KDE Edutainment by Donald Emmack

KDE Edutainment by Donald Emmack was reprinted from TUX Magazine issue number 17

Many Linux users are savvy game experts. So, although computer games can be purely for fun, they also can train your mind. KDE's Edutainment suite is proof of that. The suite of packages lets users learn and have fun at the same time.

The Edutainment suite includes more than 15 packages, ranging from plain-old Hangman to Latin. Each of the packages within the KDE Edutainment Project targets children ages 3 to 18. Although most of the packages within the suite have a user interface suitable for school-age children, this is not true for complex training aids like Kalzium. Kalzium is a training tool for the periodic table of elements—nothing makes that simple!

Because there are so many packages in the Edutainment Project, I cover only three in this article. First, I give you a brief outline on KTouch, a touch-typing trainer. Next, I look into the a cornerstone of all education with KGeography. Finally, I highlight the lost knowledge of Latin with KLatin.

Getting Edutainment

Various individual software packages comprise KDE's Edutainment Project (http://edu.kde.org), so you need to download and install them separately. Before you start downloading, look through the descriptions of the different Edutainment packages and find the ones you're interested in. Once you're familiar with the packages, use the Adept or Synaptic package manager for installation.

Keep in mind that there are other programs, such as KLang, a language trainer. The KDE Edutainment site doesn't list these, but they're good resources as well.

KTouch

Linux users are keenly aware how important it is to educate children on computer use and not just train them with Microsoft Windows. KTouch is a touch-typing program that trains first-time users efficiently.

KTouch starts with basic keyboard touch-typing in level one. At level 15, you work on complicated typing patterns. After opening the application, KTouch presents you with the home screen, as shown in Figure 1. From here, you can see the active level, typing speed and percent of correct entries. To start the program, simply type what's presented in the rolling purple window. KTouch gives immediate response for errors and tells you the typing speed.

Figure 1. KTouch Home Screen

Figure 1. KTouch Home Screen

KTouch refers to the test text as a lecture—it's like seeing words on a teleprompter for you to type into the program. It comes with several default lectures for your use. If you like, you can edit the default lecture or create a new lecture. Go to File→Edit Lecture and a window like the one shown in Figure 2 pops up. Here, you assign levels for the training lesson and the text used by the application. For a full view of your typing skills, select Training→Lecture Statistics. Figure 3 depicts the statistics for whatever lesson you select in the overhead drop-down list.

Figure 2. Setting Lecture Text

Figure 2. Setting Lecture Text

Figure 3. The Statistics Page

Figure 3. The Statistics Page

KTouch is not only for new typing students. It's also good fun for experienced typists needing to brush up on keying punctuation and special symbols.

KGeography

I'm frequently lost on road trips—don't tell my wife. Thus, geography is not one of my educational strong points. So, if you're like me or have school-age children, KGeography is a fun and educational way to memorize your way around the planet.

Like KTouch, the clean user interface is refreshing. On start-up, you will see a listing of regional maps as shown in Figure 4. Select your area of interest, and press OK. KGeography takes you to the home screen where you can browse the map to learn more about the area. For example, I selected the map of the USA. Clicking on California shows the state capital is Sacramento.

Figure 4. The Selection of USA Map for KGeography

Figure 4. The Selection of USA Map for KGeography

Like other Edutainment packages, KGeography also provides tools to help test you or your protege. KGeography can test you by showing the name of the capital and asking you to select the state. Or, it can show the name of the state and ask you to choose the capital. Either way, the program gives you the ability to choose the number of potential questions. Figure 5 shows the results of a test on USA state capitals. I won't admit whether these were my answers—with only three right out of ten.

Figure 5. When finished with the test, you can look at the results.

Figure 5. When finished with the test, you can look at the results.

KGeography goes where you want to go—anywhere in the world. Instead of specific regions or countries, you also can select a world map and quiz away at neighboring continents.

KLatin

Educational institutions are increasing reliance on classical education. I'm not referring to the three Rs of reading, writing and arithmetic. Classically trained students base education and problem solving on a solid understanding of the Latin language. So, KDE remains on the forefront of this educational wave with KLatin (Figure 6).

Figure 6. The Home Screen for KLatin

Figure 6. The Home Screen for KLatin

This package divides instruction into vocabulary, grammar and verb testing. With vocabulary, KLatin gives you a word with four alternative translations from which to choose (Figure 7). Verb and grammar testing are different. Figure 8 shows how KLatin quizzes you with the question, and then you're prompted to type in a proper answer. For verb and grammar testing, you can change the question options with the pull-down boxes on top of the test screen (Figure 9).

Figure 7. KLatin's Vocabulary Screen

Figure 7. KLatin's Vocabulary Screen

Figure 8. Quizzing on Latin Grammar

Figure 8. Quizzing on Latin Grammar

Figure 9. Verb screen—note the drop-down tabs above.

Figure 9. Verb screen—note the drop-down tabs above.

Like the other Edutainment packages, KLatin lets you change certain characteristics of the application. Go to Settings→Configure KLatin. Here you can increase or decrease the number of questions the program asks. You also can change translation direction for testing.

Final Thoughts

I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s. Back then, there were no clear leaders in the world of personal computer information systems. Most often, I trained on large UNIX boxes. My professors also immersed me in the Apple Corvus system and others too.

Watching the information technology industry grow gives people like me a different perspective on education. I'm trained on computers, not one operating system. So, it's easier for me to jump around between platforms and keep my mental balance.

Educational programs like the old X/Y battleship kept my interest and thirst for knowledge in the electronic world. I think it's inspiring to see KDE promote the Edutainment suite of applications. It's one sure way to keep school-age folks interested in open source and its marketplace benefits.


Donald Emmack is Managing Partner of The IntelliGents & Co. He works extensively as a writer and business consultant in North America. You can reach him at donald@theintelligents.com or by cruising the 2 meter amateur RF bands in the Midwest.

Web Editor - Fri, 2006-10-13 23:45.

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KDE Edutainment

I think education courses are an area that open source could really take a long way.

I am completing my last college course before earning my degree. This course is Calculus. What I found I need the most is a series (a LONG) series of example problems worked out long hand. The textbook authors must limit their content so that their textbooks don't contain 3,000 pages. They sell their textbooks for $100 and then supplemental books to aid the student but with a limited budget a student only has so many options before her book budget is empty. I went to the library and looked about but most of their books were for higher level math.

My professor works 3-4 examples per section which happen to be the same 3-4 examples in the book. Okay, I understand those examples but sometimes have difficulty with test or homework problems which through in extra twists. What I'd like to have is some sort of interactive teaching program that simply shows a math problem. A press of the spacebar would show the next step (every little step would be nice) and include a text explanation of why this is done. My calculus book came with a disc that does this on a basic level but the examples are just not numerous enough and the explanations are not verbose enough. They recorded an audio track that follows the steps but I think text with optional audio (or no audio at all) would be better.

Because the next step is hidden, a student could work along and check their progress at every step.

In this way (along with Chemistry, Engineering, Physics, etc) courses could be created for students who want or need to self teach themselves any subect. They ought to be self contained with additional expansion data files easily downloaded and added (or added via the 'net from inside the program). This way students who access the 'net via a slow modem or share a phone line with their roommate or family would not have to be online for any great periods of time.

Another interesting option might be for students to be able to submit problems to be included and thus available to the rest of the user world.

I have had a series of poor math professors who obviously knew their material very well but were unable or unwilling to simplify how they explained the Calculus methods we were supposed to learn. They just didn't operate in layman's terms in my opinion. I accept that I learn differently than other students as well.

Another place where teaching software could be very useful would be languages. Flashcard programs, multiple choice programs, etc.

I think any teaching software written today could be modified, improved and content added for many, many years as topics like Calculus change little year to year. Software written for us today would be relevant to the needs of our kids and grandkids tomorrow.

Thanks for a great article and a great magazine. I'm a Linux user forever.

Chris

Chris M (not verified) - Tue, 2006-11-28 12:48.