The XO Laptop: NYC Classroom Study

I haven’t written much about my XO Computer these days because I haven’t used it much and I am kicking myself for not getting my local XO Group up and running (I have an email list of about six folks from my area and all of them would like to meet, but I haven’t scheduled the meet-up due to busyness).

I still follow the news from the One Laptop Per Child organization, which, to be frank, appears from the outside to be on a rollercoaster ride as the leaders grapple with the mission of the organization. Such topics as adding Windows XP to the operating system (along with Sugar) and the development of the next generation of XO computers is thankfully coupled with stories of how the XO is being used in countries around the world.

And not just around the world.

In New York City, a group from Columbia University sought to use XOs with sixth graders this year through a project called Teaching Matters. They have just released a qualitative report on the project, which they deem a success in terms of integration into the classroom. What I find interesting is the results of a survey they conducted with the two dozen students who used the XO in the project.

According to the report (which you can view here), students liked the XO because:

  • They liked it for writing because typing was faster and more legible than handwriting, and they felt that this allowed them to write more;
  • They liked it for going on the Internet;
  • They liked it because they could take work from school to home easily, especially to do homework:
  • They liked its physical characteristics, including that it was made for kids (“extremely cute”), that the keyboard was quiet, and that it was not as heavy as a regular laptop;
  • They liked the hardware and software that allowed them to share, including the camera (which, as they pointed out, came with the XO so you did not have to buy it) and the chat software;
  • They liked that it was theirs, which meant that they could always find their work;
  • And finally, they liked the novelty of it.

If you go the report, you can also read some of the supporting comments from the students.

And of course, there were things the students did not like about the XO:

  • They disliked that it seemed slow, even compared to their school laptops;
  • They disliked the frequent freezes, which sometimes meant they lost their work;
  • They disliked the consequent need to reboot frequently;
  • They disliked the “jumpy” cursor;
  • They disliked it when the journal disappeared;
  • And they really disliked the firewalls that prevented access to sites like YouTube and MySpace–a school issue, not specific to the XO, but annoying to the students nonetheless.

It seems to me that much of their complaints is a hardware issue and one that should be resolved by OLPC if the project is to succeed. My kids and I also run into these same issues with our XO but we just roll with the punches. In a classroom full of XOs, that might be more difficult, particularly if you are in the midst of a lesson or project.

The report also lays out three insights into the use of XOs in the classroom:

  • Students used the XOs more than they used the laptops (owned by the school), which means they spent more time doing research, wrote more, revised more, and published more.
  • Students took much more responsibility for the XOs than they did for the laptops, which means that they that they did not begin work only to find there were missing parts or that the battery was dead.
  • Students were less likely to lose their work, not only because they always used the same machine but also because the XO has an automatic save feature that takes the user back to where he/she left off.

Also mentioned is that students used their XOs in other classrooms beyond the English Language Arts classroom where the XO project was situated; students enjoyed the “share” function of the XO; and they were intrigued to be part of a pilot project. The report also contains some solid recommendations for improving the XO as an educational tool, with advice from students, parents and the teachers.

Read the report

Peace (with XOs),

Slice of Life, Weekly Challenge, Chapter 13

(This is part of a weekly feature called Slice of Life Project)

Yesterday, I had a few hours of empty time. A luxury. My school ended last week and my kids were still in their school for one last half-day of the year. I did some errands (of course), then some reading and then I pulled out this little musical instrument that I have had sitting around for a few weeks.

It’s called a Kaossilator and it is a handheld synthesizer that uses a touchpad. It’s mighty strange and I need more time to get a good feel for it. It reminds me a bit of the Theramin (know what that is? If not, think of the eerie sounds of horror movies of old or check out this Wikipedia link).

So I shot this little video for this week’s Slice of Life, featuring my thumbs getting a work out on the Kaossilator.

Peace (in musical movements),

Memoir Mondays: Golden Notes

This is part of a project at Two Writing Teachers

Golden Notes
(listen to the memoir)

In fourth grade, when she entered our classroom to tell us about the music program at the elementary school, the music teacher, Mrs. P, picked me out special. She knew me anyway. Her husband was my brother’s private trumpet teacher.

“I have a saxophone for you,” she told me that day.

She had remembered our conversation so many years ago when I had been sitting in their living room, listening to my brother’s lesson. She had asked me then what instrument I wanted to play (she never had a doubt that I would not play something) and I had told her the saxophone.

