Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Breath of Fresh Air!

We welcomed a new volunteer and a new school to the project this past week. Teachers at our third school are excited about the project, and I am enjoying having a co-instructor. It is infinitely easier to teach these instructor training classes now that I have seen them actually used in the classroom.
Our two pilot schools are having different levels of success. In the classrooms where teachers have been brave enough to attempt to teach without a Peace Corps volunteer present, there have been no complaints/repair issues, which was a huge concern of mine. Those who are willing to try it, seem to be enjoying it! We'll keep trying to convince the others to join in the fun (the students are powerful advocates).
The town library laptops continue to attract a crowd, even without the wireless router connecting them to the internet, demonstrating that we don't need online access to attract students to come afterschool. I stopped in this week and was amazed to watch 11-year-olds make robots dance around on their screens. I imagine it would take them hours to teach me how to do what they were able to teach themselves. Little moments like that are worth dealing with all those trivial challenges.

Friday, July 17, 2009


So, these are the challenges from Week Nine:

Challenge #1: I caught a student googling porn sites at the library afterschool.
Immediate Solution: Temporarily revoked his laptop privileges, Wireless Internet disconnected for all, unless I am present or until I am convinced that there will be adequate adult supervision in the library.
Longterm Solution, Option A: Anyone know how to set internet filters on the Linksys Cisco Wireless G router? I hate to do it, but I feel like not doing it would be negligent.
Longterm Solution, Option B: Let the internet go (direct donated funds to other school laptop needs) and encourage students to use preloaded Wikipedia content for research needs. The wireless internet is helpful for upgrading software on the XO, but those upgrades are optional. And the donation of internet services for the library was only to pay through the end of this year. Given the current government finances, it remains highly unlikely that the Ministry of Education will decide to start paying for the library's broadband service in the year ahead. The librarian doesn't even want to ask them until the new budget begins in October.

Challenge #2: The librarians still hesitate to run with the laptop program. They were too tired to run the laptop classes they planned to run during the school break. They keep asking for "another training." And it is a pattern that they are then absent on the day we schedule the training. It does little to build my confidence about their ability to oversee internet usage.
Solution: Remove the added burden of internet supervision from their responsibilities by disconnecting the internet?

Challenge #3: I think I posted a blog about the Teacher Maintenance Class. And how one of the teachers present volunteered to teach those who couldn't attend because of sports training commitments. Well, that teacher kept a copy of the 8.2OS USB to demonstrate the reflash process. And two weeks later, that USB had his class files on it and no sign of the Operating System. Doesn't exactly inspire trust and faith in how that school will maintain their laptops.
Solution: There is a theme to many of these posts about challenges/solutions: LET THE STUDENTS RUN THE PROGRAM. If we eliminate the need for adults to supervise internet usage, the students are fully capable and interested in managing this program. Keep this in mind every step of the way and use their enthusiasm to make teachers' and librarians' jobs easier.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

XO Repairs and Maintenance

Fiji's teachers are also learning to be computer technicians!Now that I'm experienced in solving the problems that arise during laptop class, I ran another round of teacher trainings: how to manage common classroom XO issues and how to repair the XOs.
With the teachers, I reviewed the laptop re-charging process, the use of "The Frame" to close unnecessary activities (the most common issue is laptops being slow/freezing as students leave activities open), and how to use the Power On button for emergency shut downs. They also had a chance to reflash, rename, and even go into the Control Panel to set the automatic "Frame" to "never," reducing another common annoyance for students.
My biggest concern is that one of the schools still hasn't purchased their 1G USBs to house their back-up operating systems. Hopefully, we can remedy that in the week ahead.
It's mid-term testing this week (week 8), so the laptops will get a well deserved rest. I'll be running the Intro Class for students at the town library on Monday and visiting the other two primary schools to discuss implementation time lines for their laptops.
During week 9, every class (at the pilot schools) has a morning or afternoon that they are allowed to use the laptops. I'm anticipating we will learn quite a bit about what needs to be changed/modified/improved very soon!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Fiji's Fabulous Teachers

