Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Evaluation of OLPC Project Nepal

Formative Evaluation of OLPC Project Nepal: A Summary (June-August 2008)
author: Mr. Uttam Sharma, a doctoral student at at the Department of Applied Economics at the University of Minnesota
My summary:
  • initial teacher training needs to improve (only 50% satisfaction)
  • increased motivation and learning (strong anecdotal evidence but details lacking)
  • xo could be used more to distribute books
  • higher workload for teachers, will they maintain this in the long haul?
  • teacher - student relationship have become more interactive and challenging, breakdown of traditional lecture mode
  • nuts and bolts issues like jumpy cursor and chargers at home are very important
(summary updates on 30th September, 1st October)

Extracts only follow: (see more detailed version here )
The Nepal government’s Department of Education (DoE) and the Open Learning Exchange Nepal (OLE Nepal) had selected Bishwamitra Ganesh Secondary School and Bashuki Lower Secondary Schools, both in Lalitpur district of Nepal, as test schools for the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) initiative in Nepal. The laptops were distributed to all 135 students in grade 2 and 6 in those two schools on April 25, 2008. The students were also allowed to take laptops home. However, charging of the laptops could only be done in school...

When the teachers were asked whether the complete training was sufficient for enabling them to properly integrate laptop in the regular classroom instruction process, 50 % of the teachers’ response was positive. This response underscores the need to have refresher training on a regular basis as most of the teachers are using computer for the first time ...

The (teachers) are also of the opinion that laptop based instruction has made it easier to give students more practice exercises. In addition, they also feel that the use of laptop based instruction has made the classes more interactive. All the teachers are unanimous in saying that the use of laptop based instruction has increased the students’ interest in their studies...

When the students were asked how learning has been affected with the introduction of laptops in their classrooms, more than 95% of grade 6 students find learning using laptops easier ... As to why it is easier, the most common response was that you can do the exercise or activities as many times as you want. The second most common one was that these activities were very enjoyable to learn from. The students also appreciated the fact that you could do these activities at ones own pace ...

Some teachers feel that the introduction of laptop has made managing the classes more difficult. Many teachers feel that the noise level has substantially increased ...

When teachers were asked “Compared to the effort you had to put in the teaching learning process before receiving the laptops, how much effort do you put in now?”, the overwhelming majority of the teachers feel that they put in more effort now...

Almost all teachers (16 out of 17) find the laptop and its layout easy to use. They think it is very intuitive and also feel that the students should not have much difficulty. Most of the teachers say it takes about 1.5 hours to fully recharge the computer and that the charge lasts for about 3 hours when the computer is in use.

We had also asked the teachers, students and their family members whether they had any problem with different aspects of computer use. The biggest problem more than 50 % of the respondents mentioned was the jumpy cursor. The dust, the humid climate and the student’s sweaty hands as a result of running around might be contributing to the situation. The problem seems to be slightly more acute in Bashuki.

More than one-third of the teachers thought the sound quality needs to be improved. There either is some problem with the sound quality or that some teachers might have difficulty adjusting the sound. Since earphones are not available, difficulties arise for students and teachers when using sound related activities. They largely ask students to listen to the sound from the teacher’s laptop while teaching...

I think OLE Nepal should try to upload all the books that are in the website to student laptops sooner rather than later ... Needless to say the parents and teachers are really looking forward to using the e-library.

Most teachers in both the test schools feel that their workload has increased significantly. This is a serious concern. If this trend continues, it is likely that they will revert, to a large extent, to traditional way of teacher and ignore the materials in the laptop once the initial enthusiasm of laptop fades away ...

I strongly feel that OLE Nepal should take steps in allowing students to take chargers home so that the laptop can be used longer and that other family members or community members can also benefit ...

