Friday, February 13, 2009


I really liked David Merrill's demonstration of his Siftables concept at TED 2009. It is a new way of interacting with data in a way that is very natural and kinesthetic. The Siftables act like the blocks we all grew up with but they are aware of one another and can display myriad types of data.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Cuba Goes For Linux

Reuters reports Cuba has adopted a home-grown Linux distribution, dubbed Nova, and intends to replace Windows on the island's computers. With personal computers available for sale only since last year, most computers in Cuba are located in government offices and universities.

While the Cuban government claims that the bogeymen of backdoors and the threat of espionage from U.S. spy agencies drive the adoption of Linux as a platform, it is interesting nevertheless to consider the nation's move to an open-source platform. By adopting an open-source operating system the Cuban computer users have the freedom to tinker with the operating system and make it meaningful to their particular needs. Furthermore, as Hector Rodriguez, dean of the School of Free Software at Cuba's University of Information Sciences,states, "The free software movement is closer to the ideology of the Cuban people, above all for the independence and sovereignty."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

FETC Notes

My FETC session went very well. Attendance was good considering I was the second to last session. As my graduate advisor, Margaret Riel, pointed out, everyone who was there was there because they wanted to be. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and was comfortable presenting. The audience applauded at the end of Steven's film, which was most gratifying. Afterward I had a nice conversation was an audience member whose son has Asperger's Syndrome and who felt her son would really enjoy a similar project.

I posted my Notes and Presentation online if you missed the session and want to know what I talked about.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Learning to Read Online

Virginia Heffernan's article about literacy in the age of the Internet was quite interesting. Her three-year-old son does not consider Starfall, pictured above, to be reading. Ms. Heffernan explores the relation between literacy, reading, and the printed word and how reading from a laptop or monitor fails to reproduce the reading experience with the tangible book being held by the reader.

I decided to give Starfall a try this week with two classes of Kindergarten students, to whom Starfall is geared. These students typically want to do nothing more than play Marble Blast during their weekly computer time, so I was expecting a bit of a fight to interest them in the site. We started by doing a few activities in Kidspiration: letter patterns, recognizing upper-case and lower-case letters, and identifying words that start with "b" or "m." As the students finished those projects I transitioned them to Starfall. I asked them to start with "b," "d," "p," and "q" as these letters are frequently confused and substituted by these students. I was pleasantly surprised by the students' reactions to Starfall.

The web site was engaging to these students for the reasons Ms. Heffernan had a problem with it: there is much animation to hold the attention, songs, and an emphasis on graphics rather than a screen full of words. For each letter there are several examples of words that start with the letter and some animation to hold the students' attention. These students have pretty short attention spans, so the lessons are fast-paced and do not overwhelm the students with too much information.

For these students raised as digital natives, I think tools like Starfall prove to be great resources for pre-literate children. Anything that can hold their attention and teach them about the sounds letters make and how letters, when properly combined, create words, is an effective tool, in my opinion. It may not be the type of literacy lessons that Ms. Heffernan or I recognize from our youth, but for these students it is the type of lesson that seems to work best for them.