Monday, June 29, 2009

2 Schools, 3 Team Members, 110 Students, 200 Laptops (Winter Camp Day 1)

Winter Camp Day 1


We arrived at Driehoek over an hour early so that we could eat our lunches which consisted of a cliff bar and an apple. Over half of the students had already arrived at 11:00, but the camp didn’t start until 12:00. At the start of the camp we walked into a completely full classroom with people still trying to fit into seats. At some desks there were 4 students stuffed into seats that most wouldn’t have sat more than two Americans. We had over 60 students in one small classroom. As we walked all of the students were singing their school song at the top of their lungs to welcome us. They definitely showed how eager they were to be there.

We passed out the laptops and posed for some photos to be taken for Driehoek’s Eco-Schools competition, which is a world-wide student involvement program that encourages students to make their schools environmentally friendly. We had the students take pictures just like at Mmaweshi’s, but luckily we didn’t have the same complications. The students were slightly slower at Driehoek which might be because they are a bigger school so laptop use is more limited than at Mmaweshi, but they were still very bright and picked things up quickly after a little interaction. They all managed to upload their photo into the Write activity and then took the initiative to write 6-7 sentences about the photo. The students had snapped tons of pictures of Savanah, Gordon, and I and were then asking us all kinds of questions so they could add it to the descriptions of their pictures. The whole thing was a bit odd but flattering.

After giving the students a short break we worked in the Paint activity. They all tried out drawing their school and some of the pictures were really impressive: much better than I could do in Paint using a laptop mouse pad. They were really getting into the Paint activity so we stood back for a bit and let them work. The students were all over the classroom sharing their work and showing the younger students and older teachers who attended the workshop different tricks in Paint. Unfortunately with an hour left in day 1 over half of the laptops died at nearly the same time. We tried replacing them with other laptops, but they weren’t charged correctly either. We had to explain to them that we made a mistake and they would have to share the laptops for the rest of the camp because we had completely run out.

Lastly we had the kids explore the laptops so we could get a better idea of what they were wanted to learn. Just like in Rwanda and at Mmaweshi, the kids opened scratch and were asking all kinds of questions on how to use it. It was really inspiring to see that they are still all so excited about the laptops. We had to end a few minutes early again because of the lack of charged laptops (which will no longer be a problem because we are seeing to it that all of the laptops are fully charged). They all reluctantly turned off their laptops and handed them in and promised they would be back tomorrow.

It wasn’t the end of the day there though. We went back to Thusanang and are currently charging the 200 laptops (about 30 at a time) and making various phone calls to people to plan the after school sessions, check on the status of our routers, and plan for tomorrow’s camp.

200 Laptops, 6 Boxes, 3 People, 1 Car (Winter Camp Day 1)

Winter Camp Day 1:


On our first day of the winter camp we went to Mmaweshi in the morning and Driehoek in the afternoon. We had to transport all 200 laptops to the schools using one compact car. We filled the boxes that the XOs were shipped in and stacked them in the car. We fit 200 laptops in 6 boxes. All 6 boxes and Savanah, Gordon, and I also squeezed in. We arrived at Mmaweshi to find the students already waiting there for us. Sara, the principal, showed up a few minutes later to let us into the school. The students helped us set up a classroom and 45 children and parents filed in and took their seats.

The turnout at Mmaweshi was great: much more than we had imagined would come to the smallest of our three schools. Almost all of the 6th and 7th graders from last year were there along with students from the other grades. We started off by giving a short speech thanking everyone for taking their winter break to come to the XO camp and thanking the schools for allowing us to use their facilities (without them we would have had nowhere to hold the camp). From there we got right to work.

We needed to judge the level of the students so after turning on the laptop we had them open the Record activity. It was easy to see which students had used the laptop before because they were already taking pictures as I gave the directions. The newer students were having trouble with the mouse pad and clicking on programs, but luckily, the students from last year were eager to help in any way possible. It was definitely a peer-to-peer learning environment. Every time a student or parent had a question the older students were there to help.