I think the OLE-Nepal should go ahead with the plans about providing 2 chargers per student with laptops, so the students can take one charger home and the other one can be permanently kept at School ...
XO study in Ethiopia
XO pilot in Harlem

Thursday, September 25, 2008

patching turtle art

Walter Bender is attempting to bridge the gap between teachers and developers:

Sugar Digest 2008-09-22 (September archive IAEP):
Some teachers in Uruguay are teaching the Pythagorean Theorem and were stymied by the lack of a square root function in Turtle Art. They wanted to demonstrate that the length of the diagonal of a square is equal to the square root of the sum of the square of each side. In pseudocode, they wanted to build the following construct:

repeat 4 (forward 100 right 90)
right 45
forward sqrt ((100*100) + (100*100))

Lots of alternatives were discussed, including using Dr. Geo. My favorite comment was from Pato Acevedo, who said:
[Modo Irónico on]
Claro, no puedo entender como fue que Pitagoras "descubrió" su famoso Teorema si en su epoca no existian calculadoras
[Modo Irónico Off]

Google translate:
[Ironic mode on]
Sure, I cannot understand how that was Pythagoras discovered his famous Theorem in his time if there were no calculators
[Ironic Mode Off]

But eventually—albeit with some intervention on my part—the discussion turned towards how to modify the Turtle Art activity. I put together a tutorial with the hope that not only would I be satisfying the immediate needs of the teachers, but also, showing them that in fact they could, themselves, make the necessary changes to the program to meet their needs. I am hoping that I didn't make it too easy for them and that some of them will risk making changes—creating new instruments ... A dialog between teachers and developers has begun. The next step is for some of the teachers to become developers.
I left this comment on the IAEP (Its an education project) list:
The idea of building a bridge for that small percentage (I agree with rob's figures) who want to be developers is a good one

insert: Rob Costello's figures were: (<1%) of teachers who would have the technical confidence/background/interest to learn /apply this (and maybe 0.01 % would already possess the skills)

I've asked a friend over to talk me through Patching_Turtle_Art. I'm lucky to have such a friend, otherwise I would have to ask dumb questions in public, which is not good for teacher ego since teachers are meant to know things already :-) I would identify fear of looking dumb as a major obstacle to these bridging explorations.

Some educators have written about what it means to join a community - what does it actually mean to be a scientist, a basketball professional or a software developer? eg. James Gee wrote a book (What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy) about how computer games could be used in this way. He identifies these elements of joining what he calls a semiotic domain:
  1. we learn to experience the world in a new way: see, feel and operate on
  2. we gain the potential to join a new social group, a new club
  3. we gain the resources that prepare us for future learning and problem solving in a new domain and perhaps related domains
He's trying to draw a distinction between simple knowledge and being part of a community of knowledge, the latter being the real deal

When I read through walter's account, already knowing a little bit (but not a great deal) about programming, python, logo, turtle art, visual programming I still have really basic questions to ask - things that are so transparent to developers that it may not occur to even think of them as questions or problems that have to be overcome before being engaged in this activity:
  • Where do you find things (python files, source code)
  • Which things do what? How does walter know which python files have to be tweaked?
  • Who do you communicate with? (I didn't know that Brian Silverman was the maintainer and didn't know his email)
  • How do you program more advanced stuff in python, eg. using lambda?
  • What is FOSS etiquette, how do you go about learning to be a member of this community?
Due to the reality of being a teacher (lack of time, large classes, the need to keep kids busy on task, schools and communities dominated by propriety software) all of the above is problematic - but as rob says a small % of teachers and a bigger percentage of students are open to it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

one media player per teacher

One Media Player per Teacher (OMPT): I have just discovered this programme and include some selected extracts and links from their website below. I'd see this as complementary to the OLPC project: lower cost technology can reach more children.

OMPT's mission is to help educate the world's poorest billion people with low-cost technology.

Our goal of equipping 10 million teachers with portable media players supports the 2015 UN Millennium Development Goals.
In more developed economies, we have seen the rapid spread of portable media players (PMPs) and downloadable audio files, including music, books, podcasts, and more. We already take these incredible developments for granted. Our primary use of these files is for casual entertainment. Few have considered the profound effect that PMPs and audio files can have in delivering educational content in the developing world. Rather than simply entertain, these same devices have the potential to save lives, alleviate suffering, and improve the quality of life by educating and training scores of people. This is the goal of OMPT.
The information revolution can indeed reach the barely reachable. It can change their lives. For those trapped in poverty, the most valuable data on the Internet may not be Web pages, but rather sounds and images, because audio-visual files can educate even the illiterate.
Board of Directors

One portable media player with speakers and power source costs as little as $50. This small cost can change a classroom of 40 or 50 individual lives

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

cloning of humans: Australia the first

I'm pleasantly surprised (amazed, actually) that our politicians have shown more common sense on this issue than any other government:
SYDNEY scientists have been given approval to attempt a world first in medical research. Researchers at fertility company Sydney IVF were yesterday issued with Australia's first licence to produce cloned human embryos.

