Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Holiday Lessons

We are currently running classes every Saturday morning over the long holiday break. So far, the turn out has been very low. We think there are multiple reasons for this. As the term came to an end, attendance at schools drops substantially (because final exams for each grade are finished before the term really ends), so the announcement of holiday classes didn't quite reach all the students . Secondly, during this holiday, some of the students travel to different parts of Uganda to visit family. Also, students have established commitments at home during this long holiday.

We are always hoping for a high turnout, but in the meantime we have been taking advantage of the unusually large teacher to student ratio and the fact that each student can have their own laptop to work with.

The XO laptop has an useful ability to "link" up with other XO laptops to create a mesh network. This creates a virtual space where students can collaborate on projects in real time, share photos, chat, and share completed projects.

We asked to students to work on a collaborative Write (similar to MS Word) project together. The idea is that they will write a story together with no predetermined plan. The first student writes the first sentence, the second student writes the second sentence, the third student writes the third sentence, and so on.........until we come back to the first student and we continue until we finish the story.

Here is what they came up with:

"A long time ago there was a boy named Margu. He was a hunter. One day he went into the forest. Up above, the clouds began to gather and it started to rain."

(It took a bit to get the concept across and they are still slow at typing, so we didn't get too far but they got the idea....)

On another week we designed a Wiki scavenger hunt. The XO laptops have a build in Wikipedia activity. We wanted a way to allow the students to practice their research skills on the laptops using this activity. The teachers and I came up with 5 questions, using the Wikipedia on the laptops as a guide, and posted them to the server as an assignment. After reviewing how to log on to the server, we let them loose on Wikipedia.

They had fun using the Wikipedia activity as a tool. Up till now they have been just clicking around and exploring with no real goal or mission. We all know how having a problem to solve changes the way we use and appreciate technology. For example, Power Point isn't very interesting to use until you have a presentation to make - OR - the Internet isn't very much fun until you have an email to send or something you want to research.

I think they also had fun with the idea that they were competing against the other students. This is something we would like to continue using as a warm up activity to get them started each day. It doesn't take too long and it gets them focused on a task as class is beginning. It also is a review of some basic tasks like opening an activity, logging on to the server, navigating within the servers Moodle application, typing, using the mouse pad, and scrolling on the screen.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

XO's still going strong at Kasiisi

Hello from Kasiisi! The OLPC Corp deployment is still going well. Because we have not kept up the blog since our project really got under way, I thought I would provide a quick recap in pictures…

Unpacking the laptops at Kasiisi Primary School

We found a nice shady spot to work for the day. We had to unpack and manually update the software on each computer. We also took the time to attempt to work out generator and server issues before we really got going with the students.

Weekend-long teacher training

Our team of two Ugandan University students, one American University Student, One Ugandan Headmistress, and one American volunteer taught all of the Kasiisi Primary school teachers about the computers and their possibilities as learning tools. This initial training was open to all teachers to get the whole school informed and excited about the computers. Ever since this weekend, we have been concentrating the training on a team of 5 teachers.

Installing the charging station

Because Kasiisi Primary School does not have any electrical power, we had to be inventive with how to keep the laptops charged. We designed and built a complicated charging station, including a generator, back-up battery, wiring for charging 80 laptops at one time, and a secure cabinet to keep the laptops safe and organized. To see the our design, check out

Each computer was numbered and given an accompanying numbered charging slot at our station. Each student was assigned a computer and a list of the students name and computer were posted at the charging station for reference.

Students in Class with the XO.

Laptop Grand Ceremony

Hundreds of people, including local political leaders, parents, students, visiting donors and volunteers, and teachers attended the Kasiisi OLPC celebration. Students performed singing and dancing routines, speeches were given by many important people, and the laptops were shown off to the community.

Great Primate Handshake Comes to Kasiisi

Thanks again for coming to see our school and making an excellent video for us! Here is the video that has recently been posted on the OLPC youtube site:

An article

And a link to learn more about the Great Primate Handshake group:

Family Day at Kasiisi

In order to really show the community and families of Kasiisi what the XO Laptop is all about, we decided to have a family day at Kasiisi. All families and friends were invited into the classroom to see the projects the students have been working on. Because of the large turn out, we had to spread the students over 3 classrooms!


