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3 November 12

Our Story So Far

What began, three and a half years ago, as a challenging experiment to bring laptops and wireless internet to a school with no power and no computer experience has now become a regional initiative. It is bolstering education, enhancing computer literacy, promoting conservation education, and providing training for local graduates throughout the a region of northern Kenya between Meru and Isiolo - centred around the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy.

In 2009, teacher Mark Battley and four high school students (Amal Chandaria, Connor Cimowsky, Derek Chan, and Adam Gordon) arrived from Toronto, Canada. With Lewa’s Education Programme as their Kenyan hosts and partners, they arrived on site with eight laptops in a suitcase. Their goal? To deploy the little green One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) XO’s at Ntugi Day Secondary School, charging them with solar panels, and using a single Safaricom 3G modem to create a wireless network.

Then-Principal Jacob Mbijiwe hoped that would allow his Ntugi students to connect to the Internet and become, as he put it, “part of the universe.” The experiment worked; the five-person Toronto team became the first on the planet to connect OLPC laptops to a portable, wireless network using solar power. More importantly, that 2009 visit was the start of the Toronto group’s continuing commitment to Ntugi School, to Lewa, and to Lewa’s Education Programme. Flash forward three years: The small Canadian group of five has grown as they’ve brought friends, brothers, fathers, mothers, and wives to Kenya - including four members of the Walker family - to be part of this remarkable program. 

Mark has now retired from teaching to pursue OLPC deployment full time and the boys have graduated to university. Determined to renew their continuing commitment to Lewa and the OLPC project, they formed their own small NGO, Ntugi Group. Its mandate is to provide resources and training to local teachers and students, building local capacity in ICT4E and digital literacy. Ntugi Secondary’s tiny laptop experiment, and it’s Toronto partnership, has also grown to include:

  • 40 XO laptops in a full solar-powered computer lab
  • A school website
  • An NBA-sized concrete basketball court
  • Music and Art programs
  • A Journalism Club that takes advantage of the school’s blog
  • A Computer Club that works on computer animation and programming.

This growth has been driven by Ntugi Group’s original ‘local hero’ and first Site Supervisor, Godfrey Mutwiri, a Geography and Math teacher at Ntugi Secondary. Godfrey has recently been joined in the project by the group’s two new interns, Simon Mwangangi and Judy Kinya, responsible for the duplication of Ntugi Secondary’s success at other schools throughout the Lewa area.

Simon and Judy were Head Boy and Head Girl of Ntugi Secondary when Ntugi Group first arrived in 2009. Now, as graduates of that school and of its OLPC laptop initiative, the two interns are driving expansion and innovation of the program, providing a scaleable model not only for local schools, but for other OLPC deployments worldwide as well. You can get a sense of their remarkable ability in these videos that document their teaching and repair skills, or read their regular reports here.

Ntugi Group’s scope has now expanded to seven sites within Lewa’s Education Program. As well as the 3-year-old program at Ntugi Secondary, Judy and Simon have also launched programs at Ntugi Primary, Leparua Primary, Ngare Ndare Secondary, Lewa Downs Primary, and Subuiga Primary - with an additional small pilot planned for Kariba Primary. By September there will be 120 laptops deployed at Lewa-supported schools.

The interns also teach and support a 12-laptop OLPC lab at Lewa’s Conservation Education Centre, giving visiting students a chance to use the XO’s to play conservation games after their game drives. Simon has used the OLPC laptops to teach himself the Python programming language, and is now designing custom-made interactive quizzes and activities for Ephantus Mugo’s conservation program. Soon, Simon’s students, like Ntugi Secondary’s Computer Club Prefect, Jackline Kathambi, will be able to do the same.

One of the highlights of the year was a BBC visit to Ntugi Secondary in March. Current Principal Phineas Ithinji was interviewed, as was Simon and Jackline. Jacki was filmed teaching the Computer Club at Ntugi, and then at her house, teaching her mom and little brother. She also helped the BBC presenter connect with her colleague in China via video Skype on the XO! These interviews were broadcast to 360,000,000 households in 122 countries worldwide on the first November weekend, as part of BBC’s popular new show about innovation, Horizons. You can see the video by going to the Horizons Episode 15’s web page, and scrolling down to the Part 3 link.

