Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Macdonough School and NEAT start Pilot XO Program

A few weeks ago a bunch of new XO laptop computers were delivered to Middletown's Macdonough School. The laptops are spillproof, dustproof and drop-proof. They weigh just three pounds and have an incredible assortment of capabilities. And they were free.

These computers are provided by the North End Action Team (NEAT), giving Macdonough School's students access to one of the newest and coolest educational tools out there, the XO laptop computer. This project, he North End Children's Project is one of the first of its kind in the country.

These laptops were devleoped by the One Laptop Per Child organization at MIT to develop a low-cost, high-potential computer for educationally underserved children. These computers are mainly used in third-world countries, and are intended to provide access to technology to students who may not have it. While they are amazing in areas without power, or where children may not have had any exposure to computers, they can also be used as an innovative learning tool for students in the U.S. Birmingham, Alabama is purchasing these for every child in their district to enhance classroom and home use. While the North End does not yet have every child covered, this initial introduction has been a great success.

The laptops, donated to NEAT (a registered non-profit) go straight to use in the after-school program run collaboratively with Macdonough School. By providing kids in the program with a learning tool that is so flexible, students are able to expand the way that they think and learn. AND, because the computers are available for students to take home, students can share their learning with their families, increasing parental involvement in learning, one of the main goals of the school and NEAT. These laptops give students a way to interact with their parents in a learning environment that is disarming and approachable, and allows the children an opportunity to teach their parents, developing confidence and empowerment. Since these machines are in the home, it also allows access for the other members of the family, and provides the tools of connectivity and familiarity, enhancing the personal potential of each member of the family.

Access to technology is limited by income for many families, creating barriers to jobs, opportunities and education. The goals of the program are to create an educational tool for the children involved, but also to help the community become empowered.

For those who may be fooled by their appearance, be assured that these computers are not toys. They have a built in video camera, word processor, calculator, PDF textbook reader, a few games, music programs, a painting application, a chat program, and yes, they can access the internet too. There are also tons of programs that can be downloaded from the Laptop.org wiki site. What they are really good at, though, is teaching kids how to learn. They are meant for kids 2-11 (mostly) and even the youngest learners can explore the principals of basic programming. Instead of just practicing fraction facts, for instance, a student can create a program to teach fraction facts to their friends, changing the dynamic of learning entirely.

Two of Macdonough's teachers have taken on the challenge of introducing the XO laptops in an after school program for the school's third, four, and fifth grade students. Sarah Claffey and Teresa Morello have been providing an overview of the laptops to get children started. Once oriented, the students have the option of taking the computers home for a few days to share new learning with their families. The laptops are also making their way into classrooms to support a variety of learning activities.

About two dozen computers have been donated to NEAT to date, although Izzi Greenberg, NEAT’s Executive Director, is actively seeking donations through the One Laptop Per Child Foundation's Give One Get One Program. For more information, please contact NEAT at 346-4845 or neat@neatmiddletown.org. You can learn more at: http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Middletown_Childrens_Project


Anonymous said...

What a great effort by NEAT! And thanks for the link to the Macdonough School blog -- lots going on there!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on making a real difference!