Explore California Wildlife

I reall enjoyed my final project assignment:  Explore California Wildlife

The response to the application I built was overwhelming positive.  Thank you for all the emails and interest.

After getting a couple offers to buy the application I developed to build this online, neuroscience informed learning environment, I decided to take it down temporarily.  I will upload it again soon with more lessons!
Explore California Wildlife!

I loved creating these assignments and blog.  I’d like to acknowledge the following:

Huge thanks to Jennifer Montgomery for all your support as my teaching fellow. Thank you Karen for the candy and guidance, Chris for the advanced tech skills, Jake for the powerpoints and answering all my questions. And, big thanks to Professor David Rose for the most effective course of the year. I can take and use everything you’ve taught me. As you can see, I had fun with these assignments.

Photos and text about the Wildlife is courtesy of the California Fish and Game Department.

Flash Drawing, Flash Writing, Created by LMcGuire. PHP Scripting created by LMcGuire, originally modeled after CAST, but built my own application that supported more UDL scaffolding, and improved it for multiple language accent supports.


v o i c e t h r e a d . r e f l e c t i o n s

Click here to listen to an  (( (( Audio )) )) podcast of this post.

My First Impressions on Using ‘voicethread’ to Discuss:
The History of Deaf Culture on Martha’s Vineyard

Using Voicethread to talk about the deaf culture at Martha’s Vineyard was surprisingly easy.  I was really impressed with the smooth and simple interface.  It seemed effortless to use.  I learned quickly that my first instinct was to just click and talk, but my later text and drawing entries made more sense and were ‘better’ choices for me as a new voicethread student.  You can read my defining text contribution at the end of this post below my eye avatar.

My initial impression of the main educational benefits are:

  • Clean, Beautiful Interface (not busy or complicated)
  • Highly Functional Interface
  • Nearly Seamless Ease of Use
  • High legibility and visibility against a black background
  • Variable forms of expression available
  • Interactivity – which forms community and social skills
  • Ease of understanding
  • Almost non-existent learning curve
  • Portable
  • Available to all ages and a wide range of learners

One weakness I noticed right away was that I couldn’t get any information about the contributors to the voicethread – including myself!.  I couldn’t find my voice thread contribution on my user page.  I couldn’t click on my fellow contributors to see where they were from or when their contribution was posted.  It didn’t even tell me when my post went up.  That was a little frustrating.  I ended up putting my post up twice just to make sure.  I tried to add a drawing to my post, but it wasn’t possible, or it wasn’t easily explained on how to make that happen.  After adding a text and drawing post, I was dissapointed to see that you can’t click multiple times on your avator/user-image to see all of your various posts. The only way I could view my text contribution and artistic drawing was to click on the grey ‘bars’ at the bottom of the interface. This was a little ‘non-intuitive’ and could confuse people who don’t know you may have made several postings with different mediums and at different times.

Framing my viewpoint of using voicethread through the lens of UDL Guidelines for Action and Expression:
The instant I began using this tool to have a conversation with my classmates about deaf culture at MV, I noticed that it gave me the option of using text or audio.  This is a great plus for various kinds of learners that prefer various kinds of ways to express themselves.  I noticed that some of my classmates used text and others preferred audio.   Some art students are not very verbal, wheras some verbal students are not inclined to write or type.  This tool provides almost effortless expression in both mediums.  Some students just don’t want to type their answers, or they may not be able due to physical impairments.  On first thought, voicethread does a great job of providing UDL “means” for many kinds of students.

It provides some UDL options for physical response:

  • Via video contributions. People could teach Yoga moves with this tool using the video feature.
  • Via the drawing feature.  Students can express themselves using the drawing tool here.

It provides some UDL options for varied navigation features:

  • Via using image/buttons for users instead of text.  Clicking on images is easier for some students
  • The navigation is intuitive and “uncluttered” – though a strong difference, it is not common online.

Voicethread does not provide very many UDL options for accessing tools and assistive technologies that I was aware of.  There is little mention of any support for:

  • Switch options, Alternative keyboards, Customized overlays for touch screens and keyboards

I suppose that already installed keyboard commands for mouse actions could be used.

There is no touch screen capabilty because of the limits of my computer, however, this option could be easily implemented  by creating an iPhone Voicethread Application which automatically supports touch screen capability.

My perspective as an educator on the UDL strengths of using VoiceThread in the classroom:

  • There are UDL options for expressive skills and fluency in voicethread through the expressive drawing tool for creative students and the option for bilingual students to speak different languages.

