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Setting up Linux in an Inner City Public School? 116

Richard Finney asks: "I have a friend who is retired. He was the chief scientist on the Landsat program. Instead of just belting down scotch and cashing social security checks, he is volunteering at Samuel Coleridge Taylor Elementary School #122, in Baltimore. He's trying to set up some old donated computers from the Windows 95 era. Rather than fight with Windows, he's decided to install Linux. How would you set up these systems for these little kids to use and learn about computers using Linux?"
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Setting up Linux in an Inner City Public School?

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  • by yagu ( 721525 ) * <> on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @05:06PM (#16141007) Journal

    If he is looking at donated computers truly of the Windows 95 era, he may not be doing the students, nor linux any service. Consider the standard requirements for a Windows 95 "era" machine: (from the Microsoft knowledge base article [])

    System requirements for installing Windows 95:

    • Personal computer with a 386DX or higher processor (486 recommended)
    • 4 megabytes (MB) of memory (8 MB recommended)
    • Typical hard disk space required to upgrade to Windows 95: 35-40 MB The actual requirement varies depending on the features you choose to install.
    • Typical hard disk space required to install Windows 95 on a clean system: 50-55 MB The actual requirement varies depending on the features you choose to install.
    • One 3.5-inch high-density floppy disk drive
    • VGA or higher resolution (256-color SVGA recommended)

    Not saying it can't be done with Linux, but this person is choosing Linux to avoid the hassles of Windows? With machines as lean as these, and today's Linux, he may be getting more hassle with Linux than the old Windows.

    Even by Linux (assuming 2.4 or higher kernel, with associated standard Gnu distro packages) standards, these are pretty stripped down machines, and would be likely to be balky even running Linux. There may be some instructional "stuff" you could do with Linux and these machines, but I'd be inclined to steer clear... there's a reason a lot of these machines are donated.

    An alternative would be to look for some kind of community "donation", or a grant, where half decent computers could be drummed up -- a decent computer today can be obtained for much less than before -- why not order a bunch of components from Newegg, or somewhere similar, and build computers as part of the education exercise?

    • See, none of the schools around here want my old equipment. If they are truly 486-era machines, I'd be happy to unload some Pentium 3 machines. Around here in the Seattle area, if it isn't at least a P4, no one wants it.
      • Here in Texas, we're facing the problem of wondering of a P3 will be counted as a PC by the state for long after Vista comes out.

        The current minimum is a P2 400 with 128 MB RAM. Anything less than that is not a computer that can be counted in the students per computer ratios and that sort of thing.

        There's talk of it being raised to 1.5 Ghz not a year or two after Vista. That's going to leave a lot of school districts looking really bad because they can barely afford to keep up what they've got (or they just
        • by huckda ( 398277 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @06:04PM (#16141554) Journal
          checkout []

          Linux terminal server...slick, easy to roll out, and free!
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Technician ( 215283 )
            Don't forget to look up the designed for schools on a budget solution ready to roll. Edubuntu set up with thin clients and a server may be a turn key solution for the school on a budget.
            • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

              by Anonymous Coward

              You only need machines with 32-48 MB system memory for LTSP, machines with 4-8 MB are a bit stuck although they could be purposed with SVGALIB VNCviewer [] or SVGALIB rdesktop []. It should be possible to acquire suitable machines for under $100 used, or $150 new.

              To minimize the hardware needed and improve administration you might want to try running Edubuntu (a Linux terminal server specialised for education) diskless, and use a directory to store all account information in. There is a directory server [] projec

          • Like those above have said, check out the Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP []) or a derivative like k12ltsp [] or Skolelinux. You can then keep using those old machines till they drop and then phase them out as they die. Many distros, like Ubuntu for example, already have LTSP client support.

            EdTechLive has some excellent interviews on LTSP [] with staff that have rolled it out at their schools or, in some cases, districts. The sound quality in some of them is not so good, but the material is worth straining

          • by amran ( 686191 )
            Yes, but even with LTSP he'll still require a powerful machine to run the server on.
            • Tis true. But it all depends what the definition of powerful is.

              I know of one classroom running fine off a 2.0Ghz P4 with 1.5 Gigs of RAM(18 client PC's). Of course the lab running off a 3800 x2 with dual Gigabit ethernet just screams. Considering that even the 3800 x2 is now a lower end machine (other than the 4 gigs of ram which is getting pricier these days) this is amazing. BTW, we figure two labs could run off this, but we have no present need.
          • by mdavids ( 143296 )

            I second this. I set up an LTSP network for a youth centre a couple of years ago, and it worked like a dream. It cost $AU2000 for a new computer and loads of RAM plus half a dozen Pentiums rescued from landfill. I suspect we could have easily gone to a dozen clients without taxing the system, but physical space was the limiting factor.

