XO Teachers in Cambodia Meet & Learn Together!

Trip Start Oct 14, 2009
Trip End Dec 31, 2016

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

I flew from Malacca to Phnom Penh. Elaine N, the Director of CambodiaPRIDE, the nonprofit that had been Providing Rural Innovative Digital Education for children in Cambodia for many years, invited Adam H and I to Phnom Penh. The purpose of our visit was to help with the first weekend Workshop that Cambodia PRIDE had ever planned. The Workshop was held on Friday and Saturday, November 22n & 23rd.The workshop objectives were to bring together XO Laptop teachers from the several organizations that CambodiaPRIDE has given XOs to over the years. Elaine’s goals for the Workshop were for the teachers to Learn Scratch and how to teach it in their organizations. And to address the need for software updates and repairs to the circa 2007 XO Laptops which are still being used in Cambodia and are the only model XOs that Cambodia PRIDE has.

After one day of sightseeing and one day of workshop preparation, outlined in the previous Blog Entry, Elaine’s driver and “right hand man”, Vanny picked us up at 7:00 AM for the early morning trip out to FLOW, The Future Light Orphanage of Worldmate graciously hosted our group. Sopheak, their computer teacher suspended classes for the 2 days so that we could use the computer classroom. Festive delicious meals were laid out for our lunches, and Elaine and Vanny had prepared water and snacks for all of us. We were all set.

There were 11 participants in all, plus Channa & Mala, the teachers from the Reaksmy Primary school and the Roveing Chung Family Junior High School. And Adam and I, Elaine & Vanny. 6 Groups that had received XO laptops from Cambodia PRIDE at one tine or another were represented.  Sopheak and one other FLOW Teacher participated for FLOW. Pepy’s Group sent 2 a teacher and a high school principal who came all the way from near Siem Reap. Two teachers came from Seamtrey, Moy’s Montessori School in Phnom Penh. Two Teachers came from Aziza’s Place which works with slum children in Phnom Penh, Empowered Youth Cambodia had one attendee representing one of it’s other locations. And TSF sent 2 Teachers also.

I thought that it would be fun and also look professional, to have CambodiaPRIDE tee shirts for the attendees. I am not good at graphic design but while in Bangkok, I contacted Nina Stawski, an active OLPC-SF volunteer. Nina had designed a great tee shirt for the OLPC-SF Summit a few years back and I asked her if we could use/convert her design for CambodiaPRIDE’s first ever tee shirt. In the Creative Commons & OLPC spirit, she not only said yes, she fixed the design for me & provided a “ready to print” PDF file. Our tee shirt, (my fun project & gift to Cambodia PRIDE) came out great. I first unveiled it at BaseCamp in Malacca. Adam, Christoph, TK, Walter, Bernie, & Rabi wore theirs to help me showcase CambodiaPRIDE’s work in Malacca. At the start of the CambodiaPRIDE workshop, all participants received one and they all put them on! The children graphics are actually a font that spell Cambodia. Check out the photos. HUGE THANKS TO NINA STAWSKI for your terrific design. I'll be sending Nina's her very own CP shirt, when I return to the USA soon.

After introductions, the first formal workshop classes began with Channa teaching Scratch. Scratch is by far one of the most popular activities that come pre-loaded in the standard Sugar OS especially designed for children's learning on the XO. In Scratch children learn to program simple characters called Sprites, to create drawings, videos, with music, games etc. and learning basic computer programming, graphic arts skills, math skills and more, while having fun. In my home town in NH, Scratch which is open source and free to anyone, is taught in Hanover's Ray School, and also as an extra-curricular class (pricier) at the AVA Gallery. CambodiaPRIDE's kids are learning along with their western world counterparts! Check out http://learnscratch.org/ for more information.

We had a break at 11 and worked until lunchtime at about 1. During the delicious & relaxing lunch, cooked and served by FLOW staff, we all had a chance to get to know one another. I asked about what problems if any folks are having with their XO-1's and asked those who were commuting home that night to bring in some of the problem machines for the repair workshop on Sunday.

