Texas Bluebonnet Writing Project Blog

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Open Source Law Proposal for State Agencies

I wonder why Texas hasn't gone here yet since we never seem to have any money for anything except slush funds for new business?

General Assembly

Proposed Bill No. 5299

January Session, 2007

LCO No. 782

Referred to Committee on Government Administration and Elections

Introduced by:

REP. O'BRIEN, 24th Dist.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly convened:
That the general statutes be amended to require state agencies to consider the
availability of open source code software when purchasing, licensing or
procuring computer software, as an alternative to proprietary software, based
upon a comparison of costs and quality standards.
Statement of Purpose:
To require state agencies to consider the use of open source code software as an alternative to the use of proprietary software.

It seems like Connecticut is off to the right start, unlike Texas. I expect I will get way more information on how this will benefit public schools when I sit in at the TCEA conference with the new group I joined (thanks to a post by Miguel Guhlin) that is just now forming, the SOS-SIG. I am looking forward to hearing what others have done in this area. My push is piloting Linux boxes for my classroom using only open source and free Internet-based applications with each student using their own flash drives. While this is more than likely not an original idea, it would be a stretch for my ISD.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, January 22, 2007

How The Brain Rewires Itself

Hi All,

I thought you might enjoy reading and blogging about this article:


t was a fairly modest experiment, as these things go, with volunteers trooping into the lab at Harvard Medical School to learn and practice a little five-finger piano exercise. Neuroscientist Alvaro Pascual-Leone instructed the members of one group to play as fluidly as they could, trying to keep to the metronome's 60 beats per minute. Every day for five days, the volunteers practiced for two hours. Then they took a test.
The New Map Of The Brain

There are uncharted worlds inside your head, but science is drawing a map
The Mystery of Consciousness

You exist, right? Prove it. How 100 billion jabbering neurons create the knowledge--or illusion--that you're here
6 Lessons for Handling Stress

Take a deep breath. Now exhale slowly. You've just taken the first step toward managing stress and avoiding burnout
Time Travel in the Brain

What are you doing when you aren't doing anything at all?
Five Paths to Understanding the Brain

From gruesome ancient rituals to modern pharmacology, mankind had been trying to discover what's really going on inside our heads. A short history
Mysteries of Conciousness

Sarah Scantlin is a living medical miracle. An accident injured her brain so severely she should have died, but 20 years later she has regained the ability to speak
Exercise Your Brain

Dr. Sanjay Gupta tells us how we can keep our memory as we age and even create new brain cells through mental and physical exercise

At the end of each day's practice session, they sat beneath a coil of wire that sent a brief magnetic pulse into the motor cortex of their brain, located in a strip running from the crown of the head toward each ear. The so-called transcranial-magnetic-stimulation (TMS) test allows scientists to infer the function of neurons just beneath the coil. In the piano players, the TMS mapped how much of the motor cortex controlled the finger movements needed for the piano exercise. What the scientists found was that after a week of practice, the stretch of motor cortex devoted to these finger movements took over surrounding areas like dandelions on a suburban lawn.

The finding was in line with a growing number of discoveries at the time showing that greater use of a particular muscle causes the brain to devote more cortical real estate to it. But Pascual-Leone did not stop there. He extended the experiment by having another group of volunteers merely think about practicing the piano exercise. They played the simple piece of music in their head, holding their hands still while imagining how they would move their fingers. Then they too sat beneath the TMS coil.

When the scientists compared the TMS data on the two groups--those who actually tickled the ivories and those who only imagined doing so--they glimpsed a revolutionary idea about the brain: the ability of mere thought to alter the physical structure and function of our gray matter. For what the TMS revealed was that the region of motor cortex that controls the piano-playing fingers also expanded in the brains of volunteers who imagined playing the music--just as it had in those who actually played it.

"Mental practice resulted in a similar reorganization" of the brain, Pascual-Leone later wrote. If his results hold for other forms of movement (and there is no reason to think they don't), then mentally practicing a golf swing or a forward pass or a swimming turn could lead to mastery with less physical practice. Even more profound, the discovery showed that mental training had the power to change the physical structure of the brain.


