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A free education

By Sean "Nz17" Robinson on May 23, 2006 (8:00:00 AM)

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My sister Erika's second grade primary school class had a problem: it had four old computers running Microsoft Windows 98, and no educational software for the computers. The computers were used mainly for viewing children's educational Web sites, and playing simple Macromedia Flash games. I decided to introduce free software into her classroom. The results were heart-warming.

Our computers at home run Debian Linux, and we have several children's games on them, including Anagramarama, GCompris, Tux of Math Command, Tux Paint, and Tux Typing 2. Assessing the lot of them, I decided that Anagramarama, an anagrams game, was the best choice for a "trial run" introductory game. It was simple and obvious to use, and seemed to have the most immediate educational benefit for second graders, most of whom are eight and nine years old.

However, there was a slight difficulty installing the latest version of Anagramarama. The last Windows 98 compatible binary release of Anagramarama was version 0.1, which lacked keyboard support. Because keyboard support is critical for the budding typists, I first installed Cygwin, the GNU-on-Windows software collection, so that I could compile Anagramarama 0.2 (which has keyboard support) for Win32 systems.

After I set up Cygwin, as well as prerequisite software Simple Directmedia Layer and SDL_mixer, Anagramarama compiled with no problems. Once it's compiled, it can run without Cygwin and be distributed as a standalone package.

Next, I set about creating an installer for the game so that classroom teacher Mr. Bemis and his associates, many of whom may lack technical expertise, could easily install the game on other computers without assistance.

For this step I chose the Nullsoft Scriptable Install System (NSIS). NSIS is available under the GNU General Public License (GPL), light on system resources, and easy to use to set up a variety of installation profiles. NSIS can create shortcut icons in a range of locations, such as the Desktop or Start Menu, it can run under dozens of different languages, and automatically launch the program after installation. As a finishing touch, I created an autorun.inf file to automatically run the installer upon insertion of the CD-R onto which I copied it. I kept an ISO of each CD, in case the class needed additional copies.

The next step was to surprise Mr. Bemis with the discs. He was receptive. The class had no clear use for its computers, so he says he was glad to have some native educational software to run on the machines. The only other educational programs the class had were Apple IIe applications on 5 1/4-inch floppy diskettes. I demonstrated Tux Paint to the class to gauge their interest in my bringing in more free software, and the students and Mr. Bemis seemed quite happy to receive more.

Two weeks later, when I returned with new CDs containing Tux Paint, I was in for a pleasant surprise: other teachers at the school were now using Anagramarama in their own classrooms! Apparently, some teachers noticed the kids playing Anagramarama and initially attempted to scold Mr. Bemis for allowing computer games in his classroom against school rules. However, he showed them that the game was not only an action-orientated distraction, but an important educational tool that was teaching the children critical thinking, spelling, and suffixes and prefixes, and increasing their creative skills.

The nearby teachers began asking to borrow the CD to install the game in their own classrooms. Mr. Bemis was even approached by the school's computer lab instructor, who asked for the disc so that he could install Anagramarama in the lab! I made certain to make two copies of each CD I brought in after this point so that sharing wouldn't be such a concern.

Over the next few weeks, I brought in Tux of Math Command and Tux Typing 2. When Mr. Bemis announced that I had brought a new mathematics computer game for his students, half the class cheered for the game while the other half groaned at the math. The groans were soon replaced by enthusiasm, however. The students liked the game because they could use lasers to shoot down the approaching meteors, as long as they gave the correct answers to the math problems in time. The teacher liked it because it helped the students refine and enforce their math reflexes with addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, and Tux Math allowed him to set the difficulty of the problems.

The last program I want for class use is GCompris, a suite of learning activities including math, logic, computer use, and drawing applications. The Windows version of this program lacks the full activity set that is available for GCompris under Linux, because the program's designer wants all children of the world to have free computer systems so they can appreciate and become accustomed to the ideas and freedoms of free software ideology. I set out to give these to Mr. Bemis's class.

The computers in these classrooms are nearly 10 years old, with Pentium II or Celeron processors clocked at around 300MHz. They're not well-suited to running a modern education-based distribution like Edubuntu or SkoleLinux, and it is unclear whether the school would approve of installing Linux on the systems in place of Windows, since there would be a question of long-term support.

