Using LibreOffice Calc to Make a Gradebook

In this era of Student Information Systems, the idea of using an electronic spreadsheet to create a gradebook may seem a bit outdated, but not all schools or districts can afford an SIS or have the resources to implement one.  Furthermore, homeschoolers hardly need an SIS to track student performance.  For these groups, an electronic spreadsheet makes a fine gradebook and, in keeping with this blog’s focus on open source, I’m going to use LibreOffice Calc, a spreadsheet  in an open source office suite, to do this.

energize education, libreofice calc

Look at all those wonderful cells!

First, a quick vocab check.  A spreadsheet is an application designed to work with numbers.  It’s divided into columns and rows, much like a checkbook register or ledger.  An individual spreadsheet is referred to as a worksheet.  Columns are identified by uppercase letters, called column headers.  Rows are identified by numbers, called row headers.  An exact spot where a column and row meet (e.g. A1) is a cell.  An individual cell would be identified, as shown above, by putting the column and row headers together (e.g. A1).  When a cell is clicked on, it becomes the active cell, which is indicated by a bold outline around the cell.    While working with the cells of a spreadsheet, the mouse pointer turns into a rectangle with which individual cells can be selected, or multiple cells, when clicking-and-dragging.  Cells can be customized in terms of the data they contain (text, number, etc.) as well as in terms of physical appearance (font color, background color, etc.).

While typing in a cell, the contents will appear in the formula bar below the menu and toolbar near the top of the screen.  Near the bottom of the screen are sheet tabs.  Tabs allow users to have multiple worksheets in one spreadsheet.  This is ideal for a subject in which multiple types of data are collected (e.g. homework grades, assessment scores,  etc.).  Simply click the + to add a new tab as needed.

energize education,libreofficeYour first step is to determine what grades you are going to record.  This is important as it affects the labels for each column head, among other things.  A spelling grade book might just have a date that corresponds to each weekly spelling test.  A math grade book might include multiple worksheets (one for homework, one for classwork, etc.).  For the sake of this article, I chose to create a math grade book.  Put some thought and planning into your gradebook and you’ll get more use out of it.

In regards to my platform, I’m using LicreOffice 5.0 on Xubuntu Linux 16.04.4.  You should be able to do what I’m going to show you in any spreadsheet application, not just Calc.  You may want to consult your application’s documentation in regards to formula syntax.  Let’s get started and open Calc (or the spreadsheet application of your choice).  At the top of each column, you will want a column heading that will serve as a label.  The first cell in each column is reserved for a label and is exempt from sorting by default (we’ll take a look at sorting shortly).  In the first cell of the first column, type “Student Name“.  I’m putting student names (last name (well. the first initial of the last neme for the sake of confidentiality), first name) in one cell so that they can be sorted alphabetically.  Thus, if I get a new student, I can add his or her name to the gradebook and re-sort the names alphabetically so the new student’s name will be sorted in with the others.  The next header depends on the subject for which you’re making the gradebook.  As this tab will be for homework grades, I’m using dates.

energize education,energize education through open source,libreoffice calc

Resizing cells is easy.

If you look at my screenshot, you’ll notice that my “Student Name” label doesn’t quite fit.  Most spreadsheet applications allow for easy column-width adjustment, which certainly aids in legibility.  Positioning the mouse pointer between two column headers turns it into a double arrow.  Just hold down the left mouse button and drag to the right to resize the column (as shown in the screenshot).  Row height can be adjusted in a similar fashion.  Regarding legibility, I also increased my font size from the default of 10 points to 12 points.  To do this, click on the “button” to the left of the A, B, C,… column headers and above the 1, 2, 3… tow headers.  This selects all cells in a worksheet and works in every modern spreadsheet application I’ve used.  Once you’ve done this, any changes you make (e.g. font size) will affect the whole worksheet.

energize education, libreoffice calc

Click and drag to automatically fill in dates.

