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.