About five years ago, during the course of my evaluation, I was asked by a sharp administrator (who had been a chemistry teacher), “Do you ever get tired of writing all of those problems up on the white board each period?” I responded that it was indeed tiring, and inefficient. Any teacher who has had the experience of writing extensively on the board during class time knows that it is very difficult to maintain student focus during the down-time between problems. My evaluator suggested that I spend some time observing a fellow teacher who was using a wireless graphics tablet to manipulate the projected computer screen and load pre-written problems without delay.
I took his advice, and it was a revelation to me. The teacher was everywhere in the classroom EXCEPT the board at the front. He could be in proximity to students who needed help or direction. He could also summon pre-written problems with a tap on the graphics pad. I quickly acquired a wireless graphics tablet and invested time outside of class time creating the problem sets and graphics to use during class. In this way, I was able to create a problem set once, and save the file to be used over throughout the day, and from year-to-year.
The only complaint that I have had is that the program I have been using had SO many features, and has its tentacles in so many places in the operations of my laptop, that it often takes minutes to start the program. It is also prone to freezes, and when it does freeze I have to re-boot the computer. My school laptop is not exactly cutting-edge, but it should have been sufficient for running the application. My students have unfortunately seen my frustration as everything grinds to a halt. In several cases, I became so frustrated that I went back to writing problems on the board by hand. Last week I decided to spend a little bit of time trying to find an alternative.
My search quickly found an open-source program called Open-Sankoré. My first inclination was to overlook it, but after previewing some other commercial products, I came back and gave it a second look. After downloading and trying it at home, I decided to give it a whirl on my school laptop. I had our tech support guy wipe and re-image my computer, and then I loaded a few of my essential programs. The laptop was exhibiting none of its previously SLOW behavior, so I installed Open-Sankoré and gave it a go. WOW!
Open-Sankoré starts instantaneously every time. It has an internal browser, but you can also go to the desktop and continue to use the writing tools or capture parts of the screen, or the whole screen. It easily imports pdf files, even from web URLs. You can save and customize graphics files, and Open-Sankoré comes with a library of ready to use “Applications widgets”. There is a built in Google image search, and a widget for including video from YouTube and other sources. You can export individual presentation files or entire folders. Over my first couple of days of constant use (converting my old files over to Open-Sankoré) I was only able to crash the program once. However, it only caused the program itself to shut down, and no work was lost because Open-Sankoré is constantly saving your work in the background as you go. In fact, there is no “Save” function.
So, how does something this well thought-out get developed as open-source and made available for free? It turns out that the French government was impressed enough with the program that they actually bought it and sponsor the continued development. Now, I try to avoid politics here, but I find it refreshing that a government supports the development and distribution of quality, free educational software. I’ve seen so much over-priced, under-supported, proprietary software sold to schools by private companies more beholden to their stockholders than to the youth of our country.
I’m not going to pretend to have covered all of the features of Open-Sankoré. You will need to give it a try. Oh, it has been released for Windows, Mac and Linux!