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Ozark -a Readable Open Source Programming Language

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The Ozark logo

Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to draw students into STEM fields is computer programming. But which programming language do you use? Some say Python, others suggest JavaScript. I propose that the ideal programming language for new learners is one that is approachable and that narrows the margin for error. I understand that every programmer needs to learn to debug code, but this can be intimidating to new learners. Let’s take a look at a programming language that meets both of my aforementioned criteria, Ozark.

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.

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Ozark at work.

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.


The Ozark Web Site.


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

QGIS -An Open Source Geographic Information System

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The QGIS logo

Today I want to take a look at QGIS, a free, open source Geographic Information System. So, what is a geographic information system? The U.S. Government Accountability Office (February 2015) defines a geographic information system as “a computer system for capturing, storing, checking, and displaying data related to positions on Earth’s surface. GIS can show many different kinds of data on one map, such as streets, buildings, and vegetation. This enables people to more easily see, analyze, and understand patterns and relationships.” Imagine the kinds of classroom activities that you could develop for Science and Social Studies classes with this kind of software. It’s comparable to ESRI, but without the rather hefty expense that often comes with proprietary technology.

QGIS is actually comprised of several components. The first is the QGIS Desktop. This component allows users to create, view, analyze and share geospatial information. The QGIS Browser allows users to review and organize their data. QGIS Server allows users to share data and to choose which aspects of the data are viewable by others. The QGIS Web Client makes publishing maps online a breeze. They can also be enhanced with symbols and labels. The final component, QGIS on Android, is at the beta level of development, but experienced users are welcome to try it out.

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A QGIS session

So what can you do with QGIS? You can create, edit, manage and export data using a variety of tools such as OpenStreetMap integration. There are digitizing tools that support OCR and GPS. Spatial data can be analyzed in terms of vectors, geoprocessing and geometry, among other criteria. QGIS also integrates 400 tools from GRASS GIS. Additionally, QGIS can share your work online as a WCS (World Coverage Service), a WMS (Web Map Service) or as a WFS (World Feature Service). In short, virtually anything that a user would want to do with a map, he or she can do with QGIS. Imagine the projects students could complete.

QGIS owes much of its functionality and versatility to the wide variety of plugins that are available. The core plugins installed by default include, but are by no means limited to, GPS Tools, Raster Terrain Analysis, interpolation and a Road Graph plugin. Furthermore, a real strength of this software, especially in terms of expandability, is the integration of the Python programming language. Python has been used to develop many of the external pulugins available through the QGIS community. As part of this integration, QGIS offers a Python console through the use of which new plugins can be developed. How’s that for growth potential?

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QGIS displays information about the habitat of the Asian Lynx.

Python and QGIS combine with OpenLayers, an open source mapping library, and APIs (Application Program Interface) to create some incredible maps. Maps can be generated that, with a click, can move from one location to another. Maps can be developed that zoom in and out as needed with a mouse click. Users can even toggle between different types of maps for the same regions. For example, QGIS was used recently by undergraduate students to analyze the habitat of the Asian Lynx in the Carpathian mountains. you can view some of their findings in the screenshot at left.

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QGIS running on Linux in GNOME

You’re thinking, ‘This is great! But how long does it take to learn to use QGIS or become proficient in it enough to teach my students?” The good news is that there is a large amount of documentation available to help new users install and learn to run QGIS. Most of the literature is available on the QGIS Web site and I have provided links directly to some of them below. Regarding the Python programming language, it is fairly easy to learn to use and there are plenty of free tutorials available online. As to using this application with students, you could argue that, because of Python integration, QGIS will grow with your learners.

QGIS is available for Linux, Microsoft Windows and MacOS X.

Thanks to Charles Cossé for suggesting this topic. All images have come from the QGIS home page.


QGIS Web Site

A Gentle Introduction to GIS


Dichte, A., Ehrminger, L., Garcia Travesi Reyes, S., Hoppe, T. and Winger, D. Gnilke, A., Hiltunen & Mund, J.P. (August 2015). Lynx habitat analysis in the Southern Carpathians. Creative Commons. Retrieved from http://www.qgis.org/en/site/about/case_studies/europe_lynx.html.

