The Students First Lesson on The XOs: Tam Tam Mini

Today was the first day we tried the XO-1s at Arrowhead School. Dorothy Jett and I had outlined a possible lesson when we met last week and I had prepared visuals for use with the class.  We did a lesson with Tam Tam Mini for a group of 18 second and third grade students.  There were 9 working computers so we had two students for each machine.

The students were very excited about getting to use the XOs for the first time. Many of them had seen them on TV and in magazine ads so they already knew a little bit about them. Mrs Jett had paired students from the 2 classes in a way she felt would work best, and, for the most part it did, even though they were really, really excited about what they were doing.

We began with a quick overview on opening the XO, turning it on and selecting an Activity from the Home screen.  Of course we selected Tam Tam Mini (Note: I had planned to cover closing an activity and turning off the XO at this point, but in the interest of time, decided to move that part of the lesson to the end).

After everyone had Tam Tam Mini open, we looked at the parts of the screen. I told them about the rhythm box and many knew what that was.  I also told them that would come in another lesson, that today we would concentrate on playing a couple of songs.

I told them how to choose an instrument and adjust the sound level.  For simplicity, I asked them to all choose the saxophone.  Then we tried to turn up the sound without a lot of luck.  There must be a way to get more sound out.  One XO refused to make any sound so I lent that pair of students my (G1G1) XO for the lesson.

Next we looked at where the notes are located on the keyboard. For this lesson we were going to stick with the notes on the first row (Z to ,) for both songs. This is probably a good idea with young children like these. A quick show of hands showed that 4 or 5  of them had already had piano lessons and knew the names of the musical notes.

Anticipating this, I had prepared a couple of resources to help all the students learn that the names of the keys were not the same as the musical names of the notes. One was a copy of the XO keyboard with the names of the notes also printed on them in the upper right hand corner of each key.  In addition, we had a resource adapted from one used in Latin America that showed the piano keyboard, the musical note names, and the names of the XO keys to play to get each note.  The object was not for them to learn all this today, but to have a start on it with something to refer to as they play music with the XOs in future lessons.

Then we passed out song sheets for our first song. “Mary Had A Little Lamb.”  This had the words to the song along with the note names and the names of the keys they would play to get the notes.  We started with the child on the “window” side of the room at each desk play first while the “door” people said the key names quietly.  After a few tries, the children traded roles and the door people played while the window people said the key names.  This worked alright, but since learning the key names wasn’t of much educational value, we tried something better in the next song.

The second song was “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”  The resource for this one was the actual notes on the staff, named, with words and the names of the keys they would be playing included as well.  This time I asked the children who weren’t playing to sing the song as the others played.  This worked better, and from an ear training perspective had a lot more value.  (I wonder, how closely tuned to A440 is the XO? I will have to check it. These children are still young enough to benefit from singing a lot of songs in tune to build a good sense of pitch. Eight and under seems to be the magic age for this and these children were, mostly 7 and 8 year olds).

We were about out of time, so after all the children had had a chance to play (and sing) the song, we moved to how to close the Activity and turn off the XOs (also how to put to sleep). Then we closed them and the students got ready for recess.

Most of them were still very excited about the lesson and wanted to know how and when they could try them again.  Mrs Jett told the children they  would have times during the school day when they would have a chance to work individually, using headphones so they won’t disturb other students.  She will make the resources available when they do this.  They will also have a chance to try other instruments and sounds and, perhaps to even write their own songs.

I will be leaving Montana for California this weekend, but will remain in contact with Mrs Jett, helping create new lessons and resource materials.  This lesson is only a tiny beginning. It will probably take a couple of weeks for the students to feel comfortable with the materials in this lesson.  The second grade students will have more access to the XOs and can learn and mentor the third graders when the two classes are together.

Stay tuned for updates, progress reports, and new lessons and resources!

Note:  I will post the resources made for this lesson in the “Resources” section, probably this evening.  I will include all that I made, even those we did not use as others may find them useful.



