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Playing to Learn with Educational Programs

There are many different educational applications available on Ubuntu. Let's take a look at just a few of them in the Applications > Education menu. You will find a brief summary for all applications here as well as more detailed explanations and screenshots of some of the more advanced packages.

GCompris Administration

This is the administration tool for the GCompris set of tools, which is described a little later. Using this tool, you can create separate profiles for different users of GCompris and enable or disable the list of available activities.

Kalzium

Kalzium presents the pinnacle of periodic table exploration for users of any ages. In its simplest form, it provides a quick and easy reference to the periodic table. Kalzium includes 105 of the naturally occurring elements, many of which are accompanied by sample pictures. If the user hovers the mouse pointer over an element symbol in the periodic table, a balloon appears showing the selected element's name, atomic number, and mass (Figure 6-22).

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Figure 6-22 Kalzium

For more advanced users, Kalzium provides a fascinating way to explore the periodic table. Using the left-hand panel, users have access to the timeline, boiling point, and melting point sliders. When users move these sliders, the elements on the periodic table change color according to their dates of discovery, boiling points, or melting points respectively. Users can then start to see patterns emerging in the periodic table right in front of their eyes.

As well as presenting the basic information, Kalzium provides very advanced statistics on each of the 105 elements present.

Kanagram

Kanagram is a simple package that messes up the letters of a word to create an anagram that children must then unscramble. The package comes with hints, a cheat feature that reveals the word, and built-in word lists, which can be extended.

KBruch

KBruch is a math program to help students practice the use of fractions. It comes with four distinct modes of play.

  • Fraction Task: In this exercise, the user is given a fraction sum that must be solved by adding the numerator and denominator. The difficulty of the sum can be changed by the user, who has control over the number of fractions to use, the maximum size of the main denominator, and the mathematical operations to use, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
  • Comparison: This exercise is designed to test the user's understanding of fraction sizes by making him or her compare two given fractions.
  • Conversion: The Conversion mode tests the user's skills at taking a given number and converting it into a fraction.
  • Factorization: Factorization tests the user in calculating the factors of a given number. Factorization is a key skill in using and manipulating fractions.

KHangman

This modern version of a classic game helps children learn to spell and recognize letter patterns in words. KHangman shows a blank base to start; as the user chooses letters, they are entered into the word if correct or placed on the tries list if incorrect, in which case the hangman begins to grow. KHangman comes with three built-in word lists, but these can be extended easily.

Kig

For people wishing to learn about geometrical construction in mathematics, Kig is a must. It is an extremely powerful package but very simple to use. Kig allows users to create complex geometrical abstractions from over thirty simple tools, such as points, parallel and perpendicular lines, arcs, bisectors, circles, and hyperbola (Figure 6-23). When creating abstractions, Kig uses other lines and points already on the diagram to lock onto, making it easy to achieve high precision.

Kig also includes some testing tools. Once a geometrical diagram has been drawn, it is often required to prove a concept by showing that two lines are indeed parallel or perpendicular. Kig offers these tools and more in an easy-to-use manner. Just clicking on the tool prompts the user to choose the item to test against. Then, each time the user hovers over another item while moving the cursor around, Kig will pop up with a message to tell whether or not it satisfies the test case.

KmPlot

KmPlot is a mathematical function–graphing program for Edubuntu. The package has a powerful expression parser built in and can plot different functions simultaneously and combine their function terms to build more complex mathematical functions. KmPlot also supports functions with parameters and functions in polar coordinates. KmPlot can create graphs to a very high precision, making it excellent for teaching purposes.

Stellarium

With a default catalog of over 600,000 stars, Stellarium is a powerful planetarium designed to show you exactly what you would see with the naked eye, binoculars, or telescope.

In keeping with the multicultural nature of Ubuntu and Open Source, Stellarium can not only show you the constellations from the Greek and Roman traditions (Figure 6-24) but also those of other "sky cultures", as Stellarium describes them, such as the various Chinese traditions, Ancient Egyptian, and Polynesian.

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Figure 6-24 Stellarium

Stellarium is even capable of driving a dome projector, like you would see at a large-scale, purpose-built planetarium as well as controlling a wide variety of telescopes directly.

KTouch

In this day and age, typing is an everyday occurrence for most people. KTouch is a tutor that gives help and support to those wishing to learn the art of touch typing. With fifteen levels and automatic level progression, KTouch is a fairly advanced tutor program, offering statistics and alternative language options, too.

KTurtle

KTurtle is a Logo programming language interpreter for Edubuntu. The Logo programming language is very easy to learn, and thus young children can use it. A unique quality of Logo is that the commands or instructions can be translated, so the user can program in his or her native language. This makes Logo ideal for teaching children the basics of programming, mathematics, and geometry. One of the reasons many children warm to Logo is that the programmable icon is a small turtle, which can be moved around the screen with simple commands and can be programmed to draw objects (Figure 6-25).

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Figure 6-25 KTurtle

By typing in commands such as turnleft 90, forward 4, children are using a language native to themselves while also learning procedural logic. KTurtle can even handle simple subroutines, so it's easy to extend the programming onward and upward.

With the introduction of KDE 4, Edubuntu includes a group of brand new educational packages. Following is a brief summary of each new application.

Marble

Marble, the desktop globe, is a virtual globe and world atlas, which can be utilized to learn more about the Earth. With the ability to pan and zoom, click on a label to open a corresponding Wikipedia article, and view the globe and maps with various projections, Marble is a welcome addition to Edubuntu's educational packages.

Parley

Parley, the digital flash card, allows you to easily remember things utilizing the spaced repetition learning method, otherwise known as flash cards. Features include different testing types, fast and easy setup, multiple languages, the ability to share and download flash cards, and much more.

Step

Step is an interactive physics simulator that allows you not only to learn but to feel how physics works. By placing bodies on the scene and adding some forces such as gravity or springs, you can simulate the law of physics, and Step will show you how your scene evolves.

Blinken

Blinken takes you back, back to the 1970s, as a digital version of the famous Simon Says game. Watch the lights, listen to the sounds, and then try to complete the sequence in order. Blinken provides hours of fun with the added benefit of learning.

Others Not on the Education Menu

Some educational applications are not located in the Education menu. Here are brief descriptions of two of them.

  • Tux Paint: Applications > Graphics > Tux Paint is a drawing package for younger children. Although geared toward a younger audience, Tux Paint still packs in some of the more advanced features of drawing packages and can draw shapes, paint with different brushes, use a stamp, and add text to the image. The Magic feature allows many of the more advanced tools normally found in full-fledged photo editors to be used, such as smudge, blur, negative, tint, and many more. There is also the facility to save as well as print.
  • GCompris: Applications > Games > GCompris is a set of small educational activities aimed at children between two and ten years old and is translated into over forty languages. Some of the activities are game oriented and at the same time educational. Among the activities, there are tasks to educate children in computer use, algebra, science, geography, reading, and more. More than eighty activities are available in the latest release. GCompris won a Free Software Award in France in 2004.
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