User:Vtaylor/Introduction to Sugar

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project notes - suggestions, demo prep

Education should teach one how to learn whatever is necessary, how to determine what is necessary, and how to solve problems of kinds one has not previously encountered. ,,, Specialization is for insects. [1]

The original vision for OLPC was for child ownership and saturation in a situation where the education system was broken. The laptop was seen as a constructionist tool where unguided exploration would lead to experimentation and creativity.

Quick start

teacher training - what Sugar is and how it can be used in an educational setting without a lot of technical details - basic concepts, sample kids projects, teaching and learning - curriculum, learning outcomes and assessment

Sugar for big people

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) is an "education project" and has some great ideas but most people get stuck with the hardware and software. OLPC "activities" are very cool - technically interesting and very open-ended for discovery / design learning. I'm looking to understand what is possible when rethinking education with technology supported learning.

Small people (kids) get this stuff, big people (adults) need help. By tracking interesting posts, then following through the technology and background references, it all starts to make sense... so that's what all the fuss is about.

What can it do?

  • OLPC News - celebrate what is going right, question what is going wrong, and suggest what could be done better. Cute pictures of children with shiny new laptops don't keep us from asking tough questions.

How does it work?

  • [up-to-date XO-1, or any XO-1.5 (even HS)]
  • [mesh networks]
  • [school server]
  • [OfflineMap]
  • [teacher training and technical support]

some assumptions, real life considerations

  • individual student-directed work
  • teachers on-board - even if there is an XO for every child, the teacher usually decides and directs where and when it may be used.
  • always on - students can use their XOs for anything anytime. Very different from 1-2 hours per week in the computer lab in most schools.
  • collaboration is always available anytime there are two or more XOs withing "talking" distance
  • internet access isn't good enough for every XO to expect to use internet access for most activities. The school server provides a valuable service. With its large capacity, the school server serves as a repository of information that can be accessed without an internet connection, and shared by all the XOs in the school. The server usually includes an open encyclopedia.

Since grown-ups don't get it, what can be done to "fill in the chasm" so they can get with the program?

Lots of well-meaning adults love the "idea" of OLPC and helping educate children everywhere. But it doesn't take much before they are confused - too many unknowns, too much information,... Then off they go, wishing OLPC and Sugar Labs well on their Don-Quixote-esque mission.

It's different

  • Sugar is not like any other operating systems - And for a good reason. We have learned a lot about user interface design, especially as it applied to teaching and learning, and computer capabilities have improved and expanded 100-fold in the last 40 years [Moore's Law]. Sugar takes advantage of these improvements in ways that not possible for those who are limited by operating systems first developed by programs for programmers and scientists.
  • rethinking the man-machine relationship


  • using a computer is school is a 1-to-1 program at a middle school in Dorchester, MA. The kids spend five minutes writing at the end of *every* class, including gym. Even if they never use "that metadata", the act of reflecting is important. We do have some tools/supportive mechanisms for using that metadata, including the Portfolio activity.

Teaching and learning


7 principles

  • 1. encourage student-faculty contact
  • 2. encourage cooperation among students
  • 3. encourage active/engaged learning
  • 4. give prompt feedback
  • 5. emphasize time on task
  • 6. communicate high expectations
  • 7. respect diverse talents and ways of learning

activities / curriculum

  • EToys
  • Turtle Art
  • [Sugar Labs Activities]

guides - outcomes - objectives, projects, jobs, tasks, activities, challenges, goals

  • explore - look
  • apply - make, understand, advance
  • share - explain, evaluate, reflect

-- in no particular order

learning - discovery - design, problem-based, scenario-based, learner-directed, personal

  • [LUMA] - looking, understanding, making, advancing - [MAYA]

Country projects

  • Lesson Plans/Notes and ideas for teacher training - [2], [3] - training outlines, ideas based on actual training sessions

Curriculum, learning outcomes and assessment

  • Replacing textbooks project - turns out educators need help - willing but too difficult to find / develop whole curriculum

  • core curriculum
  • little kids learning to program
  • college prep

  • computer-supported / assisted collaboration - most adults have little, if any, positive experience with group projects in formal education
  • discovery learning - most adults have little or no experience with discovery learning in formal education
  • hard play - most adults didn't like school much, toughed it out because they had to, to get a good job. Neither school nor a good job are expected to be any fun. In fact, if it was fun, it was usually in direct violation of some school rules.
  • we live in an information society. Information is an important resource in all our lives, just like water, electricity, and telephones. Too many young people are opting-out of education and will not have the basic knowledge and skills to be productive contributing members of an information society.


The XO laptop does not come with a ready-made curriculum. At OLPC, we are not defining what children should learn with the XO because we believe that those decisions need to be made at the local level. We offer support by providing tools (in the form of activities) as well as concrete ideas of how to become familiar with those tools and how to use them to facilitate a meaningful learning experience.

