Educational activity guidelines

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Who Should Read This Document

These guidelines cover similar ground to the OLPC Human Interface Guidelines but are targeted to a different audience-- the community of educators interested in creating activities, lesson plans, and/or curricula for the XO laptop. These guidelines provide an in-depth view of various features of the XO and its user interface, and focus closely on aspects of the XO that pertain directly to the development of educational activities.

How to Read This Document

Each of you brings a unique set of ideas and experiences to OLPC. Nonetheless, we strongly suggest that you read this document in full. Many of the terms it contains will be familiar to you, but we urge you to review them anyway. Our approach to computer-based learning shifts away from some traditional models, and this document may introduce some unfamiliar ideas around such otherwise familiar terms.

While we suggest that you read this document once from start to finish, extensive use of both internal and external hyperlinking also allows you to peruse its contents at will. Hopefully, this will make revisiting particular parts of the guidelines quick and easy, and will allow you to move naturally through the details that most pertain to you.

You can view the document in three ways-- in its entirety, by chapter, or by page. To get a broad picture or to print a hard copy, you can view the document in full. Alternately, you can use the integrated navigation to move through one chapter or page at a time.

In order to make the relationship between theory and practice more clear, we often include links to sample activities and to anecdotes from our pilot countries. Please take advantage of these examples as you develop your own.

Providing Feedback

This document remains in flux as the project moves forward. We value any feedback that you might have, and ask that you share your thoughts and suggestions via the talk pages. Discussions surround each tier of the document; if you have specific comments, please post them in the discussion for the corresponding page. For more general comments, feel free to use the talk pages at the chapter level or for the EAG as a whole. Links to the talk pages reside next to the section headers.

Core Ideas

The Activity

On the laptop, there are no software applications in the traditional sense. Instead, the XO focuses children around the concept of the activity. Programs, projects, lessons, games-- these are all activities. On the XO, they are linked in their shared focus on collaboration and expression, and in their common methods of implementation, emphasizing journaling and iteration. Our hope is that children will come to recognize the activity as an intrinsic part of their learning experience.

The Journal

The concept of the journal as a written record of daily life is generally understood across cultures, albeit in various forms. Typically, a journal records the activities and events of a particular person on a particular day. We have chosen to adopt this metaphor-- the metaphor of the journal-- as our approach to organizing files on the XO.

Our Journal embodies the idea that the laptop should record a history of the things its user has done, or, more specifically, the activities the child has participated in. The Journal naturally lends itself to chronological organization (although it can be tagged, searched, and sorted by a variety of means). The Journal reads like a portfolio or scrapbook, recording not only the files, photos, and other digital objects that a child has saved, but also the child's interactions with the laptop and with his or her peers. The Journal combines entries intentionally created by the child with entries that are automatically created through participation in Activities. Educators should think about the ways in which they can incorporate the journal into their activities.

need example. For example, if the theme for activities for several days focuses on weather, each day students record a entry in their own journal about the weather for that day. This encourages students to be observant and provides an opportunity to practice writing using the vocabulary associated with the weather theme.

Communication and Collaboration

Everyone has the potential to be both a student and a teacher. In order to realize this potential, we have chosen to put collaboration at the core of the XO experience. The presence of other members of the learning community on each laptop will encourage children to take responsibility for their classmates learning as well as their own. This exchange of ideas both engages children in the learning process and stimulates their critical thinking skills.

In order to facilitate this collaborative learning environment, the laptops employ a mesh network that connects all laptops within a certain range. Because of the mesh network, every activity can be a networked activity. We aspire towards activities that take advantage of the opportunities for communication and collaboration that the mesh network allows. If your activity does not currently take advantage of the mesh network, please consider rethinking it in terms of this connected environment. For instance, the Poll Builder Activity and related lesson plans allow children to design and conduct polls over the mesh network. This idea for a puzzle-solving contest allows children to work in teams to solve a Slider Puzzle. Whenever possible, activities should embrace this connectivity and emphasize the full range of collaborative processes that it makes possible.

