Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Exciting XO Computers in Action

The deployment in Gisenyi (Rwanda) is well on its way.   The laptops are being deployed at EPGI primary (elementary) school to 84 children in P5 (fifth grade). 

 Last week was spent setting up the server and access points at the school (to enable constant wireless internet access on the XO), training six teachers (2 hours a day for a week), getting the computers through customs in Kigali (the capitol city of Rwanda), and taking inventory/re-flashing all the machines (updating the operating system).  

Today we gave all the children their own computer (each with their own colors)!

We will be holding a large Expo to unveil the project and the XO on July 10th.   The Expo will be sponsored by the Ministry of Education in Rwanda and will include speeches by prominent officials, a demonstration of the XO put on by the children, workshops, and informational briefings. 

Exciting things are happening in Rwanda!

Alyssa Callister
Ungana Foundation

Christmas morning as a 5-year old.

That’s the closest comparison I can think of when trying to describe the look I saw on 85 Rwandan kids’ faces this afternoon as we handed them their new XO laptops. It really was incredible to see the amazement come out as they booted up what was now their first trip into the information age. During the next few months, and then for the rest of their lives, they will be able to progress like never before.

Rwanda is quickly beginning its ascent into being the foremost technological country in Africa, and is committed to making it happen in all areas of the population, including in primary schools. This investment in the future is inspiring, and was seen in the children’s excitement as we handed them this new instrument. Right off, they began testing the XO’s capabilities; taking pictures, searching for more information in the Wikipedia activity, and drawing pictures of their houses. Until now, the children have been entirely dependent on others for their education, awaiting instruction from the overworked, underpaid teachers. With the introduction of the XO, a child can supplement the education given them in school with their own interest-driven activities, with a healthy dose of problem solving, hands-on discovery.

At the UNGANA Foundation, we appreciate this refreshing confidence in the future. We are devoted to making this endeavor sustainable. Education is not effective with a “flash-in-the-pan” mentality, but must be seen as a process that will continue indefinitely.

With that in mind, we will continue to work with the ULK Primary School, offering them tools and preparing them for the time when they will be able to proceed on their own, learning things that we aren’t capable of teaching.

Coy Whittier
Communications Associate
The UNGANA Foundation

Today is the day.

Today we’re going to the ULK Primary School to deploy 85 XO laptops to 85 5th graders who won’t even know what hit them.

They’ll have no idea that with these new machines, they will be able to take education into their own hands. Right now, they have no idea that they’ll soon be:

• Writing the stories of their lives
• Adding pictures of themselves to the stories
• Sharing activities with their colleagues
• Drawing pictures of their favorite animals
• Learning English by creating their own memorize activities
• Surfing the Web for information on their own country
• Using an encyclopedia to learn more about the endocrine system
• Writing a report on the East African Community with research from various sources
• Learning along with their teachers
• Teaching each other
• Working in groups without even knowing it
• Emailing pen pals on the other side of the world
• Blogging
• Showing their parents how to use a computer
• Creating simple computer programming
• Who knows, maybe creating complex computer programming
• Playing problem-solving games

A whole new world of educational possibilities is waiting for these children to discover. In partnering with One Laptop Per Child, the UNGANA Foundation believes that, when given the right tools, children are capable of doing amazing things; even in the most remote places. Today we will see that seed planted, and we are committed to helping nourish it.

Coy Whittier
Communications Associate

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Tech Update

Friday we went and got a look at the physical layout of the school. We definitely partnered with the right school. They are very accommodating to everything that we need.

Here's how it works out. The primary school is housed in a separate building from where the internet connection comes in. Which means server in one building and routers in another. Which means, you guessed it, drilling holes through buildings, running wire down support posts, digging a trench and finally getting the wire to the router in the other building. Tomorrow is going to be a good day.

Here is a rundown of the equipment we will be using.

--WRT54GS with dd-wrt custom firmware installed on them. This is because the stock firmware on the WRT54G has connection limitations. At 30+ connections the router slowed down. With 40+ students in each class that wouldn't fly. The loading of the custom firmware was easy enough, James from the Cornell deployment gave a good post about it here [http://cornellolpc.blogspot.com/2009/06/flashing-routers-with-dd-wrt.html]

--Server with the follow specs

- SolidLogic GS-L02 Fanless Mini-ITX System
- Mainboard: EPIA LN10000EG 1GHz
- Case: Serener GS-L02 Fanless Mini-ITX Case - Black
- Memory: DDR2 667 RAM 1GB
- Hard Disk/Flash: Seagate Barracuda 3.5" SATA Hard Drive - 160GB
- Operating System: None
- Accessories: None
- Build and Test: Build & Test: Fanless - Standard (3-5 full business days)
- Power Switch: None - Unit will be set to Auto-Power-On
- Wireless: None
- Dimensions: 31cm X 21.5cm X 5cm

Random fact about the servers. They were put in an oven for a week at ~190 degrees Fahrenheit and they still survived.

