Flashcard Progress

Remember those flashcard files I got my hands on a while ago? Well, I’ve been playing around with the best way to present them to students, and I’ve got some preliminary ponderings to post.

First of all, one of my main concerns is that these computers don’t become expensive drilling machines. I keep telling people that the reason we’re working with laptops is because they don’t limit their users like other technologies do. I want to take full advantage of the XO-1s and the potential power they put into the hands of young programmers.

First up, the quick and dirty solution: Mnemosyne, a free flashcard program that keeps detailed statistics on how well you know the information to help it decide which cards to test you on. They describe their interface as “deceptively simple,” basically easy to use but pretty powerful, and I’m happy to agree: all I had to do to get things running was change one word in the .html file, and then it was just copy and paste into the Kreyol side and the English side of each card.

Gotta appreciate it when it’s that easy. It supports text and audio, but I haven’t figured out a way to include a text-field where students would have to type to practice spelling the word. It also doesn’t run on Sugar (you have to switch to GNOME, which means restarting), and doesn’t really teach the students anything besides memorizing. Still, there’s a power in simplicity, especially when we’re just getting started.

The other options are Open Office for Kids and EToys, both of which are listed on Sugar Labs as Activities. Check out this demo that Mike Lee was nice enough to put together for me:

Open Office For Kids, as you can see, looks and feels a lot like Powerpoint. The familiarity made it easy for me to use, and while Haitian kids won’t have that advantage I’m confident that it won’t take them long to figure out either.

On the other hand, EToys does have a bit of a learning curve (Spent several hours today just getting the hang of things. Maybe my mind’s just not childish enough). I’m excited about it because it gets you into the guts of the computer, introducing concepts such as objects, attributes, and behaviors that are essential to thinking like a computer geek.

EToys described as a “visual programming system” and the Tutorials section declares “You Can Make Things With EToys!” They’re not being unnecessarily vague by saying “things”: unlike Open Office and Mnemosyne, EToys doesn’t assume that its users are working on a specific goal or project; instead it attempts to give kids to create and control all sorts of content.

The price of all that freedom, of course, is the aforementioned learning curve and the fact that it takes many more mouseclicks to get to the same place than it would in the other programs I mentioned. Still, maybe instead of seeing it as labor and inconvenience I should be looking it as an opportunity for practice and exposure. Maybe one of the kids will even get fed up with my whole laborious process and come up with a better way of doing things! I just have to be careful that it doesn’t turn into a test of their patience instead of a test of their thinking skills.

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