Story Maps -Young Author Story Creation Software

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.

story maps, energize education,story boards

Story Maps start up screen

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.

energize education through open source,christopher whittum, story maps

Ready to start writing.

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.

energize education,chris whittum

Exported to HTML.

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.
Resources
The Story Maps Web site

References
Fernandez-Sanguino, J. (2012). Story maps: general commands manual. GNU General Public License.
Hammond, S. (2012). Story maps [computer software]. GNU General Public License.

SchoolTool: Global Student Information System

As the school year is still young, I thought that I’d move away from curriculum and focus on something every school should have -a student information system (SIS). So, what is a student information system? A student information system is a Web-based application that runs on a server. Teachers can log onto this server and put in and analyze such information as attendance and grades. Students and parents can log onto this system to view information about themselves and people under their supervision, such as attendance and grades. What sets SchoolTool apart from its commercial counterparts is that it is designed with schools in developing nations in mind.

schooltool,energize educatrion,student information system

SchoolTool’s integrated gradebook

So what can one do with a student information system? As mentioned above, data can be collected on such things as attendance and grades, but also on assessments, student interventions and student participation. This data can be used to generate reports and report cards. There is an integrated calendar for organizing school-based activities. This calendar also works as timetable management software for larger school-based events. There is a contact management component as well.

schooltool,energize education through open source,christopher whittum

Tracking student interventions with SchoolTool.

So what’s so wonderful about SchoolTool? First of all, SchoolTool is open source. Beyond that, SchoolTool is free. A further analysis of SchoolTool’s features really requires a breakdown by category. In terms of demographics and personal information, fields of demographic and other data can be customized as needed and stored for each person. These fields can contain a wide variety of data, including, but not limited to, textual, date and boolean (yes/no). In terms of contact management, all of the expected fields are present (address, email, etc.). Furthermore, a single student can be shared with multiple adult contacts and multiple students can be shared with a single adult contact.

schoooltool,energize education,chris whittum

Using timetables to organize school functions.

Documents specifying students skills, standards or outcomes can be generated. Administrators and teachers can generate reports by student, section or teacher. SchoolTool’s integrated gradebook provides an intuitive and familiar gradebook interface for tracking and analyzing student grades. Report cards can be generated in PDF format. An integrated journal allows teachers to track attendance and daily participation. The integrated intervention system can be used generate goals and to collaboratively track student progress between teachers, students, parents and other stakeholders. These are just a few of the features with which SchoolTool empowers users.

If nothing else, this article should inspire you to take a look at SchoolTool. If you’ve heard of it or evaluated it before, hopefully this will inspire to to take a second look. One of the taglines associated with this blog is “educational technology doesn’t have to be expensive.” I’d say SchoolTool is exemplary of that.

Resources
SchoolTool Download

SchoolTool Home Page

The SchoolTool Book

References
SchoolTool Book. (n.d.). GNU General Public License. Retrieved from http://book.schooltool.org/system-requirements.html.

Shuttleworth, M. (n.d.). SchoolTool {computer software}. GNU General Public License.

All screenshots were taken from the SchoolTool Web site.

Tip of the Day: Article publishined on OpenSource.com

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.

dr.geo,energize education,geometry software,energize education through open source

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).

Pitivi -Linux Video Editor

Arguably a difficult transition that Windows users undergo when switching to Linux is the lack of video editing software, like Microsoft Movie Maker.  Have no fear!  Pitivi comes to the rescue.  Pitivi (pronounced pee-tee-vee) is an open source video editor for the Linux operating system and built upon the GStreamer multimedia framework.

pitivi,energize education

Pitivi at startup.

Upon launch, Pitivi opens a greeting window providing the user with the opportunity to open an existing project or to create a new one.  Behind this is the main screen where the film editing/creation takes place.  The interface is pleasantly straightforward and intuitive.  A menu and toolbar at the top of the screen are referred to as the header bar. Below this are two tabs, or primary tabs, to the left, above a pane.  These tabs allow users to toggle between the media library and effects library.  To the right are the contextual tabs, which allow users to view clip properties, add transitions and to add titles. To the right of this, is the viewer, through which users can observe their developing creations.  The interface for the viewer is the same as for any media player.  Below these three panes is the ruler and below that the timeline.  This is where videos are placed to be modified.

pitivi,energize education through open source

Zooming in on the timeline

Media can be added to the media library by either clicking on and dragging the desired file from the file manager window to this pane or by clicking on the Import button above this pane and to the left.  When imported, media can then be dragged to and dropped on the timeline.  Once a film clip is added, the clip as it will be seen by viewers appears in the viewer.  When a user clicks anywhere along the timeline, the viewer jumps to that position.  Using the timeline toolbar to the right of the timeline, users can delete selected clips, group clips, ungroup clips, copy, paste and toggle gaps in media.  All edits affect the selected clip.

