[IAEP] GPA Notes from visit on Wed July 8
gregsmithpm at gmail.com
Wed Jul 8 15:40:43 EDT 2009
Thanks to Caroline for inviting me to sit in on a class using Sugar
for the first time at Gardner Public School.
Here are my notes and observations. At the risk of wordiness, I'm
writing this stream of conscious straight from the school.
I got to the GPA school at 10AM, chatted with Walter, Anurag and
Caroline and set up the computers. We talked about options for school
server and observed some computers connecting via jabber server and
others not and that state changing from time to time.
The computer lab has about 20 Compaq EVO D500 SFF 845 BVA11:
They had 19 - 20" monitors. I'll remember to get the RAM and CPU
details next time.
Sugar was much faster than XO. Quick to open activities, fast task
switching, no noticable churn when frame popped up, it was sweet. The
only exception was using Paint as noted below. I don't know if it was
the HW or improvements were made in latest Sugar but I can say that
its a much more fluid experience than I remember on XO 1 w/8.2
Sugar was completely stable. No crashes and even with kids clicking
away, it only slowed occasionally and briefly. Nice job!
There was a 100Mb Cat5 lan. We had no access to any HW outside the
room so not sure what the network uses.
* Is there any useful diagnostic we could run on the clients to
discover the relevant network issues, especially with respect to
accessing the public Jabber server? I think we could arrange a trace
route, some arp commands and possibly even a wireshark type capture if
that would help.
A sign on the wall said that a primary goal of the school is for kids
to learn literacy.
We set up 14 machines (12 for kids and 2 for teachers) by doing the following:
- Attached USB extender and USB with Sugar (assume its Strawberry but
don't have exact version)
- turn on and open CD
- insert sugar helper CD
- cold boot while its starting Windows
The computer then comes back with Sugar and the Enter a name screen.
Very clean and nice install. Only issue was that cold booting during
windows start seemed a little harsh.
12 x 3rd graders came in (~8-9 years old) and they sat on the floor.
The teacher told me that they have used the computer lab before. They
usually use Windows XP and go to http://www.studyisland.com/ to play
games that prepare them for the MCAS (MCAS = high stakes, intellectual
conformity tests required for all kids in Mass.).
The teacher and a kid told me they like the studyisland games (btw
George Lucas advertising edutopia.org on public radio in Boston
lately). At the end I saw a kid playing studyisland. The color and
sound was more vibrant than XO. A little jarring to me (may be due to
my conditioning for cubicle life) but I can see where the kids would
find it exciting.
No kids seemed to notice or care that the Sugar UI was different than
Windows. It was all just stuff you click on. And they clicked on lots
of things, fast and often.
Walter introduced himself and asked who they are. They responded "room
33". Walter explained that he will be back once a week to work on
games and they said they like to play games. He also said we would be
creating games and sharing them with the world. One kid commented that
he would "make his own web site".
Walter talked about Sugar on a Stick and showed the USB stick. Kids
commented that they know what that is and its for: "get to save stuff
inside". Walter mentioned you can save not just stuff but programs
too. They asked if they could take it home. One kid asked if they
would learn "how to fix computers and stuff like that". Walter said
you can use the computer to solve any problem.
Walter asked if they was anyone who had the same first name and the
kids knew immediately that all first names were unique. Walter then
invited them to sit at the computers and enter their names and pick a
color. Some kids did it quickly and started to click on the available
programs. One kid was clicking repeatedly on the XO icon and changing
the colors. They saw one they liked but had already clicked to the
next and they asked if they could go back. Reply was that you its not
easy to do that.
Walter invited kids back to the carpet and said we would be playing
the memory game. He mentioned that there is also a paint, turtle,
writing, and other programs. The kids saw the Speak icon and several
said they want to make the "computer talk". I'm not sure how they knew
just from the icon that was possible.
Walter invited the kids to gather around while he walked through
playing the memory game. He showed how to play and how to create a new
game. Then the kids sat at the computers and tried the default
available games. They liked it and had a tendency to click very fast
on lots of things. Most selected one item from the top and then
clicked repeatedly on the bottom until they found the match. On
subsequent passes I saw one kid get alomst every one correct on first
try as he had seen them all once. Nice algorithm! I wonder what the
optimal algorithm would be if you always remember what you have seen?
what if you remember n% of the time?
Then the kids started creating their own. They had brought pairs of
things from their class study of geography. e.g. ocean:atlantic ocean,
city : boston, sphere : 3d circle. I know from my kids experience that
knowing what is a state and what is a city or country is very hard for
youngs kids. These kids had some good examples, but I'm not sure they
understood the generic rules. I'm not sure I understand all the
relevant generic rules myself? (what is the City-State of Venice, when
is a municipality a town or a city). I told one kid to use USA for
State until I realized my mistake...
The kids almost all had to be shown how to save the created game. In
Memorize you save from with the activity, Create tab. Not sure how
that's different than Keep on the Activity tab. After saving you can
click the "play" tab but it shows you the last default installed game
you played. Then you have to pick Load Game and choose the one you
saved from the Journal view. That worked OK for the kids after they
were shown the Load Game button and the journal popped up and was
immediately intelligible, especially since they were choosing the
first item on the list. There was a delay in the Journal opening and I
saw one kid click the Load button several times while he waited, where
upon he got several Journals to open on top of each other. He picked
his saved Memorize game from the first then I showed him how to close
the extra ones.