Happily, I found a solution. GCompriX is a live CD specifically designed to run GCompris on modest computer hardware -- even on an original Pentium CPU with a mere 64MB of RAM. The CD does not modify the installed operating system, so it can be used on school computers without concern. On systems with a large amount of RAM it is even possible to load the entire GCompriX disc into memory for incredibly fast operation. Students don't need to worry about properly shutting down a computer running GCompriX, as simply turning off the computer is the correct method of stopping the live CD.

I look forward to presenting GCompriX to the children in Mr. Bemis's classroom. I feel good every time I bring them new software to play with, and I know that they and their class are better off thanks to my small contribution on behalf on the free software community.

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on A free education

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This is a *PERFECT* scenario for K12LTSP!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 24, 2006 02:06 AM
You should check out LTSP, and in particular, K12LTSP. I've been running K12LTSP for a few years, and it has all that stuff that you're talking about (TuxPaint, GCompris, etc.) already built in and ready to go. I use ten-year-old Pentium-133's (32MB DRAM) as my thin clients, and it's WONDERFUL.

I've powered nearly 40 old Pentium-I and Pentium-II computers this way, simultaneously, with my K12LTSP server. Yes, the kids love it. Yes, the teachers come to love it pretty quickly. Yes, the accountants love it. The only ones who don't seem to be those who are scared of anything "non-Microsoft".

<a href="http://www.k12ltsp.org/" title="k12ltsp.org">http://www.k12ltsp.org/</a k12ltsp.org>
<a href="http://www.ltsp.org/" title="ltsp.org">http://www.ltsp.org/</a ltsp.org>

#

https://shipit.edubuntu.org/ has LTSP too.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 24, 2006 03:01 AM
Edubuntu 6.06 will have LTSP built in too!

<a href="http://www.edubuntu.org/" title="edubuntu.org">http://www.edubuntu.org/</a edubuntu.org>

Of course there is a need for a Server with RAM (aP4 and SATA drives) to convert the terminals (note a $39.00 Nic for each machine or a Floppy boot to accesss the LTSP server)! A 100Mbps Switch is needed too.

You can sign up for Free Edubuntu 6.06 CDs here:
<a href="https://shipit.edubuntu.org/" title="edubuntu.org">https://shipit.edubuntu.org/</a edubuntu.org>

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Re:https://shipit.edubuntu.org/ has LTSP too.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2006 01:23 AM
Yep, that's true (I'm the parent poster). One school has three Debian boxes with traditional LTSP (it's a "genius kids" science/tech school). Another nearby has been using LTSP on Red Hat and Debian for years. I'm actually typing this right now on Kubuntu Hoary.

Actually, Edubuntu Breezy has LTSP in it today. I tried it out, and it's still got a couple of rough edges (expected; this was their first version), just like K12LTSP did. I've got a LTSP demo in June, just a few days after the release of Edubuntu 6.06, so I probably won't be able to download it in time and get it set up for the demo. However, I will DEFINITELY be giving it a spin!

If you're going to have your kids running TuxType, you'd better get Gig-E on your server and a Gig-E port on your switch for that server to plug into. TuxType can use 73Mb/sec of bandwidth! Also, I've discovered that dual-Athlon boxes, and virtually all Opteron boxes, make really good CPUs for this as well. The Big Deal (TM) is really DRAM. Budget about 100MByte of memory for each client that your server powers.

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Good approach

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 24, 2006 06:24 AM
I like the approach of giving them a "taste" first. You probably would have been faced with blank stares if you had offered them a linux cd. But by giving them one program, then more programs, I think you've managed to create a good rapor with the school not only with yourself, but also creating a good image for open source software.

good job!

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This is a *NOT*A*PERFECT* scenario for K12LTSP!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 24, 2006 07:36 AM
The kid did good. Didn't you read the article? The school wasn't interested in a long-term switch over to Linux or some sort of hybrid "semi-smart" term/Linux server solution.

Nice job, fella. I hope that your sister's class continues to do well and that you continue to stay involved.

--AR

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With K12LTSP and Edubuntu - can have it both ways.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 24, 2006 10:28 AM
With K12LTSP and Edbubuntu LTSP server, you can actually still boot the local client off the hard drive and run the software that is running in Windows on the Hard drive (or run Linux that is on the hard drive).

