Archive/Current Events/2012-06-23

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1. The typical trip from Lima to Chachapoyas, Amazonas involves flying and bus travel. A common waypoint is the city of Chiclayo, on Peru's north coast. We (Melissa Henriquez (OLPC), Reuben Caron (OLPC), Raul Hugo (Escuelab), Alexander Moñuz (Escuelab), and I) had a several hours before our bus, so we took a walk through a sea of taxi cabs and a cacophony of car horns. It reminded me of Lima from five or six years ago: too many cars and drivers not yet acclimated to the culture of driving. Lima, in contrast, while still overwhelmed by too many cars and buses, seems tranquil by comparison: the culture of driving has caught up with the increased availability of the technology of driving. Yet another example of Papert's observation that change is never a technology in isolation; it always has a cultural component. A goal of our week in Chachapoyas was to help shape the change in the culture of learning in Amazonas as more technology is made available to teachers and children in the region.

The bus ride was only eight hours: better than the alternative, thirty hours from direct Lima. Once the poorly dubbed B-movies stopped playing on a television inconveniently placed inches from my face stopped playing, I managed to get some sleep, despite the incessant swaying of the bus as it snaked its way through the Andes. We arrived at 6 Sunday morning to a sleepy town, built in the traditional style: a grid with a central plaza. We had decided to use our one free day to explore Kuélap, an ancient city another 2.5 hours from Chachapoyas, so we didn't even manage a cup of coffee before heading up some even more winding roads.

Kuélap was settled at least 1500 years ago. It is an extensive ruin on top of a 3000-meter peak. The most characteristic artifacts are the circular foundations of the houses, packed together in a tight matrix. Diamond-shaped patterns, reminiscent of snake skin were frequent sights [1].

When we got back to town, we discovered that coincident with our week-long teacher-training workshop was a week-long festival, celebrating both the revolution against Spanish rule and some ancient traditions regarding inviting the coming solstice. It meant parades and firecrackers at sunrise, and music each evening. The rhythm of week was established: breakfast at 7; at the workshop by 8; an early dinner at 7; evening sessions beginning at 8:30; and dancing from 11 to 1 AM. The music and dancing offered an opportunity to get to know the teachers outside of the workshop. It was also an opportunity to observe some of the local ways. Most notable to me was the way in which the crowds organized themselves: tight circles of 10 to 15 people. If you took an aerial photograph of the festival, you'd see the same circle patterns as we had just seen in Kuélap. Sometimes a culture expresses itself in unexpected ways.

Monday morning, we were joined by Elver Guillermo (our host), Alex Santivanez (DIGETE), and Jorge Parra (DIGETE) (Alex and Jorge arrived from Lima that morning). And 60 teachers from across six different regions from Amazonas. We began the week with a question: "how do you use XO/Sugar for learning?" It was no surprise that most teachers answer with, "No sé." Even the few that had had some minimal experience with the XO answered with mundane themes, such as doing research on the Internet. We asked the same question at the end of the week, and although I haven't seen the survey results, I am certain that the teachers expressed a wealth of ideas around communication and expression, math, science, and the arts. We also asked the teachers if and where they hung out on-line. Almost all of them were Facebook users, so Raul set up a Facebook group, Amazonas XO, for them to use as a forum for sharing experiences.

At the end of a day using Write, Record, Fototoons, Memorize, Mind Maps (Labyrinth) and Paint, we introduced the teachers to Portfolio, and they created their first reflections on the week. That evening, I reviewed the variety of Sugar activities available and introduced the Sugar concept of the "gear": the invitation of create your own variant of an activity. I also showed them a new Sugar activity I wrote Sunday night after visiting Kuélap: Amazonas Tortuga, a variant on Turtle Confusion that uses images from the region. A long day "drinking from a fire hose." Time for some music and dancing. A party in a different barrio each night.

On Day Two, we did sessions of Turtle Art and Scratch. Melissa and split the groups into two. My first group of Turtlistas made rapid progress from pretending to be a turtle in the courtyard of the school, dragging a piece of chalk when "pen down", to mastering Stacks (Accions) and Boxes (Cajas). The second group, which had been working in Scratch for three hours, struggled with the programming concepts of Turtle Art. On the other hand, Melissa reported that the group that had used Turtle Art soared in Scratch class, much more will to explore. We still need controls: Scratch followed by Scratch and Turtle Art followed by Turtle Art, but it seems that using Turtle Art before Scratch helps Scratch proficiency while using Scratch before Turtle Art impedes Turtle Art proficiency. It is worth looking more deeply into this.