            Far from handicapping students with poor-performing PCs this setup actually runs a lot better in a lot of conditions. If someone else has already started, your

    • by Luyseyal ( 3154 )
      Call up Goodwill computers and see if they can donate something more modern. I'm with the parent, I think Firefox, email, etc will be very sluggish. On the other hand, they may be sufficiently decent enough to be Xservers. You could look into getting a nice server donated and using the other machines as Xservers to that box. As long as the video cards are good enough for the monitors, you should be A-OK.

      You can also talk to Dell, Apple, Lenovo, Microsoft, et al to see if they'd be interested in donating som
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by ewl1217 ( 922107 )
        You can also talk to Dell, Apple, Lenovo, Microsoft, et al to see if they'd be interested in donating some machines.
        I'm sure Apple and Microsoft would gladly donate hardware to run Linux on...
        • by Luyseyal ( 3154 )
          It sounded to me like Linux was a fall-back option anyway (c.f., Win95). Thus, if he really wanted to run Windows or Mac OS, I'm sure Microsoft, Apple, etc. would be happy to oblige.

          • by ewl1217 ( 922107 )
            He's trying to set up some old donated computers from the Windows 95 era. Rather than fight with Windows, he's decided to install Linux.
            It sounded to me like Linux was a fall-back option anyway (c.f., Win95). Thus, if he really wanted to run Windows or Mac OS, I'm sure Microsoft, Apple, etc. would be happy to oblige.
            That doesn't sound like a fall-back option to me.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Sounds like a thin-client setup to me. Get one high-powered computer as your server, and just use the old '95 boxes as terminals. Just running a kernel and X11 should be no problem at all, and if it is, NetBSD-tiny is the answer. Just make sure the network won't break under the high load.
    • That kind of computer is technically from the Windows 3.1 era. In my opinion, Windows 95 era means that Windows 95 came preinstalled on the machine. I had an older Compaq a few years ago that had an original Windows 95 installation on it, and therefore I would consider it to be a Windows 95 era machine. The specs? A Pentium MMX 200MHz. Not that great, especially by today's standards, but leaps better than a 386/486.
    • by Meshach ( 578918 )

      If it is a Windows-95 era machine no Linux distro will install on it and, if something does install, no GUI will be available. This will not help those kids at all

      A better solution may be to use the machines for an electronics lesson or something. As actual operating systems they will not be useful.
      • by Bandman ( 86149 )
        Actually I think Slack still comes with a 486 compile.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Meshach ( 578918 )
          Only pre-8.2 slacks I believe

          But you are right. It may be better to go for one of the distros like TinyLinux intended for small footprint installs
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by justkarl ( 775856 ) *
      OK,I have to say it. No modding me down just cause!

      Is it really of the most value to teach elementary school kids about using Linux? What benefit do they have here? What percentage will ever use that knowledge in a IT type job, and what percentage will go up to Windows workstations later in life(or high school) and declare that they have no idea how to do anything because they've been using CLI to do everything up until junior high! Ok, so that may be an exaggeration, and I know how similar Windows and
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Duhavid ( 677874 )
        One value to be derived would be that there are
        alternatives to windows.

        Personally, I dont think kids should be learning
        computers just to learn Excel, Word and Powerpoint,
        that they learn the basics of the machine. The
        sentence preceding should not be construed as saying
        that there is no value to learning Excel, Word and
        Powerpoint, before anyone jumps on me about that.

        I would say, personally, were I chosing the class
        curriculum, put on an apple or commodore emulator
        on whatever minimalist OS can be found ( inclu
      • IT skills and internet research and lots more besides can be taught without regard to the underlying machine or operating system.
        I broke my teeth into word processing with a BBC Micro, the skills I learnt then did not become redundant just because I upgraded.
      • by delire ( 809063 )
        Firstly, given that Linux is still the fastest growing operating system, I'd say it's foolish to _not_ expose kids to the basics of using a Linux OS. The fact that they won't piss themselves with fear at the site of a GNOME desktop in later life is probably to their advantage, if only because they'll have more diverse concept of what constitutes a 'PC'. I think you're being a wee bit black and white - prior experience of alternatives can only make you wiser and more useful in most contexts, workplace and ot
        • I think this is the reason I am so good at dealing with computers. My first experience with a computer was a C64, then the ICON [], then MS-Dos based machines, then Windows (3.1,95/98/2k/xp), along with Linux, BSD, QNX, and a variety of other OSes. Although I don't have extensive experience in some of those (QNX, BSD) I think that trying them out, and getting a little familiar with them helps you to deal with unexpected situations, and changes in your familiar operating systems.
      • by turbidostato ( 878842 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @06:28PM (#16141737)
        "Is it really of the most value to teach elementary school kids about using Linux?"