FOR DECADES, THE PREVAILING DOGMA IN neuroscience was that the adult human brain is essentially immutable, hardwired, fixed in form and function, so that by the time we reach adulthood we are pretty much stuck with what we have. Yes, it can create (and lose) synapses, the connections between neurons that encode memories and learning. And it can suffer injury and degeneration. But this view held that if genes and development dictate that one cluster of neurons will process signals from the eye and another cluster will move the fingers of the right hand, then they'll do that and nothing else until the day you die. There was good reason for lavishly illustrated brain books to show the function, size and location of the brain's structures in permanent ink.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Standardized Testing for Technology Literacy On Its Way!

Cal State and ETS (testing company) have joined forces to create a standardized assessment for technology literacy. It is an ICT assessment covering these areas:

Define: The ability to use ICT tools to identify and appropriately represent an information need.
Access: The ability to collect and retrieve information in digital environments. This includes the ability to identify likely digital information sources and to get the information from those sources.
Manage: The ability to apply an existing organizational or classification scheme for digital information. This ability focuses on reorganizing existing digital information from a single source using existing organizational formats. It includes the ability to identify existing organization schemes, select appropriate schemes for the current usage, and apply the schemes.
Integrate: The ability to interpret and represent digital information. This includes the ability to use ICT tools to synthesize, summarize, compare and contrast information from multiple digital sources.
Evaluate: The ability to determine the degree to which digital information satisfies the needs of the task in ICT environments. This includes the ability to judge the quality, relevance, authority, point of view/bias, currency, coverage or accuracy of digital information.
Create: The ability to generate information by adapting, applying, designing or inventing information in ICT environments.
Communicate: The ability to communicate information properly in its context of use for ICT environments. This includes the ability to gear electronic information for a particular audience and to communicate knowledge in the appropriate venue.

Looking through the assessment provides some insight into the types of "questions" the students must solve. They are tasks such as emptying email inboxes of impertinent material or doing searches using Boolean terms to help narrow the results. Database and spreadsheet situations appear as does one requiring the test taker to read an email and create a slide for persuasive presentation of the key facts. Sound a lot like the requirements for our students?

While you can learn more about each of these tasks here, it doesn’t take one long to see that this is just on the horizon for Texas 8th graders. With the technology proficiencies set for these students in NCLB and the Texas Long Range Plan for Technology, school systems will be looking for ways to prove student mastery. While a portfolio is the best measure of this, I am sure it will be too expensive and time consuming for the state. Add to that the subjective nature of assessing one’s work, it would not be easy for the educrats to compare one thing (student, campus, district TEACHER) to another, so they would much prefer the standardized nature of this type of assessment.

So why would you care about this until it happens? Well, in an article titled "Testing for Technology Literacy" (Inside Higher Ed) Cal State is “contemplating making the test a requirement that students would have to pass to move on to higher level courses, much like they do now for writing proficiency.” It won’t be long before other higher ed schools feel the mounting pressure to graduate tech savvy students and start along the same path. We are handicapping our students by not preparing them for this literacy ahead of time.

This article is on the heels of another recent post by Inside Higher Ed titled "Are College Students Techno Idiots?" that discusses student readiness (or lack thereof) in information literacy.

Susan Metros, a professor of design technology at Ohio State University, says that reading, writing and arithmetic are simply not enough for today’s students. What is important for learners is information: how to find it, how to focus it, and how to filter out nonsense. But for many students, their main source for information is Google, which Metros finds troubling.

It doesn't take one too long to see the writing on the wall. Colleges are beginning to take information literacy seriously, and they are going to start demanding that public schools do as well. While ETS's assessment is geared toward high school seniors and college aged students, it is a great window into what the testing companies will be designing for our students and what the colleges are looking for in technology information literacy.

