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era of Student Information Systems, the idea of using an electronic spreadsheet to create a gradebook may seem a bit outdated, but not all schools or districts can afford an SIS or have the resources to implement one.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.

energize education,energize education through open source,libreoffice calc

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

Autumn Leaf Safari Ecology Data Collection Activity

energize education through open sourceOne of the two people who reviewed my book on Amazon stated that he was disappointed as he expected a collection of lesson plans with open source technology integrated into them.  My line of thought was that I’d put enough effort into researching, organizing and presenting the book’s contents that I really didn’t want to construct lesson plans to go with the software.  Here, I attempt to amend this.  This activity incorporates science (ecology), mathematics and physical fitness.  As this involves going outside, choose a week when the weather looks most cooperative.

This would work best with students in primary grades, but could be modified for intermediate-level students with ease.  The best time for this is at the height of the fall season, when plenty of leaves litter the ground.  Each student will need a plastic grocery bag or food storage bag.  Each student will also need a Leaf Sorting Sheet (see below) and access to an electronic spreadsheet.  In keeping with the open source theme of this blog, I chose Libenergize education,libreofficereOffice Calc, but any such application will do.  At the end of this article there are links to download the Leaf Sorting Sheet, in ODT format, and the Leaf Tally Sheet spreadsheet, which is in ODS format and can be used as a template to design your own.  Note that the species of trees listed on these two items are indigenous to the northeastern United States, so please feel free to adapt them to match species found in your vicinity.

Introduce the activity by asking if anyone knows what a safari is.   Tell your students that we’ll be going out to the playground on a leaf safari and, in so doing, will learn a little about local ecology.  They are to collect as many leaves as they can, but they should try to select a variety of leaves.  When we’re finished, we’ll take a look at what we’ve got and make spreadsheets and graphs showing our findings.

Head out to the playground, preferably between recesses, so your students will have fewer distractions.  Give them 20 minutes to complete this task.  They can work with a partner, if desired.  At the prearranged time, call them back and head back to the classroom.  Each student/group will need a Leaf Sorting Sheet.  Give the students 10 minutes to sort their leaves and be prepared to answer any questions that may arise regarding leaf types and sorting practices.

energize education thorugh open source,libreoffice calc

The author’s completed spreadsheet.

When the sorting is finished, you can have your students open the spreadsheet that you have previously created.  I’d suggest using mine as a template and make any changes needed to it.  Anyway, each student, or group of two students, should have his or her own spreadsheet into which they will enter the quantity of each collected leaf type.  When done, guide the students, if necessary, preferably using a projector connected to your computer, through the chart creation process.  This will provide them with a graphical representation of their leaf collections.  These graphs can be printed and put on display in the classroom.  For closure, ask students what they may have learned while doing this activity.  Were some species of leaves more prevalent?  What does this tell you about the kinds of trees that grow in this area?  Now that you now how to put data into a spreadsheet and to create graphs, in what other tasks could you use these tools?

I hope you’ll find this activity useful and that you and your students both enjoy and learn from it.  I welcome any comments or ideas.


Leaf Sorting Sheet

Leaf Tally Sheet

LibreOffice Web Site

Window Maker in the Primary Classroom

So what is Window Maker and why would you use it in a primary classroom?  Window Maker is a window manager (graphical interface) for Linux/UNIX operating systems.  Its most distinctive feature would have to be the dock.  This is a place where dock apps and quick launches for frequently used programs reside.  The dock first appeared in the interface for the NeXTSTEP operating system.  It has since been adopted by Apple for its MacOS interface, among others.

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The author’s Window Maker desktop

That leaves us with the question of why use Window Maker in the primary classroom?  The Window Maker dock supports dock apps, which provide information about the computer system upon which it’s running and about the world around us.  It is this latter type of dock app that is the focus of this article.  Using these apps and a projector, teachers can do a daily almanac with their students.