At the end of the last session with Scott and Dorothy last week I took home one of the XOs that was having keyboard problems.  It was a fairly early XO-1 when the problem of “sticky keys” had been fairly common, although not the “2” key which was stuck on this one.

After asking for help from the wonderful folks on the OLPC “Support Gang” (SG) it seemed the best solution was going to be to try the various fixes on the OLPC wiki at:

The keyboard test confirmed this was the problem, so I borrowed my husband’s size #1 Phillips screwdriver and got a muffin tin to hold the screws as they were removed (they come in different sizes).  All was going well until I ran into a stubborn connector. I gave up on unplugging it unaided, and gently grasped it with a pair of pliers.  It immediately shattered!

I thought maybe it could be repaired with a thread and glue wrapping similar to that used in tying artificial flies for fishing. When I posted my problem to the SG mailing list, I was encouraged by the news that this problem was not unusual and that connectors could break even when held between fingernails. One member suggested something similar to my idea, but using flat dental floss tape which would be even stronger.

All of this sounded like a great idea, but another member offered the ultimate fix: if I simply bag up all the parts and bring it with me to the OLPC SF Community Summit meeting at San Francisco State University at the end of October ( ), he will bring some spare parts and help me fix it there. I can then send it back to the folks here in Montana.  Sounds like a plan!

A Productive Visit

Yesterday I met again with Dorothy Jett and Scott Romsos, after school, to get the XOs ready for the students and to talk about our blog and lessons they might like to do.  Dorothy was able to stay for an hour before she had to leave for a meeting. Scott and I worked another hour getting all of the XOs prepped.

First order of business was getting Dorothy set up as a contributor on the blog. We were successful and she will help Scott got set up later.

Tam Tam
We talked about using Tam Tam Mini with the students, starting next week.  We outlined a lesson that will get the students started on the XOs and have them play a couple of simple songs.  We agreed that it is important for the children to not only have fun doing it, but also learn some of the musical curriculum from the MT state standards.

We will focus on relating the XO keyboard to the standard musical keyboard and the real names of the notes (CDE… and do/re/mi… not ZXC…) . I will make some PDF files to use with the lesson and will send them to Dorothy ahead of time. The 2nd and 3rd grade classes will be combined for this and there will be 18 students so we will have to find a way for all of them to have a chance to play.

Next Wednesday I will go to the school and help with the class.  We will post the  lesson plan with notes on what worked and what didn’t sometime after. Since I will be leaving MT a few days after that, I probably won’t get to do it again, but we will keep in touch.

There is a possibility that the school may have funds to hire an elementary music teacher. I hope if they do, the teacher will be as receptive to using the XOs as Dorothy is.

Science Activities
Scott has had internet issues and had not yet had a chance to read all the emails iI sent him with links to neat things he can do with his science classes, especially with sensors. He will try to check them out this week.  We also discussed the possibility of having a Computer Club for Middle School students to help with updates and maintenance and the like.  Evidently there is very little time for clubs since most children come by bus or carpool.  He will see if he can find a time that would work.

Resetting Clocks and Getting Developer Keys
Since these laptops had been stored in a closet for a year, most of the real time clock (rtc) batteries had run down.  We noticed this the last time we met when we were getting strange dates like 1999 and 2028! This time we worked on checking and resetting the date and time as needed, using the Open Firmware method (see < >) which worked great, except for one machine that wouldn’t go to Open Firmware. I took that one home to re-flash and try again.  Then, after checking in Terminal  ( “date” ) to see if it was right, we went to Settings->Time Date and chose America Denver.

After that we made sure we were online, went to the Browse Activity, and got developer keys for all 9 of the machines that worked correctly.

Note: If anyone reading this has an XO that has been stored for a long time and finds crazy dates coming up, you can follow the above procedure to reset it, but you will still need to recharge the rtc battery.  I have been told that this has to be done with the XO turned on. Evidently charging with the XO turned off only charges the main battery.  You can use the XO during this charging process if you like.

