Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Saved by Free Open Source Software

Receiving the 20 HP Tablet PCs (model 2710p) will be amazing for our school. I'm not sure what I would have done seven years ago when I first started teaching. We keep our hardware and software up-to-date through state funds. Purchasing 20 copies of Microsoft Office and KidPix would have eaten up a lot of the funds.

Free Open Source to the Rescue
As a record for the future, I am listing the software that I have downloaded for the first foray into Windows at the school. I am sure some software will be a hit and some will be removed or replaced.

OpenOffice: This will be our suite of tools for word processing (Writer), spreadsheet (Calc), and presentations (Impress). It will also provide me with database software (Base). I have not taught databases at all to any grade and it will give me a reason to do so. It also comes with drawing software (Draw) and a math equation editor (Math). I am hopeful that it will work so well that I never need to purchase MS Office again.

TuxPaint: I really love KidPix and I may have enough copies in house to install it on the tablets, but I'm going to start with TuxPaint. It is similar in many ways. It will be interesting to see how the students react to this piece of software.

Gimp: Gimp is my tool of choice on the iMac for several years. It is a complex program that allows my students to have access to Photoshop-type tools. We have used it to create GIF animations, too.

Google Earth: This program is quickly becoming a "must have" for so many different projects.I only scratched the surface introducing the program last year. I had a Make Way for Ducklings lesson for the younger students. My older students identified the locations of the schools that we collaborated with. I have not even begun to calculate distances with the students or create KMZ files. Any discipline could include Google Earth for student learning.

Google Sketchup: I added this program for the future. I've heard several teachers talking in various forums about using this 3-D modeling software. Students as young as the fourth grade have had success. I'll certainly try to give the students experience with the software this year.

Firefox: This is my browser of choice. I used to use Internet Explorer on the Mac. Microsoft stopped developing new versions for OS X, so I moved on to Firefox and never looked back. I liked it better than the old version of Safari. Now that we will be on multiple platforms, I have the luxury of using the same browser on all of the machines.

NVU: This program is a web authoring system. I lost my web server space about a year ago, but before that I used this program to give the students experience creating web pages. It is pretty simple to use.

Windows Movie Maker: We have been enjoying movie making in computer class. The tablet has a built-in web cam. The prize package includes two digital video cameras. Many teachers pointed me to this program. It is available as a part of Windows XP Service Pack 2.It doesn't look as robust as iMovie, but it will certainly do the job.

Windows Photostory: This is another highly recommended program. It looks like it will give me iPhoto type capabilities. You can take photos, add special effects, and soundtracks to create photo stories.

Audacity: We create podcasts in computer class. I think there is a lot of power in having students condense and restate what they have learned through a podcast. In the absence of Garageband, we will use Audacity with the LAME converter to create audio files for podcasts. It is a free audio editor and recorded that I have used personally with great success. The students will have no program with this program.

Scratch: This is a great little tool to teach object oriented programming to students. I used it with grades five through eight last year. I will be trying it out with some of the lower grades this year. It is very easy to use and has some features that make it similar to the Logo programming language.

TuxType: This program will be useful to help students practice their typing skills. There are a number of games to help hold their interest. I haven't had success running the program under OS X, but it works fine on Windows.

IrfanView and Picasa : Additional image viewers, should I need more than I have listed above.

Some other general software that was recommended for the install includes Windows Media Player, VLC Media Player, and Quicktime so that I can view all types of different media on the Internet. As a last minute thought, I am loading Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Finally, I had Microsoft PowerToys for Windows XP Tablet PC Edition recommended to me. It has a set of tools and games for the tablet. It will take time to see what the students find most useful. Among the tools are several different art-type programs, a calculator, dictionary, physics illustrator, games, writing practice, and font generating tools.

Where Do I Go From Here?
I am sending the tablet back to CDW/G where they will take an image from the machine and replicate it on 19 more machines. I should probably purchase imaging software with this year's budget for the future. I can't wait to start using the software with the students and see where we take the school. I know I will look back in two or three years with gratitude for this opportunity.

Image Citation:
My own image from my NJ Tech Teacher photostream:


  1. Great to see you are using free and open source software. We need more examples of this as school districts are still skeptical that anything free can be good. Let us know how it goes!

  2. I've been using it to a small degree, but this year I'm really taking the plunge. I'm very lucky to have carte blanche in the software I use. I know others are not as lucky. As I explore with the students and teachers, I'll be updating the blog.

  3. Ann this is a GREAT list, and will be very helpful to me. I am planning a parent workshop to show parents viable solutions to homeowrk that might require some of these apps. A big complaint is that kids do not have Microsoft Office at home, so we are definitely going to show several Open office type programs including some of these and Google Docs.

  4. I'm glad you found it useful, Cathy. It's what I'm going to recommend to all parents from now on. I'm really hoping that Open Office works well for the students and teachers. On the surface, it will be an easy transition. I'm looking forward to seeing the results when we try to format something more than simple documents.