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"

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