[IAEP] Sugar on a Stick - How might a Sugar USB experience work in practice?

Caroline Meeks caroline at solutiongrove.com
Tue Sep 30 16:51:10 EDT 2008

On Tue, Sep 30, 2008 at 10:48 AM, Walter Bender <walter.bender at gmail.com>wrote:

>  David and I
> will be helping set up a Sugar classroom in a Boston public school
> that trying to make use of some old Pentium IV desktop machines;

> 2. LiveUSB: It seems that a LiveUSB offers the most simple way to
> experience Sugar on a preexisting hardware base, such as a school
> computer lab. (One advantage of a LiveUSB approach—where user data is
> stored in a disk partition—is that the same key can be used at school
> and at home, emulating the experience of a one-to-one laptop program,
> where the laptops go home with the children. The Fedora team has made
> progress on a LiveUSB this week (See Item 11 below) and we are also
> working to get "fresher" Sugar bits into the Ubuntu LiveUSB. However,
> there remains a problem in that many computers do not have
> boot-from-USB enabled in the BIOS. Steve Pomeroy suggested we look
> into U3, a proprietary method of launching applications from a USB
> key. This would provide a work-around for running Sugar on machines
> that are running Windows (alas, this accounts for the majority of
> hardware found in schools). Ben Schwartz pointed out that we could do
> the same thing using autorun.inf (See
> http://www.exponetic.com/blog/blog/2006/07/07/autorun-an-executable-from-a-usb-key-in-windows-xp/
> ),
> launching an instance of Sugar in QEMU. Running Sugar in emulation
> requires a reasonably fast machine in order to give an acceptable
> experience. We need to do more testing in this arena, as it is a path
> of least resistance for teachers and parents who are interested in
> trying Sugar.

Here are some more details on the Boston project Walter mentions.  I am
working on a project called "School Key" (schoolkey.org) as part of my
graduate work at Harvard Graduate School for Education.  As Walter mentioned
we met at the Open Minds conference and talked about doing a pilot of giving
younger students Sugar on a USB Key.

We have quite a bit of work to do but this seems like a great community so I
thought I'd share my thinking on the vision.

The goal is to increase access for students, both inside and outside of
school.  Creating requires time; just having a computer for a few hours a
week at school will not give children the access they need to explore and
create.  However, if a child has access to their Sugar at school, at home,
and at after-school, then they have that much more potential exploration
time. I think one crucial point is it has to be their system, with their
data and setup.  So we are actually not aiming at having people "try Sugar"
but thinking about how we can create a quality computer learning environment
in places like Boston without necessarily buying every student a laptop.

So the question is can Sugar be made to work well booting from a USB on
computers that are in the places students are.  K-3 students tend to spend
their time in a limited number of locations. We don't need to get this to
work on *every* computer, just the ones they will be using.

We know not all computers can be set up to boot directly from USB.  However,
its not hard to set up a "helper" CD. We did it for SLAX (details here:

When schools, children's libraries, and after-school programs have computers
and they can be changed to boot from the USB it's likely that the tech
people will be willing to do so.  Especially in the K-3 age range they are
probably using computers that are dedicated to younger children and the
adults who maintain them will want to make them useful for them.

When changing the boot order is not possible for technical or other reasons
then a few CDs can be kept near the computers for the students to use.  This
is not that different from the user experience of putting a CD in to run a
game.  We can also send home CDs for home computers.

The next challenge is getting computers into the schools, after-schools and
homes that don't have them yet.  For the pilot at least we will solicit
donated computers; many computers are thrown out each year and we can remove
the disk drives from them before we put them in the field, which should ease
privacy concerns by those donating as well as improving the computers'
lifetimes in the field.

This is definitely a community computing model.  But perhaps one well suited
for places like Boston.  Boston Schools are already doing a "Technology Goes
Home Program" helping parents buy recycled computers.  Meanwhile, Boston's
one-to-one pilot school, a middle school also in Dorchester, is not letting
the students take home the Apple laptops they use in school due to safety
concerns.  USB Keys are easy to transport and to replace.  I think this
approach has promise in terms of incrementally providing greater access in a
way that will empower students as creators.

Thanks in advance to Walter and John for offering to help us!  I will post
updates on this list and on the schoolkey.org blog.

Friday we will be at the school seeing if the lab computers will run Sugar
stable and with decent speed.


Caroline Meeks
Solution Grove
Caroline at SolutionGrove.com

617-500-3488 - Office
505-213-3268 - Fax
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