Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Locking Down Xubuntu LTSP

One of the most annoying things I've had to deal with this year in the lab is students constantly changing settings on the Windows 2000 computers. It has varied from the mostly harmless (pictures of a student's cat on the desktop) to the mildly annoying (students changing the theme to have tiny fonts and garish colors) to the embarassing and offensive (Family Guy characters floating on a raft of blow-up women tiled across the desktop).

Sadly, an even more annoying experience has been trying to find an easy way to lock these settings down with Ubuntu. There are lots of options out there (gconf editor, KDE kiosk) but many of the ones I tried had flaws of some kind. The most difficult thing to fix seemed to be locking down the backdrop picture. Unfortunately this was also one of the most important.

I do think I've finally solved my problem though, and while the following steps are specific to Xubuntu and XFCE, they may be transferrable to GNOME or KDE at least in part.

The solution began with this page on the kiosk mode in XFCE:

Here is what my kioskrc file looks like:




Once the kioskrc file is placed in etc/xdg/xfce4/kiosk it locks down everything for all users except user "aeinstein"

Since I also wanted a custom backdrop on all the student computers I made one in GIMP, named it "xubuntu-jmak.png" and saved it in usr/share/xfce4/backdrops

This basically just replaces the default backdrop that xubuntu looks for when a user logs in.

I also wanted a custom homepage for all the student computers so I created a file called "user.js" in usr/lib/firefox-3.0/defaults/profile

Here is what my user.js file looks like:

user_pref("browser.startup.homepage", "");
user_pref("browser.startup.homepage_reset", "");

The custom homepage only works for users who have never logged on before though.

The real test will come next year when the students are using it all the time, but for now I think I'm pretty well set. Cheers! -joe

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Could the EEE 900 be the School Computer of the Future?

My eee 900 test unit arrived on May 19th, exactly one week after the official release day. I literally ran down the stairs to the office when I saw that it had been "delivered" and the reaction from all the office ladies and parents was exactly what I had come to expect after reading about the little machine all over the net: intrigue, excitement, and enthusiasm. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't excited too, but I sobered up pretty quick. But let's start at the beginning.

The Plan
I've got several thousand dollars in a grant to provide the Middle School with a mobile lab. The idea of a $250 little laptop to get on Google Docs was pretty attractive and I almost pulled the trigger on an old eee 700 last month before reading about the 900's impending release and deciding that 9" is a lot bigger than 7", 1gb of RAM is a lot more than 512mb, and a 20 gig hard drive is a lot bigger than a 4 gig. (the verdict: $550 isn't $250 and 9" is still pretty stinking small).

A secondary experiment was to let some teachers try the machine out for a bit and evaluate its potential as a teacher machine. Obviously I knew the eee would be insufficient for 100% use and figured on an ideal situation of pairing up the eee with a 22" wide screen LCD, a full keyboard, mouse and printer all connected to a usb hub at work. Thus, with two simple plugs (1 from the USB hub and one VGA out) a teacher has a nice desktop setup.

The Machine
I've seen hundreds of pics of the thing online but I still wasn't prepared for exactly how small this thing is. I tried to convey its size with the picture to the right, but I think the best way to imagine it is to think of a DVD case, it really isn't much bigger than that. Tiny.

The responsiveness of the machine is pretty snappy. My student tester commented almost immediately about how fast it was. Of course she's used to P3's running Windows 2000 but I noticed it too. I did have to wait a few seconds for OpenOffice to get running (what else is new?) and there was a noticeable delay in getting the camera going, but otherwise it was faster than I expected. We're all (students and staff) on Google Apps over here so I was particularly pleased to see the impressive performance of Firefox 2. When Firefox 3 comes out it should be even better.

The user interface is pretty interesting, and while much has been made of the tabs at the top of the screen in lieu of a traditional desktop, what I found most interesting was the fact that Asus blatantly mimicked the Windows XP theme as far as buttons and menu bars (see pictures below). It's an interesting way to go, trying to lessen the Linux shock for newcomers by making things at least appear to be the same, but I suppose that's a topic for another time. In any case, I had a few people who needed help noticing the tabs at the top of the screen, but once they saw them nobody had any trouble finding what they needed. Seemed to be effective, if not exactly expected.

The multi-touch track pad is a nice feature when it works. Where it doesn't work is Firefox. I couldn't even get the track pad to scroll in Firefox, and even though my mom's HP laptop does the same thing it's a pretty egregious oversight given that Firefox is the default browser. In fact, the only program I got multi-touch to work in (not that I tried all the programs by any means) was OpenOffice. Multi-touch zoom makes a lot of sense given the small screen but it needs to work everywhere.

One annoyance was the eee's sleep function which seemed to take an abnormally long amount of time to wake up. More than once I closed the screen to move the thing and would bump into someone, go to show them the eee, press the power button to wake it up, and then wait for 10 or 15 seconds before anything even appeared on the screen. I figured for a SSD based machine that's centered around being ultra portable it would be a little faster waking up. Not sure what the problem is there but it's a pain.

Connectivity for me wasn't an issue as far as the Internet was concerned. I took the eee home for a night and it flawlessly connected not only to my wireless network (simple WPA protected Linksys Wireless G) but to my buddy's wireless as well. Connecting to a networked printer was a different story though. The process was a little more complicated than it probably should have been (and way more complicated than with Ubuntu) and then, after supposedly installing the drivers, would not print to a simple HP LaserJet 4050.

Peripheral support and drivers is always the Achilles heel of Linux distros and Xandros appears to be no different. This was a big strike for my plan because many teachers print not only to their locally connected printer, but to various networked laser printers and even directly to the Canon ImageRunner copiers we've got in the workroom. If the eee can't handle an HP 4050 there's little chance it's going to be able to manage all the other printers we've got around campus.

The Screen
9" does not seem too small at first. That seemed to be the general thought of almost everyone who saw the eee. I did notice, however, that after just a few minutes of use the 9" screen gets pretty tedious to use. Maybe I just got used to my new 22" wide screen but I think 9" is actually just really small. My student tester definitely commented on the size after playing around for just a few minutes. Definitely not the way to go if a lot of work needs to be done over a long period of time. Reading Internet articles may be fine for a while, I haven't tried it out yet.

The eee does have a VGA out on the side, but it does not auto detect an external monitor and requires the user to press "function+F4" to send the video signal. Pressing the combination again will enable video to both the eee and the external monitor as is generally customary with laptops. I was kind of hoping for auto detect, but it isn't a big deal.

1024 by 600 is the standard resolution of the 9" screen, but that can be changed on an external monitor to the more standard 1024 by 768. Unfortunately this must be done manually not only when the external monitor is connected, but also undone when it is disconnected. This is no small matter since, as you can see from the pictures above, in 1024 by 768 resolution the eee cuts off the bottom of the screen which not only eliminates significant parts of displayed content but also eliminates the lower panel with the clock and status bar and everything. It's too bad auto detect of external monitors wasn't figured out because that could have solved this issue as well.