By extracting stem cells from the cloned embryos, they hope to gain unprecedented insights into how crippling conditions including muscular dystrophy and Huntington's disease develop, and how to treat them...

A national ban on the research, known as therapeutic cloning or somatic cell nuclear transfer, was lifted in December 2006 after a conscience vote in Federal Parliament...
- Sydney lab cleared to clone human embryos
You Tube (news annoucement)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

america in decline

Video: Kevin Phillips interview

Kevin Phillips seems to know something about the collapsing US economy:
  • author of Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism
  • Financial sector has been privileged over manufacturing for 25 years
  • Bailouts since the 1980s
  • Bad money drives out good money
  • The financial sector has never been graded in any serious way
  • Wealth disparity between rich and poor has never been greater
  • Consumerism, reckless borrowing
  • Rising Financial sector means the rise of Debt industry (mortgage, credit cards etc.)
  • During Greenspan's tenure (1987-2006) the total credit market quadrupled from 11 trillion to 44 trillion
  • Alan Greenspan never punctured a bubble or cracked down on exotic mortages
  • Bipartisan problem: Clinton and Carter aided and abetted the favouring of the financial sector
  • Only half way through the problem
  • Consistent official understatement and misstatement
Seven sharks in the mix:
  1. Financialisation: dependence on the financial sector
  2. Huge, unprecedented buildup of debt
  3. Home prices collapsing
  4. Global commodity inflation
  5. Fraud and deceptive government economic statistics
  6. Peak oil or shortage of oil
  7. Collapsing dollar
  • McCain doesn't understand economics and has terrible advisers
  • Obama is not specific when talking about the economy and also has terrible advisers
  • The Democrats are the Party getting most of the financial money
  • Unlikely that the Democrats will make the tough decisions required (they carry a lunchbox but wear a pinstripe suit)
  • America is now declining just as Britain declined between 1914 and 1945 (it might take a couple of decades)
  • the big donors of both parties support the financial bailouts
article by Kevin Phillips: Bubble and Bail
(thanks Doug)

etoys car tutorial

My car spins out on a tight corner, its speed reduces from 10 to 6 at 54 seconds into the course

Scripts for course navigation

Scripts for the timer (requires setting clock ticks to 1 per second) and the reset / start script

For more detail download the car tutorial activities from the squeakland site. My students and I are having a lot of fun with these!

who predicted the meltdown?

Have you heard this recently: "This is amazing, incredible, unpredictable, worse than we thought"

Marx said that capitalism was anarchy, that the boom-bust cycle was inevitable and that when it happened the economic experts would describe it as an unpredictable, like a natural disaster and too complicated to explain - not only before the event but also during the event. Marx was right? Who else was right?

Some of the liberal blogs I read, who I don't think predicted this crash, are trying to blame it all on Bush. But more rational commentators are saying that this crisis has been at least 20 years in the making, which included some Democrat regimes.

Unfortunately, economics is not my strong point. Who does get it?

Economic oversteering Mark Shuttleworth, saw it coming in January ("Historians may well lay the real blame for current distress at the door of Alan Greenspan, who pioneered the use of morphine to dull economic pain"). Who else? Point me to their warnings before the crash.

Notes on the new Etoys

I've been using Etoys with my year 10 class at school and they are very much enjoying the beginners car tutorials.

Kim Rose has announced the release of a new version (download release notes). Since Etoys is on the OLPC there have been some systematic improvements happening.

I have found the whole Etoys experience a bit confusing because it has been described as "an experiment that never died". It has always had an unfinished feel to it, from my perspective. When Scratch came along it seemed better organised, polished and easier to use out of the box so I jumped ship to Scratch for my visual programming requirements

However, Etoys is more powerful in some respects. I refer mainly here to the particle system, Kedama: A massively-parallel tile-scriptable particle system, programmed by Yoshiki Ohshima

At any rate, here are some preliminary notes I have made about the new version of Etoys:

  • Default saving goes to a non existent folder C:\My Pictures\My Squeak and so saving fails. Solve this problem by holding down the mouse button on the Keep icon and then an option to navigate to a desired folder becomes available. This is not explained on the balloon help of the Keep icon, although it is explained on the balloon help of the Find icon.
  • Help: When you load the paint tools the Help fades out. You can click the arrow to the next page but can't Jump to a different Help sequence for the Paint tools. You have to close the Paint tools then Jump to a different Help page and then reopen the Paint tools
  • Can't find a timer? The clock on a script has a tick rate, the default is 8 ticks per second, but how can I program that to display a timer?
  • Show code textually is a nice feature - would be even better if you could open the code window to reveal all the code at once - good for learning by copying and pasting to other media
  • How do you set the "preserve trash" preference mentioned in the trash can help balloon?
  • There doesn't appear to be a version number?

