Monday, April 21, 2014

An Animation Of Easter Chocolate - Teaching Media, Finance, & Global Trade

Source: NBC News
If you're like us, you indulged during this past week of spring vacation with some welcome sun and possibly some holiday candy. If you're also like us, you're now returning to a classroom full of restless students who can see the end of the school year in sight.

Luckily, the animation wizards at NBC News have once again offered up a timely treat to engage students' eyes (and taste buds) on their first morning back from break. The motion graphic, "The Business Behind Chocolate Easter Eggs," offers a surprisingly rich educational tour in just under a minute and a half. The video is not even really about Easter, so it is worthy of showing to any diverse classroom.

Instead, the clip is a visually gripping survey of the worldwide chocolate business. The narration touches on a wide range of useful learning points. It teaches mathematics and financial literacy in exploring the percentage growth of chocolate sales and the economics of futures markets. It pinpoints geography and global trade in highlighting the sources of cacoa beans. It touches on the devastating effects of human slavery in mentioning the ethics of forced labor. And, finally, it offers insight into media literacy and marketing in showing the spike in seasonal bunny rabbit advertising.

For another way to incorporate the Easter holiday into the classroom, check out "Everyone Loves Peeps, Easter Infographics & More."

Friday, April 11, 2014

Tax Day: Visualizations Of The Federal Budget To Teach STEM & Financial Literacy

Source: Visual Budget

Tax day is rapidly approaching. April also happens to be Financial Literacy Month. It makes sense, therefore, to tap into the annual angst of April 15 to teach students about the nuances of the federal budget and the impact of income tax dollars. Aside from offering relevant windows into the priorities of the national government, the visualizations and motion graphics below also provide keen tools to practice mathematical analysis and the graphic charting of data.



The video (above) from Visual Budget lays out a clean presentation of federal dollars, tracing the allocations of taxes coming into the national coffers and then being assigned to specific programs. Funded by a Kickstarter campaign in 2011, Visual Budget aims to make "complex, dense data engaging, exciting and interactive." The sophisticated animation depicts a helpful breakout of taxes paid by each percentage group along the earning spectrum.

Source: Fred Chasen

To personalize the tax-paying process, a clever interaction called "Every Day Is Tax Day" allows users to enter their own salary information to see exactly where their withholdings end up. An award winner in the 2011 Data Viz Challenge, this site from Fred Chasen invites students to click on any colored slice in the data ring to see how funds are spent via government work hours.

Source: Can I Get A Receipt With That

An honorable mention in the Data Viz Challenge that students will appreciate is "Can I Get A Receipt With That." This seemingly simple site from Adam Albrecht and Kevin Mack permits users to input personal earnings to get a printed "receipt" of which federal departments use their tax dollars. The fun is in clicking on the relevant comparisons, such as in seeing how many Chipotle burritos are "spent" on national defense.



Finally, all of these resources are a far cry from the 1954 cartoon (above) produced by the United States government that attempted to make citizens feel better about paying their taxes. In classic retro style and gravelly narration, the clip walks students through the complexities of the national budget.

For more ideas about teaching with taxes, check out "The 1040 Form Turns 100: Resources To Explain Income Taxes."

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Content and Design: Pushing Learners Beyond Mediocrity

Source: ASIDE, 2014
In today’s world of fast-paced touch screens, snaps, clicks, and tweets, we increasingly find it difficult to get our learners to see that design and presentation matter. We are not sure if this is the result of the over-scheduled child jumping from one activity to another, or the increasingly shorter attention span to stay with something to make it their absolute best. Now more than ever before, content and design matter in tackling a problem, iterating an idea, building a prototype, or constructing a presentation.

What is clear is that many of our learners think it’s just fine the way it is. When they are assessed on their work with a clear outline of the expectations based on instruction and modeling, they often fail to meet those expectations. As educators, our delivery of content is evaluated on presentation of material, integration of technology, engaging activities, and differentiated instruction. Yet, it seems our students think that delivering text-heavy presentations spinning out of control in Prezi, shallow research to demonstrate understanding, or shoddy work put together in haste is okay.

Design does matter, and it is not good enough to think what is created cannot be improved upon through iteration. The key to good design, however, is content. We are beginning to feel a little dictatorial about it, too. We often see students busily changing fonts, picking colors, and adding pictures before crafting the content into an organized, well thought out way. On the opposite side, we see students putting work together without using any of the evidence they’ve gathered in their research.
Source: ASIDE, 2014

We provide the time for deeper learning, choice in delivery method, and integration of technology. Sadly, we still see mediocrity. How many times have we heard “I’m done” two minutes into an activity, only to realize that they left out key requirements because of a failure to read instructions? While we don’t mind doing something over to make it better, there’s a certain responsibility in not getting a “do over, and over” as a result of sheer carelessness.