Everyone went outside to take pictures with their XOs and then we showed them how to name the photos and upload them into the Write activity. We had a few complications because students closed out their Record activity before we could give the next instructions so they had to start over. After we circled the class a few times answering questions the students had all copied their photo and were writing about it. After this we decided to give them a chance to explore the laptops and open programs they wanted to know more about. Many of them opened Scratch, just like in Rwanda, and then called one of us over to show them what it could do. Now we know to make time to spend learning scratch later in the camp.

Next we had everyone draw a picture in Paint of their school. No one really listened, but it wasn’t a problem. The students took the initiative to make their own drawings. We even had one student, Mack, who drew a 3D truck just using the mouse pad. The students were really enjoying this, but because the laptops had not been fully charged they started to die. Pretty soon there were so many laptops dead that we had to end the camp a half hour early so that we would have enough laptops for Driehoek. We said our goodbyes and all of the students said they would be back tomorrow for the 2nd day of winter camp.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Highlighting IU OHOT

OLPC recently asked our team to send them basic information about the following topics so that they can create a one page "At A Glance" that will be used to promote OLPCorps. This will give anyone who is interested an overview of several different areas of our deployment.

Deployment: Haenertsburg, Limpopo, South Africa


One of our schools, Katane, is on the power grid, so we only needed to provide power strips and outlet converters to get the Katane laptops fully powered. The laptops are charged during the school day and then the students can take them home at night. Our other two schools, Mmaweshi and Driehoek, were not on the power grid when we came last year. To mitigate the problem, we purchased generators and arranged for gas to be delivered to the schools regularly. The schools use the generators to charge the laptops during school and then the students can take them home at night. Unfortunately, most of the students do not have power at home, so even when they leave school with a fully charged laptop, they only have approximately 2 hours of use each night. In order to provide the students with more efficient power, our team purchased 160 solar panels to distribute to students who do not have power options at home. This way, the children will be able to use their laptops outside and conserve the battery for using the laptops later in the evening, after the sun has gone down. We also hope that providing individual solar panels to the students will drastically cut down on the amount of time that the generators are used at school, cutting down on fuel costs. Our solar panels will arrive in mid-July, so we will distribute them when the students return to school from winter break.


Our end goal is to saturate the 5th, 6th, and 7th grade students in our three schools. We achieved saturation in 5th grade and partial saturation in 6th grade at all three schools last year, providing 20 laptops to Mmaweshi, 36 laptops to Katane, and 34 laptops to Driehoek. This year, we are providing laptops for the new 5th grade students at each school, again achieving saturation in the 5th grade class. After this summer, the 5th and 6th grade classes will be completely saturated, and they share their laptops at certain times with the 4th and 7th grade students during school hours.

With our old and new laptops combined, we have 200 laptops to use at our winter XO camp this year. We sent letters to each school that could be sent home with their students, inviting anyone who has an interest in the XO laptop to attend the camp. Our goal is to provide training to as many people as possible through these training sessions. At this time, we are not sure how many people will attend, but we believe that 200 laptops will more than provide saturation at each session.


One laptop was stolen out of Driehoek school. The school immediately reported the stolen laptop to the police, and the police are currently investigating the theft. They have made several trips to the school and appear to be taking the case very seriously.

After one year, we were given 8 broken laptops from the schools. Four of the laptops have broken screens, which could be fixed, but we do not currently have the spare parts necessary to make the repairs. The other 4 computers had broken batteries to the point that the computers would not turn on (this is different from a simple charging problem), so we replaced the malfunctioning batteries with extra parts from the 4 laptops with broken screens. This leaves us with 4 laptops that need to be replaced. We are going to keep the broken laptops for additional spare parts in the future.


Our internet situation is somewhat confusing at the moment. Two of our schools (Katane and Driehoek) receive donated internet from a local provider, Procom. To make the internet work on the XOs at these two schools, we need to plug an Ethernet cable into a router, which makes the internet wireless so that all of the XOs can get online. We needed to purchase new routers this year, which have not yet arrived. We believe that internet will work at both Katane and Driehoek once we receive the new routers.

Our third school, Mmaweshi, is different because it is in a location that does not allow it to receive internet from Procom. Mmaweshi receives internet through an MTN card which we have to pay for.