That 1024 by 768 is the highest output resolution for the eee was a major strike against it in my book. To really take advantage of a 22" wide screen monitor, teachers would need a significantly higher resolution than that, and they certainly aren't going to want to be manually changing the settings every time the pick the thing up to take it across the room or something.

The Keyboard
Much has been made of the minute eee keyboard on the Internet, but in my experience this was the least concerning aspect of the machine. Nearly everyone who tried out the eee made a few errors off the bat, but within just a few minutes was typing almost as regularly as they would be on a normal keyboard. My experience was no different. It seems like Asus has basically just eliminated any part of the key that you don't normally touch, like the corners and the very top and bottom. It does make the margin for error much smaller, but in direct opposition to the 9" screen, the keyboard gets less irritating with time.

I certainly understand how it could be unusable for someone with huge hands, but you can see below how well it fits a sixth grade student's fingers versus an adults. Despite this, even my student tester had a little difficulty making the adjustment at first. This would indicate that keyboard size is an acquired preference rather than an innate one for most people. I don't think the keyboard could get any smaller, but in contrast to the 9" screen, I don't see a pressing need for Asus to go much bigger at this time.

Despite my own reservations about the eee 900, since I started loaning it out to teachers last week it's gotten nothing but positive results. Women especially seem to like it (maybe because they can see carrying it in a purse?) which is good since 80% of our staff is female. I think the reason for this is twofold: first, they really do like the small form factor offered by the eee. The EEE makes a lot of sense if a teacher is going to be carrying a computer around to IEP meetings in the morning, staff meetings after school, and home at night. Second, I think the teachers fail to understand the limitations they would have in trying to use the eee as their sole machine. Nobody is really using it as a replacement for their desktop yet (maybe that is the next step) which means that every dead end the come to whether it's printing or eye fatigue from working on a tiny screen can be solved by simply hopping on their trusty old Windows 2000 box.

As far as students are concerned I've all but ruled the eee out as a viable option for the mobile lab. The advantages that the eee presents to users (mainly those related to increased mobility) simply aren't applicable to students working in a classroom. When my student tester confessed that she'd rather be working on a full size laptop I didn't really need to hear anymore. At $250 it might be tempting enough to try, but with Lenovo and Dell regularly offering sub-$500 notebooks now, there just aren't enough reasons to go with the eee. Maybe the new Dell UMPC will fit the bill a little better. Cheers! -joe

Friday, May 16, 2008

Economist Article Response

I have been an Economist subscriber since shortly after I stumbled across an issue while waiting for a sandwich at the Shoreline Park Lakeside Cafe in 2001. I vividly remember standing next to the trash receptacle, reading over the "World This Week" section of the magazine that appears at the front of every issue, and just being stunned by the realization that I knew so little about what was happening in the world.

My favorite part was how the section gave equal footing to the United States and what I regarded at the time as "countries of little consequence" like Sri Lanka or Finland. Here are a couple of snippets from this week to illustrate the point:

A computer hacker published on the internet confidential records belonging to 6m Chileans, including their ID-card numbers, academic records and telephone numbers. He said his aim was to demonstrate Chile's poor level of data protection.

Several bombs were set off in the Indian city of Jaipur, killing at least 61 people and injuring more than 200. A little-known group, Indian Mujahideen, claimed responsibility. See article

As expected, Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary in West Virginia by a whopping margin, 67% to 26%, underlining Barack Obama's lack of support among blue-collar voters. But the party began to unite behind Mr Obama and he secured the endorsement of John Edwards, who pulled out of the presidential race in January. See article

Here is the link to all the snippets if you are so inclined.

For the most part the articles covered in the economist address issues I have little to no knowledge of or expertise in. This leads me to oftentimes accept their view on a given issue as law, as it frequently represents the only point of reference I really have on the issue. The only subject with which this does not regularly occur is education.

Education is the one subject in which I feel I have enough knowledge and experience to really effectively engage with what the Economist writes about on the topic. Sometimes I agree completely with what the magazine has to say, but most of the time I find myself in a position of slight to severe disagreement that has caused me many times to question the magazine's expertise in the other areas it writes about and that I am less knowledgeable in.

One example of the latter situation begins with the recent article, "From Literacy to Digiracy" wherein the magazine derides the rise of personal computers, and links their proliferation to falling literacy scores in the United States. It may be true that literacy scores in the United States have fallen over the same time as computer use has risen, but correlation is not causality as the Economist well knows. This association is an egregious example of journalistic failure the likes of which is uncommon for the magazine. Could the falling literacy scores not be associated with rising immigration patterns, decreases in traditional family units, or reductions in per pupil spending over the same period? I'm not a journalist so I don't know the answer to these questions, but it seems a shame that article leaves the reader wondering.

Likewise, a section quoting statistics purporting to show a decline in leisure reading among teenagers does not even bother to define what "leisure reading" is. Is the definition reduced to printed material only, like novels and magazines? If so then I would say that I fall into the same category as my reading of magazines and novels has declined significantly in recent years while my computer use has increased significantly. This does not mean that I am reading any less though. Quite the opposite in fact. Earlier this year I had such trouble managing the deluge of articles sent to me through Google Reader each day that it was a strain on my marriage. Even after reducing my number of RSS feeds considerably I still receive several dozen articles each day and read close to twenty of them on average. It's too bad the article did not give enough background to tell me whether I was in the majority or minority because of this.

Neither of these points is not the most aggrevating part of the article unfortunately. That is saved for the end where it is written:

In Mr Federman’s view, the quest for truth has given way to the quest for making sense of the world as experienced. For anyone under the age of 20, the world being experienced is one where the internet has always existed, and where everyone who matters is only a click, speed dial or text message away. “Tomorrow’s adults,” says Mr Federman, “live in a world of ubiquitous connectivity and pervasive proximity.” Their direct experience of the world is wholly different from yours or mine.

So, no surprise that when we incarcerate teenagers of today in traditional classroom settings, they react with predictable disinterest and flunk their literacy tests. They are skilled in making sense not of a body of known content, but of contexts that are continually changing.

Teachers must recognise that our pedagogical tools are inconsistent with the skills needed to survive in a world where people are always connected to everyone and everything. In such a world, learning to think for oneself could well be more important than simply learning to read and write.

It is appalling how often such bland and generic illustrations as these appear in modern educational writing. What exactly is being said over these three paragraphs? That times are changing? That advancements in technology are having an effect on new generations of human beings? That individuality and independence are important things for a person to possess? At what point in the history of mankind could these things not have been said? At what point in the future of mankind will these things not be said?

To it's credit the article does relate the Internet and the rise of computers to the telegraph of the last millenium. It is an apt comparison because in the classroom (where students are "incarcerated") all three simply become tools with which to grow citizens. In education the Internet, the book, and the pencil are all only as valuable as the owner is capable in wielding them.