Was I writing last week about how teachers were disappearing during laptop classes? Not this week! Everyone - teachers and even school committee members! - was hands on and involved. Made my job so much easier and more enjoyable.
I have been continually amazed at how many hats teachers here wear- teacher, counselor, and coach. Aside from one typist, every staff member at the school has their own full-time classroom, including the Head Teacher. But students still have sports training, art activities, music lessons, school libraries, agriculture clubs, Girl Guides and Boy Scouts, and now, technology classes! Here are photos of some of Fiji's finest educators.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wash Your Hands After Tea

My official volunteer job title is "Health Promotion Officer." During the Ministry of Health's annual school visits, I began to target school health issues, hand washing being primary. At one school, we painted murals about handwashing, ran handwashing drills, made soap dishes for the school taps, and performed skits about germs and soap. It was mildly successful... I still see kids rinse their hands for three seconds and call it clean.
I was joyously surprised when I visited Class Five this week and told them to wash their hands after tea and they responded with cheers. They now associate my requests for handwashing with "laptop class!" We knew these laptops would be powerful teaching tools, but perhaps they might also help stop the spread of typhoid? :)
And a few more photos of students enjoying their new XOs...

And a budding photographer lining up her perfect shot...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Week Five, Challenges and Successes

This week, 125 students in Fiji had their first ever technology class. It's really a joy to teach these classes. Students here are remarkably respectful and appreciative, so they learn fast.
Teachers are intrigued by the machines, but they have a habit of wandering off "to make a phone call" just about when I appear in their classroom (not all, but more than one). It's really hard for me to tell students I can't begin their lesson without their teacher present, but it's also really important to me that teachers begin to learn how to troubleshoot the typical problems students have with the laptops. I also don't want them to feel that they need to have an outsider present in order to be able to use the laptops in their classroom. Here is a photo of one of the teachers who did a fabulous job of working with his students during their first class. Extra hands are helpful when you have twenty+ first time computer users trying to figure out how to click and drag!
I had thought teachers would play a bigger role in the maintenance/power management, but the students are happy to take charge and feel more ownership of their laptops. I think I'm going to include students in the maintenance (how to reflash) class that I'm planning to run in Week Seven.I had hoped to finish the intro classes at this school for classes 5 thru 8 this week. I was close to meeting the goal, but Friday afternoon classes were canceled for a tribute to Queen Elizabeth II. As soon as we are done with that intro class, we will set up a time table so that each class will have a morning or an afternoon where they can use the laptops (with lunchtime set aside for a recharge). The head teacher and I discussed that until we are able to develop lesson plans with teachers, we should still give students the opportunity to use them. Using the laptops is similar to using the library - it's nice to have a librarian there to read-aloud, but it's also a great learning experience for students to wander off and explore their own interests.
We also had our second class with Class Seven, and their teacher brought out their maths homework: find the height of the Eiffel Tower, the length of the Great Wall of China, the height of the highest peak in Fiji. Students were able to use WikipediaEN (the preloaded content since the wireless router doesn't reach their classroom) to find all their answers. It was our first lesson where we needed to use the Space Key, and several students put MANY spaces between words. The search engine in Wikipedia couldn't recognize Great Wall with the extra spaces, which made for a great discussion of how much smarter students are than laptops. And everyone also learned where the Erase button was so that their search terms were recognized and their homework was finished during school. Remember how great it was to finish your homework during class?!

The case of the kerekere'd laptop!

First, this is really my fault. I invited this to happen when I titled this blog "Kerekere your laptop?"
After the school break, one of our XO Team Teachers (the leadership team identified to organize the integration of the laptops into the schools) didn't return from the main island. For days, his classroom was full of students without a teacher. And the laptop that he was using to self-teach the art activities? Not in the classroom, not in his school compound... when I began to inquire, another teacher reported seeing him using it on an overnight ferry bound for another island.
Fortunately, this has a very happy ending. Another teacher had his cell number so we were able to call him and find out he was in the capital. I was able to direct him to return the laptop to the Peace Corps office, which he did the next day (I may have mentioned a need to file a police report if it wasn't returned quickly). And the laptop should be coming back to our island with a volunteer in the next week.
As an added bonus, the laptop is now in the Peace Corps office and the staff there is trying it out. There was an article in the Fiji Times last week saying that One Laptop Per Child is coming to Fiji and that select students will be receiving laptops. I'm hopeful that other Peace Corps volunteers might have an opportunity to support the Ministry's efforts to bring more laptops to students in Fiji.