Using the XO for classroom-based learning
A cookbook collection of techniques for including the XO
in class room learning with exercises and ideas for future lesson plans.
by Yamandu Ploskonka, Caryl Bigenho and Jerry W.,
edited by Adam Holt, Sandra Thaxter and the Support Gang
Author Yama @ ClassActs with some little actors by JerryW
XOs arrive pre-loaded with the child-friendly Sugar operating system. It provides programs, called "Activities" for many learning situations along with a browser to explore the internet and a library of other resources. These resources can be very helpful, even if an internet connection is not available. In addition, there is a very large library of other Activities that can be downloaded at no charge to add to the ones already on the laptop.
Some of the Activities in Sugar are very specialized, but others such as Write (the word processing program), and Record (the program for recording video, still photos, and sound) can be utilized by students and teachers in many subject areas. Here is just a sampling of some of the ways teachers have used various Activities with their students. We hope they will inspire you with ideas you can use with your own students. Most of the Activities and their uses discussed here can be done without any additional hardware or software downloads or modifications. Others that go be beyond the basic included software will be shown in italics. Sugar Activity names are in Bold.
Using The Help Activity
Before trying the Activities, it is a good idea to read the Manual. "What manual?", you say. "There isn't any manual in the box". But there is. It is in the XO. Just charge the batteries, open the XO, turn it on, and open the Help Activity (the circle with the "?" in it). It opens the FLOSS manual which will tell you just about everything you need to get started.
But, what if you need help charging, opening, and turning on the XO? The entire manual is also available online. You can access it from another computer at:
Using The Built-In Wikipedia
The XO comes with a small, self-contained version of Wikipedia. If you do not have internet available or your school does not allow students to go online, they can still do research for school projects using this built-in encyclopedia. To use it, click on the book with the "W" on it to open the Activity. This will take you to the portal page.
On the portal page, you will find eight broad categories: Science, Social Science, Humanities, Technology, Science, Culture, Mathematics, Earth and Geography. Each of these, in turn, is broken down into many sub-categories. When you click on one of the sub-categories, it will take you to an introductory article about that subject. The article will be filled with links, shown in blue, that you can use to explore the subject further.
Researching and Writing a Report
Students can use Wikipedia to get information and pictures for reports in any subject area. The XO does have the ability to copy (highlight, then ctrl-c) from a source and paste it into a Write Document. After copying the text in Wikipedia, return to the Home view and open Write. There will be a little page icon at the top with a downward pointing arrow. Click on it and the text will be pasted in. Students should read the pasted text and rewrite it in their own words. This is a good time to talk about plagiarism and proper crediting of their sources.
Sometimes you will want to print copies of students' work. There are some printers that can be used with the XO and connect with a USB cable. But most printers will not work. For more information about configuring a printer for the XO see:
There are two easy ways to transfer your completed files to another computer and print them out.
Using A USB Drive
In the Activity you wish to save, click on the Journal icon on the top right to "keep" the file in the Journal. Close the Activity. Insert a USB drive in any one of the three USB ports. Go to Home View and open the Journal. Drag the icon for the Activity that has the file to the icon of the USB drive on the bottom left. It will "move" the file to the drive. When it stops flashing and says "unmounting", and you can safely remove the USB drive.
Take the USB drive to your other computer (that has a printer), insert, open the file and print. These files can usually be opened with your text editing program or image browser.
Attach The File An Email To Yourself, Open On Another Computer, and Print
Open the Browse Activity and go to your e-mail account. Start a new message. Write yourself a short message reminding you of what you are attaching to the email.
Next, attach the file you want to send. Your e-mail should have something that says "Attach files" or something similar. Select it. It offers you the opportunity to "Browse" (they are referring to looking for the photo, not to the Browse Activity). Click that. It opens the Journal page for you. Select the file you want and click on it. Then click "Attach". It is then ready to send with your e-mail.
Then send it. Go to another computer that has a printer, open the email, download the file, open it and print it.
Before beginning the Language Arts lessons, the teacher should read and try basic Getting Started sections of the FLOSS manuals for the Write, Chat, Browse, and Record Activities
A Simple Story or PoemThis is often one of the first lessons students do with the XOs. As soon as they have learned to start their laptops and open an Activity, they can open Write and begin to write an original story or poem. When they are happy with it, they can read it aloud for the other students.
Variation: A Story with PicturesWhen students have learned to use the Record Activity, the Paint Activity, or the Browse Activity, they can use a photo they have taken, a picture they have drawn, or a picture or graphic from the internet and paste it into the Write Activity to illustrate the story or poem they write.