  • There are UDL options for media and communication in voicethread by using the video to record dance, painting and various other activities.
  • There are UDL options for composition and problem solving in voicethread because of it’s interactive qualities.  Many people can work on the same math or science problem and contribute many methods on how to provide a solution. This solution can be expressed using various voicethread mediums.
  • There are UDL options in the scaffolding of Voicethread for practice and performance from the use of video, audio and text.  Performances can be recorded and submitted.
  • There are UDL options for executive functions in voicethread, especially if it is used for a long term project including goals, timelines, assignments and due dates.  I would be interested in seeing an example of this. This would also add to voicethread’s support for options that guide effective goal-setting, planning and strategy, as well as managing information, resources, and monitoring progress. I could see these UDL guidelines activating when using voicethread as a curriculum guide or lesson plan.

My perspective as an educator on the weaknesses of using VoiceThread in the classroom:

I think that Voicethread would be a great tool to use in the classroom, except for the following weaknesses:

  • No visible Date, Time for submissions
  • No visible information about the contributor
  • User contributions are not stored on the user account page, this means that users don’t know where they contributed.
  • No Themes.  Themed navigation would greatly enhance this tool

Regarding UDL Guidelines for Action and Expression, my suggestions for how to improve the tool for classroom use by all students:

  • Improve the navigation to include themes and topics
  • Allow multpile means of expression within one posting – for free! (like audio plus drawing plus video – in one posting.)
  • Have a “side bar” tool that asks questions as students contribute
  • Allow students to see date and time for each student’s contribution
  • Allow students to see information about each contributor
  • Allow contributions to be stored onto user profiles
  • Create an iPhone application version of Voicethread
  • Create a “double” voicethread viewing window for multiple conversations.
  • Allow voicethreads to be embedded into blogs and webpages.
  • Incorporating webcasting as a people contribute in a group.

Where is my voicethread submission?
My voicethread submission for this assignment is under the same name I use for this blog:  mcguiret560.  My avatar/photo is also the same one I use for this blog, a modified art image of my own eye.  You can see my avatar (tiny, bottom right) in the screenshot of my voicethread contribution I placed at the beginning of this post. My avatar is also at the bottom of this post.  The URL for my post is here: http://voicethread.com/share/398616/

As computers change and improve, I can see voicethread technology changing with improved browser capabilities. The future educational possibilities for voicethread’s UDL benefits is enormous.  Thank you for introducing me to another wonderful use of UDL type technology!



(Below is my actual text post to voicethread – you have to go there to see my ear drawings, and pay NO attention to my audio contribution!)

My voicethread text response to Jenna Wasson’s questions:

After my first post, I kept thinking about the history of deaf culture at Martha’s Vineyard, and the kinds of ‘UDL’ educational ideas this story brought to my mind.

A Model for Inclusivity?
I think that this story is a model for all schools to consider teaching all students sign language, regardless of whether they are deaf or not deaf.

How Practical?  How Inclusive?  Other Benefits?

This UDL education would be easier to implement in today’s schools because many parents are already teaching their non-deaf babies sign language in hopes that they will become ‘genius.’  I think this model would create far more inclusive classrooms as well as a ‘culture of inclusivity’ within classrooms.  Teaching all students sign language would allow them to be more considerate of students that are diffferent from them.  This teaches social and moral skills as well as offering students an alternative form of communication.

There would be the challenges of parents and schools who think this might be ‘unnecessary’ for students who aren’t deaf.   It would also raise financial budget considerations with school districts and administrators.

My question
Can voicethread be one of the solutions for how to teach sign language to students?  It sure has all the media support to do so.  Also, when can we see voicethread as an iPhone application with touch screen capabilities?

Robots controlled by thoughts alone.
Educational advantages?

Click here to listen to an  (( (( Audio )) )) podcast of this post:   mindcontrolledrobot

“In a development that realizes a scenario out of a science fiction movie, scientists have developed technology enabling a robot to be controlled by thought power.”

A Scenario out of a science fiction novelIn one of my favorite, uncensored publications, the Associated Press, Yomiuri Shimbun introduces us to the idea that Mind power alone can now operate a robot designed by Honda called Asimo.

Talk about educational advantages, is this what some cognitive scientists would truly call ‘a bridge too far?’  But think of the brilliant assistance this would give intelligent, creative students who could not move any part of their body. Robots may sound scary, but consider the freedom this may offer students who need extra scaffolding within universally designed learning environments. This may hold the key to freedom, expression, mobility (of a synthetic, but effective sort) and possibilities beyond our wildest imaginations.

Here, Yomiuri waxes on what he could call the story of a lifetime:

“A user wears a helmet that detects changes in blood flow and brain waves in different parts of his or her brain and converts them into radio signals that are transmitted to the bipedal humanoid robot, operating its limbs and making it speak.

The technology was developed by a team of scientists from Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International, Honda Motor Co. and others.

In experiments using Honda’s Asimo robot, test participants were able to move the robot’s limbs and make it speak just by imagining those actions, with a success rate of 90 percent.

