The XO goes to School

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It’s white with green accents, twistable, and is about the size of a video game controller. But make no mistake; this is a real computer. The XO Laptop is a creation of the Boston-based One Laptop Per Child program, which originally designed laptops for developing countries. Now, they are in Birmingham.

“See down here are all your icons that you can use… And then there’s the media player, videos can come through there. Just like there’s calculator there’s paint…”

Library Media Specialist Ruth Burleson sits at a table in the Glen Iris Library and slides her cursor around the glowing screen of a laptop. She glows too with excitement and believes students will benefit later in life from using these computers.

“We live in such a technologically savvy world now that I think the kids are gonna really benefit not only in school but when they leave school. Because they’re all gonna need to have a background in computers. And this is a great, great computer to start with.”

The programs on the XO Laptops provide new options at each child’s fingertips they didn’t have before and can be used to help kids in a variety of subjects. One example is an Alabama Public Television online tool.

“APT plus has the streaming videos that we can download for the students to watch when studying a lesson, for instance about the rainforest. There are several about planets. Just different areas that students and teachers will be able to use.”

One Laptop Per Child consultant Shani Daily has been conducting an XO training camp for the children offering additional ways to use the devices in schools. She says health educators came to talk about current issues and the kids have been working in groups on creative projects to help people learn more about these topics.

“So, for example we have a drug stoppers group who has decided they want to tell people that drugs are bad for them and they shouldn’t do it. So they’ve created sort of a commercial to tell people about what drugs can do to your body. We also have a group called the braniacs and they’ve decided they want to teach people about different parts of the brain. So there’s just a broad range of things that the kids have done.”

But these computes haven’t been without problems. Educators admit trying to get wireless access has been hard especially with the school’s old infrastructure. In addition, one of the web browsers isn’t filtered so kids may come across inappropriate content. But Prothaniel Harris, a fifth grade teacher at Glen Iris, has an optimistic outlook.

“Once we get our wireless network up well be able to go and download free books. So they can go in the corner somewhere and turn this to the side and be reading a book just as if it was a normal paperback.”

The computers are having more than just an academic effect. Harris recalls seeing quite a change in his students’ attitudes when the laptops were introduced.

“One of the immediate things that I noticed when we passed them out towards the end of year, students that were not really strong on doing homework, when I gave an assignment to do on the XO, some of those students actually stepped up to the plate and did what they were supposed to. This is gonna go a lot further than a lot of people think.”

The XO Laptops are showing signs of success in the classroom. Success officials hope will spread to the other schools in the Birmingham City School System as the year progresses.