Two D.C. area Scratch Day 2014 events coming up!

While we are no longer meeting as the OLPC Learning Club (I have a personal and club update nearly ready to post), there are two Scratch Day celebrations coming up in the D.C. area on Saturday May 17, 2014 that were jumpstarted by club members.

Jeff Elkner, who hosted many club meetings at the Arlington (Virginia) Career Center, has engaged with the staff of Hoffman-Boston Elementary School in Arlington to help them stage their first Scratch Day. They are calling it the All Star Computer Programming Party. I’ve enlisted Michael Badger, author of the new book Scratch 2.0: A Beginner’s Guide (Second Edition), to make a guest appearance. The school’s STEM team will showcase a number of other fun coding tools. Dell Computer and George Mason University are also sponsoring. For more information, visit this link:

Hoffman-Boston Elementary School All Star Computer Programming Party

In D.C., our amazing friend Leshell Hatley of Uplift, Inc., is doing her third Scratch Day, moving this year to Howard University’s Computer Learning & Design Center (CLDC). Kevin Cole, who has hosted many, many club meetings at Gallaudet University, helped Leshell get her first event going. Uplift, Inc. is a 501c3 nonprofit immersing students in STEAM and CS education. For more on Uplift’s Scratch Day, visit this link:

Uplift / Howard University Scratch Day

Both events are open to the public, but the Uplift / Howard University Scratch Day asks for an RSVP.

While Scratch 1.4 is still in wide use, many are adopting the new web-based version, Scratch 2.0, which has been completely rebuilt from “scratch” and substantially enhanced. Just in the last few weeks, support for the Lego WeDo robotics kit was added to Scratch 2.0 and a touch tablet version called ScratchJr. was announced. Exciting times lie ahead for Scratchers of all ages!

Mike (Twitter: @curiouslee, Instagram, Flickr, Facebook)

written by Mike Lee on 1 May 2014 Comments Off

Unleash Kids Hangout On Air: Enhancing Teaching and Learning with Appropriate Technologies at OLE Nepal

Monday, July 8, 2013, 9AM EDT, 1300 UTC, 18:45 NPT

The Unleash Kids Campaign, the volunteer-run project developing learning kits around the XO-4 Touch laptop, will host Rabi Karmacharya, Executive Director of OLE Nepal, live from Kathmandu. I’ll be producing the Google+ Hangout On Air show from my office in Washington, D.C. Christoph Derndorfer in Vienna, Austria will be interviewing our guest.

OLE Nepal (Open Learning Exchange Nepal) is a social benefit organization dedicated to enhancing teaching-learning in schools through the integration of technology and to provide uniform access to quality educational materials across different geographic areas and socio-economic strata.

OLE Nepal develops and distributes free educational content , trains teachers to integrate technology in classrooms, implements technology interventions in rural schools, and helps build local capacity in technology and education.

Bio: Rabi Karmacharya co-founded OLE Nepal in 2007 to implement OLPC program in partnership with Nepal Government. Since then OLE Nepal has completed two years of pilot, and the program is currently running in 27 schools scattered in seven districts in Nepal. OLE Nepal has also been developing local education content designed by curriculum experts that are loaded on the XOs and updated periodically through the school server. Teachers receive training on using the laptops and the content to teach subjects such as English, Nepali and mathematics. Currently heading a team of 27 staff comprising of educators, curriculum experts, content coordinators, software developers, graphic designers, network engineers, system administrators, and volunteers. Born and raised in Kathmandu. Received MEng and BSc in Electrical Engineering from MIT.

Here’s a recent interview with Rabi:

AirAsia Foundation Interview with Rabi Karmacharya
written by Mike Lee on 6 July 2013 Comments Off

Scratch Day DC 2013 at Gallaudet University

Scratch Day DC 2013 will be hosted by Gallaudet University in collaboration with Uplift, Inc. and Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Public Charter School.

What: Scratch Day DC 2013 for Everyone!
When: Saturday, May 18, 2013, 10 am to 5pm
Where: Gallaudet University [map, aerial photo], Student Academic Center in computer labs SAC 1010 and SAC 1212, Washington, D.C. 20002
Lunch is on your own. The SAC cafeteria kitchen is closed, but you can bring lunch to eat in the dining area. Off campus, try Union Market
nearby or this map.

