Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Benefits Of Good Design - Resources For Community College Learners

Source: ASIDE 2015

Community college students everyday interact with a range of materials: handouts, worksheets, outlines, templates, PowerPoints, etc. From the simplest to the most complex, these resources are sometimes the primary conduits for information and training. The design of these materials, therefore, matters. The visual presentation of instructional tools can make the difference between detachment and engagement, between reticence and retention.

One of the touchstones of the design world is the unity of form and function. This “big picture / small picture” harmony is an equally crucial lesson for teachers and learners of all ages. Whereas art is something we look at, design is something we use everyday. It gives context to content and supports the relationship between the two. Good design of information delivers content that is engaging to the eye without becoming a distraction. It guides the attention through carefully controlled and selected visual components; it retreats to the background, enabling the purpose of the finished product to come forward.

Source: ASIDE, Tommy McCall

In creating both tangible and digital presentations for college learners, educators can ask themselves about the desired purpose, audience, and format of their materials. Similarly, considerations of layout, font, color, and alignment can make positive differences in conveying crucial concepts. A few notions to keep in mind include:
  • Visual media bombard the modern eye
  • Images increase the level of engagement and retention
  • Design creates meaning and relationships
  • The eye reads many types of "texts"
  • Simple tools and techniques can aid understanding
  • Emphasis, typography, hue, layout, and balance are key
Source: ASIDE 2015

We recently had the privilege of discussing these ideas with the faculty of the Department Of Reading And Basic Education at Nassau Community College (NCC) in New York. It was a pleasure speaking to them for their spring professional development. Our session was entitled, "The Benefits Of Good Design: Simple Strategies For Creating Elegant and Effective Materials To Engage Students." All of the slides, links, and resources from our presentation can be found here.

Many thanks to the warm and welcoming educators at NCC for inviting us and for being such gracious hosts. It was a pleasure sharing ideas and exploring the potential of visuals to make a difference in the lives of learners. We look forward to staying in touch and continuing the dialogue about design!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Inspiration Plus Creativity Equals Innovative Teaching And Learning

Source: ASIDE, 2015
Education is smack in the middle of an earth swell of change. No matter how hard the system tries to maintain a rigid set of evaluative assessments, something has to give. Otherwise, we will lose too many teachers over restrictions, and worse, too many young people who know that outside of school the freedom to learn, experiment, and create exists.

Source: ASIDE, 2015
Sure, we know that the fundamentals of reading and writing are key to understanding complex information. We are not advocates for throwing the baby out with the bath water. But perhaps the recent change in Finland to dump teaching subjects in favor of topics should send shockwaves through a system that constantly tries to reinvent itself with nothing more than new standards.

Source: ASIDE, 2015
One of our mantras over the last few years with our learners has been to, “Look at more stuff. Think about it harder.” We don’t claim to take this as our own, but recently we felt compelled to revisit one of our favorite books, Look At More: A Proven Approach to Innovation, Growth, and Change, by Andy Stefanovich.

While we know that schools are not businesses, we also know that the insights Stefanovich tries to bring to companies apply to any institution with the desire to promote innovative thinking. His ideas and concepts cross over into any discipline. His fundamental formula:

 I + C = I, or Inspiration + Creativity = Innovation


This equation also applies to education. We seek to inspire our learners to use creative thinking to come up with innovative ideas; likewise, we hope to do the same with our approach to teaching.

To inspire others is, after all, why we teach. We rely on inspiration as the fuel for engagement. Just like a business, we want to encourage an environment of productivity for learners. To do this, we can no longer sacrifice inspiration for efficiency.

Source: ASIDE, 2015
The framework behind LAMSTAIH includes five key drivers, including mood, mindset, mechanisms, measurement, and momentum to push the thinking and change the behavior in order to extract new ideas.

The concept behind each “M” not only provides a way for leadership to look at the needs of an institution, but it also helps to promote innovative ways of teaching and learning. Educational conversations circle around many of the same ideas.