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Well we've started training the students this week, and it's going very well. They are outrageously excited with the computers even though it's moving very slowly.
Day one: We introduced the computer to them. We showed them how to turn the computers on and how to open them. (the ears on the XO provide quite a challenge to the uninformed opener) We continued on to tell them about how you can't wash the computers like clothes, and how in general getting them wet is a bad idea, although the computers were designed to be water proof in rain. Finally we talked to them about keeping them clean and generally how these XOs need to be taken care of as they are very precious and will (hopefully) play a large part in improving their education in the future.

Day two: The girls were having a lesson on how to avoid rape and general lady's hygiene and safety, so we took the day off. It's hard for girls in public education anyway, so we thought it important to avoid them getting behind the rest of the class.

Day three: We began with teaching the program Write which is a basic Microsoft Wordesque program. Once we told them about how a key corresponds with a letter on the screen and that the blinking cursor is where the letter will appear, we told them to type a sentence. They all typed the tried and true expression, "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog." Introducing a capital letter for the opening T was difficult and in general the shift key is a tough one for them to get used to. The space bar was a quick pick up but most words had somewhere between 2 and 10 spaces separating them. We ended by centering "THE UGANDAN NATIONAL ANTHEM" and then had them write the first verse using punctuation like exclamation marks, commas, periods, and using the return key to separate each line. Some are learning faster than others, but having multiple teachers in the rooms helps a lot because with out a projector, and with 80 kids in each of the two classes that are taught simultaneously, personal aid is often necessary.

Day four: We taught them how to use the calculator and all in all this went well and they caught on quite quickly although learning the symbols on the keyboard, combined with further lessons in the ever difficult shift key brought some problems to the table. Regardless this lesson went well, although by the end of the day the kids had learned how to open up other programs and this led to a whole mess of questions about the camera, the music programs, one program where a man on the computer speaks what you type, and a few kids who found the computer programming applications were very insistent that I teach it to them immediately. There was no way to even begin with that especially the Terminal program, and Pippy, which are two of the more complex programs. They were disappointed that I was unable to teach them programs that are over my head in the last 5 minutes of class, but it shows curiosity, and desire to learn. Hopefully we'll be arriving there in the future.

Today (Day 5): We will teach them Record which is the camera program. We will have to talk to kids about the importance of not making pornography which may seem obvious, especially with them being in Primary 5 (Fourth Grade), but the parents when we talked to them were concerned about this, and with fair reason as girls start to drop out from pregnancy starting at about this age. I have high hopes for today although I predict they will overload the computer with the mass of photographs and video they will take, so necessary precautions will be told to them before we begin. Unfortunately I, Ian Wrangham, am sick today so I will be taking a day off and trying to recover quickly so I can be back at school on monday with ample energy and vigor. At least it gave me time to update my faithful readers.

(Please post any questions you have in the future)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A little catch up...

Well I hope we haven't lost all of our devoted readers in the month in which we didn't post, but just like Twilight Princess, you're anticipation and dedication to this blog shall be valiantly rewarded:

Well our project is underway. We returned from Kigali, Rwanda two weeks ago after a long drive. For Mathew and Frances it was their first time out of Uganda, and they enjoyed being to a new country. The training session went well, although, at times it was long, it was always worthwhile, and we all met some great people. Going to the political conference on one of the earlier days was a little exhausting but instilled a lot of hope in myself and the other members of my team in the project, and what we need to do this summer, and it was great to see the international support for this project. It gave me a lot of confidence in the OLPC as an organization, and the ability that they have to revolutionize youth learning.

Having returned to Uganda our main concerns for our deployment were power and networking, as we all have minimal to no experience with both. Power was soon resolved and networking went surprisingly and extraordinarily well. The training session for the teachers was a bit more difficult. They all seemed very excited, but as we were only dealing with one year (Primary 5) some were a little frustrated at not being given the chance to use them more in depthly, and as a result we conducted a weekend training session where we had two full days of teaching all of the teachers in the XO’s. We ran into a large community issue, when all the teachers that we were trying to invite to the training session asked for allowances to come as well as transport and food. We were unable to meet their requests and so instead we decided to give meals to the teachers and nothing else. As a result they decided only to come to the first day as a means of protest but fortunately they were excited enough after the first day that they all came regardless.

We also have a new member of our team now, an American volunteer working for the Kasiisi Project who is really excited about the project and has a background in IT, which our group is lacking.

