1:16 p.m., Dec. 17, 2009----University of Delaware computer science majors Aaron Reynolds and William Friedman stood beaming beside a tiny laptop computer. Its screen asked for your name in a box superimposed on the iconic image of George Washington crossing the Delaware River. Supplying one's name is no easy task for adults, as the keys on the neon green and white machine are so close together anyone with hands larger than a child's would have trouble.
But then, children are the consumers of the computer and the games that Reynolds, Friedman and their classmates created for these XO laptops, computers popularized by the One Laptop Per Child program.
This fall semester, 20 UD students enrolled in a Computer and Information Sciences course (CISC367) wrote XO laptop games customized for students at Chester Community Charter School (CCCS) in Chester, Pa. Every student in grades three through eight at CCCS is provided with an XO laptop.
The school works to empower students, who live in an area that has been in decline over the last 30 years. CCCS's Web site notes Chester's crime and poverty rates are among the highest in the state. Among the adult population, 31 percent have not completed high school and 12 percent are unemployed. The city has no supermarket, movie theater or bookstore.
The class paired UD students with four CCCS teachers, and tasked them with creating a game each teacher could use in the classroom. This week, the students showcased their work.
The group with which Reynolds and Friedman worked collaborated with an eighth grade history teacher at CCCS who wanted to integrate his students' computers into class work.
“Our program was designed to take the place of his paper quizzes,” said Reynolds. “So, it's one less thing for him to have to grade.”
Once the class completes the quiz, the program e-mails the results to the teacher.
“It keeps the kids interested and gives them something new to do, that they're probably looking forward to,” said Friedman.
CISC367 is a service learning course, focused on helping students develop real-world skills while performing community service.
Terry Harvey, assistant professor, and Lori Pollock, professor, both in the Department of Computer and Information Sciences, had taught an experimental course with the XO laptops in Winter Session 2009. A student in that class showed them a newspaper article detailing the donation of 1,400 XO laptops to CCCS by the school's benefactors, Vahan and Danielle Gureghian.
“We contacted (CCCS) and said, 'Would you like to work with us?'” Harvey said.
The relationship is mutually beneficial, he said. XO laptops use the computer programming language Python, a language not taught in other classes at the University. The professors believe the students developed both confidence and skills by tackling a new language outside the confines of a university classroom.
Harvey told his class, “You, in collaboration with a real person out in the real world, not a computer science professor, are going to design what your problem is and then you're going to have to figure out how to solve it.”
And solve it they did, providing four teachers with ready-to-use games. The students said a major consideration was ease of use for the teachers. The games allow the teachers to create new questions in programs they are familiar with, like Microsoft Word and upload those to Google Docs. The games automatically turn the documents into new quizzes.
“You're doing what you love to do in programming while at the same time it's benefitting somebody else,” junior Steven Alper, an information systems major, said. “It's not just, let's make a program because I have an idea and somebody's paying the money to do it.”
A $500,000 “Broadening Partnership in Computing” grant from the National Science Foundation funds the class and its continuation for at least five additional semesters. Next semester's class will build on this class' work and generate more programs for the teachers at CCCS.
Article by Andrea Boyle
Photos by Ambre Alexander