In the first cell of the second column (B1), I typed the date (9/1/17) which is automatically formatted as 09/01/17.  Hit the Tab key, which moves the cursor to C1, and enter 9/8/17.   One of the cool things about electronic spreadsheets is that they can detect patterns.  Click on CI, drag over cell D!.  Now move the mouse pointer to the lower right corner of cell D1.  It should turn to a set of cross-hairs.  Click and drag a few cells to the right. and continue on to select cells EI, Fi and so on.  The dates will automatically be filled in.  Thus you can fill in dates for the entire semester/trimester/term).  For the last column (column I) of the semester/trimester/term, type in the heading of your choice (Average, Grade, etc.).

energize education

Look at the formula in the formula bar.

In cell I2, type the following (also shown in the formula bar screenshot): =average(b2:h2). In human terms, this means that cell I2 will present the average for the numbers listed in cells B2 through H2, as seen in the screenshot.  As I look at my results, I see that my averages contain multiple decimal places.  This is fine for complex mathematics, but I just want to display to the average to the closest half point.  Right-click on the I column header and choose Format Cells....  In the Format Cells dialog box,  click on the Numbers tab.  Below the Category field are available Options.  From here, change the number of decimal places from the default (blank) to 2 or 1, depending on what your desire is, and click OK.  After having done this, you’ll see how much more approachable the numbers are (check out the screenshot).

energize education, libroffice calc

Our finished gradebook

One more thing that I’d like to share is the ability to rename worksheets to help yourself and others navigate your gradebook.  Double-clicking on a sheet tab opens the Rename  sheet dialog box.  Simply type in the new name and click OK or press Enter.  It’s that easy to customize your new gradebook.  You should now be able to create a gradebook yourself using a spreadsheet application.  If you have any questions, please contact me.  Good luck creating gradebooks!

 

Resources

LibreOffice Web Site

Web Development -A Student’s Gateway to Programming

Web development is an ideal platform for young learners to enter into the world of computer programming. In this article, I’m going to show why this is true and how easily you can get students into programming as well as helping them to develop essential skills, such as proofreading and problem-solving.

html,xhtml,web design,web development,programming,energize education

The foundations of a Web page. Anything between the <body> </body> tags appears on the page.  The <p> and </p> are paragraph markers.  <title></title> are, well, the page’s title.

First of all, (X)HTML, the language used to create Web pages, is easy to learn and uses syntax and mechanics found in true programming languages. Like programming languages, (X)HTML utilizes elements and these elements use attributes to better define them. Arguably, this is where the fun begins. As learners become familiar with elements and their attributes, they will certainly want to experiment with them. Changing an attribute’s values can affect such things as physical appearance or placement on the Web page. Young programmers will quickly familiarize themselves with the practice of tweaking elements’ attributes and, undoubtedly, will be very anxious to learn about more elements, even if it requires doing so on their own time.

Next, (X)HTML grows with the user. Once a user has learned how to create a basic Web page, there is much more to learn. Users can learn to work with formatting, hyperlinks and adding multimedia. From here, users can learn to use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to format the appearance and layout of a page or a whole Web site. Once a learner feels that he or she has mastered (X)HTML and CSS, he or she can be introduced to JavaScript, a language that will endow them with the ability to create more interactive Web sites. From JavaScript, it’s an easy migration to a full-fledged programming language. Also, unlike programming languages such as C, BASIC or Lisp, (X)HTML does not need compiling. Results of changes to code can be viewed immediately.

A very strong argument for introducing learners to (X)HTML is that working with it can cultivate two highly desired abilities -proofreading and debugging skills. These skills are essential in the programming world and proofreading is valued well beyond the world of programming. When a Web page or one of its elements does not look right, there’s only one way to fix it and that’s to find its reference in the code and alter it as needed. This means combing through lines of code sometimes, looking for one thing in particular. Towards this end, problem-solving skills are also developed. If changing the attribute of one element fails to get the desired result, sometimes a developer will have to experiment to find something that works.

energize education, bluefish, html,web development,programming

Bluefish Editor in action

Text editors such as Microsoft Notepad or BBedit for Mac are fine for creating Web pages. However, as your burgeoning Web developers’ skills grow, they may feel constrained by the limitations of such tools. Open source Web development suites/HTML editors such as Bluefish or BlueGriffon, can provide them with a more rewarding environment in which to work. Both are WYSIWYG and include tools that will make Web development easier. Better still, with the W3C’s (World Wide Web Consortium) Tidy installed, code can be validated to identify mistakes and to ensure that it meets W3C standards. The W3C also offers a CSS validation service. These tools make it much easier to debug. Tidy can also be used to “tidy up” code so that it’s easier to read. This is a useful habit for budding developers to get into for just this reason.