So this is the teacher's job, to prepare the children of today to be citizens in the world of tomorrow. It is a job description that has not changed ever, and just because Johannes Gutenberg invents a printing press or Al Gore invents the Internet (yes I know he never actually said he did this but it illustrates my point better to say it this way) does not mean that students are going to fundamentally learn any differently than you or I or our parents and ancestors did. Nor does it mean that students needent learn the same lessons that you and I and our parents and ancestors learned. It simply means that we have newer and possibly better tools with which to teach them.

A Better Update on Quad Core Xubuntu Performance

Looking over my recent posts I realized that I never really followed up that well with a report on Xubuntu on the Quad Core Dell. In short, it's working great! The thin clients load faster than ever and flash is responsive enough that kids are able to play their games after school, even if they still complain about the performance. Watching the system monitor for a while revealed what I judged to be adequate load balancing between the cores. All four of them were doing something all the time, and while one or another would max out occasionally, they seemed to trade off the job at pretty regular intervals. From everything I know, that was the expected results so I was happy.

Like I mentioned before, XFCE gives a little more control over the desktop and by logging on as each user I was able to unclick the "enable XFCE to manage the desktop" option which got rid of students' ability to change the desktop to some scantily clad Brittany Spears picture or something. Of course many of the students are smart enough to figure out how to undo this which is why I also installed Sabayon from the repositories and hid the "settings" option from the menu. This is a sophisticated enough solution that I think most students won't figure out how to undo it, but even if they did I could always use Sabayon to completely delete the taskbars and just have firefox start up when the user logs on.

All in all I'm very happy with Xubuntu. It does sacrifice a bit in usability when compared to GNOME. Some annoyances include some sacrifices in Firefox integration (pdf's don't open as smoothly when downloaded), and the mouse can't be clicked and dragged on the desktop to select multiple icons at one time. For the most part though, the experience is very similar to what I had with GNOME and regular Ubuntu. Now I just have to wait to get my Eee 900 (shipped today!) and experiment with eeeXubuntu a bit and see what I think. Cheers! -joe

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Comment Responses and The Many Differences Between Private Sector and Public Sector Employment

Earlier today I got an email from the Middle School Spanish Teacher explaining that her student computers (Edubuntu Feisty LTSP setup) weren't working and wondering if I could take a look at the problem. The first thing I noticed in turning on the server was the fact a horrible rattling noise assuredly coming from a fan or some other spinning device. Opening the box up I noticed a couple of wires had fallen beneath the fan shield and were the cause of the noise. A couple of seconds later the box was up and running perfect....except that there was no picture on the monitor.

I pulled the VGA cord out of the server, plugged in a different monitor and it lit right up. What could be the problem? I restarted the computer, verified that it was fine and switched back to the original monitor. No luck. I power cycled the monitor to no avail before the solution hit me.

Can you think of what it could be? The monitor is not broken btw. Pretty puzzling right?

Apparently some kid had flipped open the front flap on the monitor and changed the "contrast" and "brightness" settings so that the screen was completely black. I tried resetting the monitor but for some reason that didn't work and it was only after I manually upped both the contrast and brightness that the screen came back to life.

Just one little story illustrating the many little differences between tech support in a public school and tech support in the private sector (I'm assuming most adults don't intentionally screw with the brightness and contrast levels of their monitors until no picture at all is showing). Good Times.

So I also thought I'd take the time to post a little response I wrote up to some of the comments on last week's post about Xubuntu (still loving it btw, just got Win2k running on Virtualbox on a P4 2GHz test machine).

Apparently someone linked to the post because the 7 comments I got exceeded my previous comment total by about.....6. Here's my response to the various things people had to say:

"Thanks for all the replies fellas. I've got a quick couple of minutes before my 7th graders show up to learn Google Sites (super sweet new addition to Apps BTW) but so far Xubuntu is doing great on the quad core Dell. (Now we'll see how it does with 8 cores!)

Flash is very reliable BTW, not a problem so far except that it's slow on the clients which I've posted about. This does get a little better if "hardware acceleration" is turned off in the settings though.

I like Ubuntu for lots of reasons, but most of them are described in slide 7 of my presentation on

I haven't tried PCLinuxOS, but from everything I've read Ubuntu, Fedora, and OpenSUSE are the big three in terms of hardware compatibility and ease of use. I owe it to myself to try it out in any case.

I did try puppy and deli and a couple of others while I was debating the merits of Ubuntu and actually wrote about it in the previous post here:

I guess I should elaborate a bit on what I did and didn't like about each of the other distributions. Better yet, I'll post on EXACTLY what I need out of a distro and maybe someone can prescribe me the perfect one.

Fluxbuntu sounds good BTW. I'm definitely going to check that out for my stand alone machines. News coming soon...

Cheers! -joe"

Cheers! -joe

New Purchases: EEE 900 and My Dell Dual Xeon Servers

At long last and after much deliberation I finally bit the bullet today and had my Dual Xeon Dell Servers ordered. The justification for such a decision will become clearer on this blog in the coming days, but the most influential motive was the simple fact that the money had to be spent by the end of May and Dell had a special on the SC1430 model with 2 E5310 Quad Core Xeon processors. In fact, the whole package for both servers cost me less than $2000. Now I just have to hope that Xubuntu knows how to take advanatge of 8 cores of processing prowress!

In addition I ordered my 20G EEE 900 from (the only place around that seems to have the things in stock for the advertised price of $550). I'm really excited for this purchase as well since this particular machine will be serving as the EEE Ambassador to the entire faculty/staff/student population of the school. Positive responses from all the parties will hopefully lead us to purchase a few dozen more for our Middle School Mobile Lab. If not, then Dell seems to have some decent Vostro laptops on sale for pretty reasonable prices.

In any case, I'm stoked about the new possibilities these purchases represent for our school. I'll post soon about my first impressions and what other people around have to say about them. Cheers! -joe

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Xubuntu: Better than Ubuntu (at least for me)

So my situation here at AEA has been pretty well stated in this blog, but to briefly reiterate where we are:

There are approximately 200 workstations around campus for student use of which approximately 35 are Pentium 4 powered. The rest are either P3 or P2 machines with around 256MB RAM.

The simple fact of the matter is that with machines like these there are few options when it comes to Operating Systems. I'm sad to say that the best option as far as performance is Windows 2000 (as long as I don't install any updates on it ever and just run Firefox).

Of course Win2k is the worst option as far as stability, viruses, and ease of upkeep, especially when compared to a Linux LTSP setup. Ubuntu doesn't run that smoothly on these machines though, I've heard that 512MB is the minimum realistic requirement as far as RAM and that's just more than we have available for these workstations.

Xubuntu though seems to work pretty well, and even better, it comes with an LTSP option right out of the box (something that is not offered with Kubuntu Hardy Beta, although that may have changed with the official release).

Even better, XFCE allows the user to disable control of the desktop which GNOME stupidly does not (at least without manually editing some ridiculous .conf file by hand) which means that I don't have to worry about students putting inappropriate or obsene images as their desktop backgrounds anymore! Xubuntu also works with Sabayon (it's in the repositories although it's a little buggy still) so I can pretty much control every aspect of each users desktop.