Interested in seeing what another Texas school district is doing to prepare for the changes required by the Long Range Plan for Technology? Check out Miguel Guhlin's blog as well as his district's blog to see how they are thinking their way through the process in San Antonio. Miguel has been posting examples of processes his district has gone through in the past that just might spark some ideas for you such as Big 6, Levels of Engagement, Learning Management Systems, LOTI Questions by Level, Revising Scope and Sequence K-8, and more.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

New Blogger (Out of Beta)

Hi Scott et al:

Blogger has a new version up, and I tried to switch out Bluebonnet Blogs over to it, but we can't switch yet. Apparently because we have a large blog, we'll have to wait a bit. Meanwhile, if I'm reading this right, it looks like we will all have to have google mail accounts to participate in the new blogs. Is that how you're reading this Scott? I have one thanks to Janelle's invitation a couple of years ago; Janelle has one, and I think it would be wise if we all got them to be ready to make the switch when Blogger lets us!

Google Help > Blogger Help > Getting Started > Accessing the new version of Blogger
Why can't I switch to the new version of Blogger?
While the new version of Blogger is no longer in beta, some users with certain types of blogs will not immediately be able to switch to it. We'll be adding support for these blogs as soon as possible, so everyone can join in the fun. But for now, if you have a very large blog (more than a couple thousand posts + comments), you'll need to hold off for a bit.

Note that, even if your blog is eligible to switch, you may not have the link to do so on your dashboard. We are starting out by just switching over a limited number of accounts, but we'll add more and more as time goes on. However, if you still want to try out the new version of Blogger, what you can do is to visit beta.blogger.com and create a new account. Later on, you'll be able to merge this account with your original Blogger account.

Thanks for your patience, and we promise it will be worth the wait!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Teaching Word, PowerPoint, and Excel should be criminal!

So I got the last post of 2006. I figured I might as well get your attention to start 2007.

Yes, it should be illegal to teach productivity software and count that as technology instruction. That is, at least, what Nicholas Negroponte thinks. You see, Negroponte is the man with the plan for distributing laptops to children around the world. His initiative has already begun to distribute the machines. Originally they were expected to cost $100 each, but the final cost for those initially shipping is around $150. Still, this is a great price for a laptop affectionately (no pun intended) known now as XO (pictured above).

XO can communicate with other XO’s around it via its wireless capabilities. Students can share files between systems due to this ability as well as video conference and chat with the built-in cameras. What is unique is that the machine contains no hard drive. While it does have 512 meg of flash memory, it sports USB 2.0 ports to allow the use of flash drives for nearly unlimited storage capacity. Another unique aspect is the hand crank to energize the power for it. This will be a great benefit in remote regions where power is not common place. The Linux-based machine (nope, no Windows here) uses a journal to help the user organize files instead of folders. It is believed that the journal will allow the user to remember why the file was in use (note the forced thinking skill here). According to CNN’s article, Negroponte says several million XO’s are expected to reach Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Nigeria, Libya, Pakistan, Thailand, and the Palestinian territory.

So how does that tie in to the crime of teaching productivity software? Negroponte shares this vision in a recent CNN article:
"In fact, one of the saddest but most common conditions in elementary school computer labs (when they exist in the developing world), is the children are being trained to use Word, Excel and PowerPoint," Negroponte wrote in an e-mail interview. "I consider that criminal, because children should be making things, communicating, exploring, sharing, not running office automation tools." (emphasis mine)

Wow! What a concept! Who would have guessed .... Wait a minute. Making products, communicating, sharing, exploring. That sure sounds familiar. That is part of the Texas Long Range Plan for Technology. Hmmm. If Negroponte can do that with his $150 laptops, imagine what we can do with our $1200 desktops with T1 Internet access and unlimited software access, not to mention all of the FREE Web 2.0 tools out there (such as wikis, blogs, podcasting software, etc). Oh, and don’t forget we have electricity so our students do not have to stop to crank their power back up. Imagine the possibilities.

Credits: photo courtesy of www.laptop.org

powered by performancing firefox