Archive/Current Events/2013-11-01

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Sugar Digest

"Free software gives the license. Sugar provides the means."

1. I'm back from a week in Paraguay and Uruguay to celebrate Turtle Art Days in Caacupé and Montevideo.

Turtle Art Day Caacupé exceeded my expectations. 275 students, their parents, and 77 teachers joined educators and Sugar developers from eight countries throughout the Americas and as far away as Australia (Tony Forster). Brian Silverman and Artemis Papert, the co-creators of Turtle Art, led workshops to a room full of enthralled children. Martin Abente, Andres Aguirre, and Alan Aguiar similarly led Butiá/Juky robots workshops, using TurtleBots. Claudia Urrea and I led workshops using Turtle Blocks, where the emphasis was on sensors and multimedia. Tony led a seminar with teachers on the pedagogical framework for Turtle Art. We were assisted by "Evolution" children, youth leaders in Caacupé who attend school in the morning, teach in the afternoon, and on weekends supply technical support to school programs (I hope we are able to recruit many of them to participate in Google Code In, should Sugar Labs be chosen to participate again this year). While I have come to expect that children will deeply engage with Turtle Art, the fact that they maintained intense focus for three consecutive two-hour workshops, 70 to room, with only short breaks, was unexpected. Many thanks to Mary Gomez, Pacita Pena, Cecilia Alcala, and the Paraguay Educa team for all of the work they did behind the scenes (and in the classrooms) to make the day a success.

Turtle Art Day Montevideo was teacher-focused rather than child-focused. Organized by José Miguel García, it attracted 70 teachers to ANEP for a series of workshops. Claudia and I began the day with a short lecture on pedagogy. The workshop themes included sensors (led by Guzmán Trindad), robots (led by Andres and the Butiá team), advanced blocks, and turtle mathematics. During the robots workshop, we implemented inter-robot communication by taking advantage of some new collaboration blocks in Turtle Blocks (ported to TurtleBots): we mapped the accelerometer from one machine to the motors of another to make a remote-control steering wheel. In discussions the following day with Mariana Herrera, who works with children with severe physical disabilities, we came up with a simple adaptation that may enable her students to program Butiá using some buttons embedded in pillows.

Sdenka Zobeida Salas Pilco and the children at an Aymara-speaking school organized a Turtle Art Day in Puno as well: "Children and I organized quickly this event, they provided some ideas for celebrating, it was their idea to arrange the classroom and sticking balloons to the walls. Girls asked me to wear the traditional local clothes. They helped me a lot. Also, they prepared a song, some poetry and riddles in Spanish and Aymara language. Finally, the little ones worked some codes, 4th graders were exploring the activity, and 6th graders organized the event."

Other Turtle Art Days are following: in Costa Rica, Malaysia, and possibly Singapore. While the primary purpose of these Turtle Art Days is to promote children learning through programming, an important secondary goal was also achieved: programming is not just in service of geometry (what Papert called "Mathland") but also in service of whatever passion drives the child. (Artemis refers to the work she and Brian do as "Artland". Work with sensors, robots, multimedia, etc., offer many "mountains to climb".)

2. Other activities in Paraguay and Uruguay this week included EduJam in Asuncion, a Sugar Hackfest, a meeting with Pablo Flores and the Python Jóven, a Butiá workshop, and a Ceibal event for educators in Montevideo. Leticia Romero organized the first EduJam to be held regionally, at the National University of Asuncion. (I handed out >100 copies of Sugar on a Stick to interested attendees thanks to the generosity of Nexcopy and the Recycle USB program.) It was well attended by educators and engineers from Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, et al. The hackfest was also well attended. It included testing of Sugar 100 in a session orchestrated by Gonzalo Odiard (a number of bugs were discovered and fixed), an introduction to the new HTML5/Javascript by Manuel Quiñones, and a discussion of a proposal by Brian to use an embedded Logo environment in the Arduino "brains" of the various robots programmed with TurtleBots. The Butiá workshop was an opportunity for me to observe how children use TurtleBots in programming their robots -- a few of my observations led to some fine-tuning of the UI in TurtleBlocks-192. And a chance to get direct feedback from teachers who use Turtle Blocks in a wide range of activities. Eye-opening. We discussed the ongoing challenge of providing both a low floor and a high ceiling. The Ceibal event was also an opportunity to observe how teachers use Sugar. There were perhaps 100 booths set up with teachers showing their projects. What was most impressive to me was that these projects were developed locally by the teachers, not handed down to them by the commercial sector: a testimony to the fact that teachers, when given the opportunity, will learn and use that learning in their classrooms.

Many thanks to everyone from both .PY and .UY who were so welcoming and hospitable. It was great to see old friends and make some new ones. I am looking forward to returning to the region soon.

3. For the first time ever, four members of the Sugar Labs oversight board managed to be physically in the same place at the same time. Daniel Francis, Gonzalo, Claudia, and I met at a coffee shop in Montevideo and had a chance to discuss a number of topics:

  • We agreed that we would apply again to Google Code In. It is imperative that the community come up with challenges for the contest. We'd like to focus more on bug-fixing tasks this year. I'll be preparing the 2013 pages in the next day or two.
  • We discussed the need to have more regular meetings (with preset agendas). I'll be soliciting preferred times for a monthly meeting, beginning in November.
  • We need to hold an election for four positions on the oversight board. Claudia, Daniel, and Gonzalo are continuing. The terms for Adam, Gerald, Chris and I are all expiring. Details to be posted shortly.
  • We discussed the need to amplify direct communication with Sugar deployments. We'll try to organize regular IRC meetings with technical and learning representatives from deployments.
  • We discussed the possibility of establishing local "ambassadors" to deployments to also increase communication.
  • We also want to hold brainstorming sessions on some specific topics, e.g., accessibility.

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4. Please visit (and contribute to) our planet.