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One thing that has chagned quite a bit since I was a kid is the attitude that schools and teachers have towards comic books. When I was a child, if you had a comic book in school, you wouldn’t have it for long, as such things were viewed as the antithesis of education. The attitude now is that so long as kids are reading, it’s a good thing, even if it’s a comic book, which I think is a big improvement. My middle school library has a fine collection of graphic novels, in addition to the other media that they offer. Anyway, I thought that I would write about some open source comic book viewers that work with graphic novel ebooks and that you could use in your classroom.
Comix. Comix is a very versatile and easily customized comic book reader. Ir reads most common image formats, not just .cbr (the native format for digital comic books). Comix supports the storing of comic book libraries as well as allowing users to adjust how they view their comic book reading. Users can zoom in and out as desired. As it presents one page from the comic at a time, the page being viewed can be rotated to suit the reader. For the die-hard comic book fan, media can be displayed in two-page format, if desired. Archive formats supported include .tar, RAR and ZIP. Comix supports the use of bookmarks to mark pages of interest. Comix features integrated archive editing. Though Comix is available only for UNIX-based operating systems, it is available in over 20 languages. The screenshot at left shows the author’s Comix session, displaying a page from DC Comics’ Batman: Gotham by Gaslight graphic novel, as do the other screenshots featured in this article.
QComicBook. QComicBook is highly customizable and provides the user with every feature that he or she would desire through either menus or its toolbar. The Read Me file will tell you that the developers of QCmicBook sought to keep convenience and simplicity at its core. In addition to comic archive files (.cbr), it also supports handling of .jpg, .png, .gif and .xpm image formats, as well as PDF files. Users can navigate through a comic or graphic novel via a context menu, navigation buttons on the toolbar or by clicking on images of pages in the Thumbnail pane to the left of the main viewing pane. Other features include automatic unpacking of archive files, full-screen mode, double page viewing and continuous scrolling mode, among others. QComicBook is available for UNIX-based operating systems.
MComix. MComix is based on Comix, but offers a few embellishments. These embellishments pertain predominantly to a few bug fixes as well as improved stability. MComix’s creators boast that it is both user-friendly and customizable. The interface is very approachable, incorporating a menu, a simple toolbar and a side pane for selecting individual pages. It is designed specifically for comic books and graphic novels, and supports a variety of formats, including .cbr, .cb7, .cbt and PDF. What makes MComix really great is that it is available for both Linux and Microsoft Windows.
I’ve presented three comic book viewers here. So what can you do with them in your classroom? Just as you might buy printed graphic novels for your classroom library, it’s just as easy to buy them in digital format. You could set up a couple of second hand laptops (they’re cheap on ebay) with libraries of graphic novels on them. Your students then sign up for a time to use one of these computers to do some reading. You could even provide them with a reading log so that they can keep track of where they’ve left off rather than to have multiple students using the same integrated bookmark feature, which could get confusing.
Augustyn, B. et al. (1989). Batman: Gotham by gaslight. New York: DC Comics.
Casillas, L. & Brunner, M. (2013). MComix [computer software]. GNU General Public License.
Ekberg, P. (2009). Comix [computer software]. GNU General Public License.
Stolowski, P. (2012). QComicBook [computer software]. GNU General Public License.
Stolowski, P. (2012). QComicBook read me. Retrieved from https://github.com/stolowski/QComicBook/blob/master/README.
Anyone who has been using Linux/UNIX for a long time will have to admit that offerings in terms of desktop environments have improved immensely. For those unfamiliar with Linux or UNIX, a desktop environment is a graphical interface (mouse pointer, background, window rendering, etc.) that is completely self-reliant in terms of support programs (file manager, text editor, etc.). If unfamiliar with Linux or UNIX, you might say “What’s the big deal?” The big deal is that most window managers (another form of graphical interface and part of a desktop environment, but that lacks self-reliant applications like its own file manager) do not. There are a variety of desktop environments out there, such as KDE, GNOME, MATE, LXDE and FVWM Crystal, for example. However, I want to focus on the Xfce Desktop Environment and why I believe that it rocks.
Xfce has evolved since its initial incarnation as an open source alternative to the (then) proprietary CDE (Common Desktop Environment) to take on a life of its own. Xfce was originally XFCE (XForms Common Environment, the “X” coming from the “X” in X Window System, the official name of the Linux/UNIX graphical interface system), but now Xfce is no longer an acronym for anything. So, why do I think Xfce is so special?
