Building a smarter computing culture in Fargo, ND
|Sugar on a Stick: Establishing a Smart Computer Culture in Fargo||
Community Projects Award: NDSU Office of the President.
Most children in Fargo are exposed to technology at an early age; however, few are taught how to harness the power of technology to drive their own learning and future. A free, open-source software platform, called Sugar (http://www.sugarlabs.org), addresses this issue by creating innovative software applications that allow children to explore concepts in math, language arts, science, social science, and even computer programming. The software’s wide range of subject matter helps children build their core logic and technical skills while engaging in interactive problem solving and peer collaboration. Sugar is an extension of the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) program that provides underprivileged children from across the world with affordable laptops and free educational software. Our goal is to bring this learning initiative to Fargo in order to establish a culture that values the importance of developing technical skills and learning through technology. In a community that is home to various high-tech companies, instilling this value will help to ensure that children are aware of career paths that are available and start building the necessary skill set early in life. As part of this initiative, we plan to distribute Sugar to Fargo elementary schools, beginning with Madison Elementary School, and provide technical support. This initiative will not only benefit elementary students and the local community, but also will provide NDSU students with research opportunities in both technical writing and computer science.
We began a pilot of this program in the fall of 2010 by introducing a small group of students from Madison Elementary School to Sugar. This initiative has already demonstrated the ability to attract children that might not typically have the opportunity to use computers as a learning tool. Madison Elementary School is located within a low income neighborhood with 80% of the students qualifying for free or reduced priced lunches. Out of the eight children that are currently participating in the Sugar learning initiative, six of them are female, three are from Sudanese families, and one is from a Haitian family. Even more rewarding is that the children have expressed a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for working with the software’s applications and learning to write computer code.