A click of a mouse button (right or left) places the playhead at the desired point on the timeline.  This is where splits are inserted.  Other tweaks involve being able to control the zoom on the timeline, adding a title, adding special effects and adding transitions.  As effects are added to a clip, they are listed in the contextual tab with a checkbox next to each.  The checkboxes are checked by default, so, as expected, unchecking one disables it.  Effects include, but are by no means limited to, such items as facedetect (detects faces in videos), kaleidoscope and Tunnel (creates a light tunnel effect).

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The Tunnel effect is perfect for this movie.

Pitivi is very versatile in terms of file support.  Projects may be saved (or rendered which is the term used in Pitivi) in the following formats: AVI, Apple QuickTime, Ogg Vorbis, MP4 and MPEG to name a few.  Furthermore, Pitivi offers excellent project management.  The term project in Pitivi refers to any film being edited.  But users can save their projects at different levels of completion or in different file formats.  Many different settings can be adjusted, such as pixel and display aspect ratios, and there is an excellent Undo/Redo utility.

Now that you’ve read about what Pitivi can do, give it a try.  Better still, let your students give it a try if you really want to see Pitivi put through its paces.  If you’re so inclined, you can also contribute to their fund drive.  Such support is always appreciated.

Note: Pitivi is designed to run on the GNOME Desktop Environment.  However, all of the author’s screenshots were taken while running Pitivi on the Xfce Desktop Environment upon which it ran without issue.

Resources

Pitivi Download

Pitivi Quick Start Manual.

References

Pitivi [computer software].  (n.d.).  GNU General Public License.

JPitivi quick Start manual.  (n.d.)  GNU General Public License.  Retrieved from http://www.pitivi.org/manual/.

Little Wizard -programming environment for children

Little Wizard logoI’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.

Little Wizard, energize education through open source

Little Wizard at start up.

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.

little wizard,energize education

A simple program being executed.

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.

little wizard, energize education

Little Wizard creates a 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.

Resources

Little Wizard Tutorial

References

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.

 

 

 

Ardour -the Digital Audio Workstation

ardour,energize education through open source,energize education,christopher whittumTaking a break from my more traditional topics of STEM and programming, I’d like to put the Arts into the spotlight for a change and talk about Ardour, an open source application that allows users to create audio compositions.  Undoubtedly, music teachers out there are familiar with the proprietary, but WYSIWYG software, Accoustica Mixcraft.  Ardour is just as WYSIWYG, but, as mentioned above, open source.  Let’s take a look at Ardour right now.

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A typical Ardour session

Ardour is designed to be suitable for audio engineers,  musicians, soundtrack editors and composers, but it should be just as ideal an environment for young composers to create their masterpieces.  The interface is very similar to the aforementioned Mixcraft.  The Editor Window presents a menu at the top of the screen allowing for ready access to features.  Below this, the Transport Menu allows users to navigate (Play, Fast Forward, Loop, Record, etc.) through clips added to the Main Canvas below.

.  To the right of the Transport Menu are the Clocks, offering four time formats.  Right of the Clocks are the Edit Modes and Cursor Modes controls, which allow users to edit clips.  Below this is the aforementioned Main Canvas in which sound and video tracks appear, each with its own track.  Each track can then be edited individually.  To the left of the Main Canvas is the Editor Mixer, which allows users to control volume and other features using slider controls.

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Audio mixing is a breeze.

So, what can you do with Ardour?  I’d venture to say that you could do just about anything that you could do with Mixcraft.  Rather than to compare the two, I’ll focus on Ardour’s features and what can be done with them.  First of all, Ardour supports importing of the following audio types: AAIF, BWF, CAF ,FLAC and WAV.  In terms of audio exporting, the following formats are supported: AAIF, BWF, CAF, FLAC, Ogg and WAV.  Ardour is not just limited to handling sound.  Videos can be imported and soundtracks extracted from them.  Videos can be displayed frame-by-frame on the Video Timeline for easy editing.  Users can add start/stop points to the video as well as blank frames and mix the video with the soundtrack of the current session.  An Ardour session can even be run simultaneously on multiple computers.