Best of all I did a little accidental user testing with some 6th graders today and the results were great! Basically I had 3 classes today and in each one a kid jumped on the Xubuntu machine I set up yesterday. None of the three kids even mentioned the fact that their machine looked different from everyone elses, they all just hopped on firefox and got to work!

Now all I'm hoping for is a little performance boost across the LTSP network since XFCE is supposedly less resource intensive than GNOME or KDE. I'm installing Xubunutu on our new Quad Core Dell box right now so I'll post any interesting results soon. Cheers! -joe

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Hardy Hardy Hardy: A Happy Return to Blogging, My Thoughts on Hardy, and What I've Been Up To Since We Last Spoke

Well faithful (and unfaithful) readers, it's been far too long since I last posted, and though my goal in doing so has for years to minimize the long posts and maximize the short ones, thus far I've proven singularly ineffective at heeding that advice. Nevertheless I will attempt once again to do so.

When we last spoke I was in a state of dismay over the atrocious performance of Adobe Flash on an LTSP Thin Client running off of a P4 3.0 GHz server even with a new gigabit switch and Hardy (if you understood that, god bless you).

Since that time I've made some great strides towards figuring out exactly what I need to do in order to have a functioning computer setup at this school that serves both the purposes of the users (the students) and the administrator (me). These strides have not all been in the same direction unfortunately, which was one of the main reasons for my prolonged absence in posting (that and my trip up to the Bay Area over Spring Break when I kind of lost some momentum).

So that losing of momentum was probably more drastic than even I initially realized as I really found myself disbelieving in the whole LTSP idea and even Ubuntu in general. I did get to see Shuttleworth speak in SF over Spring Break but was generally underwhelmed by what he had to say. This had little to do with what he actually said and far more to do with the fact that I had pretty much already read what he was speaking on (at least in terms of Ubuntu and its future) so the whole experience was a bit like watching a very predictable movie. And of course I wussed out when the question and answer portion came along.

So after that whole affair I started seriously looking at other Linux options. I checked out Deli Linux, DSL Linux, Puppy Linux, and of course Fedora and OpenSUSE. With all of these options I looked at the possibility of installing stand alone machines versus pushing forward with LTSP as well as the supposed strengths and weaknesses of each distrobution relative to what I knew about Ubuntu.

In the end I decided that Ubuntu had the same weaknesses as the rest, but more strengths (not the least of which were my own familiarity and experience with it and the community support of course). So now you probably understand why I failed to write for a while: I couldn't bear to write that I had given up on Ubuntu without actually being sure that I was going to do so.

I'll wrap up this post by saying I'm not giving up on Ubuntu, although as of today I think I'm moving over to Xubuntu. There's a few reasons for this which I'll discuss in my next post, to be followed shortly by posts about:

1. My job and recent developments related to the now notorious 2008 California State Budget Cuts
2. Next year's plan for the school (including potentially extremely controversial proposed changes in the technology layout courtesy of yours truly)
3. How things are going with my current setup in the labs and the library.

Glad to be back and sharing again, (as down on Ubuntu as I was last time, I'm up on Xubuntu this time!) -joe

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Google Certified Teacher Final Reflection

Joseph Hartman

K-8 Technology Teacher

Albert Einstein Academies

San Diego, Ca.


The majority of training that I did related to Google Apps and the tools offered therein. My first foray into any Google Apps training activities began immediately after converting every Albert Einstein Academies (AEA) teacher's email account over to the new Google Apps gmail service. It was the summer of 2007 and I was working as an IT Consultant at San Diego State University. It was here that I learned to use Adobe Captivate to create flash based video tutorials for SDSU faculty, staff, and students. Captivate seemed like a good tool to use for the purpose of introducing my colleagues at AEA to their new Google Apps tools so I created tutorials on how to use the Google Calendar and how to use Googlepages. I then uploaded these tutorials and sent them out to the teachers a couple of weeks before the school year even began.

Before each school year AEA does an annual retreat with the entire faculty and staff, so this was my first opportunity to show off Google Apps in front of everyone. I made a succinct presentation that showed off all the new tools that would be available to the teachers, although not exactly how to actually use the tools. This was more of an introduction to make them aware of the possibilities afforded by our migration to Google Apps.

Once the school year started I did a lot of one-on-one coaching with various teachers, held a couple of all staff training sessions for the more basic Apps, and also held a few optional after-school trainings on specific aspects of the Google Apps. In total I was able to reach nearly every member of our 55 person staff. Additionally all 34 teachers in both the elementary and middle school are using Googlepages as their classroom website solution.

Midway through this year I began to seriously consider creating another domain with Google Apps for the student population to use. In February 2008 this idea came to fruition and went live, offering over 500 students in grades 2-8 their own Google Apps Calendars, Docs, and Sites (Chat and Email are disabled). Since that day I have devoted countless hours teaching and training these students on the various Google Apps. In the process I've utilized various teaching methods, but the most effective has been to create an example of what I want the students to produce, show them the example, then give them a good start on recreating the example before cutting them loose and allowing them to explore the apps in attempts to complete the assignment. At this time the different grade levels are in different levels of completion, but the furthest along have finished lessons in both Documents and Presentations and will begin the Sites lesson next week.


The impact of Google Apps on our school has been tremendous. On the faculty/staff side the most tangible result has been an increase in productivity due to the streamlined nature of Gmail and the elimination of any need to delete old messages. The most exciting result, however, has been an increase in collaboration due to the Google Docs and Chat (the Middle School Principal is especially fond of this outcome). I myself really appreciate the Calendar and its ability to assign and reserve "resources" because so many of our resources and related to technology (projector carts, etc.) and Google Apps has made turned the logistical nightmare this could be for me into something so simple I rarely even think about it.

The student side impact of Google Apps is a little more difficult to quantify because there has not been the same amount of time from which to draw conclusions as there has been on the faculty/staff side. The biggest gain thus far has definitely been the Google Docs because it simply eliminates the need for students to "save" work on a disc or flashdrive and allows them to access all their files no matter where they are. We have recently moved our Middle School Newsletter team over to Google Sites for their monthly releases instead of using a graphic layout editor. I'm hoping that the 2008-2009 school year will prove to be a transformative year for our school in terms of student/teacher collaboration and cooperation across Google Apps. I will be spending the summer thinking of ways to encourage teachers to share calendars and sites with their students, and to accept shared assignments digitally from their students as well (hopefully resulting in a significant decrease in our school wide paper consumption).

That said, I think the best measure of success is made by simply looking at the teachers who are using google apps and how they are using it. Every teacher at our school believes that their classroom website is the best one in the school and the all take great pride in what they put online for their students. In simply making it a painless process to put content online Google Apps is making a huge and tangible difference in the way our teachers teach and our students learn.


