Tag Archive for 'exams'

Blogging By Candlelight

So a few nights ago I got carried away with the running water in my house and I splashed a bit on the wall, which dripped down into the outlet and blew a fuse in my house.  So now I have no lights or fans, which means for three nights now I’ve had to rely on candles while I wait for the electrician.  It’s annoying, but also kind of nice and romantic.

A few of you have asked me how Lamu was, and the answer is, I haven’t gone yet.  The solar computer lab is apparently a few steps away from the part where I come in, so in the meantime I’ve been frantically testing different programs to put on the twenty-or-so old iBooks that have been donated.  They’re pre-Intel Macs, so it’s a little more complicated to get all the Linux stuff working, and to be honest, I haven’t actually installed Linux onto a real system since about 1999, when I helped set up a dedicated Red Hat server for my high school’s web site!  I’ve tried really hard to get Sugar to work, so give the kids in Lamu a One-Laptop-Per-Child experience, but it’s a 1000-step process that I don’t have time for, and even after those steps, it’s buggy on old PowerPC Macs.  I did get it working, but by the end I was cranky and exhausted and impatient with each of the quirks that came up, so I’m scratching it.  Oh, well.  We’ll see what else I can come up with.

Me and my super-Linux-savvy friend setting up a web server in my room, 1999

The video yearbook project is moving along— we’ve shot video for classes 3-8, which leaves 1-2 and the three kindergarten classes.  The lower classes will be the hardest, since the younger the kids, the less likely they are to know how to spell their names for the camera.  So far so good, though.

A still image from the video yearbook-in progress:

Lastly, my top secret Nairobi project may have been canceled… it’s definitely not looking good.  In fact everyone seems pretty sure that it’s cancelled, but I remain optimistic, mostly because I’m not really in the loop.  Stay tuned.

3 Responses to “Blogging By Candlelight”

  • Hey I have that same futon

  • Hi Paul,
    I really enjoy your blog, great job and very entertaining!
    I am surprised to see pictures of your digs, I would have thought them to be more primitive. News broacasts here tell of a terrible draught, with animals dying etc. Your comments please.

    Best wishes


    • Water is a problem everywhere in Kenya, but whereas in Mombasa it’s just an inconvenience and intermittent source of Cholera, it’s really the drier western regions where elephants are dying, which makes much more dramatic news. Not sure which pictures you were looking at of my house… if the one from this post, that’s my house in high school in America! But yes, my lifestyle is not particularly primitive, very atypical Peace Corps.

End of first term

Time is flying by so fast.

As it turned out, for exams week I had no formal responsibilities at all.  I continued teaching the vocational students English and Math in the mornings, even though I didn’t have to (a good example of “volunteering,” right?) but I was effectively barred from teaching class two and three art because, apparently, they are either taking tests or “reading” in preparation or them all week.

As you may recall, I wanted to do more to prevent kids from graduating without knowing how to write their names.  I did manage to start some experiments with name reinforcement before the term ended.  I applied some of my tagging (spraypainting my name in a stylized fashion) “skills” in my art classes by having the students take turns writing their names on the board, and for each kid I would do a custom version of their name that looked really cool, then I had the kids sit down and draw more cool versions of their names in their books.  I didn’t take any pictures in the classroom, but here is an example of a tag I did in my parking lot in Santa Monica to give you an idea:


It doesn’t look as good when I use chalk.

For the vocational students who know at least a little vocab we did anagrams.  I wrote all seven names on the board and then I found smaller words within them.  I had them continue where I left off, and I brought a dictionary into the class for them to share to check to see if their guess was a real word.

Today many Deaf students from the coast will convene in Mombasa for competitive sports and dancing.  This means other volunteers will be coming as well, so I did a little house cleaning in preparation.  My friend who lives in the bathroom seemed a bit annoyed but I tried not to bother him:


I let him go wherever he wants because I accidentally killed his brother when I was spraying for ants.  I feel guilty so he gets free reign, although he mostly likes to chill out in the corner where I keep my shampoo.

Well, I’m supposed to oversee some sort of campuswide cleaning effort, so I’m heading outside to try to get the kids to pick up trash.  I’ve tried a few times already but they’re always busy with some other chore (in Kenya people take a lot of time to sweep the dirt in the mornings, for example) so it feels mean to tell them to also pick up garbage.  Oh well, that’s my assignment, so I’m off to convince them to clean some more…

0 Responses to “End of first term”

Finals week (and floppy disks)!

Or as it is referred to in Kenya, “exams week.”  I’m not sure if I will be administering exams to my woodshop class or not.  Tomorrow I will clarify the teacher and student expectations.  The reality is that a single exam would be a waste of time… who am I designing it for?  The fastest kid in the class, or the slowest?  Individualized exams won’t tell me much either… I already know where they’re at because they work individually already at the end of each class so I can see what they’re retaining.