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Easy video editing

This all sounds great, but it gets better.  There are many plugins available for Ardour that enhance its functionality.  These are conveniently handled through the Plugin Manager.  Plugins allow users to create various audio or MIDI effects and to generate audio by functioning as “software instruments.”  Additionally, although Ardour does not include music/sounds of its own, these can be downloaded from sites like Freesound (see below) and then imported into Ardour.

After reading this, I don’t know why you’re not downloading Ardour right now.  Your students may not thank you with words, but their compositions will speak volumes.

Ardour is available for Linux and Apple MacOS.

Thanks to Paul Davis of the Ardour Development Team for permission to use all images included in this article.

Resources

Ardour Manual

Ardor Web Site

Freesound Web Site

References

Ardour [computer software].  (n.d.).  GNU General Public License.

Ardour Manual.  (n.d.).  GNU General Public License.

Mixcraft 7 vs Ardour -audio editing comparison.  (2016).  Software Insider: Graphiq, Inc.  Retrieved from http://sound-editing.softwareinsider.com/compare/39-169/Acoustica-Mixcraft-7-vs-Ardour.

Dr. Geo -Be a Geometer!

dr.geo,energize education,geometry software,energize education through open sourceIt’s been almost three years since a wrote a little blurb on an exciting application that allows learners to explore geometry.  That application was Dr. Geo and its developers recently, and with much-deserved pride, announced the release of its latest version.  With that in mind, I thought that maybe it was time to take an in-depth look at Dr. Geo.

dr.geo,energize education,energize education through open source

Object formatting is easy with the Property option under the Edit menu.

Dr. Geo is an open source application that provides an engaging environment through which school-age learners may explore, and learn about, geometry.  So, what can users do with Dr. Geo? Users have the opportunity to work with the building blocks of geometry, including points, line segments and rays.  Users can create arcs, circles and polygons.  Vectors can be used to accurately assign points.  Virtually anything geometric in nature can be created.

dr. geo,energize education,christopher whittum

The author’s burgeoning creation.

What’s even more amazing is that Dr. Geo allows users to bring their creations to life through computer programming.  The programming language used in Dr. Geo is the same one used to create Dr. Geo –Smalltalk.  Some of my regular readers may remember a blog that I wrote a while back on Pharo, a computer programming environment.  Pharo also uses Smalltalk.  Smalltalk is an open source object-oriented programming language.  This simply means that it focuses on objects and data rather than commands and logic.  Portland State University computer science professor Harry H. Porter III (March 24, 2003) describes Smalltalk as “highly efficient, extremely portable, easy to use, and very reliable. But more importantly, Smalltalk is still the most enjoyable language in which to program.”  What better tool to employ to introduce learners to computer programming?

dr.geo, energizxe education

Not ready to program yet? Use a wizard to create a Macro.

As can be seen in the screenshots, Dr. Geo’s interface is very straightforward.  All actions can be performed readily via a menu, a toolbar or tabs, all located at the top of the Dr. Geo window.  This traditional interface certainly minimizes the learning curve.  Even without having used the software, users can jump right in and begin creating.  Functionality is also enhanced by tooltips, which provide a quick way to identify tools.

So, what are you waiting for?  Your students’ potential as geometricians and computer programmers is waiting to be unleashed.

Dr. Geo is available for Linux, Microsoft Windows and Apple MacOS.

Resources

Dr. Geo Home Page

Dr. Geo User Guide and Video Tutorial.

Smalltalk Users Manual

References

Fernandes. H.  (2016).  GNU Dr. Geo [computer software].  GNU and MIT General Public Licenses.

Porter III, H.P. (2003). Smalltalk: a white paper overview.  Portland OR: Portland State University.  Retrieved from http://web.cecs.pdx.edu/~harry/musings/SmalltalkOverview.html#Basic%20OOP%20Concepts%20and%20Terminology.

 

ExpEYES… Your Lab@Home

expeyes,energize education ExpEYES is a low-cost open source framework of computer hardware and software that provides a means to perform low-cost science experiments using computers.  ExpEYES offers formats designed for students from high school on.  Let’s take a look at what can be done with ExpEYES.

expeyes,energize educationAccording to its Web site, ExpEYES is a tool for learning science through exploration and experimentation, It includes integrated an oscilloscope and a signal generator and is powered via USB.  ExpEYES offers 12-bit analog resolution, accurate measurements and is physically compact, for easy relocation.  The software for ExpEYES is written in Python, an open source programming language.  The online manual presents 50 (yes, fifty!) experiments that users can duplicate and, perhaps tha coolest feature of all, others can be easily created and added to the list.

expeyes,energize education

Make your own AC generator with ExpEYES.

