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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.

Resources

CSE Asian Penguins Home Page

References

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

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Resources
GNU FisicaLab Home Page

FisicaLab Manual

Schoolforge.net

References
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).

Resources
Partimus Home Page

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

AutoTeach: Schoolwork at Home without Drama

I’ve recently come across a piece of open source technology that will not only take the struggle out of getting your kids to do schoolwork at home, but will also put them in control of this work while helping them to self-monitor and develop independence at the same time. AutoTeach will do all of these things. So, what is AutoTeach and how can it do all of this?

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With AutoTeach Parent Tool, students earn credits which can be used to “purchase” time on the Internet. There are three components that make this happen. the first is the Credit Meter. The student logs onto this via his or her wi-fi device (tablet, game system, etc.). While this is running, the student can access the Internet. The next component is a Raspberry Pi. For those unfamiliar with Raspberry Pi, they are open source palm-sized computers consisting of a motherboard with a CPU and RAM, as well as audio, video, SD card (used as hard drive), USB and LAN ports. In short, they are fully functioning computers. The Raspberry Pi serves as router, Credit Meter and firewall. By default, the firewall only allows the students to access the third component of AutoTeach, the Credit Reader Web site.

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Raspberry Pi mini computer

The AutoTeach Web site allows parents to set up school-based work for their young academicians, as well as a schedule for completing this work. This site, by default, is the only one white-listed on the Raspberry Pi firewall, so it’s the only one kids can access until they have credits. Topics covered include reading, mathematics, music, vocabulary building and research. These are all available as JavaScript plugins to be loaded onto the user’s Credit Reader account.

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AutoTeach Student Meter

The activities are just as engaging as they are educational. By completing activities to a predefined skill level, students can earn credits toward free Internet time. You may actually find your kids begging to do schoolwork. A really neat feature of AutoTeach is that credits can be awarded manually. This means that you could use it as a reward for completing chores or other activities that you would like to encourage. In terms of personal growth, students will have greater control over their learning and a greater enjoyment of it. Through monitoring their own progress and working independently, young people will develop a sense of independence as well as one of self-reliance.

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TuxMathScrabble via AutoTeach

Arguably one of AutoTeach’s greatest strengths is its capacity for growth. Developers will be constantly creating new plugins. There is also a development suite available, AutoTeach’s Development Sandbox, which will allow developers to create plugins on their own. The result is that potential for more plugins is limitless.

As you can see, I am very enthusiastic about this technology. So how do you acquire AutoTeach? It is available as a subscription. To learn more, check out some of the resources below to which I’ve provided links.

References

Cossé, C. (n.d.). AutoTeach your kids, advance education software development.

Thanks to Charles Cossé for permission to use the images that appear in this article.

Resources

AutoTeach Asymptopia Web Page

AutoTeach Resources

LinCity-NG: Economics & Ecology

I want to look at a fun application entitled LinCity-NG. As the name would imply, it is an open source clone of Electronic Artis’ (EA) SimCity. LinCity-NG has evolved quite a bit since my first encounter with it ten years ago. It has an aesthetically appealing interface and is highly customizable in terms of features and game play.

LinCity-NG is also a wonderful way for students to learn about both economics and ecology. My reasoning for this is that this game requires users to build a civilization. In order for a civilization to grow it must first survive and then expand. Surviving means that you must have a successful economy with employment, resources and trade. These things fluctuate during the game and to succeed, you must be able to compensate for them. In terms of ecology, as you expand, you will encounter various types of terrain, such as wetlands, that you must work around as removing them is very expensive. You must also be aware that civilizations generate pollutants. These pollutants must be dealt with responsibly in order to avoid repercussions. Keeping these factors in mind, let’s take a closer look at LinCity-NG.

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LinCity-NG Main Menu

When initially launched, LinCity-NG presents the user with a straightforward interface. The screenshot at left displays the main menu. Clicking the New option opens a menu allowing users to select a scenario. Available options include Beach, good times and bad times, among others. Personally, I like to start with an empty board and when I create my LinCity-NG academic unit (forthcoming), this will be required so that all students start at the same level in the game. If you’re experimenting with LinCity-NG, by all means try different scenarios. The titles are self-explanatory.

Once your game starts, you will be presented with a map of the terrain upon which a civilization must be built. There is a panel on the upper left-hand side of the screen that provides access to available actions and structures. In the lower left corner is what looks like the control buttons on a DVD player. These allow users to accelerate and pause the simulation or to run it at normal speed. Users can also access the main menu from here. In the lower right-hand corner, is a panel offering a map, some buttons below it and several tabs. Both tabs and buttons allow you to view various information about your civilization, such as economic standing and resource availability, among other things. The map is laid out in a rhomboid shape. Check out the screenshot at right for an idea of the initial layout.

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An empty map upon which to build your civilization

In the beginning, users can create only the bare minimum in terms of structures for their civilization. As your civilization grows, more options become available. This is what would make LinCity-NG an ideal platform for learning. All learners start at the same level. Each could be provided with a rubric identifying what their society must have in terms of services and industry at specified points in game time. For example, “By simulation year 60, your civilization should have Residences and Farms powered by Windmills.”

