While looking for an open source technology to review, I came across WriteType, .an open source word processor geared towards school-age children. I work in special education in a middle school and all too often I hear students lament about having to type out assignments. WriteType through the combination of an accessible interface and valuable features, strives to be a word processor that students can readily use.
Let’s start by checking out the WriteType window, shown in the screenshot at left. As can be seen, the interface is WYSIWYG, offering a menu bar and the top of the window and simple toolbars below this. WriteType offers only the most common word processing features, such as text and paragraph formatting. Features can be quickly and easily utilized via either the menu or the toolbars. Simply put, everything a user needs is here. There are no tabs or complex menus offering features that can confuse new users and into which one could get lost . This functionality is further enhanced by context menus accessed by right-clicking on the text or area in question.
So, what makes WriteType ideal for students? The integration of certain tools takes much of the pain out of writing. One of these tools is word completion. As the screenshot on the right shows, as they type, users are presented with a list of suggested words in the gray field on the right-hand side of the screen. Simply click on the the desired word in the list, or press an indicated function key, and the complete word is inserted into the document. Another useful feature is the fact that WriteType can read back what users have typed, which will help them to catch mistakes prior to proofreading or printing.
If these features aren’t reason enough to give WriteType some serious consideration, other features include auto-correction and grammar checking. Users can also add words to the integrated spelling list. Text highlighting allows users to mark areas of text in need of attention. Distraction-free mode allows users to work without the added distraction of a menu and toolbars. Other customizations include adjusting read-back speed as well as changing the font size of the suggested word list. WriteType also offers multilingual support. WriteType can be readily customized further via the Settings option under the File menu. Documents can be saved in either the native WriteType format (.wtd), as formatted text (.html) or as plain text (.txt)
WriteType is available for Linux, Microsoft Windows and Apple MacOS. WriteType teacher workshops are available for free to schools in the Minneapolis area.
Documentation: a word processor to help students write. (n.d.). GNU General Public License.
Shinn, M. (2010). WriteType [computer software]. GNU General Public License.
Ozark is an object-oriented programming language designed for building software that is readable and reusable. So, what is “object-oriented Programming”? According to TechTarget (2015), object-oriented programming OOP) utilizes a programming language that focuses on objects rather than actions and data rather than logic. In brief, the programmer identifies the objects he or she wants to manipulate and the relationship(s) of these objects, often referred to as data modeling. Each object is categorized and the category determines the type of data assigned to the object. If this sounds confusing, think of a toolbox. Each tool has a specific purpose. Object-oriented programming allows the programmer to define the tools and their purposes.
The philosophy behind Ozark is that of strict code formatting. What this means to users is that there is only one way to do each function. This minimizes error potential. For example, look at a word processor. How many ways are there to perform a task, such as text alignment formatting? At least two methods immediately come to mind. Imagine if there was only one way to do this. You would save much time, as you wouldn’t have to correct mistakes made by invoking the wrong method. Many programming languages work in a similar fashion as there may be more than one way to do something. Choose the wrong one and your program doesn’t work correctly. This scenario is eliminated in Ozark. Strict formatting also means that even if you are unfamiliar with a particular application written in Ozark, you should have little trouble understanding its code.
Ozark is still in its early development stages. In fact, the complier is still under development. However, though you cannot execute programs created in Ozark, you can still write the code, which is great training and practice. For more information about Ozark or how you can help, please check out the Ozone Web Site (link provided below).
All images are from the Ozark Web site and are the property of Finch Software.
Ozark Language – Documentation. (n.d.). San Diego: Finch Software.
What is object-oriented programming? (2015). TechTarget. Retrieved from http://searchsoa.techtarget.com/definition/object-oriented-programming
I want to divert from the educational technology-themed blog that I usually write and talk about a very simple encryption program. If you don’t know what encryption is, you should, especially if you store personal information on a cloud drive. When a file is encrypted, it renders the file unreadable unless you (a) have the software used to encrypt it and (b) have the password, more commonly referred to as an encryption key, that was set when the file was encrypted. It’s not as complex as it sounds and the program I’m going to take a look at does it all for you. To aid with interpretation of this article, the screenshots demonstrate this application’s encryption process, as well as presenting before (at left) and after (below) images of the text document that I am going to encrypt.
