Sugar Labs @ NDSU

Building a smarter computing culture in Fargo, ND

Proposal 2. A Smart Computing Culture in Fargo

Sugar on a Stick: Establishing a Smart Computer Culture in Fargo

Community Projects Award: NDSU Office of the President. 

Background: 

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.

Our Objectives: 

  • Expand our pilot program with Madison Elementary School to include the entire student body (K-5), 220 students.
  • Help Madison Elementary students use Sugar to build core logic and technical skills early in their intellectual development.
  • Starting with children, establish a smart computing culture within Fargo, one that encourages kids to program, rather than be programmed; one that encourages kids to participate in global education projects like Sugar and OLPC.

Our Plan: 

  • Distribute portable flash drives loaded with Sugar to students at Madison Elementary School; called Sugar on a Stick.
  • Create and maintain a website that provides information about Sugar to teachers, students, and parents.
  • Hire a research assistant from the Computer Science department to contribute to Sugar’s open-source code by fixing bugs and implementing new features; in addition, the assistant will help maintain the website and teach children how to write computer code using Sugar.
  • Hire a research assistant from the English department to provide technical documentation and lesson plans for Sugar; in addition, the assistant will help maintain the website and teach children how to use the Sugar software applications.
  • Establish a technical team to provide mentorship and classroom support for Sugar; the team will be comprised of 4th\5th grade students, a participating teacher or technology support person from Madison Elementary, and the two NDSU research assistants.

Benefits: 

  • Expand children’s understanding of technology beyond cell phones and video games to build logic and technical skills that will enable them to succeed in a technological environment.
  • Provide children from all backgrounds with an opportunity to learn through computing, including females and members from other minority groups.
  • Offer research assistantships to NDSU students in technical writing and computer science that provide them opportunities to apply their skills in an environment that consists of real end-users.
  • Establish a progressive computing culture within the Fargo community that will benefit local high-tech companies by ensuring there is a qualified pool of job candidates; in return this may increase opportunities for partnership between NDSU and local high-tech companies.
  • Engage Fargo in an initiative that is affiliated with the global OLPC program where the community can have worldwide impact by contributing to the Sugar learning platform.
This proposal has been fully funded: $20,000.  May 2011.

One comment on “Proposal 2. A Smart Computing Culture in Fargo

  1. Pingback: the ontology of composition vis-a-vis OLPC, XO, and Sugar « The Fargo XO / Sugar Project

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