Additionally, in July, Godfrey, Simon and Judy traveled to Matapwili, a remote village in Tanzania, to represent Kenya, Lewa and Ntugi Group by launching a 30-laptop pilot project there. Hosted and supported by the Tuende Pamoja Charity , Kisampa Lodge, and the Barbour family, the Kenyan Ntugi team trained the local children, villagers and teachers, and worked with 30 visiting students and teachers from two high schools in Australia to get the Matapwili program up and running. 

It really has been an incredible three years - from a Canadian high-school initiative to a local Kenyan team of media stars and international ICT4E consultants!

30 October 12

Simon’s Report 35: Using a Projector with the XO 1.5’s

Monday: Ntugi Secondary

We were happy to find out that we could use an XO laptop with a projector. This will help us in handling the massive class of over 40 students that Judy handles with Ntugi Primary kids. It will be possible to move at a faster rate with this technology. 

Ntugi students are working on projects on Scratch that will soon qualify them to start Pippy - and Python programming - if they present well-designed, well-coded projects. The task is to identify a project, designing it and code it correctly as per the design. I am looking forward to receive these projects.

Tuesday: Ngarendare Secondary/Lewa Primary

Ngarendare students have adopted the idea of self-exploration and learning with a set objective. They are now in a position to ask pertinent questions that help them in their progress - unlike during the earlier lectures we used to give them. 

Much has been achieved during the last two weeks of this type of learning as the Networking group now sets the connections for the class and the researchers are piling up their findings and improving the whole school by sharing this knowledge!

At Lewa Primary, it was the turn for the Grade Seven class to use the collaboration method of learning in their Social Studies. They find it fun to learn this way and are able to remember much of the content taught during the lesson.

Wednesday: Subuiga Primary

Another group of students has formed - this time specializing in typing. They wanted to know how the text books that they read are typed. We used the Write activity, and they had fun helping each other find the keyboard letters and use them in typing. 

The group working with Scratch has started a project they have named Ken the Bee. It is an animation  in which a bee flies to a flower, gets nectar, and then flies away. 

The Painters have so far painted 4 photos to use in telling a story about a football game as a picture-illustrated story in Fototoon. They have two more to paint to have enough for the first scene of the story.

Thursday: Lewa Conservation Education Centre

Students from Ntumburi Secondary paid a visit to the CEC. After the heavy rain, we had to focus on the Education Center first, to at least have the roads dry before the game drive. The students had several environmental questions to research on the Internet, and that they could present later, after the game drive. The teachers were amazed to see their students on the laptops and the Internet so engaged, lively and cooperative compared to their usual ‘cold classes,’ as they called it. With the research done on the Internet, it was easier explaining concepts in then field during the game drive, as it was just an extension of the theory work. The day was very good!

 Friday: Leparua Primary

The Leparua kids were working on their projects. The group working on Scratch completed the first version of their code and presented it.  The Paint group has a few more photos to paint to complete a scene of a picture-illustrated story they are making. They very much enjoy doing it in group work. It’s nice progress that we have seen.

Post by Simon Mwangangi

22 October 12

Simon’s Report 34: Self-learning and Self-teaching

Monday: Ntugi Secondary

We witnessed students enjoying a new learning environment as English teacher Mrs Rosemary Mburugu held a class in the Computer Lab with Form Four students. We helped with the lesson preparation with the objective of enabling the students to understand how to write an email - or “electronic mail” - as per the syllabus. It helped the students by giving them hand-on skills on setting up and accessing an email account, and writing an email. 

Mrs Mburugu said, “it will not just help them to do well in their exams but will also help them in the rest of their lifetime’. 

The Computer Club members have adopted the self-driven philosophy we are trying to tech. They explored on Scratch by themselves, with little assistance from me, using the basics I had taught them earlier, and shared their work with the larger group at the end. 

Tuesday: Ngarendare Secondary/Lewa Primary

I was happy to see the ‘Departmental’ organization at Ngarendare where students are combining their efforts to perfect what they can do best. As facilitators, we simply went round the class helping out to those who were stuck on different issues - it was the best class I have ever held with the laptops! 

The Research department was investigating electrolysis and made new discoveries that they were willing to share to the rest of the school. They were given a set time to do a presentation of their findings to help the rest of the students know about this interesting topic. 

The Technical expert group were learning how to trouble-shoot a laptop losing Internet network access - the possibilities and their solutions in each case. 

