The Second Week

The children: The children are just as excited to get back on Sugar as they were the week before. They asked for my help less frequently, and some remembered the little chart we made showing some of the icons that they use to navigate the screen. I have also told them that I am just like them, still exploring Sugar. One student got into turtle art. I helped him get started, and told him that was all I know. “Like, I do not know what “seth” means,” I told him. A few minutes later, from across the room, this usually mild-mannered student cried, “Lynne May, I know what “seth” means!” He showed me what he has discovered. He looked proud and happy. Another student called out to me for help with Implode. I turned to a student who had a turn on Sugar the day before and had explored Implode. I asked her if she would help her classmate with Implode, and she eagerly did. That classmate became a new fan of Implode, as indicated by her latest blog post. Two students currently finds Physics to be a very interesting activity, while two children finally got some satisfaction exploring Colors, after I downloaded the latest version into their stick. I also hear some students begin to use the vocabulary words – activities vs. games, home screen.

The parents: They like the idea of their children blogging. They are the ones responding to their children’s blog posts, and one can see that the experience is positive on both sides. Some of them are inspired by their children to explore blogging for themselves. All of them are very pleased that their children have the opportunity of exploring Sugar and experiencing an innovative computer technology. “What is Sugar?” On March 17, during our parent-teacher Spring conference, I showed them their child’s stick and their homescreen, showed them some of the activities their child had explored, and told them the plan of turning over their child’s USB stick and blog to them at the close of the school year. I am now thinking that perhaps we can have a SoaS class party towards the end of the school year in which the children will introduce their parents to the world of Sugar. I can see that at least some parents will explore them with their children. The thing is, it tends to be the male parent who shows interest in exploring the activities too…hmm…

The teacher: This week, decisions have to be made about use of classroom time. When the daily schedule is affected by one-time or periodic school events such as school assemblies or field trips, classroom schedule shifts, and decisions had to be made. For instance, do I forego Writing Workshop so that children can have the “morning work” time to engage in different activities including Sugar activities? Or should I the morning work period today, and find another time for it later this week or maybe next week – which will mean bumping out time scheduled for other subject matter? Making daily decisions about allocation of time for a myriad of activities is part of our job as teachers, and can be stressful. However, it also brings my thoughts to “Next time, I think I can/will do it another way…”


First Week

This being the first week of our SoaS project, I started each session with a mini-lesson. The mini-lesson focused on the “job” of the students as a Q. A. engineer. I listed responsibilities,  one  per day:

1) Blog to tell others what you did and what you are thinking;

>> On day one, I reminded them that blogging is a way to communicate and be connected with the Sugar Labs community. The community is interested in what they did, what they discovered, and what they are thinking. The three children who were on the netbooks that day dove right in and explored. Maze was a big hit, while Colors! was a source of (low to medium) frustration to one student who likes to paint and draw. The two other students were more patient and simply chose a different activity when one activity did not work. Two of the children actively exchanged information about what they are discovering about the different activities and how to navigate the environment.

2) Explore and notice;

>> Day two: I likened the Sugar learning environment to their classroom learning environment, particularly when they were in pre-Kindergarten and Kindergarten, where activity areas called learning centers were clearly defined, e.g., the water table, the discovery table, the dramatic play or house corner, the art easels, the writing and drawing table, the math center, and the block area. In those classrooms, they were encouraged to freely explore materials and make discoveries. I said that the Sugar learning environment, with its array of icons representing various activities, encourage them to do the same. The three children who were on the netbooks this day explored Mazes, Flipsticks, and Implode. No frustration expressed by any of them. They shared information with one another as they explored.

3) Detect bugs and report them.

>> Day three: I showed everyone the 42 seconds video clip of a real life engineer named Max (Mel’s colleague) talking about the work of QA engineers. It was perfect! They immediately gathered around my laptop (mine from home) when Max introduced himself. When he said that a lot of times software engineers make mistakes just like they do on their math homework, eyes widened, ears perked up, and some sat up straighter. I think one child even exclaimed, “What?” They could not believe their ears! The video clip was just awesome and a very effective teaching tool to use. (Thank you, Max and Mel.) I then expanded the list of their responsibilities as QA engineers: I encouraged them to be explorers and detectives at the same time when engaging in Sugar activities. The three children who were on the netbooks on this day explored. At the end of the session, one of them expressed a little disapppointment that an activity she was looking forward to explore did not work. I acknowledged her feelings and then complimented her a second time on what she did the moment she found the bug- She wrote a bug report soon after discovering that Speak did not work, and wrote what she did that led to the discovery of the bug, and what the bug looked like.

Later, during our large group meeting, I complimented everyone for their good work during our morning work time and told everyone about the bug report that this one student wrote up upon detecting a bug. When the children wrote their blog posts, about half of the children told about discovering a bug. One child used the word “detected.”

The children and I also began a list of icons and words that users will be seeing and using a lot, e.g., the stop and shutdown icons, the word “Activity,” the check mark, and the button that leads back to home screen.

Other thoughts and/or observations:

  • Only two children expressed some frustration (low level) that the two activities they wanted to engage in did not work. The rest of the children did not linger over non-working activities. They simply got out of it and looked for other activities to explore.
  • Children are teaching and learning from each other. Hooray!
  • The children like having a blog of their own. Their families left comments and seemed just as excited as they are about this project, including grandparents! For some children, it is clear that their blog is part of “school.” When I suggested to a student that she and her father check out her blog at home  so that over the weekend she can read the comments her dad had written, she looked puzzled at first and then said that she would rather do that at school, even if she has to wait until Tuesday to see the comments. It was clear that at this time, she has categorized the SoaS project and blogging as part of her school life and work, not to be mixed into her life at home.
  • Time – specifically in managing and maintaining the children’s blog. Ideally, I would like to have them input their blog posts themselves after they edit their writing. At this time, I edit their writing (spelling mostly) and post it for them. I would like to turn over that job to the writers and their peer editors once I teach them about editing. My problem is finding the time for them to do this because of limitations in time and resources. I will keep thinking about this and figure out a way that will work.