You will have a chance to try out the free MIT Scratch software which enables kids of all ages to author multimedia stories and interactive games by snapping together visual programming blocks. The software runs on Linux, Mac and Windows. Scratch also connects to sensors in the physical world using the PicoBoard USB accessory from SparkFun Electronics. We will have one of those on display and two of them will be raffled off!

Kevin Cole has his labs set up to run Scratch 1.4 and the new web-based Scratch 2.0. Bring a USB drive if you want to save your project, or we can help you set up an account on the MIT Scratch web site where you can upload and save your projects. If you have your own projects, bring them on a USB drive or laptop to show off!

Photos here and here of our previous Scratch Day events.

And some excellent Scratch Resources:

written by Mike Lee on 15 May 2013 Comments Off

April Meeting: Deployment Stories from Senegal and Zambia

Our first meeting in some time will focus on OLPC deployments in Africa.

Saturday, April 13, 2013, 10am-1pm, Room 208
Arlington Career Center
816 South Walter Reed Drive
Arlington, VA 22204
Contact PageGoogle MapAerial PhotoBus Info

First, Open International founder Khady Lusby, will talk about College Adja Penda Ba in Nioro, Senegal and their new program for children using Sugar and XO computers. Our meeting host, Jeff Elkner, of Sugar Labs DC, is supporting her deployment (see blog post) of HP and OLPC XO laptops and will help provide training to students who will visit the school as part of their senior experience. Brittany Windju of Yorktown High School is refurbishing laptops and maintaining a detailed project blog.

Following Khady, I will do a trip report on my USAID/Worldvision-funded workshop sessions for the Lubuto Library Project in Lusaka, Zambia, which ran last month from February 18 – 27. My time followed Christoph Derndorfer’s week there in late January repairing and refurbishing the 20+ XO laptops in use in two childrens’ libraries. My sessions, held at the newer library at Ngwerere Basic School in the Garden Compound, focused on training Lubuto staff and students basic and advanced Squeak Etoys and sound editing skills to enable them to enhance the 700 digital language literacy lessons they developed in 2011. For a peek at my odyssey, see this photo set on Flickr (and my detour to the incredible Victoria Falls!).

Lastly, we’ll have a beta version of the OLPC XO-4 Touch laptop, which goes into mass production soon, for you to try out.

written by Mike Lee on 18 March 2013 Comments Off

Next Club Meeting at DIY Fair, DC Library

With the recent OLPC Community Summit in San Francisco and news that my project developing digital literacy lessons in Etoys for street children in Zambia won a grant from USAID, I’ve arranged to have a club meeting as part of a display I’m setting up at the DC Library’s DIY Fair:

On Saturday, Nov. 17 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 18 from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., the Adaptive Services Division of the DC Public Library will host a DIY (Do It Yourself) Fair in the Great Hall of Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library at 901 G St. NW. The DIY Fair will be a celebration of creativity for people with and without disabilities.

You can register for the DIY Fair through Eventbrite

The Learning Club meeting will take place Saturday Nov. 17 at 10am on the second floor of the east lobby of the DC Library during the Fair. I will give an update using the presentations I gave at the OLPC Summit on OLPC open hardware and Lubuto Library in Zambia, show off the new OLPC 15 watt solar panel with an XO-1.75 laptop, talk about the USAID grant and relay some significant news on the future of OLPC (much positive, some uncertain). I will have USB drives with the latest stable build of the XO-1 operating system for anyone who needs to upgrade their laptop. The upgrade will overwrite the contents of your laptop, so be sure to copy off important files. If you have any other special needs, please contact me in advance.

At around 12 noon, I will set up some displays I recently assembled for the local First Lego League Senior Solutions Science Expo and will be there until 3pm and during Sunday’s scheduled Fair hours. On display will be a Raspberry Pi computer running MIT Scratch and Lego WeDo, my exact replica of the Mars Curiosity Rover built entirely in Lego bricks designed by former NASA engineer Stephen Pakbaz and an XO-1.75 laptop with the digital literacy lessons developed for street children in Zambia.

