Communicating to Parents about SoaS Pilot

I am posting what I had written to the parents in my class about the pilot. I teach in a Quaker school, Cambridge Friends School. I am one of those teachers who tend not to jump into things very quickly. I tend to examine the reasons behind my decisions around curriculum, and lay them against our school’s mission and Quaker principles. Sharing how I look at things and the process of my decision making with parents is something I do from time to time, particularly when embarking on a curriculum that is new. It is one way I partner with parents in the education of their children. They are free to respond and share their comments or questions. I value their input. It allows me to view matters from different perspectives, especially that of the parents of children whom my curricular decisions directly affect.

INFORMATION ABOUT THE SUGAR ON THE STICK PILOT PROJECT

Hello, parents and guardians of children in grade one room 2,

As mentioned in our newsletter dated February 12, 2010, we are set to launch a Sugar on a Stick (SoaS) pilot project in our classroom. I hope to provide you information about this pilot project that, hopefully, will make you want to participate in it as well.

What is Sugar on a Stick? As mentioned on the newsletter, Sugar Labs is an open source software project that collaborates (largely online) to fulfill their mission to produce, distribute, support, and gather users and developers of the Sugar Learning Platform (Sugar). Sugar was originally developed for the One Laptop Per Child XO netbooks. It can be run by most computers, and is free. It offers a kid-friendly desktop or home screen, and the simple and meaningful icons invite free exploration.

Sugar on a Stick (SoaS) means that Sugar is loaded onto a USB stick or thumb drive, making Sugar very portable (you can carry it in your pocket or around your neck) and increasing the accessibility of technology as a tool for facilitating learning. This is a revolutionary idea. From the SoaS wiki:

“Sugar on a Stick (SoaS) enables children to reclaim computers. SoaS aims to make it easy for children, parents, or local deployers to provide each student with a small device (USB stick or thumbdrive) that can starts any computer with the student’s personalized Sugar environment… Sugar on a Stick starts up (“boots”) the host computer directly, without touching the hard disk…”

Each child in our class will have their own USB stick containing Sugar. They will be encouraged to freely explore the Sugar environment, and in the process, assume the perspective of both user and contributor. This is, in essence, what our pilot project is about. Please go to http://wiki.sugarlabs.org/go/Sugar_on_a_Stick for more information on SoaS.

Is this pilot project the very first one at CFS? Yes and No. Our classroom will be the very first Sugar on a Stick pilot at CFS. However, we will not be the first class to pilot the use of Sugar by students. Currently, the fourth graders are users of the Sugar Learning Platform (Sugar) via a pilot program using XO laptops. Last school year, an XO pilot project was also launched in the sixth grade classroom.

Why do the pilot? The answer might seem obvious: to provide children the opportunity to use computers as a learning tool. But I felt that this was not a strong enough reason to do the pilot. The children had an initial exposure to Sugar a few months ago when Mel Chua and Sebastian Dziallas, SoaS deployment team members, visited our classroom with three computers running Sugar. The children had a blast, interacting with the Sugar activities in teams of three. But their experience caused me to pause because of what I heard the children say. Out in the playground minutes after engaging in the Sugar activities, a number of our kids told kids from the other classrooms, “We played video games!” Most, if not all, students have access to computers at home. Many of them also have other electronic equipments like game boy, DS, and the Wii. I wondered how much time the children already spend in front of a screen or monitor. I wondered whether or not I would be meeting a need, versus responding to a want.

I gave the idea another shot, and tried to see it from the vantage point of our social studies curriculum. That was when it all came together. I felt that the compelling reason for the children to participate in this pilot is for them to have the opportunity to expand their notion as computer users and to recognize their potential to be contributors – to receive something great from another, and give back something in return. We have to see ourselves as participants in the Sugar Labs community, and as contributors to the Sugar learning platform. That led me to investigate what the Sugar Labs community is about. What I discovered sealed the deal. It seems to me that People who are actively involved with Sugar Labs tend to be passionate about the education of children, the use of technology in education, and about collaboration and free sharing of knowledge. Their mission statement is compatible with our school’s mission, the Quaker principles, and our pedagogy. I quote from their wiki:

The mission of Sugar Labs® is to produce, distribute, and support the use of the Sugar learning platform; it is a support base and gathering place for the community of educators and developers to create, extend, teach, and learn with the Sugar learning platform.

Sugar is based on the following principles:

· everyone is a teacher and a learner;

· humans by their nature are social beings;

· humans by their nature are expressive;

· you learn through doing; and

· love is a better master than duty.

Please go to http://wiki.sugarlabs.org/go/Sugar_Labs to learn more about the Sugar Labs community.

What would the pilot entail? What would it look like and feel like? With such a seemingly grand goal, one might think this would take over our whole day everyday. Not really. The children will participate in the Sugar Labs community as users and quality assurance engineers, i.e., they will freely explore the Sugar learning environment and provide developers feedback about the activities developed for Sugar:

1. Resources, Supplies and Schedule:

a. The children will each have a thumb drive or USB stick that can start a computer using their own personalized Sugar environment. It will store the “activities” (Sugar learner applications) and their work. The school will provide the children with the USB sticks.

b. The children will use their USB stick on netbooks that the SoaS deployment team brings into the classroom. There will be three units all together.

c. Each child will spend 30 to 45 minutes each week on the computer. They will work in teams of three, with ratio of 1 child: 1 netbook.

d. Mel Chua is the SoaS deployment support for our pilot. She will be accessible in multiple ways, including face-to-face and online meetings.

e. The pilot project will begin week of February 23, 2010 and at the end of May, 2010.

