[IAEP] Sugar Digest 2011-05-13
walter.bender at gmail.com
Fri May 13 11:22:11 EDT 2011
1. I am just back from two weeks on the road. My primary destination
was the EduJam event in Montevideo. As you have no doubt already
heard, the meeting was very productive: a great opportunity for
developers, teachers, and other community members from the region to
share ideas—what works and what challenges remain ahead of us. Many
thanks for Gabriel Eirea, Gonzalo Odiard, Pablo Flores, Andrés
Ambrois, Adam Holt, and everyone else who helped to organize the
event. Also, thanks to everyone who took the time to come from near
and far—we had participants who travelled from as far away as Siberia
in attendance. It really was a community effort.
What struck me above and beyond the passion that the Sugar community
has for providing great learning opportunities for children is that we
have reached a turning point in the project. While software is never
complete—see the discussion below—the bulk of the discussion was not
about Python, Forth, or Smalltalk. Rather, it was about how to better
utilize the tools we have in the classroom and how to provide support
to teachers as they make the transition from instructors to guides and
participants in a discovery process. Indeed, even my pre- and
post-EduJam meetings at Plan Ceibal were primarily focused on pedagogy
rather than technology.
We got some further insight into how Sugar is being used in the
classroom from a data-driven presentation given by Plan Ceibal (See
http://www.anep.edu.uy/anepweb/servlet/main004?403). While it was not
surprising to see that Browse, Write, and Record were among the most
used activities, and that the children enjoy Tuxpaint and games, it
was heartening to see that Etoys and Turtle Art are also popular.
There was a skew in the statistics between poor, rural schools and
more well-to-do urban schools. In the latter, the use of Etoys and
Turtle Art was much greater.
We had a discussion about how to best reach out to teachers—for
sharing best practice and so I asked if they had any data on where the
Uruguayan teachers hang out. (There is lots of material available in
our wiki, but apparently the teachers are not finding it. I think we
need to go to where the teachers are rather than expect them to come
to us.) Alas, there are no data yet that we can leverage.
The real take-away for me was the growing demand for better channels
of communication between teachers and the broader Sugar community.
I gave a talk at the end of the first day of the meeting
(http://www.slideshare.net/eduJam2011/edujam-walter) in which I tried
to remind everyone that we need to keep our eyes on where we want to
go as a community and not to be distracted by short-term quick fixes.
Quoting Skip Barber: "You go where you look, so you better look where
you want to go." Going to specifics, I made some observations about
the Sugar Journal. I reminded everyone that its primary purpose was to
be a place of reflection for the learner and that we should not dilute
that vision. To drive my point home, I made an analogy to the commit
message that is required whenever someone submits a patch to git. We
want our learners to compose a "commit message" every time they work
on something, thus providing a history of not just what they did, but
why they did it. (This "rant" was in response to a recent decision to
remove the naming alert from the activity close dialog, where we
presented an opportunity to write descriptive text in the Journal.)
Sugar is a learning platform and our design and engineering decisions
must consider the impact on learning in order that we remain relevant.
2. Speaking of the Journal, one tangible outcome of the evaluation
summit held in Cambridge last month was the call for a simple way to
make a presentation from Journal entries. While you can use Turtle
Blocks to make a "Power Point" presentation, it requires a fair degree
of experience. At the Sugar Camp following EduJam I wrote a new
[http://activities.sugarlabs.org/en-US/sugar/addon/4437], which lets
you make a slide show from Journal entries that have been "starred" as
favorites. It is easy to use: just star the entries you want included
in the presentation and then launch the activity. It presents a
sequence of slides that include the Journal entry's title, preview
image, and any description written by the learner. It also has an
export function to save the presentation as an HTML document that can
be shared. Another step towards making "studio thinking" and portfolio
assessment part of the Sugar learning experience.
