Sugar on a stick

Apr 25, 2009

Miles Berry

Sugar, the operating system and GUI for OLPC‘s truly innovative XO-1 laptops is now available, in beta at least, as a bootable USB stick, allowing any netbook, laptop or desktop to run this amazing re-interpretation of educational computing.

Sugar is built on the idea of activities rather than programs, with an interface designed to be ‘discoverable’, ie one which children can learn through play and experimentation. Sugar also affords a social experience of computing, as activities are sharable with other students using the same mesh server, thus allowing collaborative text editing, browsing, graphics and indeed programming.

For me, one of the most exciting things about Sugar is the prominence given to programming – logo, etoys and scratch are all available with lovely graphical development environments, there’s a python interpreter, pipi, and indeed the source code of all the activities is accessible to the user.

Like Moodle, but uniquely for an operating system, Sugar is built on the soundest of educational principles:

“Based upon 40+ years of educational research at Harvard and MIT, Sugar promotes “studio thinking” through demonstrations, projects, and critiques, as well as “studio habits of mind”, by developing craft, engagement, persistence, expression, observation, reflection, and exploration. In the context of Sugar, studio thinking is applied not just to the arts, but to all disciplines. Reflective practice involves students applying their own experiences to practice while being mentored by domain experts. In the context of Sugar, the expert could be a teacher, a parent, a community member, or a fellow student.” (source)

Announcing the release of the Sugar on a Stick beta, Walter Bender, Executive Director of Sugar Labs, said

“Sugar is perfectly suited for children in the classroom with its simple, colorful interface, built-in collaboration, and open architecture. Sugar on a Stick lets you start a computer with Sugar and store a child’s data on the stick without touching the host computer’s hard disk. Sugar’s Activities such as Write, a shared word processor, and the recently announced InfoSlicer Activity, which enables teachers to easily collect and package web-based content for the classroom, benefit fully from Sugar’s collaboration features.”

SugarLabs are keen to have teachers involved in improving the Stick, prior to a scheduled version 1 release in the Autumn, and feedback is invited to One of Moodle’s core developers, Martin Langhoff, gave an inspiring keynote presentation at the UK Moodle Moot on the OLPC project, Sugar and his own project, the development of a class server for XO-1s to connect to. This will come with Moodle as standard, but not a standard Moodle, as Martin is keen that the class server be as easy to set up as possible, with a moodle instance purpose built to reflect the OLPC principles of collaboration, experiment and discovery (slides, audio).

There’s now a UK OLPC mailing list up and running, with a Europe wide SugarCamp over in Paris on 16th May.