After lunch and before resuming our Scratch hands on work, Mala, CP's lovely teacher at the Chung Family Junior High School in Roveing, presented a portfolio of Scratch Projects made by her students. I was amazed. Some of her students have made very sophisticated computer programs in Scratch. Those were mst likely the graduates of Channa's English & Computer classes at the Reaksmy Primary School. But some of the showcased projects were from students brand new to the XOs also. Next Channa presented a group of projects made by his Primary School students up to Grade 6. WOW. I am stunned at what the kids are doing and the skills they reflect.

We all worked until late in the day, as the skies broke open with torrential rains, thunder and lightening. There was no hurry to leave. We were hoping to wait for the rain to end.  Adam, Channa, and Mala stayed in the FLOW Guesthouse so they are the only ones who didn't have to brave the mud roads and traffic.The rain didn't stop and no doubt some of the folks who came by moto got really wet on their long trips home.

We started early the next morning, with bright sunshine and eager Teachers and Learners. I had prepared some learning aids and "goodies" for my software update and repair workshop, and each participating school/program received a nice 16 GB USB Flash Drive with working files for Build 12.1.0 for the XO Laptop on it. I recommended that each group back up the files on desktop or laptop computers, because in Cambodia, it is still rare to have enough Internet bandwidth to download a working copy of the XO software. But the files I gave everyone each work, and they can be easily copied and re-used.

We learned to transfer files back and forth between USB Drives and the Journal, to save the student's work, or transfer it for printing, & to add Activities. Then we reflashed a few XOs, everyone learned how to do it. I demonstrated how to use Mr. Clean Magic Erasers to safely clean dirty XO laptops, especially the ears.They are melamine and should be used by adults with care, but they are MAGIC. These white sponges sand the years of grease and dirt right off of the plastic without damaging the XO. Inexpensive and lightweight, but to my knowledge, only available in the West, I recommended that the teachers ask volunteers and visitors to bring them some, when they have inquiries about what might be needed. I answered as many questions about troubleshooting as I could. My debricking demo was the most popular, as usual. It is always amazing to watch someone bring a dead XO back to life by resetting the clock battery in the motherboard. And because the Cambodia XO-1 laptops are susceptibile to bricking if stored after the first boot, it is important that everyone know those laptops are not broken and should not be scrapped.  I left a serial adapter for the new OLPC Cambodia teachers group to share among themselves as needed, to try and solve this problem!

Everyone also wanted to know how to make the XO faster, and how to deal with a full Journal. I can't solve the problem of slow speed or inability to handle very large projects.:( Frankly, the XO-1 Laptops are circa 2007 with only 1 GB of Flash Memory and they are not expandable like the later, quicker, and even lower power XO models. It is testimony to the excellent rugged hardware design, that they have outlived the predicted 4 year lifespan, even in the most rugged of environments. It's still a great little laptop for certain locations, and children will get used to using and learn to work with what they have. Reality must be faced. The teachers participating at CP's workshop were all computer literate and most were quite savvy! They have PC's in their schools, some even have Macs, and most of them are already using smartphones and tablets. How long will the patience for the XO-1's last?  The teachers & kids in Cambodia deserve newer hardware!

This is exactly the conversation that OLPC-Asia Pacific has embarked upon, calling it OLPC 2.0 - The Next Journey. Can we get Sugar Software working for an Android Tablet? Is there a Tablet rugged enough for rural deployments in developing countries? Who will carry this mission forward? We hope that Adam, and "his army" of OLPC 1.0 Volunteers, & the new Unleash Kids https://www.facebook.com/UnleashKids will play a role in this.

After break and lunch, the Scratch workshop resumed, along with some individual tutorials on other Activities that can be used for teaching; e.g., Fototoons. We stopped mid-afternoon for a group photo and I said goodbye. Vanny took me to the airport where I could get a taxi back to Phnom Penh, to free up space in the already full car at the workshop end. Adam and Elaine report that the rest of the day was great, and by Monday morning, I got an email from Sopheak with a great Slide Show of weekend photos, and the email contact list for everyone who came. I have already heard that the teachers are now uploading their student's Scratch Projects to Dropbox for sharing. OLPC Cambodia Teachers Meet Face to Face and "OLPC Cambodia 2.0" is taking off!

Kudos to Elaine N, and CambodiaPRIDE once again, for your huge accomplishments! The November CambodiaPRIDE FLOW workshop was well planned & a great success!

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