The final argument for using (X)HTML as a platform for launching the careers of young developers is the cost. Unlike some commercial programming languages, (X)HTML is free. Not only is (X)HTML free, but so are the open source tools mentioned above, Bluefish, BlueGriffon and Tidy. If, like so many schools and districts, your school or district’s budget is tight, then this is a logical course to pursue. Not that expenses matter to the kids. They’ll just sit down and, after a little instruction, start coding.

Resources

Bluefish Web Site

BlueGriffon Web Site

Tidy Home Page

Tidy Info Page

NtEd -Musical Score Editor for Linux

NtEd is an open source musical score editor for Linux. It seeks to provide a platform for music teachers and students alike for the instruction of reading music, composing music and learning to play instruments. NtEd is an abbreviation of Noteedit, the application’s full name.

nted,score editor, musical score editor

The NtEd Main Window

NtEd developers strove to create an intuitive WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) interface. This they have achieved with aplomb. The interface is very approachable with a menu bar at the top of the window, and a toolbar below this. Below this is a pane presenting what appears to be a sheet of paper with a stave along the top. A free-floating Toolbox is included for added functionality. Within this toolbox are arrows that allow users to scroll between five different options of items to add to the stave. These include notes, rests and the like that can be clicked on and dragged to a desired location on the stave. Musical composition couldn’t be easier than that.

nted,musicali score editor,music score editor

The NtEd Toolbox

So what can users do with NtEd? By clicking on two notes, they can be tied (legato). These can be used to build cords and tuplets. Instruments can be added to every staff and, thus, a complete orchestra can be created. The Play button allows users to hear the music that they have written. Additionally, NtEd offers support for up to 4 instruments per staff. NtEd includes full compatibility with MIDI, both in terms of MIDI files and MIDI devices.

Other features include, but are not limited to, the ability to transpose a score to a new key, the capacity to mute selected staves and a copy and paste feature. NtEd can create files of the following types: PostScript, SVG, MIDI, PDF and PNG. Creations can be exported to MIDI and MusicXML. Completed projects can even be exported to LilyPond, an open source, text-based musical score editor.

If you’re a music teacher, NtEd is software that your budding impresarios deserve. Check it out. Introduce your students to it. Watch the magic unfurl.

Resources

References

Anders, J.  (n.d). NtEd [computer software].   GNU General Public License.

Anders, J.  (n.d.). NtEd a new and free musical score editor for Linux.  Chemnitz, Germany: Chemnitz University of Technology.  Retrieved from http://www.iiis.org/cds2010/cd2010imc/iceti_2010/paperspdf/eb505ay.pdf

BRLTTY -Connect Braille Displays to Your Linux Console

brltty,braille,braille display console, energize educationBRLTTY is a background application that runs in UNIX/Linux and that provides access the Linux/UNIX console for a person using a refreshable Braille display, which is connected to the computer.  BRLTTY also serves as a driver for the connected device so that it will run on a UNIX/Linux computer.  Like all of the software I review here, BRLTTY is open source.  Let’s take a look at what it can do for its users.

refreshable braille display,brltty,energize education

Figure 1: A refreshable Braille display

BRLTTY is feature-rich.  These include the usual screen review facilities one would expect to find, as well as cursor options (block, underline or none) and underlining for highlighted text.  One feature that I thought was wonderful was screen freezing.  This allows users to review output at their leisure.  Intelligent cursor routing allows for users to readily fetch the cursor in such applications as a word processor or Web browser without having to move their hands from the Braille display.  There are far more features available than I could cover here.

braille alphabet

Figure 2: The Braille alphabet

In terms of capabilities, BRLTTY has much to offer.  For example, it can be configured to run at system start-up to help users log onto the system.  It supports scrolling back to review prior messages (those that came up during the boot process for example).  BRLTTY supports video modes which offer more columns and/or rows than the default 80×25.  It also offers basic speech support and a preferences menu.  Supported Braille displays include those manufactured by Alva, HandyTech and B2GBaum among others.  Voice synthesizers supported include, but are not limited to, eSpeak, GenericSay and Alva.

