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Gaining Momentum

by Timothy Falconer

The last four months have been a blur of activity here at Squeakland Foundation. Our three teams have accomplished quite a bit. To see the details yourself, have a look at our wiki and issue tracker, which are always in flux.

The business team has been busy organizing and promoting our two upcoming Squeakfest conferences ... one in Los Angeles and one in Brasil. We've extended our "call for papers" till June 15th, so if you'd like to present at either Squeakfest, click "submit" on the site. Many of the people behind Etoys will be attending both conferences. Registration will be opening in June.

The education team has been hard at work creating new Etoys courseware which will help elementary teachers "teach with Etoys" with lessons that explain concepts in language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, and more. We're hoping to finish the new textbook and DVD series by the end of the summer. If you'd like to help, or if you'd like to beta test the new courseware, please contact us. We love to hear from you.

The software team has been meeting weekly to discuss bugs and feature requests for the upcoming Etoys 4.1, which we also hope to release by the end of the summer. Special thanks to Scott Wallace for migrating all the issues from the OLPC tracker to the new Squeakland tracker, along with prioritizing them. If you'd like to help, simply add an account to our tracker and review the Getting Started page on our wiki.

With so many talented people working together, it's been an exciting time here at Squeakland. We're hoping to enlist even more people to our teams so that we can improve Etoys and make it even easier for teachers, parents, and students to explore with it.

Etoys in Education: NASA Connect

by Prof. Randy Caton

There are several ways to use Etoys for learning in the classroom and at home, which have been developed and tested by members of our worldwide Etoys community. Some of them may be widely known, others are yet to be discovered. In this newsletter we will start presenting these ideas to let you all know what already exists, discussing it on the mailing list and hopefully encourage you to let us know about your ideas and activities.


Etoys is a revolutionary approach to learning that works well with the Universal Design for Learning approach and can be used to support the three recommendations of the How People Learn study.

It is important to integrate mathematics into the development of science concepts to allow the levels of mathematical, conceptual, and science reasoning to rise together. This integration leads to a spiral process of understanding science through mathematics and building conceptual knowledge. The Etoys environment allows learners to use mathematics in simulations of science concepts and Etoys can act as a bridge from concrete to abstract learning. The ability of students to author their own projects or build on projects created by others supports an authentic approach to learning and extreme late binding provides near instantaneous feedback to students while they are authoring. These features open the door for students to learn like experts learn

NASA CONNECT was a research and standards-based, Emmy® award-winning series of mathematics-focused, instructional television and Internet programs for students 11 to 13 years old. Programs in the series established a connection between the mathematics, science, and technology concepts taught in the classroom to those used everyday by NASA researchers. Etoys is ideal for creating the interactive web-based science activities using mathematics that accompanied NASA CONNECT. Although the target audience was 11 to 13 years old, the Etoys projects created can be used by younger and older students by doing the less challenging parts with younger students and doing the more challenging parts with older students. In the classroom, teachers can use the projects as extensions of the science and mathematics content they are covering and can spend more or less time as their schedules allow. The projects could also be done after school, as homework or used by home schoolers. There is enough information on the web pages to provide teachers, parents and students with guidance in using the projects to learn.

The most popular Etoys project created for NASA CONNECT was the Rocket Launch Challenge where a NASA Rocket is waiting for students to launch at the Control and Data Center. There is an active book embedded in the project for students who need more direction and background. The active book reviews the concepts of position, velocity, acceleration and gravity and provides short interactive explorations to help students understand position and velocity. Students acquire, plot and analyze data to better visualize position, velocity and acceleration, just as scientists plot data to help them understand their observations. Students who pursue the explorations and challenges that appear near the end of the book can make their thinking visible in the Etoys environment. There are 16 other projects at the web pages referenced above.

Community Spotlight: Sikshana Foundation

by K.K. Subramaniam (Subbu)

Sikshana Foundation, an NGO working towards enhancement of learning in public schools, has conducted various experiments over the past four years in the use of computers in the classroom. Our grassroots involvement in the rural schools of Kanakapura leads us to believe that student learning is driven not so much by a "computer" as much as "experience of computing". What a student finds attractive about computing is the ability to control a computer to produce bright colorful drawings and compose large amounts of text without worrying about making mistakes and running short of supplies like paper or paints. The resulting artwork may not win a prize in an art competition, but its author would have learned many concepts through trial and error.

In our schools where many students share a computer, this growth in learning is hindered because a student does not get to 'carry' its work across computers and across sessions. When we record video on a tape, we can play it on any video player, stop at any time, put back on shelf and resume playing it from that point anytime later. If only a computer behaved like a video tape. Instead of running programs on a computer to edit documents, we wanted to run a program that will simulate a student's computer. We found such a program in Etoys. Etoys was born out of research into how students learn. Unlike most business software that hogs hundreds of megabytes on a hard disk on the physical computer, Etoys took up only a tiny portion of the memory chip leaving enough space for students to store thousands of projects. Being an open source program, Etoys can be adapted to our needs.

We launched a pilot program during December 2008 covering about 1000 children in 21 village public schools located around Kanakapura about 50 kms south of Bangalore, India. Each child was given a 2GB USB flash memory chip and each school was provisioned with one or two notebook computers depending on the student strength.
The pilot program could not be run successfully, if there was no buy-in from the teachers. They were the ones in daily contact with students and it was important that they understood the goals of this project. In many city schools with computers, computing was restricted to 'computer classes' taught by 'computer teacher' outside of school hours. We specifically requested the teachers to avoid the term 'computer teacher' and invited every one of them to be part of this pilot. Teachers are trained to teach students using a variety of media like chalk and blackboard, textbooks, notebooks, charts and in a variety of locations like classroom, garden, park or tourist spots. We took a tray of objects like strings, paper, pencils, scissors and showed them how the same things can be modeled in Etoys for craft work. We got them to create a concept paper for their own school in their own language.

To facilitate true integration of computing into classrooms, Teachers were given three rules:

  1. The topic selected for a project must be related to topics discussed in the classroom, but the student is free to exercise their imagination and interpret the topic.

  2. Each student gets to work alone and undisturbed on the computer, when working on a project. No group work, no distractions and no backseat driving.

  3. The teacher would treat the project just like other class projects involving physical objects like charts, scrapbook etc.

Teachers and students were trained in proper handling of computers, keyboard, mouse and pluggable memory chip. No general training was provided to them. Mentors would visit the schools about once or twice a week to answer any specific queries from teachers or students. They would use short Etoys sessions to demonstrate tips. By and large, students were allowed to explore, make mistakes and learn on their own.


The pilot has been running for four months. Of the 21 schools, 20 have already made good progress in spite of the annual examinations in March. Around 750 students have already taught themselves the use of computer and started recording projects on their personal chips. Teachers have reported increased levels of motivation, curiosity and effort in students. The second rule is the most difficult one to enforce, they stated. Group play and backseat driving is the norm in most schools. But schools where students were given exclusive time reported higher motivation levels and better quality projects and that has motivated others to follow suit. Some schools have started allowing students to borrow computers for working at home during evenings, weekends and holidays to maximize its usage.

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