The Tree House has Walls!!

Three walls down, 1 to go 🙂

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Roughly halfway through the day.

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Andros & Keegan helping to measure boards.

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Left side view, looking pretty good! 🙂

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Kevin, finishing the third wall.

 

Free Software, kids and conferences

It’s been a while since I last posted, so consider this a broad overview, catch-up post, with, hopefully, more to follow in the coming days/weeks 🙂

A couple of months ago, shortly after the release of GNOME 3.10 I decided it was high time I gave Unity, KDE, XFCE, etc a solid try. As such, I spent a couple of months switching between KDE, XFCE, GNOME and Unity, though I also briefly installed Linux Mint Cinnamon & Elementary OS, neither of which I particularly cared for. Much to my surprise, I’ve found that I prefer Unity, with KDE coming in a close second. Window Spreading – which was once primarily (exclusively?) available on GNOME Shell, is now available on Unity & KDE as well. The point is though, that the upper left hot corner from GNOME Shell is something that is simply ingrained in my work-flow and which I am loathe to live without. Thankfully though, with the installation of Unity Tweak Tool its just a couple clicks away, along with window snapping, auto-hiding the launcher and enabling of multiple workspaces.

In any case, after a couple months of switching between them at login, I have settled back down to Unity, and no longer have all four installed. I did a clean install of Ubuntu 14.04 Trusty Tahr a couple of weeks ago and am quite happy with the results. Today I spent some time over on gnome-look.org and have my desktop back looking unique, thanks to MediterraneanTributeDark GTK 3.x, Tango icon themes, and a nifty background found on reddit:

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Since the move to Unity, I’ve begun contributing to Ubuntu more, mostly through writing and editing for Ubuntu Weekly News and, recently, editing/proof-reading Full Circle Magazine for the first time. I’ve also joined the Ubuntu Ohio loco group, and am hoping to find new ways to contribute to Ubuntu in the coming months, both in my local community and the wider community online.

In related news, I’m excited to have started teaching 4 kids about GNU/Linux and Free Software! Last fall we joined ExCEL, a homeschool co-op in Copley, OH, and I’m teaching two classes this semester – one on microscopes and the other on Free Software! This past Wednesday was our first class (delayed by 2 weeks due to weather), and I gave each student an 8gb USB stick with either Xubuntu, Kubuntu, Ubuntu, or Ubuntu GNOME. Each class is ~50 minutes long, and in our first class I helped them boot into GNU/Linux for the first time (3/4 successfully – the 4th ended up getting into Ubuntu GNOME at home on a different laptop), get on-line, and answered basic questions about how things worked, how to install software (especially Minecraft), etc. I’m planning to introduce them to the four freedoms next time, along with IRC, the AskUbuntu stack exchange, Ubuntu Forums, and see what else they’re interested in learning about over the next couple of months. If anyone’s interested in programming I’ll likely show them Alice and Scratch, and tell them about Google Code-In, which at least some of them will be eligible for next year.

Finally, I’m excited to announce that I’ll be attending LibrePlanet in Boston, MA for the first time this year! Many, many thanks to the Free Software Foundation for sponsoring me!! Hopefully I’ll see many of you there!

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Why aren’t we promoting FOSS to kids?

Over the last two months I’ve become involved in several homeschooling and unschooling communities both on-line and in our community here in Northeast Ohio. As I am an admitted geek, I find myself frequently answering questions about computers. Mixed in to the typical ‘what computer should I buy?’ or ‘do I really need a laptop/desktop or can I get away with just a tablet?’ type questions have been more than a few on programming and computer science for kids.

And its made me start to wonder something – why aren’t there programs to get kids involved in FOSS? There are growing numbers of programs to help kids learn programming, but aside from Google Code-In (which I keep plugging, though I have yet to speak to anyone who’s heard of it before…), none that I have found encourage (or even mention) the use and development of free software. Its a huge gap, and one which we should be working to fill.

If we want to convince people to move to free software we need to get them involved asap – before they develop preconceived notions about software. Many kids today have their own computers, tablets, cell phones, etc, and though many  would like to learn to develop on them, there’s just not a whole lot of materials out there to help them learn. And, unfortunately, most of what does exist, has been designed (sometimes explicitly) without free software in mind. The result is a majority of kids learning to program in closed environments without any idea that there is another, more open way to do things.

The result is yet another generation of kids who have barely heard of FOSS. Another generation lost to closed source, both as users and developers. If there is a target audience who we should be promoting free software to, its kids. They are a perfect fit – though many of them have access to technology, very few have much (if any!) expendable income. We ought to begin advertising our desire to teach them to use and contribute to free software, along with its benefits. We ought to begin designing basic programming classes for kids using free software and explaining its benefits. We also need to make it easy for those kids to talk to us and tell us about their software, what it does and what they need help with. If we want them to join us, then we need to give them the resources and the ability to do so.