Creative Expression

Starting from the premise that we want to make use of what people already know in order to make connections to new knowledge, our approach focuses on thinking, expressing, and communicating with technology. The laptop is a "thing to think with." We hope to make the primary activity of the children one of creative expression, in whatever form that may take. To that end, activities should focus on the creation of some type of object, be it a drawing, a song, a story, a game, or a program.

As most of us would agree, the best way of learning is by doing. We hope to apply the principle of "learning by doing" to all types of creation. For example, we emphasise composing music over downloading music, writing programs over running them. An essential part of the process of learning by doing is the process of collaborative critique, and the subsequent process of iteration that incorporating relevant revisions entails. A classroom activity based on the model of "learning by doing" should incorporate all three phases-- creation, critique, and revision. One idea for an activity might be to create a classroom dictionary, similar to the dictionary of local languages created in our pilot school in Nigeria.

Note: Please think about providing a hint gesture or key, key combination, or timer event. For example, the Pyppy activity does not suggest what to do. In a similar way etoys does not provide a clear hint.

Design Fundamentals

Know Your Audience

Learning will be most successful if children are provided with materials and participate in activities that are appropriate to their current knowledge base and developmental abilities. You only learn what you almost know.


The goal of OLPC is to provide children with new opportunities to explore, to experiment, and to express themselves. Many children in need of such opportunities have had little or no access to computing, and-- at least initially-- will be unfamiliar with the laptop and how to interact with it. This means, on the one hand, that educators should focus energy on making their activities intuitive, and on building metaphors that clarify and strengthen the connection between the laptops and the overall learning experience. On the other hand, this means that activities do not have to adhere to traditional models or behaviors, since the XO will be the first experience of computing for many of the children. This should free you to innovate.


Many of the children receiving laptops will be as young as five or six; others will be in their mid-teens. Those that receive laptops at a young age will continue to use them throughout their education. Therefore, it is important to develop activities for a range of ages, or that scale well across age levels.


The OLPC initiative, by its nature, requires international involvement and participation. Educators must keep in mind the broad range of cultures and languages that the laptops must transcend. In particular, activities should not (necessarily) depend on western modes of thinking. Rather, they should abstract ideas to concepts that are familiar to children worldwide. For instance, consider the camera button on the keyboard. Though one might be inclined to label this key with a small image of a camera and lens, the eye graphic speaks directly to our human capacity for vision, providing a cross-cultural icon that represents the computer's ability to capture what it sees. As an example of an activity that could be employed in classrooms around the world, see the Our Flag group learning project example.

Key Design Principles

We believe that children learn best by doing-- that is to say, when constructing new knowledge for themselves. The goal of the XO, and of the activities designed to accompany it, is to give children more opportunities to construct new knowledge, and in better ways than they could before.

Constructionist activities are often freeform and involve aspects of play. Activities designed for the XO should incorporate time for children to explore on their own and in groups of peers. The following principles, while certainly not comprehensive, are intended as points of departure for constructing educational activities for the XO.


Constructionist learning means learning by doing. To that end, activities should allow children to create things, rather than simply appreciate them.

Activities should be constructed around creating objects-- notes, pictures, programs, songs, etc.-- objects with meaning that can be put to use. One example of an activity that encourages children to create is Etoys. Read a story about Etoys in Nigeria here. As another example, check out the My Own Picture lesson plan. This lesson plan encourages children to create a picture in Draw, and then use the picture to create (and play) a Slider Puzzle.


Collaboration lies close to the core of the XO experience. The presence of other members of the learning community on each laptop will encourage children to take responsibility for their classmates' learning as well as their own. This exchange of ideas both engages children in the learning process and stimulates their critical thinking skills.

Activities should build in opportunities for collaboration-- in the classroom, over the mesh network, and on the internet. An example of an activity that encourages collaboration is this movie making activity from Nigeria. At School Galadima, students worked in groups to write, direct, stage, and perform movies about what they wanted to be when they grew up. As another example, this lesson plan for learning right angles demonstrates how two classes in vastly different locations can work together, over the internet, to understand a simple math concept.