So our first week of setting up power and networking ended with a weekend training session. Week two consisted of daily training with a more select group of four teachers. Unfortunately we are only training men. They seemed to ask more questions than women and all the math teachers at the schools are men. Furthermore there is only one woman teaching P5 and she seems uninterested.

We conducted these training sessions everyday for two hours (3-5) so as not to interfere with schoolwork, and even still, local funerals prevented full attendance to our sessions.

We had a meeting with the parents of P5 on Thursday of the second week, and due to the fact that it was exclusively in Rutooro, only two thirds of our group understood anything. Parents were excited and looked forward to including the laptops in their child’s learning experiences, although there were some concerns ranging from “side effects” to security to even improper use as pornographic tools. There was also a concern with regards to repairing of laptops and one man in particular commented, “If we know that the computers are to be repaired by the school, we will all be careless. However, knowing that the school will be repairing them, let’s not be careless. Let’s be careful.”
The meeting was in general, a success, however not all of the parents showed up, and we would like to talk to parents of children before we give out laptops so we are trying to schedule another meeting where we can meet with the remaining parents and ensure the support of the rest of the parents.

We have begun teaching the students how to use the laptops now, however as we are only just beginning we are still working on things like how to use the mouse, and type, and especially the shift button and dragging are difficult to get there hands on. However, as the week continues we look forward to further success and excitement for the kids.

We have a few issues still on our plate. First and foremost, the room where we are setting up our server/APs has no shutters over the windows, and instead just bars, however some of the bars are missing and so we are concerned about security issues. In order to fix this we are combining our funds with the funds of our NGO, The Kasiisi Project, and are looking into purchasing shutters, fixing the windows, and potentially installing metal doors/shutters as further security measures. This is however, as you can imagine, a very expensive venture and we are concerned about our budget and the extent to which the Kasiisi Project can help us endure the costs.

On top of this our generator/inverter/charger/battery system has developed an alarm light, which means that we need to buy a stabilizer. Since our group is quite ignorant to power systems, we are following blindly the advice of people trying to sell us things, so it is tough to figure out what we are really supposed to be doing, but it currently seems like we will have to keep on purchasing equipment until we get the green light again. Once more these are an entire new group of unanticipated costs that we will have to squeeze into our constantly changing budget.

As the project progresses, I have more and more concerns about the sustainability of this project and the fact that we have a fuel run generator does not help my queries, but I am most concerned about security. While efforts to prevent stealing have worked in other places, I am still worried about our current security issues. The school where we are deploying laptops is the best primary school in the district and as a result people send their children past other primary schools, up to fifteen kilometers away to go to school and as a result our students, walking home with laptops, will pass older students from other schools and passing through a number of communities where it is impossible to reach out and talk to them all about the importance of the community.

This is bound to be a difficult project, and we have been expecting bumps in the road from day one, so at this point we endure and do whatever we can to make sure the transition to a more technical learning experience goes as smoothly as possible. Bringing one hundred laptops into a school where the only other electrical equipment is a few phones, is bound to be difficult.

Hopefully we will get some words of advice from the OLPC group based in Jinja, Uganda who is visiting this weekend to look to us for advice as well, and we will work together on improving both deployments.

- Ian Wrangham

Some More Brief Words (as dictated to Ian Wrangham):

Frances’ Feelings: I don’t know how we can describe it. It’s bad. Someone cannot value it, knowledge. The computer is not part of the culture. You know, we people we are different. I don’t know why we should give them money for transport when this project is supposed to be community based. Me, I have to work. I have benefitted a lot from AFROKAPS and so why not? What can I say I am an old man. For us old men one word is enough. One word is a lot. One word to a wise man is enough. Like me.

Mathew’s Feelings: How could they? How could they? How could they ask for an allowance and transport fees and yet we are teaching them something new? That is ashaming. It beshames my primary school. Most of these teachers don’t know the computer and we are bringing them new knowledge. However, I appreciate that we came to a conclusion, and we taught them with out allowances. What made me happy was that they were appreciating at the end of it all. All we could get from them was thank you, thank you, thank you for the good lecture, which was all we needed to get us going.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Ahhh.... Ugandan Air!