REALLY USEFUL (more detail in release notes)
  • Display Scaling
  • The Online Help System ("Quick Guides")
  • Right Click for Halo

VERY INTERESTING (more detail in release notes)
  • World Stethoscope
  • Event Theatre
  • A New Generation of the Particle System (aka "Kedama")
  • All Players Tool

Turnbull: charisma without substance

The basic problem for the Liberals is that they don't stand for anything different from what Labour stands for (Climate change agenda, Taming the Unions). And all that Labour stands for is anti-politics.

I agree with the analysis presented by The Piping Shrike
Behind the Howard-Peacock wrangle was how to respond to Labor doing what the Liberals were supposed to, knobbling and winding down the trade union movement. Howard represented that section of the party that thought the Liberals had no choice but to carry on doing the same. This was after all what the party was about. The irrelevance of Howard’s Workchoices exposed that such a strategy had reached its end.
- The old leadership loses control
Turnbull got up because the old leadership had lost its grip on the party, not because a new leadership had gained it ... The lack of base he has in the party is highlighted by the fact that the only two issues he is really known for, the republic and climate change, he can’t talk about because it would cause internal problems
- Turnbull: A poor man's Hewson
This is not because Turnbull is incompetent. It is just that he doesn’t seem to stand for anything that has much to do with the Liberal party (or anything much at all for that matter which is why he waffles on)
- Poor Costello, used again - epilogue
Combine that with our government's anti-political agenda (we can't do anything decisive because the problems are either too global or too hard: anti-politics; our government) and what do we have? Apart from style (Rudd boring, managerial; Turnbull "exciting") there is no difference between our anti-political political leaders.
But Labor isn’t in the clear either. Wong’s concession that nothing can be done to save the Murray at the beginning of August led to an outcry that quickly had her and Rudd running back down to the mouth a couple of weeks later to throw a few extra million dollars into water buybacks. The problem for Labor exists within the chasm between their openness over the limited abilities of government and a claim to have a plan to change the globe’s weather. The gap between rhetoric and reality on the government’s climate change strategy is exposed at the lower end of the Murray and it is this gap right now that is a far greater problem for Labor than the media’s obsession over the economic impact in 2030. Labor’s inability to manage that gap and take the campaign directly to the Liberals in what should have been an ideal seat to do so, shows that climate change is an issue that has the capacity to be highly corrosive for parties.
- No revival, just decay

not yet a revolution

Jay Rosen, talking about journalism (video , blog):
The means of production have been distributed to the population at large ... press tools which were once owned by companies and operated by professional journalists are now firmly in the hands of anyone who wants them ... people have blogs, digital cameras, editing systems, video cameras, audio recording ...

This meets the technical definition of a revolution, the definition that Karl Marx would have used ... the means of production have changed hands ... from the Media to the people out there ... almost all internet hype derives from this single fact ... there was a revolution ... (my emphasis) ...

We are still struggling with the consequences of this , but there was a revolution ... the means of production changed hands
This raises an issue I've been thinking about for a few years and with the collapse of the American economy is brought into sharp relief today. What Jay says has truth in it but is not quite correct. He talks as though the revolution is over and that the contradictions were non antagonistic. In the section preceding the above he says:
There are now closed and open editorial systems: they are different animals.

They don’t work the same way, or produce the same goods. One does not replace the other. They are not enemies either
By contrast a Marxist revolution or even the capitalist revolution against feudalism (which Marx supported), the new system overthrows the old system, the new system is antagonistic, is an enemy of, the old system. There is simply no point in continuing landlord-peasant relationships of production in an industrialised agricultural system. The landlords and peasants were wiped out and became capitalists and wage slaves. By contrast, as Rosen says, there is still a place for professional journalism in the post web world.

