Archive for April, 2010

Some great developments at Kagugu

Yesterday we were at Kagugu for training with beginner-level teachers and to do an inventory of broken laptops and laptops with old software. So far, out of 5 or 6 classrooms with around 50 laptops each, we have found 6 broken laptops (mostly broken screens, I will post a more formal report on that later) but there is a large number of laptops that will need to be reflashed. I started to NANDblast some of the laptops yesterday with a HUGE help from Daniel Drake (thanks so much). It turns out some of the software was so old that I needed to do another update to the software before the most recent update!

If you need to update many laptops in your country, you should be sure to check this out:

Nandblasting instructions

But this visit was more important to me because of some of the changes on saw at the school.

—-I first met with Simon, a great teacher at the school who told me that he would like to start using the laptops in his lesson plans twice a week. I told him that he can just call us and our group will support him in the class.

–One of the KIE interns who was doing the tech. survey came running to tell us that a teacher is using the laptop to teach their students about the human skeleton! The teacher is even letting the class take home the laptop to continue studying and to do research on the different parts of the body. He will continue his lesson, using the laptop, the following day they will also use the laptop to study about the human ear.

–I saw another young girl taking home her laptop and I was curious if she was from the same class. It turns out that she was from another
class who had also given the children homework on the laptops to write a story about themselves! This I was really happy about because it gives the children the opportunity to talk and reflect about themselves, something children rarely get to do in school.

— And on the way to Kagugu, another important moment happened.  A KIE intern says that working with us and seeing different ways of teaching and using the philosophy of learn by doing has changed the way he will teach forever. He says that he teaches an ESL class and has changed his methodology for his students to learn by doing or just speak English without the usual tedious studying. He said his class now
praises him and they say the spent so much money to learn English before but they never did, until they were with him. He is very happy.

And just to share a nice picture with all. I saw one small boy walking around the schoolyard of Kagugu and I noticed he had a nice tie, but that it was very white! I looked more closely and saw that he had made himself a tie out of paper. So creative! I am really thinking to find that boy (out of the 4000 students in Kagugu) and buy him a real tie!

Great week so far! Tomorrow taking the long journey back to Rwamagana to see if there are any changes too!


“The best training ever”

The past two weeks were great–this was even more so once we heard the feedback from the schools of the training. All headmistresses said it was the best training they ever had received, (!!!!!!) and it was like they were just starting with this training. All the teachers said they now think they can use the laptop in teaching and they seem more motivated and excited about the project than ever before. I think this was for a few reasons:

1.This time we started by brainstorming WITH the teachers about the training, instead of just providing them with our plan. They were empowered to be part of the process and have their voices heard.

2. Usually we focus on Scratch or Write/Record for teacher training, but this time, we decided to focus on something that the teachers can see directly relates to lesson plans and also challenges them creating an Etoys book. As opposed to Scratch, which we all know has powerful benefits, the teachers have trouble understanding how Scratch will help them teach. And with the usual week or 2 for training, it is just a start to learning Scratch.

3. I am not sure why we had never done this before, but this time we actually had teachers teach kids. This was BY FAR the most powerful and effective moments in the training. It is scary for teachers to imagine using the laptop one day in their classes, when they are alone. This allowed them a time to teach with support, giving them less stress. And as they reported once they take the plunge and just try teaching with the laptop, they find it is not as difficult as they once thought.

All of the schools have asked us to continue or regular weekly training, but now, instead of basic training, they want to continue teaching with us providing support! This is a great step (leap) forward.

Rwamagana Training

This week, I took a daily 1 hr journey to Rwamagana B Primary School along with two KIE interns Janvier and Pie. I was very encouraged to start training here because there are some new, young teachers who are eager and motivated to integrate laptops into their teaching. Unfrotunatley, since the training was postponed 1 week we only have three days with teachers and two days with students. Because of this, I decided it was best to focus on creating an Etoys book. This is more easy for the teachers to see how it can be used in their classes, as opposed to Scratch, where most teachers have trouble seeing how they can use Scratch. So the first two days we worked with the teachers we focused on a basic introduction to creating an Etoys book. The first day, they would create a short book about the topic of their choosing and the second day, they can develop a small book on malaria. It was great to see the teachers excited to create books on their own. Most decided to write about the school, one teacher even tried to create the school crest.They were very happy to learn a new activity as opposed to write, record and Scratch which we usually focus on in the beginning.

For the two days we made sure they could paint in Etoys, add text, import pictures, and add pages in the book.

But as always, the best part was on the third day when 100 students joined. This was the first time that we would have teachers teach the students what they had learned. This was a great idea and something I wish we had been doing all along because it worked wonderfully! Two teachers volunteered to run the classes the first day and they did a fantastic job! The allowed their students to have fun, explore and allowed them to creative without dictating every thing that had to do. One teacher repeated what we had done the first day and had students create their own book. He had them first write their names and showed them all the ways they could change the apperance of text. Students really liked changing their text!

