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Feature: Education & Training

What Edubuntu can teach your kids

By Lisa Hoover on April 25, 2008 (7:00:00 PM)

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Edubuntu is a customized version of Ubuntu aimed at children in educational environments. According to the distributions homepage, Edubuntu is "Linux for Young Human Beings." That works out well for me, since I have three of those in my house. I homeschool my children and use Edubuntu on a couple of our computers. My boys love having an operating system that was designed with them in mind, and I appreciate the way its applications encompass the total learning process.

Edubuntu is based on the Ubuntu Linux operating system and geared for a wide age-range of children from youngsters just learning to read all the way through teenagers getting ready to enter college. It comes bundled with the KDE Edutainment Suite and dozens of other applications and tools to enhance learning in virtually every school subject -- math, reading, art, computer science, language arts, and more. Edubuntu's default interface is GNOME, but KDE is also available. While Edubuntu used extensively in classrooms across the globe, it is easy to install on a laptop or desktop computer for home use.

You just can't beat the educational software included with Edubuntu. Some, like the KmPlot function plotter and the Kig geometry tool, are a bit advanced for my 7, 9, and 10-year old kids, but we regularly use KBurch to practice fractions and are beginning to dabble with Kalzium to learn about the periodic table of elements. Far and away, the most-used app is KStars, which we use almost every day to check what the universe overhead looks like and what celestial bodies will be in view at night.

There's little doubt that as my children get older, the ability to work with various kids of media will become increasingly important, so I've already begun getting them acclimated. All three regularly use the GIMP to edit pictures. My middle son -- a budding film director -- produces weekly movies with Kino. My oldest uses Serpentine to create audio CDs to use during music lessons. The native sound recorder helps us make homegrown podcasts where we discuss what they've learned recently. We burn them to a CD and include it in their lesson portfolios and the records we keep for the state.

Edubuntu really shines in the way it lets me teach my family about programming. I was initially intimidated by the educational programming environment KTurtle, since my rusty programming skills date back to the mid-1980s. The application turned out to be very approachable, and now my children are beginning to learn the cause and effect of code editing in visual way that's suited to their abilities.

Of course, Edubuntu comes with many of the standard applications you'd expect. We make heavy use of the OpenOffice.org word processor and will use Impress when it comes time do a major science project before the end of the school year. While the kids don't use Calc very often, I find it invaluable for keeping track of previous and upcoming assignments, as well as grades and test scores. The desktop publishing app Scribus has also come in handy on a number of occasions when my children have made fancy covers for books they've written, or want to decorate folders to hold their schoolwork.

An added bonus of working with this distribution is that discussions we have about open source software aren't theoretical -- they're actually able to compare for themselves how well it stacks up against the other operating systems and applications available in our home.

Learning disguised as fun

My boys love games, and they are especially fond of the ones included in Edubuntu. As I write this, my oldest is sitting next to me with one of the laptops trying to beat his personal best in a game of KHangMan. He thinks he's goofing off, but I know he's strengthening his reading, spelling, and reasoning skills. They also enjoy Tux Math, a cute game where kids help Tux find the answers to math equations as they fall out of the sky. Enter the right answer and the equations are blasted away; guess wrong and they fall onto the city below, causing mayhem and mass destruction.

My family typically gets the most use out of the Gcompris suite of educational games. Though some are a bit below my children's grade levels, we use make use of several others. For example, we've used the puzzles of famous paintings after art class, the canal-lock game after learning about the properties of water, and the geography module for skill strengthening. We also use other modules to learn chess, sudoku, and to help teach my youngest how to tell time.

Besides Gcompris, Edubuntu ships with more than 15 games that vary in fun and educational value. Some, like AisleRiot Solitare and Potato Guy aren't exactly brain-benders, but overall it's a clever collection and my kids really like them.

Teacher tools

In addition to Calc, which I mentioned earlier, Edubuntu has a few other tools I use regularly to keep myself organized and keep the kids on track.

I've set up each computer with a separate workspace for each child. That way, they can switch users without worrying that whatever their brothers are working on will be lost. I've also set up an Evolution account for each of my children. Even though I'm very hands-on with their schoolwork, they like receiving daily email with their assignments and what to expect for the day. Their inboxes serve as a good record of what we've been doing, and since I use a Web-based mail service, I can check what I've assigned even when we're out of the house.