It might be more accurate to look at the tremendous enhancement in peer to peer connections opened up by the internet / web as a precursor to a real revolution that has not yet happened. What we have now is seeds being planted that have yet to fully blossom. The web is quietly corrosive, rather than fully revolutionary. Disruptive technology and creative destruction is all to the good but is not the same thing as a revolution which comprehensively transforms power, economic, philosophical and other relationships

I have only addressed a small section of Jay Rosen's blog here. Worth reading his full blog, his links and listening to him talk.

update: Jay's answers to the "constructive dialogue" and "truth" questions in the last 8 minutes of the video are really interesting (33 minute mark)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

spam from me

Spam was sent out earlier today from my gmail account to my entire address book.

My current hypothesis is that my gmail account password was hacked. I've changed the password and am hoping that will be the end of it. I'm running a couple of up to date virus/trojan checkers (McAfee and AVG) and they are not detecting anything of significance.

Sorry for any inconvenience or confusion caused and thanks for the messages I received today informing me of the problem.

update 1: (spoofing)
A friend sent me an account of spoofing, where a worm fakes the addresses in your address book, you get bounce reports but no copies of the sent messages in the sent folder. This doesn't seem to be what is happening in my case, since the spam messages are in my sent folder.

update 2: This article recommends that you "permanently switch on SSL and use it for every action involving Gmail", the reasons why and how to do it. I have just done this. (One downside is that gmail notifier will no longer work)

update 3 (1st October, 2008): Found out that you can download a patch so that gmail notifier does work with https turned on

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sugar Labs

This is a comment I posted to the Its an Education Project (IAEP) list (September archive) in response to some members of Sugar Labs being sad about the first Windows XP OLPC pilot.

As a teacher in an industrialised country I'd see Sugar combined with low cost laptops as a vehicle for:
  • immersion - computers are always available not limited exposure in labs - this makes an incredible difference to learning with computers, as Papert and others have argued
  • wide variety and growing of educational software packages (10,000 visits per day to Activities page from Uruguay)
  • constructionist software such as etoys, scratch, turtle art, drgeo etc.
  • python is a great first language, after the visual programming approaches have been tried
  • collaborative aspect is cutting edge, offers new ways of doing things (but not yet working out of the box, unfortunately)
  • linux experience - in the last year or so I am coming across a few students who have taught themselves linux at home - this is a new and slowly growing trend
  • FOSS philosophy of collaborative development fits readily with what good teachers do (cf. hiding your expertise in order to maximise your profit)
What other group, apart from Sugar Labs, offers this potential? Sugar Labs also offers this list as a discussion forum about these issues. Who else provides this?

These things are not obvious to most teachers (for various reasons) but at least some of these things are obvious to a small but growing minority. If Sugar works well out of the box I think there would be small but significant and growing uptake.

Another view (less optimistic) is to look at the history of computing since the 1960s and to realise that most of the important discoveries were made then and since commercial interests got a hold on it the true potential has been largely lost or very much obscured. eg. late binding provides a far superior environment to teach about variables but the dominant systems don't offer that option.

More detail about this vision: http://learningevolves.wikispaces.com/alanKay+talk

MS has a long way to fall but strategically they have peaked are in decline. No need to be too alarmed by the thrashing around of a smelly dinosaur in a tarpit. Other commercial companies, such as Google, will eventually take their place. How does that sit with the Sugar Labs vision? Not sure.

I'd see the issue as a practical one of getting the software to work properly. In terms of vision, strategy and future potential we hold the good cards.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Dr Geo II

This program is customised geometry built from Squeak (formerly Smalltalk). I'm finding that it's great fun to play with. It's available on Linux, Windows or Mac as well as the OLPC. Hilaire Fernandes, the developer, has created over 60 short screencasts, in ogg format, which provides a great way to learn the program.

Above are some screenshots from an exercise I learnt from viewing the
305-rotation-geometric-angle-degree screencast. Create an angle and then dynamically vary the angle - nice! Rotate a polygon around a point and then vary the angle of rotation. This one is a lot of fun!

a morality play

What Makes People Vote Republican? by Jonathan Haidt

Republican voters like guns and God and don't like gays and immigrants. They are narrow minded, racist and dumb. They suffer from cognitive inflexibility, they are too fond of hierarchy and fear uncertainty, change and death. Their "moral clarity" is simplistic nonsense.