Variation: Writing About Another SubjectUsing the same techniques, students can write and illustrate reports for science, art, music, history, or almost any other subject.
ChatStudents love the Chat Activity. It is just like IM (Instant Messaging). With teacher supervision, it can be excellent for practicing writing skills. It is also a very good introduction to sharing an Activity via the mesh feature of the XOs.
Variation: Collaborating on a Project via ChatStudents can use the Chat Activity to collaborate on any assignment they might be working on even if it doesn't require the XO.
Collaborating to Write A Story, Play, or Research ReportOnce the students have learned to use Write and to collaborate via the mesh, they can begin to work as a team on projects such as stories, plays, and research projects. Just give them the assignment, have them open the Activities they need and connect via the mesh to share their desktops.
Variation: Recording A Play
When the students finish writing their play, they can make a short "radio show" with the Audio mode of the Record Activity, or as a short "TV Show" with the Video mode of Record. Costumes and simple sets can be added to make the video recording more interesting and fun. The completed recordings can be dragged from the Journal to the icon of a plugged-in usb stick and saved there or shared.
Reading With the Help of Speak
Students who are having trouble learning to read can get help with the Speak Activity. Just open the Speak Activity. When they type the word they want to hear in the space at the bottom, the voice will pronounce the word correctly for them. They can change the face to have regular round eyes or rectangular glasses by clicking on "Face" and using the pull down button on the right. They can also change to mouth to show a waveform or frequency pattern by using the pull down button on the left. They can also change the number of eyes with the slider bar.
Variation: Help Learning Another LanguageSpeak is multi-lingual! Simply click on the "Voice" button and use the pull down menu to choose the language (or accent for English) that you want to hear. Then type in the word, hit "enter", and listen to the word pronounced in that language (or accent). You can hear the word repeated as many times as you like by pressing enter (check mark on US keyboard). Fun: type an English word and have it pronounced with a variety of accents
The Activities that come pre-installed on the XO offer a variety of possible math lessons. Here are a few suggestions about ways to use some of them.
Learning to Use A Ruler
The Ruler Activity is based on the metric system and offers accurate 1 cm (centimeter) units on the XO screen. There is a normal ruler with 1 cm divisions broken down into mm (millimeter). Students can measure small objects by holding them up to the screen for comparison with the ruler. They can learn how to write the measurement correctly with the format 0.0 cm.
Discovering Multiplication Facts With Ruler
The Ruler Activity also includes grids with 1 cm squares, 1 mm squares, and alternating black and white 1 cm squares. Ask students to count the squares in a rectangle that is 6 squares long and 4 squares wide. Have them write it on their paper as 6x4=24. Then have them repeat with a rectangle that is 4 squares wide and 6 squares tall. Have them write it on their paper as 4x6=24. Ask them if they notice anything. Repeat with other combinations. They should soon discover that AxB=BxA. You could have them construct their own multiplication tables by discovering the facts in this way.
Variation: Modify for Imperial (US/GB)
Metric system is widely used in the world, but not the only measurement system. Convert to Inches, Feet, Yards, Miles, etc. Convert backwards. Modify Ruler Activity to have that option or setting.
Dividing Up A Circle With Ruler
A full circular protractor is included in Ruler along with an enlarged 1/4 circle where the single degree marks are easier to see. This could be used for finding out about how circles are divided up. Show the students a right angle. Ask them to use the protractor to find out how many degrees are in a right angle. Ask them how many are in a whole circle. See if they can figure out how to do it without counting all 360 degrees.
Review Facts With Memorize
Children really enjoy the Memorize Activity. It is is similar to the children's card game cards with pictures are laid out face down on a grid. There are two of each. A player turns two up. If they match, they get to keep them. If not they are turned face down and then the other player tries to get a matching pair.
In Memorize, a grid of squares appears. The player clicks on two of them. If they match, they stay right side up and the player gets credit for them. The pairs can be things like 4+7 and 11, 5x6 and 30, 6 and VI, 4 and four. The Activity comes with demo games and the ability to create any other matching pairs you want.
The games that are created can be saved by clicking on the third icon from the left (it shows an arrow going from a little grid to a little book, the Journal). To bring the game back and play it, Open the Play tab, click on the second tab from the left which will show the name of the game. Choose it to load.
This Memorize activity can be shared with the mesh so that the students can enjoy competitive play. There is no limit to the kinds of pairs that can be created. Mix and match operations, import and add pictures and sounds recorded in Record, created in Paint, or imported from other resources.