The tools can be single purpose activities such as Record, Write, Chat, Calculate, Paint, etc.; games such as Maze, Memorize and Implode; content specific activities such as Moon and TamTam; or more sophisticated and open ended activities such as TurtleArt, Etoys, Scratch, and Pippy (full activity resource list) that allows users to design and create projects about a variety of topics.

We also make it easy to package digital libraries of reading materials or books in the form of “content collections.” The best way to engage in these activities and content is through project-based learning.

Project Ideas

Through project-based learning, the student becomes more than just the student learning math or science, but the mathematician or scientist conducting research. It is difficult for most to imagine computers offering more than browsing capacity, but the XO’s activities were developed to lend themselves to project-based work.

A project, in the OLPC context, is a research topic, theme, question, or challenge that allows children to think critically, collaborate with their peers, teachers and community to express themselves and form opinions. A simple general topic such as “trees” can easily develop into months of advanced environmental research and a simple rearrangement of class furniture can lead to complex geometry concepts.

Here are some tips when developing your own project ideas:

  • Allow peer collaboration - give children the opportunity to both teach and learn from their peers.
  • Involve local community - engage those students who did not receive an XO. Think about ways they can become directly involved in projects - mentoring, collecting data, helping fix technical problems.
    Projects are also a great way for children to get more involved and learn more about their own communities - interview community or family members, research their family and community history. Learning can flourish far beyond the classroom’s walls.
  • Reach out to local experts - local university can help you conduct a project, share knowledge and materials? Children can even assess the business plan, for example, of the local village fruit stand, and propose their own business models.
  • Depth - does the project idea lends itself to deep critical thinking? Does it make use of the laptop activities? Is the project something with the potential to grow into more long-term research? [4]

Measures of success

Standardized testing is not the only dimension to measure the impact that 1 to 1 computing has on children and the communities where they live. Other factors such as the ability to problem solve, think critically, use multiple sources of information, be reflective, and communicate with multiple media, work individually and in a team, be a self learner and bring significant changes to their communities are new dimensions to measure impact. [5]

  • defining new framework of dimensions and indicators to be able to measure their success. [6]
  • measurable objectives [7] - evaluating project rather than individual kids

Replacing textbooks

Replacing Textbooks project is not that the XO replaces textbooks, but that we create the free digital replacements for expensive printed textbooks. Not just PDFs of existing textbooks, but interactive materials that integrate Sugar activities with subject matter, as Alan Kay has explained for teaching gravity - extended version of his lessons, using Turtle Art, Record, and Scratch.

We have to cover every school subject and more for students, with a full course of teacher training and materials to explain what we are doing to parents, administrators, politicians...

Current deployments, technical questions

Green machine

XO up close and personal - most adults have only ever seen pictures and have no clue about the functionality

  • kids toy - yes and no - kid-proof by design but very robust and elegant
  • weird user interface - absolutely! That's the whole point. If you can't read (which is one of the objectives for deploying XOs), there has to be communication on a nonverbal / cross-language level - pictures work. "a word is 10-3 pictures"
  • what is this? - lots of features that do things that adults have never tried to do, or if they did think computers could/should this, the "tech guys" told them that that was stupid and no, computers couldn't do that. Well, computers can...
  • software upgrades - Yes, there will always need to be upgrades to software, but this is the scariest part of XO ownership - been there and done that. Even keeping my iPhone current with my favorite apps and podcasts is about the limit of my willingness to trade technology tasks (downloading updates, setting up syncing, ...) for utility (getting email, reading books, taking "snaps" and listening to Naked Scientists podcasts).
  • test drive - still too hard. Options available - Windows bootable CD with Sugar; Linux-enable computer with Sugar; or install VirtualBox and boot Sugar. Needs to be an easy way for folks to step and take a test drive. Something web-based to do show-and-tell even though it won't be able to replicate the full functionality of collaboration and journalling.


How do you get started using Sugar once the software is installed?

One Laptop per Child creates student-centric learning experiences. Our current software stack, however, is somewhat "shallow". When you turn on the XO, all the content is immediately available but there is no path or guidance provided. Nothing suggests what you should try first, or indicates an order to progress through the activities provided. Everything is available, but there's no built-in journey. No plot. How can we improve this?

What are the educational roots informing the Sugar design

The Sugar design was informed by educational theory and lots of experience on the ground in numerous pilot programs conducted in places as far ranging as an inner-city school in the US to a one-room school in the hill-country of Thailand. That said, the reality of Sugar deployments is that they are largely determined by the local teams, which vary from top-down ministry-of-education initiatives to bottom-up grass-roots efforts by an NGO to the initiative of an individual classroom teacher. So there is not one voice or message.

What we try to do with Sugar is to skew the odds that certain (good) things would happen, regardless of the details of the deployment. (In a similar vain, the 5 principles of OLPC are meant to skew the odds that a 1-to-1 deployment will have maximum impact.) But we cannot and don't want to force these ideas on deployments; rather we want them to be appropriated and transformed locally as fit the needs -- a tough balance to achieve. More and better documentation is certainly in order. Even better would be real examples of best practice from the deployments themselves.

