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    Copyright 2013 Christopher D. Whittum, M.Ed.

    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.

    LinCity-NG -I Finally Attained a Self-sustained Society

    lincity-ng,energzie enducation through open source
    One of my fiine Universities

    Regular readers (or should that be “reader”?) of this blog know that one of my favorite open source games with educational potential is LinCity-NG.  This is a port of the classic game SimCity.  What makes it ideal for education is that you could build integrated units focusing on ecology and economics, as, in theory, it is possible to create a society that is self-sustaining economically and in balance with the environment.  I say “in theory” as thia has never been accomplished by me.  Until now, that is.

    In order to succeed in attaining such a civilization, you must have one that is economically stable.  This means that your citizens have to be employed, fed and comfortable.  You also need a

    lincity-ng,energize education
    This Tip has been emptied by surrounding Recycling Centers.

    decent technology level (called tech level in the game), which can be attained by constructing Monuments early on, Schools late and, eventually, Universities.  Once this has been attained, you will attain the ability to create four things essential to having a self-sustaining, ecologically-friendly society -Recycling Centers, Parks, Solar Power Stations and the aforementioned Universities.  Recycling centers cut back drastically on waste and can even be used to empty Tips (landfills in LinCity-NG) as they produce ore, steel and other goods through recycling.  Check out the screenshot and you’ll see a Tip that has been emptied by surrounding Recycling Centers.  This limits the waste of society to such things as air pollution.  To combat air pollution, build Parks around Coal fired power stations and other sources of air pollution to shelter residences.  (hint: holding CTRL and P will create a park with a pond.)

    lincity-ng,christopher whittum
    This simple Park fights air pollution.

    Solar Power Plants generate MHz, which can be used to power light and heavy industry, textile mills and other facilities of this nature.  To power homes (KHz), you’ll need to connect these to Substations.  Once you have Solar Power Stations, you no longer need alternative, polluting energy sources, like Coal fired  power stations.  You also no longer need Coal Mines.  This greatly minimizes pollution in general, but especially air pollution.  The one caveat that I would offer is that Solar Power Stations can occasionally catch fire, so be sure to have Fire Departments nearby.

    Finally, there are universities.  There has to be four schools for every university.  Also, universities are more expensive to run.  What you gain in exchange for this is the opportunity to more rapidly increase your tech level.

    energize education
    Solar Power Stations -your best choice for clean energy

    So, I have shared my successes with LinCity-NG.  I hope that this well inspire others.  None of my previous ongoing games in LinCity-NG have attained this level of success.  I hope that you can attain it as well.

    QGIS -An Open Source Geographic Information System

    energize education, qgis
    The QGIS logo

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

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

    qgis,energize education
    A QGIS session

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

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

    qgis,energize education,energize education through open source
    QGIS displays information about the habitat of the Asian Lynx.

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

    energize education through open source,qgis
    QGIS running on Linux in GNOME

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

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

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


    QGIS Web Site

    A Gentle Introduction to GIS


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

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

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

    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.

    LinCity-NG download for Linux and Microsoft Windows

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

    Energize Education Tip of the Day!

    LnCity-NG is an open source counterpart to SimCity. Users can create their own civilizations complete with inducstry, services and culture. Users have a first-hand opportunity to learn about the principles of economics, such as supply-and-demand and inflation versus recession. Best of all, users create a world of their own.

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    The author’s LinCiity-NG session (you can see industry, housing, a school and a sports arena).