3. I struck gold in a meeting at Plan Ceibal. Mónica Báez arranged for
me to meet with her team, which is driving the curriculum development
and teacher training for the project. Among them is a math teacher who
is responsible to the math teacher-training program and who was really
taken with some of Tony Forster's Turtle Block examples and another
teacher who is interested in a way to connect art and science; she is
specifically interested in having the students interpret data from
sensors graphically (along the lines of
http://www.visualcomplexity.com/vc/). At her urging, I fixed some bugs
in the SVG export function of Turtle Blocks (patches pushed to git and
part of the upcoming v108 release). We also discussed ways to broaden
outreach to the community as they see great value in what we are
4. I am going to be giving another talk in Uruguay at the end of the
month at Squeakfest. I plan to pick up on a theme I only scratched the
surface of at my EduJam talk: that learning software should not be
complete. I have discussed this theme in the past in the context of
breaking the mindset that learning is a service that can be
downloaded. And again within the context of the "There's an app for
I want to go even further: we should be engaging the learner to
5. I finally met Christofer, the 12-year-old hacker from Uruguay to
whom I sent an XO laptop last year. He attended Sugar Camp where
Martin Abente taught him how to use git and vi. He and I are going to
work on an SVG editor together. Meanwhile, Ignacio, another
12-year-old is helping me with some extensions to the Portfolio
6. The children in Uruguay buit their own work-around to the problems
with playing Youtube videos on the XO 1.0. The bajaryoutube activity
downloads videos to the local machine from which they can be played
without interrupts due to memory, processing, and bandwidth issues.
"They solve problems and learn that they can solve problems!!"
7. In case you haven't seen it, there is a very nice website for the
La Rioja project (See http://www.jvglarioja.com.ar/).
8. Meanwhile, good progress is also being made in Paraguay. The
Paraguay Educa efforts around Sugar and one-to-one computing have been
declared a topic of national interest by the federal government of
Paraguay. The recognition of these efforts is especially significant
to the Sugar community because of the numerous contributions of code
and pedagogy that have come from the Caacupé program.
9. Did you know that there is a Unicode character for the XO man? ⨰ is
the character for multiplication with a dot, but it is not a bad short
hand to use when typing in plain text.
10. One of the goals of Sugar is to engage young learners in the
criticism of ideas. And as I have argued in the past, a love of debate
is an aspect of Free Software culture that I hope is transferred to
our users. Two weeks ago there was heated debate about software
licenses. There are undoubtedly more opinions than licenses (and last
time I looked, there were hundreds of licenses to choose from). While
the discussion was passionate, for the most part, it as civil:
reference to facts, expression of opinion, clarification of terms. We
have not yet come to consensus on whether or not we should migrate
from GPLv2 to GPLv3, but we are much better informed about the
implications and consequences than we were when the discussion began.
At the most recent Sugar oversight-board meeting, we agreed to use a
referendum to take the pulse of the community (See
Details to follow.
Alas, there was a fork from the main thread where the discussion,
while equally passionate, was far from civil. Unsubstantiated
accusations of nefarious motivations were made that have no place in
our community. “We are not going to be able to do it [meet our
challenges] if we spend time vilifying each other. We are not going to
be able to do it if we just make stuff up and pretend that facts are
not facts.” —Barack Obama
Please continue to express your opinions (which obliges you to do your
homework), but we have to have a zero-tolerance policy towards
===In the community===
11. Also in Montevideo, at the end of May (26–28), is Squeakfest. The
theme for this year's conference is "How and why to use Etoys in
12. Notes from Sugar Camp can be found in the wiki:
Gary Martin has generated a SOM from the past few weeks of discussion
on the IAEP mailing list.
http://wiki/sugarlabs.org/go/File:2011-April-30-May-6-som.jpg 2011 (49 emails)
http://wiki/sugarlabs.org/go/File:2011-April-23-29-som.jpg 2011 (102 emails)
Visit our planet [http://planet.sugarlabs.org] for more updates about
Sugar and Sugar deployments.
More information about the IAEP