If you’re in need of a full-featured console for a refreshable Braille display for a UNIX/Linux system, BRLTTY should meet your needs.

Resources

The BRLTTY Online Manual

The BRLTTY Web Site

References

BRLTTY [computer software].  (n.d.).  GNU General Public License.

BRLTTY man page.  (22 December 2015).  GNU General Public License.

Figure 1 retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Plage-braille.jpg.

Figure 2 retrieved from httsp://asd-hs.wikispaces.com/file/view/braille-alphabet.jpg.

 

Tip of the Day: Exportability -What It Is & Why You Need It

So, what is exportability and how does it relate to open source educational technology?  Exportability is the ability of an instructional product to be utilized in a setting other than the one for which it was designed.  How do you make an educational product exportable?  It’s not as complex as it sounds.  You simply need to create an instructor’s manual providing information about how to employ the product.  That’s it.  So, if you have a student for whom you’ve created some great instructional materials, be sure to create instructor’s manuals so the educators with whom your student will work in the future will know how to use them.

LibreOffice Math – Computer Programming Starts Here

energize education,libreofficeSo, what is LibreOffice Math and why is it so important to computer programming?  While most people are familiar with LibreOffice, LO Math, the equation editor, is arguably the least known component.  On a whim one day, I decided to check out LibreOffice Math.  The experience was an eye-opener.  This is a wonderful tool for building equations.  The interface is clean and there are features that any mathematician would savor.

libreoffice math coputer programming,energize education

The LIbreOffice Math window

Looking at the screenshot to the right, we see that the LibreOffice Math window is divided into three panes. The two stacked panes on the right constitute the Equation Editor.   The pane on the left is referred to as the Elements window.  The elements presented here are mathematical in nature and can be dragged and dropped to the top pane at right.  The pane below the top right pane presents the equation in a written format, similar to that used in programming languages.  The equation can edited here or in the pane above.  This whole interface is topped off with a toolbar and menu bar at the top of the window.  In regards to elements offered, these include unary/binary operators, trigonometric functions and mathematical relations, as well as providing examples and allowing users to customize the appearance of their equations.

libreoffice math computing,libreoffice math in education,libreoffice math programming skills

The author’s circuit

What makes LibreOffice Math so ideal as a learning platform for burgeoning programmers is the fact that it provides them with a means to experiment with and to become more familiar with, Boolean Operators (and, or, not).  Boolean Operators are used by computer programs to tell the computer that a decision must be made at a given point.  For example, the line “if A=no then 100″ tells the computer that if the value of A equals ‘no” then the computer should proceed to line 100 of the program.  It’s a fairly straightforward concept and a skill that should be cultivated early in would-be programmers.  If they have this principle mastered when they first start writing computer programs, then they will be that much farther ahead in the game.

The equations can be fairly complex, depending on the need.  There is a fairly all-inclusive library of equation expressions to draw upon.  Looking at the screenshot above, you can see my modest creation.  It is a circuit created in discrete mathematics.  To the layman, it simply reads “‘A and B’ or ‘B and C’ not ‘A and C'”.  Imagine what an enthusiastic learner could accomplish.

My advice is to take a look at LibreOffice Math for yourself.  You’ll see my point.  When you’re comfortable with it, introduce your students to LO Math.  Once they are familiar with it, you should be able to step back and watch the magic unfurl.

Resources

LibreOffice Download

References

LibreOffice 5.4 help: Instructions for using LibreOffice Math.  (n.d.).  Mozilla Public License.
Retrieved from https://help.libreoffice.org/5.4/gu/text/smath/main0000.html?DbPAR=MATH.

Dressing Up Linux for the Holidays Revisited

This is an update of an article I ran three years ago on customizing Linux for the holidays.  The biggest difference is that the Window Maker theme used is of my own design.

Season’s Greetings, everyone. The holiday season is upon us, so I thought I’d take a break from my usual blog on open source educational technology and write about a something a little more lighthearted.

f you want to make your Linux desktop look more festive for the holidays, all you need is a little time to do this.