The Load buttton is right next to the Save button and a few times kids
almost got the wrong one but I didn't see anyone lose their work. The
Frame often opened when t he kids try to hit the menu options as they
are all near the top right. Didn't seem to bother them too much.
Walter invited the kids back to the carpet and asked if the would like
to create memorize with pictures instead of just words.
He showed them how to "go to the corner" and open the frame while
leaving Memorize open. Then select the Single dot to go back to the
main ("home?") screen and open Paint.
The kids returned to the computers and opened Paint and Memorize. They
started painting. It was very hard to control the cursor! There was
latency between moving the mouse and the cursor changing. It was
especially bad with the shape and fill tools. Worse, the latency was
different for different tools and maybe even different as you used the
tool over time. I would have pulled out my hair but they seemed to
flow with it well. Almost everyone had trouble getting the eraser to
clean things off so we showed them how to start over with the "delete
all" X button on the Edit tab.
They moved ahead and created some great pictures! Many had trouble
with finding the "shapes" menu and using the fill and eraser. The
color wheel was alos interesting but hard to use. I'm still not sure
of its paradigm but it has something to do with finding the little
circle and moving that to change the color. Fortunately once you do it
right you can see the color swatch change right away so you know you
got it. Several kids tried to change the color then paint before they
closed the color wheel which didn't work. I can see where they would
make that mistake in UI designed not to use popups.
They all created something and a few kids created 6 pictures quickly.
Most needed some help to get the work flow down on how to create a
picture then use it in a tile in Memorize. Here's what you have to do:
- Open Memorize
- Switch to Sugar Home and open paint
- Paint a picture
- Save the picture (had to show most kids where the "keep" button was
and remind them to change the name).
- Switch to Memorize and click Create tab
- Click import image icon (almost all kids needed to be shown that as
they didn't get the Eye with arrow icon as meaning import image. Same
with mouth with arrow for import sound although we didn't import any
- Find image on journal and double click it (often there were two
activities with the same name there, both saying created "seconds
- Add matching pair
- Click Save icon n Memorize
- Switch to play tab (now comes up with old game not one you just created)
- Click load game
- Find Memorize game and open it.
Seemed like a lot to me but most kids did it with a little help at
some steps. The other hard work flow was creating two images, one
right after the other. Here are the steps for that:
- Open paint
- Create painting
- Change name
- Click keep button (there's no feedback that it was saved, definitely
need something there)
- Change the name again
- Click Edit tab and erase the whole picture
- Paint new picture
- Save new picture
I was surprised that no one made a mistake and lost their work but
almost every kid needed help on the renaming and finding the save
One kid created six or seven great pictures with text added on top of
them in Memorize. All the kids created really neat stuff! The power of
kids imagination is awesome! If creating UIs was as easy as painting,
god only knows what incredible UIs they could come up with....
Some kids appeared tired at the end and didn't want to create more
than one picture. They enjoyed it but after an hour it was time for
lunch and they were ready to take a break.
Walter brought them back to the carpet and said that next week we
would use the web browser to take pictures from Wikipedia and
Internet. Several kids called out that they want to make the computer
talk. He showed everyone how to choose shut down from the XO menu. One
kids unplugged his USB while it was shutting down and the screen
showed some text like: "error writing to EXT3". We'll see if he lost
anything next week.
Walter, Anurag, Neil and Caroline and I sat for 10 minutes to review +
and -s. Approximation of the comments here:
+ The kids learned words, memorize was effective at drilling,
Impressed with what they produced in Paint. Kids wanted to create
- Paint was very hard to use.Changing colors, naming, saving, and
retrieving were especially hard. Need a quick way to save your
painting and open a new blank one (a "new" button?). Also paint seemed
to create two saved versions with the same name and time (seconds
Memorize not showing what you just created when switching to Play tab
should be filed as a bug.
Kids had a hard time finding the frame but they will probably get it over time.
Discussed how to filer bugs and find people to work on these activities...
+ enthusiastic about creating ganmes. Worked together to help each other out.
- Text in Memorize is always white and usually picture have a white
background. Suggested that a drop shadow would help. Same comment as
Caroline re: showing right game when switching from Create to Play.
+ Kids having fund and engaged. Nice that they discussed the concept
of the memorize game (meta thinking) in addition to playing it. There
was a variety of experiences amongst the kids. Some were faster and
It will be good to come back regularly and track progress over time.
- Paint and Memorize need some work. A picture created in Paint
appears small in Memorize.
other Walter observations:
As opposed to yesterday, everyone seemed to understand the tabs and
got the naming concept. They also found things easily in the Journal.
Maybe it would be useful to have a configuration of Sugar which hides
Neighborhood and Friends until needed. Nonetheless they seemed to find
things quickly when they needed them.
Kids "grokked" (Alan, does Heinlein count as a hard and therefore
useful Sci-fi writer like Asimov? :-) the home view and wanted to
change the colors from there.
+ making a game was good.
+ sugar worked well.
- Eye icon in Memorize was not clear.Could use some text next to it
explaining what it does (possibly ala mouse over text).
- Pulling out USB before shut down could be a problem
+ Great production by the kids. Smart, fun, funny, creative. Kids are great!
- Paint could be so much better. A different paint program or
improvements in this one should be a top priority.
Caroline will be a school every day Mon - Thursday all summer. I will
try to visit as many as possible too.
Send me your questions. What do you want to know about the SW and how
its used by kids?
This is our chance to test assumptions and get direct feedback with
minimal cultural dissonance. I'll make observations and/or ask
questions of the kids, if you can identify a UI element or task that
you want input on.
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