Monday, November 22, 2010

Netbook Handover

Tuesday November 16th came and the first two classes of Netbook students in our Manaiakalani Cluster received their Netbooks. What an awesome occasion to be part of. One of the many spin-offs is that by giving the students connectivity on a 1:1 basis they have blogged about how they felt.
So here come some links if you want to read it through the kids' eyes....

Helen T and Sam and Tuipulotu and Ocean and Shaniah and Tia
One quote from Year 7 student:
I am really excited about the future and how this may change our school lives forever
These two classes, Room 19 with Ms Tito and Room 20 Mrs Nua have not only the pleasure of being first, but also the responsibility of piloting the project. This includes keeping smiling through all the teething issues, exploring the possibilities and recording their findings. They will also be required to mentor others when they get their turn next year. The two links in this paragraph will give you a perspective from the two teachers' point of view.

These students signed a useage agreement form before taking temporary possession of their Netbooks for four weeks. This batch of Netbooks are owned by the cluster (thanks to a philanthrophic donation) and will become our insurance pool of Netbooks for 2011. They will have to start leasing their own along with everyone else in 2011.

We have a three stage pilot for the 1:1 roll out across our seven schools.
Stage One: 2010 two classes in one school to work through the teething problems
Stage Two: 2011 13 classes across six schools (including two Year 10 classes)
Stage Three: 2012 All students from Year 5-13 in our seven schools

Student Netbook Agreement:
I agree that:
I will respect the equipment by always looking after it and keeping it safe
I will respect others by always using this netbook to interact with other people in a positive and caring way
I will make the most of this opportunity to learn lots of new things and to share them with others
I will always be in the right place, at the right time, when I am online. If I am in doubt I will ask my teacher.
I will protect my password and keep it completely secret.

Student Technicians

One of the design goals for this project is that student technicians will be the first port of call for school-based trouble shooting:
"The device should allow a technican to re-image it quickly using a USB stick only."

So when the first 100 Netbooks arrived, the moment came when all the adult professionals had to step back and hand over control to a bunch of eager 10-12 year olds - who had all applied in writing for this position. eg
"Dear Mrs Burt
I am writing this letter to apply for the job as a Netbook technician. I like to help both students and teachers and I have very good people skills. I can explain very well with detail so people can understand. I would love to know how to fix technical difficulties as well as getting people started. I know I will be a reliable and a great technician.
I would love to have this job and I thrive on responsibity. Thank you for your time. I look forward to your reply.
Yours sincerely etc"

This was a big ask on many levels; EdTech as the company who procured the Netbooks and are supporting us technically, the development team who has put endless sleepless nights into developing the operating system and hacking the BIOS, Russell who has advocated from the outset that students CAN do this, and me who had volunteered to 'train' them when all my expertise is in the Mac OS, not Ubuntu!
Fortunately Joel created a training video, and with Nevyn created a list of written instructions. What could be simpler? Take a look...
OK, so that was all we had to do. We watched the video over and over until we all felt confident and then I was chosen to demo the first one - lots of pressure!
Things didn't go quite to plan initially, and Nevyn has written that all up here and here.
But they ironed out the glitches and soon the techie team were on a roll, swapping BIOS sticks for OS sticks and discovered they could do the complete job from unpacking to repacking in 14 minutes if all went well - particularly if John was ontask to put the BIOS password in for them.

In one day 8 kids imaged 100 laptops with ease. No sweat. Roll on the next round of the pilot with the next 500.
We had lots of interested visitors during the day to lend moral support, and most of them were handed a Netbook and asked if they would like to help out with the process. Because so many have put so much into it we decided to UStream the day so anyone who wanted to could watch - from classrooms and offices. At one stage we had 40 viewers online! Not bad for a geek fest.

So when all was completed and the Netbooks were back in their boxes looking like new, all was ready for the BIG day - tomorrow we hand them out to their new owners!

Student technicians:
Joshua, Lepa, April, Sela, Helen, Nathaniel, Paulitia, Latham

Developing the Netbook image

It is one thing to cheerfully say we will save a lot of money by not having a proprietary image on our Netbooks. It is another to come up with a free solution - that is robust and has everything specific to the needs of the Manaiakalani project in it. We are all teachers in this project, not IT geeks!

So Russell sent out a call through the online open source community asking who would be interested in helping us out and people came, offering amazing skills to the project. Over several months on most Tuesday nights a bunch of people have turned up at Pt England School at 5.30pm - fresh from their day jobs and worked into the evening on creating an image for our Netbooks.

The design goals are fleshed out in detail here, but in short we were looking for something fool-proof, open source, that would meet all our classroom and pedagogy requirements and provide a safe environment for our students to learn in.

We also set as a goal that our students would be the technicians for these devices - meaning we would put most of the technical support money into the wireless solution and not the devices.
We wanted to develop a group of trusted students as technicians aged 10 years and older who would be able to handle most of the basic issues. Warantee issues of course would go back to the manufacturer and device repairs would go through EdTech.

Nevyn and Tom did a lot of the work on the Ubuntu based image and Joel worked on the Bios - something I never knew existed till this year :) In fact I learnt a whole heap of stuff that I never knew existed through sitting in the back row at these evening sessions.

As the 'Go Live' day drew nearer the pressure came on key people in the group to have the image ready to go for the first group of students on Monday November 15th. Obviously this meant some working through the night on the weekend before.

We have found it very interesting and entertaining to read about this from a non-educator perspective on Nevyn's blog.

Next post: Handing over to the student technicians

Choosing the Netbook

Choosing the Netbook for all our schools took some time.  We needed to find something suitable for students ranging from Years 5 - 13 that would meet our list of requirements.