Ownership was a key issue that required a lot of deep thought last summer. Our goal was to make one child the official owner of one laptop, while also providing a system of oversight and accountability. We ended up writing contracts that were signed by each student who received a laptop. These contracts stress that the students are the owners of the laptops, but that owning a laptop comes with certain responsibilities , such as caring for the laptops and not abusing them in anyway (pulling keys off, hitting them, breaking the screen, etc). It is explained in our contract that One Here… One There (our organization at Indiana University), Thusanang Trust (our local partnering organization), and the schools have the power to take the laptops away if they are being abused. This system has worked very well. For instance, one student was found pulling keys off of his XO. The school was able to take the laptop away for one week and then have a detailed discussion with the student about why his laptop was taken away and how it would feel to be the only 5th grade student without an XO. The laptop was returned after the student promised to properly care for his laptop in the future, and there have been no further problems.

All of the students are allowed to take their laptops home in the evening after charging them during the school day. We distributed surveys last month to all of the students who received XOs last summer. When asked how many days each week the students use their laptops, they overwhelmingly responded 5-7 days. When asked how many hours each day the students use their laptops, nearly all of the students said at least 2 hours, and some students (presumably those with power sources at home) said up to 5 hours. The students do not take the laptops home over extended breaks for safety reasons, and because most of the students would not have the means to charge the laptops at home. Now that we are providing individual solar panels to the students, this issue could be readdressed so that the students could take the laptops home over breaks.

Goals for 2010:

We have 3 main goals for the coming year:
1.) One of our schools, Katane, has an established after school program where the students meet once a week to use their XOs in a constructionist learning environment. We would like to establish similar programs at our other two schools.

2.) We would like to achieve saturation in the 5th, 6th, and 7th grade students at our three schools. This would require us to deploy approximately 100 more laptops next summer.

3.) Lastly, we would like to increase local community involvement. This could include more community members being involved in the after school programs, or simply more community leaders visiting our schools to see first hand the benefits of these projects.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Internet Update

Our internet situation is definitely dismal here compared to what I had expected. I was under the impression that the internet was going to be fully functioning by the time that Carolyn, Gordon, and I arrived. I visited the three schools for the first time on Monday, only to find out that none of the schools have working internet. Apparently, there was a problem with our servers when the Joes arrived, so our tech guy, Neo, came to from Johannesburg to fix the servers. Unfortunately, these repairs were never tested before Neo left, so we have no idea whether or not they worked. We will know whether or not the servers work when we get our internet problems worked out… which is a whole other issue…

When they left for Kigali, internet was working at the schools, but only through an Ethernet cable into a single computer. We need Routers to make the internet wireless so that all of the XOs can get online. We tried to purchase the new routers in Johannesburg when we got back from Kigali, but we couldn’t find the correct routers at any of the stores, so we ended up having to order them… They were supposed to arrive yesterday, but there is no sign of them yet today (Africa time works a little differently than US time).

Ordering routers turned out to be only a small problem in the grand scheme of things, though. We thought that we would be able to plug the routers in and have wireless internet, but that isn’t going to be the case. We plugged our personal computers into the Ethernet cable at the schools on Monday, expecting to have internet, and found that it did not work at all. This could be because the internet settings were changed on our laptops in Kigali, or it could be a bigger problem with our internet connection or provider. We are hoping that the problem is with our computers and not with the internet connection, but we really don’t know. We won’t be able to tell what the problem is until we get the routers here, which could be days. Until then, we are waiting for the routers, and hoping that they fix the problem. If we receive the routers and the problem isn’t fixed, we will have to start making calls. Our last resort would be to call someone back down here from Joburg to look at it- transportation + lodging + wages can be expensive, and considering that we already paid a tech person to be here for 2 weeks, calling him back down seems wasteful and inefficient.