Bcrypt is open source, which means that it’s free to use, free to change (with the intent of improving it) and free to share. Bcrypt is available for Linux and Microsoft Windows (32-bit). It runs from the command line (in Linux anyway). I know what you’re thinking. “Oh no! Chris, I’m not a programmer. There’s no way that I can use something so intimidatingly complex.” My response is simply that it’s easy and you can do it.
Once it’s installed (if you’re using a Debian-based Linux distribution like Ubuntu or Linux Mint, open a terminal emulator and type “sudo apt-get install bcrypt” and provide your administrator password and you’re good to go), open a terminal emulator (in Windows, open the PowerShell). To encrypt a file, make sure that you’re in the file’s directory or folder, type “bcrypt filename.xxx” (where “filename.xxx” is that name and extension of your file) and press Enter. You will be prompted for an encryption key. You will be prompted to enter the encryption key again for verification. The file will be encrypted. Bcrypt assigns a .bfe extension to the encrypted file’s name (e.g. “filename.xxx.bfe”), so if you see this, then you know it’s encrypted. Your file can now be stored on a cloud drive without the danger of being the victim of hackers, should the cloud drive ever be compromised. To decrypt a file, open a terminal emulator and simply type “bcrypt filename.xxx.bfe” and press enter. Enter your encryption key when prompted and press Enter. Who said security had to be complicated?
Shelley, J. (2002). Bcrypt [computer software]. Sourceforge.net.
I’d like to focus on computer programming in this installment. Towards this end, I’d like to take a look at Pharo, a software development environment released under the MIT License (similar to GPL, see link below). Pharo provides a graphical way to utilize the Smalltalk programming language, the programming language used to write Dr. Geo, one of my favorite geometry exploration programs.
First of all, Pharo’s development team refers to Pharo as an “immersive programming environment.” What does this mean? Dictionary.com defines immersive as an adjective “noting or pertaining to digital technology or images that deeply involve one’s senses and may create an altered mental state.” Techopedia defines a programming environment as “a collection of procedures and tools for developing, testing and debugging an application or program.” Another name for such an environment is Integrated Development Environment or IDE. What this means is that Pharo provides a graphical interface for Smalltalk that is so intuitive, full-featured and graceful that it allows you to code without getting in the way.
Before I go further, I’d like to share a few things from Pharo’s mission statement. The Pharo team seeks to provide an accessible and innovative free, open source programming environment. These people strive to keep Pharo small, stable and equipped with excellent tools key for software development. Finally, Pharo seeks to foster a healthy ecosystem of contributors who strive to maintain and enhance this application.
Smalltalk is an object-oriented programming language, which, in layman’s terms means that it focuses more on objects and data rather than on commands, or actions, and logic. Keeping this in mind, Pharo is designed to be very straightforward to use and to provide prompt feedback. Pharo also includes an IDE (Integrated Development Environment), from which it draws its simplicity. Furthermore, Pharo offers a high level of diversity through a large library and a set of external applications. Pharo also includes strong support for business use in the form of organizations, such as the Pharo Industrial Consortium and an association of users, the Pharo Association.
I’d like to take a look at Pharo’s interface as this is key to Pharo’s ease of use. How often have you launched a new program with some trepidation, wondering with what will I be presented? How intuitive will the interface be? How long will it take me to figure out how to make this thing do what I need it to do? Arguably, Pharo’s interface, or lack thereof, is not just one of its strengths. It’s also aesthetically appealing. No need for a menu bar or tool bar, as Pharo relies on context-sensitive menus for its functionally. Simply click in the main window to open the World Menu, which is a general menu, from which you can select Workspace. A Workspace is like an artist’s sketchpad upon which you create your application. Once a Workspace has been opened, you can use contextual menus to perform desired tasks.
So, what’s the best thing about Pharo? It could be that it is free to download. It could be the number of free books about Pharo available online. It could also be the extensive support community. I leave it to you, the reader, to download and install Pharo. Then start using it and find out for yourself what you think is the best thing about Pharo.
Pharo is available for Microsoft Windows, Apple MacOS and GNU/Linux.
Thanks to the people at Pharo for permission to use their screenshots for this article.