What are some examples of how Sugar activities support best practices?

One of main ideas behind the Journal is to give the learner a place to reflect on their work -- providing a consistent forum for that reflection. We also envision that the Journal will be used as part of the assessment process as entries can be incorporated into a collection of artifacts that the learner can periodically amass and present. (There is some good literature on portfolio assessment, including Stefanakis Evangeline's book -- -- which I find a nice balance between theory and practice.)

Not every deployment has leveraged this aspect of Sugar yet, but as we continue to improve the underlying tools, I think we'll see more use. (By chance, when I was visiting the Caacup? deployment last year, I happened upon a meeting at one of the schools where the parents were being taught how to use the Journal so that they could talk with their children about their work, so I know that at least in some places, the Journal is being used in ways that we envisioned.) It was in response to feedback I got at the OLPC-sponsered assessment summit a few months back that I wrote the Portfolio activity -- -- which I am hoping will lower the barrier to using portfolios as a routine part of the Sugar experience.

Why is it so difficult to learn Sugar?

Apple ipod - single function, elegant design, everyone knows what it is supposed to do even though the user interface is completely different than any other before it, but it makes sense once you figure it out or someone explains it to you as they show you how it works. That's a lot of teaching and learning for something so simple to perform a well understood function.

Sugar is orders of magnitude more sophisticated and complex and does many functions that most people have never even thought about. It is a lot to expect these people to figure everything out on their own. Too many missing steps, too much information on the technical side, too little information on the education and a application side. This can be fixed but it is a huge job. Where to start? Which audiences need to help helped first? What is the best use of the people and resources available? We need to work on this.

When will Sugar run applications that Windows does?

Never - Whenever someone says "I want the OLPC to run the same software as a mainstream computer", the response has always been "so get a small mainstream computer, and don't bother the OLPC". Especially since netbook prices have come down, when someone wants to use an OLPC for mainstream applications - netbooks already run mainstream software, have more processing capability than the OLPC, and are (or will be) cheaper than the OLPC.

The two areas where the OLPC is still competitive are "survivability" and "miserliness". OLPCs continue to function in a dusty near-desert environment, where competing systems clogged up and died. OLPCs are usable in locations 40 kilometers from a power line, where the competing systems used up in minutes all the (solar) electricity that had been generated.

What makes the OLPC an unsuitable platform for mainstream applications is that it has VERY limited processing power, and not much storage, either. That does not mean the OLPC cannot run such applications -- but a non-enthusiast would not be happy with what the off-the-shelf OLPC can deliver. It is possible use a "permanent" SD card in XOs. As well as data, that card can store Activities (some 250 on-line), Linux multimedia applications, additional software (Java, Adobe, many Browsers, a whole Geographic Information System, etc.) -- plus a swap partition (meaning programs in the XO rarely run out of memory).

To show that it can be done, distributed-processing crunchers have been run on XOs (some 38 times slower on the XO-1 than on big Linux workstation). The criterion for "how good is the video" is YouTube, and always has been. On the XO-1 YouTube is watchable, but it is a "slideshow" (with pauses between each image). On the XO-1.5, some YouTube clips have smooth motion (at the lowest resolution), others are "jerky". With movies on a storage device accessible by the XO, using MPlayer, there is "good" video and audio reproduction.

"How many years to wait until something gets accomplished?" -- if you learn to do it yourself, as many years as it takes you to learn. If you are waiting for Sugar/OLPC to change, possibly years without end.
--Mikus Grinbergs 2011.6.16

More questions

  • mobile phones are ubiquitous in much of the world where XOs are. Why isn't there a mobile connection?
  • most of the pictures look like they are in urban settings. Is that representative of the deployments?
  • in the OLPC information online there seems to be a lot of dependence on the server. This sounds like it makes that environment more complex and more dependent on having access to technical support.
  • teacher training and support

OLPC and Sugar Labs in the media

  • is OLPC still alive? Wasn't there a big dust-up recently?
  • why are XOs only available to kids everywhere but in the US. We have poor, illiterate kids here too.
  • why can't I buy an XO for my kids if they are so wonderful?

What is Constructivist educational theory and how does it apply to Sugar?

Learn by doing, discovery, problem-based, scenario-based, student-centric



What are the 5 principles of OLPC?

What does this have to do with Sugar?

Other commentary

  • Downes quoting Rushkoff - "I've been stumping for 'programming' as a basic literacy." No so much to teach people how to be great programmers, but to teach them that it exists, that things are programmed, how (and why) they are designed, so they can at least understand the biases of digital technology.
    [This is a problem for educators who are used to being proficient at what they are teaching.]

Learn more...

learn more...

teacher training

  • intro for adults ? wayback - need original URL
  • XO-1.5

investigate - are these good examples of XO / Sugar for grown-ups to understand

  • mesh/Jabber network.

Getting started, installation, hardware, software

  • Sugar on a Stick

-- 21 July 2011 - 575