The server is a great addition to our deployment. It increases the ability for collaboration. It backs up all of the XOs every 24 hours. It can act as a content filter for the internet.

--1,000 ft of raw cat 5e cable. I bought it because it was cheaper to buy 1000 feet rather than 300 or 400 (some marketing schemes I will never understand) and it sure as hell was ridiculous to carry over here. Though having been to our site now, I am glad for the versatility that the raw cabling will provide us.

--We bought 10 1GB USB sticks so we can flash the laptops to the most recent operating system. We also learned that instead of having to individually update the system software we can use the NAND blaster (it is as cool as it sounds). One XO broadcasts the system software while up to 100 other XOs can pick up that signal wirelessly update the software. That will make updates a lot easier to run.

--A Flip Video Recorder is being generously provided to us by OLPC. We aren't sure which model we're going to get, but since OLPC said that it was going to be HD, and I assume they want to save money, we're probably getting the Flip UltraHD. It's a nice bit of electronics :).

That is about it for now. The install is tomorrow. Wish us luck.

The work has just begun...

Looking back on my time in Kigali at the workshop, I can think of a few things I am taking away:

First- the experience at Kagugu primary school. After a year with the XO's, our teams visited the school and taught the instructors how to use activities like Scratch and Record. I was surprised these instructors knew little about the XO's after having them for so long, and even more surprised about the students' inability. Through one-on-one time with both teachers and students, valuable teaching insight was gained. With one particular teacher, I learned how to incorporate Write into Memorize for linking note taking in class with buidling a memorization game. It was the teacher's idea. With the students, I learned that the spacebar was often neglected and children left all the programs open, slowing the laptop down. Preparation was certainly a missing element at the school cause none of the laptops were charged and plugging in 40 laptops is a struggle.

Second- Juliano's learning project talks. When Juliano gave the example of the Rocket project the kids had done, it illustrated the practical use of the XO's and multi-subject learning. His examples in Scratch and Etoys helped visualize what the children could accomplish and set the bar for our own deployment. Through Juliano's application lessons of the XO, we came up the idea to build a small structure, designed by the children, using the XOs. We also thought of chain stories, pairing students in a class, and Geo-Mapping (Juliano's idea) which identifies local listings on Google Maps. I can't wait to see what the children think of, much less put those ideas in to action.

Third- David Cavallo and Nicholas Negroponte. Flat out contageous. What a group of incredible minds that simplified, and compacted contructionism into a piece of hardware! Pedagogy was a foreign term before the workshop, but I now I have an opinion for what it should mean. Thats not to stay I swallowed every speech, but I think a critical approach is what they would want. As David Cavallo put it "I am fortunate to work for a company where I can disagree with my boss". What I learned from these thinkers was both constructionism and flexibility. I learned when it comes to education every child is different, has different abilities, different speeds, different interests and different creative minds. I learned how the XO is supplementary, and capacity building. Its innovation, conceptualizing, critical thinking, problem solving, progressive and fun. The XO is whatever the kid wants it to be, and thats the idea. Most importantly, what I learned was how to acheive this potential. Ownership. Tangibility. Preparedness. Teacher Training. Interest Based Learning. Project Based Learning. Together these practices make up only a portion of whats needed for a successful deployment - and a daunting task for 10 weeks or less...

I couldn't have imagined I would have gained so much from the workshop in Kigali. From the lectures by David Cavallo, to the speeches by Nicholas Negroponte, to the tech sessions by Reuben Caron, it was a truly comprehensive experience. Of course much will be improved upon next year, but the first time is always challenging. I look forward to starting next week, it will be the project of a lifetime!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Idea Sharing

The OLPCorps workshop officially launch Monday this week. It has proven to be an excellent opportunity to share ideas with other deployments in Namibia, Ghana, South Africa, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Sao Tome, and other nations in Africa. The Workshop is not only a gathering of students from the best American and African universities, but also a constructive development of pedagogical beliefs - especially if you had originally had none!