So perhaps we could learn a thing or two by looking at more, including the insightful description of the three kinds of curators mentioned the book. On the one hand we have the traditionalist, who is the keeper of objects with the role of making sure that people of the future benefit from the collection of knowledge, and the Zeitgeist curator, who captures the essence of today and connects it to the not too distant future. This sounds like the role of the teacher. And then there is the hunter-gatherer curator, who constantly searches for anything that interests him or her and shares it with the world. Sound familiar? This represents most of the learners we teach.

Source: ASIDE, 2015
So where are teachers and learners as curators? More importantly, where do we want to be? At the moment, many educators are in the middle, yet our students outside of school are hunting and gathering.

Life-long learning is far more like the migrating hunter-gatherer, and technology has opened that door. We need to harness that energy, that inspiration, and that understanding of the power of connections to explore ideas. We can’t keep kids from exploring, connecting, and learning; we want them to be inspired, creative, and innovative.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Only Those Who Dare – Motivating Kids To Think Like Entrepreneurs

Source: ASIDE, 2015

We’re in the midst of our fifth season working with our elementary students on the entrepreneur project-based learning unit. Even with the flexibility in our curriculum to teach, we still find that each year it gets harder to get kids to extend themselves, to take a risk, and to dare to be different.

Not that a car commercial could change all that, but lucky for us, Cadillac launched its new ads during the Academy Awards to promote its latest luxury sedan. In all four commercials, the last frame appears with the line:

 “Only those who dare drive the world forward.” 

We wrote it on the board without the credit line. Surprisingly, kids, teachers, and even some administrators who visited the classroom remarked about the statement. Of course, we then gave credit to Cadillac. By not associating the carmaker with the word “drive,” it changed the interpretation of the quote, making it a far more powerful statement about human motivation.



Most of our students didn’t realize that the carmaker was a 112-year-old company, nor that the association with the word “dare” represented a company not afraid to reinvent itself by making connections with other innovators such as fashion designer Jason Wu, “Boyhood” director Richard Linklater, and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. It even promoted the social media connection with its #DareGreatly hashtag. Needless to say, it became our mantra for the spring. Those who dare to think, see, and do things differently change the way we think.

We piggybacked “The Daring, No Regrets” video from Cadillac with the motion graphic “What Is Innovation?”, designed by Rafa Galeano and written by Fast Company blogger David Brier. Brier’s post on the making of this video describes his own inspiration for the theme and the motivation to use his essay to make a motion graphic on innovation for others.



It provided our students with another view of how ideas, from the discovery of fire to their own electronic devices, came from the motivation of others who saw the potential in their creations.

Perhaps the last four lines of this video drive home the point we want our kids to understand:

"So what is innovation?
Those other dots.

The ones others miss.

And having the certainty to know that the dots you see are not only valid, but necessary if the world is to move forward."

Providing opportunities for students to see the potential of others driven by need, or a desire, helps them to let go, to dare. We want them to not only see the possibilities of being an entrepreneur, but also to embrace the notion that it can be a reality. That’s when we showed them 11-year-old Lily Born’s Kangaroo Cup. That made the most impact on the kids and their ideas.


NO SPILL CUP from Bryan Munoz on Vimeo.

Lily wanted to build a better cup to help her grandfather who has Parkinson's disease. Lily's advice to fellow pre-teen entrepreneurs actually applies to all ages: "Don’t freak out if you screw up or fail, because you’ll fail a lot before you get it right." She also says, "Don't be afraid to ask for help." She used her ingenuity to rethink how best to change an ordinary cup to help others. She dared to make a change and never gave up on her idea. This video made an impact on the students.

With a little ingenuity, Lily redesigned an ordinary cup to function for someone with special needs. More importantly, she started making prototypes at the age of eight. It took three years and plenty of iterations before going to market.

Source: Imagiroo

Creativity takes time, and it’s not a simply "point and click." Cultivating that initial idea remains the hardest part for our young entrepreneurs. We push them to think beyond the craft kit, bake sale, or carnival game. Frustration often sets in because immediate gratification isn’t the name of the game. It takes hard work, failure, and perseverance.

