Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Kids Can Learn A Lot In One Year...

After finishing our first week of our Winter XO Camp, we realized that the learners (South African word for students) have advanced far more than we thought they would have since last summer. They were finishing tasks in 10 minutes that we thought would take an hour, and some students were even teaching us about programs that we never showed them and are not familiar with ourselves. On the one hand, this is great news because it means that the students are using their laptops for learning. On the other hand, it also made us realize that the learning projects we had planned are too simplistic and that the students will be able to finish them in a couple of days, rather than a couple of weeks. We had to regroup, taking the students’ advanced skills into consideration, and come up with a new, more appropriate learning project…


When we started discussing a new learning project, we wanted to make sure that we chose something that will empower our students and encourage their creativity. We saw last year through our Problem Profiles project that the students have a lot of thoughts and opinions about issues affecting their community, but they don’t have an outlet to express themselves. A school newspaper, where the students choose the title, design the logo, choose the column topics, take the pictures, write the articles, and print/distribute the final product throughout their community, will give the students the opportunity to have a voice. Creating a school newspaper has endless possibilities- the students can have a community events column, a school column, a comic strip, a sports column, etc etc… the students will be able to explore a wide variety of interests from writing to graphic design to photography to translating, etc, etc… and the newspaper can be distributed through their local community, neighboring communities, and even the local or national government.

We introduced this new learning project at our schools today and both the students and teachers were incredibly excited. As soon as one of the teachers at Driehoek understood what we were trying to achieve, her eyes got really wide, she started talking a mile a minute, and literally ran out of the room where we were talking to go explain the project to the students. The students were really interesting to watch throughout the day because we could tell that they aren’t used to being given so much freedom. A lot of in school learning here is based on memorizing and regurgitating information, so they were somewhat confused at the beginning of the day when we asked them to brainstorm topics that they may be interested in writing about. At first, the students started copying articles from an example newspaper that we had passed around into their XOs, as if this was a typing project. After a couple of students understood the project, though, everyone seemed to catch on quickly. By the end of the day, the learners had written several articles, complete with pictures imported from Record, on fascinating topics such as the history of their schools, one school’s missing roof, a local cultural dance group, and their school garden. We were really impressed at the progress that was made in just three hours. With such enthusiastic support from the teachers, we can’t wait to see how this project will grow in the future.

The project does pose one obstacle that needs to be addressed: The XO does not currently have a program suitable for formatting a newspaper. The Write program does not offer text boxes and the Paint program, which does offer text boxes, does not have the ability to format text. It is our goal to fund the design of a new XO program similar to Microsoft Publisher. The program should come with some basic newspaper templates already formatted with textboxes and color schemes, and also allow the students to design their own layouts. If possible, we would love for the program to include other publishing options such as templates for magazines, flyers, pamphlets, newsletters, etc, but for now we are mostly focusing on the newspaper portion.

Designing a new program for the XO takes both time and money. We would like for the new program to be designed and on our learners’ laptops before we leave on August 18th, which would be very possible with the right amount of money. We have $1500 left in our “Learning Projects Budget” that we have decided to allocate towards the creation of this program, but we are worried that this will not be enough to motivate computer programmers to complete the project by mid August. We are actively fundraising and seeking qualified programmers to ensure that the program is created because we truly believe that not only our learners, but all learners using the XO, will benefit from it. We are looking at alternative, but much less appealing or effective, way to publish and print the newspapers in the event that the new program is not finished by August.

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