Since a lot of learning at their age is based on repetition -- multiplication tables, names of continents, spelling words -- I use KEduca to make flash cards and quizzes. Unlike store-bought flash cards, I can tailor these to each child's needs and education level. I've been having some issues getting the built-in image scanner to work with my Lexmark device, but I hope to soon be able to use it to scan writing assignments and burn them to disk for their portfolios. I also plan to scan their cursive handwriting assignments so we can email them to Grandma for extra praise and encouragement with a skill they're not enjoying learning very much.

Finally, as a reward when we're done with schoolwork for the day, I let my kids goof off on the Internet for a while via the Firefox browser with the Glubble extension in place to keep them away from sites they shouldn't visit. They usually like to surf while playing some tunes on the Rhythmbox music player.

Since most of my kids' schoolwork is hands-on and interactive, they don't spend a huge amount of time with our computers each day. Technology is a big part of our lives, however, and by the time they get to be my age I imagine it will be a big part of everyone's. Edubuntu strikes the right balance between helping them learn the basics of core subjects they need to know and teaching them ways open source software can help us achieve great things.

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on What Edubuntu can teach your kids

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What Edubuntu can teach your kids

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.108.0.225] on April 25, 2008 07:40 PM
A great article, my kids are toddlers now and by the time they're ready to use a PC for schoolwork I'm sure this distro will be even better. Thank you for the very descriptive review!

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Tux Paint

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 200.123.148.33] on April 25, 2008 08:52 PM

My kid enjoys painting with Tux Paint ( http://www.tuxpaint.org/ ) since 2+years, is a wonderful app that stimulates him in many ways.

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Can it help counteract Windows?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 65.89.229.229] on April 25, 2008 10:04 PM
I have used Linux for some time, but I have not been able to convert the "family" or kids computer because they have a large number of Windows games (entertain vs. education, granted) on CDs. Does Wine or something of that nature come with Edubuntu? I would rather they learn about Linux alternatives, but I am not sure that would happen.

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Re: Can it help counteract Windows?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 61.12.4.27] on April 26, 2008 12:25 AM
if the kids want to play games, you can try installing cedega/wine (google search for them). But i think the point he is trying to make with games is that they are educational and not GTA type games. And there are plenty of edu-games preinstalled in edubuntu.

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Yes, it can help counteract Windows

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 151.188.247.104] on April 30, 2008 01:04 AM
Remember what computers are supposed to be for in a school: EDUCATION.

You might want to think about setting up an Edubuntu (or K12LTSP) server and giving your kids an Ethernet connection in their rooms. This way the entire house can use "the computer." I know a high school sophomore that's using Kubuntu, and she's all over the place with it. She does her music, her book reports, online chat, etc., and she does so in two languages seamlessly. The whole house uses the heck out of this computer. The parents like it because they're free of malware. The kid likes it because she can do her homework (and more) without the computer getting in her way (e. g. crashing).

Remember also that *you* are the parent, not they. It is *you* who must decide what you will and won't allow into your house. One of the big problems with kids today is that they're in front of TV/computer screens every day for far too many hours. I played my Atari games when I was a teenager, sure. But it got pretty old, pretty quickly, and I found myself riding my bike just about everywhere and doing BMX (bicycle motorcross), which was a lot more fun.

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What Edubuntu can teach your kids

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 204.131.165.130] on April 25, 2008 10:15 PM
This is fantastic to hear. I work at a school district, and my wife is going to be teaching ESL here next year - I'm hoping to get an Edubuntu ESL lab set up for her over the summer that will have Spanish and English accounts set up on each computer.

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What Edubuntu can teach your kids

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 87.196.184.70] on April 25, 2008 11:34 PM
I've recently installed Edubuntu in a computer owned by a friend of my father. This guy has a nephew around 10 years and we talked about installing some educational software. So, I took the change and installed Edubuntu.
When the kid saw the games and the software, he was completely excited and hes eyes glowed so much they seemed car lights.
Now, I just have to give him some lessons on how to use the software and he's ready to go.

Quoting Grand Theft Auto II: "Another Soul Saved". xD

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What Edubuntu can teach your kids

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 74.58.67.77] on April 26, 2008 03:54 PM
"young human beings???"
come on, call them kids.