Black, A.P., Ducasse, S., Nierstrasz, O., Pollet, D., Cassou, D. & Denker, M. (2009). Pharo by example. Switzerland: Square Bracket Associates. Retrieved http://pharobyexample.org/versions/PBE1-2009-10-28.pdf
Immersive. (n.d.). In Dictionary.com. Retrieved from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/immersive?s=t
Pharo [computer software]. (n.d.). GNU General Public License.
programming environment. (n.d.). Techopedia. Retrieved from https://www.techopedia.com/definition/16376/development-environment
I usually write about open source technology, but now I’m going to address something that is arguably the future of open source, Linux users groups for school-age children. In this case, the users group is the CSE Asian Penguins, a Linux users group for middle school students at the Community School of Excellence in St. Paul, Minnesota. CSE is a Hmong charter school and the Asian Penguins may well be the only Linux users group based in a Hmong charter school. So, who are the CSE Asian Penguins and what do they do?
First of all, the Asian Penguins are sixth, seventh and eighth grade boys and girls who attend CSE. To quote from their Web site “our membership includes Hmong, Karenni, and other types of students.” The common ground upon which they meet is that of Linux and other open source software. They utilize Linux for schoolwork, entertainment and communication. Their name, Asian Penguins, comes from the fact that most of these students’ families came from Asia and that a penguin is the Linux mascot.
So what does this group of like-minded open source enthusiasts do? One of their primary goals is to become extremely familiar with the Linux operating system. They learn to use Linux for school, productivity and life in general. Better still, these young academicians use this knowledge to educate peers and teachers alike. But these scholars take their knowledge of open source beyond the confines of their school and reach out to the surrounding community by bringing computers running Linux to needy families and organizations in the community. Their most recent endeavor, Operation Upgrade, provided CSE with two computer carts, containing 60 refurbished laptops running the latest version of Ubuntu Linux.
So, why do I refer to a users group like the CSE Asian Penguins as the future of open source? These young men and women are learning the ins and outs of Linux at the perfect age. Their interest will no doubt result in the broadening of their computer frontiers into other areas of open source technology. These students will become the software developers and hardware engineers of tomorrow’s open source products. Because they will be well-versed in the use of open source technology, they will be able to readily collaborate with colleagues in other nations in which open source has already been adopted. They will play a great role in the evolution of open source.
If you’d like to know more about the Asian Penguins or would like to find out how you can help, visit their Web site listed below under Resources.
All information was retrieved from https://sites.google.com/a/csemn.org/asian-penguins/home.
Unizor is an open source mathematics and physics Web site that seeks to promote intellectual strength, creativity and analytical abilities. Unizor’s founder, Zor Shekhtman, does this through a series of lectures on mathematics and physics designed to help high school students exercise the mind just as one would exercise his or her body in a gymnasium. The abilities strengthened by using Unizor can readily be applied to real life. Another great strength of Unizor is that parents and other responsible adults are placed in charge of their students’ education.
So, how does Unizor do this? A parent/supervisor goes to Unizor’s Web site and creates an account for him or herself. The parent/supervisor then has two roles. The first is to enroll his or her students into instructional programs. The second is to manage the learners’ progression through the programs. Each student has an account created by the parent/supervisor which makes this possible. From here, students’ progress can be monitored, including exam scores, and they can be passed on to the next level within the course.
How does Unizor work? Each topic is presented by Zor Shekhtman as a video lecture. Far from being dry, Zor conveys his enthusiasm for the curriculum through his instruction, which makes the lectures very engaging. Zor also utilizes visual aids and examples to enhance the learning experience. The educational experience is further augmented by the use of other media and materials. Furthermore, teachers are not left out. To quote from the Unizor home page, “The function of a Unizor teacher is to provide quality educational materials. Control over educational process is not a function of a Unizor teacher, this is supposed to be provided by parents/supervisors.” Teachers can modify both instructional content and exams as well.
Unizor has a very different approach to mathematics education than the more prevalent principles utilized by many schools. These principles have an emphasis on formulas and procedures and the memorization of these. The problem with this is that students, not finding immediate real-world application for this information, will soon forget it once the assessment is passed. Unizor focuses on a logical and analytical approach to mathematics education, encouraging problem-solving, proving theorems, axiomatic foundation and rigorousness of educational material. This approach is conducive to the development of students’ minds, something that will be of value in any occupation.