Our deployment is lucky because most of our power issues were taken care of last year. One of our schools had power when we came last year and we have purchased generators for the other two schools. We also provided each school with power strips and outlet converters since we ordered the laptops with US plugs last year. Unfortunately, things do come up, and we ran into some unexpected power issues today. Over the past two days, we have collected all of the old laptops and power strips that were given to the schools last year so that we can update and charge the laptops. Because we won’t have the capacity to plug in 200 laptops at a time at our XO camps, we need to have them fully charged before we begin each day. This means that we have to charge 200 laptops each night. We charged all of the laptops today because we are leaving for two days tomorrow and we need them to be fully charged for the first day of our camp on Monday. Normally, we would just charge large numbers of laptops at one time using the power strips and rotate the uncharged laptops into the power strips as other ones become charged. When we started to plug the laptops in, however, we found out that about half of the power strips from last year no longer work. We are down to charging about 20 laptops at a time, with each laptop taking an hour or so to charge... It is taking forever. Considering that we will have to charge 200 laptops every night for the next 3 weeks for our winter camp, this system is definitely not going to work. We are going to have to drive to Tzaneen sometime this weekend to get a few new tech items such as 4GB USB sticks, so we are going to go ahead and purchase some new power strips (that hopefully last longer than a year). Power strips aren’t a huge expense that will break our budget or anything, but small unexpected costs like this can add up and interfere with other plans. Hopefully, the new power strips will solve the problem and we won’t have any more power issues this summer.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What I Want to be When I Grow Up...

What do you want to be when you grow up?

The kids at each school answer this question differently, but they all dream big. They strive to be doctors, lawyers, teachers, and many other prestigious professions. Just like kids all around the world they want to go to school so that they can do what ever they want when they get older. The XO laptop allows them to get ahead in education and become closer to their dreams; it can also be a resource for finding more opportunities in life.

During our winter camp sessions at Katane we will be working on an "XO Job Fair." After talking with Wilemina, we learned that the students are already use the laptops to create cv's. We are going to combine their work with cv's into a job fair. The students will research "what they want to be when they grow up" and create cv's based on what they already know and what they find out while doing their research. After this they will be able to research jobs, careers, and fields related to their interests. They whole idea of this is to open up new paths for them in life. Hopefully they will be able to find countless opportunities and goals to work towards.

At the "XO Job Fair" the students will make a presentation using their XO. They will incorporate browse, record, write, paint into their presentation and then share with the other students what they can do in the future.

To add to the job fair, we will also incorporate what the students have been learning in their math classes by having them learn how to create charts and graphs on the laptops. They will chart the interests of their students into different career areas. This will also show them all of the different opportunities there are within one area.

By the end of this learning project the students will be exposed to many new and interesting professions they never knew existed, they will learn more about their fellow students, they will find out more about their own interests, they will be able to successfully use the laptop for their studies in math, and they will master their skills on other XO programs.

A Day in the Life #1

Since joining the deployment team this summer, I have realized that a lot of people don’t really understand what exactly goes into making an XO deployment work. (I definitely did not understand the process before I became involved in it.) For example, when our team was in the process of registering this project through Indiana University’s Overseas Studies Office, it was suggested that 13 weeks would be way too much time to complete this project, as if we would distribute computers for a week or two and then sit around enjoying a two month vacation. (To be fair, the IU Overseas Studies Office is neither the first nor probably the last to feel this way, it is just one example.) To dispel any myths or misunderstandings about how we are spending our time, I am going to try to do a “Day in the Life” blog every week or two... here is the first, detailing what we have done today:

June 22, 2009

7:30am- Wake up, get ready for the day.

8:00am- Today we need to drop letters off to each school explaining our winter XO camp so that they can pass them out to the students. We already wrote the letter and had it translated from English into Sepedi, but then we realized that we needed to make a couple of changes to the times and dates listed on the letter. I went to Nancy's (our translator) office at 8:00am to make the small changes, only to find out that the computer system is down at Thusanang (the organization that we stay with). We have no letters. The schools are expecting letters today...

8:45am- We have to make an unexpected trip into town to re-type and print the letter at an internet cafe. We run into another problem when we realize that there is misinformation in the letter but we can't change it because we do not speak fluent Sepedi. We decide that the information is not terribly important and that we can probably just take it out. In order to do this, we tape a piece of white paper over this paragraph (yes, very professional, we know) before leaving to make copies at one of the schools.