-Floppy disk in with boot stuff = becomes an LTSP terminal Xwindows LTSP client
-Floppy boot disk out... boots as normal PC.
-Can also use boot NIC cards where you hit a hot key before it boots and it will boot the local hard drive as well.

Easy... so can have your cake and eat it too!

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Umm...yes, it is

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2006 01:26 AM
Yes, I did read the article. Perhaps you should consider actually reading about LTSP.

<a href="http://www.ltsp.org/" title="ltsp.org">http://www.ltsp.org/</a ltsp.org>
<a href="http://www.k12ltsp.org/" title="k12ltsp.org">http://www.k12ltsp.org/</a k12ltsp.org>

Then, you might think differently.

I do agree with you that he did well to get Free Software in there, because the Freedom that the software brings is really what this is all about.

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Umm...no, it is not

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2006 02:29 AM
Try reading it again. . . the school didn't want alot of changes due to fears of maintenence problems and lack of funds. In this case, sticking with Windows (what they know) and not imposing increased costs (a server) is perfect. The live cd was a good call for those situations where Linux was NEEDED on a temporary basis.

EVERYONE doesn't need to switch OS's to get what they need from open source.

--AR

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Re:Umm...yes, it is

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2006 04:55 AM
I thought "what this is all about" was helping these kids get a better education. Tree, meet forest.

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Re:Umm...no, it is NOT

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2006 05:55 AM
More accurately, it is a case of "can't see the forest for the trees".

If folks are happy with what they have or can't afford your solution, there is no need to bully everyone in sight until they agree with you. Instead, you'd rather have the poor kid (who did a good job of accomplishing his goal, IMHO) feel like he didn't because you have the superior solution--even if it goes against what the article says was the users needs/desires.

--AR

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Actually it is; here's why

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 29, 2006 11:51 PM
Again, I direct you here:

<a href="http://www.k12ltsp.org/" title="k12ltsp.org">http://www.k12ltsp.org/</a k12ltsp.org>
<a href="http://www.ltsp.org/" title="ltsp.org">http://www.ltsp.org/</a ltsp.org>

A previous poster already pointed out that doing LTSP isn't "all or nothing". They can still have their Windows OS's on the hard drives. They also then have the OPTION of turning these ten-year-old computers into thin clients. That's how I do it in one of my schools that has a bunch of old 300MHz Pentium II boxes with 32MB DRAM. They get the choice. They might also end up avoiding a BSA audit later:

<a href="http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2002/05/13/schools-microsoft.htm" title="usatoday.com">http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2002/05/13/scho<nobr>o<wbr></nobr> ls-microsoft.htm</a usatoday.com>
<a href="http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,101601,00.asp" title="pcworld.com">http://www.pcworld.com/news/article/0,aid,101601,<nobr>0<wbr></nobr> 0.asp</a pcworld.com>

That is why, before your attack on my suggestion, I had hoped that you would've read the above links. You would've learned about all that.

As for the word "bullying", I don't see why you used that word here. I merely pointed out another way to accomplish his goal that he, and others, might consider for future scenarios similar to this. That's what "open source" is about--the exchange of ideas. Heck, if his sister's school likes TuxMath, TuxType, etc., then the folks there might actually consider going forward with something like a K12LTSP pilot in a computer lab. I don't see how pointing that out can be considered "bullying" by anyone other than a MCSE afraid for his/her job. Again, I invite you to read the above LTSP and K12LTSP links and learn for yourself. Then read about what happened to Oregon and Washington schools in 2002; this continues to happen to this day (mine included).

#

Think again

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 30, 2006 12:31 AM
Yeah, looks to me like he did read the article. But obviously you didn't. What Sean actually said was that the old computers wouldn't support distros like Edubuntu on their local hard disks, and that was the concern--installing Linux distros on the local HD's.

From the article:

"The computers in these classrooms are nearly 10 years old, with Pentium II or Celeron processors clocked at around 300MHz. They're not well-suited to running a modern education-based distribution like Edubuntu or SkoleLinux, and it is unclear whether the school would approve of installing Linux on the systems in place of Windows, since there would be a question of long-term support."

Sean did make a technical error when describing Edubuntu, Skolelinux, or any other LTSP-based distribution. LTSP doesn't touch the hard disk; it makes old computers netboot. The original OS is still on there, untouched. Also, with LTSP, the apps don't run on the local client; they run on the LTSP server. Those Pentium II and Celeron boxes would be way, way overkill as LTSP clients; a Pentium-60 is more than enough.