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Re: What Edubuntu can teach your kids

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 66.121.75.75] on April 26, 2008 04:10 PM
it's a play on the Ubuntu theme. See ubuntu.com for more details.

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What Edubuntu can teach your kids

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 206.174.65.176] on April 26, 2008 05:23 PM
Where's the grade book?

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Re: What Edubuntu can teach your kids

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.206.171.69] on April 27, 2008 06:58 PM
Grades have nothing to do with education. Think about that one.

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Re(1): What Edubuntu can teach your kids

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 206.174.65.176] on April 27, 2008 10:24 PM
.....Except that they're required. I'm a teacher and was really excited when I first found Edubuntu. My hope was to set up a terminal server lab and start showing other teachers the power of linux and open source, but I still need a gradebook program before I can convince anyone. I can't find a workable one for Linux anywhere.

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Re: What Edubuntu can teach your kids

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 160.91.108.124] on April 28, 2008 08:50 PM
Whenever you need a program to perform a task, try looking on freshmeat <http://www.freshmeat.net>. For instance type grade into the search box and you will get several programs. Then try sourceforge <http://www.sourceforge.net>.

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Re(1): What Edubuntu can teach your kids

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 206.174.65.176] on May 02, 2008 04:15 PM
"For instance type grade into the search box and you will get several programs."......none of which have anything to do with classroom grading. I have searched high and low for a linux compatible gradebook and there aren't any. There are several projects that were abandoned a decade or so ago, but no legitimate grade books capable of producing the progress reports, missing assignment reports, and report cards a teacher has to. Until this changes you can't expect Edubuntu to make headway into schools because you'll have no teacher buy in. If there was a gradebook I can guarantee that would be a different story. Please prove me wrong.

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Re(2): What Edubuntu can teach your kids

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 74.214.164.37] on May 02, 2008 09:31 PM
try this.. http://www.kde-apps.org/content/show.php/GradeL?content=67926
see if that will work for you.

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Re(2): What Edubuntu can teach your kids

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 74.214.164.37] on May 02, 2008 09:36 PM
Here's their home page url http://gradel.blogspot.com/

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What Edubuntu can teach your kids

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.255.119.21] on April 26, 2008 08:45 PM
I don't have kids, but came across this article from digg.com and I really envy the time you are taking to educate them. Just reading about this version of Linux is great news, more so since it seems to be working as a great tool for you and your kids. I like how it mixes fun and some learning. Glad to hear about this. Hopefully such a distro exists when I have kids.

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What Edubuntu can teach your kids

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.252.202.183] on April 27, 2008 05:06 AM
My kids have been using Edubuntu for a while now. They were 4 and 6 when they started and are now 5 and 7. Abiword (on the first system, which was much slower) or OpenOffice (on the current system) get a lot of time as they practice their Writing skills. Gcompris has some great parts to it and I try to take advantage of when they are playing with them to talk to them and to understand what is going on. Right now my 5 year old is hooked on SuperTuxCart and they both enjoy TuxPaint. I even introduced the tablet to the older one.

For home use, most people won't bother with the LTSP (or Thin Client) set-up but it does provide some options. Thin Client, if you don't know, is where there is one central server (running LTSP like Edubuntu can) and a number of computers set to boot over the network. Processing goes on the server and files are saved on the server. If you go from one physical client to another all of your files are in the same exact place you saved them. The clients can be low-spec systems (as long as they can boot to PXE) so it is easier to have a few in different areas of the house. Handy if you have a couple kids who are going to fight over the computer!

PXE boot. Instead of booting to the local system's hard drive it boots to the server. Processing goes on the server (handy if you are using old/weak computers for clients) and files are stored on the server. If your child uses the one in the living room during the day and wants to finish something on it in their bedroom or somewhere else

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Re: What Edubuntu can teach your kids

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.153.119.112] on April 28, 2008 01:56 PM
As a teacher myself, the gradebook programs available for linux are few and underpowered. I would suggest you use your favorite program using wine or even VMWareServer or VirtualBox. I've used MistyCity's GradeMachine for years using VMWare with win98 installed inside. If I recall, it also runs well under Wine. Programs like ExamView will also run great under wine or inside VMWare. Another possibility would be to convert an Excel-based gradebook to OpenOffice Calc or even create your own custom version with Calc.

