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.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Vina'a va'alevu, Dr. Murray!

The students were lucky to have a visitor in their class this week! Our generous donor, Dr. Murray Rosenthal from California, joined us for one of the intro courses. It was wonderful for him to be able to witness the curiosity and enthusiasm of the students as they unlocked their XOs for the first time.
Two of our laptops went back to America with him with the hope of finding someone who can repair their mesh networking abilities. We also had one bad battery that never held a charge, so hopefully this can be replaced. Despite these few issues, a restart or re-flash fixed most minor issues. Most student problems are caused by opening too many programs at one time- easy to avoid by teaching students how to check their "frame" and shut down any extra programs.
Dr. Murray was also able to take some videos during our class. I'll see how many I can upload on our slow connection...

Sunday, June 7, 2009

One Laptop Per Two Children

At long last, students are using the laptops in the classrooms!
The first class was pretty fabulous. Despite the fact that most students haven't used any technology more advanced than a cell phone, they are quick learners. I'm excited to see what they will be able to do with these machines as their confidence builds.
The plan is for me to help teach the basic into courses for all the classes and then, when the students are comfortable with Sugar and some of the basic programs, to start helping teachers develop lesson plans that connect to their curriculum (expecially where it can overlap with health and envitonment goals).
Most of our schools have 20 laptops, even though the average town class size is 30+. Students in these larger classes have to share the laptops. This is culturally appropriate in Fiji, where children grow up sharing everything with their family and community.
And here is a photo taken on one of the laptops. She's pretty excited to see herself reflected in the screen! We walk home from school together and she gave the laptops great reviews.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Teacher Workshops

I was without my assistant for the teacher trainings, and I was too busy instructing to snap photos to share. Despite scheduling changes and delays, the workshops were a huge success. The schools were challenged this term with the unexpected, mandatory retirement of all teachers 55 and over, effective 30 April. The Ministry of Education didn't actually fill many of the vacancies until this past week, the third week of school. So, some of our teachers have three full hours of XO orientation, and others are wondering how to open the little guy. I'm trying to catch everyone up and keep moving forward as I only have three months left before I leave Fiji.

The teacher trainings were broken into three sessions at each school (we've only started at two of the four schools so far).
Session One: Laptop Handling/ Batteries/ The XO Views/ The Frame/ Starting and Shutting Activities (we used Maze and Record for the first session)/ Mesh Networks (joining a partner in the maze and sharing photos).
Session Two: A review of the first session skills and a Scavenger Hunt through new activities (designed to encourage self-exploration of multitude of activities, including Moon, Speak, WikipediaEN, Write, Chat, Memorize, Help, and Pippy).
Session Three: In-depth exploration of Write/AbiWord. All the details on how to use the word processing software and how to save to the journal and transfer to a USB for printing on a school PC (with a side lesson on how to clean USBs on school computers to reduce the rampant viruses on school PCs). Teachers had to create a document with their photo and type "two truths and a lie." After they finished their work, they were to share their documents with the neighborhood so others could join them and guess which of their statements was a lie. There was much laughter and it made a dry word processing lesson a bit easier at the end of their long school day.
Finally, I distributed a basic "troubleshooting" handout to help them solve common laptop problems that might come up in the classroom.

Overall, I got great feedback from the sessions. They insisted that they wanted to spend more time in teacher trainings before bringing the laptops into the classrooms, but their restrictions due to classroom and extracurriculars made it difficult to schedule times to work together. As teacher attendance in the trainings began to falter, we decided to start using the XOs with the upper classes and to provide teacher workshops as needed/requested.

Friday, May 1, 2009


The librarians have started hosting the afterschool classes for library members! I have been co-teaching with them for the past two weeks, but they will be teaching classes without me during the school break. The Intro class just explains basic computer handling, battery life, mesh networks, how to start and stop an activity and how to turn the computer off properly (important for preserving battery life). Future classes will focus on internet research and specific Activities on the XO. AND the first round of teacher trainings began last week. All of the teachers at one school are now familiar with the basics, and we'll be doing follow-up trainings as soon as term two begins. Two other schools are signed up and ready as well. Should be a busyTerm Two for technology education!
Biggest struggles so far have been technical. We definitely have one battery that doesn't work a lick and a laptop that has difficulties with its mouse. I think it may be a lemon, but I'm going to read up on OLPC about their thoughts on such issues. I'm hardly a computer guru, so these little things can feel overwhelming. There certainly isn't another XO repairman anywhere in my vicinity, so I'll have to self-study on the wiki! Thank goodness for