The biggest challenge by far has been encouraging the teachers and staff to move from using MS Office and their normal set of technology tools towards using the Google Apps suite. Certain Apps like Googlepages were much more easily adopted by the general faculty because few had any experience using web page tools to migrate from. Therefore Googlepages was their first foray into the world of web page creation. Google Docs on the other hand has been much slower on the road to acceptance because so many teachers are familiar with MS Word that they see little reason to set aside the hours of time it would take to become proficient on Google Docs to accomplish what is essentially the same task they already do with MS Word.

Certain facts are changing this belief though. When our principal's hard drive crashed on her PowerBook everyone noticed that she had not lost any work that she had created on Google Docs.
There also seems to be a slow trickling effect within the school in which one user begins using Google Docs more effectively and a close colleague takes notice before venturing into the program a little further than they may have otherwise.

I have also noticed that my work training the students on Google Apps has helped to coax some of the teachers to use Google Docs a little more effectively. This is because the students oftentimes have not significantly used Word Processing Software or Digital Presentation Software before and Google Apps is their first experience really getting to know how to use such programs. Thus when they return to their home classroom from my class and their teacher asks them to write a story about their fieldtrip or something, they naturally ask their teacher if they can use Google Docs to do so. This has been my most proactive approach towards encouraging adoption among the faculty and staff and it seems to be working really well because I have noticed a recent increase in faculty requests for tutoring in Google Docs and its features.

Personal Growth

Implementing Google Apps has affected my teaching greatly. Training teachers was something I had prior experience with, but teaching students how to use an online suite of software was something entirely new for me. It was also a unique experience because I was attempting to teach it to students ranging in age from 7 to 14. My strategies for accomplishing this goal went through quite an evolutionary process, but with the latest iteration (see a description of my latest method in the "Summary" section) I think I have been able to find a solution that succeeds in both teaching the students the capabilities of the programs while simultaneously encouraging their imagination and curiosity about what these programs can really do. By finding that balance between explicit instruction and guided inquiryin my Google Apps lessons I really notice an opportunity to make similar changes in the other areas of my teaching. Ideally I would be able to mimic the teaching method I utilize in teaching Google Apps across all my other lessons, but whether that is feasible or not at this point I will have to wait to find out.

Maintaining Momentum

My biggest hope for the coming school year is to eliminate the option for teachers to use any office productivity suite at all except for Google Apps. There are several good reasons for this change, not the least of which would be to lessen the potential for catastrophic IT emergencies given that we will have virtually no IT support next year due to the budget cuts. I also think such a move would ultimately be a positive one for the students as teachers, now at least introduced to Google Docs, would be forced to utilize it in ways they may not have been this year and would hopefully pass on some of that newfound knowledge to their students.

Aside from such a drastic step as this, I hope to produce some additional Adobe Captivate tutorials about how to use other aspects of Google Apps such as Sites. A few brief training sessions might also be in order, especially in the arena of layout options within Google Docs since this is one area that MS Word easily trumps its competitor. Finally I would like to initiate some incentives for students to further their mastery of the Google Apps, so things like a Google Presentations competition among the students might be an option.

Overall Google Apps has been a transformative force in the way our school community works and interacts. What gains might be seen should we ever begin using Google Apps to its full potential is something I would love to find out.

Friday, March 21, 2008

More Good News (Ubuntu Community Support is Still Great) and Bad News (Using Flash on LTSP Will Evidently Cost Me More Money)

Well I've already got a response to my question about flash player being so slow. This is due to the amazing support from the Ubuntu (and Edubuntu specifically) community that I've continually received. What follows is a transcript of the first response I received to my listserv post. Of course I'll be sure to post here tomorrow about the steps I took and the results they gave. Cheers! (and thanks for the help Robert!) -joe

> I'm having the same problem as Uwe with flash being slow. In this flash game
> (I use it to help my kinders practice using the mouse) I can literally see
> the frames refreshing and it is utterly unusable. I got my gigabit uplink
> switch today and connected it but there was no change from the old 10/100
> switch I was using before. The new switch should just work out of the box
> right? The LED indicates it has a gigabit connection. Since this made no
> difference I also did a clean install of Hardy Beta hoping to see some
> change. Alas.
>Here is a link to the system monitor display after I hooked up the switch
> but before the Hardy install. I would say this image is typical of what I've
> seen with 5 thin clients running the aforementioned flash game whether in
> Gutsy or Hardy with Gigabit or not (although the RAM and CPU is running a
> bit high since I had just opened firefox on a couple machines before I took
> the screenshot).
> The server is a Dell GX270 P4 running at 3 GHz. It seems like the whole
> server slows down when flash is playing, but I haven't confirmed this. With

You have multiple reasons for the poor performance.
1) You have a weak server. It is not even dual cpu. Old netburst architecture.
2) You don't have much ram. 1GB is only enough for about 7 clients.
3) make sure you are running without ssh overhead for X. ( enable direct X )
4) even if you get a fast server and do all the tweaking I'm afraid
that site is still going to be slow

LTSP is not good at streaming video AND sound to thin clients. Network
latency, remote X, high cpu usage for many clients just doesn't work
well. It can get better than what you currently have but it will never
be like running the browser locally (on the client). If you have
powerful enough clients (min P3 800 + 256MB) check this out.

> Hardy the game is even slow on the server, although this was not the case
> with Gutsy (BTW Hardy seems realllllllly slow to log in on the server. Like
> Gutsy on my laptop. Not good.) I've tried different thin clients with no
> changes. I've also tried Cat 5 and 6 cables to the clients with no change. I
> haven't tried Gnash in a while so I could give that a shot, but that still
> doesn't solve the real problem.

BTW Gnash just release 0.8.2.

> Is the network activity supposed to peak and valley like that? It does this
> even if I'm doing something other than flash, like a google docs or

All your X display traffic is flowing through your network.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Headphones in the Lab, a new gigabit switch, and Ubuntu flash player still sucks

I have good news and bad news. Let's start with the good news first since the bad news is pretty bad.

For a while now I've had a box full of headsets for the kids to use but I haven't ever put them out because I just didn't want them getting all tangled up and broken. I've been meaning to get a bunch of adhesive hooks to hold the headsets on the side of the computer monitors and even put in a purchase order with the controller earlier this week, but yesterday I found myself at Office Depot and just went for it.

So with the help of a couple of students I've now got the lab all hooked up with headsets and the difference is unbelievable! It's eerily quiet in the lab now that all the kids are tuned into their own work instead of whatever all their friends around them are doing. I can not believe I took so long to put this thing together, but I try to think about the fact that I've got it together now instead of all the months I went through without it.

In any case I definitely have a new number one piece of advice for any noobie tech teacher: GET HEADSETS! For EVERY kid! It doesn't MATTER that it looks like you're running an illegal child labor call center!

Now for the bad news. Just like the worst kind of bad news it arrived on the heels of seemingly great news, this being the arrival of my gigabit switch and the beta release of Ubuntu's latest release Hardy Heron. Little did I know what a disappointment these supposedly beneficial arrivals would be. Allow me to explain.