The Networking department had some new recruits who have been away from school and had chosen to join in. For the first time, I witnessed the students from Ngarendare teach others about what they learned. I left them to teach their peers about what I had earlier helped them learn.

At Lewa Primary, the Class 6 kids had their chance to interact with the XO laptops. We showed them how to turn on the computer and start an Activity. We left them to explore the Maze game and try to learn how they could play it. I was amazed to find three students playing the game without being told what to do. I lastly taught them on how to shutdown and the day was successful.

Wednesday: Subuiga Primary

It’s fun to see kids enjoy what they are doing - especially when done in group work. The students at Subuiga are gradually grouping themselves according to their areas of interest. The method we are using at this school is to introduce an Activity - then pick the best of the students in it and group them to collaborate, challenging them to come up with something even better. 

I now have a Paint club and a club doing Scratch. I will next involve them in making Memorize games which they will be sharing with the rest of the students and will form a group of experts in this area. Once we get everybody settled we will be able to run different Activities at the same time, where we will just be facilitating learning.

Thursday: Lewa Conservation Education Centre

The Internet at the CEC has facilitated the learning of conservation education. It also links the kids visiting to the larger world and makes them understand the ability of the Internet to provide possible solutions to almost all problems. For many of the visiting students, it is their first time to use or interact with the computers, especially in browsing the Web.

 Friday: Leparua Primary

The Leparua kids have familiarized themselves with the Activities they had chosen to work with and by next Friday they will start to work on real projects. We find our teaching so much easier now that students work on Activities of their own interest.

Post by Simon Mwangangi

15 October 12

Simon’s Report 33: Using Projectors

Monday: Ntugi Secondary

A new method of teaching at Ntugi Secondary has helped us cover a wider area of study in a shorter time. The projector technology, by which I prepare presentations and present them to the class using a projector has made this possible.

I had been spending a lot of time explaining concepts orally, and many students couldn’t understand - so I had to go round showing each one individually. But by using projected presentations, I am now able to explain clearly to everyone at once. For example, when I was teaching an example code from Scratch, I was able to teach programming concepts like iteration and conditional execution, and also how to debug. These were my objectives, as per the programming curriculum am designing. After the presentation, the students were able to write related codes that applied each of these concepts.

Right now, I am taking screen shots on Sugar and then using a Windows laptop and Powerpoint to connect to the projector, but this coming week I am going to try connecting my XO to the projector using a USB/VGA adapter - and experimenting with the Portfolio activity to build slideshows.

Tuesday: Ngarendare Secondary/Lewa Primary

I was impressed to see how well the students had implemented and executed our ‘departmental” idea at Ngarendare Secondary. When I arrived, the students quickly settled into their respective groups, and I had tutorials that guided them about what to do.

The Technical experts learning hardware and software maintenance took apart a faulty 1.5 XO and named the parts. They’d been having theory lessons on the same - about the microprocessor, logic unit - and they were finally able to see them embedded in the motherboard. They named the type of the microprocessor.

The Research department learned how to connect to the Internet and browse things of their interests. Next time, they will have an topic or objective to research about they will present their findings to the rest of the school.

The Networking group also did their part. They learned how to connect and share an Activity with the mesh network and troubleshoot any related problems. Next, they will learn how to connect to a WAP device.

At Lewa Primary we held a Science class with new group of students using collaborated chat in Speak. Now, all the teachers want it done in their classes and with their subjects! They find it very useful.

Wednesday: Subuiga Primary

'Let kids be brought together by their interests' is my motto. As much as possible, I try to discover the interests and talents of the kids I am working with, and help them develop in the directions they want.

At Subuiga, for instance, I held a class using the Paint Activity with the aim of inspiring those students who are very good in painting. I got five kids who will now form a group of painters. I will go on introducing new Activities each week, picking the best kids in them to lead that group.

Thursday: Lewa Conservation Education Centre

Lewa’s CEC is now capable of offering a chance for visiting students to connect to the Internet and research on the challenging environmental questions of the day. They are exposed to ecosystems and wildlife during their game drives at Lewa and, with this experience and exploration, they end up with many questions that can only be partly answered during the drive itself.

So, afterwards, they are given a chance to browse those questions and others on the Internet. Although this exposure to online research is focused on environmental questions, it is a way to show them how the Internet can provide reliable answers to any questions of interest. They research a set of questions and then they discuss their findings with the group. Teachers accompanying them admire the method - but they also express their challenge as,unfortunately, they generally lack such resources back at their schools.

