Sugar Labs @ NDSU

Building a smarter computing culture in Fargo, ND

Fieldnote: Composing Poetry in Write


We’ve spent a lot of time exploring Etoys, Turtle Blocks and the more exotic activities of Sugar; we finally decided to look in to Write and use it to compose poems. We took about 10 minutes to find out what the kids knew about poetry, similes, metaphors, and then we brainstormed “Sugar is. . . . “. We tried to get the kids to think about why an operating system would be called “Sugar” and how all operating systems try to make use of poetic language, or try to use language poetically.  We thought that was interesting; the kids seemed a little puzzled. After the discussion, we gave them about 30 minutes to compose, design, and illustrate their work–a pretty unreasonable task! The illustration part will have to wait.

Write, despite (or mabye because of) its stripped down design, did not pose many challenges.  A few kids had trouble finding font size controls, but they overcame that quickly. At one point three students were trying to spell “exciting”–the lack of a spell check is an interesting feature. All the students played around with colors, line spacing, bullets, but when we tried to move to record and take a picture of relevant objects, two of the sticks would record audio only.

One student wrote a long prose-poem sort of thing, then wrote a poem / song in addition to that.  We don’t know what she would have done on paper, but that seemed like a lot of text production for 30 minutes. At one point she said “Can I just write?” referring to her desire to write but not follow our prompt.  One student wrote an interesting poem about the negative aspects of sugar: “hugely truly awful”. She seemed to have written a positive poem first, but she asked about the negative; I suggested doing a “two-sided” or ying-yang poem, but she just went with the negative. Probably two poems in 30 minutes, though, and both with interesting word-choice and language.

Two new students were focused and good contributors, even though they were new to “Sugar” as an operating system. They were particularly interested in changing font size and font color, which is always a criticism of trying to yoke writing and computers.  Would they have spent more time thinking about word choice and rhythm if they had not been thinking about font size and color? Would they have been as engaged in the whole process if they were doing their work, pen on paper?

Earlier in the day, my colleague Andrew Mara had been talking to me about “tapping in to the affective domain” as a key component of writing instruction and education in general; it is certainly a strategy I have long supported and tried to work in to my own teaching.  Figuring out if Sugar can really sweeten the affective domain of education for students seems like one of the key questions we are trying to answer.

2 comments on “Fieldnote: Composing Poetry in Write

  1. ncarol
    April 15, 2011

    Spell check is there in Write. It has been disabled intentional, but the user can enable it. Can’t put my finger on the reference at this moment.

    My belief (untested) is that reading / writing is the niche where the XO can most contribute in U.S. schools by personal ownership by the student. The SWATEC project in So. CA is the model.

  2. kab13
    April 15, 2011

    Thanks for the comment. I’d love to read an elaboration on why you think the XO could contribute to reading and writing education in the US, especially in light of recent E-reader and iPad developments. Seems like the reading part, in particular, is going to get pulled in to other formats.

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This entry was posted on April 14, 2011 by in fieldnote, pedagogy, Sugar.

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