March 2009

FOSS for Teachers presentation tomorrow. It is the second in the “road show” series of presentations for MOSSSIG which is a special interest group of the Massachusetts Computer Using Educators, Inc.

Southeastern Massachusetts SIG (SEMSIG)
March 31, 2009 at 9:00 AM
H.A. Yelle Elementary School, 64 W. Main Street, Norton, MA

Host: Lynn Wiegel, contact if you plan to attend [lwiegel AT NOSPAM] (translate the address, humans!)

From North:
Take 95 South to 495 South. Take exit 12 onto Rt. 140 Norton. Follow 140 to the lights at Rt. 123. Take a right onto Rt. 123. The H.A. Yelle Elementary School is on the left. Park in the circle in front of the building and enter via the front door.

From South:
Take 95 Norton to 495 South. Take exit 12 onto Rt. 140 Norton. Follow 140 to the lights at Rt. 123. Take a right onto Rt. 123. The H.A. Yelle Elementary School is on the left. Park in the circle in front of the building and enter via the front door.

Hope I’ll see you there!

Martin Owens has prepared a very useful visual guide that is just right when you want to explain the concepts of open source to someone. Martin is actively leading the Massachusetts Local Ubuntu Team. The team meets monthly and has a strong interest in getting open source software into use in Massachusetts schools.

Thanks, Martin.

When somebody else does a good job, congratulate him/her.

When somebody else does work so you don’t have to, thank him/her.

When somebody writes a post you envy, point others to it.

J.J. Macey has given “us” a list of reasons to tell a boss about why to change to Linux. The reasons apply to education settings.\

Glyn Moody has a wonderful blog about “things open” which, of course, includes open source software. It is worth reading regularly.

Linux is the poster child of open sourceness in many ways. Some people have been touting the celebration of  the 15th birthday of Linux. Moody says IT JUST AIN’T SO…

Moody also writes for Linux Journal. Read his article from the LJ site.

The best thing about FOSS is: WE AIN’T DONE YET!

(Yes, Mother, it isn’t good grammar, but I’m being poetic.)

In keeping with a history theme and the NERC history/social studies conference I am attending, mentioned in the prior post, I am recommending a program for you Linux users. I don’t think it is available for Windows or Macintosh. Everybody should be able to identify the states of their own country.

Kgeography is a map game quzzing program that lets you identify countries and states from capitals, capitals from states, practice with simple outline identifications on maps like Africa, Europe, the USA, etc.

If you are interested, check my more complete article:
(It is full of screen shots which take too much room in this blog.)

You can also find more at the KDE Education project page:

And, if you are industrious, you can add your own maps following the directions on the program’s home site:

And another blogger’s map directions using an example of mapping India:


I am heading off to Boston to the Northeast Regional Conference of the Social Studies (NERC) on March 18 and 19. I thought it might be appropriate to look at open source “primary source documents” which in history teaching means writings or other documents that were written at the time of an event, usually by a participant, not written later by scholars.

The Internet is opening up opportunities to access primary source documents without needing to go to a major research library where getting access may still be difficult because of the fragile nature of the materials.

Google, the Internet search giant, is making waves in this effort by creating Book Search scanning thousands of books and making snippet previews available even when the book is still under copyright restrictions. Many university libraries have entered into the project, giving Google permission to scan their collections. Certainly, go and look up your interests there.

What can you do to get personally involved, making more FULL TEXT primary sources available?

Project Gutenberg is a longstanding effort to convert books into ebook format in the public domain. It was the first project started with ebooks as a goal and predates the World Wide Web. The books that get included in the project are generally in the public domain because the copyright has expired. Copyrights run out every year, and as they do, more books become eligible to become part of the project.

Originally, I think the process involved people transcribing a book from paper to computer and then saving that book to text format. More recently, a new effort has begun to capitalize on the creative commons of the Internet. The Distributed Proofreaders project intends to spread out the burden of making books suitable for Project Gutenberg. Instead of having one person transcribe the book, electronic tools are brought into play.

A scanner – converting the paper pages to images
OCR Software – Optical Character Recognition software attempts to change the images of words into text

OCR conversion from the images is prone to error. Proofreading is needed. That’s where we humans come in. the Distributed Proofreader Project calls on us to provide page-by-page proofreading. One session need not accomplish any more, and, indeed, a tricky effort can be suspended in the middle. Clearly, the effort is voluntary, but a rough guideline is to have a personal goal of a page a day.