        "What benefit do they have here?"

        Two at least:
        1) Since it's not a maintstream system it will teach them the abstractions that makes a PC being a PC just by looking what has in common a "proper computer" (that with Windows) and "our school's" (the Linux thingie). It's a known fact that the exceptions have a great potential to teach about the mainstream.
        2) Since it's an open source system it gives the chance to think about politics, ethics and economics (quite interesting things to think about in *all* curriculum subjects) they wouldn't otherwise.

        "What percentage will ever use that knowledge in a IT type job, and what percentage will go up to Windows workstations later in life"

        Just look at the time *you* where at school. Do you really have so many chances to currently apply what you learnt about Windows 3.11 or even Windows 95 on your current Windows XP? You seem to think that because it's called "windows" is just the same. There's no more differences between a Linux+KDE (or Gnome, or even Fluxbox) and a Windows XP than that from Windows 3.1 and Windows XP, not to talk about Ms DOS.

        "and declare that they have no idea how to do anything because they've been using CLI to do everything up until junior high!"

        You must be kidding! Just think about it for a moment:
        Case A) Somebody that for the last six years has been exposed to the ugly CLI you talk about; who knows everything about Bash scripting; about how to configure a network card and why; what an interruption is and why it's interesting to know the hardware within the box suddenly exposed (as a mere user) to Windows XP.
        Case B) Somebody that for the last six years has been exposed to Windows XP who find extremly difficult to reach [] if only the "Big Blue E that means the Internet" is moved from top left to bottom right within the desktop suddenly exposed (as a mere user)... to anything else.

        Which one do you really think will have a worse time to adapt to his new environment? Linux should be use in schools if only because it's lightyears more didactic than Windows.
      • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )
        Simple the kids can use Firefox to surf the net. They can go to,, or any number of other websites.
        They could use Amiword or maybe OpenOffice to write papers.
        They can use Tux Paint to draw pictures.
        There are a number of astronomy and other educational programs available.
        They can create a class web-page with NuVU. Even use Gnumeric to do science projects and make charts.
        What real value does learning Windows or Office have for a 3rd grader? What are the chances that the Office and Windows wil
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Right, because all of us who learned on Apple IIe's and 286s running DOS were completely at a loss when Windows 3.1 came out, Windows 95 shook our faith, Windows 2000 pushed us to the edge, and OSX reduced us to pathetic, babbling morons who beg for change on street corners.

        Everyone my age went from the Commodore 64 era to the OSX era in twenty years. It wasn't that hard. What will these kids miss if they start out with a text interface? Easy stuff:

        - multitasking (possibly)
        - using a mouse (possibly)
        - WIM
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TopherC ( 412335 )
        A late reply but oh well...

        I think Linux in elementary school could be VERY useful for some students, and just as good (or bad) as windows for most other students. Most students would be served well just to learn a word processor, and OpenOffice/kword/abiword is as good as any. You can talk about differences between OpenOffice writer and MS Word, but it will be a high-level discussion for heavy users, and there will be pros and cons. For the elementary student its all the same.

        But then there are students
    • There are Linux distros that are made for minimal hardware, like Puppy Linux, Vector Linux, etcetera. I would absolutely recommend linux over Windows 95 if these computers are meant to be connected to the net.

      But that's the problem, this question does not give me enough information to say one way or the other here.

      Win95 will be better for educational software, but will be a nightmare to keep clean, even if not net connected, just by having kids playing with it, changing settings randomly, and what not. Th
    • "System requirements for installing Windows 95"

      You told it: system *requirements*. On a 386 with 4 megs Win95 was almost a no-go... to the point Win3.11 was preferable. Win95 asked for a 486 with 8 megs.

      Surely you won't have a "proper experience" on Linux today not even with one of those due to current expectations. Anyway, even the 386 with 4MB will do flabergashting X drones with any of the "terminal projects" overthere as long as you can count with a server with about 70 megs a node (that is, less tha
    • ...and I certainly don't believe that now. The kit that you ACTUALLY needed to run Windows 95 (without going to make a cup of tea after trying to launch an application) was considerably more than this. I've just re-inherited a 9-year old W95 machine from a family member who's finally replaced it with an XP box. It's had nothing added over the years, not even any extra memory.

