Today we launched our Sugar on a Stick pilot in small steps and with great excitement. I began by helping the children remember that there are different kinds of communities. Neighborhoods are communities where we live, schools are communities where “we learn together” as nicely said by two children, and the Sugar Labs community is a community where people with shared interests share ideas. I also told them that they are now going to be members of the Sugar Labs community, and that they will assume the role of quality assurance engineers, or “testers.” I told them that Sugar on a Stick is a very young project, less than two years old.
“What is the Sugar Labs?” Some of the children wanted to know. I explained that just like our classroom community is part of the larger CFS school community, Sugar Labs is a community that is part of the larger Open Source community. Briefly, I told them that the open source community started when some people thought it would be a good idea to make software programs that would be available to more people at very little cost or no cost at all. Sugar Labs is one such community within the Open Source community.
Then I told them why it is called “Sugar on a Stick,” specifically what “stick” it refers to. I showed them one of the three netbooks they will be using. I told them there would be three netbooks all together. Each netbook has a different color and a name: a red netbook named Crookshanks, a blue netbook named Fluffy, and the silver netbook named Hedwig. As expected, all of the children recognized these names as that of creatures in the Harry Potter series. I then showed them the USB sticks. I told them that each USB stick contains the activities that they will be exploring. They know about the XO laptop and the Sugar activities from the short visit they had with Sebastian and Mel months ago. When I told them that Sebastian was the one who figured out a way to put these activities into the USB stick, they all gasped in amazement and admiration. I think I have just elevated Sebastian’s status into the superhero level.
Then, I gave each child a USB stick for them to personalize using a stretchy string and an assortment of beads. The result: necklaces, bracelets, and a colorful tail distinguishes one USB stick from another. I also used a permanent marker to label their sticks. See attached photographs.
After lunch, we got on Skype to communicate with Sebastian in Germany, and with Mel Chua who is about 45 minutes away from Cambridge. Some children wanted to know, “What is Sugar Labs?” “Why is it called Sugar?” “Why is it called Sugar Labs?” Some just wanted to start working on the netbooks. The children’s loudness, restlessness, and use of “Man” in their language (as in “Hey, man,” of “We know, man”) were clear indications that they were very excited. They wanted to know if they were going to start working on the computer today. I told them that they would not be on the netbooks this week, but very likely, next week. They seemed willing to wait.
The Skype session was good and necessary because it gave them some concrete notion of the Sugar Labs community. They saw people with whom they will or might be interacting. They will not be relying on their imagination or assumptions but they will have actual faces to visualize when they think of Sugar Labs and when they correspond with people within the Sugar community down the line.
There are some things that I need to figure out as the teacher, but I think we are off to a good start. Tomorrow, they get to give themselves a name which they will use to identify themselves when they share information with others in the Sugar Labs community. Naming the netbooks with recognizable names was a good idea because it got them interested and it got them to start thinking about what name they would want to use within the Sugar community. I told them that I have a Sugar name too – LMYLim. Another example to think about. Some immediately said that they know what name they will use. I told them to keep thinking and that we will need their names tomorrow.
What I am thinking about:
– I need to work on my own vocabulary. I am definitely going to be learning alongside the children.
– I have asked parents to see if they have optical mice and mouse pads lying around their house or office that they can donate to the pilot. Some children may not find the touch pad easy to use, so the availability of alternative ways of navigating the screen would be helpful.
– I have to narrow my focus on the goals I have for the children. Objectives will include:
The children will generate a list of responsibilities a QA engineer, or “tester” has;
The children will generate a list of what makes a good QA engineer;
The children will write about their experience – not only about what they figured things out, but also how they did it.
The children will provide feedback for future SoaS deployment or pilots.
On my part, I will want to note how much time children spend on the computer each week and how they tend to use their time on the computer. Because they are on the computer for a very small window of time each week, I wonder how that impacts their overall experience. But I am not inclined to increase the time I have allotted. Scheduling issues.
I have to figure out how their work will be reflected in the classroom. Might have to shift things around.