Saturday, August 30, 2008

Students in Brazil get a new Classmate

By Ina Fried
Staff writer, CNET News
August 29, 2008, 4:00 a.m. PDT

Editors' note: This is part of a series exploring computing in Latin America.

CAMPINAS, Brazil--A math teacher gives a class of eighth-graders their assignment and tells them to get to work.

The students grab their bags and fan out across the campus, enjoying the sunny autumn day. Sitting in groups of three and four, some at tables and some on the ground, the students work on the day's lesson. None of the students are using books or writing on paper. Instead, in each student's hands is a small blue-and-white computer that acts as both textbook and notebook.

Click here to read all of the blogs in The Borders of Computing series.

The computers are Intel's Classmate PC, and each one of the students at the Bradesco Foundation school here has one to use each day. As the largest one-to-one computing project in Latin America it's being closely watched. School officials say there is more at stake than the reputation of the Classmate PC, however.

"We have to tread carefully," said Vice Principal Tania Maria Gebin de Carvalhao. "You can't have a recall of students and say 'wait, we did it wrong, come back.'"

The stakes are also high for the technology companies involved. Intel and Microsoft hope to show not only the power of giving laptops to students--but also to show the world that they too have a product in this area--with so many headlines in the U.S. focused on Nicholas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child project (Microsoft, more recently has started working with OLPC as well).

One of the keys is knowing when to use computers and when not to us them. In chemistry, for example, it's important that students have the hands-on experience they get by mixing chemicals in test tubes.

Eighth-grade math students work at Intel Classmate PCs in an outdoor classroom at the Bradesco Foundation school in Campinas, Brazil.

"The lab is still good," Gebin de Carvalhao said, but the computers have also come in handy, such as if a teacher wants to demonstrate an explosive reaction.
"Sometimes for safety reasons, it's better not to do it in the lab."

Although it is traditional paintings and not PowerPoint illustrations that hang on her wall, art teacher Elaine Barreiros has also found the computers to be a valuable addition to her classroom.

On this day, she has about two-thirds of the class researching the dress of different ethnic groups while a third of the kids have set their laptops aside and are carving wax sculptures based on their research.

Elaine shrugs off the notion that computers might get in the way. Pointing to the current project, she notes that many of the students will never have the opportunity to travel to all of Brazil, even. "This is the best resource we have," she said, pointing to a laptop. "They can travel the world."

In teaching geometry class, Paulo Cesar Mucci uses an electronic whiteboard to show how a protractor works, noting that the technology makes it possible to see every degree, something that wouldn't be the case if he had to hold up a protractor or draw one by hand.

Unlike in some other one-to-one programs, the Bradesco students don't get to take the laptops home each night.

There are two main reasons for this. First of all, when this group of students heads home in the afternoon, the laptops' day is just beginning. Students in Brazil only go to school for four hours a day, meaning the school is able to offer three shifts of classes: morning, afternoon, and night. As a result, the laptops can do triple duty, even with each student having his or her own laptop throughout the day.

Even if they had more laptops, they still wouldn't send them home, though. Administrators would be worried about the laptops making it back to school. It's not that they think the students would mistreat or misplace the laptops.

"They might get mugged," said the school's principal. Because of where the students live, "it's still not safe."
Copyright ©2008 CNET Networks, Inc., a CBS Company. All rights reserved.
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