      By the standards of 9 years ago, it was a reasonable spec machine (although by no means top of the range). It runs Debian Stable
    • Get one (or two) nice machines -- relatively new (a year or two old should be fine), but load it up with a few gigabytes of RAM.

      For the old machines that don't have the oomph to run Linux on their own, load them up with Terminal servers software and have them do most of their work from the central servers. -- then hook yourself up with a 100Megabit network and let fly. The connection to the central server could be a gigabit link with a 100Megabit fan out to get the most of your network bandwith.

      Remember t

      • by Nutria ( 679911 )
        For the old machines that don't have the oomph to run Linux on their own, load them up with Terminal servers software and have them do most of their work from the central servers. -- then hook yourself up with a 100Megabit network and let fly.

        Depending on the existing infrastructure and how many computer labs there will be and where the servers will be located, they might to run down thousands of feet of cat 5 and install a few dozen RJ45 jacks. That costs money.

        Also, sad to say, there's the physical secur
        • by darkonc ( 47285 )
          I presume that you're running a network anyways, so you really don't need to run any extra cat-5. Just stick the main servers next to the internet ingress point, and cascade the switches appropriately.
          Gigabit would be nice for the backbone, but it's far from an absolute necessity. People have run diskless machines on 10baseT for years. It's far better than nothing.
    • Well, just a quick note – if by Windows 95 era you mean circa 1997-ish or so – i.e., around where my Micron XPE laptop (P-133, 80MB, 6GB) is – it might run a bit slow but it should still be usable. I've had the latest Ultima Linux [] on there without problems for years, KDE's a bit much (I used WindowMaker on it, Xfce works acceptably as well) but, Firefox, etc. work great, although definitely kind of slow.

      DISCLAIMER – I'm developer of Ultima Linux... by the way, my curr
    • However, anybody who tried to use Windows 95 on a machine with those specs quickly learned the meaning of "Minimal". Most people I knew first ran Windows 95 with a Pentium 100 or higher, possibly 486 DX4 100, with at least 16 MB of RAM, with probably a half gig hard drive. Those minimum specs are as much as joke as the operating system itself.
    • These computers will run Linux just fine. What they won't run (at any acceptable speed) is GNOME, KDE, Firefox, or OOo. That means that keeping Windows isn't going to help, because you still won't have a modern web browser, for instance, that will run on them. (And you don't want to run a 1995 web browser, because it'll be full of security holes.)

      It's true that you can get a pretty decent new computer, with much better specs than this, at Fry's for $200. The problem is that the school may have zero funding

    • If the goal is to teach them how to program, write HTML, write basic documents, and so forth then yes, Linux can be used. With a single machine of today's standards you can build a base binary install of a Gentoo w/o all the newer heavy libs. Vim, emacs, Python, perl, nxclient, fluxbox/blackbox/iceWM for window management, By running NXServer on the modern machine and NXclient on the older machines you can provide access to more modern (larger) programs such as Abiword and Gnumeric to introduce these types
    • by Dax666 ( 1004116 )
      Damn Small Linux DSL for short [] Has run on most every old PC that I have tried it on, And to get Windows 95 to run on anything less than a 486 with less than 8 MB of RAM you are basically running MS-DOS, and ANY version of Linux with out the GUI will run on most any 386DX with 4 MB of RAM, So I would say that Worst case scenario it could be done, but when most people refer to "Windows 95 Era" computers they are usually referring to at least a 133Mhz with 16 MB of RAM and most
  • make the kids install Linux. When they ask a question yell, "RTFM!"
    that'll teach 'em about Linux AND /.! bonus!
    • This comment is more Informative about Linux than anything else you'll read in the thread.
    • by Luyseyal ( 3154 )
      Heh, that's pretty much how I learned: trial-and-error trying to get those evil old DOS games to work. This one wants 4MB EMS, that one wants 4MB XMS, but I only have 4MB of RAM! Crap! Now I have to learn how to prompt a menu with config.sys to select on boot-up. Oh, now we got a "copy" of Win3.1 from Mom's work. Now I've got to add a Windows-friendly version to the file and show Mom & Dad how to do it.

    • by Duhavid ( 677874 )
      Oh, come now! Surely the teaching staff
      will be more help than that!