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Re(1): What Edubuntu can teach your kids

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.153.119.112] on April 28, 2008 02:00 PM
BTW, I am the previous poster (teacher)...my 10-year old daughter also loves using Edubuntu at home and is better at creating pictures with TuxPaint than I am with Gimp or any other graphics software. She also finds TuxMath to be a useful tool for practicing her math skills. KStars is a definite favorite for finding out "What is that? Is that a planet or a star?".

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TuxMath and TuxTyping

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 67.90.11.226] on April 28, 2008 06:54 PM
I'm the current primary developer for TuxMath and TuxTyping. Both programs have been signficantly enhanced since the versions present in even the most recent Edubuntu (particularly TuxMath). There are current Win and MacOSX builds at http://www.tux4kids. com, as well as source *tar.gz packages that build and install on Linux with a simple "./configure; make; sudo make install" (you need to have the needed libs, which can easily be installed with aptitude or Synaptic).

If you like TuxMath, you should definitely get the current version.

David Bruce
dbruce@tampabay.rr.com

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The Games

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 165.139.156.41] on April 28, 2008 08:21 PM
The typing games were very fascinating for me when I was a few years younger than I am now. They really helped!

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What Edubuntu can teach your kids

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 84.232.169.14] on April 29, 2008 11:36 AM
You state:
"There's little doubt that as my children get older, the ability to work with various kids of media will become increasingly important, so I've already begun getting them acclimated. All three regularly use the GIMP to edit pictures. My middle son -- a budding film director -- produces weekly movies with Kino. My oldest uses Serpentine to create audio CDs to use during music lessons. The native sound recorder helps us make homegrown podcasts where we discuss what they've learned recently. We burn them to a CD and include it in their lesson portfolios and the records we keep for the state."
Later on you also mention your kids creating books and covers - do you consider sharing them with other home-/unschooling families? Why and why not?
1) Do you use online educational resources such as those on http://www.capetowndeclaration.org/related-initiatives
2) Would you consider supporting a free software user group for homeschooling families?

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Re: What Edubuntu can teach your kids

Posted by: Lisa on April 29, 2008 03:18 PM
Hi,

I'm sure my kids would love to show off some of their creations. :-)

Yes, I do use some online resources as well. There are so many to choose from, and there are lots of terrific ones out there. Feel free to contact me via the email link at the top of this article if you want to talk further about user groups.

Lisa

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K12LTSP and Edubuntu

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 151.188.247.104] on April 30, 2008 12:54 AM
Hi folks,

Educationally-oriented GNU/Linux is an absolute must if we're to combat proprietary software's current desktop monopoly. I hear young kids saying, "fire up Internet Explorer and surf to <wherever>." This is bad. They should be saying, "fire up a Web browser and surf to...." They also should be learning concepts in school, not just specific applications. Schools are now turning into "voc-tech" institutions instead of really educating. This, too, is bad.

Educationally-oriented GNU/Linux distros like Edubuntu can, and do, help change that.

I've been using the Red Hat-based version of this, called K12LTSP, since 2003. When Edubuntu came on the scene, I thought, "hey, neat! We need a Debianized version of this, too." Lots of folks are familiar with, and love, Debian, and with very good reason. A few folks said, "oh, do we really need that, it's competition," etc. I disagree. We all are fighting Ubuntu's Bug #1 (Microsoft has a desktop monopoly), and Eric "Mr. K12LTSP" Harrison has been a significant contributor to Edubuntu as well.

A lot of very cool things, mostly that come with LTSP 5, are happening in Edubuntu. In the past, it has had some significant "growing pains", since it is pretty new (first version was Dapper Drake LTS in June 2006). However, I've also heard that nearly all those rough edges have been smoothed out. All this is normal and expected.

I do demos in the Northern Virginia area (close to Washington, DC) for LTSP every year, and they've traditionally been done with K12LTSP and, more recently, Edubuntu. If any of you are in my neck of the woods and would like to see this stuff in action, here's where to get more info.

http://www.state.gov/m/a/os/78544.htm

It's being held at Jefferson HS for Science & Technology from June 23-27 of this year. Hope to see you there!

--TP

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What Edubuntu can teach your kids

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 96.235.35.167] on May 24, 2008 01:36 PM
Interesting way to blend technology with traditional learning methods.

Isabel Allen
http://www.homeschooling-secrets-revealed.com

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