Looking at the panel in the upper-left corner, each button represents a category. The top button allows you to toggle between the Query tool (mouse pointer),the Bulldozer and Water. Clicking on anything with the Query tool will provide information about that item in the little map window in the lower-right corner. The next tool on the panel allows you to iniitally build Residential areas. You can choose from one of three options, each of which affects the population levels differently. The button below this could best be described as basic resources. These include at outset Market (where jobs are created and goods exchanged), Farm (for food) and Water well.

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One of the author’s bustling communties

The next button opens a menu that could be best described as social services. Initially, Monument (something to give the citizens pride in their community) is the only option available, but others include School, Fire Department and Sport (like a basketball court). Transportation is the next category. The only option available is Track (like a trail) at first, but others such as Road and Port can quickly be unlocked. Power sources are next and none of these are available at start up time. Windmills however can be readily earned to provide power to Residences and Farms, as I indicated above.

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You can zoom in and out with the mouse wheel. Cool, huh?

Resource sources are next. The options available at the beginning include Commune (a place where such goods as coal and steel are produced), Ore mine and Rubbish tip (landfill). Other choices that become available are Coal mine and Recycle (recycling center). Industries make up the final menu. Pottery is the only option available at outset (like all industries in the game, Pottery converts resources into goods). As the game progresses, users have access to Blacksmith, Mill, Light Industry and Heavy Industry. If you haven’t got all of that committed to memory, don’t worry. One of LinCity-NG’s greatest strengths is its integrated help. Just right-click on any of these options for more information about them.

I could write more on this stimulating application, but I leave it to you to explore LinCity-NG for yourself. Your students will be enrapt. There is one more academic aspect of LinCity-NG that I neglected to mention and that is creativity. Though you can use it to teach students about economics and ecology, one fun aspect for the educator is the opportunity to observe the worlds that students will create and how they vary. Student creativity is often one of the greatest rewards that educators can enjoy.

Resources
LinCity-NG download for Linux and Microsoft Windows

References
Sharp, G., Keasling, C. and Peters, J.J. (n.d.). LinCity-NG [software]. GNU General Public License.

OpenRocket: Open Source Model Rocket Design and Launch Simulation Software

OpenRocket is an application for virtually building and launching model rockets. This software was developed by Sampo Niskanen, who was a student at the Helsinki University of Technology when he developed OpenRocket as the focus of his graduate studies on open source software. OpenRocket is fun and easy to use. The online guide, Getting Started with OpenRocket. advises basing your rocket designs on existing products, so I chose to virtually create and launch an Estes Hi-Flier (kit number 2178) as shown in the image below.

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Estes Hi-Flier model rocket

OpenRocket launches with a pop-up window asking the user to provide rudimentary information about the rocket he or she plans to design (design name, designer and a field for comments). If desired, this window can be readily closed so that the user can begin working with the application.

The OpenRocket interface is very straightforward. A simple menu bar is at the top of the window, allowing users to perform common tasks (Open, Save, Undo, etc.). Below this are two tabs, Rocket design and Flight simulation. The Rocket design tab employs a kind of switchboard interface that allows users to select which model rocket components they would like to add to their build.

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Our Hi-Flyer taking shape.
The only three options available at start up are Nose cone, Body tube and Transition (a coupler that is tapered at one end). To the left of this switchboard is a window displaying a text-based tree-structure outline of your rocket. The lower half of the screen is the canvas upon which your design appears. The default is Side view, but users can toggle between this are Rear view. This canvas is flanked on top and to the left by rulers measuring centimeters. At the top of the OpenRocket window is a simple menu.

When a new component is added to your rocket, the Component configuration window opens providing information about the component’s shape, composition and mass, as well as offering options to modify the component. Additional tabs are available for configuring such categories as mass override, figure (illustration) style and a field for notes about the model. This feature can also be accessed by clicking on a component and choosing Edit from the switchboard menu just to the right of the outline window.

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I chose the Freeform fin set.
Components in the outline area can be expanded to reveal sub-components or collapsed to hide them. Components can also be moved here by clicking on a component and dragging it to a desired location in the tree-structure. Furthermore, components can be modified using the switchboard immediately to the right of this window. Two really neat features included under the Analyze menu include Component analysis and Rocket optimization. These allow you to tweak your rocket’s performance.

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The Engine selection window
Once you’ve added an engine, the fun begins, as the guide Getting Started with OpenRocket states, as you’re ready to enter into the simulation portion of the application. OpenRocket is well integrated with the model rocket industry in regards to measurements and sizes of various components. For example, when you are ready to select a motor, if you have properly configured your engine mount, only motors that will fit the engine mount will be listed. Once you have selected your engine (or engines), we’re ready to run a simulation. Click on the Flight simulations tab. The Flight simulations window has five buttons at the top of the screen allowing users to create, run and modify simulations. Below this is a pane in which are listed user-created simulations. Below this is the canvas showing the user’s rocket.