      I am convinced they will say "Google it!".
  • I'd check out the Linux Terminal Server Project []
  • Try this live cd (Score:3, Informative)

    by kcurtis ( 311610 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @05:12PM (#16141067)
    • by 10scjed ( 695280 )
      Also, there is EDU-Nix Live CD [] that includes both a Linux Live CD and also Windows installers for and Firefox and a few other programs. The idea is that students can use the live cd and/or install the Free Software on their home (Windows) PC and use the same software at home and at school.
  • by UbuntuDupe ( 970646 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @05:15PM (#16141097) Journal
    You might want to bring a bulletproof vest. They're free (as in speech) for the most part. You can take them apart, learn how they work, etc.

  • Nice challenge (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TLouden ( 677335 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @05:16PM (#16141103)
    I've tried pushing Linux in inner-city schools. It's hard to get support for anything new or different, even with the price advantage. If you've gotten past that hurdle, I'd suggest trying to make a good first impression. Choose a very friendly distro (Ubuntu perhaps) and configure it as trasparently as possible. Ensure that the basics (web, email, productivity, multimedia) just work and ensure that getting help is not a task in itself. While we would all like to seee opendocument being used, it's probably best to set openoffice to default to the M$ formats to easy compatibility.

    The trick is not so much teaching Linux as ensuring a good first impression. The OS is there for those who want to learn, don't force it on the others or you'll risk rejection and difficult times in the future.

    Let us know who it works out too.
  • In a classroom environment you need to have clearly outlined objectives for the students to learn so that you can determine if your hardware/software will meet those needs. I would develop these objectives and determine where in these objectives these machines will fit in (perhaps hardware or even electro-static discharge training). Then the next thing to do is find some adaquate hardware, perhaps you could solicit donations from some of the larger companies in your area, larger companies are generally on
    • by doj8 ( 542402 )
      > you need to have clearly outlined objectives for the students to learn so that you
      > can determine if your hardware/software will meet those needs.


      The OS, software and hardware doesn't even begin to play a part if there is no plan on what to teach, and understanding by the teacher of what tools are available and what the limitations are.

      This is true whether the OS is Linux, OS X, Windows or whatever.
  • by eno2001 ( 527078 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @05:20PM (#16141154) Homepage Journal
    Then get a few newer boxes and run Discoverstation [] or look at the Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP) which basically pulls off the same thing. But I really don't think that's what this guy was asking. I think he was probably more concerned about how the workstations were going to be used with students. How do you interest them? That part is hard. The ones who would be interested won't know it until they try it. The ones who just want to play games, and surf for multimedia will probably lose interest quickly. In my opinion, the best use is to just offer them as Wordprocessing/Spreadsheet/Presentation tools with "light" web browsing (meaning that there isn't as much access to multimedia) and e-mail. So they are more utilitarian tools than boxes to have a lot of fun with.
    • If the machines use too much electricity, are too slow, or are incompatible as thin clients, use Groovix SLIM [] software based on Ubuntu for the most cost effective approach. Get a $25 watt meter and see how much electricity those old boxes are using, it may not be worth it to keep them running.

      Groovix software is free as in beer and freedom, as opposed to the proprietary and costly Discoverstation from Userful. The Userful software licenses will cost you more than new hardwar

  • by kosmosik ( 654958 ) <> on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @05:28PM (#16141227) Homepage
    These machines (from Windows 95 era) are far too weak to run decent desktop Linux. In fact they will run windowing system and graphical mode fine, but when it comes down to applications it will be *VERY* painly to run Firefox or on them.

    Instead you can turn the old machines into thin clients. So they will serve only as an display and input to applications that will be run on more powerfull server. You need to set up a fairly capable server (the ammount of RAM matters) - dual P3 with 1GB RAM and decent big disks will do for a handful of clients. The clients can boot of minidistribution installed on them locally, from live CD or via network (netboot). Network option will be probably best but not all systems (meaning PCs) will support it.

    This way all the old machines will do is connect to that server and display appliations run on the server. When one such thin client breaks (the old machines *WILL* break often) you just replace it with another one and it is basically it. Also management of such system is much simpler than managing network of Windows 95 - all apps and all user data is on the server, so you have only one place to look after, only one place to manage software, only one place to backup etc.

    There are various Linux distributions build for education. F.e. I would take Edubuntu for a spin (for starters): [] [] (these speak for themselves)

    Thera are also few ways for managing terminal server/client network, one most well known solution is the Linux Terminal Server Project - have a look at their documentation, it is fairly complete: [] []

    Also if you are looking for help seek your local Linux community. Linux servers are extremely easy to manage remotely so you can probably find some kind admins/gurus that will want to help you pro bono.

    Good Luck. :)
    • Also if you are looking for help seek your local Linux community. Linux servers are extremely easy to manage remotely so you can probably find some kind admins/gurus that will want to help you pro bono.

