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There are many ideas for how the XO can be used in education that go beyond Ebooks and other ideas for content. The intention of this page is to provide useful ideas for educators who are planning how to make best use of the XO, and to gather ideas from those who would like to contribute their knowledge and experience to the OLPC project.

Ideas for non-OLPC educators has some ideas for educators without XO's looking for OLPC-related opportunities for their classes.


The first and most important element of the educational model is constructionism. This could be summarised as "learning by doing in an environment constructed to facilitate such learning".

Inspiration from Seymour Papert

Many of Seymour Papert's ideas on education can be found on the Internet. One such document is here on his website The OLPC team have also recommended that you read this paper

(Links to "Situating Constructionism" in Spanish and a document by S. Papert and David Cavallo author of Paper11Pages96-112 can be found here: Situar el Construccionismo.)

Language Issues

Teaching, Social and Religious Barriers

Practical First, Theory Later

In third world countries practical applications of knowledge are far more useful than large amounts of theoretical knowledge and so all software etc on the olpc should have this concept at heart.


We need to remember that the OLPC is going into environments very different from Western schools. Minimalism is the key word to keep in mind. Instead of trying to outline an entire Western education curriculum we should be thinking about the bare basics. What 3 things will be most needed in any given part of the world where these things are to be distributed? Will it be readin' writin' & 'rithmetic, or will it be the basics of digging a well and keeping it clean - presented as pictographs? Or use the Narration tool discussed in Sample Applications to add audio to a set of actual photos of a well being dug or cleaned? Such content might be suitable results of team or class projects. (Read field notes from the pilot program in Thailand).

The OLPC will include Evince, an ebook reader that supports DJVU format. Therefore it will be quite easy to scan and distribute existing content for teaching health, hygiene, and alternative technology. Also, the OLPC is not limited by its internal storage. It has USB ports which could be used to connect a USB CDROM drive. Then children could select books from a central library stored on CDROMs. This could even be a motorcycle circulating library similar to the related Motoman project.

All of this takes efforts by many groups in order to bring it into reality. The OLPC team is focused on the hardware and basic software. They cannot develop everything else. We need people to step up and organize projects around some of these topics. (How to contribute).

In addition to the basics of education, some basic medical and agricultural knowledge can go a long way. A simple database of regional information and practical knowledge could go a Long way. While from our point of view these issues seem like the most important, preventing disease through hygiene, preventing drought from irrigation, and preventing hunger could also become a part of the OLPC goal with relative ease.

Ideas for Educational Content

There is sometimes a fine line between an educational idea and the idea for educational content. Ideas for educational content, both for types of content and for content relating to specific subject areas, are now located on the Educational content ideas page.

Educational Ideas


Teach science by using the OLPC as Datalogger. The audio input port on the OLPC is capable of being used to collect voltage variation measurements. Simple sensors can be connected to this port to do real scientific investigations.

Teach Kids How to Make Tools

The OLPC will be deployed into resource poor areas. The kids will not have pencils, paper, paints or other art materials. However, kids can still do art with natural materials that they can find in their environment. Develop art teaching material that starts by building the tools they need. For instance, wood carving tools, paint brushes, pigments, paints, canvases. Many fibres can be used to make brushes. Pigments come from all around us as George Washington Carver used to teach his students. Canvases can be made with any matted or woven fibrous material that is prepared with clay gesso before being used to paint on. Even sticks and sand will serve to begin with. This page needs some serious editing to align it with the realities of the OLPC and the environment into which it will be deployed. We need more ideas like the one on teaching Art by teaching kids how to build carving tools.

Students can also make art by creating images on the GIMP, storing these images on their laptops, and showing them to their friends and family.

Adults & Elders

Adults are more concerned with economic matters than are children. However, the introduction of a communications tool into the village could be leveraged by adults to improve the family's economic situation. First and foremost, most agricultural villagers have a choice of where and when to sell the product of their labours. But in the absence of cellphones and landlines, they do not have market information to make the best choice. If the OLPC messaging software can support inter-village messaging as discussed on this page, Instant Messaging Challenges, then children can directly contribute to raising the family's standard of living.

Services Available to Teachers/Community Leaders

  • A central website devoted to the posting of technical issues about the laptop hardware where MIT or other certified people can respond and help
  • Perhaps a site/wiki where the specific communities could have their own page and be able to post and inform the world what their current activities are or what they’ve learned or are working on (could be a tool to spawn educational competition or collaboration amongst neighboring cities or nations or to get artistic work on the web)

Basic Teacher Training

The OLPC has 4 USB ports so it will be easy to distribute course material on CD-ROM to be read using a communal USB CD-ROM drive. Since this communal CD-ROM is likely to be in the care of a teacher, distribute teacher training material on CD-ROM.