First of all, unlike desktop environments like KDE or GNOME, Xfce is fairly light on system resources. This means that it will run well on older hardware. This makes it ideal for anyone or any organization that cannot afford the latest cutting-edge hardware. Public schools come to mind here. Another reason why I love Xfce is that it supports a high level of customization. Its appearance and function can be easily modified through context-sensitive menus. This includes such things as appearance, system performance and accessibility to name a few. Xfce can easily look like any graphical interface that you can imagine.
Another feature of Xfce that relates to appearance and that I have come to truly value is panels. Panels, often referred to as docks, are bars that can appear horizontally or vertically on your desktop, providing a place to put things like a main menu launcher, a clock or a quick way to launch frequently used programs. Xfce requires that you have at least one panel. It does not, however, have any requirements as to what you do with that panel. That panel can serve in any capacity that you desire. You can even auto-hide the panel so that it only appears when your mouse pointer hovers over it. The screenshot at right shows what the author has done with his panels. There are three types of panels offered: horizontal, vertical and deskbar (this latter panel is vertically aligned, but the contents are aligned horizontally. This is ideal for wide-screen computing).
This leads to another one of Xfce’s useful features, Panel Plugins. These plugins enhance functionality and provide information about your system and the world around you. Available plugins include ways to track open applications, ways to monitor system resources and a means for keeping informed about time and the weather, Launcher plugins provide a means to quickly launch your favorite programs. There are plugins for switching workspaces, creating desktop sticky notes, monitoring network traffic, monitoring project time, getting screenshots and even quick access to an integrated online dictionary. This list is by no means all-inclusive. If you have a job to do, there’s probably a plugin to help you do it.
Finally, I love Xfce’s ease of use. This is due to a number of things, but simplicity is key. The interface in general is approachable by default. Widgets and menus are where you would expect them to be. The Main Menu is straightforward, reminiscent of what Microsoft Windows looked like before XP. The menu opens providing users with direct access to what they’re looking for, organized by purpose (Communications, Office, etc.). Context menus (opened with a right-click) allow for ready modification of any component. If this isa’t appealing, users can easily change the way Xfce looks and works using these menus.
In closing, if you haven’t tried Xfce, maybe you should. It’s light, simple and effectual. What’s not to like?
Xfce Development Team (2016). Xfce Desktop Environment [computer software]. GNU General Public License.
It is with heavy heart that I report that the Qimo4Kids Project, has ceased. This project developed and promoted Qimo4Kids, an open source educational operating system for children. Based on Xubuntu Linux, Qimo4Kids incorporated the Xfce Desktop Environment with collection of open source educational suites and software. The developers sadly announced via their now defunct Web site and via the Qimo4Kids facebook page that the project had not been updated in several years, due primarily to the fact that other things kept arising that prevented this. C’est la vie. They also felt that the project was not as poignant as it was when first created. This was a fun, engaging OS and the worlds of open source and education are the poorer for its concluding.
Arguably, storyboards provide the ideal way to introduce young academicians to writing. Story Maps is an open source application that provides young authors with a graphical interface with which they can plot their stories and a text editor to provide the details that will bring their stories to life. In short, Story Maps is a virtual storyboard. The developer who created this application did so as part of his post-graduate studies in conjunction with teachers, students, creative writing experts and an illustrator. It utilizes story elements commonly found in fairy tales.
Upon launch, the user is presented with Planning View, which offers a simple interface. The screen is divided into upper and lower halves. The upper half has a green background and offers tiles, called story cards, from which users can choose story events. The story cards are labeled and have a corresponding image to further convey their purpose. Hovering the mouse pointer over each story card enlarges it and provides the user with additional information about that particular story card.
These story cards can then, individually, be dragged and dropped onto the gray field in the lower half of the screen. Here, they can be arranged into a story map. Near the top of the Story Maps window is a menu bar offering one option, File. From here, users can save the current story, open an existing story, preview the current story, save the current story as HTML or print the story. At the bottom of the screen is a panel offering options to Write your story!, enter your story’s title and a button that allows users to sort story cards. The result is an interface that allows ready access to features and that is also aesthetically appealing and delightfully engaging.
Using Story Maps is easy. As mentioned above, simply click on and drag story cards to the canvas below. Once the story cards are selected, users click on the Write your story! button. This brings up the story editor that takes up the lower half of the screen, while the selected tiles move to the upper half of the screen. The current story card is displayed to the left of the editor.
The story card is described (e.g. Home: “How the story starts”) to the right and ideas for what to write are presented below this description (e.g. for the Home tile: “You could: Introduce the main characters and…”). Scrolling down in this pane brings the user to the editor where the stories are typed. Below this is a toolbar offering Cut, Copy and Paste options on the left and Save Story, Preview Story, Save Story as HTML and Print Story on the right. Prev and Next buttons with appropriate arrows are, respectively, on the far left and far right of this pane and allow users to scroll through tiles without having to leave the editor. Clicking on the Go back to planning button moves the editor pane down so that the writer can access the story cards.