9:30am- Leave for Katane. We need to make 100 copies of the letter that we made at the internet cafe and leave some at Katane to give to the students. We find Wilemina, the teacher in charge of the laptop program, who takes the letter to make our copies... we wait.... wait... talk to some kids... wait... eat some Sump (lunch that the kids eat)... wait... this is taking entirely too long... wait a little longer... Wilemina comes back and tells us that the copier ate our paper (stupid paper/tape idea) and the copies were not legible. Someone is now re-typing the letter. We wait a little longer, but use the time to talk to Wilemina about what the kids are currently learning and what programs they already know on the laptops. We find out that the school would like us to work on resumes with the kids (a very simple 'resume' to get them thinking about their future), so we develope a learning project around this idea with Wilemina while waiting for the copies. We then had to collect any laptops that need to be repaired (2) and the power strips that we gave each school last year. We need the power strips to charge the XOs during the camp. We wait a little longer for the copies... yes, still waiting... wondering if the copies will ever come... and they finally do! It took two hours, but they are perfect. As we leave, we get into a really interesting conversation with the school principal and ask him if we can interview him sometime soon. He is thrilled to help us.

11:30am- Leave for Driehoek. Everything goes very smoothly. We give the letters to the principal and collect any laptops that need repairs (2) and the power strips.

12:00pm- Leave for Mmaweshi. Everything goes very smoothly again. We trade the letters for the laptops/power strips, and we're off!

12:20pm- Leave to head back to Thusanang. Grab some lunch. Now we need to update the firmware and reflash the 100 new XOs that arrived yesterday. (We already unloaded them and marked them with their serial number on their handle for easy access when we distribute them to the kids). Each XO needs to have its firmware updated before we can begin a process called NandBlasting, which reflashes large numbers of computers at a time. In theory, we should be able to update the XOs firmware one by one and then immediately move them to NandBlast, so we would be updating and reflashing at the same time. We ran into another little obstacle, though, because both updating and NandBlasting require a specially formatted USB stick, and we only have one. We could copy the USB, but we don't have a stick with enough memory to hold all of the information, and the closest store with USB sticks is 30 minutes away. That means that we have to update the firmware on all 100 computers before we can begin NandBlasting. A small setback, but still slightly annoying.

1:00pm- Gordon, Carolyn, and I leave "the Joes" behind at Thusanang to update and reflash the XOs. It isn't really a 6 person job. We are now back at the internet cafe. We have a lot of e-mailing/communication to catch up on- as you can tell from the date of my last post, we have NOT had good luck with internet availability. Our schools have internet, but the organization that we are staying with does not. After I finish blogging, we need to make a few phone calls to set up exact times and plans for our after school program, which starts in 3 1/2 weeks. After we are done catching up here, we will head back to Thusanang to help the Joes update/reflash- I'm sure it will take the remainder of the day.

We'll need to have a group meeting tonight to prepare for tomorrow- we need to go to the three schools to collect ALL of the 100 laptops that were distributed last year so that we can update/reflash them (same thing we are doing to the new laptops today) and have them to use duing the workshop. We encourage anyone who is interested to come to the XO camp, even if they do not have an XO, so we need to make sure that we have as many on hand as possible. It should be a busy day!

Summer Learning Schedule

A lot of thought has gone into our XO workshop schedule for this summer. Last summer, our team worked in the local schools all day everyday for 3 weeks, which greatly disturbed their normal curriculum. Therefore, our school administrators do not want the XO program to happen during school hours this year. Fortunately, the schools will be on Winter Break for 3 weeks during the deployment, which will allow us to administer XO camps at each school. Because we have three schools and three weeks of winter break, we originally thought that we would be able to have a week long camp at each school from 8:00am-3:00pm everyday. These plans had to be reconsidered when we were told that sending the students home for lunch would not be acceptable and that we would need to provide a full meal. We do not have enough money in our budget to provide a full lunch to approximately 75 people everyday for 3 weeks, so we decided to break the days up into morning and afternoon sessions at different schools. We will teach at one school in the morning from 8:00am-11:00am, and then move to a different school in the afternoon from 12:00pm-3:00pm, providing a light snack at each session. We also wanted to schedule the camp sessions at different times at each school so that everyone has the opportunity to attend- maybe a student who could not attend the week of morning sessions at the winter camp will be able to attend the week of afternoon sessions. After winter break ends, when the students return to their regular school schedule, we will work with the students in afterschool workshops from approximately 2:30pm-5:00pm each weekday afternoon.