Monday, April 6, 2009

fiji time

The XO progress is slow despite the enthusiasm of everyone who has tried them. Teachers at one school have been using them for three weeks, but the school committee hasn't found the time to meet to approve a fundraiser (for flash drives to reflash as needed, two-pin adaptors and power boards for charging, and wireless routers so they can access the internet). It's about $240 for a school to take on 20 laptops, and that level of fundraising is both reasonable and a good indicator of how invested the teachers and staff will be once they have the laptops. We've given an end-of-April deadline for applications, so we should have a good idea of where they will be after that. I have meetings with two other school committees set up this week.

I'm still learning about the laptops. Trying to work with Blue Print Data to secure internet filtering software to reassure concerned head teachers about the safety isssues of bringing the internet to their school.

Half of the laptops are upgraded to the 8.2 OS, a tedious process that I'll be thrilled to complete. I've run another training of trainers for Rotary club members, Cultural Center employees, and our social welfare officer, and invited so many more who haven't yet found the time to attend. And I just helped the Ministryof Education draft an application for a new volunteer to continue this work beyond my close of service in August. I see so much potential for teachers to use these in their classrooms, but I believe a volunteer might be necessary to keep up the enthusiasm and provide technical support for the first two years.

Hopefully I'll have more news soon!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Despite the Floods...

... we had our first XO courses this week!
We were scheduled to start our trainings this week, and despite valient efforts by the weather (worst flooding in 30 years, 40 inches of rain in 5 days, buses not traveling) we held both of our classes on schedule!

There were a few moments when I was fairly certain this wasn't meant to be:

Obstacle #1: I was at a training on another island last week and my Sunday flight didn't leave because of wind at my destination airport, my Monday flight didn't leave because the departure airport was flooded, and the next round of storms was expected to arrive Tuesday (the day of our course).
Solution #1: I took an overnight ferry Monday night, arriving a few hours before our 11am Instructor's course.

Obstacle #2: When the weather is bad in Fiji, people don't go to work. This is absolutely understandable once you've experienced bad weather in Fiji. If you don't have to go outside, you shouldn't. Attendance at my class was bound to be low.
Solution #2: What we lacked in quantity, we made up for in quality. One librarian, one Ministry of Education Officer, and the Provincial Adminstrator were all in their offices despite the torrential downpours. They are now ready to show you how to begin exploring your XO.

Obstacle #3: The power went out in the library about an hour before my instructor course, and still hasn't been returned. Surprisingly, this is not storm-related. Their power bill wasn't paid. So, we are trying to teach a computer class in the South Pacific in the summer without AC, we can't recharge the XOs from our office, and the wireless router is temporarily useless.
Solution #3: We moved our first Student Course to the PA's conference room. We still don't have a good place to recharge them or internet access, but hopefully the power will come on next week.

Obstacle #4: One of the employees who wasn't coming to work due to weather was the person in charge of contacting at-risk youth to attend the courses.
Solution #4: Thankfully, this somehow happened even in her absence. Without me having to do anything. These laptops are so appealing, and the offer of a free training apparently doesn't come along very often. Even though I had asked them to reschedule the course until Monday with hope that power would be back on, I still had eight students arrive an hour early on Friday! (What a wonderful problem to have!)

All in all, our first course went really well. The librarian who is trained to help instruct the Intro to XO Course was out sick (Obstacle #5, no good solution), so I had to call in a fellow volunteer to act as my extra eyes. But the students learned quickly (about half had never touched a computer before) how to operate Sugar, and they were chatting with each other in no time.
I walked them through the different views, how to join others in Chat, to view the Moon (which we haven't seen for a week because of the clouds), and to explore the Maze, and they taught themselves how to use the Video function. I'm still uncertain about how to use many of the Activities, but I think these students are likely to be teaching me soon enough.

We spent an hour and a half together, and if the batteries weren't draining, I think they could easily have been attentive for another hour, expecially if this Intro also included a first glimpse at the internet. I'll be scheduling a follow-up course with this group as soon as I return from leave at the end of February. Until then, their assignment is to get their library cards so they can access the XOs while I'm away.

Here are some pictures of our first official XO students!

Using the camera to take a picture with a friend...

So intense...
My favorite volunteer helping out with the lesson...