Monday, October 24, 2011

OLPC-SF from Haiti

Hey everyone in SF - your posters look great! Glad I could join you live from Port-au-Prince via Skype. Thanks to Julie Blaustein for these and more great photos:

I used the chat to introduce my plan to get the laptops used more in class. We've been meeting most students once during the day and twice after school each week, based on teachers' ideas for what we can teach. This time around, I offered the teachers two "wildcard" classes which they could request for their students: taking apart an XO and listening to a poem. Naomi picked the former for grades 3-4, and we decided Cesar's class, grade 2, would enjoy the poem.

On my way back to school, I got to visit an art festival. Seeing artwork on display and in progress honestly made my weekend.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Memorize + Sensors, Explained

Ever since I proposed Memorize with Sensors, reactions have varied from "that's so cool!" to "what is this I don't even...?" Now that this hack-tivity is released, it's time for a step-by-step guide to how and why to set it up yourself.

1) Draw a poster with many parts (countries, continents, parts of the body...) but don't label anything.

2) Embed resistors in each item on the poster. Each resistor should be different, and measurable by the XO. Putting your resistors in series or parallel can give you extra measurable areas.

3) Create a new 1-2 deck in Memorize. Wire up your microphone port to a resistor and click the Measure icon to add a resistor value. Only use values between +/-32000.

4) Also click the Speak icon so the XO will read the name on the card.

5) Repeat 3-4 for each resistor on your poster.

6) Re-make the game if you move to a room with very different humidity.

This week in Haiti

I had the idea to do a laptop tear-down in front of the 5th-6th grade class. One of the laptops got a broken screen on the airplane, and another had a misfit touchpad. Junior and I each took a laptop so we could put the good parts together. Photos by Tony!

Tony, George, and Adam left. So Junior and I are OLPC Haiti for the next 10 days! A few days before they left, a 1st grader stopped by to talk about the laptop, and I got this photo:

I used my extra responsibility to set up a clearer schedule and run some new after-school activities. I tried out some new lessons with audiobooks, typing, and sensors. Here are a couple of photos:

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mapping: Paper vs Papert

Although One Laptop per Child usually has a computer education focus (Papert), the students at Ecole Shalom are making their mark with pencil and paper first.

In our first attempt, students in grades 5 and 6 drew roadmaps on their own. Nathalie, the teacher, asked us to teach geography every week =) The second time around, we were more ambitious. Four teams of four students each were given colored pencils, stickers, and a few starter ideas.

We must have done something right because we saw students being attentive to detail and innovative in finding drawing tools. The photos below show how one team used a 5 Goude ($0.13) coin to draw a circle on their soccer field, and another student tracing the Haitian flag from another paper.

Speaking of copying... the groups tended to take ideas from their neighbors. Fortunately we had two different rooms, so we still had two contrasting designs! One focus was on the school and schoolyard, and the other was "zoomed out", so to speak. Here's a zoom-out map:

Then the school day ended on us! The kids kept going, and even brought in lunch. I was reminded of late-night hackathons, putting together activities and websites over pizza. The girl in yellow was especially persistent.

Photos from both days

On my last mapping post, we got the question:
Could you provide links or information where a volunteer might help with this or other OLPC GIS/mapping projects? Thanks!

Sure! We are working our way up to using Offline Map which is open-source HTML/JavaScript in a Python wrapper. One thing you could do is look at satellite photos to trace roads and buildings into OpenStreetMap, especially around Croix-des-Bouquets. Uruguay uses MapaCeibal, which comes with a library of Google Earth files. I also worked with an awesome OLPC school making maps in Uganda.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Quizzed and Quizzical

The past three days of our classes have focused on using the laptops to quiz students on their teachers' lessons. Grades 1-2 are learning the colors, 3-4 were adding three-digit numbers, and 5-6 were conjugating French verbs. The quizzes are on the school server, so we are training the students to open the Learn activity, find their class, and download resources. New students arrive each day, unfamiliar with the computers, so our continued progress is truly remarkable.