 

So, from where does this marvel of scientific exploration come?  ExpEYES was developed by the PHOENIX project of Inter-University Accelerator Centre (IUAC) of New Delhi.  The long-term goal of this project is to make the equipment and methods used in research available to the student community.  In science, experiments are performed, data is collected and analyzed.  Conclusions drawn.  The difference offered by ExpEYEs is the fact that the equipment is affordable.

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Measuring water conductivity

So, what kind of experiments can a burgeoning scientist perform with ExpEYES?  According to the ExpEYES User’s Manual, users can conduct experiments involving electricity, magnetism, electronics, sound, mechanics, optics, heat and computer programming.  In terms of electricity, young scientists can perform experiments involving, among many other topics, voltage measurement, water conductivity and AC circuit study.  Regarding electricity and magnetism, possible experiments include creating a simple AC generator and making an electromagnet.  Some of the other experiments include amplitude and frequency modulation (electronics), sound velocity, using a stroboscope and hardware communication.

expeyes,energize education,open source experiments

What experiments could your students conduct with ExpEYES?

 

As potentially enriching as ExpEYES sounds, it is just one of several open source technology products created as part of the PHOENIX Project.  If you’re interested in learning more about this and other opportunities to cultivate the scientists and engineers in your school, you should check out the ExpEYES Web site.  Your students will thank you through their creations, if not through their words.

Thanks to Ajith Kumar for his support, the contributions that he provided and for suggested modifications.

ExpEYES is available for Linux and Microsoft Windows.  It is available in Canada and the UK.

Resources

ExpEYES Web site

The PHOENIX Project

References

ExpEYES junior user’s manual: experiments for young engineers and scientists.  n.d.). New Delhi: Inter-University Accelerator Centre. GNU General Public License.  Retrieved from http://www.iuac.res.in/~elab/expeyes/Documents/eyesj-a4.pdf.

Stellarium -open source planetarium

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.

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Stellarium’s default appearance

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.

stellarium,energize education,christopher whittum,whitshade

Stellarium displaying Constellation Art.

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.

stellarium,energize education,opne source planetarium,open source educational software

Stellarium’s toolbars

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.

Resources

Stellarium Home Page

Stellarium User’s Guide

References

Category: User’s guide.  (2014).  Retrieved from the Stellarium Wiki: http://www.stellarium.org/wiki/index.php/Category:User’s_Guide

 

WriteType -a word processor to help students write

While looking for an open source technology to review, I came across WriteType, .an open source word processor geared towards school-age children.  I work in special education in a middle school and all too often I hear students lament about having to type out assignments.  WriteType through the combination of an accessible interface and valuable features, strives to be a word processor that students can readily use.

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The WriteType window

Let’s start by checking out the WriteType window, shown in the screenshot at left.  As can be seen, the interface is WYSIWYG, offering a menu bar and the top of the window and simple toolbars below this.  WriteType offers only the most common word processing features, such as text and paragraph formatting.  Features can be quickly and easily utilized via either the menu or the toolbars.  Simply put, everything a user needs is here.  There are no tabs or complex menus offering features that can confuse new users and into which one could get lost .  This functionality is further enhanced by context menus accessed by right-clicking on the text or area in question.

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Note the Word Completion list on the right

So, what makes WriteType ideal for students?  The integration of certain tools takes much of the pain out of writing.  One of these tools is word completion.  As the screenshot on the right shows, as they type, users are presented with a list of suggested words in the gray field on the right-hand side of the screen.  Simply click on the the desired word in the list, or press an indicated function key, and the complete word is inserted into the document.  Another useful feature is the fact that WriteType can read back what users have typed, which will help them to catch mistakes prior to proofreading or printing.

writetype settings,energize education through education

WriteType’s Se tings window

If these features aren’t reason enough to give WriteType some serious consideration, other features include auto-correction and grammar checking.  Users can also add words to the integrated spelling list.  Text highlighting allows users to mark areas of text in need of attention.  Distraction-free mode allows users to work without the added distraction of a menu and toolbars.  Other customizations include adjusting read-back speed as well as changing the font size of the suggested word list.  WriteType also offers multilingual support.  WriteType can be readily customized further via the Settings option under the File menu.  Documents can be saved in either the native WriteType format (.wtd), as formatted text (.html) or as plain text (.txt)

WriteType is available for Linux, Microsoft Windows and Apple MacOS.  WriteType teacher workshops are available for free to schools in the Minneapolis area.

Resources

WriteType Home Page

Reference

Documentation: a word processor to help students write.  (n.d.).  GNU General Public License.

Shinn, M.  (2010).  WriteType [computer software].  GNU General Public License.