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.