Decorating with Turtle blocks

Working together to solve math problems

Natalie helps a student add accents to a French conjugation

See additional photos from George on

Monday, October 10, 2011

OSM import into ArcGIS

Big step forward on the mapping portion of our trip - we got a free and openly editable map of Haiti loaded into Esri's ArcGIS application. We are hoping to work with several organizations on using volunteer contributions to strengthen their own picture of what's happening on the ground.

The source data for this map is Creative Commons licensed from

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Book-seller, the Entrepreneur, and the Policeman

This weekend we worked with Solomon, founder of Ecole Shalom, to find some affordable books for the kids. There was some concern that the current books are too expensive and only a few of the parents were buying. We also wanted to know what was in the curriculum, so we could get the right activities and content on the laptops. We traveled to Petionville, a neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, to meet the bookseller.

Tony and Solomon got in line behind the many eager parents at this place; Adam and I were behind 30 more customers at a store down the road. As it worked out, Tony got many language books and Adam got mostly math and science books, so we got a good representative sample.

At another point in the weekend, Adam and I met with COSMHA mapper Clemson in downtown Port-au-Prince. Clemson is interested in OpenStreetMap's existing map of bus routes. He explained that he regularly travels between Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien (a city on the northern coast), but he doesn't know where to find the bus to Jacmel (a city on the southern coast). If we produced a map of reliable bus routes, there would be obvious value for foreigners and locals alike. Since OpenStreetMap data is free, Adam and Clemson settled on the idea of Haitian artists creating a unique and appealing map that could be sold on the street.

When we were done in Port-au-Prince, we took a series of tap-tap buses home. Unfortunately the last driver tried to raise his price 8 times during the trip and ended up arguing with Solomon over a matter of 8 USD. We were across the road from the police station, so the driver insisted on resolving the dispute there. We were dismayed by this turn of events. I was thinking something like this:

Logo: Locked Up Abroad - National Geographic

Through some process that I don't understand, the policeman determined that we owed the money and that we could pay a friend of the policeman to drive us the rest of the way. This was unacceptable so we found a bus going in the right direction. Crisis avoided! We went home and ate the cookies we'd bought in Petionville.

Laptops += 20

George and Sam arrived in Haiti today with an additional 20 laptops in good and working order.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ada Lovelace Day

Today is Ada Lovelace Day - a celebration of the first-ever programmer and sort of an awareness-raising about the women working in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math today. Awareness? Well, Professor PZ Myers notes that:
""It is also my custom every year to have one [final exam question] be, "Name a scientist, any scientist, who also happens to be a woman"...

About 10% of the class leave it blank... Over half the time, I get the same mysterious answer: Marie Curie. We do not talk about Marie Curie in this class at all, and it's always a bit strange that they have to cast their minds back over a century to come up with a woman scientist."" Source
Adafruit Industries, an open hardware company founded by Limor Fried, has been posting profiles of accomplished scientists and educators all day today! Check it out!

Image from RobotGrrl's blog.

When I picture a world of tomorrow, I see it brimming with machines and we can't even imagine their workings. Sure, you will have an App Store to customize your devices. But only our best scientists and engineers will be able to start new companies and drive technology forward. We can't afford to have any group of people underrepresented in that future, not because of where they are from, who their parents are, or anything that appeared on their birth certificate on Day Zero. Economics isn't supply and demand, it's about necessity, inspiration, and ability. I think that's in the spirit of OLPC. We do our best to support kids' abilities and find the right person to inspire them.

Given what I've said above, when we introduce the OLPC sensors and gadgets and set up a mini-lab for the students, you can bet one of the laptops will be playing an episode of Sylvia's Super Awesome Mini-Maker Show. It's great for any science event!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Kindergarten XO

We've had a number of well-meaning discussions about whether the kindergarten here in Haiti can make use of the XO laptops. This morning, the kids used the laptops and their cameras for the first time! Here's a short video

We were thinking that a kindergarten is too early for each kid to use a laptop, but maybe the teacher can have two laptops for musical activities, photos (the teachers asked for dogs and vegetables so far), colors, and shapes (maybe even TurtleArt?). The kids here understood the laptop very quickly, and were excited both by the camera and our follow-up with the TamTam Mini soundboard.

Things kids surprisingly did not discover on their own: moving the camera to see themselves better, starting other activities, and clicking randomly to try out the dozens of TamTam instruments (they would press Enter to play one sound repeatedly). I mean, you and I would click every button to hear how it sounded; they were looking at a wall of pictures. The girl above figured out how to cycle through instruments by pressing the game keys and pressing the Enter key. I didn't even know that was possible O_O

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Hacking our favorite Sugar activities

Here in Croix-des-Bouquets, we have a few activity hacks that we're eager to share with the Sugar community:

  • GeoQuiz Haiti - GeoQuiz for the 10 departments of Haiti

  • Crikey - a sensor-centric remix of Measure (Measure/Kasiisi updated for newer versions of Sugar)

  • Memorize + Sensors - a mod of the card-matching game that lets you connect the game to real-world paper posters. First described on this blog.

  • Sudoku # - Peter Hewitt's activity (link) with the board's symbols turned back into numbers for math class

Coming soon:
  • Add recordable audio cues to Crikey for when a sensor reaches its max or min value.

  • A well-documented class making posters for Memorize with Sensors

Super-thanks to developers for making the original activities! They are great, hackable fun.

We are finding a few quirks that can slow down a class. We will spend time explaining these to students as well as giving feedback here.

  • Hold down the left [alt] when starting an activity to open with a clean slate / new instance. This helps a lot with drawing activities (Paint, Physics).
  • Writing prompt appears after almost any activity. Perhaps this should only happen if I have spent a few minutes' time, created media, or shared the activity.
  • System-level muted audio problem was common in our XOs. Fix is amixer sset -q PCM "unmute 90%". Tony says Nepal added the fix to the boot sequence.

  • Record
  • When looking at a snapshot, the live view disappears when you stop moving the cursor. This makes it appear impossible to return to the live view.

  • Turtle Art
  • Students tend to click with the arrow tip above the block. Can we change the cursor icon or increase block size for younger students?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

School starts in Haiti

School has officially begun in Haiti! From day 1, we started laptop training with an after-school program. Click below for photos from that first class:

Then today, we brought laptops to the 3rd/4th grade class and held an after-school program for the 5th/6th grade. Both were our first 1:1 class with each kid getting a laptop. Click below for photos of that class.

Naomi teaches the camera to her class

Our first lessons were the camera and the Physics activity.

In the after-school lesson, kids wanted to get into more interactive activities such as Maze and my new Haitian version of the Geoquiz activity.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Surprise Roadtrip!

Roadtrip Map

On Saturday morning, I was woken by a phone call from Adam - there was a mapping roadtrip and I had an hour to give my coordinates to the driver! Fortunately I had my GPS on me, texted the guy, and soon was leaving Croix-des-Bouquets (the lowest dot on the map above). Over the next couple of days, we drove past the Peligre Dam (the next dot up), to Hinche and Pignon (the next two). Click any photo to see the full set.

It's a beautiful country out there. I took this photo at the favorite overlook of our host, the head of Habitat for Humanity in Hinche (pronounced "Hesh"). He'd gotten the idea last year to train guides to take backpackers around this part of the country. Now that they had trails planned out in Pignon ("Pii-own"), they needed online publicity. A mutual friend had gotten him in touch with the OpenStreetMap group, so we showed up to map whatever we could.

But we also saw tons more! As a civil engineer, I was excited to see the island's largest hydroelectric dam.

I also saw a different way of living. People here keep their food in a little house on stilts, like this:

We saw a film festival. This one was one of my favorites!

Then we were on the road again!

Then we were off the road!

We got out of that rut, and I came home late Sunday. Just in time for the first official day of school on Monday! Thanks everyone!