SD Cards As Extra Storage For Activities
Scott Dowdle at Montana State University in Bozeman has been working on getting an easy method of storing Activities on an SD card and linking them with a sym-link so they will be accessible from the Activities list but will be stored on the SD card. He is teaching me to do this too so I can write up instructions in simple English.

The XO-1.5 we had prepped to do that last week somehow got the SD card erased, so I showed Scott R how it could be done without the links. Opening an Activity from the SD card works fine, but it is automatically installed on the XO, taking up valuable storage “real estate” on the XO. Erasing the Activity from the XO (but not the SD card) after each use can work as a temporary fix.

Scott D and I  hope to get the process perfected and written up and posted here and on the wiki soon!

Off To A Fast Start!

On Tuesday August 30, the principal of Arrowhead School, Debra House, gave the teachers involved with the project, Dorothy Jett and Scott Romsos time from their pupil-free prep day to meet with me and get acquainted with the XOs. We had about 90 minutes at the end of the day, and since both were already quite tech-savvy, we were able to accomplish a lot in this short time.  Here is a quick look at what we covered:

The Basics

  •  Taking inventory (where to find the serial numbers
  •  Marking the XOs in places that are obvious and not so obvious
  •  Charging the XOs
  •  Opening the XOs
  •  Looking at all the ports, including the SD card slot
  •  Turning on and off
  •  Home View, Neighborhood View, and Friends View
  •  Connecting to the internet

Using The Settings Page

  •  Accessing the Settings page and what each icon does including but not limited to:
  •  Changing the Name and Colors
  •  Checking for serial number and software and firmware versions
  •  Switching to the Gnome desktop and back
  •  Updating Activities
  •  Updating software to new builds

Some of the Activities

  •  Help Activity… both on the XO and using the FLOSS manual on another computer
  •  Browse Activity
  •  Record Activity… tried it and discussed possible classroom applications
  •  Tam Tam Mini … tried a few things
  •  Measure Activity … tried a couple of things

Scott and Dorothy left with a good idea of how to use the XOs.  Since the first week or two of school is usually pretty frantic, they probably won’t get to use them with the students for a little while.  But, when they do, I will be available to assist in person when I am in Montana and via email and Skype when I am back in Southern California.  Scott Dowdle, President of the Bozeman Linux users group can probably also assist when needed.

Getting Started

The Arrowhead Explorers XO project got off to a fast start.  In late August I met with their principal, Debra House, to discuss the possibility of doing something with open source software at their school. We decided to submit an application for 10 XOs through the Contributors Program.

The most important need for the XOs was to help with the primary/elementary school music program using Tam Tam Mini and Tam Tam Edit, since budget cuts had hit their music program pretty hard.  It was also suggested that the middle school science teacher would be able to use them for experiments and other science lessons with the middle school students.

The use of these Sugar Activities with the students would be documented with lesson plan ideas provided back to the OLPC community by way of a blog and, possibly, further documentation on the wiki and elsewhere. At the same time, I offered to assist with lesson planning, especially for the use of the Tam Tam Activities.

Before I started to prepare our proposal, I called the two teachers the principal suggested for the project, Dorothy Jett, Tech Coordinator and 2nd grade teacher, and Scott Romsos, middle school science and math teacher.  They were both enthusiastic about the possibility of using the XOs and Sugar Activities with their students.

Then I called another project I had mentored at Montana State University (MSU) in Bozeman.  I hadn’t communicated with them since I had last updated the software on their 10 XO-1s back in summer of 2010.  They had planned to take them to work with Native American students as part of their Big Sky Science Project.  But, for a variety of reasons, it did not happen and the machines had sat in a cupboard unused.  They indicated they would love to pass them on to another project where children would be able to use them.

This was a wonderful offer, and I suggested the Arrowhead School project.  They agreed and we arranged the transfer.  I was delighted about this because, not only did it mean there would not be a long wait to receive the machines by going through the application process and shipping, which all take time, but also I wouldn’t have to write a proposal!

With the help of my husband, Ed, and Scott Dowdle Sys Admin at MSU we picked up the XOs and I brought them home to update the software and get them ready for re-deployment to Arrowhead School in time for the start of school.