This pop psychology view leads to elitist righteousness, the wearing of a halo by Democrats

Haidt explores the contrary but also complementing contributions to moral values originating from John Stuart Mill (On Liberty) and Emile Durkheim

Mill envisaged individuals as equal and free and that power was only justified to prevent harm to others. This position draws support from the partly innate moral values of
(1) protection from harm, especially violent harm (harm-care values), and,
(2) the importance of fairness, reciprocity, rights and justice (fairness-reciprocity values).

These values appeal to liberals and libertarians. Hence, liberals tend to be opposed to war, guns and support minority or oppressed group rights and often sympathise with these groups as victims (immigrants, gays, blacks, women etc.)

However, social groups have other values apart from those stressed by Mill.

Durkheim pointed to the collective interest, to social binding, the suppression of selfishness and the need to punish deviants and free riders. For him the basic social unit was the hierarchical social family rather than the free individual. Durkheim recognised the danger of anomie or normlessness. For the social good, self control is more important than self expression, duty more important than rights and group loyalty more important than the interests of minority groups.

Hence, from Durkheim, Haidt adds three new values to those above:
(3) ingroup-loyalty (historically, arising from tribalism)
(4) authority-respect (social rank and mutual obligation can be cohesive)
(5) purity-sanctity (what is regarded as degrading and what is regarded as noble)

He describes social morality as like an audio equaliser with five slider switches, for Republicans, but with only two switches for Democrats.

In the current election it makes very good sense for McCain to choose Sarah Palin as a running mate with a deep appeal (one that he lacks) to the Christian social base. The outpouring of elitist social righteousness from many Obama supporters (documented in ... twenty first century witch) illustrates that they don't get it - and hence they risk losing the unlosable election. When the main focus of your campaign becomes that your opponent is a liar and his running mate is a witch, then you are in trouble.

It's well worth reading the Haidt article in full and the rest of the discussion from The Edge contributors.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

sarah palin - pauline hanson

Paglia (who supports Obama):
Palin has made the biggest step forward in feminism since Madonna channeled the dominatrix persona of high-glam Marlene Dietrich and rammed pro-sex, pro-beauty feminism down the throats of the prissy, victim-mongering, philistine feminist establishment ... A feminism that cannot admire the bravura under high pressure of the first woman governor of a frontier state isn't worth a warm bucket of spit
Charlie Gibson's condescension (oh, you don't know what the Bush Doctrine is interview):
I was amazed at the utter condescension in Gibson's voice as he questioned Palin. He came across as a know-it-all and had no patience for Palin or Palin's answers, seeming to mock her after each response. I believe he spoke to her with contempt, possibly showing his bias against conservative republicans or women. Gibson sounded like a person annoyed that he was passed over for the vice presidency position. Another sure sign of his disdain is when asking Palin questions he rarely looked her in the eye or kept his eyes closed
- comment to An Army of Sarahs
In Australia we once had a politician by the name of Pauline Hanson, who stood for traditional values, questioned our immigration rates and could possibly be described as a racist. She wasn't particularly articulate or impressive in an interview. However, the more she stumbled when responding to the "superior", condescending liberal intelligentsia who thought they were exposing her inadequacies -->>> the more popular she became <<<--. In 1998, her party, One Nation, attracted nearly one-quarter of the vote in that month's State elections in Queensland.

a creation story

The Universe began 13.7 billion years ago in an immensely hot, dense state much smaller than a single atom. It began to expand. After about a million billion billion billion billionth of a second gravity separated away from the other forces. The Universe then underwent an exponential expansion called inflation. In about the first billionth of a second or so the Higgs field kicked in and the electrons, the quarks and the gluons that make us up got mass.

The Universe continued to expand and cool. After a few minutes there was hydrogen and helium in the Universe. That's all. The Universe was about 75% hydrogen and 25% helium. It still is today. It continued to expand for about 300 million years, then light began to travel through the Universe as it was big enough to be transparent to light. That's what we see in the cosmic microwave background. George Smoot described this as looking in the face of God.

After 100 million years the first stars formed and then the hydrogen and helium began to cook into the heavy elements. So the elements of life - carbon and oxygen and iron - all the elements that we need to make us up were cooked in those first generation stars which ran out fuel, exploded and threw the elements back into the Universe. They then recollapsed into another generation of stars and planets and on some of those planets the oxygen which was created in those first generation stars could fuse with hydrogen to form water on the surface.

