Sylvia Martinez touched on so many important points in her blog entry OLPC XO – Top Ten Checklist for G1G1 Reviews. After reading her words of wisdom, I felt drawn to tell my classroom story. Middle school students are unique, but I hope other classrooms are having similar experiences.
My husband and I participated in the G1G1 program, signing up on the first day and receiving our XOs the day after school let out. How I wish they had arrived in time for me to take mine to school before the break! I truly believe there would have been even more donations and happy recipients, not from my fellow teachers but from my students.
My students are the usual mix of geeks and non-geeks, wealthy and poor, and all ranges in between. On Friday I took in one of the little machines and talked with the kids about what OLPC was trying to achieve. Some of them had seen the commercial and were intrigued to see the real thing. Some were indifferent, but most were eager to get a chance to explore and experiment. I set it up and let them have at it, and the reactions started.
My geeks were entranced! They couldn’t get enough of the XO, peering over shoulders when their brief time at the machine was up, offering suggestions about what to click next, and troubleshooting when the current user ended up in the Neighborhood or Home by accident. When the bell for end of class rang, I had to shoo them on to the next class because they were trying to get one last chance at experimenting.
The other group that was terribly excited was the kids who don’t have all the techno-gadgets in their everyday lives. This was new and yet familiar to them. They weren’t looking for the “Start” button or the Word icon. They were busy clicking and playing and asking questions. Since we’d only had the XOs for a couple of weeks (filled with holidays and grandkids, and grown children moving) we hadn’t had time to explore the machines ourselves, so my response to each question was consistent, “I don’t know. Why don’t you click and find out?” What a world it opened up for them. Of course the video and photo options were quickly explored, but the music app was a close second. The turtle and programming apps didn’t hold their interest on the first go ’round, but some said they wanted more time and would I please, please bring the machine back on Monday.
But there were kids who seemed to highlight what Sylvia pointed out, “You aren’t the customer” and “It’s not a ‘cheap’ version of your laptop.” They quickly lost interest and went back to working on their projects in PowerPoint. I’m not trying to over-generalize, but for the most part these seemed to be the kids that have the latest cell phones, the ones to whom Santa brought a new laptop, and the ones that can’t wait to pull out their PSPs at lunch. They couldn’t seem to see beyond the small keyboard and the lack of flashiness.
The tide turned a bit, however, when I brought both machines on the following Monday. It took little time to get the mesh network running, and the kids immediately started calling “dibs” on when they could have access. Of course the chat application was the first thing they all tried, but they quickly discovered they could share other apps as well. It tickled me, during the sharing sessions, to hear them admonish each other, “Don’t talk! That wrecks it!”
Then the question of range came up, and I gave them permission to go out in pairs and see if the XOs could still “talk” to each other. That was one of the high points for each of the kids who wanted to try it. One pair was joined by the school principal, who wasn’t sure just what they were doing in the commons during class time. The students were amazed that they could go out in the halls and still share a document. They were a little startled when they explored sharing TamTam and had music suddenly flowing from the machines (as was the teacher whose class was momentarily interrupted!).
When my Advanced Tech Apps class arrived, they had to test the range as well, and found that from the snack bar to the library (an impossible distance for our mobile lab laptops) was still an easy range for the mesh network. Their only complaint? “Why didn’t you tell us about the G1G1 thing so we could do it as well??”
They poked, they prodded, they tried to figure out how the mesh was working. When not actually using the XO, they were at their workstations hitting the wiki and googling for all they were worth, trying to find out more. Two-thirds of them were in the land of Discovery Delight; one-third were not impressed because they couldn’t find out if it would play MP3 files.
Sylvia, I think you are spot-on when you say, “Try to remember that you and most likely your child have pre-conceived notions and advantages that you don’t realize. You are like a fish trying to ignore water.” That was certainly what I observed in my classroom.
What about other teachers? Are you getting a chance to see the XOs in a semi-natural environment? I would love to hear what’s going on in your classrooms. I plan on taking my little machines back to the classroom soon and will let you know what happens next.