Feedback from Waveplace Mentor Workshop on St. John


As previously mentioned I'm currently spending my days here at Maho Bay on St. John on the US Virgin Islands. While the main purpose of my visit is attending the olpc realness summit starting on Friday I'm spending my first few days helping out with the mentor workshop that Waveplace has also organized.

View from the workshop area

The core group here consists of twelve students from Columbus School for Girls who have been preparing for the workshop under the guidance of Christine Murakami for several months. The students have been split into three groups with each of the groups teaching a 90min after-school class at three of St. John's schools. While each group is accompanied by two experienced educators the classes are really run by the girls.

As per Waveplace's focus the grand majority of the class-time is spent working with eToys. Hence every morning starts off with a 2 hour eToys workshop led by Waveplace's Tim Falconer. As I'm typing these lines he's exploring some of the more complex eToys examples such as the Aquarium which consists of several dozen scripts. Afterwards each of the groups gets together to plan and discuss the day's lesson whereby the lesson plans that Waveplace has created serve as a great guidance.

In the afternoons everyone hops into one of the island's taxi trucks and off we go to our respective schools. I've been assigned to Gifft Hill School which is about a 45min drive away from Maho Bay where we're all staying. On the first day we started off by spending 30 minutes playing some games to get to know the pupils and learn their names.

Then after a very short introduction discussing some of the rules that the pupils need to follow when it comes to the afternoon classes and their XOs we handed out the laptops. They then had about 25 minutes to explore the XOs and the various Sugar activities on their own. As ever so often Speak, Record and Labyrinth quickly turned out to be early favorites. We ended day one with a brief introduction to eToys, how to check out the various projects included with eToys and how to start and save a new project.

Everyone's spirits were high as we rode home and it was great listening to everyone's stories about the day's events. Upon our return to our temporary homes at Maho Bay we had a 30 minute breakdown session where every group shared their experiences, discussed things to be improved and just generally reflected on the whole experience.

eToys lesson at Gifft Hill School

Day 2 started with a short session led by Tim before we got back together in our groups and discussed the plans for the day. The focus was set on exploring eToys in more detail by focusing on the various objects available in eToys' supply-box. In terms of Sugar our group decided to give a quick introduction on how to stop/close activities.

This was based on prior experience that shows that many children simply go back to the Home Screen when they want to start a new activity. The result is that they run many activities in parallel which leads to the XOs becoming very slow and in many cases completely unresponsive requiring a reboot.

The class went very well indeed and bringing a projector and screen to demonstrate the various objects and features in eToys helped a lot in terms of keeping the pupils focused. The majority of them seemed to catch on very quickly and with 6 mentors being in a room of 23 pupils a helping hand was always close-by. It was also great to see how the pupils helped each other when one of them had discovered how to use something new.

We ended the 90 minute session with a number of short competitions which had the pupils recording sound, drawing one of the mentors and drawing an object and subsequently cloning it. To me the most interesting part of the afternoon was observing the mentors from CSG leading the lesson and working with the pupils. To say that I was impressed by their performance would be quite the understatement.

The evening was again spent sharing and discussing the day's experiences. One of my core suggestions was that we should take 5 to 10 minutes a day to explore a specific Sugar feature. We've yet to compile the list of aspects we want to explore but the Journal, collaboration, the Help activity and introductions to some of the core Activities are definitely high up on my list.

To sum up: Agreeing to participate in the workshop after 26 hours of traveling when I really didn't know what I was doing turned out to be an excellent decision. I'm learning lots of things and seeing the energy both in the morning sessions and especially in the classrooms is extremely inspiring. But then again, I don't think it were possible to find a reason to complain about a day that starts with a swim in the Caribbean Sea... ;-)

You can find more information about the CSG project on their Web site and read the girls' thoughts over on the project's blog. I'd also recommend to check out Beth Santos' thoughts about the workshop on the Waveplace blog.

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