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Looks good, but will it fly?
Clicking on New simulation opens the Edit simulation window. Under the Launch conditions tab, you can customize the simulation in terms of engine configuration, wind speed, atmospheric conditions and other launch conditions. When the launch is configured as desired, click the Run simulation button. A window with simulation information will flash on the screen. Click on the Plot/export button and this will open the Edit Simulation window. In this window, users can adjust various criteria relating to the simulation, such as launch conditions, simulation options and what types of data will be plotted. Once this information has been set, simply click the Plot flight button in the lower right corner and a window presenting a graphic representation of the rocket’s flight will open. What’s really fun is to tweak various rocket components and launch conditions to see how they affect a rocket’s trajectory.

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Not bad, but needs tweaking.
So, what are the benefits to using OpenRocket? It provides a wonderful opportunity to build and test model rockets prior to launch. What this means to model rocket enthusiasts is that they will have a better opportunity to determine their rockets’ trajectories and, therefore, have a better chance at recovery. Plus, it’s a fun way to experiment with model rockets. Isn’t that really what it’s all about?

OpenRocket is available for Linux, Apple MacOS, Microsoft Windows and Android.

Resources

Niskanen, S. (2009). Development of an open source model rocket simulation software. Helsinki: Helsinki University of Technology. Retrieved from: http://openrocket.sourceforge.net/thesis.pdf

Pummill, J. et al. (n.d.). Getting started with OpenRocket. TRF Community. Retrieved from: http://comp.uark.edu/~jpummil/OR-Start.pdf

Software

OpenRocket

Energize Education Tip of the Day- The KDE Education Project

Today I want to focus on the KDE Education Project or KDE-Edu. As you may know, KDE (K Desktop Environment) is an open source graphical interface for UNIX-based operating systems like Linux. KDE-Edu is a project started by the people at KDE with the intention of developing educational open source software for all ages, both learners and teachers. ktouch,kde-edu,kde edu,kde education project

The software that they produce addresses language arts, mathematics, science and social studies as well as other areas of learning, such as computer programming and occupational therapy. Language arts appplications range from KHangman, a variation of the popular word game to KWordQuiz, a vovabulary builder, to Parley, a powerful vocabulary assessment tool. Mathematics applications range from KBruch, a tool for quizzing users about fractions and facotrizations to applications addressing more advanced topics, such as KAlgebra for graphing algebraic expressions and Kig, an interactive geometry tool.

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Kalzium, an interactive table of the elements.

In terms of science software, KDE Edu has some interesting offerings. These include, but are not limited to, an interactive periodic table of the elements, Kalzium, a virtual planetarium for your computer desktop, KStars and Step, an application that allows users to create virtual two-dinmensional physical science experiments. If you’re looking for social studies applications, check out Marble, a virtual globe that allows users to view Earth from various perspectives including geographical, historical and climate or KGeography, an application that quizzes users on their geographical knowledge including locations, capitol cities and flags.

Other applications include KTurtle, a program teaching beginning computer programming, KTouch, a typing/keyboarding tutor and KLettres, a tool for teaching younger students how to write their letters.

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Ktouch typing trainer

I cannot do KDE-Edu justice in this short space. There are more applications available than I have discuessed here. I urge you to check them out. They’re open source, free and will soon (as of this writing) be available for Microsoft Windows.

Energize Education Tip of the Day!

Marble is an open source virtual globe for your computer. I’ve written about Marble before, but it’s been awhile so I thought I’d revisit this application and share some of the features that have been introduced. Marble offers a variety of ways in which to view the Earth, including, but not limited to a geoographical map, precipitation, a street map and satelite view. There are many other maps that are availiable as add-ons, including globes of the planets and moons, historical globes from a variety of eras, a hike and bike map, public transportation maps and several maps created by MapQuest. In addition to all of this, Marble can be readily customized via its menus. Marble is part of the KDE Education Project and runs on Linux, Microsoft Windows and Apple MacOS.

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Marble showing the Earth at night (note: I’ve zoomed in on a particular region. Where?).

Energize Education Tip of the Day!

GIMP is a very powerful, feature-rich and versatile image creation and editing tool. Better still, it’s open source. Users can do everything from simple photo enhancement to creating lively, eye-catching graphics. Among the tools built into GIMP are a wide variety of brushes, special effects for customization and support for layers. Web masters can even use GIMP to create image maps. In short, GIMP has every feature you would expect to find in a modern image editing application.

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The author created this parody of a popular product using GIMP.

Energize Education Tip of the Day!

If you’re concerned about Microsoft Internet Explorer’s vulnerabilities, I’d recommend that you try an open source alternative, such as Mozilla Firefox, Mozila Seamonkey or Chromium Web Browser. Open source Web browsers are stable, secure and just as user-friendly as Internet Explorer. Best of all, they’re free to download, use and share, so check out an open source Web browser. It might just change your Web surfuring experience.

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Mozilla Firefox displaying information about Mozilla’s license.