Overall, it had been a very good week on the Sugar front.

Students’ First Blog Posts

The children wrote their first blog posts on Friday. To introduce the idea of blogging, I reminded them the role they play in the Sugar Labs community, i.e., as Q. A. engineers. “Testers,” they confirmed. I informed them that one of their jobs as QA engineers to communicate with others in the Sugar Labs community about what they are doing and thinking. Then I said that the usual mode of communication would be via blogging. What is a blog? I told them that the word “blog” is a word that people invented to mean a “web log.” “What is the web?” “What is a log?” In very simple terms, I explained the term “web” with a drawing on the white board that shows that the web is an interconnected computer network running on the internet. I asked them what “log” means. One student said, “The part of the tree that gets chopped.” Another said, “Oh, when you are waterlogged!” A third child said, “When you are on the computer and have to ‘log in’ and give your password.” For each of these responses, I confirmed the definition they supplied and pointed out that a word can mean more than one thing. Finally, I told them that ‘log’ also means a journal, or to record events in writing. The children are familiar with journals because they already maintain one. Then I said that people constantly invent words, and this is an example of one. Then I wrote “web + log – we = blog.” I showed them my blog, and told them that they are going to have their own blog. A fresh burst of excitement erupted. I brought out the blog paper (a form) on which they will write down their post and explained the process. A still silence replaced their loudness. “Another writing task?” They seemed to ask with their inquiring eyes. I walked them through each part of the blog paper. When they heard that they can insert images or videos or music into their blogs, they sprung to life again, and wanted to insert one right away. I handed out a sheet of blog paper to eager hands. “Tell a little bit about yourself, or what you have done, or what your are thinking or feeling about this project,” I suggested. They got to work, not totally knowing what to say at first, and coming up with a sentence or two that satisfied them.

Day 2: Naming

The children got a little taste of what lies ahead. Today, they learned how to turn the netbook on, and saw what the home screen looks like. All of them were able to use the touch pad to move the arrow pointer. About half of them knew what bar to press to “click” and about half of them needed help. They thought of interesting names that match their personalities – Spike, L34, Ron Weezlee, Ruby, Rosey, Jay, Kids, and Ash. They chose their colors. I asked them to locate the words “shutdown” and “restart.” They can all read – most of them are beginning readers but they know enough to figure words out using context and visual cues. One USB stick did not work, so it was good that we had extra sticks as replacement. Towards the end of the session, Crookshanks and Hedwig stopped cooperating. We were glad we had reliable Fluffy to finish the job. Overall it was a good experience. At the end of the day, during dismissal, one student excitedly told her mom that she got to see the “video games” they were going to play with. The mom immediately told me what she said – the mom had the knowing smile on her face. Yes, we have to work on their vocabulary and mindset. I am confident that after the first hands-on session, the children will have some vocabulary down pat.

I think the next lesson will be the blog journal. I would like them to know why it is important that they do so -i.e.,  to connect and communicate with others in the Sugar Lab community, document their thinking and the process, and practice the communication skills they have been learning. Next week, I would like to have a session on what they think the job of a QA engineer is, and what it entails. I think I would like to film/video record an “interview” with one or two real-life QA engineers in the next few days (during the weekend maybe). Any volunteers out there? I think it is important for me to keep referencing the role they play in this community so that they can begin moving away from the notion that they are “playing video games” and begin thinking of themselves as users and contributors to this community.

Launching CFS Gr. 1 SoaS Pilot

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.

Write Activity Bug

Write activity did not work well when I tried it today. When I typed the text, the menu bar items disappeared and then reappeared when I dragged the curser over the area where the menu bar is located. I have recorded it to show how it looks on the screen.


Notes on last week’s test image Activities. These should be turned into bug reports.

  1. Record does not appear to work on this image with our netbook. The load icon keeps on blinking but the Activity does not start. We should take it off the image until we can test it.
  2. Moon works, but just shows static information – the kids will probably be confused as to what they should do with it.
  3. Flipsticks – lesson plan 1 is truncated. (“…it will turn pink so you” – and then it suddenly stops.)

The scrollbars in the Sugar interface (for instance, scrolling through Journal items) is too narrow for little kids to click effectively.

Additional notes 2/24/10:

  1. Might also have optical mouse available to meet needs of children with different levels of fine motor skills.
  2. Have blog journal. Might insert prototype. post journal page
  3. Will look at Sugar activities this weekend.
  4. Fourth graders at CFS are also Sugar users using XO laptops. One of the fourth grade teacher and I are thinking of using the Sugar pilot as another experience that fourth graders and first graders share (they are buddy classrooms). Right now, I suggested that the fourth graders will serve as a resource for Sugar activities since they have been using them since school began. Fourth grade teacher suggested that we have a message box where the first graders can drop off notes to their buddies when they have questions or any discoveries to share. Also talking about having a fourth graders “play” with their buddies using Sugar activities.
  5. Thinking of either doing a chat or webcam communication with Sebastian when we introduce Sugar on a Stick to my students. More concrete would be better. Introduced notion of “satellite” today.