      Well, this morning, I, Ian Wrangham, arrived in Uganda. Every time I
return to this beautiful country I am reminded why my time here was
the most cherished from my childhood. As we organize the computers to
be shipped down to Kasiisi Primary School from Kampala, Uganda's
capital, the clock ticks down to the time when we will be leaving
Kigali, Rwanda for a 10 day training session in the mountainous
terrain, inhabited by Western Lowland Gorillas. Oh I am excited to see
a new country, especially one as beautiful and historical as Rwanda,
but how bittersweet that upon my arrival, I will be leaving before
seeing my forest home. However, the two weeks will go by quickly, and
soon I will be in the heart of the jungle, surrounded by the plants
and animals that I have adored whilst growing up; the antelope and the
monkeys; the chimpanzees and baboons; the elephants, the crocodiles,
the lions, and the hippos; and lest we not forget, the birds! OH THE
BEAUTIFUL BIRDS!!! And soon, I will be surrounded by Ugandans that are
so dear to my heart that I call them family. From those at Kasiisi, to
those at the Field Site where my father works, I will find love among
these people.

          As a child living in Uganda, I was less than 10 Km from Kasiisi
Primary School, and traveling back and forth between Uganda and the
United States was more than enough to embolden the stark contrasts
that lie within these schools. While Ugandans may be among the
happiest people in the world, education, one of the greatest of all
gifts, is an underdeveloped, and underfunded commodity especially when
compared to the likes of a wealthy Boston suburb. So do I feel a sense
of responsibility to the children, and the schools? Responsibility is
perhaps the wrong word. I would like to help in whatever way I can.
Perhaps it is foolhardy and arrogant to imagine that such a project
will change lives, or enhance educational experiences, but if it helps
that is great, and otherwise, I love spending time at the schools with
the teachers and the students, and I think they enjoy my company as

Monday, June 1, 2009


Here is a link to the NGO that is supporting our project. The Kasiisi Project has supported several local Ugandan schools as well as provided scholarship opportunities to a wide host of young intelligent students, including two of our volunteers this summer, Rwabuhinga Francis and Koojo Matthew. Furthermore the Kasiisi Project will continue to develop the laptop project at the end of the summer. The link to this worthwhile organization is posted below.

And we're off!!!

Well, tomorrow I (Ian Wrangham) depart Boston for Uganda and Rwanda to begin this crazy adventure. I thought before we get started it may be worth it to post a few pictures, tug on those heart strings a little bit, and get people a little more interested in our project.
Below are our three volunteers who are working on training students and teachers to use the XO's through out the summer. Beginning from the top we have Koojo Matthew, Rwabuhinga Francis, and myself, Ian Wrangham.

Below is the current P1 Class at Kasiisi Primary School.

Below is a picture of Kasiisi Primary School from the school's field during recess. Here you can see a few classrooms and the Headmistress's Office/Library in the top left most building.

And finally, are you serious?
I mean really?

Monday, May 18, 2009

One Laptop Per Child

One Laptop Per Child is a non profit organization dedicated to providing technological opportunities to young underprivileged students from poor, rural communities around the world. Using the XO, a new ecologically friendly, 100$ laptop, developed by MIT, One Laptop Per Child is attempting to inspire a new generation of students, inspired and excited about using the latest technology. XO's allow students to take photographs and video, engage in basic computer programming simulations, paint, write, and even use multiple XO's to take distance measurements. XO's provide a new opportunity to these children; the opportunity to use groundbreaking technology to learn from and teach eachother, create and present personalized projects and to become comfortable with computers, as they continue to shape our society more and more.

This summer OLPC has given Kasiisi Primary School the chance to engage in this project, providing 100 XO's to distribute to all of the Primary 6 students. These laptops will be stored at the school for charging each night, and during the day the kids will have access to the wealth of opportunities that the XO's offer including  internet access, with the help of an accompanying server.

Three students are running this project; Ian Wrangham, Koojo Matthew, and Rwabuhinga Francis. Ian Wrangham is a Junior at Colorado College studying Environmental Science and Philosophy. Koojo Matthew is a Senior studying Business Administration at Kampala International University. Rwabuhinga Francis is a Freshman at Makerere University studying Environmental Planning.

This summer will provide a challenging project to all members involved, from the practitioners to the students.

Please stay posted as our summer evolves into what will hopefully be a groundbreaking movement to change the lives of the students in Primary Six at Kasiisi Primary School. Please stay updated on our progress, as lots of support will be crucial to the continued sustainability of this project.

The Kasiisi Schools, OLPC Project