She brought me down to the music room that day. She took me behind the stage, where cases of instruments were stacked precariously, as if one blow from a tuba would send everything flying. I watched breathlessly as she opened up the hard case.

Inside, gleaming in the overhead lights from the stage, was an alto saxophone, a golden Bundy saxophone. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever witnessed. It was golden, with white ivory keys, resting in its black padded case. I touched a key and it clicked. It felt as if Christmas had come early and I had been the best boy in the world for the past year.

My smile went from ear to ear.

“This is yours to use,” Mrs. P said.

I didn’t want to even touch it, as if I might tarnish it or ruin it forever with my clumsy, dirty fingers. It was too perfect. Mrs. P showed me how to put the pieces together: how to use the neck strap so that the saxophone dangled out in front of you, perfectly weighted; where to put your fingers; how to wet the wooden reed and attach it to the mouthpiece.

“Try it,” she said, after putting the sax together for me, so I did.

It was an awful first sound, and I opened my eyes wide in surprise. If I wasn’t so excited, I might have given up right there on that first goose honk.

“The saxophone is challenging,” she assured me. “You’ll have to practice. It’s a lot of work. Don’t give up. Go on, try it again.”

Those were the first steps I took to learning something that was so completely and utterly new to me. Yet, as the saxophone was cradled in my hands, I knew I had found something that belonged to me, and only me. It felt completely natural, even as I screeched out another squeak from the golden bell.

I wanted to shout it out through the hallways of my school that day: I am a saxophone player and I wouldn’t give up.

Peace (in music),

Now that the school year has ended …

I was trying to gather up some of the links from projects that my students did this past school year, now that they have left for summer vacation and another school as they make the big leap up to a combined middle and high school.

But looking at the list of these projects, and thinking of the ones not even listed here (such as prompts and exploration over at The Electronic Pencil), I realize how much they did while with me in writing class. I just completed the web pages for the Claymation and Digital Picture Book projects because the pieces seemed scattered all over the place and I wanted to bring them under one webby roof.

Here are some of our shared adventures this year:

I think my push into using more technology to showcase their work was worth it, although it inevitably led to troubleshooting, work-arounds, and other headache-inducing periods of time. Still, as a collection, I think this list shows my students as creators of content and creative thinkers.

One of my regrets is that Youth Radio did not take off this year and there are a variety of reasons for this. But we saw, and see, the possibilities for podcasting across the world for young people and we need to figure out if it is worth re-launching the project for next year. Any ideas?

Peace (in sharing),

Claymation in the Classroom, part three

This is the last part of a series of posts I am doing around claymation animation in the classroom and I wanted to talk about what you can do once the movies are completed. Although students enjoy making movies just for the sake of making movies, I do try to instill the values of an authentic audience in their minds. This way, they understand that someone else will be watching their work. The idea of audience gives focus.

Once the movies are done, we showcase them in a variety of ways:

  • On our classroom weblog, all of the claymation movies get their own post, allowing the rest of our sixth graders to see what my homeroom students have done and also giving access to the movies to families and friends from any location in the world;
  • We burn the movies onto a DVD and every student received their own copy of the DVD in the final days before the end of the year. We spent an afternoon, watching the shows and laughing at the funny things you can do with clay;
  • We show the DVD over our school’s internal television network for all classrooms. This is done a few times during the day, so that teachers have different opportunities to show it to students. We also provide a DVD to any teacher who wants it;
  • We create a webpage with all of the movies on it, to show the work as one collective unit.

This file has been created and published by FireShot

And just to end on a nice collective note, here is an Animoto movie of images from the claymation projects:

Peace (in frames),

Photo Fridays

I had come home late, with the house very dark, and in the morning, as I awoke before everyone else, I stumbled upon this scene on the floor of our sun room. The boys must have had some elaborate imaginary activity going on, and the lego people were all standing, alert, and ready for action. I felt a bit like King Kong coming into New York.

This my week’s entry into the Photo Fridays project.

Peace (with little people),

The Rise of the Stick People

Today is the last day of the year for my sixth graders — which makes me both happy and sad (you teachers know what I am talking about). For the past three days, the kids have been working on the laptops for the last time, using Pivot Stickman Animation to create little animated movies.

I mostly let them have fun with it and showed them the basics of Pivot, and then some lessons on MovieMaker for those who were not part of my homeroom class (which worked on Claymation movies), and also Super Dooper Music Looper. They loved Pivot and they loved Music Looper, and some were able to do all three programs and created tiny movies.