We need something to point both kids and parents alike to. Something that we can show them and say ‘Look! Look at what you and your kids can do with free software! Look how it can help them learn!’ Because there are thousands, likely millions of them out there – kids who want to learn. Parents who want to facilitate their kids learn about computers. I myself continue to meet them, both online and off on a nearly daily basis – and I want, I need, something, anything to point them to.

Unschooling Month 2 :)

We’re coming up on 2 full months of homeschooling, and I am feeling more and more comfortable as we progress. Nearly every week since starting we’ve gotten out do stuff at least twice, which is pretty much what I’ve been shooting for.

The boys have taken to swimming at the Massillon Recreation Center on Fridays and are doing wonderfully. We generally arrive around 9-9:15am so we have a few minutes to play and say ‘hi’ before swim lessons begin at 9:30am. After lessons are over at 10am we usually swim for another hour or more before leaving to do something else.

My goal has always been to do at least one field trip a week, outside of swimming. In January we went to The Wilderness Center in Wilmot, OH for several of their programs though we haven’t made it back in February. Instead, we’ve focused on science museums and play days.

On February 9th we made it up to the Great Lakes Science Center for their “Family Science Day”. They love the “Polymer Funhouse” where they can run around and play with other kids, as well as the NASA Glenn Visitors center. We caught two of their science shows, the first about mass and forces had started just before we arrived but was interesting nonetheless. Later on, we saw the “Big Science Show” which they loved – especially watching 2 bottles of Diet Coke erupt more than 20′ into the air after 10 mentos candies were dropped into them! We also got to see “Egypt: The Nile” at the Big Screen Theatre which told the story of the first expidetion to navigate the length of the Nile River from the source of the White Nile in the highlands of Ethiopia all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. Overall we had a great day and are looking forward to returning soon.

The next week, on February 13th we went to the Mckinley Museum in Canton, OH. The Mckinley Museum is a small museum with three main attractions: the Planetarium, Discovery World and a replica of a street from the turn of the century. “Discovery World” is full of hands-on exhibits, starting with an animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex (which Keegan thought was terrifying), as well as several other exhibits about ancient animals from Dunklesoaurs to Mastodons and Giant Sloth, and a small exhibit about life during the ice age in Ohio. They also have a small collection of animals which serve as a sort of nature center – chinchillas, bees, cockroaches, snakes, turtles, fish, birds, etc. Finally, the “Fascination Station” had just opened (with a few finishing touches yet to come) which is a hands-on area about science and technology, including a solar powered car from Stark State College. The street was interesting, but since we were the only ones there we didn’t get the full experience. It looked as though there are likely people who come in and do re-enactments of sorts from time to time, and I’d love to go back at some point with a tour guide. Likewise, since we went on a Wednesday, the planetarium was closed. Someday we’ll have to return for a show!

Last week we went on a tour of Harry London’s Chocolate Factory (now owned by 1-800-FLOWERS), where they make chocolates which are shipped all around the country and sold under the Fannie Mae brand. We met several other homeschooling families we hadn’t before and went to play at McDonalds afterwards with a couple of them. We had a great time and are looking forward to doing other things with them in the near future 🙂

Unschooling

My oldest son Andros is in Kindergarten this year, and up until January 1, 2013 was enrolled in our local public school. However starting a couple of months ago now, he started complaining he didn’t want to go, which I can understand – I hated school and as a result was ‘home-schooled’ from 4th grade on. As such, I simply could not bring myself to force my child to go to someplace that he didn’t want to go, and which I too despise.

So, as of last week we are officially homeschooling. However, in reality we are unschooling – as originally described and promoted by John Holt and the “Growing Without Schooling” newsletter. Unschooling is the act of trusting kids to learn, without having to be actively taught. Allowing them to pursue their own interests and trusting them to learn as they do so. Realizing that nearly everything kids do is learning, especially in the early years.

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Understanding that their building with blocks, legos, train tracks, etc is instructive. Building with blocks or legos is math – different shapes and sizes (lengths, widths, etc), its also science – engineering to be exact – designing roads, buildings, animals, etc. The skills used are related to creative and critical thinking and so precursors to english & writing, as well as art.

Of course, since I’m an advocate for Free & Open Source Software (FOSS), they are also using computers to learn. They have my old desktop with Xubuntu installed and numerous educational programs – Tux Math, Tux Typing, MathWar, Gcompris, etc. Inevitably an hour or so of each day is spent on the computer, playing these games. They also both have Leapster Explorer’s, though these are primarily saved for in the car going places.

Anyhow, I am excited to be unschooling my boys as I was. It is a fun, exciting process and one which has no real beginning nor end. Unschooling is life learning – understanding that learning does not only take place at a desk in school, but everyday and every moment of our lives, for as long as we live.