Day 4 — Tech Plan Begins to Take Shape

Phil and I visited Frank Warwick at Thornhill Primary School today, in order to get a sense of computer skills preparation at our feeder schools. Frank showed us around their brand new, two-story building and two Mac labs. Frank takes a left-brain/right-brain approach to primary skills education, adding a healthy dose of creative multimedia production to the usual productivity application skills. He felt pretty strongly that Macs were the way to go and satellite was more reliable than ADSL for the moment. On another note, the stylistic and cultural differences between Thornhill and MAP were striking. I’m glad I taught at MAP.

We also met with a number of department heads today to gain their perspectives on the most important academic technology needs. Charlie (maths) pointed out the difficulty of gaining access to computer labs fully scheduled with basic skills classes. He would be happy to distribute files to students through a school web site. He would like suitable drill and practice software for both basic maths, algebra, and geometry skills. The students would benefit from the instant feedback that a teacher of 25 kids cannot immediately provide. He would also like to try Efofex (get it?), an Australian piece of software for creating maths exams.

Sally (Englsh) would like to investigate more web-based tutorials for spelling and punctuation, now that MAP has acquired a faster Internet connection. She would also like to teach students basic desktop publishing skills to jazz up their writing exercises. Students would benefit from web-based historical content on authors.

Joy explained the intricacies of scheduling to Phil, who will be helping him. This is potentially more complicated than the American system, as students take up to seven classes each, classes meet for a different number of periods on a 6-day cycle, the school has three terms each year, and examination sitting and coverage schedules also need to be created.

The teacher conversations suggest that it may be time to change the model for curriculum integration to one more similar to that of University High School. If the skills content taught in Forms 1-3 were integrated into other subject areas, then this would allow the classes to meet in the computer labs more often, and the students would have more meaningful work to accomplish. Obstacles include teacher apprehension of change and the amount of curriculum development that would have to be done to shift instructional models and schedules.

I spent a lot of time developing the new MAP web site today. The winner of the CMS contest was indeed Website Baker, due to the lightweight interface, the option for adding more functionality through plugins, and the modern graphic design. Website Baker passed the final test, template modification. Although Tracy is still working on the final graphic design, templates are based on one PHP document with about four dynamic PHP statements, so it will be possible to use just about any graphic design with this software. I have modified it just enough to make it look like ours for testing purposes. The content varies considerably in voice at the moment — it will need a lot of editing and reorganization before it is ready to launch.

In other news, the school continues to pay for the crashed mail server hard drive and no backup. There was no mail for the second straight day.

Thank you, Eric, for your Skype call today! It’s been fun to receive surprise calls from the States while working. I also spent an hour updating the Grand Lake Montessori volunteer page for a new event. I am still amazed that I can develop on a U.S. server from over 10,000 miles away. This level of internet access, which those in the U.S. would consider slow, is such a new thing for Botswana. No, the world is not flat, but it is getting smaller.

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