The evening class was dedicated to programming. We began by looking into a bug in Labyrinth encountered by the teachers that day. I showed them how to access the Log activity and look for errors in the log. We discussed the error message, a ValueError and took note of the file name and line number. Next, I introduced View Source. We found the line in the code responsible for the error, and I discussed the reasons for the error: simple_scale wants integer rather than float input. We also discussed casting floats to ints as a potential solution. Next: we used the Duplicate function of View Source to make a clone of Labyrinth in which to apply our patch. Using JAMEdit to edit the file, we were able to fix the bug. Finally, I showed them the bug-tracking system and walked them through the process of writing a ticket. By that time, it was late and the concert had begun, so I only quickly reviewed the merits of Free Software -- I imagine we would still be on hold with the Microsoft call center -- and described the process of using git -- and commit messages -- to manage software development.

Wednesday morning, Melissa, Raul, and Alex demonstrated sensors on the XO, in Scratch, Turtle Art, and with WeDo. Alex and I built a WeDo project using found materials in Turtle Art, while Raul showed how to make sensors to use with the XO mic-in. Much of the rest of the day was dedicated to technical issues: servers, updates, etc. Reuben and Jorge walked the teachers through these topics and then issued a screwdriver to each teacher, who used it to disassemble and reassemble their laptops. No casualties. A second portfolio was created and uploaded to the School Server before heading out to the festival. We partied with the teachers from UGEL Rodríguez de Mendoza.

Thursday, Alex and Melissa focused on curriculum development with Sugar. Alex described a process by which one could develop a curriculum unit and the teacher, broken into groups, designed curricula around the themes of communication and math. Thursday night, Raul, Alex, Elver and I stayed late to help teachers with their projects. One problem was posed by a teacher who wanted to write a program for inputting numbers and rendering them in different colors based on magnitude. We got into an interesting discussion about how to represent the concept of magnitude as it relates to place when writing numbers. For example, to write the number, 123 from left to right, first you right 1, then you write 2, but that immediately changes the meaning of the 1. It is suddenly a ten. Writing 3 means that the 1 becomes 100 and the 2 becomes 20. While programming this in Turtle Art is not difficult, it was an interesting exercise, because it forced the teacher to think about how we represent numbers.

Friday was a day for show-and-tell. In the morning, the teachers made presentations of their curriculum plans. In the afternoon, Alex arranged a project fair, where each teacher chose one project to show off to their peers. Finally, a third portfolio for the week. Then photos, lots of them, and goodbyes. I had an opportunity to discuss our progress with several officials from the region over coffee Friday morning. They seemed both encouraged by the progress made by the teachers and the sentiment that the next workshop should be led by people from the region, not just attended by people from the region. An important step towards appropriation.

Before getting on the overnight bus back to Chiclayo, Jorge gave me a file with images of Peruvian Soles, so I was able write a Soles plug in for Turtle Art on the overnight bus ride. (Again, I could not sleep due to the movie playing inches from my face.) Raul, who was sitting a few rows back from me, joined a shared Turtle Art session and we stumbled upon a new use for a well-worn activity: chat. By sharing text with the Show block (and as of TurtleBlocks-144, text-to-speech with the Speak block), you can engage in an interactive chat or forum, which includes sharing of pictures and graphics. What fun.

There had been the threat of a delay due to landslide, but the road was cleared and we arrived back in Chiclayo at 6AM. We walked a few blocks to a restaurant known for its fresh ceviche where we enjoyed the food and sights. Then back to Lima, where I gave a trip report to a gathering at Escuelab. (I used the Portfolio tool to make an annotated slide show, which I projected from an XO.) Then back to the airport in time to see the Boston Celtics lose Game 7 to the Miami Heat. A flight to Miami, a quick connection to Boston, and home again.

2. While I was in Lima, I got another chance to meet with Irma Alvarez and Aymar Ccopacatty. I gave Irma an XO on which to test her Quecha translations. Her translations of Turtle Art landed while I was in Chachapoyas, which was nice to be able to report to the teachers there. (With help from Reuben we guided her through the process of installing language packs: 1. with Browse, download the .sh of the language you wish to install; 2. copy the file from the Journal to ~/Documents by drag and drop in the Journal view; 3. From terminal,

cd ~/Documents


sh ??

where ?? should be replaced by the language code of the file you downloaded; 4. Restart Sugar.)

3. Peter Robinson announced Sugar on a Stick 7 (Quandong).

Many thanks to Peter and the Sugar and Fedora communities.

From Peter's email:

Some of the key new features of this release include:

  • Based on Fedora 17 and it's new features
  • Massively improved x86 Mac support
  • Sugar 0.96 with initial support for GTK3 Activities and many other improvements
  • Return of Browse, now based on WebKit
  • The long awaited return of Read and inclusion of GetBooks
  • Enhanced hardware support with the 3.3 kernel
  • An increase in default Activities by nearly 50%

The release name, Quandong, continues the tradition of naming releases by types of fruit. The Quandong or Native Peach is a native Australian bushfood.

You can download the release from [2]. It can also be installed as part of a standard Fedora 17 install and is shipped as part of the official Fedora installer DVD and the Fedora Multi Spin Live DVD. It can also be installed from the GUI package tool within a running Fedora install or by command line "sudo yum install @sugar-desktop".

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