Archive for the ‘MacOS 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

Cousin Calculator

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

runs as Online Serviceruns on Macruns on Windows
screenshot of Cousin Calculator

Genealogy is an interesting hobby. When you trace your family line, you gain insight into who you are and where you come from. It can also be a bit confusing, especially after you've gone back a couple of generations. How are all those people related? You can see the lines on the family tree, but what exactly do you call those people?

Cousin Calculator helps you figure out what your relationship is to others in your family, or relations between other members of the clan. By looking back to find a common ancestor shared by two individuals, you can see what kind of "cousin" you are. It can help take away some of the mystery of trying to figure out the difference between first cousins, second cousins, and the always elusive first cousin once removed.

The Cousin Calculator is available in several different versions: online as a web page (JavaScript required), as a download for Windows (or MS-DOS), or even for Mac (PPC only).

Download Cousin Calculator

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

Watch earthquakes (or big trucks) with SeisMac

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

runs on Mac
screenshot of SeisMac

Living over here on the "Left Coast", we're used to the ground shaking beneath our feet. We're all dialed in to Cal Tech and the USGS to keep an eye on their reports of earthquakes. Turns out all we really needed to do was to grab a copy of SeisMac.

SeisMac takes advantage of the Sudden Motion Sensor in your Mac laptop to let you know when things are a-shakin'. It graphs in real time, showing movement in all three (X, Y, and Z) axes. It's sensitive enough that you should be able to see the temblor set off by your tapping your toes or walking across the room. And if the Big One comes along, you can see it on-screen, as you grab your computer and dive under a nearby table. Big earthquakes can be disconcerting, but at least they're not tornadoes, right?

SeisMac was created with support from the National Science Foundation. It's a free download for your Mac, and runs under OS X 10.4 and later. You'll need to have a MacBook or a MacBook Pro (or an older iBook or PowerBook equipped with Sudden Motion Sensor) to be able to use it.

Download SeisMac

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

Free flash card app for OS X

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

runs on Mac
screenshot of Cerebral Imprint

As low-tech as it seems, sometimes there's nothing as efficient as flash cards when it comes to learning piles of facts. It worked for you in the third grade when it came time to learn the multiplication tables, and it can work again today whenever you need to master a list of facts. Things have been upgraded, however, since the days of the index card and Magic Marker.

Cerebral Imprint is an app that lets you build virtual flash cards. Rather than printing them out, these cards live on your computer, but other than that, they work the same way: on the front a question, on the back an answer. Well, not really on the back—you don't have to turn your monitor over to see the answer! Your cards will support regular flash card question-and-answer items, as well as multiple-choice, and even fill-in-the-blank questions.

To keep things interesting, you can choose to use your cards the regular way, with you getting the question and having to figure out the answer, or you can invert it Jeopardy-style, getting the answer and having to figure out what the question is. In addition, you can mix-up the order of your cards, so you don't get into a rut—the answer to the third question is "42", unless, or course, that question doesn't come third every time.

Cerebral Imprint is a free Mac application. It runs under OS X 10.5+.

Download Cerebral Imprint

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