This will be the last Learning Club meeting for 2012, so please use the meeting opportunity and display hours next weekend at the DC Library to bring your questions about OLPC, open source learning, open source hardware and informal digital learning.
written by Mike Lee on 12 November 2012 Comments Off

MaKey MaKey loves the OLPC XO laptop

My new MaKey Makey board sending input into the Write activity on an XO-1.75 C2 with OS 12.1.0.

My MaKey Makey kit from the insanely successful Kickstarter campaign arrived yesterday from Sparkfun! Today I got a chance to unbox it and do the initial test with my squirming XO Child on my lap holding the alligator clips to trigger the keyboard input and XO Mom taking the GIF animation frames. Success! Now we should be able to try the sample demos in Scratch on the HOWTO page and build the famous banana piano.

I can easily see larger OLPC deployments doing their own locally assembled batches of these open source hardware boards at cost. And it seems like C. Scott‘s XO Stick prototype (which I am preparing to assemble) should be able to offer some of the MaKey MaKey functionality at a substantially lower cost. Maybe we’ll see XO USB pianos around the world made from coconut, guava, mango, chinese pears and more.

written by Mike Lee on 19 August 2012 Comments Off

Scratch Day 2012: That Cat’s A Superhero!

We’ve gotten RSVPs from friends old and new for this Saturday’s MIT Scratch Day in Arlington, VA. It’s going to be a fun event locally that’s part of an epic global day of celebration that will see our superhero orange cat dancing across thousands of computer screens. All of our event information is the same as previously announced, but here’s a recap and some new goodies:

Scratch Day 2012, Arlington, VA

Saturday, May 19, 2012, 10am-2pm

Washington-Lee High School

Rooms 4207, 4209, and 4211
1301 N Stafford St
Arlington, VA 22201

Street View:


  • 10:00am – 10:15am – Welcome and introduction with Mike Lee
  • 10:15am – 12noon – Scratch Learning Sessions in 2 or 3 classrooms with experts Paul Bui, Anthony Spanos and Richard Bullington-McGuire
  • 12noon – 1:00pm – Lunch on your own; Yelp listing of restaurants nearby:
  • 1:00pm – 1:45pm – Continue with the learning sessions
  • 1:45pm – 2:00pm – Closing thoughts and prize raffle

And there are several interesting and related developments occurring this week:

MIT Media Lab Conversations Series Hosts Sugata Mitra – Wednesday May 16th 4:30-6:00pm (tomorrow!) Professor Sugata Mitra, champion of the concept of “minimally invasive education” (MIE), will discuss the question “Is Education Obsolete?” Mitra has most recently been collaborating with Nicholas Negroponte to test a deployment of 20 Android tablets in a remote village in Ethiopia. The talk will be webcast live and archived here:

5-day Preview of Scratch 2.0 – The Scratch team at the MIT Media Lab has been hard at work developing the next generation of Scratch, which will be completely web-based, requiring no installation of software. To commemorate Scratch Day and the 5th anniversary of the software, the team will open up the alpha version of the new site starting this Thursday May 17 through Monday May 21. The site is currently password protected, but check this link soon: Here’s a preview video:

Get Your MaKey MaKey! – Two graduating members of the Scratch team, Eric Rosenbaum and Jay Silver, have revealed a new project on Kickstarter called MaKey MaKey. It’s an amazing little $35 circuit board that turns almost any real-word object into a computer keyboard or piano key input. It requires no assembly or additional software other than what you have already to create a piano out of bananas or a game controller made of Playdoh or buckets of water to name a few of the infinite possibilities. The project was fully funded last night after launching early on Monday. Hurry over to the site to learn more and place an order:

O’Reilly Books 50% Off 18 E-books This Weekend – It turns out this weekend is also when Maker Faire will be held in San Mateo, California. To celebrate, O’Reilly is discounting by 50% selected DRM-free ebooks on the topics of robots, sensors and science. Visit this link:

Well thanks for sticking with this long message. I hope there’s something for everyone whether you can attend Scratch Day or not. See you soon!

written by Mike Lee on 15 May 2012 Comments Off

A water drop microscope for the XO laptop

Bill Tuk of OLPC-SF emailed to tell me about how, for years, he has been using a drop of water over the OLPC XO laptop camera aperture to convert it into a microscope. The technique saw a resurgence recently when Scientific American blogged about insect photographer Alexander Wild, who put a water drop on the iPhone 4 camera to make macroscopic photos. His sample photos of a flower, ant and dime look incredible.