      "Probably" isn't good enough.

      What happens after this guy snd his buddies fade out of the picture?

      The first question I would ask is what are the chances the school board will support a duct-taped Linux solution for this one school?

      • > What happens after this guy snd his buddies
        > fade out of the picture?

        Perhaps the same thing as would happen if the guys setting up a client network made of Windows 95 will fade out. Och or maybe not - Linux is still supported and there are loads of Linux admins out there. So well you hire new one.

        > The first question I would ask is what are the
        > chances the school board will support a duct-taped
        > Linux solution for this one school?

        From the question I assume that any solution using used comp
  • They don't need you crackers getting them embroiled in a bunch of white boy gang wars! Sheesh. Next thing you know you'll be making them choose between emacs and vi.
  • Wrong perspective (Score:3, Insightful)

    by st0rmshad0w ( 412661 ) on Tuesday September 19, 2006 @05:54PM (#16141454)
    Having helped install some of the new fiber/CAT-5E networks in schools like Lombard Middle in Baltimore, I have to question the goal here. We built a basically state of the art network and there isn't ANYTHING in the building really worth hooking up to it, including the administrative machines.

    What is the point of using PCs for grade school kids? I don't understand the reasoning.

    Unless the classes are about computers, the platform doesn't matter, its the apps that really count. So what applications are desired?
  • "How would you set up these systems for these little kids to use and learn about computers using Linux?"

    That question doesn't even make sense -- it's like three unrelated questions in one. How do you install Linux? Follow the onscreen instructions. Refer to the documentation, How-Tos, or forums if you get stuck.

    What software do you install afterwards? Probably whatever the teacher requests. Is he going to be teaching the kids as well? Because it doesn't really matter what he puts on the computers if t
    • Good points made about teasing apart the problem. But as an ex-school librarian now working in academic side of learning, I'd humbly suggest kids aren't sponges, learning theory has moved beyond the model of children being empty vessels that can be filled up with wisdom. A little more complex than that alas. I sat in the same French language lessons as my friend Karim when we were 12 but he came top of the class and I came dismally bottom. We clearly didn't learn the same amount. As another poster has noted
  • Adorable urchins in inner city schools do not need computers, and they do not need Linux. They need TIME. Time from adults who care, time from adults who can mentor, be debate team coaches, chaperone kids on field trips to the Aquarium, etc. Frankly, some engineer who worked on Landsat has about nothing in common with these kids, and it shows:

    Impoverished children with no family life and no school supplies? Why, I'll install some trendy Linux distro, walk away, feel smug, and leave the PCs to ultimately
    • If I had the time and skill to install and maintain Linux, I'd do that. It'd be worth a lot more than me trying to be, say, a debate team coach. Which isn't to say that it's an either-or choice, but don't be a luddite just because there are other needs.

      Oh, and the Intarweb is a hell of a book. Give them Google before you give them books.
    • I appreciate the sentiment, but really, technology CAN make a difference in the classroom, I've seen it, and it doesn't have to cost all that much unless you want all the bells and whistles. The basic variety will do just fine.

      Computers are interactive devices, and they are 1 on 1 with kids (in a lab setting anyway) which can have a transformative effect. Unless most of the adult population starts donating a day week or you can hold the parents accountable, there is no way to get that 1 on 1 effect. Co

  • But I have a question. In the long term (say, a few years - maybe between 1 to 3), considering the average electric bill, does it pay off to use such old machines? Wouldn't it be cheaper to use modern thin clients or shared machines?
    • I don't know if you have put a kill-a-watt meter on these old PC's, but there is a reason they don't have cooling problems.
      These things often take much less power. I had a k6-2 where the CPU fan only kicked on ever once in a while.
      As long as the old ones were powerful enough to be useful for LTSP, the more modern ones would be a worse choice as they would cost more initially and comsume more power.

      The only cost effective modern alternative is some of the thin client PC's that use the VIA low power CPU's.
    • Sorry about previous post! I did not read your post properly.
  • I've installed linux on several machines that are much older than what most people have around. ~133 mhz and 16mb of ram is what I'm used to working with in many cases. The fastest way to get such a machine up and running is Damn Small Linux, via the text-mode installer on the disc. However, I've never attempted that on less than 16 megs of ram. Slackware has a 4meg kernel appropriate for machines with 8mb of ram, which I was planning to test on an old packard bell fitting the descritption of a 'true' windo
  • Whatever you use, you're going to have to if you want it to be reasonably fast. It depends on just how old these machines are, but I'm hearing a lot of people imagining Firefox in 8 megs of RAM.

