Advice on getting a computer lab server

Joseph Hartman jlhartman at
Fri Jan 11 07:10:08 GMT 2008

Hi Bill,

The current curriculum has just undergone some recent changes in light of my
beginning to teach middle school students in addition to elementary school
students for the first time but I'd be happy to comment about the reasoning
behind the current plan.

It arose out of specific school needs, state and professional organization
standards (especially ISTE and Massachusettes since California doesn't have
specific computer related technology standards), and my own
experience/vision. The primary driving force towards Linux, LTSP, and
Edubuntu arose out of necessity as much as anything else. I work at a
charter school and we inherited a campus from a defunct public school
complete with network and computers, the vast majority of the latter being
from the wrong side of the millennium. Many of the machines we are using now
were donated by organizations (the border patrol, district attorney's
office, private companies, German Consulate) that were upgrading
infrastructure and would otherwise have been discarded. Thus the ability to
use these many underpowered and outdated machines as thin clients appealed
to me. I'd guess we have about 200 workstations on campus altogether, of
which about 50 are Pentium 4 and four are Core 2 Duo (the administrators'
laptops and my own). The rest are P3, P2, or slower.

I should also mention that my school is an International Baccalaureate (IB)
World School on the elementary side while the Middle School that just
started up last year is in the accreditation process. Additionally, the
elementary school operates under a German Immersion program that has the
students spend one week learning in English under an English speaking
teacher and the next week learning in German under a German speaking
teacher. And the campus we inherited two years ago resides in a primarily
Spanish-speaking and relatively underprivileged area of San Diego so our
incoming students are rapidly changing the face of the school. All
additional reasons to use the similarly multicultural and globally minded
products of Ubuntu and GNU/Linux.

Because we are an IB school on the elementary side we have what is called a
Program of Inquiry (POI) that is essentially a matrix of 6 big ideas per
grade (so 36 big ideas total) that are divided up and taught throughout the
year in addition (and hopefully in conjunction with) the normal classroom
curriculum. POI topics are things like "objects in the sky move in
predictable patterns" or "water is essential to life" and typically last for
about 6 weeks. Thus my own curriculum assignments are designed around
supporting these topics while at the same time teaching the students
specific hard skills about the programs they are learning to use. I also try
to collaborate with the teachers and their own projects as much as possible,
although this is difficult since I only see each class for 45 minutes per

On to the curriculum....

In Kindergarten the students learn how to use a computer as many have never
used one before or if they have it was for very specific tasks. Mouse
practice, Tuxpaint, and learning about the parts of a computer pretty much
sum it up, although I do try to collaborate with the teachers as much as

In First Grade the students begin typing with Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing 15
(the one and only piece of Windows only software I will miss in the
transition to Edubuntu in the lab. If anyone has any recommendations for a
similar full-featured typing tutor that will work with GNU/Linux I'd love to
hear about it). They also start doing somewhat harder online activities
since they can read fairly well by this age.

In Second Grade we introduce Open Office Writer. I thought it was a bit
early to start with word processing so young, but the Massachusetts state
technology standards called for it so I thought we'd give it a shot. After
just a year of typing the kids aren't all that adept at using the program,
but I've noticed that it serves as a good introduction to the common
interface of toolbars and drop down menus. It also introduces the ideas of
saving, opening, and printing.

In Third Grade we introduce Open Office Impress. This is actually the
program I would have started with in second grade because it is so visual,
but third grade seems to be about the youngest age a student can really
begin doing coherent presentations in front of the class so I suppose it
works here as well. Of course we continue building on what the students have
learned in previous years so they learn more about Writer this year as well.

In Fourth Grade the students begin learning Scribus. Publishing and writing
labs are a big part of our school's fourth grade curriculum so this was an
obvious choice.

Fifth grade focuses on Kompozer and web design in preparation for middle
school and the online portfolios that the students begin in 6th grade.

Sixth grade centers around Web 2.0 sites and strategies like blogger and
google docs and posting to forums and emailing experts. I originally wanted
to do this in 5th grade but didn't feel comfortable asking elementary school
students to sign up for the Internet IDs they will need to access certain

In Seventh Grade the students learn Inkscape in the hopes that it will help
them spice up their digital portfolios.

In Eighth Grade the students learn GIMP for the same reason as Inkscape.

Basically the idea is to give students the hard skills they need to be able
to satisfy their class requirements in the method they prefer. If they want
to fulfill an assignment on the fall of the Roman empire they can choose to
write a paper, create a brochure, make a newspaper or magazine, create a
website, present a powerpoint or whatever. You asked if the curriculum meets
the needs of teachers and I feel like this is where it helps them out
(Internet safety and research skills and stuff like that falls in the
librarians domain) although I will be asking the teachers to fill out a
survey on the whole curriculum at the end of the year so I guess I'll know
more after that happens. I also like the idea of introducing students to
computer parts and programming at least a little bit, thus the mention of
kturtle which I'm hoping to introduce across every grade 2 and up (as soon
as I learn Logo a little better).

As much as I'd like some new iMacs and to be able to work with the middle
schoolers on video editing and animation I'm also pretty committed to using
open source (or at least free) software not only to avoid legacy costs for
the school but also so that anything I teach in the lab can be practiced at
home by the students for no additional cost (assuming the student has a
computer at home). I'm more likely to just hope for some new P4s to come
through the school, buy some RAM for them and set up some stand-alone
Edubuntu boxes.

Sorry for the long winded response, I wasn't sure where you were coming from
and (as with all teachers) once I get started I can be hard to stop. Are you
in education as well? If you're in the area I'll be presenting on my
Edubuntu experiences at the SCALE conference in Los Angeles next month as
well as at the CUE conference in Palm Springs in March. If you're interested
you can learn more about my school at and see my presentation at Cheers! -joe

> Hi Joe,
> Would you mind commenting a bit about how you are using the software
> above at different grade levels?  Do the programs you mention meet the
> educational needs of the kids and teachers?
> Is there software you miss from your old setup (I assume Windows since
> you mention viruses).
> > I was hoping to use Kino and Blender with the middle schoolers at some
> point
> > in the future, but it isn't a big deal to postpone those plans if need
> be.
> I'd hope that the savings from using ltsp would help buy a few nice
> machines for video editing.  Seems like a few nice iMacs would be a
> nice addition.
> --
> Bill Moseley
> moseley at
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