We’re sure that many have heard the expression “failure is not an option;” well, what about “mediocrity is not an option?” The problem is not a matter of flipping, blending, empowering, engaging, or any other buzzword; it’s a constant push for sustainable, deep thinking on the part of our learners. They need to know that it is not fine to be run-of-the-mill. The “everyone is a winner” mentality drives mediocrity, and learning that is a “mile wide and inch deep” leads to pedestrian thinking.


Source: ASIDE, 2014
We spoon feed our learners so much with testing, multiple choice options, and detailed review sheets that they cannot organize their own thoughts to learn. Parents besiege us when the “grade” is a B-, requesting extra help for nothing more than a failure to read instructions or follow requirements. It’s an attention to detail and organizational issue; it’s also a sign of a lackadaisical approach on the part of the learner to put in the effort. Barely satisfactory (BS) is not an “A.”

We’re not giving up; we want the kids to sink their teeth into things. So we will keep pushing them beyond mediocrity, because the “ah hah” moment becomes a life-long curiosity for wanting to know more.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Graphicacy - The Key To Visual Thinking In A Differentiated Classroom


In the scholastic world's quest to pinpoint new "literacies," one of the most essential skills in a student's toolkit isn't new at all. "Graphicacy" is the vital proficiency with visual inputs that all learners must master in the modern classroom. Graphicacy refers to the encoding and decoding of images, particularly in the close examination of details that construct visual meaning. It stands with literacy, oracy, and numeracy as one of the four indispensable corners of education.

Source: Christopher G. Healey
Graphicacy dates to W.G.V. Balchin's coinage of the term in the 1960s to identify the visual-spatial aspect of human intelligence. What began as a staple of South African geography education has ballooned in importance thanks to the onslaught of learning and entertainment media that all rely on optical displays. Especially in today's 1:1 classroom, with hand-held devices and ubiquitous smartphones, the understanding of visual patterns and pictorial cognition is imperative.

Graphicacy is about more than visual thinking. It is instead a careful roster of skills to comprehend diagrams, photographs, charts, logos, icons, maps, and picture books. With today's rightful emphasis on differentiated instruction, contemporary classrooms need to incorporate coaching in graphicacy to reach students via their learning preferences.

Source: Stephen Few

One key to guiding students in understanding graphs and drawings is teaching them about preattentive attributes. These are the visual marks that the mind's iconic perception unconsciously absorbs. Preattentive attributes are quickly discerned by the eye and rationalized by the brain to distinguish size, shape, color, and alignment. Visual designers employ preattentive attributes to make tables readable and logos memorable.

Stephen Few offers a clean, expert tutelage in the keys of preattentive attributes in "Tapping The Power Of Visual Perception." His graphic (above) presents some of the core distinguishing techniques used in both creating and interpreting images.

Source: Creative Bloq, via Alberto Cairo, The Functional Art

Another valuable graphic (above), which combines single attributes into coordinated displays, is featured in Graham Odds excellent explanation, "How To Design Better Data Visualizations," at the Creative Bloq. Taken from the work of William Cleveland and Robert McGill and published in Alberto Cairo's book, The Functional Art, this illustration is terrific for teachers to use as a tool in laying out the building blocks of visual comparisons. Students can apply the techniques of the optical continuum to decipher political cartoons, historical maps, and scientific displays. Dustin Smith also highlights the value of this graphical instruction at his superb blog.



To catch students' attentions and open their eyes to the power of subtle attributes, we recommend Jason Silva's masterful video, "To Understand Is To Perceive Patterns." In zippy, dynamic narration, Silva races through a visual blitz of naturally occurring frameworks and motifs. It's fascinating and mind-boggling for any viewer.

For further information about graphicacy, we suggest:

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Geography Of The Cold - Interactive Mapping Of Flu Season

Source: Google.org Flu Trends
Our kids are dropping like flies. Each day has seen three or four more names added to the long list of children absent from school due to an aggressive cold and flu season. We, too, can't seem to shake our hacking coughs, lingering headaches, and clogged sinuses.

The feisty contagion of this wintery bug has sent us looking to maps and graphics to find out if we are alone in our viral vortex and if frigid weather really does exacerbate cold symptoms.

It turns out the Center for Disease Control collects pinpoint data on the spread of cold and flu viruses and disseminates a weekly "Fluview" report to track the trends state-by-state. According to the latest map, our state of New York is indeed a phlegmy brown color, indicating "widespread" illness.

Google.org also publishes a "flu trends" map, based on certain search terms that are deemed indicative of cold activity. Google's version is searchable by state, city, and year, and it can also be animated in Google Earth.