The next morning I spoke to one of the teachers about how fantastic they did the prior day. He was very happy to hear this, but in our conversation, he mentioned that he does not see himself staying with the school very long. Currently, he is not being paid, and all he can do is write a letter to the district to inquire why he does not receive his promised salary. He is not sure when he will hear back from them. He also says that it takes him 2 hours to walk to school each day. He says it would be impossible for him to stay as a teacher in these conditions.

Once the students returned for the second day, it was so great to see what they had all done at home. Some students worked on their books, other painted pictures, took pictures, and some created projects in Scratch (which they had learned in prior trainings).

By the end of the second day, almost all the students had some great books started (some finished). I copied some of their work:

coming soon

Another great thing was that the school allowed the students to keep their laptops for the rest of the vacation until school started back on Monday. They all applauded and yelped in happiness. While it was great to work with the students, one of the best things I saw was the teachers who worked on their own books with the students. Sometimes they asked their students from helped ans sometimes the students asked them. They seemed very happy and completley comfrotable with this exchange.

The last day of the camp was on Saturday, with just teachers. We started by talking to the teachers about their week. The teachers said they found teaching with laptop very easy. They said they thought they could easily use Etoys in their classes once school begins. This was fantastic to hear. They said they were very happy with the training and now that they see how to teach using the laptop, they wanted to continue learning. They were nervous that the support for the school would stop. Would told them that they would continue working with them in anyway they wish. So after some discussion, they asked our team to come to the school every Thursday and we could work with a teacher, in the class, and help them teach with the laptop, and after we could offer some technical training to fix the 100+ laptops that had been broken in 3 years.

We also had a visitor from NCDC (national Cirriculem Devlepoment Center), this was intersting because it was great to hear the great questions from the teachers. One question I really loved was “since our kids know how to uyse the laptops, and we will sytart uysing them in class, then why don’;t we intergrate lapotop use into the year end national exam?” I really liked this question because it made me think about what I had heard earlier in the week from Mars and Sandrine, and shows what a major shift in the entire educational system is now needed since the laptops are now here.

Sandrine & Mars Update: “I already know how to type!”

As some of you may have read the paper I wrote for the constructionism conference in Paris, you have learned about Mars and Sandrine. Two young women whose demeanor, outlook and confidence did a 180 through their access to the laptop. This week, both are home from secondary school (highschool). While catching up, I asked if they still had access to computer in their new schools. Sandrine said that they have some large desktop computers but that they only use them to learn how to type. And she said she already knows that! She said she is the best in using the computer in the whole school and she has to help all of her peers. Mars had a similar story, there is one computer lab, which is used sparingly. Unlike all of her peers, she has her own email and wishes to use it, but the internet connection in her school rarely works.

Once more and more children like Mars & Sandrine pass through secondary school, the curriculum will have to be changed to address the new generation of technically advanced students!


Since all the of the students were so interested in Scratch, we continued working in Scratch. Today the students asked how to put their pictures into Scratch. This was inspired because one of the students stayed late the day before and we made a small project, taking both of our pictures, importing them into Scratch and have the pictures talk to each other using our real voices. So all of the students now wanted to make their own project. In Scratch, there are two ways to import a picture, either as a “stage”  background or as a “sprite” or character. We first explained the difference by having one student act as the cat, we shouted commands for the “cat” to move around the class; then we countered that by shouting commands at the wall, which, of course, we cannot command to move since it is a background.

First, we took pictures, which the students always love, then imported them has a background into Scratch. We then decided to make into a slide show, so we imported 2 more photos and created a script that has the photos changing at the speed of the students’ choosing.

Their homework was to create a photo slide show of all the members of their families:

A student shows her work to her peers

students take pictures of me taking pictures of them

Day 3

Yesterday was the opening commemoration day in honor of the genocide which happened 16 years ago.  It was a public holiday; so there was no camp. It is hard to imagine something as horrible as genocide ever took place here, and it is an honor to work beside colleagues who have faced and overcome amazing adversity and are such wonderful, smart people and friends. I feel lucky to be here and to know them all.


The words for today were “creativity” and “fun.” We wanted to make sure our camp was in no way being conducted like school time. This is fun exploration time for the students. I focused on with the two beginner groups today. One group came excited to show their peers all that they had done at home. Many recorded videos and took pictures of their families. Others recorded audio of their favorites songs, which played throughout the day.  One student went to the airport, where there is free wireless, and found out how to download a new game. There were so many things to share that for the morning the students just played on their own and taught each other how to accomplish what they had.  The second half of the day the students asked to learn Scratch. I asked them what they wanted to do in Scratch and many said to “make the cat dance!” So after some basics, the students were challenged to make their cat do the best dance–it took a while for the students to be creative and try new blocks, but once some started, it inspired the other students to follow.

