School's out for summer, but that doesn't mean the learning ends for teachers or students. Open source education applications offer a great option for students who are looking to get ahead or catch up over the summer. And summer is an ideal time for educators to find out more about some of the free open source tools available to help them in the classroom.
There are several good reasons why educators should try open source software, most notably financial savings. Many, many schools are facing budget cuts in the coming year, and those schools could realize significant savings by switching from proprietary to open source software. In addition, schools with knowledgeable IT staff can adapt open source software so that it meets their needs exactly –something that's all but impossible with closed source software.
Last June, we published a list of 55 Open Source Tools that Replace Popular Education Apps. This year, we've updated the list and added several new applications. If you're a teacher, student or parent, we hope you'll find at least a few apps on the list that will be useful. And as always, if we've missed any open source education apps that you think we should have included, feel free to add them in the comments section below.
Because you're never too young for open source, KLettres teaches preschoolers to identify letters and their sounds. It also includes a "grown-ups" mode that aims to teach adults the basic building blocks of 25 different languages. (Note that in order to use KLettres on Windows, you'll have to download KDE for Windows.) Operating System: Windows, Linux.
2. Celestia Replaces Starry Night, Seeker A perennial favorite for astronomy enthusiasts, Celestia allows you to view the night skies from any point on earth at any day and time. Plus, it lets you "fly" through the known universe and see how the skies would look from Mars, Jupiter, Pluto, and any other point in space. And while Starry Night costs up to $500, Celestia is free. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.
Stellarium is a lot like Celestia, minus the "flying" capability. It powers a lot of planetarium presentations and is actually better than a lot of comparable applications that cost money. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.
KStars also lets you view the night skies, including "up to 100 million stars, 13,000 deep-sky objects, all 8 planets, the sun and moon, and thousands of comets and asteroids." If you're an amateur astronomer, you'll also like KStars' tools that help you plan your nightly viewing. (Note that in order to use KStars on Windows, you'll have to download KDE for Windows.) Operating System: Windows, Linux.
Ideal for educators, PP3 creates detailed star charts for use in PowerPoint presentations or books. Note that in order to use it, you will also need LaTeX. Operating System: Windows, Linux.
This app's website begins with a simple introduction: "There is a sky. There are things in the sky. This program draws maps of things in the sky." While the on-screen graphics on this app aren't as good as some of the other star-charting software, it does a good job of creating printed star charts for study. Operating System: Linux.
Best for preschool and early elementary students, TuxPaint makes it easy to create digital works of art using a kid-friendly interface. It features interesting brushes and tools, fun sound effects and help from Tux the Linux penguin. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.
For older children, GPaint offers a step up that is easier to use than professional drawing programs without being too childish. It's part of the Gnu desktop. Operating System: Linux.
Another KDE app, Kalzium makes it easy to explore the periodic table. It also includes a molecular weight calculator, an isotopetable, a 3D molecule editor and an equation solver for stoichiometric problems. (Note that in order to use Kalzium on Windows, you'll have to download KDE for Windows.) Operating System: Windows, Linux.
Designed for advanced students, researchers and professional chemists, Avogadro describes itself as "advanced molecule editor and visualizer designed for cross-platform use in computational chemistry, molecular modeling, bioinformatics, materials science, and related areas." Operating System: Windows, Linux.
GCompris includes more than 100 education games for children ages two to ten. Game categories include computer discovery, algebra, science, geography, reading, educational games (like chess and Sudoku) and more. Operating System: Windows, Linux.
This app for pre-schoolers and kindergarteners teaches basic math skills, letters of the alphabet and spelling, as well as developing eye-hand coordination. It includes 11 different simple games. Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.
If you're learning Mandarin Chinese, this combination dictionary/flashcard program can help you learn to read and pronounce Chinese characters. It includes a number of options, so you can tailor it to your level of learning and your needs. Operating System: Linux.
Another Chinese learning tool for native English speakers, StepIntoChinese also includes dictionary and flashcard capabilities. It includes more than 26,000 modern Chinese words, corresponding to more than 8,300 Chinese characters Operating System: Windows, Linux, OS X.
For English speakers learning Japanese, this app includes a wealth of language learning tools. The interface is a little cluttered, but it does a good job of putting a lot of related information on the screen at once. Operating System: Windows.
Pythonol is designed to help English speakers learn Spanish. It includes multiple tools and games for learning vocabulary, conjugation, pronunciation, idioms, reading comprehension and more. Note that it comes in separate versions for adults and children. Operating System: Windows 98, Linux.