Just saw a message from cprofitt that "[w]e have some new folks in our group that are looking to get information on how to run an Ubuntu lab." I didn't see any pre-existing threads on this so I'm starting a new one.

Here's what I do:

I give students complete freedom, no restrictions. That means they have the ability to mess something up so bad that the machine won't even boot. That's ok. When I first started messing with Linux, you know how many times I completely trashed the system and had to reinstall before I could keep the machine stable for more than a week? Probably about 20 times, no exaggeration. Now, Linux has come a long way in that time, so screwing things up that badly is quite a bit harder, but I think students deserve the same chance to mess up that I had. 

I think the only cost to the students of messing things up should be having to do the reinstall themselves or restore the machine to an image of a working system. (Once I get a machine working just how I like it, I make an image with Clonezilla and on newer machines, it only takes 20 minutes to restore that image and get it working perfectly again).

So that's what I like to do. If anyone has questions, I'd be happy to answer them. What the the rest of you do?

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I second. Clonezilla is awesome. Freedom is what makes you a good computer user; nothing else!
Agreed 100%. We actually do this already on our 1:1 Laptop program with Windows. Student laptops are not joined to the domain, and they can install whatever they want. They are warned that if they mess things up, we will simply reinstall from an image, wiping everything they have. They quickly learn the backup, backup, backup, backup lesson!

So it will definitely be the case when we try to introduce a pilot group of Ubuntu laptops.
I have been running Ubuntu LTSP for two years now in my classroom with virtually no administrative tasks other than running updates, specifically Edubuntu 8.04 LTSP. I tried to update to the latest Edubuntu 10.04, but my server hardware is unsupported in some way, bootstrap errors. I'll try again in June.

I have 16 stations recently upgraded from PIII Compaq Desk Pro computers to the little Dell SX260 computers. Primary difference between the two is that for the PIII I had to create a PXE boot disk to connect to the server. The little Dell has PXE network capabilities already intact. My server is a Proliant ML 150.

This year I am using my computers for writing and research in our fifth grade classroom. I teach a writing lesson and my students write using the computers. I have a 90 minute period that I use for math. I break it up into two 45 minute periods and two groups, one low and one high. I begin with the high group teaching math. Low group writes. Then we switch. In a sense, low group hears the math lesson twice. I have two Open Office and printer experts that help. All screens face me while I teach using the overhead. Students are engaged and love to write. This year, my students are struggling a bit more with writing, so we do start the process using paper, until I see what I want to see from their work. It is funny how each class is so different. The one thing that has improved is spelling whether using paper or not. I don't have students asking me how to spell a word anymore because they just try what they think the spelling is going to be on an Open Office document and if it is wrong, it is underlined. Then they go to spell check and "choose" what they think is the correct word, kind of like a multiple choice test. Practice for state testing, A, B, C, or D?

We will do a lot more: state reports; molecule research; lexile lookup; social studies research; games; typing; art; etc.

I think I might try my hand at teaching how to program in Python and learn it myself in the process.


Oh, by the way, all this is being done at no cost to my school or district using hardware that my district didn't want anymore. I paid for my server. I couldn't wait for one so I went to my local computer shop and purchased a used server for $900. Being only a couple years old, it works great, and was originally priced around $4000 brand new.
Offtopic: Python is just great. I use it everyday. If you are used to Java, you'll be amazed at how easy it is. The interactive shell that allows you to test code right away is pure gold. And if you use ipython instead, with tab-autocomplete, it makes you productive in no time.
Urco, not quite off topic: Python has its place in the Ubuntu lab. I have a book titled "Hello World! Computer Programming for Kids and Other Beginners." It uses the application "Idle" as a vehicle to teach programming in Python in a step by step manner. It is not your typical programming book. It is very student friendly and humorous. Well, it comes with a PDF version that I placed on the server available for all students to use. Last year, students would jump in and just experiment with the book; at the end of the first 4 pages you have written your first game program. What was unusual is that I had a student who was struggling a bit with math and he really took an interest and started to complete about a quarter of the book. I may introduce it to my students this year as an extra credit activity.
I was a lecturer in introductory computer programming, and I had the chance to look at this book:
http://www.amazon.com/Introduction-Computing-Programming-Multimedia...
I think it's a very interesting proposition. It teaches programming "with a purpose". Check it out. Here is a good starting point:
http://www.mediacomputation.org/
They actually have JES, Jython Environment for Students, which is an open source IDE that offers some very good educational tools.
You can also find slides, source code, and more over there.
That book on programming "with a purpose" looks really interesting. I'll definitely have to check it out! I think I'll also have to check out Joel's book!
Chris - what sort of lab is this that you are running? The reason I ask is that if it is a lab where students are to learn how to use computers and reinstalling an operating system will benefit them, I can certainly understand your reasoning. If on the other hand it is a general computer lab where students need to use a computer for research purposes then I cannot see a benefit in giving them the "ability to mess something up so bad that the machine won't even boot".

If this were a lab that I were to install and maintain I would have to support the latter. My students are the adults in my organization. Office staff and faculty that is. I would use the lab to work with them on their projects or on general computer training needs. How to manage files, use applications more efficiently, etc. Teachers also use this lab with their students. These students would be the sort that need access to internet resources for taking exams in Moodle or researching information for their class. Programming/web development students have a 1:1 classroom that they work in so they would never be in this lab.

I'm not sure that this informaiton is helpful but is is a different perspective from what has been posted here.
What I'm talking about is more of a workshop than a traditional lab, meant for the purpose of allowing students to muck about with technology without the fear of failure that holds many back from learning more.

You bring up an excellent point. If the purpose of the lab is more general, your setup will likely be more ideal. If the purpose of the lab is to help students learn about computers and other modern tools, as they typically are "out in the wild", then giving students the freedom to mess things up with the responsibility to fix them again may be more beneficial.

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