"energize education through open source,open source educational software,open source instructional software,free educational software,free instructional software,open source educational technology,open source instructional technology,free educational technology,free instructional technology,christopher whitttum,christopher d. whittum,xscreensaver,fuzzy flakes,holidays

Xscreensaver Preferences Window

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to do add holiday cheer is to set your screensaver to Fuzzy Flakes. If you go into Settings, you can set the background color to something that might be a little more seasonally festive than the default pink. The screenshot on the left shows the Xscreensaver Settings window.

Next you’ll want to set a holiday-themed background.

screenshot of a snow covered lane,holidays

The author’s December Window Maker theme

Simply search for “linux christmas (or the holiday of your choice) wallpaper” in your favorite search engine and you’ll get plenty of hits. Choose one or several of your liking and download them. Once downloaded, use your desktop environment preferences utility to setup the desktop background of your choice. On a related note, you can also find Christmas/holiday themes for your desktop environment or window manager. If you’re experienced in creating Window Maker themes, it’s easy enough to design your own.  Check out the great Window Maker theme, December, that I created in the screenshot to the right.

The next item you’ll want to obtain to complete that holiday look (at least if you live in the northern hemisphere) is Xsnow.

screenshot of Window Maker desktop,holidays

Xsnow running on my festive Window Maker desktop (note Santa and his reindeer just to the left of the center of the screen).

Xsnow is an application developed by Rick Jansen that generates snowfall on your computer screen. You may already have it installed. Open a terminal and type “xsnow” and it should start right up, if it’s installed. A gentle cascade of snow is not all that Xsnow gives you. You also notice tiny fir trees appear on your screen as well. To add to the fun, Santa can be seen driving his sleigh and reindeer through the snow with Rudolph leading the way. Xsnow can be customized in a number of ways, so I’d suggest you read the Xsnow manual page (type “man xsnow” in a terminal window) to learn more. The screenshot shows my Window Maker session dressed up for the holidays with Xsnow running to enhance the effect.

That’s all for now. Have a safe and happy holiday season.

Resources

December Window Maker Theme

Xsnow.

References

Dmytro, B. (2004). Fuzzy Flakes [computer software]. GNU General Public License.

Jansen, R. (2001). Xsnow [computer software]. GNU General Public License.

Whittum, C. (2017). December [computer software].  GNU General License.  Retrieved from http://christopherwhittum.com/window-maker/.

Window Maker [computer software]. GNU General Public License.

Xscreensaver [computer software]. GNU General Public License.

STEM Education & Open Source: Match Made in Heaven

There is a huge push in our schools to introduce learners to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and to cultivate student interest in STEM.  The reason is obvious.  These are fields of technology that will be generating jobs in the future as well as making our world a better place.  So, why do I say that STEM education and open source is a match made in heaven?  Let me elucidate.

energize education,, synaptic

A Synaptic search for “math”

First of all, there is an enormous volume of open source software that involves STEM in one at least one capacity.  Better still, many of these applications are free!  Looking at the screenshot at left, we see the author’s session in Synaptic, a software management application for Ubuntu Linux.  In the lower left-hand corner of said screenshot, we can see that my search for “math” generated 855 hits.  Granted, not all of these are necessarily developed for elementary or secondary classroom use, but you’re sure to find an application that will meet your needs and pique your students’ interest.

energize educaton, colobot

Colobot’s Program editor

One strong argument is the variety of applications available to help students learn computer programming.  There is almost literally something for every taste.  My regular readers will know what a big fan I am of Colobot.  The premise is that you are an astronaut preparing a planet for colonization.  Towards this end, you have programmable robots at your disposal.  They just need instructions (programming) in order to do their jobs.  The screenshot to the right shows Colobot’s Program editor window.  For the artistic, KTurtle, part of the KDE Education Project, allows users to enter code to create colorful patterns.  Laby gives the user a chance to troubleshoot and guide a robot ant through a maze, avoiding or overcoming obstacles.  Laby even allows users to select from a variety of programming languages with which to work.  Etoys integrates art and computer programming by allowing users to create pictures and then to animate these pictures using Squeak, Etoys integrated programming language.  There are other applications, so please shop around to find one that you believe would best stimulate your students’ inner programmers.

