Marble -An Open Source Globe for Your Device

marble logo,energize educationMarble is an open source virtual globe for your desktop or device.  Unlike a popular proprietary application, Marble works without an Internet connection.  That’s right.  You don’t need an Internet connection to use Marble.  It is part of the KDE Education Project and this article will seek to provide a better look at Marble and why it can be so useful in the classroom.

Clean Interface

Marble uses an interface that is approachable.  A menu is offered at the top of the screen with a simple toolbar below that.  The rest of the window is divided into panes.  A small pane on the left allows users to toggle such things as type of map viewed, current location and map legend colors.  The right pane occupies the majority of the screen and displays a map of the world  There is a minimized world map in the upper left corner that shows users where in the world they are.  In the opposite corner is a compass providing orientation.

Easy Navigation

marble,energize education

Marble displaying information on Casablanca.

Using the mouse, users can be explore Marble , but keyboard shortcuts are available.  Users can navigate the maps by clicking-and-dragging to find their desired location.  With the mouse wheel, users can zoom in for a closer look.  Clicking on a specific location opens a window which provides information about that area such as location (elevation, longitude , latitude), a short description of the locale and, in the case of specific geographic areas, such as cities, provides such data as population, nation and time zone.  Additionally, users can navigate using the compass/scroll tool on the right-hand side of the screen.  Orientation items, such as the world map in the upper left corner, the scale bar near the bottom or the compass, can be relocated simply by clicking-and-dragging them to desired locations.

Many Maps to View

marble virtual globe,energize education

Marble presnets a close-up of a rather busy area of the moon.

Users can toggle between various views of the current map, using the Map View tool in the  lower left-hand pane.  Available views include flat view, stereographic view,  Mercator view and Gnomonic view.  Here you can even toggle whether you’re viewing a map of Earth or of the Moon.  As much fun as exploring the Moon may sound, while looking at Earth, more options are provided as to the type of map/data displayed.  There are too many to list them all here, but here are a few available options: atlas, street map (via OpenStreetMap), satellite view, Earth at night and Historical 1689.  These are available in tje default installation, but plugins can be installed to enhance the types of maps available.

Curriculum Integration

marble virtual globe

North America in 1689. Hmm. Something”s missing…

So, how could Marble be utilized in a twenty-first century classroom?  The most obvious way would be as a tool to teach map reading skills to young geographers.  However, there a several historical maps that could be employed to enhance learning experiences.  Students could even study the history of United States moon landings using the Moon map.  Such maps as temperature and precipitation would be valuable tools in both the biology and ecology classrooms.  While on the topic of science, your class could explore the Moon or, by zooming out, get a look at some of the constellations that surround us.  In regards to mathematics, data could be collected on average rainfalls from locations around the world.  Rainfalls for extreme climates like rain forests or deserts would be interesting to compare.  Then there’s computer programming.  For computer programmers, Marble is written in the C++ programming language and can easily be integrated into C++ programs with the stipulation that said programs are released under the GPL 2.1 (GNU General Public License (i.e. open source)).

From Here….

I’ve informed you about Marble, given several strong arguments for its utilization in the classroom and provided some ideas for curriculum integration.  The next step should be for you to experience Marble first-hand and discover what an engaging application it is.


Marble Web Site

Marble Documentation


Rahn, T.  (2015).  Marble virtual globe [computer software].  GNU General Public License.

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.

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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!



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.


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.



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

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.


The BRLTTY Online Manual

The BRLTTY Web Site


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

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

Figure 1 retrieved from

Figure 2 retrieved from httsp://


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.

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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.


LibreOffice Download


LibreOffice 5.4 help: Instructions for using LibreOffice Math.  (n.d.).  Mozilla Public License.
Retrieved from