    Don't. If you just need Internet, links2 is damn small and supports enough graphics and form controls to get by. It's clumsy, but it's better than nothing, and it'll even do the graphics on a framebuffer -- no X to worry about. You can try to teach them to use mutt for email, or just use webmail.

    The list goes on.
  • I've been in that situation (trying to get something modern on Win98-era computers). It's not worth the effort. Most modern distros will run pretty awful on it. You could strip it down and run IceWM, but just don't expect to be able to do anything else (and users will hate it). Firefox? Will crawl. Opera? Will crawl. OpenOffice? Unbearably slow. Abiword? Crawls but usable, but it's formatting is terrible so it's not worth bothering with.

    If you absolutely cannot get somewhat reasonable computers l
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Factor in, also, that most liveCDs *require* 192Mb RAM to run but won't tell you this.

      Ubuntu Breezy's install CD (curses, not GUI) spent three hours attempting to install itself to a G3 PowerBook, and left it in an unusable state upon reboot. The Win9x kernel is not wonderful, but like OS 9 it *is* designed to run inside a frighteningly small amount of memory. Gnome/KDE based distros fail this miserably.
  • and be making greenness maps from AVHRR data received on ham radio equipment put together in the science lab.
  • So, he's not belting down scotch? I suppose, then, that he did not work on Landsat 6.

    How about Edubuntu?
  • The great thing about kit like this is you can teach them how to dismantle and rebuild them safely without risking anything valuable. Guarantee you'll have the interest of most of them if you dismantle it, and explain the parts, especially if you make them help, or do it themselves. For kids dismantling things that are "expensive" is forbidden fruit.

    PC technology has barely changed internally from a visual perspective, apart from SATA replacing the ISA bus, and the amount of fans and pins on the CPUs.

    It won
    • You don't want them to get lung damage from all the dust that can collect on the inside, and a good demo on 'dirty computing' is to turn any keyboard upside down and watch what falls out.

      You won't have any trouble getting them to wash their hands after that :-).

      But yes, it's great for kids to see the guts of a machine, because especially when they're young they tend to be more interested in the physical, practical side of things.

      I especially bought a Roland plotter off eBay for teaching as a pen moving in X
  • by geekzer ( 1003964 ) on Wednesday September 20, 2006 @12:02AM (#16143625)
    As a former school district IT director:

    1) Try to work with the district IT people, but if they aren't responsive then continue to go it alone - WITH the support of the principal which hopefully he's already gotten. Having BEEN the red tape wielding corporate goon, don't necessarily expect a lot of help and possible some resistance. But you never know. In particular he needs to be aware of significant liability if the computers are connected to the Internet. He *MUST* provide filtering, or blocking of "unwholesome" sites otherwise it risks the school's federal funding. Typically he should be able to get Internet access either through the district or other routes including the filtering for close to free.

    2) There are quite a few charitable groups that should be able to supply solid computers of better vintage, and possibly some support. At the very least check with the National Cristina foundation ( Machines in the 300Mhz-800Mhz range are pretty readily available. 5 year old servers can also be gotten via charity and these days are monsters like dual 1Ghz XEON's with 2-4GB of RAM and frequently several hundred MB of SCSI RAID - more than enough for the server for this.

    3) I'll second the recommendation for the k12 linux terminal server project. Also check out edubuntu ( as it comes pre-packaged with a LOT of good stuff, but he'll need machines like those mentioned above. edubuntu site has some good getting started and how to do this type of guides.

    4) Check with - there are a lot of experienced people there in the discussion sections to help out.

    5) Forget about "teaching about computers". At the K-5 level it is more about using the computers as learning tool for other more practical subjects. Any learning about computers should be distinctly secondary as a result of the computers being used. Kids will pick up basic keyboarding, mouse and other skills as the use the software that helps them with other projects. No need to "teach about Linux" or any other technology as such. You want kids to be able to read, write, figure, and think, not turn out 9 year old Linux sysadmins. The national (and state and I'm sure local) standards for kids need to know about technology are a joke. If the kids are useing the computers a couple hours a week from 2nd though 5th grade, they'll meet the standards, or at least as much of them as make sense.