Variation: Learning To Count
For very young children, the teacher can create pairs for the games using pictures they draw in Paint, such as three stars matched with "3", one flower with 1, six arrows with 6, and so forth. Pictures could also be imported from Record or other resources.
Speak Activity will also say the numbers typed in to the keyboard and if you start with a 0 (Zero) will spell out the numbers.
Discover Math Principles With Calculate
The Calculate Activity is a regular multi-function calculator. There are Algebra, Trigonometry (sine, cosine, etc), Boolean, and Constants (pi, e?) categories available. Encourage students to experiment with combinations to see what is the same and what is different. Before doing this, students should have some paper and pencil experience with a number line so that they know what negative numbers are.
For example, have them try 4+3 and 3+4, then 4-3 and 3-4. Have them record their problems on paper. Look at the results. Repeat with other combinations. What conclusions can they draw from their results? Can they make up a rule that describes their results? Students can share and collaborate on this. Later teams can compare their conclusions and rules.
Money is also considered in numbers, and therefore math. Creating a budget, adding up one's current balance, and planning expenses, may help in empowering children and adults out of a cycle of poverty.
Variation: Install SugarLabs Activities Finance and SocialCalc
Installing an extra http://SugarLabs.org activities called Finance
or beta SocialCalc,
or grind out in Calculate and Keep the results. Track progress over time. Make Pie charts and graphics of proportions of money spent on housing, food, clothing, medical, transportation, church and charitable donations. Learn typical percentages. Compare locally and internationally.
SciencesThe XO offers many interesting and exciting Activities that can be used in Science. Adding peripherals can make it a useful and interesting tool for doing lab experiments.
Seeing Sound With Measure
The XO computer has a built-in oscilloscope in the Measure activity. The red microphone jack on the left side of the display (facing a computer as in normal use) under the antennae ears will accept some other electrical signals but check with an electronics technician to be sure the exact circuitry.
GIMP edit of sticker photo by JerryW
Measure In the Lab
XOExplosion.com sells a temperature thermometer plugin to the Microphone amd USB jacks in unassembled kit and completed form. A description is also on the wiki.laptop.org website http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Measure/Start http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Measure#Measure_Temperature .
There are many interesting experiments using Measure on our wiki at: http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Measure#Teachers_guide_to_Measure
There area also instructions for making several different types of sensors at:
Be sure to see the links to the various sensors at the bottom of the wiki page.
Here are two experiments with sound that can be done without any added peripherals:
A Simple Experiment In Seeing Sound
Collect a variety of objects that can be used to make a sound by striking them or blowing on then (like a wind instrument, a glass, a piece of wood, or a piece of metal). Have students first experiment a bit with the oscilloscope by whistling, tapping on a table or desk, clapping their hands and so forth. Have them sketch what they saw on the XO screen. Then ask them to predict what kind of wave form the objects that will be tested will have. Ask then to also draw their prediction. Then test their predictions by making the sounds and have them draw the actual kind of waves they saw in another color over their predictions. What conclusions can they draw about the types of wave forms produced by different materials. Ask why they think this happens. Accept any valid speculation.
Variation: See the changes in the wave form as the pitch changes.
Do the same procedure with sounds made by a musical instrument. This can be any instrument that can play different notes, like a scale... even an XO running TamTamMini could be used! Before they open Measure, play a few high and low notes on the instrument. Ask the students what they think the wave forms will look like. Have them draw their predictions. This would also be a good place to discuss "high" notes and "low" notes.
Then repeat the above Seeing Sound experiment (above), again asking the students to make predictions before they see the wave forms on the oscilloscope. Students again draw the results over their predictions. Discuss the results.
How do the higher and lower wave forms differ? You might point out at this time that they are not only "higher" and "lower" on the traditional five-line musical staff, but also are of "higher" and "lower" frequency.
You could have the students follow up by using the built in Wikipedia to find out what other types of waves there are (such as radio waves, light wave, and even ocean waves!
Cover or carefully plug ears (with supervision), make sounds and see what it would be like to just see sounds on Measure, instead of hearing them, as if you are deaf.
Variation: Advanced Communications Development
Program the Speak Activity to manually sign language the letters typed instead of sound output (i.e. a sign language output driver). Apply across all XO Activities for accessibility and inclusion. Research and learn about the deaf community. Write a report about it. Sign the report to the class. Have an interpreter team translate. Seek and include other deaf children and adults in activities.