The second class began the day with creative writing. Their challenge: write a fiction story, including the use of pictures.The students really enjoyed this. The were so creative and enjoyed taking pictures of their fiction story. At the end of the day, each group showed the other what they had done and each class applauded and supported each others work.

At the end of the day, I told the creative writing group that they did a great job and that they could all be writers! They were so happy and cheered!

Here are some of their stories:

Пишувај Activity



ifoto ya aline iisomo twize ku ishuli


Day 1 & 2 of Malaria Camp

On Monday, 75 children from p5 (grade 5) and 7 teachers arrived at Nonko. The day started off stressful because, since the laptops do not go home with the children, and are not given out during school this term, when the 75 laptops and chargers were given to the students many of them had problems. The biggest problem was that laptops had not been upgraded to the newest software. This upgrade process was a responsibility of the Rwandan core team but because of size, management, etc. it was not done. There were also 20 laptops that were broken, a majority were screen and motherboard malfunctions. There were also a large number of broken chargers, around 35 of 100. This wasn’t surprising as the chargers were all tangled and haphazardly thrown into the box, it took some time to unravel all the knots in the cords. This made me more excited to start the technical team at Nonko, made up of teachers, so that the school can know how to properly handle the equipment. And obviously, these problems wouldn’t exist if each child owned their own laptop, because when it is theirs, they take care of it.

Regardless of the rough start, it was great to see the children excited to, once again, have laptops. They immediately opened Scratch and Record and started working together showing each other what they remembered to do. We separated the kids into the advanced & beginning groups. It had been a while since using their laptops, so we wanted the kids to have time to just play, unfortunately, the power went down, so this gave us a time to talk. After introductions, myself and a KIE intern (who was translating) asked where do the kids think we worked? The yelled “MINEDUC” and “KIST”….. and we explained to them what OLPC was. None in the class knew the name before! I am not sure how it came up but all of the kids said that it was Bill Gates who gave them the laptops! (Of course we corrected them.) Then we asked  “why are the laptops here?” The responses were” “to help us study;” “to help us learn English;” “to help us learn ICT…” This led into a brief discussion about learn by doing. We asked the children who knows how to ride a bike? Almost the whole class raised their hands. “Okay, and how did you learn to ride the bike?” The students used their hands to show me they were grabbing invisible handlebars and moving their feet, and then one student said, “we learned to ride the bike by riding it!” Exactly! We explained to them that this was the same idea with the laptops, the children can create and figure out things on their own, and this is one of the most powerful ways to learn.

We ended the day with the students brainstorming their curiosities about malaria. This led to two interesting debates: one student asked “how many people die each year in Rwanda from malaria?” One student responded “7 people” another said “100%.” It was interesting to think how they arrived at these guesses and if they understand the relation of these numbers to the entire population.

I have heard from my colleagues that there are many myths surrounding malaria in Rwanda, such as, if you eat many mangos, you will get malaria, if you work in the sugarcane field you will get malaria, etc. I asked the students if they heard these myths and if they were true. After my question was translated, half of the kids started to yell “yego!!! (yes)” and the other half “ohya!!! (no).” I told them it would be interesting if they wanted to investigate these myths further and see how they can be proven or disproven.

For the second day, the advanced group had one student act out how he felt, looked, sounded when he had malaria. And they use Scratch to program some with the same symptoms. Soon all of the students true a person holding their stomach, bended over, throwing up and moaning in pain!

In the beginner rooms we started off with basic laptop introduction. Each student created a project introducing themselves to their peers. We told them to try and make their introductions really interesting, not just name, grade, age, etc. One KIE trainer invited me to see his class share their introductions. The first student said that he has an African mother and an American father and his father’s name is Barack Obama and he is the President of the United States. His father has asked him to come visit him in USA and live in the White House. (So creative!) The next student wrote about her dreams, one of which was to cultivate the land–even though her parents did not like cultivating.

The teachers were much more slow to start. 7 out of 12 teachers attended, and were very late. The first day, teachers told the trainers, please just “show us how to use the laptop in a lesson! We just need an example of how we can teach!” So our colleague, Jimmy, shifted the training slightly to focus on acquiring basic skills, this made the teachers more confident. While things always go great with kids, we need to realize that working with teachers will take much more time and a much bigger cultural shift. We recently heard that teachers are paid just $40/month (less than some gardeners). They also work with many children in a language they are not comfortable with–English. This is why it is so important to make sure kids are using the laptops, even before teachers feel comfortable to use, because the latter will take much more time, but it is a process and we will get there!

Some pictures from the first 2 days: