You might think this post is about old Coach Brennan dusting off the playbook and throwing his hat in the ring for Bobby Knight’s former job, but it’s actually about the One Laptop per Child Program (OLPC) or the “$100 laptop” as the press had labeled it. Local district tech director Chris Brown put out a call to his techie buddies to join his faculty on their institute day yesterday for a bit of conversation and play with these clever little laptops. Enough people had taken advantage of the buy one, give one program over the holidays that we had ten of the little green machines available for our local mesh. By putting the two rabbit ears up on either side of the screen, the laptops can find each other for chatting, collaborating and connecting to the Internet. Because of the security on our host school’s network, we couldn’t get on. But we got an idea how easy it would be for kids in a village to hop an Internet connection from the local school to/through laptop to laptop.
We thought we were doing pretty good until a 6 year old dropped in to show us how he does some basic programming using a version of the venerable Turtle language, plays matching and memory games, and creates his own music. He even had his own colorful mouse to plug into one of the 3 USB slots. I won’t go into the specs of the computer – you can read that for yourself. Suffice it to say I was very impressed with the design, the screen, the power and potential for the price. I know these are intended for 6 to 12 year olds in third world countries, but I’m sure they would be welcome in many homes and schools here.
Which brings me to my point. I got to see Nicholas Negroponte’s keynote a couple of NECC’s ago where he introduced and defended his OLPC program and then challenged American education to make the most of the tools that we have at our disposal. In answer to criticism that these computers would not be available to American students, he replied that our students could have access to as much technology as their community deems important and is willing to support. As he put it, “the American equivalent of our laptops (from major computer makers) just cost around $5-600. Which is still cheaper, relatively speaking, than what an OLPC laptop costs a Peruvian village in the Andes.”
So, no earth shaking answers here. Just some observations and food for thought as we prepare our students for their future. And I have to add that I am a big fan of Hall’s strategies for the iPod. For $249 you can get the whole Discovery Education streaming library on one ($149 for less capacity with a Nano). Add free lectures from Harvard or Stanford, etc. via iTunes. Create quizzes and study guides. Add your own students’ pod and screen casts. I guess you know what’s on the presents’ list for my young grandchildren in the upcoming years.
How do we help our students use the resources that those villages in Peru and Mongolia are struggling to get?