Saturday, March 31, 2012

Detroit News Article About Our Home in Michigan

Sunset on Lower Long Lake 2011

While we love our home in San Miguel, we're also proud of our home in Michigan, which is a 19th century farmhouse (homes this old are rare in Michigan) on a small lake.

The photo above is taken at sunset from our house.

Click here to see the recent article from the Detroit News about our home.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Teaching Computing to Children in Mexico

My four students from San Francisco - the first graduates!

In April of 2010 I posted a blog about a group called Computadoras Pro Jovenes . This group repairs donated used computers and provides them to schools in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I have been working with the group for almost three years now and would like to bring [both of] my readers up to date.

In January of this year, I began working with a group of four 11 year old girls (see photo above) from a small town called San Francisco, about 12 miles from our home in San Miguel. These girls, shown above, were eager to learn how to use a computer.

Two girls were assigned to each computer. I developed a six week lesson plan, beginning at the beginning...what is a keyboard, monitor, to turn the computer on and off. They were quick learners, and within a few weeks were writing short stories using Microsoft Word.

And of course they were playing games. I taught them solitaire

 and Minesweeper

included on all computers. Quick learners, within a few minutes they had the games figured out. These kids had never seen a deck of cards!

The following week, I purchased decks of cards, and gave each of them a deck to take home to practice. Teaching them how to shuffle was, as you can imagine, very amusing. I showed them how to play solitaire with a real deck of cards, and then taught them how to play War. Finally, I asked them if they wanted to learn another game that my children had enjoyed. They all nodded their heads and I shouted "52 Card Pickup", throwing the cards on the floor!

The computers we are working with are the ones you threw out about 3-5 years ago. They have small hard drives, 512 Mb of RAM, and usually the Spanish version of Windows XP (donated by Microsoft). They are clunky and slow, but they do the job.

I also gave each child a USB flash drive, so they could save their own essays and photos.

We have age appropriate Spanish language educational software, and a computer manual written and translated by students at the Williams College Roteract Club (connected with Rotary Clubs).

The final week of the six week curriculum is a daytrip to San Miguel de Allende, 12 miles but a world away! These kids have never been to San Miguel, the biggest town in the area. With two mothers and a teacher as chaperones, we spent half a day together.

We started with a visit to an internet cafe, where I taught them how to send and receive email and how to do a Google search. After an hour and a half, I had to drag them to our next stop, a chicken restaurant called Pollo Feliz (the Happy Chicken). Remember that neither these kids nor their parents have ever been to a restaurant!

From there, we toured the town center, a 16th century United Nations World Heritage Site,

Parrocchia in the Jardin (town square) in San Miguel, Mexico

and finished with a visit to an ice cream parlor, where they enjoyed their first ever ice cream cones!

Finally, I gave each of them a diploma, citing them as Super Students!

I dropped the tired but happy group at their village in the late afternoon.

Why am I telling you all this? Sure it's interesting. But I also trying to get donations of decks of cards, USB flash drives and other resources for these worthy kids. It's difficult to get used computers to Mexico, so at the moment I'm not soliciting such donations (but perhaps in the future I'll do so). I'm partnering with a church group who has offered to pay for internet service to open an "Internet Cafe" at one of the schools. More to come on this in the near future, but it's certain that we'll need more computers and money.

I'm now working with two new groups of kids - four 9 year olds and six 14 year olds. The "graduates" of my first class help as "tutors" to the new students, which gives them an opportunity to continue to use the computers.

I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Kids are Just Kids No Matter Where You Are

One of my weekly activities is delivering food to rural schools (Feed the Hungry) so that the students have at least one healthy daily meal. At these same schools, I have installed donated computers (working with a group called Computers for Kids) and teach computing to youngsters who have never seen a computer, other than on TV.
It's both gratifying and fun.

During the course of these activities, I keep my eyes open for things of interest. Last year, around the middle of March, I passed a kindergarden and saw dozens of children wearing colorful costumes - most dressed as butterflies, flowers and rabbits.

 I spoke to the principal, who told me that they were celebrating the first day of spring with a parade and the crowning of the king and queen and their court. It was charming!

This colorful pageant lacked only one thing - parents with cameras! Not a single one of the parents had a camera. In a flash I realized that they were too poor to afford cameras, computers and processing. Armed with my everpresent trusty camera, I took photographs of the children, and later made prints which I gave to the school to provide to the childrens' families.

This year, knowing in advance when the parade would be held, I arrived at the school with two cameras and plenty of batteries and memory cards. Two hundred plus photographs later, I returned home to again make prints for the families of these young children.

I'm sure, after viewing these photos, you will agree that these youngsters are as cute, sweet and adorable as kids anywhere. Although they often lack running water in their homes and cook over wood fires, they are as creative and funny as children anywhere in the world.

                                                             This year's King!

                                                             With his Queen!