What one instructor feels about linux.

Classroom Experiences with Linux
Here is an article I submitted to Full Circle magazine, hopefully it finds a way in publication.

Currently, I am a teacher working with students who have been diagnosed with Autism. The children I work with would be considered “severe” to “moderate” in general terms. My experiences have been both powerful and rewarding and I have had the opportunity for amazing experiences to connect with children as well as assist them in their achievements. I employ a variety of resources to facilitate this, here is were Linux comes in.

My first distribution was Slackware96 back in college, its great to see how much growth has occurred in the community. Since I have this background in computers they are often donated to me to be repaired, or cleaned up, for either my classroom or neighborhood children in need. The position I hold is as a special education teacher is in the south and resources are tight, my classroom computers are older models and were donations; perfect candidates for Xubuntu. I brought in some of my personal experience with the machines and install Xubuntu as well as a few applications. The kids loved the “new” computers. Some of the children warmed to the GUI and took to a few games, others took a bit longer, but would work with an adult on the systems. A few applications really became hits, I found the children were gravitating to GCompris and Tux Paint, both of which I use at my home with my young daughters. GCompris came out as the consistent winner . The interface for GCompris is simple and intuitive, not to mention clean and attractive, the audio is aurally stimulating, the applications are engaging and the students get both a visual gratification for accomplishment and voiced instructions (in the newer releases).

Manipulatives play a large part in how material is conveyed to students in my classroom and these linux applications offer a wonderful supplement to what we are already doing. I have found that students who have deficits in social interaction, writing, reading, etc. do well on the computers, particularly games and GCompris offers an environment that tracks student data and gives the children engaging fun. To combat low reading and comprehension proficiencies, in addition to math, science and history, as well as the high rates of secondary school dropouts I have seen schools spend massive amounts of money on programs and labs that offer far less, with awful interfaces, that cannot compete with a well-rounded deployment of educational applications found in the repositories. Over the years I have more consistent success with a scheduled application of GCompris, Childsplay, Tux Math, etc. with data tracking and analysis to the point were I purchased a Eee 901 and put an Ubuntu derivative (Easy Peasy) to carry around when assisting with different cases and clients, collecting and studying student data, extended school year programs and when I am stuck in “Windows Only Environments” and want to give children the exposure to these exceptional educational applications. On a side note, I am aware that some of these programs can be installed to both Window and OSX and I have made purchases and donations for them and done just that, but I have always been a bit of a purist and prefer to run the software in their native environments.

As the students become more comfortable with the operating environment they tended to manifest a more inquisitive position and therefore we often sit together and I allow them to add both traditional and educational games from the Add/Remove application. From this activity they get a feeling of ownership, control and thus confidence. I am now seeing the open source community opening up new doors to the children as GCompris has breeched reservation and allowed the children to be comfortable with the PC/Xubuntu interface. Tux Math has helped improve number recognition and computation and we utilized OpenOffice.org to create Social Studies Fair projects, a first for this group. One of my students started improving socially when we found BOS, he started expressing himself verbally, with eye contact and engagement, in regard to his victories and strategies; we are seeing a great deal more of his personality and character know that this new catalyst for social interaction has been introduced. We even started a daily journal, in gedit, about the characters from the game and what their back stories were. Each child, different and amazing in their own ways, grew and changed in different ways.

Xubuntu is a perfect fit for my students and I am so very grateful that there is a community of talented people working to get phenomenal open source applications, and of course the amazing Ubuntu, working well on legacy hardware. Without Xubuntu I would have had more significant challenges to deal with as well as having to settle for alternatives to these fantastic applications; we would not be as successful as we are without the work of the community. The volume and scope of our students’ success stories could fill up a great deal more space, but for now I just wanted to express what a fantastic affect the open source community and Xubuntu have had on my students’ lives.

-Anthony Parr