Variation: Advanced Disability Sensitivity
Cover eyes and try to use the XO. With others and supervision, cover eyes with a blindfold, scarf or hands and try to move about the classroom. The first kid/adult to criticize is the next up to try it. Try using a long stick as a cane. Discuss what helped while not seeing, and what hurt (bumps, bruises, name calling, auditory signals, whatever). Speculate what it would be like to be blind all the time. Discuss what it would be like to learn from never having seen. Be sensitive to others with challenges and differences.
The phases of the moon and other data are available in the Moon Activity. Students can access this to see what the moon would look like tonight through a telescope. They could then go to the built-in Wikipedia and look up why the moon has phases.
The Python programming language has physics libraries that you can create objects and the computer will calculate the gravity, forces, motion, etc. A young student might be asked to guess where an object you move would go. Compare against what happens in the activity, and in real life. A Sugar Activity exists online http://wiki.sugarlabs.org/go/Activities/Physics contains more info.
In addition to the obvious researching and report preparation discussed in the Wikipedia section above, there are other projects that students can do well using the XO as a tool. Here are a few suggestions.
Interviewing Family Member
If students can take their XO home, they can choose a family member to interview on a subject the class is studying. The Record Activity is perfect for making either Audio or Video recordings of the interviews. Students can include a photo of the interviewee, also taken with Record. Possible topics, assigned by the teacher, for the interviews could be occupations, childhood memories, favorite pets, historical events they would remember, or interesting places they have been, like "what I did over my summer vacation".
If they have made audio interviews, students can work in teams to transcribe the recordings they have into a project in Write and add the photos they have taken. They might also research the topics of their interviews and write a little background information about the topic.
Variation: Interviewing An Historical Character
Students can research an historical character then prepare an interview with costumes and setting. They can use Record to preserve their interview.
Re-enacting An Historical Event
Adam working hard @ ClassActs Sprint by JerryW
Students research an historical event, collaborate to write a script, prepare costumes and sets and practice, practice, practice. When they are ready for "show time," Record the event using the Record Activity.
Making An Historical TV News Show
Students do in depth research about a chosen date in history. Then assign roles such as news anchors, field reporters, sports casters, weather persons, and maybe even a gossip reporter. They then collaborate in Write to prepare the script for the news show. Costumes, sets, and practice are in order next. When ready, their "camera operator" records their show. After completion, teams can share their news programs with the rest of the class.
Designing A Social Experiment
Since the XO is a networked machine, groups of people interacting might make an interesting social experiment. Introduce this machine into remote environments, and see if you can effect global education change. Write up the experience, and get a Ph.D. at some university.
TamTam Mini is the starting application for music. Younger children can click on images of animals (cat, cow, dog, duck, etc), insects, babies, kids and musical instruments to play a pre-recorded sound those objects would make. A band of various international themes is available, and once selected, the play (arrow) button will start the background orchestra.
TamTam Jam is the Activity for performing music. It includes a mesh-shareable drum function so that children can collaborate in playing in a group. They have a wide choice of instruments or sounds including many folk instruments from all over the world. They can select the instrument they want to try and touch a few keys to see what it will sound like. You can hear an example of a TamTam "band" in Thailand here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZafVLAbFM1A
TamTamEdit allows the player to create and save up to five virtual "tracks" of music. It allows the player/composer to choose from a variety of scales and instruments, to overlay the tracks, and save the results for later playback of their compositions.
TamTamSynthLab is an advanced application for older children who are ready to venture into sophisticated sound design. synthLab is a physics lab and sound synthesiser modelled on the Max/MSP.
Make A Music Video
Students can choose a song (or write one of their own) and use it to make a music video. They can play it on TamTamJam or save and playback with TamTamEdit. After practicing, they can use the Record Activity to make their video. For variety, they can use different costumes and backgrounds.
Variation: Make Music Video Featuring An Historical song.
Follow the same procedure as the music video but choose an historical song or write one on an historical theme. Students can research costumes, instruments, and sets that would be appropriate for the time they are studying.
Variation: Make a PSA
Students can choose a topic and create and record a Public Service Announcement featuring music, dance, and other creative things they may want to add. TamTam can provide the instrumental background and the video can be made in Record.
Penguins by Owen Davies
Paint Activity allows basic drawing.
Pippy has some fractal tree drawing examples with source code to run examples.
Custom programming in EToys, Scratch, TurtleArt, and other languages like Python can be used to create an almost endless array of images.
Photography with the built in camera and video could be modified by Paint programs to create images.
Other Fedora programs are downloadable with Yum, but will not be the usual Sugar interface and you can quickly use up your "disk" memory on all the free software available in repositories.