Accepting feedback, or a simple, "no, that idea won’t work," sends some off in tears. They come back. Some build a prototype to prove their idea works, some return with a new iteration based on an earlier model, and others completely scrap an idea for a new one. Great! This is exactly what we want. We only have a semester, not three years, but nudging them out of their comfort zones is all part of the process. And sometimes, it’s not an easy thing for many a 10 year-old.

Steering learners away from settling on the status quo forces them to see the potential of taking a chance on their ideas. Dare to be different, dare to take a risk, and dare greatly. As educators, we believe it will foster their entrepreneurial spirit for a lifetime.

Monday, April 6, 2015

How To Teach Visual Thinking – 5 Strategies From Around The Web

Source: ASIDE, 2015

The misconceptions about visual thinking are alarming. On one hand, this critical skill seems integral for contemporary learning, since almost every modern input is visual in nature. Yet this key proficiency seems almost entirely absent from state standards and daily classroom lessons.

Is visual thinking just a polite nod to Howard Gardner's quaint modalities? Or is it a genuine habit of learning that unites the external codes of pictorial metaphor and digital imagery into a seasoned curriculum of higher-level interpretation?

Source: ASIDE, 2015

Visual thinking is a close partner to graphicacy, which is a spectrum of analytical tools to decode and encode pictures. Luckily, many educators on the web have shared strategies for reaching children via optical data.

Here are five terrific presentations about the power of visuals to craft a layered approach toward teaching with creative design. Each of these slideshows offers a specialized take on graphic learning. They would all be valuable resources for educator professional development or for regular practice with children.

Visual Thinking Presentation




Visual Thinking And The Writing Process




Visual Thinking For Brainstorming, Planning, Learning, Collaborating, Harvesting




An Introduction To Visual Thinking




Visual Thinking Help



Wednesday, April 1, 2015

April Fool’s Day – A Little Bit Of History

Source: History Channel

With cabin fever at an all time high in our students from what seems to be the never-ending chilly weather, we fully expect to get our fair share of practical jokes today on April Fool’s Day. We will no doubt try a few pranks ourselves on them as well.

But, as history teachers, we inevitably look for ways to give them a little bit of history about the day. The "Ask History: April Fools" video produced by the History Channel has the answers to how practical jokes became associated with April 1, complete with a little prank at the end.



For a little April Fool’s Day math, check out this graphic from Forbes on who is most likely to get fooled. By all accounts from the Harris poll survey, bosses are safe. We wonder if that will pan out for teachers, too. It might be a good opportunity to poll the students electronically using Kahoot to see whom they would put on their lists.

Source: Forbes

We hope our readers have a fun-filled day. There's no April Fools in that!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Renderforest: An Amazing Tool For Students & Teachers To Create Motion Graphic Videos

Source: Renderforest

Motion graphics are some of the most effective learning tools today. Sometimes called explainer videos or animated infographics, these multi-sensory clips deliver information in a high-octane fashion that appeals to all of the learning modalities.

These colorful, spirited videos combine voice, images, and kinetic typography to employ all of the brain's receptors in internalizing ideas. They elevate static infographics to a whole other plane. Here are some of the best motion graphics for classroom and individual learning:


Source: Renderforest

Even more powerful than watching an explainer video is creating one's own animation. We recently produced our first, professional-quality motion graphic, called "What Is Graphicacy?" These types of films can teach a lesson or bring a project to life or demonstrate mastery of a concept. Until recently, complex videos like these were the sole purview of trained graphic artists. Now, teachers and students alike can design and publish their own motion infographics with simple, elegant, free interfaces. Adobe Voice has long been one of our favorite apps for making videos, but Renderforest kicks the options and energy up to a higher level.

Renderforest is a web tool that offers a range of easy yet powerful templates for producing videos. Signing up for an account is free. Within minutes, you can be publishing your own content. The templates walk a perfect balance between customized choice and preset parameters. You have a range of selections in style and length of video, and you can then select a color theme to unite the presentation. Each slide has text elements that you can personalize, and the magic of Renderforest turns everything into a lively animation.