You're fine to criticize, but please be correct when you do. You weren't, in this case.

#

Wider Audience?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 24, 2006 06:49 PM
Great job. Is it possible to have these compiled editions of software made more widely available via a download so that we could use them in other classrooms where we don't have the technical knowledge required to bundle/compile themn ourselves?

Thanks again for supporting your local schools.

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Good example for the need of installers

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 24, 2006 08:16 PM
If you're running Windows, it's obviously sufficient to make a good program with a simple to use installer and it spreads like wildfire.

Just consider what would have happened if these boxes would run a selection of 1998 Linux distributions! Even a selection of modern distributions would do.

It's a real joke that Free Software was invented to be able to help my neigbor but that most people are unable to do so on a Free Software OS because it's developers don't care about it.

Instead, they let the distribution take over, and the resulting chaos makes it impossible to share a binary version of a program. And the knowledge required to compile all these different source packages today (think C#, Java, Python, Perl, PHP, and Ruby) is simply too much.

claus

#

Education should be free

Posted by: Rambo Tribble on May 24, 2006 11:46 PM
Although few today remember it, Apple avoided extinction and gained "mind-share" by dominating the education market in the late '70s, early '80s. Without that life preserver, the Macintosh or even the Lisa might never have come to pass.

Apple went on to milk the idea of "freedom" to promote its products, perhaps most famously with it's Orwellian, Super-Bowl advertisement wherein the Big Brother (IBM) is delivered a crushing blow by the apple-figured young model. Cynical drivel it was, as Apple has always been a more closed, proprietary system than IBM's.

It is then, only fitting that the true freedom of OSS might gain traction amidst the coming generation of computer enthusiasts and users.

I offer my heart-felt congratulations and admiration to the author of this article. Keep on thinking free.

#

More educational software for you

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2006 12:52 AM
I found this link with more software for kids

<a href="http://www.filegate.net/linux4kids/" title="filegate.net">http://www.filegate.net/linux4kids/</a filegate.net>

enjoy!

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I'm glad to see other educators using freeware...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2006 02:49 AM
I was hired at my current school to create a graphic design class. The costs of getting liscenses for a class are outrageous considering you can get just as much (or more) out of freeware. Unfortuneately we deal with district mandated use of Windows based terminal servers so ubuntu or linux isn't a solution for me. However, I use GIMP as an alternative to Photoshop and Imageready, Pivot Stickfigure Animator, Art Rage and others. I can, in turn spend what little budget I have on cool things like Wacom Graphires and cameras. On top of that, students who have computers at home can download the same software we use in class. More educators should look toward freeware.

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Re:I'm glad to see other educators using freeware.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 25, 2006 05:37 AM
What about freeduc? It's also educational software on Linux.

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So what?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 27, 2006 03:45 AM
Why is it so horrible that a SECOND GRADE class is using four year old computers with an old version of Windows? I mean, what do you think they're doing with these things? Compiling code and developing chemical reaction simulations?

I'm not all that old (My last highschool days were about a decade ago) but even in 1996 our Portland Oregon highschool (with about 3,000 students) were using Apple IIe's from 1984.

What did we do with them? The same thing kids today do with them in school. Learned to type. Wrote reports. Did a very tiny bit of the most absolutely basic programming and did research with the cdrom encyclopedia.

Do you need a high-end computer running the latest software for that? Hardly. So let's stop wasting time, money and resources trying to give students the "ultimate machine" where a very minimal system will do.

#

Re:So what?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 28, 2006 05:51 AM
He wasn't complaining, just doing a good deed. Why the attitude?

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4 old computers not 4 year old

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 29, 2006 08:42 AM
Please read before typing.

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So what about us?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 29, 2006 06:51 PM
So how can we get access to your lovely work and share it with other schools?

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GCompris - mouse problem

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 30, 2006 03:03 AM
Has anybody tried GCompris? I downloaded and burned to a CD. After booted up, the mouse was not working. It seemed the mouse was frozen and also there was no response from the keyboard except CTR-ALT-DEL. I have tried it on 2 computers. One is a new one and the other is an old one but the result was the same. Anybody knows how to solve the problem?

Thanks.

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A free education

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 124.43.41.150] on November 09, 2007 08:59 AM
i want this

#

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