Second visit to the Nashoox and Tilil communities: Fifth week of classes.
In the community of Nashoox we found that the electricity had already been installed on the half of a classroom corresponding to the third through sixth grades.
The arrangement of children in the room consistsd of two school desks occupied by boys, five girls around a small table and another three boys in another small table, reflecting a gender separation. This kind of furniture and the lack of enogh space made it difficult for the kids to move the mouse freely.
The community instructor had prepared a lesson plan that included the resolution of three arithmetic word problems that required addition, subtraction and multiplication of three digit numbers. All three problems featured male characters only...
The learning strategy followed by the instructor followed a good methodology in general terms: assign a task (in this case mathematical problem solving) which meant copying the problem from the blackboard to a blank sheet on the computer. The children were able to do this, although slowly. Then the instructor gave sufficient time for resolution and also asked the children to use their notebook; then he sent the solution to the kids through the computer network. He was very emphatic in clarifying the reasoning to be followed to solve the problem.
The instructor did not encourage more collaboration among the children. He was trying to solve all the problems, rather than relying on the more advanced kids to support other children. He had not used much yet the participative-learning lesson plans that we had left him last time.
This group of children is very quiet but there were noticeable differences between boys and girls; the latter more quiet, seemingly less secure in themselves, taking time to answer questions from the teacher. The instructor speaks about 80% of the time in Spanish, and when children do not understand he translates to Tzotzil.
In our interviews, the children told us they liked using the computer in the school and that they mainly use it to write, take pictures, play memorama, draw. They would like to use it more time during the day. They also told us that the machine helps them learn better.
The instructor told us that they are trying to use the laptops every day, and that he also used his laptop to plan classes, something that was very evident in the class we observed. His attitude is quite positive towards incorporating technology in the classroom. An example of this attitude is that he had already learned by himself how to share a document with the students through the network.
Intel kindly donated to this classroom a wirless router with EDGE cellular Internet. Unfortunately we noticed an internet connection of very variable quality at this remote rural location. We opened an gmail account for the instructor, allowing us to communicate with him more frequently. Right now only the instructor has access to the internet; later on we will open mediated access to the children, mainly so they can share experiences with children in the other community, Tilil or elsewhere...
We believe that in this school the project has been achieving its objectives.
The situation at Tilil is quite different...
Here there is a small classrroom with the children packed next to each other in their school desks. They are using the touch pad instead of the mouse, and they seem to handle the cursor better than the Nashoox children. Remember there are about 8 third grade children and 7 4th to 6th graders, half girls and half boys, here distributed randomly in the classroom.
In Tilil children showed very high enthusiasm when working with their computers. The instructors asked the children in third and fourth grades to confirm with the Sugar Calculator the restults obtained in some arithmetic operations carried out in their notebooks the previous day. Children in fifth and sixth grades were asked to solve other operations in their notebooks and also confirm the results with the calculator.
This group of children was much more restless and active, so after some children finished the assigned task, they started to open by themselves many other Sugar software activities. We recommended that the instructors complete all the steps to close the learning cycle - invite collaboration for solving tasks, assign children to become learning resources for other children and engage kids in reflecting on what was learned. This we hope will begin to happen little by litle.
To model for the instructors part of the methodology of participatory learning, we enabled the collaborative tools in order to send to the children a word problem -this time involving mothers and girls... Kids were grouped into small teams of three, balancing the number of boys and girls on each team and encouraged them to collaborate in the solution of the problem.
The instructors at Tilil have not mastered the computer and the software. Recall that one of the instructors was not present during training, and we noted her lack of security. We found no evidence that the instructors had spent a little time to learn the software on their own. The children were spontaneously opening various softwaqre activities one after another at high speed leaving the instructors and the lesson plan behind. When a child finds a new software activity, almost immediately the word spreads around the room. Instructrors say they use the computer about three times a week, but easily lose control of the calssroom.
Next time, we will spend special time to train the new instructor. We left the instructors some specific recommendations to develop in class.
At the CONAFE offices we received the very good news that they would like to start a third rural school in the community of Paytajil!. Further, they are willing to set up the hardware installation and train the instructors by themselves - remember we also trained the academic director and his assistant when we trained the current instructors. Fortunately the Sugar software is very easy to learn both for instructors and for kids. They already have extra classmates because in the two communities that we have now we are not using all of the ones we bought. We will purchase the rest of the equipment (SD cards, timers, power strips and the furniture to keep classmates safe) and just serve as consultants for this new part of the project, as we won't be able to visit this third school as often as the other two. It will also be a test of whether our "train the trainers" approach works well.