Friday, December 23, 2011

Mapping Haiti Update

A recurring theme in my trip to Haiti was maps. So much so that "are you mapping this, Nick?" became something of a running joke.

Mapping a broken well

Over time, we became interested in mapping tap taps, Haiti's informal transit system. National routes are a wheel-and-spoke network with Port-au-Prince as its center. But when you zoom in on Port-au-Prince, a complicated network of short links emerges. To travel from one part of the city to another, travelers must have a mental map of which stations fall between their starting point and destination. To go somewhere new, you must find someone who knows the path. It turned out that these everyday conversations were the best way to introduce Haitians to sharing information about mapping Port-au-Prince.

Watson mapping a well

For awhile the data was collected but remained difficult to share or even see. If you followed instructions on a wiki, you could see something like this:

With Andy Allan's development of transit tiles for OpenStreetMap, this project was ready to make a leap forward. With some early-morning hacking with Adam over Skype, we put together just in time for the OpenHaiti summit.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Ecole Shalom: Programming Strategy

As part of my work at École Shalom, I drafted a one-page strategy to introduce computing skills in each grade, from our 1st grade keyboard lessons to 5th/6th grade getting a bite of Python code. The idea is to give teachers and the principal a picture of how the computers can be used and how students learn more and more about each activity. Although teachers were already using the computers for quizzes and presentations, we wanted to show them some more creative lessons that computers are specially equipped to teach.

Intro and link follow:

One of the main goals of the OLPC volunteers is to support activities at all levels of Ecole Shalom's education programs which go beyond passive use of computers and focus on:
  • creating content

  • redesigning systems / programs

  • planning methods / algorithms

These are the fundamental skills necessary for programming and computer science, and they're just as useful for a variety of science, engineering, and math fields.

Full programming strategy

Saturday, December 17, 2011

With much thanks to SparkFun =)

Some of our most innovative work with sensors and computing in Haiti came from our Arduinos and a USB weather sensor.

Teacher-trainer Junior demonstrates weather sensor

I modified the learn-Python activity, Pippy, to include a weather program. The same program has options to read the serial output of the sensor in English, French, or Haitian Creole. You can download this modified program (warning - overwrites your existing examples in French!) at

A 6th grade student reads light level on an outdoor balcony

The weather sensor is part of our Programming Strategy, a plan to introduce creative and scientific concepts from kindergarten up to graduation from École Shalom =)

We also experimented with an Arduino electronics board. The modified Pippy activity is fully equipped to talk to the Arduino over the USB/serial cable.

RFID-tagged drawings make the XO speak the student's name and their drawing's subject

The weather sensor and an Arduino kit are from SparkFun Electronics, whom we met at the NYC Maker Faire. They're great - thank you so much!