Teacher Training: mobile phone programming in JAVA

Yesterday evening we organized a teacher training session on JAVA programming for mobile phone. We introduced them to the basics of Java ME and gave a tutorial on using Netbeans with mobility pack for creating applications. One idea for using the phone as an application platform is to increase motivation.

In some of the discussions we came across the issue of “how to teach programming” in school. I personally thing that explaining and learning the basic concepts of statement, variable, if-then, and loop is best done with not much around… I showed some of the activities on the OLPC for programming: Pippy (http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Pippy) and Turtle Art (http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Turtle_Art) and we talked about processing (http://www.processing.org/) as a further option.

OLPC – new interface guidelines – no file menu

We have tried several of the applications (called activities) and the basic functions seem OK. Vivien liked it and was quite curious to explore it further. The photos you can take with the built-in camera are similar in quality to a good web cam.

After discussing the Microsoft Vista interface guide in the last week of our course on User Interface Engineering it was really interesting to see the OLPC/Sugar user interface guidelines. Especially the shift away from save/open to keep and the journal are enormous changes (and hence probably quite hard for people who have used computers – obviously it is not really designed for them).

Using the measure activity provides basic tools for electronics measurements. The microphone input can be used as a simple oscilloscope and the USB port provides 1A – this makes it really interesting for experimenting, see the hardware reference.

OLPC – cute and interesting – but what type of computer is it?

After the conference I had finally some time to try out my new XO Laptop (OLPC). It is fairly small, has a rubber keyboard and a very good screen. It can be used in laptop and e-book mode. A colleague described it as somewhere between a mobile phone and a notebook-computer – first I did not get it – but after using it I fully understand.

There is good documentation out – the getting started manual at laptop.org provides a very good entry point. Getting it up and running was really easy (finding the key for my WIFI-Access point at home was the most difficult part 😉

There are two interesting wikis with material online at olpcaustria.org and laptop.org. I am looking forward to trying the development environments supplied with the standard distribution (Pippy and Etoys).

I would expect when Vivien get up in the morning and sees it I will be second in line for exploring the XO further. It is really designed in a way that makes it attractive for children. To say more about about the usability (in particular the software) I need to explore it more…

To me it is not understandable why it is so difficult to get them in Europe. I think the buy 1 and donate 1 approach was very good (but again this was only in the US)…