Earlier today, with low expectations based on my past experiences with the low resolution, low contrast XO camera, I set an XO-1.75 beta machine (any XO laptop will work) with screen face up on my porch railing and dabbed a drop of tap water on the camera aperture window with a plastic drinking straw.

The preview in the Record activity went completely blurry, but unlike most any other laptop, I was still able to clearly see the activity screen in the bright afternoon sunlight. I had some random objects from my yard and kitchen. Holding a yellow 1×2 Lego brick in my fingers, I hovered it over the water drop. The letters LEGO burst onto the screen from the sunlit brick. The quality of the image was excellent for an XO. Some of my shots are in the collage above and in an annotated set on Flickr.

It is Bill’s wish that this simple, zero-cost technique become a standard learning exercise for all children who use XO laptops. Here are some tips he provided:

  • Use a 1-inch square piece of clear plastic cellophane from a CD/DVD wrapper or cigarette pack to hold the water drop so that it can be kept centered over the camera aperture
  • Manually focus by moving the object closer or further from the face-up XO camera
  • Video can be taken as well (perhaps of a wiggling bug)
  • Clean up the water with a tissue or towel

The clear plastic disc over the the XO camera is glued completely in place, so I just put my drop of water directly on without any problems. Even a small bottle of water will be enough to keep an entire class of XOs refreshed with water drops every 15 minutes for many hours of field exploration. The XO’s daylight readable screen makes it easy for the children to share their photos and reflect on them by taking notes and making sketches.

We’re hoping that water drops on XO laptop cameras will inspire millions of young Van Leeuwenhoeks around the world.

Here are some resources I found related to water drop magnifiers:

Historical information

Using clothespins for support

Water drop on an Android smartphone camera

Water drop on an iPhone 3G camera

Book: Single Lens: The Story of the Simple Microscope, Brian J. Ford, 1981

written by Mike Lee on 18 March 2012 Comments Off

Hold Saturday May 19 for Scratch Day 2012!

The OLPC Learning Club DC and Sugar Labs DC bring Scratch Day back this year at a new location. Mark your calendars for Saturday, May 19, 2012, 10am-2pm to be at:

Washington-Lee High School
1301 N Stafford St
Arlington, VA 22201

We’ll be in rooms 4207, 4209, and 4211 doing Scratch demos, tutorials and teacher certification. Check back in early May for updates.

written by Mike Lee on 2 March 2012 Comments Off

Solar test with the XO-1.75 beta laptop

I decided to try to duplicate the impressive no-battery solar panel test that Richard Smith and Chris Ball shot on video recently in Cambridge, MA.

I couldn’t get everything set up until 3:15 pm today here in Wheaton, MD (just north of Washington, D.C.), so the 10 watt OLPC panel wouldn’t power the batteryless XO-1.75 B1 laptop because the sun was too low. Skies were partly cloudy on this Sunday in winter.

Switching to a 20 watt HQRP panel with a charge controller, I was able to boot and run the laptop. I had to move the setup several times to dodge tree shadows as I’m in a wooded area. And the sun became too dim by 3:40 pm for the 20 watt panel to work at all.

Even though this test was with a larger panel than the OLPC standard, it’s still impressive that I can run the laptop in dim winter sunlight with no battery. The XO 3.0 tablet will have the same performance as it has a similar mother board.

Here are short video clips of booting up and surfing the web.

written by Mike Lee on 29 January 2012 Comments Off

[November 1, 2015: Archived static HTML site.]

The OLPC Learning Club DC and Sugar Labs DC are independent grassroots organizations supporting the missions of One Laptop per Child and Sugar Labs.

contact us

mike lee -
curiouslee at

jeff elkner -
jeff at

kevin cole -
dcloco at

luke faraone -
luke at

wayan vota -
wayan at


Sites We Like: