Educational Linux distro provides tech-bundle for kids and educators | Opensource.com

Educational Linux distro provides tech-bundle for kids and educators

Posted 13 Mar 2013 by 

Jason Hibbets (Red Hat)
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(14 votes)
Ubermix: Linux for education
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How are we going to teach the next generation about open source and Linux? More importantly, how can we get the right technology into classrooms to empower our educators to teach our children the open source way?

The opportunities that open source presents to education and academics is growing each day. Opensource.com highlights individual tools like Scratch and TuxPaint that are starting to make an impact—but, what about an entire education distribution? How do we make it easier to get an entire toolset into the hands of school systems, teachers, and students? How can we really move the needle and present a revolutionary open source operating system designed for kids and education?

Enter Ubermix.

Ubermix is a Linux distribution built by educators, for educators, and for students, "with an eye towards student and teacher empowerment." That's why the "desktop" looks like a mobile phone. And it comes pre-installed with tons of open source applications that are geared toward education and creativity.

We caught up with the founder of Ubermix, Jim Klein, to find out more about this Linux-based operating system and how the project aims to create a turn-key installation process, reducing the complexity and deployment often associated with installing a Linux distro. We also wanted to hear some of the stories from the people already finding success with Ubermix.

Takeaway sneak peek: You can make a difference for the next generation. Just tell someone you know in education about Ubermix.

Ubermix screenshot


Tell our readers about Ubermix and your target audience.

Ubermix is designed to bring the power and flexibility of free software and an open operating system to kids and the education community. While there are a number of general purpose Linux builds out there, few have made significant inroads into schools, due in large part to their complexity and general purpose design language. What Ubermix brings is an easy entry point and sensible design decisions, having been assembled with a real understanding of the challenges education technologists face when attempting to implement something new. Features such as a five minute install from a USB key, extraordinary hardware compatibility, and a quick, 20-second reset process make it possible for understaffed and underfunded school technology teams to scale up significant technology access without increasing the need for technical support.

For kids, Ubermix brings a far more approachable interface to Linux, virtually eliminating the traditional "desktop" paradigms in favor of something similar to a cell phone that's far easier to use. Couple that with more than 50 carefully selected applications across a broad array of subject areas and that quick reset function, which enables a student to solve their own problems without losing any of their work, and you have a powerful tool for learning.

What are some of the open source applications included with Ubermix?

Ubermix comes pre-loaded with a number of applications for education, productivity, design, programming, Internet, and multimedia construction. Education oriented applications like Celestia, Stellarium, Scratch, VirtualLab Microscope, Geogebra, iGNUit, and Klavaro, as well as educational games like TuxMath, TuxTyping, gMult, and Numpty Physics all bring with them plenty of opportunities to learn.

Internet applications we all know and love, like Firefox, Thunderbird, Chrome, Google Earth, and Skype are all there. Common productivity apps like LibreOffice, NitroTasks, Planner Project Management, VYM (View Your Mind), and Zim Desktop Wiki are too. Kids interested in design will find the GIMP, Inkscape, Scribus, Dia, Agave, and even TuxPaint for the younger ones. And apps like Audacity, Openshot, Pencil, and ffDiaporama help round out the media offerings. These, and many more, make Ubermix a powerful launchpad for student creativity and learning.

What does the future hold for Ubermix?

I'm constantly amazed and humbled by the growth of Ubermix, and continue to work towards making it better, easier, and more powerful for kids, teachers, and technologists. I think touch will certainly play a role in the future, as will alternative devices and form factors. It will be interesting to see just how the recent hardware renaissance plays out, and where Ubermix fits into the future needs of schools. I also plan to work with the community to build some sort of a web-based management interface that would make larger deployments even easier to manage.

What is the most interesting way Ubermix has been used so far?

People always find ways to do amazing things with Ubermix. A team of middle-school students have built a number of computer labs in the central valley using government surplus machines. Kramden Institute is planning to deploy Ubermix on 3000 computers given to needy kids to help bridge the digital divide.

A retired education technology leader is not only building and donating Ubermix machines to needy families, but is also touring the country, sharing Ubermix at conferences in several states. And I once heard from an activist who shared with me that he was giving Ubermix netbooks to kids in Central America. It's truly amazing and inspiring.