I gathered the ones I could collect here for this little collection:

The best part for me? The credits one of the students put (on the last flick) that thanks me for helping her improve as a writer this year. Yeah.

Peace (in sticky people),

What is Web 2.0?

Over at The Bamboo Project Blog, Michelle is launching as Web 2.0 Wednesday venture, and today, she is asking folks to come up with a way to explain what Web 2.0 might be in about a minute (using any media — audio, video, words, whatever). I went over to ToonDoo and cooked up this quick comic to try to explain how I see Web 2.0 along the lines of community, connections and exploration.

This file has been created and published by FireShot

(click on comic to get bigger version over at ToonDoo)

What do you think?

Check out Michelle’s blog and consider taking part in this exploration of connections within a community (see how it works?)

Peace (in blogs),

Claymation in the Classroom, part two

This is the second in a series of posts about my claymation project this year. The first post was just a basic overview of the project. This post will deal a bit more with some of the resources that I used and how I went about launching claymation with my sixth graders.

First of all, this is the fourth year that I have been doing claymation. The first two years, I used simple digital still images and MovieMaker to add narration and titles. Last year, following the lead of my friend Tonya W., I shifted to using a freeware program called Stop-Motion Animator. This software uses a webcam to capture “frames” as an .AVI video file. This shift to Stop-Motion Animator allowed my students to create moving movies, and not just still images. This was a big leap forward for us, although now it required more patience from my students and increased video editing skills.

On the technical side, too, I found that I had to download a video Codec (called Xvid) in order for MovieMaker to recognize the AVI files created by the stop-motion software. Every move forward seems to require some kind of trouble-shooting, but that is the way of the world. In MovieMaker, students can add titles, transitions, audio narration, music and some features of movie production. The most valuable? The ability to slow down a video segment (through MM’s video effects) because all too often, students have not shot enough frames to match their narration. This gives them a little leeway.

For the writing element, we often focus on some aspect of writing. One year, it was how setting informs a story. Another year, it was integrating science by having students invent a new creature and how the habitat that it lives in affects its development. This year, I decided to focus on Climate Change.

First, we used a book called “The Down to Earth Guide to Global Warming” by Laurie David and Cambria Gordon. It’s a kid-friendly look at climate change. I used some of my collected points via Scholastic Books to purchase about seven of the books for the classroom. We also did some research around global warming, just to ground the students on the issue.

Down-to-Earth Guide To Global Warming

Next, students created clay figures and we use the cheap clay you can get at any department store. The clay is a bit messy but it is cheap and they can use as much as they need. I also provide a box of craft supplies, such as googlie eyes, sticks, etc. This creation of clay figures made the project character driven and I have often had the story done first before the characters but this year, I did the reverse. The result? I think it helped students when considering a story idea to have a character they could put into action. They could tangibly hold it in their hands as they were writing.

From there, they used both a storyboard and a concept mapping sheet to plan out their stories. The storyboard allows them to think about the “scenes” in the movie and the concept map provides a structure for a framework of story sequencing — from start to middle to end.

Here are the templates that I use:

(here is big version of storyboard)

(here is big version of concept map)

Normally, we then move into writing the script, but this year (as I mentioned in my last post), I decided to see how things would fare if we shifted into filming and letting them use the storyboard and concept map to create dialogue and narration (a mixed bag, I must say).

The filming takes time — I would guess this part of the project took some groups three 45-minute sessions to seven 45-minute sessions. My job is to encourage and push them along, otherwise, some groups would never get the filming completed. Once they have the raw footage, we move the video into MovieMaker, edit out fingers and hands that crop into the footage and begin to piece things together with narration. Getting good audio levels from a group of students is difficult, as microphone placement is crucial. But some kids like to pull the microphone almost into their mouth and others try to keep as far . As they are adding titles and credits, I remind them that credits should probably not be longer than the movies (which run anywhere from one minute to three minutes long, total).

This is a key point for me: I show the students how to edit, but I don’t edit for them (unless there is some emergency). I have to resist the urge to take over their project. I really want the movies to be theirs and theirs alone, and sometimes that means I wince a bit (to be honest) at the final product, and think about how I could swooped in and done something differently. But, that moment passes, and I realize that they have complete ownership over their movies.

Finally, we “create” the movies as video files and share them out. I’ll write more about publishing the movies in my next segment.

Here is another of the movies from this year:

Peace (in slowmotion),