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.