Friday: Leparua Primary

At Leparua, I pitched the idea, adopted at the other schools, of combining students according to similar interest after our visit on Friday. There are now a group of painters and programmers who are eager to learn the way in each of those directions. I had a meeting with the responsible teachers that have been assigned to help in the program and we laid of strategies about how to best offer guidance to the students as they explore their interests. 

My role will be just to collect the projects at the end of the week, helping them solve any difficulties they encountered and introducing new ideas. This is the time am yearning for: when the sites run themselves independently!

Post by Simon Mwangangi

9 October 12

Simon’s Report 32: Teacher’s Strike Is Over…Back to Work!

Monday: Ntugi Secondary 

I sighed with relief as the schools have finally settled their teachers strike. The strike has affected the operation of Ntugi Group’s OLPC laptop program since no students were in school. 

So, today was my belated first day of the term to visit Ntugi Secondary and I arrived armed with new strategies for improving the performance of the computer project in the school. I held a meeting with the Computer Club members and discussed the way forward this term. 

We discussed the best ways to develop the student’s skills in computing as well as their creativity and logical thinking in problem solving. We designed strategies on how to achieve this objective and we agreed that the best way is to have every student choose his/her area of interest and, as a facilitator, I would help them improve on them. I have noticed several students who are good at and interested in programming and I will bring them together to form  a group of programmers, while not neglecting the others’ interests (programming in Python is now my own personal area of interest). The recent problem was that not many students had enough experience to really know what they could do best.

Tuesday: Ngarendare Secondary/Lewa Primary 

A new term means an improvement from the past term. Following the logistical struggles that faced the Computer Program at Ngarendare, it became essential to revise my methods of operation. I’d had great hopes of getting a connection to the power grid (what we call mains power in Kenya) before the start of this term but it has taken longer than expected. 

My only left option is to find a way of engaging a maximum number of students in the most efficient way with the few computers we can carry into the site in our backpack - which is eight!. Having identified that students have diversified interests, we are going to experiment with dividing the course into different departments. These are included in our proposed curriculum for the pilot project. These are:

  • Networking
  • Programming
  • School Media 
  • Research
  • Hardware/Software Maintenance and Trouble-Shooting

They are explained more in the curriculum (which I have written with Judy and will post soon) and each has objectives to be achieved in both the short term and long term. This will equip the students with the required knowledge to fully ‘own’ their project and have the ability to maintain it. It also works to make them not just ‘end users’ but real ‘creators’ - the larger goal of OLPC and Sugar - and more so creates awareness to the available professional careers in these areas.

We explained each of these areas to the students and explained the activities that each would involve. They chose different areas and, to my surprise, very few chose programming; I guess they have been having a hard time since i had made it the main activity during the last term! Next is to give them tutorials on their areas of choice and facilitate their learning by helping them on the difficult bits.

At Lewa Primary, we used collaboration within the Speak Activity for a Social Studies class. Our objective was to experiment and find out how computers might improve studies in class. I was lucky to get supportive teachers who helped in formulating a question-based lesson where students discussed using collaborative charting. We had ten questions on a topic and at the end I had the student write down what they had learnt during the lessons. It is amazing that everybody remembered 80% of the information provided, and that the teachers found it a more effective method of teaching.

Wednesday: Subuiga Primary

The large number of students at Subuiga creates the need to use an Activity that would simultaneously engage as many students as possible. It also calls for an Activity that involves group work. I found holding revision lessons, where students discussed a selection of questions through a collaborated chat in Speak to be a good way of enganging them. 

This gives a chance to students who are too shy to face the class and support their argument as they can type and submit their reasoning easily during the chat. It also gives a teacher access to the honest reasoning of the student and a position to help understand things in a better way. It leaves the student with information that is easily remembered for long and would be suitable for mastering the difficult sections in learning where students struggle to understand.

Thursday: Lewa Conservation Education Centre

Student visiting the CEC will now be able to collaborate more efficiently on the the XO 1.5’s after we devised a better solution to networking. Human beings  are social and engaging a collaborative activity gives them a better environment that enables the students to learn from their peers.

Friday: Leparua Primary

Due to transport challenges, we were not able to access Leparua, but we are hoping to visit there next Friday.

Thanks to all that made all this successful.

Post by Simon Mwangangi

Themed by Hunson. Originally by Josh