In terms of exportability, Story Maps can save only to its native format and HTML. The HTML format is more like of snapshot of the sessions in question, as can be seen in the screenshot above. Printed pages look just like the HTML pages. The beauty of this is that the hard copy can serve as a graphic organizer when moving the story text to a word processor where the story can be viewed without graphic organizer components.
So, if you’re looking for an engaging application that serves as a graphic organizer and as a motivator to get young academicians writing, give Story Maps a try.
Story Maps is available for Linux, but there are similar Web-based programs available online.
The Story Maps Web site
Fernandez-Sanguino, J. (2012). Story maps: general commands manual. GNU General Public License.
Hammond, S. (2012). Story maps [computer software]. GNU General Public License.
As the new school year approaches, I thought that I’d shift gears again and write about something every teacher could use, but that few do: a means to electronically manage your classroom library and other resources. Tellico is an open source application that allows users to do just this. Tellico has been developed for the K Desktop Environment for UNIX and Linux, but is also available for Microsoft Windows and runs fine in UNIX/Linux without KDE. With Tellico, users can organize books, comic books, music and other media.
Upon launching Tellico, it can be seen that there are no surprises in terms of its interface. There is a menu at the top of the screen with a toolbar below this and a search tool to the right of the toolbar. Below these are three panes: one long one on the left and two panes, one on top of the other, on the right. The pane on the left lists authors for the given category. The top pane on the right lists books by the selected author and the bottom right pane provides information about the selected work, as shown in the screenshot.
Everything that you can do with Tellico can be done through either the menu or the toolbar. For example, clicking on the New button on the toolbar provides you with a list of catalogs that can be created. Here are the types of items that Tellico can be used to organize: books, bibliographic entries, comic books, videos, music, trading cards, coins, stamps, video games, wines (probably not at school, but home?), board games, and file listings. Plus there is a generic template available for other items not included in this list.
Once a type of collection has been established, most of the routine tasks can be handled using the toolbar. Tool tips provide users with more information about each button. For kicks, click on New and select New Book Collection. Now, let’s just jump in an do a search together. Clicking on the Search button opens the Internet Search window. Items can be searched by Title, Person, ISBN or Keyword. For my search, I chose HTML, XHTML & CSS by Elizabeth Castro. You may choose your own book.
My previous experience as a copy cataloger in a local library has taught me that the ISBN is often the fastest way to search, so that is the search criteria I will use. I select ISBN from drop-down menu under Search Query and type me book’s ISBN in the Search field left of this. You can also search for multiple ISBNs by clicking the checkbox next to Multiple ISBN/USP Search to the left, just below the Search field. To the right of this, select your Search source. Options include the Library of Congress (US), Google Book Search and ISBNdb.com, among others. I chose the Library of Congress. When ready, click the Search button right of the right of the drop-down box.
Surprise! My first search produced no results. I then tried searching ISBNdb.com and found my book. The key here, folks, is to be persistent and to be prepared to alter your search criteria. Just because the item doesn’t turn up, doesn’t mean that it isn’t out there. Notice that publication and cataloging information appear in a pane at the bottom of the Search window. Click the Add Entry button and the item will be added to your new catalog. Clicking the Save button opens the Save As dialog box. Here you can name your collection and select where to save it. All collections are saved in Tellico’s native format (.tc).
One of Tellico’s strongest features is the ability to customize fields of data for a given type of catalog. Clicking on the Fields button opens the Collection Fields window. Here fields can be removed, added or modified as users would like. Very useful for customizing your database. Another wonderful feature is the capacity to check materials out to borrowers. Simply click on the item in question, click Collection and choose Check-out… and the Loan Dialog window opens. Here you provide the borrower’s name and, optionally, a due date via the integrated calendar and you’re all set. You can even add a reminder to the aforementioned calendar.
The Settings menu provides easy configuration in a number of ways. The Filter option allows for querying of your collections using a wide range of criteria. Tellico can also be used to generate bibliographies for collections, something that could be very helpful with student research projects. The Configure Tellico option allows users to configure Tellico’s general functioning, printing, templates and data sources. Librarians should note that with the yaz library installed, Tellico can access z39.50 servers and read MODS and MARC (USMARC/MARC21 and UNIMARC) formats. I have been unable to determine, either way, whether or not Tellico supports exporting to MARC format. Finally, Tellico has a wonderfully integrated help feature.
