A friend and co-worker is about to travel to Costa Rica on special trip, inspired by a friendship his wife established with a peace corps volunteer working there. A rural elementary school they are going to visit has recently received several computers and electrical power. My friend and his wife are bringing an older computer from their home to donate to the school, along with a new computer students in their local high school (in Oklahoma) have raised funds to purchase for the school. Currently the Costa Rican school does not have Internet access, but dial-up Internet access may be a possibility in the future.

His questions to me today were, “What software would you recommend for these elementary students and their teacher to use? What other recommendations do you have for them as far as technologies for them to use in the classroom?”

My top recommendations for software (based in part on feedback from my July post “A digital playground of dreams?”) included:

  1. EduBuntu as an operating system already pre-loaded with lots of educational software, and available in Spanish
  2. TuxPaint as a great, free drawing and painting environment
  3. Scratch as an environment to tell stories, build games, and learn a wide host of problem solving, mathematical and programming skills
  4. Audacity as a digital storytelling tool
  5. PhotoStory as a digital storytelling tool
  6. OpenOffice as productivity software

EduBuntu and TuxPaint are both available in Spanish, as is OpenOffice. I think Audacity is as well. Not sure about Scratch. (There are a bunch of published Scratch projects in Spanish, however!)

I’m sharing the link to the “We Invent the Future” software list I started in July with my friend– I’ve added additional keys to the legend, indicating if the software is available in multiple languages and if it requires Internet access. Feel free to directly edit that wiki page and add suggestions of you own, if there are things left off that should be included.

I also recommended getting a battery-operated digital voice recorder that students and teachers can use with Audacity, like the this one from SanDisk. I’d rather recommend one that is cross-platform, but I’m not readily finding a cross-platform audio recorder in the $40 range in our area, that is battery operated.

We also discussed the benefit of bringing and sending copies of websites that students and teachers can use “offline,” since they don’t currently have any Internet access at school. I remember “back in the day” before we had Internet access from our classroom computers (mid 1990’s) using the program “WebWhacker” to make offline copies of websites which we then transferred over to each computer’s hard drive. (I published an article about this in 97-98 titled, “Offline Web Browsing = No More Excuses!”) WebWhacker is still around (now in version 5) but I am not sure if there are better solutions for creating offline CDs of web content like this– especially free versions. Does anyone know or have recommendations along this line?

In terms of the logistics of networking the computers at school, because of the cinder block construction running an actual ethernet wire between the computers may not be workable, so my friend was going to try and set up an ad-hoc wireless network connection, with just local file sharing enabled on one of the computers. Does anyone know of some good resources related to setting something like that up? One of the computers they are donating is currently running WinXP, the other one they are buying will run Windows Vista. (I’ve recommended running EduBuntu on both, but they may not go with that recommendation.)

I recommended providing a digital camera for students and teachers as well, and encouraging the teacher to setup a blog (on a site like blogger) where they can post and share some student work– on a computer with Internet access not located at the school. I shared Tim Tyson’s words with my friend today, “Meaningfulness comes from connectedness,” and we both agreed there are many rich possibilities for learning and interaction between the Oklahoma high school students sending the computer down to Costa Rica and the Costa Rican elementary students. Mobile phone technologies are growing more ubiquitous, as this article from the BBC today indicates. Could those Oklahoma students end up audio-conferencing or even video conferencing with those students in a rural, Costa Rican school later this year? That possibility is more realistic than ever before.

Are there any other software tools or digital computer resources you’d recommend that I pass along to my friend? He and his wife don’t go on their trip till mid-October.

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5 Responses to Software and hardware recommendations for an offline elementary school?

  1. AllanahK says:

    What about Kid Pix?


    You have to buy it but it’s reasonably cheap and you can draw, write, illustrate, make movies etc with it.

    You can change the language to Spanish as well.

    My primary school age children use it all the time from pre-school up to 11 year olds.

  2. mrsdurff says:

    Great resources – have any that do not require a download? We can download nothing at school.

  3. Wesley Fryer says:

    I like KidPix but I like the fact that Tux Paint has many KidPix features and is free. We used KidPix a lot in our elementary computer lab and it certainly was a great application, the students loved it. I think Tux Paint comes close to KidPix in function, however.

    In terms of the question about downloads– you can run EduBuntu from a “live CD” that starts up the computer, so if you don’t have admin rights to change applications on the computer but can still start from a bootable CD, you can access and use all its programs that way. I’m not sure if you can’t install or download programs at school– if downloading is the issue but you CAN install, you can download the programs from home or another computer off-campus and copy them over to a CD or USB flash drive and then install them from there at school. If the issue is admin access rights on school computers, then you can use a live CD like EduBuntu, or petition your IT department to permit installation of applications you’ve selected. Again I think a strong case can be made for free applications like Tux Paint, Audacity, Scratch, etc. Licensing fees aren’t an issue, so those applications could be theoretically installed on all computers in the district and on an approved “disk image” for computers. One big issue I’ve seen is that some IT departments are not comfortable with the idea of students authoring content of any kind, other than productivity documents from MS Office. So that is mindset to deal with that goes beyond technology issues, into the pedagogy/instructional uses of the computers.

  4. Gary Stager says:

    Costa Rica has one of the richest, most effective, longest-running and best documented computers in schools project in the world. MicroMundos (MicroWorlds) and the philosophy of Seymour Papert has been guiding the work since Oscar Arias was first elected President in the mid-1980s.

    Your friend should look up Fundacion Omar Dengo, the NGO that has supported zillions of educators and millions of kids in their use of constructionist technology, and see how he can help them rather than colonize a school. The Omar Dengo Foundation has a large quantity of “tutors” who travel the country supporting even the most remote rural schools in constructive computer use.

    Internet access is hardly a priority. Micromundos does at least 5/6ths of the software you listed.

    There’s a lot to learn from Costa Rica, but here is a place where you can read at least one (oldish) book chapter about their amazing efforts.
    http://www.microworlds.com/company/philosophy.pdf There is a chapter by Clotilde Fonseca, one of the leading Logo educators in the world and one of the highest ranking advisors to the President of Costa Rica.

  5. Kent Chesnut says:

    Gary’s link above is quite a story… especially where it compares the price of technology for schools with fighter aircraft. Contacting the NGO he mentioned might allow your friends to get access to the MicroWorlds program – which would certainly enhance the value of any computers installed at the school. (It may be too pricey at the retail level of $350 for a six pack.)

    If MicroWorlds is not available, NetLogo could be a good addition to your list of software. It’s certainly NOT as kid-friendly as MicroWorlds, but it could act as a substitute.

    And who knows… maybe a teacher will want to make on-line (although very local) classes. You could add a Moodle / Apache / MySQL / PHP package from Moodle.org.

    Comments on wireless networking; I’m no expert… but
    * I’ve experienced more problems with ad-hoc than infrastructure. Whatever they decide to do, test it well before leaving.
    * EduBuntu is great – but if the plan is to use wireless, make sure the adapters will work with it.

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