On at least one of those planets primitive life evolved over millions of years into things that walked upright and left footprints about 3.5 million years ago in the mudflats of Tanzania and eventually left a footprint on another world. And built this civilisation. It turned the darkness into light and you could see the civilisation from space

As Carl Sagan said these are the things that hydrogen atoms do when given 13.7 billion years. The laws of physics are beautifully balanced. If the weak force had been a little bit different then the carbon and oxygen wouldn't be stable inside stars and there would be none of that in the Universe. I think that's a wonderful and significant story. Fifty years ago I couldn't have told that story because we didn't know it. Our civilisation has emerged purely through the laws of physics and a few hydrogen atoms.
- Brian Cox on CERN's supercollider (TED video)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Squeakland site upgrade


This site has been upgraded and it is a quantum leap better than the old site (frustration). I'll be able to use it as a very useful resource in teaching etoys to my students, one of the xo activities.

I left this critical feedback on the squeakland list (archive):
  • the introductory images give a primary school feel but there is a section indicating it is appropriate for older ages: http://www.squeakland.org/showcase/byAge/ (first visual impressions can be very important)
  • also should there be something indicating a connection down the track between etoys and text based smalltalk - that there is a high ceiling as well as low entry (as well as high ceiling older age activities, eg. kedama based)
  • hard to do well but I'd like to see a page comparing etoys with other visual programming languages - or at least initially just indicating that they do exist, that etoys is part of an evolving genre and that that evolution is ongoing, not yet decided (scratch, star logo, game maker, turtle art, guido van robot etc.) - advocacy should be central but also combined with critical evaluation to some extent

Sunday, September 07, 2008

feedback on rudd's stolen generation speech

I just heard a funny story via someone who has been working in remote Australia

A State Government ALP VIP visited the Pitt Lands and asked an aboriginal person what he thought about the Rudd government's apology to the stolen generation

The person consulted with some people nearby and eventually responded saying "Hey brudda we don't know nutthin 'bout that stolen generator".

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Sugar evaluation wiki

I have created a wiki, http://xo-whs.wikispaces.com/, where some of the year 10 students at my school are evaluating Sugar activities. I'm interested in feedback: billkerr (at) gmail (dot) com, if you don't want to leave a comment here.

I'm using it to record my own exploration of the activities. At the moment we are looking at Turtle Art and Dr Geo II. Learning a lot and it's interesting. I'm very happy that I've finally worked out a way to play with the Sugar activities in a collaborative context.

Working with Sugar provides a great context for new learning. Many of us have been trapped against our wishes in MS Windows dominated school environments for years. Given that teachers are always very busy there has been little incentive to learn linux, for example, when it is not used in your work environment. I remember I tried years ago but gave up due to workload pressure. Two of my year 10 students know more linux terminal commands than I do so I'm now under pressure to keep up with them. It's great!

One of my year 10 students has built a jabber server, which we can use locally to enable the collaborative features of Sugar.

Due to a bug in the software the collaboration features have not been working so far (without the jabber server) on our particular network, although it is reported to "just work" on Ubuntu networks. With Joel's help this has been reported to the IAEP list and hopefully will be fixed in the near future

Sugar labs is the main home of sugar and seems to be powering along at the moment.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

some indigenous statistics

From Helen Hughes and Mark Hughes: Gap worse for remote indigenous (not only statistics but the statistics alone tell a powerful story):
The 2006 census employment and housing data suggest that about 270,000, or half of all 540,000 indigenous Australians, are on welfare.

... more than two-thirds of the 270,000 indigenous people on welfare live in mainstream labour markets within commuting distance of jobs. The common perception that they live in remote areas where there are no jobs is wrong ...

Most of the 80,000 Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in truly remote areas are in the larger settlements of Wadeye, Maningrida, Palm Island and Aurukun. Communal property rights here have prevented development....

... Aboriginal curriculums and poor teaching have denied indigenous children basic schooling. They leave school unable to read, write or count in any language. So-called bilingual education has been an excuse for no education at all. Children have also not learned punctuality, responsibility and individual effort. Aboriginal schooling does not equip children for modern mainstream life anywhere...

The first key conclusion of Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage (a government report) is that there is a 17-year gap between indigenous and non-indigenous life expectancy. This is simply wrong. Indigenous people in mainstream society have similar life expectancy to other working Australians but the gap for indigenous welfare recipients is probably well above 20 years.