You could offer your services as a scanner of books, but the main volunteer effort is to proofread and the software runs entirely on the project servers. You gain access to pages through your browser. You only need to enable Javascript, cookies, popup windows for the site (popups let you have a window specially set up for proofreading while keeping the regular browser available for something like the FAQ page, for example.

Proofreading progresses through several stages with more than one person checking each text. The idea is to let an ad hoc team work through the task of getting a book converted. I am still a novice, but some people dedicate much time to the project and become more involved in the late stages of the conversion process, making final edits and submitting the books to Project Gutenberg where they become universally available.


John Dvorak is probably a name you have heard, certainly if you have read all the way through a copy of PC Magazine where he has a regular column. He has very strong opinions, and is one of the pundits whose opinions always challenge the weakest parts of anything in technology.

Therefore, to hear him praise Ubuntu 8.10 was a pleasant surprise, not only because Ubuntu is the distribution we recommend at MOSSSIG, but because Dvorak is starting to use Linux on a regular basis, not just as a “test”!

You might be interested to read his article.,2817,2342703,00.asp

Resources for lesson plans don’t include just the lesson plans themselves, of course. The plan is the outline, the skeleton. The actual lesson involves getting students to interact with the information in the plan’s focus. Teachers don’t make  up the informaton for the students, and teachers definitely don’t want the students to make up the stuff they write (well, there is always creative writing…)

The Internet is increasingly providing access to solid information. Not all of it is free to copy, but much of it is. Wikipedia’s current article count is 2,779,000+ for the English version. The content is licensed with the GNU Free Documentation License. That is the equivalent of the free software license and encourages document reuse with the same freedoms as the GPL offers for software. That means you, the teacher, can incorporate an article from Wikipedia in your lesson plan, copying it verbatim, printing and distributing it to your classes. What’s more, you can modify the document, adding specifics for your lesson. You do NOT need to worry about breaking any laws. The license is education friendly, unlike standard copyright license which limits your use of material to immediate, short-term, excerpt from the source. With standard copyrighted works, you are stealing from the publisher and author if you duplicate from a book or workbook for more than one class and certainly if you use it more than one year.

Another issue is primary source. Wikipedia isn’t designed to present original research. The submission rules speak against that sort of writing. The idea is to write an article with references that back up the statements in the article. It is reference material in the same way that traditional encyclopedias are.

Getting primary source material is also easier than ever because of the Internet. There are several initiatives designed to present accessible primary source material.

The Library of Congress has an ever-growing Web accessible digital conversion of its massive paper collection. Most social studies/history teachers are aware of and recommend students use the Library of Congress American Memories site.

Scientific research is commonly published in peer reviewed journals. The peer review is designed to ensure quality of research reports, keeping wild claims from being made, demanding high levels of proof be presented before a research article gets published. Unfortunately, the traditional scientific journals are also expensive to produce. They don’t have advertising support, for example. Most high schools don’t have copies, either.

The Internet gives a new publishing opportunity, and recently “open access” journals have begun to appear. These are the same peer reviewed journals, but not limited to paper and the back room stacks of university libraries.

Check out the Directory of Open Access Journals. It isn’t just for science classes, either. History, the arts, psychology, language study, they are all represented.

The Massachusetts Department of Education has spent much of the last several years organizing, promoting, developing and expecting schools to use the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks. To students, teachers and administrators of the state, that comes as no surprise. Sometimes it is not easy fitting nationally developed textbooks into the mix.

Well then, “Just design your own curriculum; write your own textbooks.”

Sounds silly, doesn’t it?

Textbooks are the product of professionals!

Well, teachers are professionals.

I couldn’t do it alone.

There’s some good news. You don’t have to do it alone. The Internet has provided us with the resources to use. There are several groups of educators that have started the process of producing open source materials specifically for use in K12 classrooms.

You can pull together pieces from many sources, tweak them to your satisfaction, get them into shape for your students. Do it step-by-step. Don’t rush. Start with one lesson plan. Test it with one class. You do that anyway when you do a lesson with a textbook somebody else decided you should use.

Okay, then where should I look for these resources?

I certainly don’t know them all, but here’s a short list of places to begin.

Curricki –

Open Curriculum Project –

OpenPlanner –

WikiTeach –

Oh, yeah, one more thing. Share a story of your efforts with us.