I know for sure I don’t test the little kids in art.  Over the weekend I bought some watercolors, though, and if I’m teaching at all this week I’ll see if I can put them to use.  Something tells me clothes are going to get ruined.

So changing the subject, it’s fair to say that I’ve been a bit of a hermit lately, mostly because:

a) I like being a hermit.
b) Its easy to be a hermit here.

This will end soon, though, since after exams I’m free for a couple weeks before I travel to Nairobi for “In-service training” (IST), after which the entire Deaf Ed group (and my highly anticipated visitor from America, ErinRose!) will be heading back to the coast for more vacation time.  In any case, I can forgive myself for being a hermit because I know I will soon be social again.

Yesterday, in addition to paints, I also bought 35 floppy disks, and I intend to make copies of the work I’ve been doing and to take them to IST so other volunteers can pick up disks for themselves and take them wherever.  Because this is my goal, I’ve been spending a lot of time tweaking the floppy disk that I use here at school to make it better and better, testing each change with kids in the library as I go.

Of course, the whole reason I’m trying to squeeze stuff onto one disk, a seemingly frustrating goal considering that I’m perfectly capable of loading up the hard drives here if I wanted to, is so I can do exactly what I’m planning: share the disks and have them put to use with no instructions needed, just put it in and turn it on, no matter how old the computer.  It’s truly an instant teaching tool, even if its hard to get excited about the stone age technology.

In the version that I’m almost done with (1.2), I really made it a point to find more software that uses the mouse.  Version 1.1 had two such programs, but now there are eight.  In a mixed computer environment (sometimes one of the machines in the library runs Windows), I noticed the the kids get “mouse envy” and they hold the mouse even if the program doesn’t use it.  Now they have more options, and they can tell from the menu icons which program use the mouse and which don’t.   I also made changes to make the programs more consistent, especially regarding how to exit them, which was really confusing before.  In DOS, each program has its own internal logic… there is no “X” to click in the corner to make something go away.  I’ve been doing my best to make sure the Escape key nearly always exits the programs now.

The challenge in making this disk is twofold: on one hand, there’s the content.  I really need to think about which programs benefit the kids most, and because space is limited, competition is tough, so it’s tempting to favor old games that are very small.  They teach the right topics, but often aren’t very engaging.  On the other extreme, I could fit two or three really really fancy programs on the disk that would have big appeal, but would leave the kids asking, “What else is there?”  I am glad that I am able to see firsthand with the kids which of the smaller games bore them, so I can slowly weed out the things that aren’t working.  I also try to consider longevity: if the programs “work” and they actually learn the material, then what?  The disk should also have programs that can be used even after the simple teaching programs have been mastered.  Picking those programs is more theoretical.  Thanks to my Internet connection here, I have downloaded and tested about 200 programs so far in my effort to pick the best ones for the disk.  My spreadsheet is embarrassingly detailed.  This is what free time in the Peace Corps does to me.

The other half of this challenge is purely technical: how can I squeeze more onto one disk?  I’ve resorted to using a number of compression optimization and reverse-engineering tools to squeeze out every last byte of space for each program.  I won’t get into the details, but suffice to say that this is the challenge that turns me into a hermit and keeps me up late as I slowly pick away at the fat.  The change from 1.1 to 1.2 is pretty significant as a result, though: 1.1 had 2.51MB worth of learning activities, whereas 1.2 has 3.94MB: a 57% increase.  And 1.1 was already pretty optimized.  Anyhow, this translates into more activities for the kids, which means I have to work that much harder to pick even more programs.

The last technical thing I’ll mention is how excited I am by a new feature that’s now on the disk: the ability for it to copy itself.  If the disk finds it way to some village in the isolated Northeast Province, for example, and a volunteer or teacher there wants to make more copies for a nearby school, they’d previously have a cumbersome process ahead of them, because copying bootable disks isn’t easy.  Now they can just put in another disk and click one button.  That’s it.  I was pretty happy when I got that working.

Well, as exciting as it is to share all of the with you, it’s late, so I’ll leave you with this: the picture of the main menu for the floppy disk, featuring ASCII art designed by yours truly.


3 Responses to “Finals week (and floppy disks)!”

  • That’s really impressive and it looks beautiful!

  • janet robbins

    Nice art work, Paul. I also wrote a reply under KCPE Results. In case you didn’t know, I’m new at blogging!

  • Hey dude,
    I’m an ICT+Maths ed PCV in Tz and just downloaded this thing; super excited to see how my kids respond to it. Hopefully it’ll be a hit and maybe my peers in country at other sites running OLD hardware can use it as a teaching aid as well. Thanks for compiling it!