Archive for the ‘Linux Education’ Category

A new look for your old ancestors

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of PhpGedView

If you're into the whole genealogy thing, you've probably got piles of old documents, maybe a bunch of photos, and an inbox full of email sent by Cousin Susie and Uncle Fred. If you're totally old school, you've also got a bunch of forms and pieces of paper with notes and arrows scrawled across them, trying to keep track of who's related to whom, and how. Or maybe you're more high-tech than that and you're running some desktop app to try to make sense of it all. Once you get it all figured out and realize that Aunt Rose is also your second cousin, the only way to share all your hard work with everybody else is to once again print it all out, and hope it makes sense. Well, it turns out that your cousins have been doing the same work you have, so there's a huge duplication of effort out there. And maybe they found some important fact you missed, or vice versa. It would be nice if there were a collaborative way to work on this family tree stuff.

PhpGedView is an app that does exactly that. While you could probably run it on your desktop, it's really designed to be installed on a server out there where multiple folks can get at it at the same time. You can enter what you've found out, while other family members can add their information to it. When you're done, you've got the benefit of everybody's expertise and information, and it's easy for even non-contributors to see what you've put together, because the whole thing lives on the web. Realizing that there's some pretty personal stuff in there, security settings are a big part of this app. You can decide who gets to see what, and who can edit which kind of data. You can also add media files, like photos, voice recordings, and all to flesh your data out.

PhpGedView is a free download. To run it, you'll need a web server running PHP 5.2 or better, and a database like MySQL 3.23 or newer.

Download PhpGedView

It's not your father's math class

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

runs as Online Serviceruns on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of GeoGebra

If you had a rough time with math in school, it may be because it all seemed just too abstract and because there really just wasn't any way you could gain hands-on experience in working with it. That means you probably didn't have access to GeoGebra.

GeoGebra is a tool for teaching and learning mathematics. Rather than just dry lecture or lifeless paper and pencil exercises, the user interacts with the program, allowing you to really understand what's going on when you lengthen one side of a triangle or change the angle of a vertex of a polygon. Grab a point or line and drag it across the screen, and you'll see locations and lengths updated in real time.

GeoGebra is a Java application. You can run it as a desktop application, or you can access it as a Java applet through your web browser.

Download GeoGebra

Computerized testing made easy

Monday, January 10th, 2011

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of iTest

In the beginning was the Blue Book. Then came the Scantron card. Now there's iTest.

Test taking used to involve wrangling a bunch of pieces of paper that had to be handed out, written on, collected, organized, scored–the list just goes on and on. But with computers, it's possible to make test taking, and test administration, a fairly easy undertaking.

With iTest you can create a database full of questions (and their answers) that lives on the system's server. Categorize them, organize them, even annotate them so you'll remember just why you worded that question in that particular way. When it comes to test taking day, each student sits down in front of the client app and takes their exam. You've chosen the parameters of the test: which questions, how many of them, and all that. Along with formatted text, you can even include images in your questions. That way you can refer to diagrams in your questions–figuring out this angle or that length can be much easier when your student gets to see what you're talking about.

iTest is a free download. It's right at home on Linux, Mac, and Windows machines.

Download iTest

Electronic flash cards

Sunday, October 10th, 2010

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of Anki

While sometimes change is good, other times it makes sense to rely on old, reliable processes. Like memorizing stuff. When you come right down to it, there's nothing like drilling over and over again to learn those multiplication tables, vocabulary words, or any of zillions of other facts. More times than not, that has meant using flash cards. The same is still true today, although flash cards have been updated.

Anki is a tool that lets you use your computer as a big flash card—or several of them. Enter the questions and the answers, and then let your computer drill you on your facts. It supports text, audio, images, and even video, so you can study stuff you never could on plain old index cards. And along with your mastering the content, the app keeps track of how often you're quizzed on a particular card—and how well you've answered—so that it can tailor your studying to emphasize the things you need more work on.

Anki is available on just about any platform you'd care to name, including Linux, BSD, Mac, Windows, and even as an iPhone app. Time to get smart.

Download Anki

Flash cards go high-tech

Friday, June 18th, 2010

runs on Linuxruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of Mnemosyne

Any third grader drilling away on number facts knows all about flash cards. This time-honored pedagogical tool has gotten more people through school than probably just about anything else, for one simple reason: it works. There's no substitute for drilling on facts like you can do with flash cards. So how do you improve on a technology that presumably is as old as the written word?

The Mnemosyne Project has one answer, with their automated flash card-like tool. Like traditional flash cards, you can enter the question and answer and then drill on those facts until you master them. Going one better, though, it also leverages off the smarts of your computer. After all, it can keep track of how well you are learning the stuff you're working on, and make sure that it cycles the trickier stuff through more often, letting you hit the hard stuff harder. It also supports pictures, sounds, and three-way flash cards, that can ask two different questions at once.

