Wednesday, February 24, 2010

First Day of Class

We taught our first after-school class today. The idea behind the curriculum we're using is to teach math and programming skills to our 7 2nd-5th graders by using turtle art. Our class is all boys, which is unfortunate, but they're all very well-behaved and excited to be there. Today, we talked about OLPC and handed out laptops. Lots of chaos ensued.

We started off the lesson by talking about what XO's are, and what OLPC is. Mostly we just explained some of the differences between XO's/sugar and what the students are probably used to using. The first thing they wanted to know was if they could get on the internet. So much for not telling them about networking on the first day, as we had planned... We also showed some picture of kids using XO's in lots of different places, and were surprised about how excited they were to see that. They all started leaning over their desks to get a look. We're thinking about maybe incorporating a weekly OLPC story, since they seemed to think that was pretty cool.

Next we had a discussion about care of the laptops, and came up with 7 of the most ridiculous contracts I have ever seen, ranging from "No distrucshun, no spilling" to "I will treat my laptop as if it were my DSi." We sent home forms for their parents too.

After that, we gave them their laptops. We had originally planned to give them some instructions for using the Record activity and then have them find something they liked about the XO and make a short presentation on it. They were way too busy changing their name, solving mazes, making friends on the mesh network, and, in the case of one of the students, programming in turtle art, to do any such thing. I'm sure if we hadn't taken all but five activities off the home screen they would have opened all of them. We did manage to teach them how to find the journal and how to get files of a USB drive, how to turn off the computer properly, as well as some other practical things like unfreezing the touchpad and left vs. right click.

About 15 minutes in, they remembered to ask about chat again, so we told them about the rest of the activities. They are going to try to figure out if the mesh network stretches between their houses tonight - there's a chat scheduled for 7pm. We also have a pair of brothers who said they would try to see how far the network stretches. They also learned about the different mesh channels and that there's a limit on how many people can be connected on one at a time. There were about 5 people in one chat before it stopped working.

Some of the things we thought were interesting:
  • If we can get one kid excited about something, then the whole class will know in about 2 minutes. If not, the only way to spread information is to make everyone close their computers.
  • All of the kids started deciding how good they were at the Maze activity (e.g. "I'm really good at this!", "I'm ok, but not the best") even though they couldn't see each other's work.
  • Some things they picked up on right away, like how to open activities. Some things that we would have expected them to have seen before on other computers, like left and right mouse buttons, we had to tell them several times before they got the hang of it. Our turtle art programmer figured out how what turtle art was for right away, but couldn't figure out how to delete blocks.
  • They didn't think the computers were slow at all, which we had been worried about. The only time they got impatient was the initial boot-up and opening an activity for the first time
Planning for next week - We are going to have them solve mazes in Turtle Art, so we were really glad they liked mazes so much. We'll distribute some sample code that loads an easy maze and draws a grid and then tell them to try to solve that one, then harder ones. They will learn basic turtle art controls and also Cartesian coordinate systems in order to solve the mazes. We're also going to try to introduce making presentations again, but that's a secondary goal.

Things we're concerned about for future classes - we'd love suggestions!
  • The atmosphere today was really collaborative, and we'd like to harness that in the future to make sure we don't get too much of a learning gap. This is particularly important because we have a large age range in the classroom - we don't want the 5th graders to go off on their own. We also have one student who seems to know a lot more about computers but is less social, so we're trying to think of ways to both keep him engaged and get him to interact more.
  • A lot of the kids seemed really interested in seeing the inside of the laptop and learning about repair, but we're hesitant to unleash them with screwdrivers. We're thinking about maybe showing pictures, or taking them out in groups of 2 to see the laptop taken apart.
  • We're planning on only talking to them as a group at the beginning of class to minimize the amount of times we have to get their attention when the computers are out. Hopefully they'll get most of their initial exploring done during the week before next class, but we're still a little concerned about keeping them on task.

1 comment:

  1. Re: All of the kids started deciding how good they were at the Maze activity... even though they couldn't see each other's work. - I'm very curious to see what happens once they start getting to a collaborative activity that isn't numerically scored, but where they can see each other's work, and if that changes the competitive/self-evaluatory dynamic.

    (There's probably a less clinical way to phrase the previous sentence.)

    For the student who knows about computers but is less social - maybe he could be the class documenter? Sometimes people are better at outputting in formats other than speaking up in class. (I'm a writer, myself.)