I love being a school librarian for so many reasons. For one thing, the term bibliophile made it sound like I had a serious condition and becoming a librarian was cheaper than seeking professional counsel. Of course I love reading, not just books, but newspapers, magazines and on-line sources, and as a librarian I get to share all that information with students and teachers. Lastly (and perhaps most importantly nowadays) being a school librarian gives me a real reason for spending so much time on-line (I’ll be off in a minute, honey – not now, kids, daddy is working).
Spousal and parental negligence aside, I really do try to do something productive with my time in the connected electronic world. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I am always thinking like a school librarian; wondering if something I have found or read or linked to could be useful to someone I know. Many times, when I find useful resources on-line, they are disconnected stories or links that don’t make much sense when they are lumped together. Occasionally, however, I store away a few good finds long enough to gather a real trove of resources that compliment each other. Thus is the following annotated list of free software that every student and teacher should have and learn to use for school. Links to download these programs come from respected sites trusted by the Internet community to be safe to use and virus free.
Open Office.org: This is an absolute “must own” for anyone who doesn’t have another hundred dollars to buy MS Office. Open Office provides the five programs most users are familiar with (word processor, spreadsheet, database, drawing and presentation) as well as a look that resembles Office. It took me less than twenty minutes to download and install the program at home. I used the word processor program to prepare this post and it worked flawlessly. According to a few reviews that I read, Open Office is dependable and all the programs work as well or better than their counterparts in Office. Open Office will work on a variety of Microsoft operating systems, including VISTA, as well as other OSes such as Linux.
Paint.Net: I already recommended this program in an earlier post, and I still believe that it is a great piece of free software. I discovered Paint.Net when I went looking for a replacement for my old PhotoShop which I couldn’t transfer to my new computer. Paint.Net worked mostly well for what I was doing, but I missed having more powerful tools. So, I continued searching and found …
The GIMP: Despite its rather un-PC acronym (it stands for GNU Image
Manipulation Program) and its sort of infantile looking desktop shortcut icon, GIMP is a fully functioning, high quality program with more filters and other bells than Paint.Net. A quick comparison of the tools/toolboxes from the two programs shows just how many more options GIMP has to offer. I haven’t had a chance to really play around with GIMP too much, yet, but just having a smudge tool again is enough to sell me on it. I was able to download and install the software in less than twenty minutes. While neither GIMP nor Paint.Net match up to PhotoShop’s versatility and power, most amateur users will be able to do everything they need to do by combining what each of the free software programs does well. Considering that PhotoShop starts at over $250, and that most of us aren’t professional artists or graphic designers, GIMP and Paint.Net are manna from the online gods.
FreeMind: In early February, Ms. Sullivan recommended to me the site ReadWriteThink.org when I was searching for a replacement for my mind mapping program, Inspiration. I found many useful templates and tools at RWT.org, and still highly recommend the site. However, I wrote that the essay map tool was, “exactly the kind of graphic organizer that I was looking for”, which may have been premature. What I was looking for was something like what you get at FreeMind, which is more open-ended and flexible than the essay map tool. FreeMind is still not as powerful or easy to use as Inspiration was, but I have already found myself playing around with it and finding that it serves my basic brainstorming needs. FreeMind allows you to import graphics, add hyperlinks, play with fonts, colors and backgrounds and even has some time management tools that shows how long it took to complete a project. Best of all, the mind map can be saved in multiple formats or can be exported as a .jpeg or .pdf to be included in other documents or presentations. FreeMind is not an Inspiration clone and lacks key features, like the “outline” view. But if you’ve never used Inspiration, you won’t know what you’re missing and you can save yourself $70 with a free, useful mind mapping tool. Like the other recommendations on this list, FreeMind took me about twenty minutes to download and install.
These four software applications give every teacher and student a good tool kit for participating in the connected electronic world. Anyone who already owns MS Office, Adobe PhotoShop and/or Inspiration don’t need the free software, but if you are missing any of these tools, OpenOffice, Paint.Net, GIMP and FreeMind are available for the asking.
Thank you for stopping by and may everyone enjoy their Passover and Easter holidays.