Where does someone get started with Ubermix and how can someone get involved?

You can find all things Ubermix at ubermix.org. As with any open source project, the bigger the community the better! New ideas and code are always welcome, as are translators, writers for the wiki, and anyone willing to help out answering questions in the forums. And, of course, help spreading the word!

Bonus: What's the best "feel good" story from the Ubermix community?

The best thing about Ubermix is seeing an empowered student do something amazing with it and then share how they did it, both within their classroom and school, and the online world. From that geeky kid who struggled with relationships until his peers found out what he could do with a computer... to the special day class kids who get to shine as they teach the regular ed kids how to build something... to the teams of fourth graders writing apps and deconstructing code... to the creative, outgoing kid who makes and makes and makes things that he shares online. It's always incredible to behold.

It's the power of community driven by open source, writ large for the world to see.

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9 Comments

Alan B

Want to get kids to use it? Make it run MineCraft. They'll be less interested in an array of applications of which a fair few look worse than Windows shareware from 1998.

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Topher Hunt

"Finally, a version of linux designed for kids": I'm confused about this article's position towards the longstanding educational distro Edubuntu. Are you aware of it? Would you consider it not fit for students and educators? The wording here acts as though Linux has never produced an education-oriented bundle, and that doesn't seem accurate.

And, agreed about Minecraft. That seems like an obvious one to include for kids... although currently, Minecraft is only free for the Raspberry Pi platform.

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cabalist

Yeah, Edubuntu has been around for a long time.

My daughter's PC runs Edubuntu 11.10 and it comes with A LOT of educational software already installed. It also changes some (maybe a lot) of settings to make it more accessible and friendly to kids.

Not to mention the awesome software (oh wait, I already did) like Scratch, Celestia, and the primary, secondary, and tertiary educational bundles!

Good stuff.

But I am always glad to see MORE opportunites to expose kids to open source software and linux.

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William

Edubuntu seems to be made for younger kids. Kids tired of it very quickly since those programs were mostly made for 3-6 year olds. Ubermix seems to offer programs for slightly older kids. By the time they're 10, they'll mostly be outgrowing ubermix as well. By 11-13, they better have learned how to touch type already and should be working beyond scratch. Some of them should already be learning python or Java.

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cabalist

Not sure what you mean. It comes with these packages already installed (ranging from <5 years up to 18+/too advanced for me):

• ubuntu-edu-preschool - Preschool (< 5 years old)
• blinken KDE version of the Simon electronic memory game
• gamine an interactive game for young children
• gcompris Educational games for small children
• kanagram jumble word puzzle for KDE
• khangman Hangman word puzzle for KDE
• ktuberling stamp drawing toy
• tuxpaint A paint program for young children
• ubuntu-edu-primary - Primary (ages 6-12)
• celestia-gnome real-time visual space simulation (GNOME frontend)
• gcompris Educational games for small children
• kalzium periodic table and chemistry tools for KDE
• kanagram jumble word puzzle for KDE
• kbruch fraction learning aid for KDE
• khangman Hangman word puzzle for KDE
• kig interactive geometry tool for KDE
• kmplot mathematical function plotter for KDE
• ktouch touch typing tutor for KDE
• ktuberling stamp drawing toy
• kturtle Logo educational programming environment for KDE
• kwordquiz flashcard learning program for KDE
• laby Learn how to program with ants and spider webs
• lybniz mathematical function graph plotter
• marble globe and map widget
• parley vocabulary trainer for KDE
• ri-li a toy train simulation game
• stellarium real-time photo-realistic sky generator
• step interactive physical simulator for KDE
• tuxmath math game for kids with Tux
• tuxpaint A paint program for young children
• tuxtype Educational Typing Tutor Game Starring Tux
• ubuntu-edu-secondary - Secondary (ages 13-18)
• calibre e-book converter and library management
• celestia-gnome real-time visual space simulation (GNOME frontend)
• dia-gnome Diagram editor (GNOME version)
• inkscape vector-based drawing program
• kalzium periodic table and chemistry tools for KDE
• kbruch fraction learning aid for KDE
• kig interactive geometry tool for KDE
• kmplot mathematical function plotter for KDE
• ktouch touch typing tutor for KDE
• ktuberling stamp drawing toy
• kturtle Logo educational programming environment for KDE
• kwordquiz flashcard learning program for KDE
• laby Learn how to program with ants and spider webs
• lightspeed Shows how objects moving at relativistic speeds look like
• lybniz mathematical function graph plotter
• marble globe and map widget
• melting compute the melting temperature of nucleic acid duplex
• parley vocabulary trainer for KDE
• pencil animation/drawing software
• ri-li a toy train simulation game
• stellarium real-time photo-realistic sky generator
• step interactive physical simulator for KDE
• ubuntu-edu-tertiary - Tertiary (university level)
• calibre e-book converter and library management
• celestia-gnome real-time visual space simulation (GNOME frontend)
• dia-gnome Diagram editor (GNOME version)
• inkscape vector-based drawing program
• kalzium periodic table and chemistry tools for KDE
• kmplot mathematical function plotter for KDE
• ktouch touch typing tutor for KDE
• kturtle Logo educational programming environment for KDE
• laby Learn how to program with ants and spider webs
• lightspeed Shows how objects moving at relativistic speeds look like
• lybniz mathematical function graph plotter
• marble globe and map widget
• melting compute the melting temperature of nucleic acid duplex
• pencil animation/drawing software
• stellarium real-time photo-realistic sky generator
• step interactive physical simulator for KDE
• yorick interpreted language and scientific graphics
And since it is Ubuntu-based any additional apps can be installed via repository. Honestly I'm not sure what I added to hers (besides Remina RD) since Edubuntu came so well stocked but I'm sure I added something.