Looking at the screenshot of my Window Maker desktop, we can see that I’ve placed my dock on the left-hand side of the desktop.  The topmost tile is the GNUstep icon (GNUstep is a project of which Window Maker is a part, designed to regulate and promote open source window managers that employ this style of interface). window maker,energize education thrugh open source

The next icon launches a terminal emulator.  Below this is the WPrefs tool for configuring Window Maker.  Now we get to the informative dock apps.  Wmakerclock provides us with day, date and time (time can be displayed in either 12- or 24-hour mode).  Wimmoonclock provides information about the current phase of the moon.  Wmweather+ provides graphical information about the current weather conditions according to a local weather station.  Wmsun displays the times at which the sun rises and sets for the given day.

window maker,christopher whittumWmbubble provides graphical information about CPU and memory usage.  Wmwork tracks time spent on projects.  Below this are two wmdrawers that scroll sideways, providing additional space on the dock.  Lastly, wmshutdown provides a convenient way for shutting down/rebooting the system.

window maker,energize educationSo, how would I use the Window Maker dock in my primary classroom?  If your computer is connected to a SMART board or Smoothboard, it’s easy.  Start the day with wmclock, so everyone knows what the day and date are.  Write the day and date on the board.  Moving down, you can integrate earth/space science into your class with wmmoonclock, noting the current phase of the moon and possibly recording this data as well.  Then, move down to wmweather+ for a look at the current weather.  Students could even compare the weather presented here with what they see themselves.  Be sure to record this data, on an electronic spreadsheet perhaps, for graphing activities.  Finally, we look at wmsun to find out when the sun rises and sets for the day.  Likewise, this data should be recorded as it could be used in activities involving the seasons, as well as earth/space science  To add to student engagement, you could have a rotation allowing each student an opportunity to do the almanac.

window maker,energize education

Wmagnify running in Window Maker

To enhance visibility, I’d recommend running wmagnify, a magnification program that, in spite of its name, is unrelated to Window Maker.  This will open a small window within which whatever is under the mouse pointer will appear magnified.  This is especially useful for wmmoonclock which provides information about the moon’s orbit with a click, but which utilizes such small type that it’s hard to read.

There are a large number of dock apps available, so I invite you to do some exploring.  Some do similar things to those we’ve discussed, but offer a different take on what they do graphically.  I’ve given you a start.  Now you can begin the school year with a daily Window Maker almanac.  I’m anxious to hear from readers regarding what they did with this idea, so feel free to contact me.


Window Maker Web Site

Window Maker Dock Apps Archive

The Window Maker theme, Cottage, seen in the screenshots is available here.


Window Maker Development Team.  (2014).  Window Maker [computer software].  GNU General Public License.

Vogt, M.  (2012).  Synaptic package manager.  GNU General Public License.


SparkyLinux -Distro for Low-end PCs

Recently, Ubuntu announced the end of the 5-year Long-term support (LTS) for its 12.04 version.  This includes Kubuntu 12.04, Xubuntu 12.04, Lubuntu 12.04 and Edubuntu 12.04.  All of these operating systems will no longer receive software updates.  Why this matters to me is that I have two older IBM ThinkPad laptops running Xubuntu 12.04 (a T40 and a T43 respectively).  I chose this version because it doesn’t (didn’t?) require a CPU with PAE (Physical Address Extension), which these computers lack.  Now I’m stuck with a dead-end operating system.  What to do?

sparkylinux,energize educationSparkyLinux came to the rescue.  SparkyLinux, like Ubuntu, is based on Debian Linux.  What makes Debian so special is its package management system, or how it installs software.  There are thousands of applications available through the Debian repositories.  Any of these can be easily installed from a command prompt.  Debian also takes into consideration software dependencies, so if the program you want requires another program to run, Debian installs it automatically.  What Ubuntu strives to do, is to present all of this in a format that is more approachable to new users.

sparky linux,energize educatoin through open source

The SparkyLinux Xfce Desktop

As SparkyLinux is based on Debian rather than Ubuntu, it lacks some of the “ease-of-use” that Ubuntu has.  For example, installation requires a little more user participation, especially when setting up your hard drive.  Another example of this would be the lack of a “Software Updater” application.  Updates are run from the command prompt.  SparkyLinux also requires installation of the GRUB bootloader, something I haven’t used since switching to Ubuntu/Xubuntu.  Don’t let these differences fool you.  SparkyLinux is full-featured and user-freilndly.

