I remember back a few years ago, thinking Edubuntu would revolutionize the K-12 school system. It had it all–an Ubuntu infrastructure with all the great, oss education applications. When you visit the repos, you can find all sorts of educational software, TuxMath, typing, TuxPaint, and many more. What we liked about Edubuntu, however, was they already tied all the educational apps into the distro.
Recently, when upgrading to Ubuntu 9.10, I wanted to check on the progress of Edubuntu. Unfortunately, I discovered that for all intents and purposes, short of an ‘Edubuntu Add-On,’ the distro called Edubuntu did not exist. So while disappointed, many great apps still exist for using in a K-12 Classroom.
One that receives daily attention from our girls, GCompris, provides a nice variance in activities. Since it focuses on math, reading, logic, computer skills, science, and more, my 2 and 4 year old daughters can work together on the age-appropriate activities.
When you begin GCompris, you see the main screen with the tool bar of choices on the left. You also notice the soothing music that will follow you throughout your use of GCompris. I know my Red Hot Chili Peppers and Smashing Pumpkins better, but it sounds a little like Mozart, a nice touch. At the bottom, you find help, your control panel, and the bio page for developers. In looking at the choices on the left, my attention moves to the puzzle/strategy games. Here you will find chess, Connect 4, Oware, and a Ball Game that I never did quite figure out. Under puzzles, you find a modified Sudokhu, simple jigsaw puzzles, tangrams, Tower of Hanoi, and a few other good logic/thinking games. My favorite, the sliding-block game, recreates one my students used often in my classroom. The goal is to move your car (represented by a red block) through the maze, by shifting cars around. Definitely tough and requires some critical thinking. Also a great way to collaborate with others, as I often saw in my classroom.
Ease of use is the best feature of GCompris. While the music and bright colors make it very engaging to children, the buttons at the bottom stay constant so navigating throughout the different cames remains consistent. Even my four-year-old could go back to the main screen at any time. The selection of games and activities also speaks highly of this application. In the math activities, I found some dealing with geometry. When I opened the ‘Mirror the existing image’ activity, I was surprised to find two grids and vocabularly, such as coordinates. Great skills students struggle with. As you move around in the grid, the coordinates change dynamically at the bottom to keep current with where you move within the grid. So many teachable moments in this game! So many uses as well! In math you will also find many numeration activities, such as using money, dice, simple counting, and missing number activities. I also really like the moving scale activity, which forces users to look at one side of a scale, and use a combination of weights to balance the other side. In the reading topic, you will find activities as simplistic as word recognition up to matching words to a picture. Science includes activities on creating electric circuits, sailing boats in the wind, and the water cycle, among other topics.
So the overall GCompris suite definitely deserves your time in reviewing it. If for no other use, load it on a computer lab of old computers. At that moment, you create a lab full of education machines that every 5 through 10 year old could spend a lot of time using. While I do not support this type of arrangement, and think GCompris can be better used when monitored by an adult or teacher, I know many schools utilize web-based subscription products (costly!) or open them up to the web, so I think GCompris provides a better solution for that use.
And the good news for many of you? While I utilize GCompris on my Ubuntu home network, GCompris provides a Windows version as well (http://gcompris.net/).