Blog Post

Plan to be surprised...

That certainly applies to us, as we always arrive to the community classrooms with eyes wide open, and have refrained taking the role of experts specifying what to do. Therefore instructors and kids always have some nice surprise about their achievements. 

And it should also be something to be engraved in every teacher's desk: "plan to be surprised by the creativity of your kids" -(otherwise if your class or exams are so rigid that everything the children do is as expected, you may end up with perfect clones, not diverse human beings ready to improve their world... and also discourage those kids that think like Einstein...)

That is a personal reflection brought about by comparing two very different classrooms and teaching styles: both effective, both using technology to improve learning, yet one of the two more... alive?

At Naxoch instructor Carlos uses his Classmate netbook to develop very detailed class plans, every day, down to what he will explain at each of 5 time periods, what questions to ask, what answers are expected... Three times per week after the mid-day break, kids bring out their computers and Carlos uses the machines to reinforce in some way whatever was learned before. 

We arrive before the break and find Carlos explaining something about Spanish grammar. Later the children go out to practice marching with the Mexican Flag, as there will be a competition about that among CONAFE schools. Carlos uses his computer to record the kids in video, then shows the video to the children --and back to marching again to correct mistakes. At the break we observe that many kids go into the classroom by their own initiative rather than remaining outside. They take out their netbooks and start using some of the Sugar learning activities. We are surprissed by the facility kids now have with the computers; they all use the touchpad with perfect precission and have improved considerably in typing speed. Class starts again and Carlos uses the computers to reinforce Spanish grammar; he writes something on the blackboard, kids type it and then must underline or put in different colors the different parts of the paragraphs or phrases. Everything, just a expected... We must stress, however, that Carlos has also done some very creativity activities other times, such as having the kids write a poem collaboratively.

After class in the afternoon, we take Carlos to the other school at Tilil, so that he can interchange experiences with instructors Marcela and Maria there. We find the girls much more outspoken that the last time we did this experience interchange. They speak first, and describe a learning activity that they have been doing recently: they divide the kids into teams, and then have the kids decide about characters and plot in a short story of their own. Then they record their story orally into one of their computers, with each child taking the role of one of the characters. Finally they present their story to the rest of the class. This is great: these girls are giving the children much room for creativity. Carlos pays close attention. Then he shares with the girls what he has been doing with the Turtle Art activity. He says he has found this activity difficult for the children. This is unfortunate because the Turtle is a very important Constructionist activity. We ask some questions about the difficulties and make some suggestions. 

The following day part of our group including Carlos returns to Tilil to observe class, and the other part goes to Paytajil with Raymundo, the CONAFE guy taking care of this later community. At Tilil Marcela and Maria describe a physics experiment to the children (static electricity) then have the teams repeat the experiment, photograph it with their netbooks, then write out a report that includes the photo and a written description of the experiment. The kids again are free to describe what they did in any way they want. Carlos has not attempted much team work, other than collaborative writing of a report or poem by all his 11 children sharing the same screen -something the ladies have not attempted yet. So we think instructors of both schools are learning from each other.

At the third school, Paytajil, we find that there is unfortunately yet another new instructor; the children have had four so far!. Further there are some disgreements between the parents committee and CONAFE authorities and they want to speak with CONAFE people before this program can continue. We hope it does.

Our student programming team has been working on Sugar Manuals in Spanish, new or adapted software activities, and system software. Lately they have finished programming a very useful Sugar Journal Analysis System that will help the three master's in education students to analyze anonymized versions of the kids' electronic portfolios that are backed up every day to the classroom server using software also developed by the programming team. The system allows to list and compare one or more journals from one or more communities, filter by learning activities and make graphs. This system has been shared with the Sugar Labs worldwide community. One of the graduate students (Alejandra) will write her disertation about impact of tecnology in the development of cognitive abilities; another (Ramiro) about the role and development of the community instructors; and the third one (Ramon) about hardware and software description, issues and solutions. Besides the portfolio analysis, they will also have access to viedotaped interviews and class observation records.

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