I teach at a small private school where students are anywhere from 9 years old to 18. One of the challenges of such a large age range is that I need to stretch my software budget to cover kids with very divergent developmental needs (not to mention divergent interests).

Enter free software. In school, the benefits of no cost software are huge. Obviously I save money outfitting our computer lab. Less obvious — but way cooler — is that my students can work at home with the same tools they learn at school.

Here are some of my favorites and why I like them so much:Splash screen for GIMP 2.2


Odd name, great product. GIMP is a Photoshop-like program for creating original art and cleaning up photos. I use GIMP in a course that I teach, called Digital Imaging, where students learn digital photography.

It runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux.


This software lets students create 3D graphics then manipulate them in a world. My middle school students have learned the rudiments of object oriented programming with this software.

Alice was created by a college professor and is now associated with Carnegie Mellon University. It’s written in Java and is available for Windows or Mac. A Linux version is available but is billed as proof-of-concept, so may have stability issues.


Audacity is a free audio editor that’s incredibly useful for recording and mixing sounds. I’ve used it with my students to record an original radio play (sound effects and all), to provide the story in a digital storytelling project.


Not software, but a free resource. This website has provided my students with crickets chirping, traffic, and gunshots. All of it is Creative Commons licensed, so is free to use.

Anasazi Stop Motion Animator

Grab a web cam, a pack of clay, then download this software. Anasazi lets you grab one frame at a time to make stop motion (also called claymation) movies. It has a cool onion skin feature so you can line up elements from one frame to the next — very handy when you’re trying to animate clay. 🙂

Photo Story

This is a Microsoft product that’s free for download if you’re running a legitimate version of their operating system. It’s a slide program for digital photos. You can set music to the pictures and have them transition in several ways. This is great for digital storytelling projects.

Photo Story projects can be output as a Windows Media file.

Windows Movie Maker

Who would have thought Microsoft would have two entries in an article about free software? Much as free software folks love to hate Microsoft, they have some nice tools that are easy to use. Add Movie Maker to that list.

Movie Maker comes with Windows. It’s software for making home movies. You can import video, pictures and audio; mix it all together; and save the output as a Windows Media file.