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How to Develop New Activities for the One Laptop Per Child Project?

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In 2006, Nicholas Negroponte explained at the TED conference that he was now heading the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative after stepping down from the position of Director of the MIT Media Lab. His main driver is about education:

Whatever the solutions are to the big problems they include education, sometimes it is just education, and can never be without elements of education.

He notes that:

As a child, we learn by interacting with the world, it is only later that teaching becomes the primary learning source. Computers have provided a kind of learning that is driven by the learner himself or herself.

The concept of one laptop per child works, he reported that:

In 2002, the governor of Maine legislated one laptop per child. 3.5 years later, truancy dropped to zero, attendance to parent teacher conference is nearly perfect, increase in student participation, kids are asking a lot of things to the teacher via email.
It is not a laptop project, it is an education project.

Walter Bender, President, Software and Content, adds:

[It] is a project about the transformation of education. It's about giving children who don't have the opportunity for learning that opportunity. So it's about access, it's about equity, and it's about giving the next generation of children in the developing world a bright and open future.

In November 2007, the first XO generation started mass production followed by the first deployment from the G1G1 program in Mongolia.

The XO was developed specifically to operate in developing countries, in places where there is no power grid for instance.

The core of the XO human interface is Sugar. Greg DeKoenigsberg, editor at RedHat magazine, explains:

[Sugar] is very different from the desktop environment to which Linux users have become accustomed. The XO was conceived as a tool to allow kids to learn interactively, and Sugar has been designed for that purpose. The first thing that a child sees, therefore, is not a hard disk or a trash can — it’s the other kids in the “neighborhood”. Sugar developers are encouraged to write activities with collaborative elements that are enabled by default.

In particular, Sugar emphasizes the concept of shared activities which happens when several XOs are meshed together in a neighborhood. 

Developers contribute new activities to the OLPC project. You can actually setup a complete Sugar based development environment by downloading an XO image or buy building the environment yourself.

The OS is a Linux Kernel (Linux 2.6.22; Fedora 7 base environment) and the programming environments include:

  • Python (Version 2.5);
    • Pippy, an activity for exploring Python on the XO;
  • JavaScript™;
  • Csound, music programming language;
  • The Etoys implementation of Squeak using Smalltalk, an object-based programming language;
    • Sugar Etoys for a detailed description of the Sugar implementation
  • Turtle Art, a graphical programming environment;
  • Gnash, a free and open source plug-in for the Adobe Flash™ file format supporting vector and raster graphics, a scripting language called ActionScript™ and streaming of audio and video;
  • Adobe's Flash Player, Java™ virtual machine, and other Restricted Formats can be added via Yum or RPM install but are not part of the standard distribution.

For instance,  eToy, is an activity built in Squeak Small Talk System which provides "a full-fledged, general purpose, multimedia ready, integrated development environment". In this sample, the child can draw a shape, say a car and then can use a palette of instructions to move the car.

and here is a very simple way to tell the car to follow an arbitrary path:

If you feel like contributing your skills to a humanitarian cause, here are the instructions to setup and register an OLPC project. Projects can be hosted on SourceForge, GNU Sanannah and Google Code.

In this article, Tim Jones, consultant at Emulex, provided step-by-step instructions to develop new activities on the XO.

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