Similar research is being done in the United States and European countries, but the success rate there reportedly is between 60 percent and 70 percent.

So far, the Japanese team has only been able to have the robot raise its arms and legs and utter a few words in response to controllers’ thoughts. There is a delay of about seven seconds between the detection of changes in a test participant’s brain and corresponding reactions by the robot. The brain wave reader weighs about 300 kilograms and is as large as a chest.

The team will continue carrying out experiments with the aim of enabling Asimo robots to perform more complicated actions. The team also hopes to develop a portable brain-wave reader.”

After showing this to my Dad, and talking about what Isaac Asimov or Ray Bradbury would think of this, he got me thinking, “Are we controlling the robots, or are the robots controlling us?”
Well, that is a thought,…

Ponder that.

Does UDL + Brain Gym = better learning?

to Listen to an (( (( Audio )) )) Podcast of This Post, Click This Link: audio_post-udlbraingym to listen.

When our ‘Harvard Recreation Team Challenge‘ members were voting on what our team name would be, two people insisted on the name ‘brain gym.’  I had no idea why, but now I get it.    ; )

I had one of those moments just now where,.. you know… you just have to look some random term/idea up on youtube and see what all the hoopla is about.  I typed in Brain Gym and got this wonderful little video:

This type of exercise seems great for all kinds of education.  I’m also sure, if researched, studies would show that it helps all kinds of learners and could possibly add to the quality of current universally designed educational models. Heck,  I think all jobs should have trainers like this and group ‘brain bym’ exercise time for employees.  If employees want to opt out, they can take a nap or go to McDonalds. Incorporating this brain gym concept everywhere could relieve quite a bit of stress, improve well-being and quality of life for all ages.

What do you all think?

Rainbows of Meaning: Color Vision Unique to Humans, Primates


“To our eyes, the world is arrayed in a seemingly infinite splendor of hues, from the sunny orange of a marigold flower to the gunmetal gray of an automobile chassis, from the buoyant blue of a midwinter sky to the sparkling green of an emerald. It is remarkable, then, that for most human beings any color can be reproduced by mixing together just three fixed wavelengths of light at certain intensities.”

Yes, I had a hunch that this might true.

Today’s article in Scientific American covers this luminating observation:
“Color Vision: How Our Eyes Reflect Primate Evolution:
Analyses of primate visual pigments show that our color vision evolved in an unusual way and that the brain is more adaptable than generally thought.

Here are the Key Concepts

  • The color vision of humans and some other primates differs from that of nonprimate mammals.
  • It is called trichromacy, because it depends on three types of light- activated pigments in the retina of the eye.
  • Analyses of the genes for those pigments give clues to how trichromacy evolved from the color vision of nonprimate mammals, which have only two kinds of photo pigments.
  • The authors created trichromatic mice by inserting a human pigment gene into the mouse genome. The experiment revealed unexpected plasticity in the mammalian brain.”

So, the human artist sees and paints like no animal on earth, but why?  It must be a combination, I think, between this elevated, color-rich eye sight and the current of creativity spouting from a most energetic type of mind.  If we could talk to monkeys about this, what would they say about a Kandinsky,… or a Picasso,….

check it out here:  http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=evolution-of-primate-color-vision

Happy Brain Awareness Week!

Brain Awareness Week!

I was wandering around neuroland online and stumbled upon the Dana Foundation’s announcement saying that today is the beginning of Brain Awareness week. So, I tell all of you, be aware of your brain this week, all week long, from March 16th until March 22nd. This is very important. You will need to focus intently on this for seven days.

To do my part, I will be writing several essays on neuroscience for my wonderful professors, reading hundreds of pages of neuroscience articles and chapters on emotion, dyslexia, memory, and watching videos on intelligence and emotion.  When I finish all that, I’ll learn a little flex from Chris and throw in a flash website featuring the interactive creative brain.  I may not finish the interactive brain, but let me know if you want to help me with this.  What the heck.  Why not.  Do your part!  What are you straining your brain about this week?

The Dana Foundation has great resources and all, I recemmend checking out all the exciting activities and focus they put on the brain, immunology and, to my delight, arts education! I knew that one day, all the top neuroscientists would finally figure out that arts education is the most important education of all. Now who is going to tell the education departments, politicians and school districts in America?

They have links to the nerve videos at Columbia University showing Kendel talking about the brain. I’ve been watching these videos and I’ve noticed that the classrooms at Columbia University are pretty fancy. Right now, I’m checking out this video here filmed at Columbia University on Thursday, December 4, 2008 LECTURE ONE  Mapping Memory in the Brain taught by Eric R. Kandel, M.D. In this video, he discusses:

“What is mind? A central finding is that mind is a series of processes carried out by the brain. Mind is to the brain as walking is to legs—but it is infinitely more complex. The brain produces our every emotional, intellectual, and athletic act. It allows us to acquire new facts and skills and to remember them for as long as a lifetime.”