And here is a link from Edubuntu's site regarding other educational Ubuntu-distros:

http://edubuntu.org/other-educational-systems

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Richard

Minecraft does already run on linux. So does Steam (on Ubuntu) which is a gaming platform. But you need to be sure there is good support for your graphics card otherwise you may not get great results.
I think that a list of needed apps be placed on the site - you may get interest from a lot of programmers looking for a hoby project or recognition or even an avenue to get new apps for the Ubuntu on phones which will be compatible.

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picpichopefullsoul

Ubermix is a much improved desktop using the base provided by unity 2D. But it has a big flaw: no iso image is provided, not allowing for an easy installation in more machines than the one it targets

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dragonbite
Open Source Evangelist

Fedora has an Education spin, though it seems to not be up to date since the download links point to a Fedora 12 version, but openSUSE has Education L-I-F-E and the Ubuntu-based Edubuntu appear to be based on recent releases. Could these not have been somehow improved for targetted age group(s)?

I can understand to want to make it easy to install and use for the non-technical administrators, but a lot of work has gone into these existing distributions and their parent distributions to do just that. In addition, these distributions have accumulated a wealth of documentation over the years from people with varying technical skills.

If the interface is custom that may be good for the kids while they are in school, but shouldn't they learn some of the tools that they will run across outside of school? My daughter's school uses Google Apps for Education and while it isn't the best (Google lock-in), she is at least using tools that she can and will probably run across outside of school.

Wouldn't the effort be better spent improving the current selection of apps; maybe with specialized skins (interface) for different age groups, improving their functionality or developing applications that cover fields not currently being addressed?

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cytochromec
Community Member

While I agree that there are other educational distros out there, the reasons why Ubermix is being used at our district on over 400 netbooks are the ease of install with thumb drives and ability to quickly reset (reimage) the device by students/teachers. Also the RAM footprint of Ubermix is lower than stock Ubuntu which helps on our machines with 1 GB of RAM. Oh, also the fact that windows are set to open full screen. Basically it is a distro designed by a school with a small IT staff for use on a large amount of netbooks (which is exactly our situation). That is the power and peril of GNU/Linux, a group can create a distro that meets their needs. This causes fragmentation, but without Ubermix there wouldn't be any GNU/Linux in my school district at all.

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Jason Hibbets is a project manager in Corporate Marketing at Red Hat where he is the lead administrator, content curator, and community manager for Opensource.com. He has been with Red Hat since 2003 and is the author of, The foundation for an open source city. Prior roles include senior marketing specialist, Red Hat Knowledgebase maintainer, and support engineer. Follow him on Twitter: @jhibbets

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