    6) Target two specific types of activities for different purposes:

    a) Drill and kill. I hate to say it, but this works for things like basic phonics, letter and word recognition, and arithmetic skills. Doing it on a computer isn't any more effective than work sheets in the classroom, in fact some studies indicate it is less effective for time spent. BUT, doing it on the computers gets the kids excited so they actually do the drills. These kinds of drills are particularly important for the children likely to be in these schools since they are starting off "behind" and typically don't get the necessary reinforcement at home. Not the most popular way to use computers, but you have to deal with reality.

    b) Constructivist activities. Using a word processor to write a "paper" (typically 2 sentences qualifies in 2nd grade) and illustrating it with a basic drawing program (e.g. tuxpaint) is well within the capabilities of the machines and students. They will pick up those computer skills as they use these programs for class related activities.

    7) Programs like tuxtype not only teach touch typing - something they don't really need until middle school, but help a lot with letter and word recognition. Therefore they can be used even in lower elementary grades effectively, just don't worry about typing speed.

    8) Finally if for some reason you absolutely positively have to teach "computers"; Again, forget about teach "linux". Instead starting in the 4th or 5th grade look at one of the great Logo implementations (e.g.

  • I do some part-time work at an urban (not "inner city" though) school. There are a lot of donated PCs in the classrooms and computer lab (mainly Celerons w/256 MB of RAM, etc), and we have loaded Edubuntu on them. The kids (grades 4-8) are getting along with it fine; they only have basic needs to do some word processing, research online, and playing some educational games. Windows licenses (of any version) would have been too expensive for the school; fortunately, the administration was all for trying out E
  • The Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher (MAR) program is great- $5 Windows 2000 licenses. My organization is a member and we install Windows on all our recycled machines that get put in school and non-profits. Half the point is that the kids get to use computers/gain skills they can use in real life work situations, which will most likely be Windows. Not to mention teachers are familiar with Windows, and applications the school uses all run on it.
    • I've got quite a bit of experience with kids on computers in multiple environments (OSX, Linux, Windows) and it is actually /TOTALLY/ immaterial which OS is in use.

      As soon as they have mastered using a mouse and become curious about what other apps reside on the machine they will pretty much dive in and work it out, and they do that as early as 6 years old as long as you control the distraction called the Internet (they're too young at that stage to fully comprehend the risks so you keep an eye on them ther
      • by bq286 ( 961793 )
        >>I've got quite a bit of experience with kids on computers in multiple environments (OSX, Linux, Windows) and it is actually /TOTALLY/ immaterial which OS is in use. That's completely false. What OS you use almost entirerly defines the computing experience. If you can't find a setting/program, if you don't know how to set PATH variables or use shell, you're not going to be able to use the computer well. Whether you like it or not, any child who comes in with computing experience will have it on W
        • I'll forgo the personal attacks - that's just sad as you have nil idea who you're actually dealing with. But hey, it's Slashdot.

          In the UK, edu were sold bargain basement priced copies of Windows too, until they were all dependent on it at which point the price went up rather savagely. And you haven't seen the devastation that a FAST visit can wreak on a little company that thought it had all systems licensed because of the copy of Windows that comes with the box, but then found that using a build requir
  • Last school year we started using Ubuntu Linux (Tied in with our AD structure) in a computer lab. The number of machines grew from 30 to 45 when we added the library and just yesterday we added another ten to the list out of a teacher's classroom (she volunteered). For those that can't count, that's 55 machines converted to Linux (voluntarily) since the end of April 2006 (Subtract 3 months for summer and we have a conversion to 55 machines in 2 1/2 months. Not too shabby for a bunch of people who didn't
  • Edubuntu has LTSP built in. The only requirement would be the ability to boot over the net via PXE by the client PCs. The server should be a newer system with RAM sized to support the client load. Last week I installed Edubuntu on an old Dell 4100 P3 933 MHz with 512 RAM. I then set the BIOS of a few identical Dell systems to use PXE to boot over the net. They booted off of the first system with no problem. I was able to log into them and run apps with no significant latency versus the initial system.
  • With considerable respect for those helping the children who most need it, I suggest the best approach here would be to start all over from the beginning, taking no action until the right questions are well answered. These questions would include:

    1) For meeting exactly what student needs do we suspect a computer would be the tool of choice? 2)What do we want to happen when a student is sitting in front of that screen? 3) How will we determine whether what is happening in front of the screen is beneficia

  • this presents a problem that I faced putting Linux onto a Server ( yess..... its a server that anybody can get to.) It was ... 12 years old last spring... and it Worked with KDE 3.2 and a few other things. here's the specs:
    399 Mhz Solaris/tru64 processer
    3 gig drive
    ATI Radeon pro (8 Mb vid mem) @ XVGA
    mouse / kb
    ether ( 10/100 EtherLink XL )

    it ran ooo in 48 secs.

Swap read error. You lose your mind.