Another supporting point for my claim is the number of programming languages available with the installation of an open source operating system, like Linux or BSD UNIX.  Among these are C, C++, Python, Perl, Java and Ruby, which are among the better known, but there are others as well.  Your students can use the above applications to learn to write computer programs and then chose a language through which their newly attained programming skills can be applied.  Each language has its strengths (Perl, for example, is ideal for working with strings of text).  I think the best approach is to help students select the programming language that best matches what kind of program that they would like to write..

energize education, stem, STEM

This final winning scene from Colobot would look just as cool with a woman astronaut.

Probably the strongest argument for my claim is that open source, by its nature, invites the curious.  As users, students have a right, under the GPL (GNU Genreal Public LIcense), to change the software with the intention of improving it.  For example, in Colobot, users can customize their astronaut (hair color, sunglasses, etc.).  The one thing that can’t be customized is the gender of the astronaut.  It’s always a man.  We need a female astronaut as an option.  How cool would it be to be able to say that your students created a female astronaut for Colobot?  Or added enhancements to other pieces of open source software?  Students could look at the development history of the software and see their contribution listed.   How’s that for a well-deserved feeling of accomplishment?  It might take a little time to find open source software that your STEM students will love, but the rewards will be worth it.

Resources

Colobot Web Site

Etoys Home Page

GNU General Public LIcense

KTurtle Home Page

Laby Home Page

References

Breijs, C. (2017). KTurtle [computer software]. KDE Education Project: GNU General Public License.

Colobot [computer software]. (n.d.). GNU General Public License.

Etoys [computer software]. (n.d.). GNU Genreal Public License.

Laby [computer software]. (n.d.). GNU General Public License.

Vogt, M. [2012]. Synaptic [computer software]. GNU General Public License.

 

 

 

 

Autumn Leaf Safari Ecology Data Collection Activity

energize education through open sourceOne of the two people who reviewed my book on Amazon stated that he was disappointed as he expected a collection of lesson plans with open source technology integrated into them.  My line of thought was that I’d put enough effort into researching, organizing and presenting the book’s contents that I really didn’t want to construct lesson plans to go with the software.  Here, I attempt to amend this.  This activity incorporates science (ecology), mathematics and physical fitness.  As this involves going outside, choose a week when the weather looks most cooperative.

This would work best with students in primary grades, but could be modified for intermediate-level students with ease.  The best time for this is at the height of the fall season, when plenty of leaves litter the ground.  Each student will need a plastic grocery bag or food storage bag.  Each student will also need a Leaf Sorting Sheet (see below) and access to an electronic spreadsheet.  In keeping with the open source theme of this blog, I chose Libenergize education,libreofficereOffice Calc, but any such application will do.  At the end of this article there are links to download the Leaf Sorting Sheet, in ODT format, and the Leaf Tally Sheet spreadsheet, which is in ODS format and can be used as a template to design your own.  Note that the species of trees listed on these two items are indigenous to the northeastern United States, so please feel free to adapt them to match species found in your vicinity.

Introduce the activity by asking if anyone knows what a safari is.   Tell your students that we’ll be going out to the playground on a leaf safari and, in so doing, will learn a little about local ecology.  They are to collect as many leaves as they can, but they should try to select a variety of leaves.  When we’re finished, we’ll take a look at what we’ve got and make spreadsheets and graphs showing our findings.

Head out to the playground, preferably between recesses, so your students will have fewer distractions.  Give them 20 minutes to complete this task.  They can work with a partner, if desired.  At the prearranged time, call them back and head back to the classroom.  Each student/group will need a Leaf Sorting Sheet.  Give the students 10 minutes to sort their leaves and be prepared to answer any questions that may arise regarding leaf types and sorting practices.

energize education thorugh open source,libreoffice calc

The author’s completed spreadsheet.