QGIS user guide. Release 2.8. (14 November 2015). The QGIS Development Team. GNU Venereal Public License. Retrieved from http://docs.qgis.org/2.8/pdf/en/QGIS-2.8-UserGuide-en.pdf.

U.S Government Accountability Office. (February 2015). Progress Needed on Identifying Expenditures, Building and Utilizing a Data Infrastructure, and Reducing Duplicative Efforts (Publication No. GAO-15-193). Retrieved from http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/668494.pdf.

Pharo -The Immersive Programming Experience

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.

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The Pharo logo

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.

pharo, energize educaton through open source
Pharo at work.

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.

pharo,energize education
Pharo works its magic.

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.


The MIT License

Pharo Website


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

Middle School Open Source Users Group

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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.

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Operation Upgrade in action

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.

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The CSE Asian Penguins pose with the completed Operation Upgrade

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.


CSE Asian Penguins Home Page


All information was retrieved from https://sites.google.com/a/csemn.org/asian-penguins/home.






Unizor -Creative Mind through Art of Mathematics

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.

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Zor discusses Permutations.

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.

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Zor discusses possible outcomes of a given set of options.

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.


Unizor Home Page



Gibbon: Open Source School Platform

What would be better for your school system: a Student Information System or a School Management System?  How’s about having both tools in one software package?  In this installment, I’d like to introduce you to Gibbon, an open source suite that can be utilized to organize your facilities and to record and analyze data on students.  In short, Gibbon is a SIS, a SMS and VLE functionality all in one place.  If you are involved in your school district’s decision-making, you should really check this suite out before shopping for proprietary software.

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The Planner window

The secret to Gibbon’s functionality is modules which can be added to make it do what you need it to do.  There are a set of core modules that are installed by default.  I’m going to take a look at some of those now.  The first of these is Planner.  Planner is a lesson planner that allows you to incorporate multimedia integration into your lessons.  Because these lesson plans are stored on a server, they can be readily shared with parents and students.  Homework can be assigned and collected online.  These lesson plans can even be organized into units and used to generate curriculum maps.  Assignments can be graded and the grades recorded.  Other cool features include students being able to comment on peers’ work, guests being able to take classes and students being able to “like” lessons by awarding them gold stars.

energize education,gibbon,open source school platform,sis,sms
A planning session with Timetable

Timetable allows for the creation of timetables for students and faculty alike.  Resources is a database which allows users to catalog and share resources school-wide.  Library empowers users with the capacity to catalog, lend and track items such as books, movies or even electronics.  The Individual Needs module allows for the creation of lessons designed to meet the needs of individual learners.  These can be archived as the student progresses and used to measure progress.  Activities facilitates the creation and management of school activities, including Web-based notifications and registration as well as attendees lists.  Markbook allows educators to record and track students academic progress.  This data can, if so desired, be easily shared with students and parents.  The Rubrics module not only allows teachers to create rubrics, but the rubrics are actually interactive via mouse-clicks.

energize education through open source,gibbon,open source school management systems,open source student management systemrs
You too can track student performance using Gibbon.

There is one aspect of education that I haven’t addressed yet and it’s the most important component -people.  Students is the SIS module.  Student information from across the system can be accessed here.  Academic, behavioral and medical alerts can be generated and accessed by those who need them.  Students’ attendance history can be tracked in Attendance and behaviors, both positive and negative, can be tracked and analyzed using the Behavior module.  Data Updater assures that the right people, parents for example, have current data on certain students.  Other modules in this category can empower users with the ability to easily create groups of staff and students alike as well as to generate staff directories.  Finance is a tool for the tracking of finances, for example in a fund-raiser. Messenger, an internal messaging system that can be used to set up groups of specific recipients and supports such formats as email, SMS and Message Wall.  The last of the default modules addresses administration, both in terms of school and in terms of the system as well as user and timetable administration.

What could be better than having all of these components in one suite?  Being able to add to them.  There are far more expansion modules than I could possibly address here, but they include, and certainly are not limited to, assessment administration, query building, Moodle integration, an integrated Help Desk and Free Learning integration as well.   There are also proprietary modules available, should the open source modules not meet your needs.

As an experienced educator, I can tell you that if your school or district is looking for a school platform, the search should begin, and will end, here.