For a long time now our students have been unable to use the adobe flash player on our thin clients. For whatever reason the performance is absolutely abysmal. Worse than abysmal actually, it is literally unusable. Until this afternoon I believed this was due to the fact that the thin clients were connecting to the server through a 10/100 switch instead of a switch with a gigabit uplink which I had read in many places would be far more preferable.

Thus when I connected my new switch with the gigabit uplink I expected to see a marked change in performance on flash player apps. Alas, you can guess what I saw instead. Taking a look at the system monitor revealed the following disturbing image.

If only I knew how to interpret it and diagnose the problem :(

It occurred to me that the issue might be with Gutsy and not the switch after all so I even tried installing the new Beta release of Hardy on the server after I had finished downloading it and still noticed no change. Just more of the same I'm sad to say.

The really disturbing part of all of this is the effect that these types of flaws have on my students. I started using Edubuntu in the first place both because it seemed like a good way to use the existing equipment we had, but also because I hated the idea of helping raise another generation of American citizens unable to wean themselves from the crippling teats of Microsoft and Apple. I imagined students who would be surprised and unfamiliar when they saw a Windows computer, who would appreciate the fact that their school used money to buy more computer equipment for them to play with instead of licenses for software just to make them work.

Tragically the precise opposite of this has happened simply because Ubuntu LTSP just CAN NOT play flash files. Subsequently the kids hate Linux, moan about how slow it is and marvel in small groups while flash files load frame by frame by frame. They LONG for Windows 2000. WINDOWS 2000!!!! How can this be?

For the past few months I've played the apologist, telling myself the kids mostly just played games in flash anyways and would be better off without them. That's not the point though. The point is that Ubuntu can't do something as well as an EIGHT YEAR OLD Microsoft OS can. This speaks volumes about the state of Ubuntu and I really don't know where to go from here.

I'm not giving up yet, but I'm through making excuses too. If Ubuntu can't figure it out, maybe another OS can. It might be time to personally look into SUSE or RHEL to see exactly how Ubuntu measures up. I'll keep you posted. -joe

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Eee PC 9" and the Hopes of Linux in Teacherland

Well I haven't got a lot of time to expound on this story, but I was so excited to see that the rumors have proven true that I had to talk about it at least a little. At long last, we have photographic proof of a new, soon to be released Eee PC by Asus with a dazzling large 9" screen. Super Sweet.

I've been tracking the development of the Eee for well over a year now, from back in the days when the original 7" screen model was no more of a reality than the 9" one is now. It may have taken a long time for the first mini machine to make its debut (and unfortunately it failed to do so at the $200 price point that had been initially rumored) but when it did it certainly made some waves.

It has been my ambition to secure one of these little guys for all of my teachers for quite some time now. I might have pursued the matter a little more if the rumors about the existence of this 9" version hadn't been circulated almost immediately after the 7" versions release. The fact is, as most people have noted, that a 7" screen is simply inadequate for almost any kind of serious computing. This isn't a huge deal since the machine comes with a VGA out on the side and can obviously support full size keyboards and mice through their USB ports. It's more the fact that I sincerely doubt that anyone of my colleague teachers would reliably take such measures. I think it being infinitely more likely that they would just squint away at the tiny 7" screen all day and then all I would hear would be complaints about how it was too small. The Linux factor is something to be addressed as well.

Getting the students to use Linux is unbelieeeeeeeeeeeevably easier than getting the teachers to use it. Don't get me wrong, there are some teachers who have little to no trouble, but most ask the typical questions, "where is the My Computer?".

It's actually easier to convert students on two counts. The first of these is the classic "digital native" argument that they are younger yet more familiar with technology and, while I see this, the bigger factor I notice is simply that they are less set in their ways. It seems to me, for example, that adults are much more likely to try to bend a program to their will than a child is. An adult will try to organize tables in MS Word rather than use Excel simply because they are familiar with Word. A child will be more likely to search for or ask about a more appropriate program and then learn how to use it (in my experience).

The second count may be limited to schools and the school environment, but it deals with the fact that students are expected to be flexible and dynamic and adaptable; so suddenly ridding them of all Windows machines and replacing them with Linux is spun as a wonderful teachable moment instead of an untenable burden. Sadly, this is not the case when repeated with the faculty. In fact, I could probably keep an entire blog on the subject of things we expect out of our students that we neither expect out of nor ask of ourselves (line up to go anywhere? no talking in the halls?).

In any case, I have high hopes for this new 9" Eee as the harbinger of Linux to the faculty. It is just big enough, just small enough, just cheap enough (actually, this is just a guess at this point) and just cool enough to actually persuade some of the teachers to switch over....perhaps. Stay tuned for further adventures of Linux in Teacherland. Cheers! -joe
btw: photos from engadget.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Ubuntu Brainstorm and the Cross Pollination of Ideas

Today Ubuntu announced Brainstorm, a site devoted to letting Ubuntu users nominate and vote for their favorite ideas related to Ubuntu. The premise is based around the assumption that any idea garnering enough votes will be worked on by either Canonical or the Ubuntu Developer Community for inclusion in a future Ubuntu Release and goes a long ways towards including some of us less technically-capable devotees.

I love this idea, and there are two things about it that really surprise me . The first is that it didn't exist before and the second is that I never noticed that it didn't exist before. This is one of those win, win, win, win, win ideas that fits in so perfectly with what has already been put into place that while it's difficult to understand why it took so long, you're still just glad its come around.

A beautiful thing about Brainstorm is that it has essentially been in place for a while over at In fact, it was through Dell's own version (called Ideastorm) that the first Dell Ubuntu machines were proposed, voted on, and ultimately released. This cross pollination of ideas is something that the technology sector has gotten down really well. It seems like most other industries actively avoid sharing ideas, first by protecting them to absurd degrees and then by trying to reinvent a wheel (sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing) that others have already built.

Our government seems even worse at this, refusing to acknowledge that successful programs in other countries could possibly work in America (as if we were so unique). This isn't a political blog, but one of the first steps for any educational technologist to undertake in attempting to solve a problem is to look around for any existing solutions. Maybe I'm naive, but this seems like a pretty common sense tactic and I fail to understand why it wouldn't work for pretty much any issue (healthcare, welfare, taxes...).

But I digress. Brainstorm may be a Dell ripoff, but it makes much more sense for Ubuntu than it could ever over at Dell (I've never even heard of a "Dell community" before, but maybe that's just me). Here's to Ubuntu, Brainstorm, and the continued cross pollination (or ripoff if you prefer) of ideas. -joe

Thursday, February 21, 2008

SCaLE 2008 Impressions and Photos

It's been a busy couple of weekends for me the past two weeks. Last weekend was Valentine's Day in NYC of course and the weekend before was the Southern California Linux Exposition (SCaLE) in Los Angeles.