The importance of teacher training cannot be underestimated - if the teachers are not comfortable working with the equipment, or cannot see that it is adding anything that they wouldn't be able to get without that technology, then the project is unlikely to succeed. Teachers need to understand and be able to tackle a wide variety of issues, for example:

  • Pedagogic practice, and how to successfully integrate technology into teaching ... otherwise you end up with something like the "One Pencil Per Classroom" parable (see Learning Learning/Parable 2) from Seymour’s Corner!
  • This includes classroom management issues - working with kids and technology can be challenging! Keeping them on task and engaged in the activity is a skill that takes time to learn.
  • Basic trouble shooting - when something "goes wrong" with technology in the classroom, life is a lot easier for all concerned if the problem can be dealt with effectively and efficiently. Obviously this needs to be supported by more advanced technical support, as well.

If you are an educator who would like to share your experience of using computers for learning, please visit our page for educators.

The disposable encyclopedia

Moved to Educational activity ideas

Instructionism vs. Constructionism

OLPC is turning the wheel of educational change. As Seymour Papert once said, ". . . with everybody having computers all the time, it is inconceivable that learning will be like it's been in the past. There will be new ways of learning. But it's up to you, and me, and all of us, to invent that future." Let us not fall into the trap of creating a competitive and instructionist learning environment when at our fingertips are the tools for empowering students, for creating a constructionist learning environment. This is the time to move education forward and to realize the ideas of Piaget, Papert, Montessori and so many others. Trying to mimic "mainstream" textbooks, curricula, and standards would be throwing out the window the most powerful aspects of the OLPC project and it would be a huge step backwards.

Improving Instructionism Through Automation

We don't have to choose between Instructivism and Constructivism. They both have their place.

Learning through exporation is wonderful, but mastery of a time-honored tradition of study, and knowing that you have met a standard of learning, these are also very powerful and common motivations for people to learn. OLPC students should not be cut off from that opportunity simply because they do not have a qualified teacher to provide the instruction.

Some subjects, such as Algebra and Chemistry, do not lend themselves well to unsupervised exploration. Learning chemistry simply through exploration could be downright deadly. In Algebra, students generally need to see many, many demonstrations of a skill, and get immediate feedback on their mistakes to be able to learn. For these kinds of subjects, interactive websites must be built. Much of what a traditional Algebra teacher does: demonstrate problems, give feedback on student work, and construct assessment materials so students will know when they've mastered a skill; all these things can be done through a website. In fact, an interactive website can eliminate one thing that people find very frustrating about traditional classroom instruction. Automated instruction allows everyone to work at their own pace. There is no busy-work for fast-learning students, and slower-moving students aren't left in the dust because the class must move at a given pace.

Protecting the Environment


This is an example of how villagers often make ecologically poor decisions about locating their villages or ecologically poor decisions about caring for their local environment. The OLPC can not only deliver ecologically-oriented content, but it has the potential to allow villagers to analyze their local ecology before making decisions. Analysis begins with collecting and organizing data which is an ideal task for an interested person with a laptop. And graphical analysis or decision-suppport software can help villagers calculate risk-benefit scenarios for various options.

Cross-curricular work

Moved to Educational activity ideas

Open Source Appropriate Technology

Moved to Educational content ideas


Online Mentoring / Tutoring Access for OLPC Users.

Either within the context of the local mesh network, or within the context of an intermittently available Internet connection, or both, the governments and NGOs that roll out the OLPC machines will want the children using them to be able to connect to educators, including teachers, older students, mentors and tutors in a structured, trackable manner.

The reasons are:

  1. Students sometimes need help from teachers or other more experienced helpers.
  2. The interaction between teacher or other older helper and student is inherently non-peer to non-peer.
  3. Governments and NGOs can use the tracking data to understand and report concrete "wins" as a result of implementing the OLPC machines.

Reason # 1:

is self-explanatory.

Reason # 2:

The people connecting, that is the students and teachers or other older helpers, are not each other's peers. This fact implies a number of issues. First, the communication between students and teachers or other older helpers is not the sort of communication best suited for ad hoc peer to peer modes of communication. The student's particular question needs to be routed to the designated teacher or other helper who is qualified to answer it, etc.

Reason # 3:

Any sort of online mentoring system should as a matter of course incorporate substantial tracking mechanisms so that one can see how many questions have been received, how many answered, which subjects the questions were about, how many questions each mentor fielded, etc. etc.. This is the sort of hard data that will allow a government or NGO to measure the success of their laptop program and report "wins" to its stakeholders and citizens.

This kind of structured, tracked student - mentor interaction can be the foundation stone around which one can plug in a variety of other resources such as online textbooks, worksheets, problem sets with indexed hints, syllabi, etc. in a modular way. All student interaction with these other tools can also be tracked in order to give more data to the stakeholders involved. Additionally, the same sort of non-peer to non-peer communication tools will allow teachers to get help from their mentors, advisors and supervisors. The education authorities within given countries will want supervision over the educational content, but probably will not want to deal with developing any of this technology if they can access it as a piece of an overall OLPC strategy.

Mac Dougherty


Teaching, Social and Religious Barriers

Teaching, Institutional and Professional Barriers

See also