Mnemosyne is a free download. The latest release is available for Linux and Windows, and a previous version for Mac is also out there.

Download Mnemosyne

Phun 2D Physics Sandbox

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

screenshot of Phun

Did you sleep through high school physics class? Did you even show up? Physics isn't everybody's cup of tea, but that may be because it wasn't taught right. Unlike biology, where dissecting frogs is part of the drill, or chemistry, where evacuating the lab because of some foul smell is a regular occurrence, physics should be fun. After all, where else can you play with toy cars and watch springs for academic credit. But we digress.

Phun is a 2D physics sandbox that lets you create a virtual workspace to play with simple machines and forces applied to them. Build your own contraptions and see how they work. Make them go faster or slower. See what happens when you change the load on your machine. It's so much fun you might forget that you're doing real physics here. Oh yeah, you can let the kids work with it too. Who knows—maybe by the time they get to high school, they'll be eager to get into the lab.

Phun is available for Linux, Mac, and Windows systems.

Download Phun

FunBrain makes thinking and learning fun

Friday, September 26th, 2008

screenshot of FunBrain

While FunBrain is a web site, in some ways it's more like a collection of games and tools for kids. Whether you're looking for math games, reading activities, or just plain fun, there's probably something here to appeal to you. Play games like Math Baseball (practice your arithmetic while scoring a home run), help Pearl and Flora with plural forms of words, and more. Web books and comics help with reading practice. There are also activities for younger kids, so everybody can have fun and learn at the same time.

FunBrain features a fair number of advertisements, so parents will want to keep an eye on their kids as they move through the site (but you already monitor your little ones when they're online, right?). They've got a good Privacy Policy in place, so you can feel safe while you're on the site.

FunBrain is a free service. Most of its content should be available for visitors with modern web browsers. Certain activities may require Flash or other extensions to your browser.

Download FunBrain

iTALC – Intelligent Teaching and Learning with Computers

Monday, November 26th, 2007

screenshot of iTALC

Computers have added a whole new dimension to teaching. The abilities to drill for mastery of content, provide instant feedback, and work interactively between students are just a few of the opportunities available with computers. There is a potential downside as well.

Assuming that "no good deed will go unpunished", having students working on computers adds a whole layer of administrative attention that must be brought to bear. You don't need much tech support with a paper and pencil, but computer systems aren't so easy.

iTALC, the tool that provides Intelligent Teaching and Learning with Computers, can help make this part easier. Its ability to control machines remotely means that teacher can "look over the shoulders" of students, to examine their work and help coach their efforts. iTALC can also flip that around, putting the teacher's screen in front of each student at their remote workstations, making it an ideal platform for demonstrations. This functionality is not limited to a shared subnet, so remote systems can be included as well, great for students who are at home rather than school.

It can also lock workstations, so that students are paying attention to instruction, rather than being distracted by their systems. And at the end of the day, teachers can power-off an entire lab full of computers, saving lots of time.

iTALC is a free download, and runs under both Linux and Windows (Win2k or better).

Download iTALC

Get Free Math Worksheets from Math Drills

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

screenshot of Math Drills

Math got you down? Kids having problems with their homework? Are you having problems with their homework? Maybe you need to do some math drills.

Math Drills is about a zillion free math worksheets–over 6,000 in reality. If you can imagine it, they probably have a worksheet for it. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, division to be sure. How about integers, decimals, and fractions? Base ten blocks, order of operations, geometry and algebra. They've even got themes for different holidays–who know that St. Patrick's Day had so many math tie-ins?

These worksheets are great for teachers to supplement classroom instruction; for parents to give their young students extra practice. Use them over the summer to keep from getting "rusty".

Worksheets come with instructions and (importantly) with answers! They are all available as .pdf documents, so anybody can use them regardless of the platform you're running.

All the worksheets are free to download and use as long as they are "…helping you or someone else learn."

Download Math Drills

Name that constellation with Stellarium

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2007


Did you sleep through all the astronomy lectures in college? Do you still have problems finding the Big Dipper? Stellarium may be the answer.

Stellarium is an open source planetarium application available for Linux, Mac, and Windows. Set your observing position and see the sky as it appears. Did you ever wonder what it all would look like from the moon? You can choose any moon or planet from which to observe, as well as any terrestrial location. How about a different time? Set the time and date, and you can travel back, or ahead, in time.

Now about that Big Dipper: turn on labels to show you what you’re seeing. Fire up the constellation overlays and see if that really looks like a goat up there (Capricornus), or just a bunch of stars. You can dig deeper and look at deep sky objects among the constellations.

Stellarium features over 120,000 stars, as well as all the planets and their moons. There is a scripting feature that allows you to record and play back your own shows, and you can even use Stellarium to drive a telescope.

It’s too late to improve your grade, but you still have time to find Orion’s belt.

Download Stellarium