Tellico could be just the thing you need to track classroom resources. You could even set up an old laptop in your classroom for just this purpose and have students do data entry for your books. This would be a great way to build skills such as literacy and problem-solving. Materials could even be checked out via this laptop. So, get started now and let Tellico relieve you of the stress of worrying about lent materials.
Stephenson, R. (2011). Tellico [computer software]. GNU General Public License.
Stephenson, R. (2011). The Tellico handbook. GNU General Public License. Retrieved from https://docs.kde.org/trunk4/en/extragear-office/tellico/tellico.pdf.
I am extremely excited to announce that my latest article, a tutorial entitled Learn Geometry with Dr. Geo, will be published by opensource.com. This is the first article of this nature that I’ve written that someone else will publish. I think that they did a wonderful job presenting the article and using my screenshots. Thanks to opensource.com for publishing this article.
It will be available here on August 22, 2016 (that’s 22 August 2016 for the 6.68 billion people not living in the United States).
I’ve recently come across a very engaging platform through which children can learn to write computer programs. Little Wizard is an open source application designed to help students in the primary grades learn the concepts that are common in all programming languages, such as variables, loops and conditions. Students can do all this using the mouse. Let’s get up front and personal with Little Wizard.
The interface is WYSIWYG and rather delightful in its use of colorful, engaging images. At the top of the window is a menu bar and below this is a toolbar which, by default, has the Program button already depressed. This is referred to as program view. Below the toolbar is a row of tabs, called the palette. Below this is a row of colorful buttons used for writing computer programs by simply clicking on and dragging program elements represented by the buttons to the program grid below. This is where users write their programs. One really cool feature is that users can easily toggle views of their programs by clicking on buttons on the toolbar. Users can bounce from program view to world view to mixed view. World view presents the world grid which allows users to create and alter the wizard’s world. Mixed view displays both the world grid and the program grid. Integrated tooltips nicely enhance functionality.
So, what kind of programs can you write with Little Wizard? Looking at the tabs in the palette should give you a clue: Wizard, Math, Variables, Conditions and Loops and Other. Each tab has icons, which represent different program elements. Wizard controls functions such as movement of the Little Wizard icon. Math is where you find numbers and their operators. Variables provides the ability to add variables to your program. Conditions and Loops allows for conditions (e.g. if/else statements) and loops (e.g. repeat/until statements) to be placed in a program. Other allows users to assign positions or to prompt for user input. Using these tools, young programmers can make the wizard move, wait for user input or even change his world.
So what happens if you need help getting started? The Little Wizard Web site offers a free tutorial that will guide you through Little Wizard’s interface and to help you learn to use the building blocks of computer programming. Sample programs are provided that give Little Wizard the opportunity to show you what it can do. In no time, users can start developing and bringing to life their own ideas. Now stop reading this and download Little Wizard so you can see what your students will create.
Little Wizard is available for Linux and Microsoft Windows.
Kirillov, K. (n.d.). Little Wizard’s home page: tutorial. GNU General Public License. Retrieved from http://littlewizard.sourceforge.net/tutorial.html.
Kwadrans, M. (n.d.). Little wizard [computer software]. GNU General Public License.
I came across this little gem while perusing the Ubuntu Software Center and decided to give it a shot. Stellarium is an open source, free planetarium that runs right on your computer. To be honest, I was really taken aback by Stellarium’s stunning appearance and visual quality. For one thing, it doesn’t run in a window. It launches into full-screen mode, which beautifully presents the eye-catching graphics. I can discuss this further at another point.
As previously mentioned, Stellarium opens in full screen mode by default. The user finds him or herself looking up at the night sky in the northern hemisphere. Only the major heavenly bodies and cardinal compass points are labeled. The interface is very straightforward. At the bottom of the screen, a panel provides information such as location (Paris, France by default), elevation, Field of View (FOV), Frames Per Second (FPS), date and time. Clicking on a heavenly body brings up information about that body, such as its name, position and distance from Earth. Configuration is handled through two docks/panels called toolbars in the lower left corner. The bottom toolbar, or main toolbar, allows the user to turn visual effects on and off. The side toolbar opens dialog boxes used to configure Stellarium.
So, what does Stellarium have to offer in terms of features? According to the Stellarium Web site, Stellarium includes a default catalog of over 600,000 stars (though additional catalogs containing up to 210 million are available) There are optional connecting lines and/or illustrations (referred to as Constellation Art) that can be toggled to better visualize constellations. Stellarium offers constellations for over 20 cultures and the stories behind those constellations. Views of every planet, and their satellites, are provided. Other features include powerful zoom, multilingual support, time controls, excellent graphics and integrated help.