Within the USU Rwanda and Kinshasha Goma teams, this form of idea sharing has inspired a host of new learning projects, deployment logistics planning and creative social investment. Articulate and contagious speakers from OLPC have included Nicholas Negroponte (President), David Cavallo (Vice President of Learning), Juliano Bittencourt(Learning Team), Guy Serge Pompilus (Haiti Coordinator), Miguel Brechner (Uruguay Coordinator), and many, many more. All of the team members are learning from their peers and building opinions on education as well as concrete action plans.

Workshop skills training is also an integral part of the program. So far, we have worked extensively with "Scratch", the most complicated activity on the XO. Once comfortable with "Scratch", we were asked to help familiarize rural Rwandese school teachers with the activity. For many in the corps, this was an introduction to deployment training they'll face within their respective countries.

On Monday we'll begin another stage of field training with teachers and students, observing and possibly engaging in classes.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


I am so excited to have the whole OLPC Corps coming to Kigali! I have been calling Rwanda home lately and I am thrilled to have some new friends come to visit so KARIBU (welcome). My name is Alyssa Callister and after getting a bachelors degree in business I founded an NGO called the Ungana Foundation that operates out of Rwanda and Congo. I believe that the OLPC corps can make a huge difference. I know that with the right motivation, helping kids to remove limits placed on them, these children can accomplish anything. Most people when they hear about the XO and OLPC think only about the innovative technology (which obviously is amazing). OLPC has not only provided an outlet in which kids will have access to the internet and a great learning tool to teach technology (the XO), but also provided access to accomplished and driven university students who understand and can see their future potential.

What continually amazes me about the children in Africa is their brilliant ideas. The other day I sat in on a class where the teacher was lecturing on the importance of the East African Community. The children were in P 4 (around 9 years old) and learning about the importance of business, marketing, and communications throughout the region. The teacher asked one of the students to stand up and speak to the class regarding his thoughts on the subject. The boy stood up and expressed that it was important for Rwanda to push technology and English so that they can help other countries in the East African Community. He went on to talk about the many affects that trade agreements and open communication lines will have on East Africa. By the time he sat down, my jaw was on the floor. He is 9 years old! When I was 9 my only concern was when we were going to get out for recess. Given the opportunity, these kids can be future GLOBAL leaders.

No matter what age, race, or circumstance an individual has the potential to set and attain goals large and small. This is the attitude and mentality that the corps members will bring to the kids and it is this added component that will create a unique learning environment. So, in conclusion, welcome OLPC corps members! I am excited to meet and learn from you all!

An introduction is probably appropriate...

As there will be 80 strangers living in close quarters for 2 weeks in Africa, I thought it might be nice to provide a small introduction. I go by Alex, but you can call me Alexander if you see you me as a father figure :P. I am from Salt Lake City, Utah and graduated with a BA in Economics from Utah State University, the best university in the United States (indisputably). Shortly after graduation, I started working full time for the non-profit I helped found and now thats what I do. Its called the Ungana Foundation and its hosting the USU-Rwanda team.

I first heard about OLPC when the Foundation was researching potential projects and thought it revolutionary. We investigated it more thoroughly, purchased an XO on Ebay, and began to understand what all the fuss was about. I immediately saw the advantage in the applications on Sugar, they were easy to use, but not too easy. You had to dig a little and get your hands dirty in tech grease. It was like a skeleton of a simple computer, and you could see the anatomy and learn how it all worked. But not only is it tailored to scientifc discovery, but its also fun and engaging! Obviously I am a big fan of the XO. I think its perfect for our Ungana's education program and am very eager to start!

My personal background is a bit a of hodgepodge of many things. I have worked in the United States Senate, did freelance graphic design, and been involved in social welfare advocacy for some time. I have many volunteer experiences, but to be honest, I like the admin work just as much as being on the ground. I think a good balance keeps you sane :). Rwanda, our deployment country, is like my second home. Currently I live there...here...whatever, as my third tour of this beautiful country. Hopefully, after a little more practice, Kinyarwanda will be my second language, a valuable tool in working with ruralities.

OLPCorps...hmmm...well to be honest I have little experience with education, I can only say I am great with kids! I would say the exact same thing about technology, and about computers. However I aim to use that to my advantage - learning with someone is a valuable teaching tool. Also my contribution to the curriculum is educating the students on basic business and the economic advantages of the EAC (East African Community).

That being said, I'd be happy to show anyone what Rwanda has to offer, but I might need a little advice on education in return.

Mwirire Inshoote.