I was fortunate enough to have my presentation on using Edubuntu in the classroom accepted for one of the sessions on the first day of the Expo and since this took place on Friday amidst an offshoot track of SCaLE called OSSIE (Open Source Software in Education) I got a substitute to cover my classes and drove the Towncar the two hours north to La La Land. I arrived at the Expo around noon which meant I had a couple of hours to hang out before I was due to talk. I spent a little time wandering around the event just seeing what there was to be seen. I'd say it was a smaller than average event but bigger than I expected, which was an exciting surprise.

After a few minutes I found myself a seat and listened to the speaker scheduled before me. I'm sad to say I forget her name now, but she was a doctoral student who used FreeMind in her research to see how concept maps changed information retention in students. I'm a little ashamed to admit that I was more involved in polishing up my own presentation than I should have been to pay ample attention to what she was saying, but as good as FreeMind looks I'm still pretty committed to using Internet based applications as much as possible. This means that sites like are a lot more attractive to me than software programs like FreeMind. The data that she had was very encouraging towards the use of mind maps in general though, so that was good news.

When it was finally my time to present I was relieved to see that my laptop worked on the projector without any major flaw, but I was disappointed to see that audience members couldn't post comments to my Google-based presentation which meant while I talked. Later I figured out that this was because I hadn't "published" the presentation, but that was hours later of course.

The presentation itself went pretty well. I was nervous as usual, which meant I talked even faster than I normally do and ended up doing my presentation in about 25 minutes (last time I did it at the SDCUE conference it took 45 minutes!). Fortunately there were a lot of questions from the audience and that saved me.

Afterwards I hung around outside the auditorium for a while and just chatted with colleagues (including Tim, the OSSIE organizer and an all-around great guy). Then I wandered over to the OLPC area and fiddled with the machines for a bit. I'm still waiting for mine to be delivered by the way. I had meant to take some pictures with my camera phone and post them here, but I forgot of course. The rest of the weekend I spent hanging around Santa Monica with my old college roomies and playing golf in Century City. Not a bad weekend at all! I look forward to next year!. -joe

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Multimedia message

B gets close with the virgin in air entertainment system. Available games include doom and circus linux! Sweet!

Multimedia message

Virgin america rocks! On the way to ny via sf.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Looking Forward to Hardy, More Video Card Confusion

It was a while back that I first noticed something seemed amiss with these old IBM P3 desktops that we seem to have so many of. I was almost sure that I had used them successfully in the past with Feisty but here they were crapping out on me after showing the Edubuntu splash screen with Gutsy. I wasn't that worried as it looked like I was going to have more than enough thin clients anyways, but still...

A couple of days ago I confirmed my feelings when I was in a kindergarten class that I knew had an up and running miniLAN and noticed that one of those IBMs was being used as a thin client. So there was indeed some regression in the compatibility of thin clients from Feisty to Gutsy. What a disappointing revelation to make.

I hoped to make lemonade out of this lemon of a development by installing Feisty on the Fujitsu-Siemens machines I got from the German Consulate in LA (especially since my $50 dollar solution did NOT work as they sent me 3.3V AGP cards instead of the 1.%V ones I needed). For a bit it seemed to be no use. I got the same strange behavior out of the Fujitsu with Feisty as I did with Gutsy. But I left the machine on for some reason, and a few minutes later there was the sign in screen, as if everything was okay!

I logged in, ran updates, restarted, created users, moved the machine to a 3rd grade class, connected thin clients, rebooted, and even let the teacher's daughter play Webkinz on the server before I got a call the next morning that none of the machines were working. It was the same old problem as before, and now I discovered that it wasn't just a problem with the video card. In fact the computer wasn't even fully booting the OS which meant that the thin clients couldn't boot either. Bummer.

So obviously I'm looking forward to Hardy being released in April (even if there won't be any new graphical redesign) mostly because there is supposed to be better support for video cards and monitor detection. Needless to say, the fact that these two changes were not highlighted on Ars Technica's First Look article was disheartening, but I still have high hopes. Let's hope they don't get crushed. -joe

Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Letter From Tim about SCaLE 2007

So I've got no shortage of things in Edubuntu Gutsy to complain about but these same things have been keeping me pretty busy so in the meantime I'll just pass along some promotional information about the Southern California Linux Expo in Los Angeles next weekend. I'm actually presenting my slides ( again at this event and I'll be sure to not only take my own pictures but also have someone else photograph me on stage this time. I'm sure the one person who comes to listen won't mind. ;^)

"Learn about Free Open Source Software you can use in your school during a
Friday conference this February 8th, 2008 at the LAX Westin Hotel.

This isn't a software sales pitch – the Southern California Linux Expo (a
non-profit, all volunteer organization) is holding their 6th annual Open
Source Software Expo – and this year, we've added a speaker track for

What is Open Source Software (OSS)? It is software that is developed
collaboratively, then donated and made available for use at no charge.
This isn't “shareware” or “demo-ware”. OSS is full-featured software,
used by leading companies like IBM, Google and Yahoo. OSS is used around
the world, in government, business, and schools. You are free to use,
share and change any OSS program at no cost.

No more tracking licenses, fighting different versions or coping with
software budget constraints. As an added benefit, many OSS programs work
on Linux, Windows and Mac. With Linux and Open Source Software, you can
put together computer labs, or 1 to 1 computing at a much lower cost than
with traditional Mac and Windows solutions.

OSS is a worldwide effort, but the Expo brings it to Los Angeles. Our OSS
in Education track focuses on programs appropriate for schools.

The Friday speaker track is only $10 for the full day. If you prefer,
admission to all three days – which includes Friday's education
presentations, 40 weekend presentations, the “Try It Lab”, and 60+ booths
in the exhibit hall is only $70. Registration for teachers and students
(with ID) is 50% off.

To register, visit To receive the
50% discount teachers should enter “EDU08” in the promo code field.
Students should use promo code “STDNT”.

The OSS in Education speaker track on Friday the 8th starts with
registration at 8am, followed by:
* Introduction to Open Source Software for Education (9-10 am)
* Linux in Early Education (10-11 am)
* Computer programming concepts for Science, Math and Technology (11-12)
* Mind mapping with FreeMind (1-2 pm)
* MiniLANs and thin clients with LTSP and Edubutu (2-3 pm)
* Network Directory Services (4-5 pm)
* Creating Publications (5-6 pm)

To learn more about each presentation, please visit:

Want to do more than just sit in a lecture? This year the Expo introduces
our “Try It Lab” on Saturday and Sunday. In the lab, you'll participate
in hands-on sessions where you can learn about OSS first-hand. Volunteer
instructors will guide you as you learn by using leading OSS programs
comparable to well-known Windows and Mac software. In the lab, we will
have a variety of computers and thin-clients, so you can see the many
options you have with OSS.