Arguably, one of Stellarium’s greatest strengths is the level of customization that it offers. First of all, as I mentioned, Paris, France is the default location. Paris is, however, one of hundreds of locations around the world from which users may choose for their session. Additionally, if you’re bored with Earth, you can view the stars from such heavenly bodies as Mars, Saturn or the Moon. One feature that the author thought was pretty cool was being able to toggle the visibility of the ground. Remove the ground and you can view the whole night sky, northern and southern hemispheres, just as if you were in outer space. Other features that can be controlled include equatorial and azumuthal lines, the flow and direction of time and visibility of nebulae. Combine these with the many other features available and you have an incredible platform upon which your students can explore the universe.
Stellarium is available for Linux, Apple MacOS and Microsoft Windows.
Category: User’s guide. (2014). Retrieved from the Stellarium Wiki: http://www.stellarium.org/wiki/index.php/Category:User’s_Guide
I usually write about open source technology, but now I’m going to address something that is arguably the future of open source, Linux users groups for school-age children. In this case, the users group is the CSE Asian Penguins, a Linux users group for middle school students at the Community School of Excellence in St. Paul, Minnesota. CSE is a Hmong charter school and the Asian Penguins may well be the only Linux users group based in a Hmong charter school. So, who are the CSE Asian Penguins and what do they do?
First of all, the Asian Penguins are sixth, seventh and eighth grade boys and girls who attend CSE. To quote from their Web site “our membership includes Hmong, Karenni, and other types of students.” The common ground upon which they meet is that of Linux and other open source software. They utilize Linux for schoolwork, entertainment and communication. Their name, Asian Penguins, comes from the fact that most of these students’ families came from Asia and that a penguin is the Linux mascot.
So what does this group of like-minded open source enthusiasts do? One of their primary goals is to become extremely familiar with the Linux operating system. They learn to use Linux for school, productivity and life in general. Better still, these young academicians use this knowledge to educate peers and teachers alike. But these scholars take their knowledge of open source beyond the confines of their school and reach out to the surrounding community by bringing computers running Linux to needy families and organizations in the community. Their most recent endeavor, Operation Upgrade, provided CSE with two computer carts, containing 60 refurbished laptops running the latest version of Ubuntu Linux.
So, why do I refer to a users group like the CSE Asian Penguins as the future of open source? These young men and women are learning the ins and outs of Linux at the perfect age. Their interest will no doubt result in the broadening of their computer frontiers into other areas of open source technology. These students will become the software developers and hardware engineers of tomorrow’s open source products. Because they will be well-versed in the use of open source technology, they will be able to readily collaborate with colleagues in other nations in which open source has already been adopted. They will play a great role in the evolution of open source.
If you’d like to know more about the Asian Penguins or would like to find out how you can help, visit their Web site listed below under Resources.
All information was retrieved from https://sites.google.com/a/csemn.org/asian-penguins/home.
One of the great benefits of mailing lists is that you have the opportunity to learn about new things. In this case, the new thing that I have learned about via the schoolforge-discuss mailing list is FisicicaLab, an open source educational application developed to solve physics problems. FisicaLab handles all of the mathematics related to physics, giving the user the ability to focus purely on physics. So, without further adieu, let’s take a closer look at this thought-provoking piece of software.
The graphical interface is similar to that of GIMP, incorporating multiple windows. Unlike GIMP, FisicaLab utilizes only two windows initially. The main window is called the Chalkboard and the other window is entitled Modules and Elements. The Modules and Elements tool enables users to add items to the Chalkboard and to modify those items. Buttons at the top of the Modules and Elements window allow users to toggle between different types of elements. (See the screenshot for a typical session). Additional windows open as needed.
FisicaLab allows users to manipulate virtual objects such a blocks, pulleys and forces. These can be handled and allowed to interact in a variety of ways, including, but not limited to, relative motion, collision and explosion. Other factors that can be adjusted include friction and force, among others. FisicaLab gets a high level of expandability via additional modules which users can install. These modules include, but are not limited to, kinematics of particles, dynamics of particles and calorimetry, ideal gas and expansion.
This brief article is written merely to inform and cannot do this wonderful application justice. If you teach physics, FisicaLab is designed with both instruction and learning in mind.
FisicaLab is available for Linux, Microsoft Windows and Apple MacOS.
GNU FisicaLab Home Page
GNU FisicaLab Manual. (n.d.). GNU General Public License. Retrieved from http://www.gnu.org/software/fisicalab/manual/en/fisicalab/index.html#SEC_Contents.
All images are from the GNU FisicaLab Web site.