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.

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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.

Scratch: The Launchpad for Students’ STEM Careers

If you haven’t heard of Scratch, then you’ve been missing out and so have your students. Scratch is an open source programming environment, with an integrated programming language also called Scratch, created by MIT with the goal of introducing users, especially young people, to computer programming. Users can create interactive stories, games and graphics. Furthermore, these creations can be shared with others via Scratch’s Web site. This is an excellent way to introduce your students to STEM.

What makes Scratch so special? To begin with, the interface is unlike that of any application of this type that I have seen. A menu bar/toolbar is provided for frequently used tasks, such as opening saved projects and sharing completed projects. From there, the interface goes in its own unique

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The Scratch initial start-up screen

direction, but still remains very user-friendly. In lieu of the traditional text editor/display pane layout, Scratch utilizes four panes, each with a specific purpose and interface. Operation and manipulation of objects is almost entirely point-and-click. This is arguably from where much of its ease-of-use comes.

One of the biggest differences between Scratch and other applications of this type is how the programs are written. Rather than typing code into a text editor, users are provided with a switchboard at the top of the leftmost pane. The buttons on the switchboard represent eight categories of commands that can be employed. The commands appear below the switchboard and can be

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The author’s Scratch session

added simply by clicking on them and dragging them to the pane on the right. Here the commands can be connected in a fashion that combines a flowchart with puzzle pieces. Programs, called scripts, can be created for any object (sprite) that the user creates. These scripts integrate variables as well, such as waiting times for events or results of interaction with other objects.

Finally, one of the really cool things about Scratch is the integrated graphics system. This includes a versatile drawing tool as well as graphical images included with Scratch. The drawing tool runs in its own window and provides users with everything they need to create colorful, detailed sprites. These sprites can in turn be modified under the Costumes tab in the same pane into which programming commands are placed. Using this feature, animations can be easily created using two or more costumes for a sprite. Users can also create backgrounds or select backgrounds from Scratch’s media library. The author used just such a background for his outer space scene shown in the screenshot above.

I cannot even begin to do this application justice here. Check out the Scratch creations submitted to the Scratch Web site. Try it for yourself. Then introduce your students to Scratch and watch worlds unfold.

Scratch Web site: http://scratch.mit.edu/

Energize Education Tip of the Day!

WinFF is an open source media converter for Linux and Microsoft Windows. Users can convert both audio and video files from one format to the other. Supported formats include, but are not limited to, MP3, WAV, AVI and WMV. I used WinFF to convert a colleague’s digital camera video to a format Windows could read.

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I converted these CD (wav) files to MP3 using WinFF.

Energize Education Tip of the Day!

If you’re looking for a versatile and user-friendly mind-mapping tool, check out VYM (View Your Mind). Among its other attributes, Users can add images and links to external files and Web pages. VYM mind maps can also be customized in a variety of ways, such as font size and background color.

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The author’s VYM session

Energize Education Tip of the Day!

Xsnow is a great way to bring some holiday cheer to your UNIX/Linux desktop. It’s an open source program that creates a scenic snowfall on your computer. You can control such factors as snowflake color, wind direction and the size of Santa’s sleigh.

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Make it snow on your desktop with Xsnow.

Energize Education Tip of the Day!

Tomboy Notes is an open source note-taking application that allows users to create virtual notebooks and to link the notes therein to one another via hyper-links. Other features include text formatting, automatic formatting of links, and template creation. Tomboy Notes is available for Linux, Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac OS X.

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Tomboy Notes