Unizor is ideal for learners who have been identified as gifted and talented. The opportunities for academic and intellectual growth abound here. Be aware, that Unizor is a work in progress. However, there are more than 400 lectures available with more to come. You should also know that the physics component is still predominantly under development. So take control of your student’s learning and create a supervisor account on Unizor’s Web site today.
It’s been a while, too long in fact, since I’ve written anything here. Hard to believe that the summer is winding down. You probably have lots of photos and videos taken this summer. What better way to share them than in a movie that you’ve made yourself? You don’t need Microsoft Windows Movie Maker either. Let me introduce you to OpenShot, the open source alternative to Movie Maker.
Upon initial launch, OpenShot bears a striking resemblance to its proprietary counterpart and it works in a similar fashion. What I find extremely appealing about this software, personally, is the WYSIWYG interface. The interface is very straightforward, which is a big deal to me as I believe new users will have a tendency to return to an application if they have a pleasant first experience. ( I’ve just discovered another strength of this software: the user’s manual jumps right into using the software via a piece entitled Learn OpenShot in 5 Minutes, rather than to present the application and its features. The manual addresses these topics, but after guiding the reader through initial use of the software. How cool is that?)
Looking at the screenshot at left, the Main Toolbar is at the top of the window, under the menu. Below this are the Function Tabs, which allow users to toggle between files, transitions and effects. The Project Files pane below this shows all media files that have been added. The Preview Window to the right displays video playback. Just below these two panes is the Edit Toolbar (left) and the Zoom Slider, which allows users to tweak the time-scale. Below this is the Play-Head/Ruler. The Ruler displays time-scale and the Play-Head shows the current position of the movie on the time-scale (appears in red when in use). Finally, the Timeline is at the bottom of the window and displays each component of the movie.
Adding media is easy. Once you’ve added media to the Project Files pane, simply click and drag them to the Timeline. You can add a wide variety of audio, video and image media to your video. Once media has been added to the Timeline, it can be repositioned by clicking and dragging. You can also add effects, such as transitions, special effects and sounds. Finished videos can be exported to such video formats as AVI, MOV, MP4 and MPEG, If you really want to see something cool created using this software, let your kids or students run wild (well, not that wild) with OpenShot. They’ll show you what thinking outside of the box is all about.
OpenShot is available for Fedora Linux and Ubuntu Linux and also as a Live version run from DVD so that you don’t have to install it to try it.
OpenShot Home Page
OpenShot Video Editor Manual 1.3.0. (2013). OpenShot Studios, LLC. Retrieved from http://www.openshotusers.com/help/1.3/en/.
One of the great benefits of mailing lists is that you have the opportunity to learn about new things. In this case, the new thing that I have learned about via the schoolforge-discuss mailing list is FisicicaLab, an open source educational application developed to solve physics problems. FisicaLab handles all of the mathematics related to physics, giving the user the ability to focus purely on physics. So, without further adieu, let’s take a closer look at this thought-provoking piece of software.
The graphical interface is similar to that of GIMP, incorporating multiple windows. Unlike GIMP, FisicaLab utilizes only two windows initially. The main window is called the Chalkboard and the other window is entitled Modules and Elements. The Modules and Elements tool enables users to add items to the Chalkboard and to modify those items. Buttons at the top of the Modules and Elements window allow users to toggle between different types of elements. (See the screenshot for a typical session). Additional windows open as needed.
FisicaLab allows users to manipulate virtual objects such a blocks, pulleys and forces. These can be handled and allowed to interact in a variety of ways, including, but not limited to, relative motion, collision and explosion. Other factors that can be adjusted include friction and force, among others. FisicaLab gets a high level of expandability via additional modules which users can install. These modules include, but are not limited to, kinematics of particles, dynamics of particles and calorimetry, ideal gas and expansion.
This brief article is written merely to inform and cannot do this wonderful application justice. If you teach physics, FisicaLab is designed with both instruction and learning in mind.
FisicaLab is available for Linux, Microsoft Windows and Apple MacOS.
GNU FisicaLab Home Page
GNU FisicaLab Manual. (n.d.). GNU General Public License. Retrieved from http://www.gnu.org/software/fisicalab/manual/en/fisicalab/index.html#SEC_Contents.
All images are from the GNU FisicaLab Web site.