Source: Center For Disease Control

One intriguing resource we stumbled across is Sickweather. This crowdsourced hub attempts to scrape social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to glean mentions of sicknesses, doctor's visits, and red-flag disease words. The site then compiles cold and flu references to create an "online social health network" that updates itself in real time. This forecasting and mapping of regional flare-ups is terrific for teaching students about epidemiology and outbreaks, not to mention basic geography skills of symbols and visualizations.

Source: Sickweather

Finally, The Infographics Show has put together a terrific motion graphic to explain the myths and realities of the "Common Cold." This animated clip by Andrej Preston offers a great overview of how germs are spread, along with a collection of data about predictable infection rates. This video would be an excellent companion to a biology or health lesson.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Ides Of March - With Syria, Not Shakespeare

Source: WithSyria
Sometimes when we get caught up in the day-to-day activity in our classrooms, we overlook something important. We celebrated Pi Day last Friday, and St. Patrick’s Day on Monday, but missed the Ides of March over the weekend. We are not talking about the infamous line in the play Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. Instead, March 15 marked the third anniversary of the civil war in Syria.

Right now, the news is preoccupied with the missing Malaysian jet. Even the crisis in the Ukraine has taken second stage to the airplane mystery. While this is an urgent matter, little attention to other newsworthy information seems to make the evening news, particularly about Syria. Is it that old? Too boring? Not current enough?

Perhaps this is why several powerful videos surfaced to help us think otherwise. In the video “With Syria,” street artist Banksy and movie star Idris Elba collaborate on a new awareness campaign for the victims of the conflict. Banksy’s iconic “Girl with the Red Balloon” is carried above and away from the reality of the horrors below.



"With Syria" includes over 130 humanitarian and human rights groups joining together in solidarity for this to be the last anniversary of conflict in Syria.

These media pieces specifically focus on the most vulnerable in the Syrian crisis, the children. In an earlier post, we featured visual resources to help our learners understand the civil war. One of those was the video by Simon Rawles, entitled "Syria's Lost Generation," which highlights the plight and suffering of children in a straightforward documentary format.

The videos in this post are different from the one created by Rawles. This is particularly apparent in the Save the Children clip, entitled the “Most Shocking Second A Day Video,” when a child’s world is turned upside down as a result of war. What if Britain were Syria? By design, it deliberately pushes us emotionally, leaving an uncomfortable, haunting feeling. While both appeal to our emotions, the messages were constructed for different purposes. Side by side, they make for a strong media literacy lesson on technique and the power of persuasion.



Save the Children also produced another video narrated by Stephen Hawking called “I’m Giving My Voice.” In essence, Hawking is giving his voice to those who don’t have one in this civil war, the children.



The inherent qualities of the videos in this post are designed as media messages to keep a focus on arguably the worst humanitarian crisis in recent memory. Perhaps, too, it’s time to take advantage of the media and challenge networks to keep all crises front and center whether it’s Syria or the Ukraine. Moving from one hyped event to another should not make anything so serious less newsworthy.

Source: WithSyria


For other resources, please see:



Sunday, March 16, 2014

Not Irish, Snake Charmer, Or Saint - St. Patrick's Day Resources

Source: Visual.ly (detail)
In the spirit of St. Patrick's Day, many of us will don green even if we are not Irish. The Irish diaspora around the world makes it hard not to feel a little Irish on March 17. In fact, the Irish population in the United States is seven times larger than that of Ireland, and approximate 71 million live outside of the country.

Source: Visual.ly (detail)
Our students join in the fun, just like they do wearing red for Valentine’s Day or orange and black on Halloween. As always though, we try to look for ways to tie in the humanities. The history of St. Patrick and his role in converting the Druids to Christianity is as much a mythological tale as it is a historical event.

We gathered some resources here to use with our learners. Each of the motion graphics gives just a little insight into the day, the man, and of course the parade. One of our favorites is the video, the History of Saint Patrick – A Short Story, by Jeremiah Warren. It’s quirky, quick delivery reminds us of the entertaining videos our students love by CGP Grey.





Another short film featured on the History Channel is Bet You Didn’t Know: St. Patrick’s Day. Close to a million Irish fled to the United States in the 1840s because of the Great Potato Famine, settling in major cities along the east coast such as New York and Boston. As a result, demonstrating Irish pride grew, making New York’s St. Patrick's Day parade one of the largest in the world.





The video, Who Was St. Patrick, produced by Rose Publishing as part of its series called Christian History Made Easy provides an engaging and entertaining look at St. Patrick's place in Irish and Christian history.





As always, we continually use infographics with our learners as a way to revisit the design of information as an engaging way to break down the facts with text, images, and graphics. A new one we came across for this season is St. Patrick’s Day And How The Irish Took Over The World When No One Was Looking. It combines a blend of information on celebrations, population, customs, culture, and inventions. The content easily connects to a host of curricula areas as well.

Source: Visual.ly (detail)
For more, please see Infographics And The Luck Of The Irish
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