33 Children Review Sugar on a Stick, Squealing in Delight!


Saturday was the end-of-year festival at my kids' school and I hosted a Sugar booth. I had asked if I could set up my XOs and netbooks on a table for kids to interact with Sugar. It was also a way for me to celebrate the Sugar on a Stick, Strawberry Release from Sugar Labs.

A Sugarized Batman Junior

Kids at this school are fairly well-to-do; all the parents I know have at least one computer in the house, many have two, some kids have their own computers already. However, the computer lab at the school has suffered from old equipment and disappearance/breakage of new equipment.

Last year I had to write to my daughter's technology teacher (computers + electronics) when he sent her home with a Word file and instructions for editing Word. She brought him a USB stick with OOo and an offer on my part to assist in setting up the lab with free software; I didn't hear back, but I didn't hear about Word any more, either.

Thirty-three (33!) kids paid a ticket to try Sugar on 7 XOs, and using Sugar on a Stick, a Classmate, and three netbooks including the new Dell education netbook.

Many children were with their parents, many with a friend or brother or sister. A handful of older kids turned down paying a ticket (most of the older ones didn't ask permission to try them, either, they just pulled up and started exploring). The XOs were all together in mesh (including the two old build 65x machines), the netbooks in standalone (I had brought an access point but had my hands full with 10 kids at a time).

All of the kids needed help exiting Activities, except for the GCompris Activities; I guess because of the persistent exit icon in GCompris screens. (We'll need to look at that.) Several kids wondered how to get back to the Home View. On XOs, they understood the dedicated keys right away; those who forgot just punched the four dedicated navkeys until Home View came up.

Enjoying a Sugarized festival booth

On the netbooks, especially the Dell Mini 10 which has no dedicated function keys (they are blue Fn alternates), kids needed help for each return to Home View. I later managed to set the default on those keys to Function instead of multimedia controls in the BIOS. The absence of a bound Frame key on the netbooks is unfortunate.

The smallest kids, without exception, got Maze going and progressed to higher levels. One kid saw others playing it and brandished his ticket specifically to play Maze. Oddly, kids seemed to understand the game faster on the Sugarized Classmate PC despite its small screen size (it's an Olidata JumPc Gen-1 7" screen). I attribute this to the color coding of the arrow keys on the Classmate's keyboard (the Classmate's keyboard is generous to begin with).

The small (grades K-2) and middle (grades 3-5) section principals each came by with some teachers and expressed great interest and took photos. They preferred the XOs to the netbooks with the exception of the Dell Latitude 2100 education netbook, they really liked the tattletale LED bar, the spine for putting a student's name in, the anti-spill "legs", the large screen.

They seemed reassured they could be in Windows by just rebooting without SoaS on the SD Card, although I mentioned to them that Dell had made a mistake and delivered the wrong OS (Ubuntu is standard on that netbook). The principals were interested in jabber collaboration which they had never heard of.

One mom expressed frustration that dropdown menu choices found by mouse rollover could not be validated with the Enter key. Do we have a ticket for that? Several parents and a teacher asked about translation tools.

Some parents who had already heard of OLPC asked where the crank was. That such an attribute could still be top-of-mind years after the crank prototype was superseded indicates to me that OLPC may be missing a major marketing opportunity by not bundling the Freeplay crank with G1G1.

One parent asked about audio books, could the computer play back a recording of a native speaker of another language. A teacher expressed interest in the possibility of kids studying another language with Sugar on a Stick, bringing the stick home to continue lessons.

Chat on the XO laptop

Smaller kids enjoyed the webcam. 8-10 year olds loved the Chat Activity although they were sitting round the same big table; amusingly, as all my sticks and XOs are named variants of my name e.g. "SeanSoaSDellLatitude2100", they started calling each other by those handles and squealing with delight when they figured out who was who.

One kid wanted to change his XO color so we did that but in so doing he couldn't collaborate any more, fixed with a reboot. One parent asked about DVD playback on the netbooks. Here's something interesting: I told each parent and teacher who spoke to me that Sugar is free software ("logiciel libre"). Not one of them asked me what logiciel libre meant.

Finally, some lads started in with water guns after their turn at the screens and managed to spray a couple of the XOs which showed the monochrome hires screen right away. I dried the screens and keyboards while powering down, dried them out 24 hours and both booted up fine.

Some parents and teachers were wondering if I was there selling laptops and when I explained that Sugar Labs is a nonprofit composed of volunteers like myself, that Sugar is free software and can be downloaded, that Sugar on a Stick can boot most PCs and run under virtualization, etc., they were friendlier and asked more questions.

Of course, a festival booth like this is completely unrelated to classroom study, especially over a semester. However, every parent and teacher who came by did leave the stand aware that netbooks are candidates for kids' learning in schools and/or at home...

Originally submitted to Sugar Labs Marketing by Sean Daly and republished here with his permission

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1 Comment

People always assume you are selling them something. Signs of the times I guess.