Risks–and rewards–of XO laptop

Posted on January 5, 2008 

Risks–and rewards–of XO laptop

Two weeks I wrote about how the XO laptop endowed a 9-year-old boy with seemingly magical powers (of intellectual curiosity and competence), and I wondered aloud whether my 8-year-old daughter would fare as well. On the one hand, she does like gadget gifts such as The Littlest Petshop. On the other hand, many such gadgets wind up as nothing more than a surface waiting to be decorated with stickers or glitter glue. Would her reaction to the XO validate or repudiate Negroponte’s hypothesis that his project is an education project, not a laptop project? It seemed to work pretty well for Rufus.

We decided to open the laptops on Christmas Eve–the two I bought via the Give One Get One program, plus a third I bought from a co-worker who had Given One but did not want to Get One. Go figure. My first happy surprise was that the XO logo was different on all three. This made it possible to identify which was whose without stickers.

But the real fun began after we started to explore the XO’s games. I told her to open Pippy and we played the “guess the number” game. In Pippy, the source code appears on the top half of the screen, and the interaction window (where you enter your name and guess the number) appears on the bottom half. She played the game three times, averaging about 7 guesses per try, and then said “I want to play another game.” I suggested she try playing a different game by modifying the parameters to guess a number between 1 and 1,000,000, instead of between 1 and 100. She looked at me with wide eyes. I explained that on the top was a program, the program of the game, and that if she changed a single number in two places, she could change the game itself. She went from a look of “no way” to a look of “OK! What are we waiting for!” in about 200 milliseconds. She started to enter a million, decided that was just a little too large, and changed it to 1,000. She hit “run” and sure enough, the prompt asked for a guess between 1 and 1,000. She looked at me excitedly. I told her to guess, and after 11 guesses, she got it. She looked at me again, somewhat amazed. I told her she had just programmed the computer. I might as well have told her we were going to spend a week in Cinderella’s castle–she jumped up, shrieked, and yelled “HEY MOMMY! GUESS WHAT!? I JUST PROGRAMMED THE COMPUTER!”

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