Monthly Archive for June, 2009

Bye Bailey!

“It’s a little Lassie!  Can I pet him?”

Famous last words.

Bailey was a feisty dog with a lot to prove.  From the comfort of the living room, he boldly alerted every pedestrian on our street that the yard was off limits, and he defended the house like the loyal little guard that he was.  Bailey didn’t have many dog buddies, but he was a good friend to many chickens.  He liked belly rubs and relaxing afternoons in the pool, but he most certainly didn’t like walking on hardwood floors, or people taking his gouda at Christmas.

I wish I could have been home to see Bailey off.  Bye Bailey!

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To Boldly Read

I saw the new Star Trek movie, and I must say that I liked it.  It made me want to watch the earlier films, most of which I’d never seen.  I should have been careful what I wished for, however, as a second bout of giardia (I had a less sever case in Loitokitok) blessed me with the opportunity to be bedridden for two days, giving me ample movie-watching time.  Today was a bit better (maybe too much information, but the lack of vomiting is an improvement), and I must say that it beats the alternative, which is the recent cholera outbreak that has been killing people in Mombasa and the rest of the coast.  Apparently the government has been shutting down markets, which makes people mad, but I wouldn’t know, since I haven’t left the house since Saturday.  On a mildly related note, the Swine Flu is now in Africa, so the Peace Corps medical staff is coming to Mombasa this weekend to give out flu shots and to make sure we’re stocked up on Tamiflu.  I hate being sick.

Today I finished up a little project that I started a little over a week ago, a homemade intro-to-reading workbook to give to the students.  It’s small—an 8 booklet that prints onto two A4-sized sheets of paper.  If it goes well (maybe tomorrow, if I can get out of the house), I want to make more like it.  Obviously one book on its own does not create literacy.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that one of my biggest frustrations has been trying to figure out how to teach reading.  I’ve tried on a few occasions to bring books into the classroom.  I separate all the donated books I get in the mail and I only bring in books at “Level 1”, which is my designation for books where the text and pictures have a nearly 100% 1-to-1 correspondence.  Baby books, basically.  Last week I asked the students to try to identify and write down words that they could understand in the books, and to demonstrate what they learned by drawing a picture next to each word.  This was a total disaster of a class.  In one case, “Goat” had a drawing of a woman next to it, and “The” had a picture of a dog.  Even if the class had been a success, it still wouldn’t have helped much with sentence structure.

I concluded that I really need books that are totally self-contained, that make no assumptions about preexisting literacy, that can be read alone with no explanation, and that have built-in exercises that encourage/force the reader to understand the meaning of the words.  Unfortunately, I could find no such thing online, so I made one.

The purpose of this particular workbook is to showcase “subject-verb-direct object” sentences and the significance of word order.  I start by introducing the nouns: singular and then plural (with a spelling connect-the-dots game), then I give example sentences with illustrations, then there is a page of games for reinforcement, then there is an increasingly difficult set of fill-in-the-blank sentences.  All words and sentences have space below where they are to be copied with proper penmanship.  Click any of the thumbnails below to download the PDF.

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Because I don’t have a scanner or a tablet or anything fancy like that, I just photographed my illustrations and then cleaned them up on the computer.  Like so:

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Now I just need to test it in the classroom!

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Of Fiber and Floppies

Today traffic was terrible.  On my way to lunch, I jumped out of the matatu early and walked the rest of the way.  As it turns out, President Kibaki was coming into town, so all the main roundabouts were completely shut down.  He was actually here for a big deal: the big public launch of the undersea fiber optic cable that has finally arrived from the other side of the Indian Ocean.  This was the last stretch of ocean in the world that didn’t host an Internet connection, but now East Africa is finally caught up!  Here’s a local news blurb on itAnd one on Forbes.

I didn’t see the big event, but I did see 50-or-so Mercedes vehicles screech into town, surrounded by motorcycles, sirens blaring.  It’s a safe bet that Kibaki was in one of them.

In mildly related news, I’ve updated my learning software page to reflect all the changes I’ve made to my educational floppy disk in the past couple months.  I was thrown into a cycle of changes as I tried (and succeeded, I believe) at getting the thing to work on a 486 with 8MB of RAM for an old computer in Embu.  It also works on my Core2Duo with 3GB RAM, so it works on a wide range of computers now.

I’ve also gone ahead and given the disk a name: FUZOMA Floppy.  FUZOMA is a liberal blending of the Swahili words for “teach” and “learn.”  (It’s also a word that had no matches on Google until I registered the domain name.)  For now I just have one huge page dedicated to it here on the blog, but sooner or later I’ll get around to moving stuff over to fuzoma.com, because it feels way too cramped on a single page.

I also wanted to mention that over the course of making this floppy disk for the students, I’ve tracked down and contacted a number of shareware authors from the old DOS days and pestered them with questions, and everyone has been remarkably helpful thus far.  Special thanks to Bob Ferguson for sending me the EditV source code, which helped me as I designed the FUZOMA text editor for the kids as they learn to use the computer.  Also David at Bozz Software for reading my long emails, and Dom Domes and David Alves for making such great learning programs.

I’ve gotten positive feedback on the project from two other volunteers in Kenya thus far.  Nic had some nice things to say on this blog, and although Daniel doesn’t get into it on his, he told me that he used the typing game as a bonus for his final exams!  It’s a start…

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  • Betsy Malcolm

    Click here: Kabissa | Space for Change in Africa

    Hi Paul,

    I am in a book club with Nicole Rivera, and thought you might be interested in checking out Kabissa. It is a Seattle based NGO that provides free web site hosting and other computer-related support to NGOs in Africa.

    All the best,

    Betsy

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