Butterfly Computer Lab


The Butterfly Development Center computer lab provided the only opportunity the children in the village to use computers. The computer lab was set up every day after school in one of the classrooms. There were 13 donated laptop computers running game-based-learning software for teaching math, puzzles, and games that encourage thinking. We emphasized mathematics.

Seven of the laptop computers were less than one year old. Coast2Coast volunteers from Singapore http://www.coast2coast.org.sg/and My Library in Luang Prabang www.thelanguageproject.org provided them. The children also used six older laptop computers that are slow, but adequate for some games. They used several Windows 2000 and Windows 98 computers, but these have failed from heavy use over the years.

Electricity came from the local electric company across the border from China, only 10 kilometers from here. The electricity became more reliable all the time. Usually there were about two days a month without power. There were frequent outages lasting only a few minutes. Recently, there was no power for six days because they were installing larger transmission lines.

Most of the student’s parents are farmers, have never gone to school, do not understand what their children are learning, and do not really understand the value of education. Their teachers are underpaid, lack recent curriculum training, and have lots of personal work, meetings, and obligations that keep them away from their classrooms. School days, with late starts, recesses, long lunches, and early endings factored in, are minimal. Ethnic children living here in a rural area are often overlooked in favor of other children living in urban areas. We are impressed that despite these obstacles some learning happens.

Our experience shows that many students are graduating from primary school without knowing basic math skills. For this reason, we emphasized mathematics in the computer lab. Progress was monitored and recorded. Students completed goals received rewards of certificates, cash, and book bags. It was a challenge to supervise the computer lab in order to ensure that the students are working at appropriate difficulty levels and provide support to those who are having trouble understanding.

Every day I searched for ways to maximize the potential of the computer lab. I believe in computer learning and practice, but find that most computer learning games are not really learning games. Some games are entertaining, but do not encourage learning or progress. Wrong answers provide as much gaming reward as correct answers. Other games offer little more than just flash cards. We cannot use some games because the children do not know the English language.

The game that really stands out from the rest by providing the most benefit for the children is Timez Attack. This game teaches addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts. The 3D-graphics and game play are amazing. Check out the video trailer on their website: http://www.bigbrainz.com/  then download the free version for your children or students. We began with the free version and were so pleased with its success that we soon purchased the paid version. The paid version offers even more excitement and entertainment to keep children engaged and providing correct answers.

Some of the students who already know their basic math played Sokikom www.sokikom.com . It is a free online math game that tracks student’s progress based on elementary school core curriculum standards. It introduces material in a logical small systematic sequence. I can especially recommend the “Frachine” portion of the game that uses a unique approach to teach fractions by requiring students to cut and combine blocks to create answers. This game was funded by the US Department of Education and has won several prestigious awards.

Both Timez Attack and Sokikom are the best examples of mathematics game-based-learning we have found.

Health information is not readily available so we installed PDF files of health books available in different languages from the Hesperian Foundation. These books include information and illustrations about reproductive health so please review these books to determine if they are appropriate for your group. http://hesperian.org/books-and-resources/language-list/ If this link does not work, try finding them from the homepage. www.hesperian.org 

Think about other PDF files that might help the children. An organization shared anti-trafficking brochures with us. We had a group discussion, and they play acted a trafficker coming to lure a girl away, and the other children explaining to her why she should not go.

Certainly the children benefited from learning their multiplication and division tables. I also believe they benefit from the puzzle games. When they play these games, they concentrate for several hours. This is something they never do as part of school or play. When they complete a puzzle game after several hours of work, they exhibit a sense of accomplishment and share it with me. They like to replay the puzzle games by recalling the solutions they previously figured out. It's just my belief, but I think playing these games help them develop their potential. Here is one journal article that support my beliefs. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360131514001869 

There are so many website promoting the "best" games. One website stands out from the others: KAPi (Kids at Play Interactive) Awards celebrate excellence in children's media. Every year they publish a list of winners and nominations. http://kapiawards.com 

Here is another website that looks good. I have not played any of these games, but they might offer alternatives to violent games. http://www.emotionalgamesawards.com

Here is the software we are using for math and games Software

Here is the software we are using to teach Fractions