2. Learning Goals:

a. The children will learn by doing, i.e., by freely exploring the Sugar activities they find interesting. They will be taught how the Home Screen (desktop) works and how to access the different activities and features of the Sugar learning environment. After that, they will explore on their own.

b. The children will learn to collaborate with one another and with the SoaS Deployment support team as learners and teachers. At this time, the children are learning how they can be more supportive to their peers as they work on acquiring new knowledge and skills, and continue to develop the skills they have learned. They are learning when to “mind your own learning,” and when they can offer help and how. The pilot will provide them opportunities to figure out how to be a stronger community of learners.

c. The children will learn how to offer constructive feedback and relay sequence or series of events, with attention to cause and effect, e.g, “when I…this happens…”

d. They will find ways to record their thinking and findings. They will post their findings on a shared community Sugar journal accessible to all.

e. They will learn to file bug reports, post blog entries, and check in with the larger Sugar Labs community during regularly scheduled “Upstream Day” with the SoaS deployment support, Mel Chua.

f. They will demonstrate their learning by mentoring other users and communicating to others their observations and thinking, e.g., their first grade peers.

g. They will identify resources to help them solve problems they encounter, including fourth graders who are users of Sugar activities.

h. They will post blog entries to document their work and interface with others in the Sugar Labs community. They will use pseudonyms for their blog posts and Sugar community membership.

How can parents participate or be involved? First, I welcome any comments and questions you might have about this pilot. Letting me know how and what you are thinking  would be helpful. Secondly, you will have a chance to meet Mel Chua on Friday, February 26, 2010, at dismissal time. She is planning to hang around CFS from 3:00 to 4:00 pm.

I am documenting our pilot project via my public blog, https://lmylim.wordpress.com, and will include taking pictures and video taping some sessions. We will create another blog that will be where the children will post their entries using pseudonyms. Visiting these blogs from time to time is a sure way to stay involved. You will be informed as soon as the children’s blog is up and running.

Should you want to see for yourself what this is all about, you are cordially invited to drop-in to observe during the first three weeks of March, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays, between 9:30 to 10:15 am. Please let me know ahead of time if you want to do this so that I can prepare the children. The presence of parents can cause a lot of excitement in the classroom, so letting me know ahead of time is important.

If you want to volunteer in the classroom, the pilot project is a great opportunity for you to do so.  A consistent or predictable involvement is preferred. The time slot is from 9:30 to 10:15 a.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. The volunteer work will mean working alongside them, exploring Sugar activities with them, and supporting them as they attempt to solve problems they encounter and record their thoughts and findings on the community Sugar journal. If you want to bring your own laptop and plop down next to them to work, that would be awesome!

Thank you for your attention. Please feel free to be in touch with me to share your comments and questions.

Have a great week, and, a happy lunar new year to all!

Lynne May

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8 thoughts on “Communicating to Parents about SoaS Pilot

  1. Typo catch – after “love is a better master than duty.”, the next sentence begins “The Please”.

    And wow. Thanks for posting this – we should probably talk about Creative Commons licensing for your blog so that this letter to parents becomes usable and remixable by every other deployment as well. 😉

    I am so looking forward to the first Upstream Day.

      • Creative Commons (http://creativecommons.org/) is a way of licensing the things you make – like blog posts you write – where you say that it’s ok for other people to use them without having to ask permission from you first. You keep the copyright – this is basically saying, in advance of people asking, that “yes, it’s okay for you to use and share this thing I have made – just put my name on it so they know who it comes from (the “attribution” clause).”

        If you look at the bottom of my blog (http://blog.melchua.com) you can see there’s a footer that says “All content CC-BY-SA” – that means I’m releasing it under the Creative Commons Attribution (BY) Share-Alike license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) which lets people use – and remix – my work as long as they (1) give proper credit (by leaving my name on it, linking to the blog post they got it from, etc) and (2) if they make something using my work, they have to license that thing openly too so that I and other people can benefit from their changes as well.

        If you want to license your entire blog Creative Commons, you can link to the license in your footer like I did; if you want to license just one post, you can link to the license from just that post (and say something like “this post is released under (name of license)”.

  2. Thanks for posting this! I am excited to see how your parents respond. I wonder if any of them will ask to use it at home?

    It would also be interesting to know what the kids current screen usage is. I think the hope is that the creative and constructionist “games” in Sugar would replace passive TV and repetitive video games.

    • So far only one parent had responded and she asked if this is my first sugar pilot. It is a good idea to ask children what they have and use at home, but it seems that many of them have the wii and/or DS. I found a wiki post you wrote on how to introduce Sugar, and now I cannot find it again — I thought what you wrote would be very helpful as I think of how to introduce the laptops and activities to the children. There are some “vocabulary words” there that I would like to use.

    • Oh, and I too am thinking that some parents may want to use it at home, and there may be some teachers who may want to try it too. I think they are free to download if they want to, and I can ask Mel to give me some guidelines on this. I do not want the children to bring home their sticks because I am afraid the sticks will not come back to school. It has happened with other things. So, if they want another stick to use at home, the parents can bring in their own sticks, I think.

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