Kandel also lectures about the Broca’s area in the left part of the brain, saying that we speak with our left hemisphere. But, is that everyone?  What about folks that speak but only have half a brain?  We must investigate this further ladies and gentlemen. Check out a plethora of videos you will love here:   http://www.ndgo.net/sfn/nerve/

Happy Brain Awareness Week everyone!  Be very aware of your brain.

Reading Your Mind with fMRI

So what do you think about the new article in which Ben Hirschler from LONDON (Reuters) writes: “Scientists have shown for the first time that it may be possible to “read” a person’s mind simply by looking at brain activity.

read your mind

Using a modern scanner to measure blood flow, British researchers said on Thursday they were able to tell where volunteers were located within a computer-generated virtual reality environment.

“Surprisingly, just by looking at the brain data we could predict exactly where they were,” Eleanor Maguire of the Wellcome Trust Center for Neuroimaging at University College London told reporters.

“In other words, we could ‘read’ their spatial memories.”

The discovery opens up the possibility of developing machines to read a range of memories, although Maguire said the risk of “intrusive” mind reading was still a long way off.”

…read the remainder of the article here:  http://www.reuters.com/article/scienceNews/idUSTRE52B4VZ20090312

Ah, those Maguires,… at it again!

I am curious more than ever now about how this brings neuroscience so much closer to education.  It establishes the question on why so few education departments today don’t research neuroscience.  This venture and this exploration is on the tip of an iceberg and the edge of a large new area of science and schooling.  To be able to contain this in a way that teachers can learn from and inform their teaching would be helpful.  But remember, without the links of psychology and cognitive science, this information could be dangerous stuff.  Everyone’s brain is so much like everyone else’s,… and yet so different.


On This Planet

Yes, life is so amazing and incredible, sad and memorable. It is because we are so startled at it, that there is no time for anything else. I can draw and draw and draw again, yet still never capture it. It eludes me like the slow fluttering butterfly, caught within a ray of sunshine, in between my eye and the next fragrant flower.

More Thoughts on the Psychology of Vision

Photo: Fern-Covered Northern California Woods. Land of the tallest and largest trees on earth. You won’t ever see this in Southern California.
Photo: Typical Northern California Woods. Land of the tallest and largest trees on earth. You won't ever see this in Southern California.
Yes, Bruno Dubuc’s manual, The Human Brain from Top to Bottom only focused on Vision in it’s review of the senses. Which made me consider further,….

One way is to look at things purely from our external senses, i.e. what we can see, hear, smell, touch and taste. This is the way of western orthodox physical sciences.
Another way is to see things from our mind’s eye, or from our inner sight or from a soul level. This is the way of what Howard Gardner would say (about the 8th intelligence was it?) the mystical, the spiritual, the difficult to explain.

Reality therefore can be looked at from an “ordinary” standpoint and from an “aware” standpoint.  Neuroscientist Dr. Lawrence Le Shan waxes poetic about these ideas in his books, “A Separate Reality.”

Looking at things from a purely sensory and external point of view has worked well for humankind. The scientific method has given us much progress and a certain degree of control over nature. Yet there’s the nagging question that there are more to things than what we can see with our limited five senses.

Entering the world with a heightened awareness is like Alice entering Wonderland. Everything is not what it seems to be. And who is to tell what is correct and what is not?  According to Bruno Dubuc, very little of what is real is seen with the human eye nor registered in the human brain.

This realization or line of thinking reminds me of two quotations. One is from the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, who said, “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what is not so, and the other is to refuse to believe what is so.”

The second quotation comes from the Chinese Taoist philosopher Chuang Tse or Chuangchu. He said, “One night I dreamt I was a butterfly. As a butterfly I was happy flying from flower to flower. I was sure I was a butterfly. But when I woke up, I realized that I was not a butterfly but Chuang Tse, the philosopher, dreaming he was a butterfly. But wait, I began to think, ‘What if I were really a butterfly dreaming that I am Chuang Tse?’”

What is reality? Is there such a thing as objective reality? Buddhists say there’s no such thing, that everything is really maya or illusion.
We can never really know the true nature of reality. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant said the same thing. “We can only know what is in our mind, the phenomena, but never what is outside of it, the noumena.”

And Plato, much earlier in the history of philosophy, said something similar. “We can never have perfect knowledge of things outside our minds. We can only have imperfect pictures of them.” Objective reality is unknowable, according to him. What we see are only shadows of reality, not reality itself.

If you know me well, you have heard me say my favorite recent quote:  “We are spiritual beings, temporarily inhabiting physical bodies.”

If we can’t stretch our minds in wonder, then what’s the fun in research?