We sent out a request to vendors asking for samples for us to trial and were surprised by the responses.  Three in particular realised quickly that this project was not a waste of time (some seem to think private schools and new state schools are the space to devote their sales efforts) and that if successful there will be thousands of students eventually requiring an affordable device.

We started with the XO - the One Laptop per Child device.  Partly because I saw Nicholas Negroponte demonstrate the prototype at NECC in San Diego in 2008, and partly because we like the open source philosophy behind it. So we bought one during the Christmas 2008 Give One, Get One campaign.

We tested half a dozen other netbooks supplied by vendors and had a team of Year 7 students who were the lab for this process.  They used each one over a period of time in class and kept a spreadsheet (in the best possible way- on a large sheet of paper) where they scored each device against a list of desirable attributes.  These ranged from speed of the internet chip to responsiveness of the keyboard to general appeal/desirability.

In the end there were always new products 'just around the corner' and we were told by our TTP partners that we had to make the decision.  The vendors presented their supply and support packages, along with the costings and this was taken into account along with the students' recommendations.

We went with the Asus EeePC as the best out of the devices and support packages we were able to afford.  The pricing key for us was that we did not want to buy an operating system - the Netbook was to come empty so we could put a linux based image on it.  More about that in the next post....

1:1 Vision Established - Why Netbooks?

It was during the NECC conference in San Antonio in 2008 that a way forward for our students to enjoy the same 1:1 opportunity as their more affluent peers took shape in our leader's mind. And since then he has been working tirelessly to bring this about - with a magnificent team of helpers. This was reinforced at ISTE in Denver this year.

The next series of posts are my attempt to document snippets of the process we have gone through.

Since the advent of Web 2 technologies around 2005 and the with the impetus of the Manaiakalani projects beginning mid 2007, we have been exploring ways in which our students can use these emerging technologies to improve their academic achievement outcomes as well as increase their motivation and engagement. This has been well documented on this blog and through the research carried out.

As we suspected, this approach has been successful with our students and the only major drawback has been the lack of access to enabling technologies. This produces inequity with only some classes being able to work in this way and some students. In order for every student to have a 21st century learning environment every student needs to have access - to a device and to the internet. And in a community like ours, where the mean income is $17 K per annum, this is only going to happen through the schools for the majority of students.

In the same time period the government announced a focus on getting all households access to ultra fast broadband, beginning with the schools. And we were exploring the possibilities offered by cloud computing, particularly the free offering to schools through Google Apps for Education.

In the last major wave of technolgy - the pencil and paper revolution - our families (mostly Maori and Pasifika) were amongst the last off the starting block in adopting it. And their children have been playing catchup ever since. This time round - the computer technology revolution- we have the opportunity to be amongst the first, so why wouldn't we find a way to make it happen? Partlicularly because our students adapt to it so quickly and creatively.

Why Netbooks?

It all comes down to price really. As an ADE, of course I would love to see all our students with iPads or macBook Airs - but that is never going to happen is it!
So we needed a device which would enable cloud computing for our students. Robust, quick internet connection, large enough screen to be able to work on effectively, and all at a cost of $10-$15 / month for their parents to pay.

Netbooks seemed to fit the bill so that is what we explored.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Film Festival 2010

The Manaiakalani Film Festival was held for the third consecutive year on November 11th.  Students from our seven schools, ranging in age from 5 - 18 years, presented the movies they had been making at this festival event.  Some of the movies were made by small groups, some by students across year levels and some by entire classes.  We have elected to make this annual event a cluster celebration rather than a competition and we all share in the joy of seeing what each school has to present.

We present the films during the day to the 2000+ students from the schools, who bus in to the venue in shifts throughout the day.  Then at night we hold a parent and community showcase.  For the first two years we held it in the auditorium at Tamaki College, but this year we went huge and hired Hoyts Xtreme Screen at Sylvia Park Mall.  We were grateful to our friends at the Tamaki Transformation Programme giving us encouragement and support to take the event to the next step.  And we couldn't have done it at all without financial support from the TTP, Fusion Networks, Hapara, Rachel Hill and a local family.

There are so many 'gems' from the day that could be quoted here, but one thing that struck me was how many of our children as they entered the cinema made it clear it was the first time they had ever been to the movies here.  It was heart warming to see how much it meant to the kids (and their whanau at night) to see their masterpieces on a real cinema screen.

The evening showcase began with entertainment in the foyer by a band from Tamaki College, and was MCed by Anthony Samuels (who many remember from his "What Now" days) then 22 movies were rolled out - each presented briefly by the students who created them.

All the movies screened can be watched online now.  The link to them all is here.
I learnt a lot about creating movies for this screen during the event and have started writing notes for next time here.

This movie segement is part of the introduction (yes, it is meant to start from a black screen) and explains how this event fits into the Manaiakalani Project.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Young Mums engaging with School

One of the things I really enjoy about my job is meeting the parents at the different schools in the Home School Partnership meetings in the evenings. I am always impressed by the dedication of the teachers and principals who turn out in force - often not just as professionals, but as caterers for the evening too.

Glenbrae School recently held one of these events to give the parents a chance to learn more about the Manaiakalanai project and to learn how to access their own kids' blogs and leave feedback.

Another first for me was a group of young (FaceBook) Mums asking me if they could have access to the class blogs so THEY could post photos and stories from home about their kids. I had a quick think about that, and after a bit of a korero we all agreed that on a class blog it probably wasn't appropriate. BUT they were most welcome to email photos to the class teacher and type up stories their own child told them and the teacher would post them on the class blog.

I am looking forward to seeing where this goes, as it adds a whole new dimension to the idea of Home School partnership!