Two school visits and a Flor de Ceibo meeting

On Monday morning we visited a school about half an hour’s drive outside of Montevideo. We were warmly welcomed by the principal and teachers, one of whom we had briefly met during the meeting on Saturday morning. One wall of the cafeteria where we met was decorated with printouts showing various projects the pupils had undertaken on their XOs since they received them in 2009.

We then went, or rather invaded, a 6th grade class and observed approximately two hours of lessons. In the first half the teacher tasked the pupils with drawing a rectangle with given dimensions in Turtle Art, then adding a second rectangle right next to it, and subsequently calculating the perimeter of the joint form. I assume it was the presence of almost 30 strangers literally clogging up the room, taking photos, and asking questions but in my opinion relatively little work was done by the pupils. Also given that these pupils were in 6th grade and had used the XOs for approximately two years already it took them surprisingly long to draw the rectangles. In the second half of the session the pupils were supposed to be working on a social sciences or history project but amidst the confusion created by our visit I neither caught what exactly the task was nor did it seem like anybody was really working on it.

For me the most interesting part of the visit came after lunch. First someone briefly introduced us to the tourism options available in the region before the teachers gave a presentation highlighting the history and development of Plan Ceibal in their school. Then we moved into somewhat of a Q&A session which lead to some interesting exchanges and some good and actionable items being added to people’s to-do lists.

Two of them – which aren’t new by any means but them being mentioned yet again certainly increased their priority – are support for printing in Sugar and the output of an XO’s screen on a projector. The former is currently simply impossible to do directly in Sugar which forces people to go through a lot of hassles to make it happen. The latter is already possible with the combination of an XO-1 / XO-1.5 with the 10.1.3 software release (or corresponding Dextrose release) and a USB-to-VGA adapter however none of the schools here in Uruguay seem to be using that software version at the moment even though some of them actually have a projector.

As on every other day plenty of interesting and enlightening conversations were had from the moment we woke up until we said our good-byes in the evening. For me it’s also fascinating to observe the different methods which people are using when it comes to taking notes, and compiling their impressions and thoughts for future use.

In the early evening we had a meeting with approximately two dozen professors of Universidad de la Republica’s Flor de Ceibo program. As an introduction we saw the same video which some of us had already seen during the meeting at ANTEL HQ on Saturday morning. We then fairly quickly moved into an extensive Q&A session where many aspects of Flor de Ceibo, its relation to Plan Ceibal, financial aspects, organizations questions, inquiries about the various student activities, etc. were explored. After a short coffee break the Flor de Ceibo participants started sharing some of the problems and issues they had encountered with the use of Sugar and activities in the field. Chris Ball and C. Scott from OLPC as well as David Farning from Activity Central were listening very closely and took lots of notes at this point. Both Pablo and Adam also invited / reminded people about the eduJAM! summit and following Sugar Code sprint because their input would be extremely helpful for the developers present at these events.

What thoroughly impressed me about the meeting was the high quality and extreme discipline that all participants demonstrated during the almost 2 ½ hours that it lasted. Especially when you consider that everything that was said had to be translated between English and Spanish which in itself was also a collaborative effort.

Of the overall very fascinating and inspiring ecosystem of communities and organizations which has developed in Uruguay as a result of Plan Ceibal I find Flor de Ceibo to be the one I can personally learn most from. As part of our activities at OLPC (Austria) we’ve always tried to reach out to universities, spread the word about OLPC, Sugar Labs, and related efforts in the ICT4E and ICT4D space, and of course try to get students to work on projects in this context. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve succeeded on a very small level given that

  • students at University of Teacher Education Steiermark have written and are writing theses around the Austrian OLPC pilot project
  • students at Graz University of Technology have worked on the Reckon Primer Mathematics exercise activity
  • a friend of mine wrote her Master thesis in International Development about OLPC and
  • we have regularly given presentations and talks about OLPC at various universities around Austria.

At the same time it’s clear that we’re light-years away from anything that resembles Flor de Ceibo but it’s certainly very useful and inspiring to hear about and learn from their experiences.

On Tuesday we were off to an even earlier start as we met at 6AM for what turned out to be 5 hour bus ride to the small city of La Paloma in the province of Durazno. I slept through the first three hours of the bus ride and the rest of the time was spent talking to Bert Freudenberg and some of the other fine folks who are on this trip.

We arrived at Escuela No. 33 shortly before noon. As it turned out they had expected us to arrive at 10AM and had specifically asked the pupils who are normally taught in the afternoon session to also come to class in the morning. So unfortunately we didn’t have much time to see what the children had worked on as they were picked up by their parents at noon.

Regardless we were very warmly welcomed by the principal, teachers, and pupils. As Adam pointed out they had literally done their homework as a map on the wall had short pieces of information about all the countries where tour participants are from. The project they had worked on that morning was drawing pie charts with the Turtle Art activity. Rosamel, the head-mistress and a very active person on various Spanish-speaking blogs and mailing-lists, then proceeded to give us a short hands-on session about some of the things she is doing with Turtle Art. Afterwards we again treated to a very tasty asado.

The afternoon session was started by two school inspectors. The first one talked about the history of the Plan Ceibal implementation in the region and about some of the efforts undertaken in the schools in the area. The second one talked about the broader context of technology development, Web 2.0, Jakob Nielsen, and a variety of other things… I’d be lying if I said that I found these talks to be very valuable however at the same time it was interesting to hear how they look at the broader context of Plan Ceibal, technology development, and education.

At the end of our visit everyone got together in a big circle in the school’s yard for some final discussions and exchanges. Unfortunately I had to give this session a miss as Alvar, Bastien, Bert, and myself were interviewed for a local radio show. As on several other occasions during this trip I served as the impromptu amateur translator for the interviews with Bastien and Bert and was thoroughly exhausted afterwards.

As I’m finishing these lines we’re sitting on our bus and headed for our hotel in another city here in Durazno where we’ll be spending the night before driving back to Montevideo tomorrow morning…

Oh, before I forget: I’ve uploaded some photos from today’s visit at Escuela No. 33 to this Flickr album. Lots of other people are also taking photos here but I haven’t yet figured out if/where they’re online somewhere.



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