The world is one giant classroom. We can expect that children will carry their computers to and from school, on hikes, onto playgrounds, and to any number of other locations where they can learn and experience the world. The XO has been designed with ruggedness in mind. Activities should take advantage of this ruggedness, and anticipate that learning will take place in non-traditional classroom settings.

The XO laptop will be used in a range of environments to meet a range of educational needs. Activities should anticipate and, if possible, provide suggestions for location-specific adaptations, as well as adaptations for varying levels of internet connectivity.

In designing your activity, think about what kinds of practical, real-world, or region-specific knowledge your activity could help children learn. This lesson plan, Animals, for example, asks each child to take a picture of an animal that he or she sees every day and then research it on the internet. Imagine the differences between animals in Brazil and in Thailand, and the information that might turn up!

As an example of an activity that is both practical and region-specific, see what our learning consultant, Carla, did in Nigeria-- the laptops were sliding off of the children's school desks, so she designed an activity to experiment with ways to make the laptops "no slip." Read about it here.


Constructionist activities are, by nature, interdisciplinary. The core activity bundle included on all laptops includes tools to extend specific exercises into new disciplines and dimensions.

Activities should take advantage of the core activity bundle, including Write, Capture, Draw, etc., in order to focus many skills around a particular subject. For an example of how to structure an interdisciplinary learning activity, read this story of a Class Orchestra. Then, imagine the children writing reviews of the orchestra with Write, taking pictures of the orchestra with Capture, researching other orchestras with Browse, etc.

Note that the word "activity" is sometimes used in a more technical sense, as one of the applications on the device, and sometimes in a broader sense which might encompass several "activity" programs. Homunq 13:23, 29 July 2007 (EDT)


OLPC hopes to extend its own ethos of exploring below the surface to the children who use its laptops. The XO keyboard includes a "view source" key, enabling children to explore below the surface of the Activities they use from day to day.

Activities should encourage children to "explore below the surface" at all levels, with a goal of gaining a deeper understanding of the concepts and tools they use in everyday life. This lesson plan for the Poll Builder, focused on using data to make observations and decisions, helps children interpret the poll data they've collected and think about what it means.

In addition, any lesson plans that accompany an activity should be written in language that kids can understand, as they will be bundled with the actual activity. This screenshot shows an implementation in the Slider Puzzle Activity.


The concept of the Journal has already been discussed above. At all times, students should be encouraged to use the Journal to reflect on what they've learned, and to document their learning experience.

Activities should allow time for reflection, recording, and documentation. Your activity should consider what kind of digital object would best reflect the knowledge gained, and ensure that it is produced and stored in the Journal. An example of an activity that incorporates journaling is need example.

HIG Key Design Principles

Many of the key design principles for software development are relevant as well.

The Laptop Experience

Mesh Networking

Each XO has "mesh" networking capabilities that allow it to connect to any laptop around it. This makes it easy to kids to collaborate on activities.

Bulletin Boards

See Bulletin Boards.

View Source

See View Source.

The Journal

See The Journal.

Global Search

See Global Search.


Starting with Release 8.1.0 there is no longer a single bundled or base set of activities on the XO, each deployment picks its own set. Other Activities can be downloaded and installed. OLPC is particularly interested in activities, lessons, and curricula that make use of these applications.


See Invitations.

Additional Features

Multi-use Trackpad

See Trackpad.

Microphone and Speakers

See Microphone and Speakers.


Each XO comes with a built-in camera, so taking pictures and making videos are easy to do. The camera can also be used for videoconferencing.

See Camera.

Hand-held Mode

The XO has a "hand-held" mode, so that kids can take their laptops out of the classroom and into the real world. In tablet mode, the screen outputs high-resolution black and white graphics that are visible in the brightest of sunlight.

See Hand-held Mode.