We hope to review basic computer skills in a very constructionist manner for the first week of the Winter Camp (our 6th grade students have had XO computers for a year now and have been sharing them regularly with the 4th, 5th, and 7th grade students, so we should be able to quickly move through these skills), complete an in depth learning project during the second week of camp, and then work on new programs such as Scratch and E Toys during the afterschool programs. Of course, the students may be too advanced or not advanced enough to follow these plans, and we will remain completely open to change. Our current schedule (which could, of course, change at any moment) is:

June 22-June 29:
This week will mostly be concerned with logistical needs. We need to make sure that we have permission to hold our weekly XO camps at the schools, finalize our afterschool workshop schedule, meet about what our role should be at the after-school programs (since these are already regularly scheduled events, do they have regular lesson plans? Should we plan something? how advanced are the students skills so that we know what kind of lesson to plan? Etc), finalize learning projects after getting more teacher input, contact local newspapers about covering our project, and address a problem with electricity at one of our three schools.

June 30-July 6th:
We will hold our winter XO camp at Mmaweshi Primary School each weekday morning from 8:00am-11:00am. We will hold an additional winter XO camp at Driehoek Primary School each weekday afternoon from 12:00pm-3:00pm. Details about learning projects for the camps to come.

July 7th-13th:
We will hold our winter XO camp at Driehoek Primary School each weekday from 8:00am-11:00am. We will hold an additional winter XO camp at Katane Primary School each weekday afternoon from 12:00pm-3:00pm. Details about learning projects for the camps to come.

July 14th-July 21st:
We will hold our winter XO camp at Katane Primary School each weekday from 8:00am-11:00am. We will hold an additional winter XO camp at Mmaweshi Primary School each weekday afternoon from 12:00pm-3:00pm. Details about learning projects for the camps to come.

July 21st-August 13th:
We will focus on our after school programs during the last 4 weeks of our deployment. We will spend each Monday running a teacher training workshop at each school, each Tuesday will be spent at Mmaweshi Primary School, each Wednesday will be spent at Driehoek Primary School, and each Thursday will be spent at Katane Primary School. The workshops will be held from 2:30-5:00 with exact learning projects to be decided on later this week, after getting more input from the teachers.

Kigali Training Workshop

Our team has just returned to our deployment site in South Africa after an intense training workshop in Kigali, Rwanda provided by OLPC. The workshop covered a large range of topics and definitely strengthened our deployment. OLPC tech expert, Reuben Caron, taught corps members how to reflash large numbers of XOs at a time and how to set up servers and access points. We were also given in-depth training in several advanced programs on the XO, such as Scratch and E Toys. We engaged in a lot of small group discussions about learning projects and sustainability. It was really useful to exchange information and ideas with the other corps teams because it shed new light on the potential of our own project. I felt that the most useful days at the Kigali workshop were spent working in schools in Rwanda where XOs have already been distributed. Most of us spent one day working with teachers and one day working with both teachers and students. As someone who did not participate in the IU South Africa deployment last summer, I found the classroom time in Rwanda gave me a better idea of how to deal with language barriers, how to communicate basic technical skills that may seem second nature to me, and how to recognize when to move through the lessons faster or slower. Other than a few problems with logistics/communication (bound to happen in Africa), the workshop was great and I’m really glad that I got to be a part of it. Now we are ready to get to work in ZA!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Why We Joined OLPCorps

We joined OLPCorps because we believe in the power of education and its ability to revolutionize the developing world. OLPC's use of technology as a vehicle to improve education is both obvious and ingenious. Anyone living in the United States can see how technology has revolutionized education in the past 10-15 years, creating a greater educational divide between developed and developing nations. We believe that providing computers and internet access to students in developing nations will close this growing divide and empower them to be a strong force in today's globalized world.

We support OLPC specifically because we believe in its core principles and beliefs. We love that OLPC values a grassroots approach, making sure that projects have local community involvement and support. Too often, international organizations try to impose programs that they have constructed without consulting the local population, which are rarely successful and end up wasting valuable time and money. I also love that OLPC works to put power directly into the hands of young people. Studies in the United States have shown that children make decisions (unconsciously) about their future, such as whether or not they will attend college, around age 11. It is incredibly important to empower children at a young age to believe that they can set high goals and achieve them. We can't wait to see how this new and innovative education program changes young children and their communities around the world.