Lab topics will include:
* Open Office – the OSS alternative to Microsoft Office
* GNU Image Manipulation Program – the power of Photoshop, without the cost
* Inkscape – a powerful drawing tool like Adobe Illustrator
* Joomla! - a flexible web publishing tool for dynamic web sites
* Linux – desktop software replacing Windows and Mac OS-X
* Thin Client Computing – learn how to dramatically reduce PC costs and

For more information about the Southern California Linux Expo, visit our

Cheers! -joe

Friday, January 25, 2008

Edubuntu Users Listserv and How My Curriculum Works

Hello again faithful followers. I must apologize for my extended delay from posting. I wish I could say it was due to some exciting adventure in my life that occurred over the Holidays but alas, I did little more than get myself addicted to Battlestar Galactica. I did get an OLPC machine for Christmas from my parents, but in case you haven't heard, there have been some "complications" in actually receiving the machine. I'll be sure to post my thoughts on the device as soon as it comes in.

No, the real reason I haven't been posting recently is because I discovered a thriving edubuntu user community on a listserv and have been reading and contributing to that as much as I can. You can sign yourself up here if you're interested. Since the main purpose of me maintaining this blog was to have somewhere to vent, question, and participate somehow in the community, finding an alternative has supplanted my time somewhat. In fact, for a while I kind of forgot about posting here until I actually ran into an issue with thin client resolution last week and googled the problem, only to have the top two hits link back to this very blog! Now I'm not sure if that is a case of Google self-promotion or something, but I certainly hope so because the alternative (being the idea that I have somehow become an expert in edubuntu problem solving) is a far more frightening thought.

Nevertheless, it did make me realize that I have something to offer more than just my contributions to the listserv since even an ubuntu junkie like me did not discover it until very recently. Therefore I present you with my first listserv poached post below, a response to a question by another member that asked me to clarify what programs I was using in the lab with my students and how I was using them. I hope you find it interesting. Cheerio! -joe

"Hi Bill,

The current curriculum has just undergone some recent changes in light of my beginning to teach middle school students in addition to elementary school students for the first time but I'd be happy to comment about the reasoning behind the current plan.

It arose out of specific school needs, state and professional organization standards (especially ISTE and Massachusettes since California doesn't have specific computer related technology standards), and my own experience/vision. The primary driving force towards Linux, LTSP, and Edubuntu arose out of necessity as much as anything else. I work at a charter school and we inherited a campus from a defunct public school complete with network and computers, the vast majority of the latter being from the wrong side of the millennium. Many of the machines we are using now were donated by organizations (the border patrol, district attorney's office, private companies, German Consulate) that were upgrading infrastructure and would otherwise have been discarded. Thus the ability to use these many underpowered and outdated machines as thin clients appealed to me. I'd guess we have about 200 workstations on campus altogether, of which about 50 are Pentium 4 and four are Core 2 Duo (the administrators' laptops and my own). The rest are P3, P2, or slower.

I should also mention that my school is an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School on the elementary side while the Middle School that just started up last year is in the accreditation process. Additionally, the elementary school operates under a German Immersion program that has the students spend one week learning in English under an English speaking teacher and the next week learning in German under a German speaking teacher. And the campus we inherited two years ago resides in a primarily Spanish-speaking and relatively underprivileged area of San Diego so our incoming students are rapidly changing the face of the school. All additional reasons to use the similarly multicultural and globally minded products of Ubuntu and GNU/Linux.

Because we are an IB school on the elementary side we have what is called a Program of Inquiry (POI) that is essentially a matrix of 6 big ideas per grade (so 36 big ideas total) that are divided up and taught throughout the year in addition (and hopefully in conjunction with) the normal classroom curriculum. POI topics are things like "objects in the sky move in predictable patterns" or "water is essential to life" and typically last for about 6 weeks. Thus my own curriculum assignments are designed around supporting these topics while at the same time teaching the students specific hard skills about the programs they are learning to use. I also try to collaborate with the teachers and their own projects as much as possible, although this is difficult since I only see each class for 45 minutes per week.

On to the curriculum....

In Kindergarten the students learn how to use a computer as many have never used one before or if they have it was for very specific tasks. Mouse practice, Tuxpaint, and learning about the parts of a computer pretty much sum it up, although I do try to collaborate with the teachers as much as possible

In First Grade the students begin typing with Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing 15 (the one and only piece of Windows only software I will miss in the transition to Edubuntu in the lab. If anyone has any recommendations for a similar full-featured typing tutor that will work with GNU/Linux I'd love to hear about it). They also start doing somewhat harder online activities since they can read fairly well by this age.

In Second Grade we introduce Open Office Writer. I thought it was a bit early to start with word processing so young, but the Massachusetts state technology standards called for it so I thought we'd give it a shot. After just a year of typing the kids aren't all that adept at using the program, but I've noticed that it serves as a good introduction to the common interface of toolbars and drop down menus. It also introduces the ideas of saving, opening, and printing.

In Third Grade we introduce Open Office Impress. This is actually the program I would have started with in second grade because it is so visual, but third grade seems to be about the youngest age a student can really begin doing coherent presentations in front of the class so I suppose it works here as well. Of course we continue building on what the students have learned in previous years so they learn more about Writer this year as well.

In Fourth Grade the students begin learning Scribus. Publishing and writing labs are a big part of our school's fourth grade curriculum so this was an obvious choice.

Fifth grade focuses on Kompozer and web design in preparation for middle school and the online portfolios that the students begin in 6th grade.

Sixth grade centers around Web 2.0 sites and strategies like blogger and google docs and posting to forums and emailing experts. I originally wanted to do this in 5th grade but didn't feel comfortable asking elementary school students to sign up for the Internet IDs they will need to access certain sites.

In Seventh Grade the students learn Inkscape in the hopes that it will help them spice up their digital portfolios.

In Eighth Grade the students learn GIMP for the same reason as Inkscape.

Basically the idea is to give students the hard skills they need to be able to satisfy their class requirements in the method they prefer. If they want to fulfill an assignment on the fall of the Roman empire they can choose to write a paper, create a brochure, make a newspaper or magazine, create a website, present a powerpoint or whatever. You asked if the curriculum meets the needs of teachers and I feel like this is where it helps them out (Internet safety and research skills and stuff like that falls in the librarians domain) although I will be asking the teachers to fill out a survey on the whole curriculum at the end of the year so I guess I'll know more after that happens. I also like the idea of introducing students to computer parts and programming at least a little bit, thus the mention of kturtle which I'm hoping to introduce across every grade 2 and up (as soon as I learn Logo a little better).

As much as I'd like some new iMacs and to be able to work with the middle schoolers on video editing and animation I'm also pretty committed to using open source (or at least free) software not only to avoid legacy costs for the school but also so that anything I teach in the lab can be practiced at home by the students for no additional cost (assuming the student has a computer at home). I'm more likely to just hope for some new P4s to come through the school, buy some RAM for them and set up some stand-alone Edubuntu boxes.

Sorry for the long winded response, I wasn't sure where you were coming from and (as with all teachers) once I get started I can be hard to stop. Are you in education as well? If you're in the area I'll be presenting on my Edubuntu experiences at the SCALE conference in Los Angeles next month as well as at the CUE conference in Palm Springs in March. If you're interested you can learn more about my school at and see my presentation at Cheers! -joe"