Like Ubuntu, SparkyLinux comes in a variety of flavors, if you will, each with its own desktop environment.  Available DEs include LXDE, MATE, Xfce, KDE and LXQt.  There are even minimalist ports  available for  older computers.  Needless to say, I chose Xfce as I can’t seem to get enough of this functional, customizable DE .  Once the installation was complete and the system rebooted, I was presented with a simple login screen.  Once logged in, I was pleasantly surprised to see a rather approachable interface before me.  One interesting note is that, by default, the Xfce Whisker Menu is used rather than the Main Menu.  The Whisker Menu presents applications by category, a way that Microsoft Windows users will find more approachable.

christopher whittum,energize education, sparkylinux

The Whisker Menu

SparkyLinux really ran well on both laptops.  There were a few other surprises awaiting me.  The first was the fact that LibreOffice was installed by default as the only office suite.  I’m used to seeing AbiWord and GNUmeric installed by default and having to install LibreOffice separately, so this saved me a step.  Another pleasant surprise was the presence of the Synaptic Package Manager, which is no longer installed by default in Ubuntu.  It was at this time that I noticed a lack of Update Manager or Software Updater.   We don’t need this as a system can be updated from the command prompt with sudo apt-get update.  

sparkylinux,energize education

A typical session (note: I set the terminal to provide a forutne at launch).

There are a few other software surprises in regards to SparkyLinux. One rinteresting thing is that GIMP is not installed by default as it is with many distributions.  It can be easily installed, but finding it once it’s installed can be tricky.  This is because it is listed as GNU Image Manipulation Program rather than GIMP.  Another surprise is that in lieu of Mozilla Thunderbird Email Client, SparkyLinux opts for its Debian counterpart, IceDove.  However, after I updated my system, I found IceDove supplanted by Thunderbird.

In short, SparkyLinux comes with the software you need to make that old desktop or laptop functional again.  It is highly functional “out of the box” and very approachable.  It’s easy on system resources, so applications launch quickly and run smoothly.   Download an ISO from their site (choose your interface) and try it live to give it a test run.  You may be pleasantly surprised.  I was.


SparkyLinux Web Site

apt-get Linux Man Page


SparkyLinux [computer software].  (2017).  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.

Retraction -bcrypt Insecure for Encryption

In February 2015, I wrote an article on an encryption program that runs from the Linux terminal -bcrypt.  I am retracting this endorsement, as bcrypt has been found to be an insecure means of encryption due to vulnerabilities.  In lieu of bcrypt, I would recommend scrypt, which also runs from the terminal as well and is secure.  For more information on scrypt, read the scrypt man page.

For further reading about bcrypt’s vulnerabilities, you can read an article from the Hacker News, here.

energize education,bcrypt retraction,scrypt,energize education through open source

Scrypt encrypting my passwords020917.txt file.

A Brief Survey of Comic Book Viewers

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,comic viewer,comic book viewer, energize education

Comix displaying a graphic novel.

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,comic viewers,comic book viewers, energize education through open source

A majestic Wayne Manor displayed in QComicBook.

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,comic viewer,comic book viewer,energize education

MConix browsing a graphic novel.

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.


Comix Sourceforge Page

MComix Sourceforge Page

QComicBook  Web Site


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


QComicBook.  Q



Why I Love XFCE

energize education,xfce,energize education thorugh open sourceAnyone 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.

energize education,xfce desktop environment,christopher whittum

The Panel Preferences window.  Look at those wonderful panels!

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).

energize education

Looking at the panel at the bottom of the screen we see these plugins: (l-r) Main Menu, Show Desktop, Workspace Switcher, Task Manager (Window Buttons), Clock, Indicator Plugin, Weather Plugin and CPU Load Meter.

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.

energize education,xfce

What does your Xfce desktop look like?

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 Home Page


Xfce Development Team (2016).  Xfce Desktop Environment [computer software].  GNU General Public License.

Qimo4Kids Retires

Farewell, Qimo4Kids!

Farewell, Qimo4Kids!

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.