Thanks to Ross Parker for permission to use the screenshots and for his work on this extremely worthwhile project.


Gibbon Home Page


Parker, R.  (2011).  Features – Gibbon. Retrieved from https://gibbonedu.org/features/.



OpenShot: Open Source Video Editor

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.

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OpenShot logo (copyright 2014 OpenShot Studios LLC)

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?)

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OpenShot ready to go.

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.

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OpenShot at work

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/.

FisicaLab: Solve Physics Problems

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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.

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FisicaLab running on the MATE Desktop Environment.

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

FisicaLab Manual


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.

Partimus: Educational Opportunities Through Open Source

Arguably, one of the greatest strengths of open source software is that it can add new life to old hardware. For example, I have a Dell laptop built for the now unsupported Microsoft Windows XP. The lack of support from Microsoft doesn’t bother me, because that laptop is now running Xubuntu 14.04 LTS. With this in mind, I’ve chosen to take a look at Partimus, an organization that refurbishes computers, installs open source software on them and then distributes the computers to students and schools that need them.

Partimus logo

Partimus Mission Statement: Provide educational opportunities through open technology to educators and students.

Partimus (Latin for “we share”) is non-profit and currently serves schools in the San Francisco Bay area. This project was co-founded by Cathy Malmrose and Maile Urbancic. These two ladies share a passion for helping children succeed and for open source technology. They also share a background working in education. The organization is now run by a board the members of which share the passions that led to Partimus being established.

Students working in a computer lab.
Students using the new computer lab at the ASCEND School.
(Photo from Robert Litt of ASCEND School)

So, what kind of projects has Partimus been involved with? One program that they implemented that is somewhat close to my heart (see my blog of February 25, 2015, An Old Laptop Made New) is the Laptops for Linux Users (LALU) program. They accept donated laptops (better they should go to people who need them than to sit on a closet shelf forgotten). The people at Partimus then talk to the person who needs the laptop and they install the free and open source software needed to meet the user’s requirements. For example, on the Partimus site, they mention helping an elderly Washington state woman, Sky, who was a retired system administrator. Sky likes to help others, especially elderly friends, get into computing. She could not afford a new computer, so the people at Partimus matched her up with a laptop that fulfilled her needs. Now Sky provides elderly friends with laptops running Puppy Linux and helps them get started in computing.

Computer lab in a school library
The new computer lab in the library at the International Studies Academy.

Partimus has also provided used computers running the Linux OS to schools in the San Francisco Bay area. Partimus donated over 20 networked, standalone Ubuntu Linux desktop computers to the International Studies Academy in San Francisco. This school has 420 students in grades 6-12 who are pursuing the study of foreign cultures, languages and geography. These computers provide Internet access using Mozilla Firefox and productivity via OpenOffice. Other schools that have received Linux computers and ongoing support from Partimus include the KIPP San Francisco Bay Academy in San Francisco, the ASCEND School in Oakland and the Computer & Technology Resource Center in Novato, among others. All of these organizations are non-profit.

So you’re thinking “This is a wonderful organization, Chris, but what can I do to help?” There are a variety of things that you can do to help Partimus bring technology to those in need. They accept the following hardware: flatpanel monitors, laptops and desktops with at least 1 GB of RAM and CPUs at 2 Ghz (at least), optical mice and USB/PS2 keyboards. You can also give the gift of funds through monetary donations or through the patronage of such companies as AmazonSmile and Boutique Academia. For more information about how you can help or to ask them to help your non-profit organization with its computer needs, check out their Web site (link below).

Partimus Home Page

Information for this article was taken from the Partimus Web site.
All images are from the Partimus Web site.

Tip of the Day!

It’s been over a month since I published my last article, so I just wanted to check in with my readers. I have every intention of continuing this blog indefinitely, or as long as possible. My hiatus has been due to a recent lack of time. I have enrolled in courses to become an educational consultant, which has tapped into my time for this project. This project is one of the reasons that I am (eventually) leaving the field of teaching for that of being a consultant. This new career will provide me with the increased income that I need to develop this project adequately and to give it the chance to thrive that it so deserves.

In short, though my blogs will be less frequent until my courses are done, this blog, like my enthusiasm for the Energize Education project, will carry on. Thanks for reading.