent four days in Asunción and Caacupé with Bernie, Raul, Cecilia, and Paraguay Educa team. I got a chance to catch up with some old friends and meet face-to-face for the first time many people I had only met in IRC. Caacupé, about one-hour east of the capital, is the site of their pilot deployment; I had a chance to visit two schools and meet many teachers, students, mentors, and even some parents. (The parents were attending a workshop at one of the schools where they were learning about the Sugar Journal. They voiced one complaint: the children don't give them enough time on their computers!) The children were quite proficient with Sugar and it was integrated into many classroom activities. The teachers weren't asking how to use the computer – they had mastered that; rather they were discussing how they could best use Sugar for learning. My one disappointment was observing a Scratch project where the children were using sensor input to control their animations. It was clear that they had not made the connection between their actions in the physical world and the reactions of their avatars. My hypothesis is that Scratch is abstracting away too much of the detail. A quick demo of Measure made the connection much more tangible. (I need to finish the rebase to GST-Mixer in order to get Measure working again on the OLPC XO 1.0 hardware.) Over the weekend, Raul and I watched futbol: Paraguay vs Slovakia. Whenever Paraguay scored, the crowds in the street jumped up and down, shouting: "If you are not jumping, you must be Argentine!" Between goals, we spent time with Patica and the learning team discussing tactics for deeper engagement into powerful ideas by teachers and students.

The following Monday, I gave a Turtle Art workshop to the teacher facilitation team. We covered a lot of ground – they each prepared a Turtle Art portfolio presentation of some Sugar project that they had worked on previously. We explored the use of Turtle Art collaboration: we created a solar system simulation where each planet was a turtle shared from a separate laptop. (The children had been using Paint to draw models of planetary orbits, hence it was an obvious example. We discussed using Sugar to explore different representations and consequently looked at the Abacus activity. I demonstrated how you could represent the same number on different abacuses and in discussion, we invented a new (to me) abacus, which lets you add and subtract common fractions. (I implemented the "Caacupé" abacus in v15, which I released today.)

A final story from Paraguay. Cecilia told me a story of a young boy who wanted to know what his sister was texting to her boy friend. He couldn't read, so he transcribed the text to the Speak activity in order to listen to her words.

That night I flew to Argentina. I spent Tuesday in Buenos Aires with Kalil Nicholas, Claudia Urea, and Antonio Battro. Antonio was quite taken with the Visual Match activity, which he appropriately renamed "Dimensions". We met with the City of Buenos Aires ministry of education, to whom I demonstrated Sugar. (One of the ministry delegation had Sugar running in a virtual machine on his MacBook.) I spent the afternoon watching Argentina play futbol while talking Sugar with Gonzalo Odiard. Gonzalo and the rest of Sugar Labs Argentina have been doing a great job of squashing bugs, enhancing activities, and, as I was to find out later in the week, helping with the La Rioja deployment. Gonzalo demoed Paint, which he had modified to take advantage of the slide keys at the top of the XO keyboard: running your finger along the slider changes the brush size. It was exactly what I had imaged when we designed the membrane keyboard.

Tuesday night, I was in Montevideo; I stayed with Pablo Flores from Ceibal Jam. Pablo lives downtown, in the old city. Uruguay had already played their last group game, so no futbol. Instead, I rented a bicycle and took a 20K ride along the Rambla (coastal road) to visit Ceibal on Wednesday morning. Stretching my legs after so much time in airplanes is a necessary break. Fiorella Haim hosted my visit to Ceibal (Miguel Brechner was in South Africa, watching futbol). Ceibal has assembled a professional staff of almost 200 people. (The project has generated many jobs for skilled workers.) As a rough estimate, about 50% are working on connectivity, logistics, and infrastructure. There is a large team working on pedagogy and producing materials for the classroom. The Sugar team, although small, is productive and becoming much better integrated with the upstream community. (Thanks in large part to the efforts of Tomeu and the team from Paraguay.) They are putting a lot of effort into adapting Sugar to meet the needs of special education; work that is relevant not only in Uruguay, but in every deployment. Wednesday evening, after another pleasant bike ride, I ended up at the Faculty of Engineering, where I was hosted by [1] Gabriel Eirea. I gave a talk, got a demo of a Turtle Art Arduino-controlled robot, and discussed Sugar with local community.

Thursday, I flew to La Rioja with Antonio and Claudia. We met up with Jennifer Martino, who is leading the OLPC side of the deployment team. She took us to see a wonderful tango performance – a nice break from hacking. The next two days were spent drilling down into Sugar with Jorge Cabrera's engineering team while Claudia and Antonio met with the pedagogy team. We covered a lot of ground; the agenda was similar to Mel's POSSE meeting, only compressed into 36 hours and more focused specifically on the OLPC implementation of Sugar. None the less, we managed to make a patch to Abacus and set up an IRC channel (irc://freenode/olpc-larioja) where we've been continuing our work. Jorge has a strong team; exciting things will happen in La Rioja.

I missed the US/Ghana game on the flight home, but I did manage to get some coding done (See [2]). (There seems to be a high correlation – albeit no causal relation – between success in the World Cup and Sugar.)


2. Don't be turned away by the subject field. This thread is worth reading: [3].

In the community

3. There is an active group in Puno, a city in southeastern Peru, located on the shore of Lake Titicaca (See [4]).

Help wanted

4. Emmanuel Di Folco, who has been developing a telescope for the OLPC XO, is looking for software engineering support – about 2–3 months of full-time work.

Tech talk

5. Wade Brainerd announced Sugargame, a Python package which allows Pygame programs to run well under Sugar. It is fork of the olcpgames framework, which is no longer maintained.

Sugar Labs

Gary Martin has generated SOMs from the past few week of discussion on the IAEP mailing list.

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