When the sorting is finished, you can have your students open the spreadsheet that you have previously created.  I’d suggest using mine as a template and make any changes needed to it.  Anyway, each student, or group of two students, should have his or her own spreadsheet into which they will enter the quantity of each collected leaf type.  When done, guide the students, if necessary, preferably using a projector connected to your computer, through the chart creation process.  This will provide them with a graphical representation of their leaf collections.  These graphs can be printed and put on display in the classroom.  For closure, ask students what they may have learned while doing this activity.  Were some species of leaves more prevalent?  What does this tell you about the kinds of trees that grow in this area?  Now that you now how to put data into a spreadsheet and to create graphs, in what other tasks could you use these tools?

I hope you’ll find this activity useful and that you and your students both enjoy and learn from it.  I welcome any comments or ideas.

Resources

Leaf Sorting Sheet

Leaf Tally Sheet

LibreOffice Web Site

Window Maker in the Primary Classroom

So what is Window Maker and why would you use it in a primary classroom?  Window Maker is a window manager (graphical interface) for Linux/UNIX operating systems.  Its most distinctive feature would have to be the dock.  This is a place where dock apps and quick launches for frequently used programs reside.  The dock first appeared in the interface for the NeXTSTEP operating system.  It has since been adopted by Apple for its MacOS interface, among others.

window maker,energize education,

The author’s Window Maker desktop

That leaves us with the question of why use Window Maker in the primary classroom?  The Window Maker dock supports dock apps, which provide information about the computer system upon which it’s running and about the world around us.  It is this latter type of dock app that is the focus of this article.  Using these apps and a projector, teachers can do a daily almanac with their students.

Looking at the screenshot of my Window Maker desktop, we can see that I’ve placed my dock on the left-hand side of the desktop.  The topmost tile is the GNUstep icon (GNUstep is a project of which Window Maker is a part, designed to regulate and promote open source window managers that employ this style of interface). window maker,energize education thrugh open source

The next icon launches a terminal emulator.  Below this is the WPrefs tool for configuring Window Maker.  Now we get to the informative dock apps.  Wmakerclock provides us with day, date and time (time can be displayed in either 12- or 24-hour mode).  Wimmoonclock provides information about the current phase of the moon.  Wmweather+ provides graphical information about the current weather conditions according to a local weather station.  Wmsun displays the times at which the sun rises and sets for the given day.

window maker,christopher whittumWmbubble provides graphical information about CPU and memory usage.  Wmwork tracks time spent on projects.  Below this are two wmdrawers that scroll sideways, providing additional space on the dock.  Lastly, wmshutdown provides a convenient way for shutting down/rebooting the system.

window maker,energize educationSo, how would I use the Window Maker dock in my primary classroom?  If your computer is connected to a SMART board or Smoothboard, it’s easy.  Start the day with wmclock, so everyone knows what the day and date are.  Write the day and date on the board.  Moving down, you can integrate earth/space science into your class with wmmoonclock, noting the current phase of the moon and possibly recording this data as well.  Then, move down to wmweather+ for a look at the current weather.  Students could even compare the weather presented here with what they see themselves.  Be sure to record this data, on an electronic spreadsheet perhaps, for graphing activities.  Finally, we look at wmsun to find out when the sun rises and sets for the day.  Likewise, this data should be recorded as it could be used in activities involving the seasons, as well as earth/space science  To add to student engagement, you could have a rotation allowing each student an opportunity to do the almanac.

window maker,energize education

Wmagnify running in Window Maker

To enhance visibility, I’d recommend running wmagnify, a magnification program that, in spite of its name, is unrelated to Window Maker.  This will open a small window within which whatever is under the mouse pointer will appear magnified.  This is especially useful for wmmoonclock which provides information about the moon’s orbit with a click, but which utilizes such small type that it’s hard to read.

There are a large number of dock apps available, so I invite you to do some exploring.  Some do similar things to those we’ve discussed, but offer a different take on what they do graphically.  I’ve given you a start.  Now you can begin the school year with a daily Window Maker almanac.  I’m anxious to hear from readers regarding what they did with this idea, so feel free to contact me.

Resources

Window Maker Web Site

Window Maker Dock Apps Archive

The Window Maker theme, Cottage, seen in the screenshots is available here.

References

Window Maker Development Team.  (2014).  Window Maker [computer software].  GNU General Public License.

Vogt, M.  (2012).  Synaptic package manager.  GNU General Public License.