The above penguin drawing was created with Inkscape, one such program.
Make A Greeting Card
Students can make greeting cards with original art created in Paint. Photos from Record can be copied and pasted into Paint and decorated. These can be sent as e-cards to friends and family.
Variation: Make and Print A Greeting Card
If you have access to a printer, transfer the completed card to another computer and print it.
Variation: Make and Print a Poster or Flyer
Students can follow the same procedure, moving their art work to Write for layout and adding text. Then they can transfer to a computer and printer for production.
Have A Photo Contest
Have students take their computers out and take photos for a contest. You may want to have them follow a theme, such as My Neighborhood, people at work, pets, or something similar.
ClassActs Sprint @ Taste of India, Washington, DC, USA by JerryW
Etoys graphics involves making scripts for objects to move around and animate. The environment is highly graphical and engaging for young students. Research SmallTalk and compare.
TurtleArt teaches some programming by graphically snapping together parts to make a turtle that moves and creates shapes.
Geometry and other step by step algorithmic thinking may be learned this way. Logo, an original programming language for young students might be an interesting comparisons for a child's book report on languages.
Scratch programming language is a blocked visual language for younger children before perhaps learning Pippy/ Python's code based language. Students enjoy animating characters, modifying their looks, and having them move and talk on the desktop stage.
See an example of Scratch implementation and use in http://en.flossmanuals.net/bin/view/ClassActs/IfTheyThinkItsAVideoGameWhyTellEmItsProgramming:PTAScratchEnrichmentProgram
For example, in the Pong program, students can study the code, learn some Python, change the paddle size, number of balls thrown out, perhaps the speed of the game, the colors of the paddles, background, etc by changing some variables. Speeding up the motion would be an exercise for an advanced programmer, though with the newer XO-1.5, it may operate differently.
Further study can be obtained at http://www.python.org/workshops/2000-01/proceedings/papers/elkner/pyYHS.html and elsewhere on the internet.
While advanced, the XO uses Redhat's Fedora Linux operating system, and the Terminal Activity will take a student into the Linux/Unix Bash command line prompt (try "ls", "more <somefilename>", "cal", "cd <somedir>", "date", "cal", "pstree", "top" then press "z", "who", ), where they can learn Free Software Foundation's GNU/Linux commands for file operations, system administration (installing and backing up machines "tar -cvf archive.tar <somedir>"), networking (connecting between machines, wireless or wired, try "ifconfig", "iwconfig"), programming (shell, Python, awk, sed. perl) and many other Fedora applications which may not have been "Sugarized".. Analyze and Log Activities show some of what is in going on in the background/ "under the hood" with the mechanics of the XO machine. See and other http://FlossManuals.net Terminal and GNULinux manuals for Linux training materials.
Creative combinations of the other fields are what the XO and OLPC is about. Students can combine a variety of subject areas and Activities to complete a major project. For example, suppose the subject is Sound Waves. Students can use TamTamMini to create sounds and study their wave patterns as described above in the Science category. They could use another XO to Record the results of their experiment. If math is involved in the report, they can use Calculate. Then, using the built in Wikipedia activity or the online version (with Browse) if they have internet access, they can research some of the history of the study of the physics of sound and collaborate in Write to complete a report.
Two excellent interdisciplinary lesson plans using the XO with sensors can be seen at:
Community Book Sprint
Like the book you are currently reading, which was created by a book sprint described by
(canonical book sprint links here), your school and/ or community can create a book about the history of your community, culture and geographic area, the people, places and events that make it special, and report out to the world why it's so great, what the challenges are, before and after the XO's were introduced.
Variation: Create a School Newspaper using the XOs
As a journalism exercise, your class or school can create a small newspaper, either online or in print, and write about events in your community. Some things might be guest speakers, issues going on in the community, environmental or political, interesting people and personalities, sports events (organized or in the neighborhood/ village), weather reporting (rains and/or drought effecting various parts of life), educational policies and practices (but be careful about some of the things you say, and fact check to make sure it's accurate, relying on multiple sources of information, and not jumping to conclusions), as learning about journalistic ethics (what is fair and balanced, just as anything you say about anyone else verbally gets amplified by having multiple copies in print or online out there), and how your area fits into the global picture.
Variation: Blog about the world
XO's can also be used to blog (web log, like a journalistic diary) about personal issues that individuals face in your community. Be careful not to be too personal, and have adults, parents and teachers, set limits and guidelines on what is appropriate to share with the rest of the internet connected world. Write something about the other sites you see and the best and worst parts of online culture(s).