Renderforest: An ultimate Video Maker from Renderforest on Vimeo.

Originally intended for business users, Renderforest has enormous potential for education. Its subtle options in are its best. You can pick from its list of background musical tracks, all of which are nice. Or you can upload your own tunes and voiceover. In other words, any recording you have produced can be added to their frames. You can invite students to record podcasts or narrations, or use Garageband to layer original music with audio tracks. The app-smashing potential is tremendous.

When you export your finished product, you can easily go back and edit any element. The free option features a basic video quality with a company watermark in the corner. You can, therefore, show student or teacher videos in class for no charge. If you would like to choose from the HD playbacks, or download your film, there are modest pricing options available.

Source: Renderforest

We had no trouble designing our video, recording the audio in one take, converting it to HD, downloading it, and then uploading it to Vimeo in a surprisingly brief period of time.

This act of creating motion graphics nudges both students and teachers to blend a host of proficiencies. It involves visual design in colors and templates, just as it requires language skills of narration and storytelling. It supports key technological skills in manipulating online media, and it reinforces the importance of publishing in sharing child creations with peers and parents. Kids teaching kids is the purest model of learning. Renderforest allows them to produce permanent instructional videos that can reach global audiences and live on after their own school years have ended.


How to create motion graphic videos for free? Renderforest for Business from Renderforest on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

10 Ways To Use The Meerkat Streaming Video App In Education

Source: Meerkat

The new Meerkat app has taken the tech world by storm. Especially in the cubicles of Silicon Valley and the newsrooms of political sites, early adopters of Meerkat are trying to figure out how this real-time streaming video app will transform both social media and news reporting.

In the run-up to the 2016 presidential campaign, major news personalities have been signing up for Meerkat like their jobs depend on it — and maybe they do. Now, no political candidate is safe from a phone’s camera lens. More than ever before, any citizen solider can become a news maker. Just like the Internet heralded the slow demise of the daily print newspaper, Meerkat may spell the end of corporate news conglomerates.

Source: Meerkat
Essentially, Meerkat merges the best of real-time video sources into one app. It is a combination of FaceTime, Skype, Vine, Instagram, and Google Hangouts. It makes any person with an iPhone capable of broadcasting live TV. 

Once you authorize Meerkat, all of your Twitter followers will see your video, live, immediately in their stream. The video is saved on your device, but for your followers, à la SnapChat, the video disappears after airing. Because it piggybacks onto your already existing Twitter network, Meerkat has no barriers to entry. Your current followers will see whatever you are broadcasting. Compared to prior technologies, it elevates a time-delayed recording or a static photograph into an instantaneous, interpersonal communication.

The possibilities for using Meerkat in education are only beginning to emerge. Here are 10 possible uses for the Meerkat app in the classroom or in working with students in general:

  1. Real-time streaming of class lessons to kids who are absent or at home
  2. Genuine remote learning for children in rural or inaccessible environments
  3. Super-chats of study groups before tests and quizzes
  4. Global connections across continents for widespread cohorts of schools and learners
  5. In-the-moment broadcasts of school plays, sporting events, and assemblies for families
  6. Authentic connections for working parents to classroom events like speeches and projects
  7. Sincere professional development for teachers to join educational conferences remotely
  8. Democratization of TED talks and other "experts" to reach all audiences without webinars
  9. Immediate access to major news stories and current events on mobile devices
  10. Tracking of political candidates for 2016 in history and Social Studies classes

Source: Meerkat
Meerkat follows the same privacy safeguards as Twitter. There are, however, potential risks in welcoming Meerkat into the classroom. These concerns echo similar abuse of apps like SnapChat, Yik Yak, and others, but to a possibly magnified degree. For example, if a student were to broadcast live video from the locker room, or during an altercation, or without peer permission, it could lead to serious ramifications. Like all use of social media, though, regular and meaningful education regarding digital citizenship can help young people avoid improper usage and instead reap the benefits of its learning potential.
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