Blog Post

Three steps forward, one back...

Hi - this reports on our fourth visit to the Chiapas communities, 2nd trough 4th of December.

The weather was nice at San Cristobal this time, and actually we learn that back in November the very cold weather we experienced was an exception. The beautiful colonial city is full of tourists wandering through the narrow streets. At the Plaza women and little girls -never boys- carry embroidered textiles on their hands and backs to sell to tourists. A marimba is playing in the kiosk...

At Naxoch we find instructor Carlos teaching the kids about Poems as part of the Spanish lesson. He asks the children to produce pairs of rhyming words and to write them down on their computers. They take time getting the idea but after some prompting start to generate some pairs, which come out mixed up in Spanish and Tzotzil... Later on we ask Carlos what he intends to do for the next Spanish lesson, due the following day. We are glad to hear that he plans to ask Children to develop a Poem by themselves, all of them writing on the same shared screen, one line at a time. 

A Sugar software activity that has not been tried on yet here is Turtle Art. This is a very important Constructionist activity - a sort of graphical Logo where the programs are built assembling together blocks on the screen. So after class we spend one hour and a half having Carlos learn Turtle language. He grasps it quite quickly and is soon making the turtle produce geometric figures and a number line. He promises to try it on with the kids the following week.

Things have improved also at Tilil. We find instructors Maria and Marcela with much greater control of the classroom. Control is a difficult issue to handle in classrooms -too little may lead to anarchy, and too much might mean that kids do not have enough leg room to take their own paths or express their creativity.

Here the instructors are teaching kids all the menus and tools of the Paint program. Some children race ahead of the explanations and proceed to learn the tools on their own by trial and error. Later Maria asks them to reproduce a paysage that she has painted the night before. There is not enough time left to finish it but we notice that some children have decided to make the sky darker and have put some stars on it. For the next lesson, the instructors plan to ask the children to paint something related to what they are learning without specifying exactly what. That's perhaps a good balance between control and freedom; Carlos on the other hand might be using too much control, as he always has his children carefully aligned to the fixed sequence he has planed.

The bad news come from Paytajil. This is the community that will be attended by Raymundo of CONAFE, as a test of our "train the trainers" approach. So Raymundo went there alone this time, and later on reports that Hector -one bright instructor he trained last time with our supervision- has had to renounce his post recently due to some family situation. The other instructor of the same classroom did not come that day, so Ray found the children without a teacher. He proceeded to take out the computers and have the children try them on, with great engagement and joy on the part of the kids. That second instructor will also be replaced, so next semester it will be back to square zero for Paytajil.

But some other good news include that we have started to share our materials with the large Spanish community of 770,000 Sugar users. They use Sugar mostly as part of MIT's One Laptop Per Child program. Our Sugar Manual in Spanish for kids has been downloaded about 1200 times, and we just added to our site a page with links to 18 lesson plans and some software that we have developed, all under Creative Commons or GNU licences.

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It's end of the year and perhaps a good time to take stock. Things have advanced more slowly that we anticipated, both on the use of the technology and of the Constructionist and participative learning pedagogies; nevertheless, by now instructors are using the technology frequently to support learning, are well motivated to keep improving, and they report in interviews that the children are highly enthusiastic as well. We will keep visiting the communities next term and try to gather and analyze as much data as possible for our final report.

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