Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Born Digitals Love To Make Things – Vintage Matters!

Source: ASIDE 2016

Born digitals deftly use technology; for them, it just is. Yet we constantly see discussions, blog posts, and articles about where and whether we should integrate technology, how it should be done, does it motivate learners, etc. We are decades past this discussion. Of course technology feeds motivation. What else would — filling in worksheets, taking linear notes, or sitting through text-laden PowerPoint presentations?

Education seems to view technology as something separate. It’s not for us, nor is it for our students. We use our devices all the time, and so do they. In fact, they approach technology fearlessly and can find workarounds with little trouble. Internet down? No problem. They set up hot spots using their phones to work on their iPads. Looking for contact information? No problem. They conduct a Google image search to connect to a LinkedIn profile. Need to send a direct message? No problem.  They do it through social media. We've witnessed all of these scenarios with our middle schoolers.

So why do we now see a surge in kids regarding making things with their hands as so exciting? Simple. They rarely enjoy opportunities to do this type of work anymore in most classrooms across the country. Few students experience “free play.” They live in a play date world of scheduled activities and rarely take risks without a helmet and harness.

Physically designing, building, prototyping, and testing things they construct is the novelty, not the technology. Most of them have grown up using tech since infancy. It’s a no-brainer to search to find information or watch a YouTube video for ideas, tutorials, and entertainment. But to actually make something is the memorable part. It’s what John Spencer describes in his video entitled "Kids Need Vintage Tools."



Vintage does not mean old; instead, it refers to something of high quality and lasting value about a particular object from the past. We see the lasting value in balancing high tech with high touch in our curricula, and we make room every chance we can to incorporate it. This includes hand-drawing maps, constructing early farming settlements outside, or planning community villages. Our students may use technology in the process to document their work, but what they remember most is making it. They use vintage tools all right, including pencils, paint, and glue. They love it.

So while we applaud, integrate, and depend on technology using any device, in the end what we find is using tactile materials changes the way students feel about their creations. We don’t slight tech at all; in fact, we love it. We would argue that today's heightened interest in robotics is not in using the technology to program, but instead in actually watching the robots come alive. This applies to creating stop-motion movies, designing apps, and creating computer games. Each of these endeavors turns out a product in the end. The process in making any one of these, however, is the addictive part and the one that is most remembered. Making matters.

Our high tech born digitals may just thrive on high touch even more!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Can Maps Save The Planet? The Interactive Geography Of Crisis

Source: Loveland

Most famous maps capture a snapshot in time. Mercator’s Projection, Blaue’s Atlas Maior, John Smith’s Virginia — they all signal the cartography of an era. These geographies trumpet discovery and location. They welcome ornamentation. But they do not invite interaction. And they never change.

The blessings of technology today mean that maps now breathe in constant updates. The ability to track global changes and inform visual displays in real-time turns children and adults into earth monitors. Interactive geography provides unprecedented access to world data streams, such that humanitarian and ecological crises can be pinpointed in exact, colorful, dynamic degree.

The following resources have been painstakingly and brilliantly assembled by dedicated activists and educators. Each visual tool allows teachers, students, and viewers to explore past, present, and future conditions based on a host of critical criteria.

Flint Water Map


Source: Loveland

The Flint Water Map, by Loveland Technologies, provides a searchable database of 6000 residential lead samples from this hard-hit Michigan town. The relevant, valuable interface combines a color-coded visual field with a detailed, house-by-house catalog of lead testing results. The tool is easy to use for both Flint residents and interested students who are concerned about the state of localized health. It is a model of geographic action for public purpose.

Draining California


Source: National Geographic

National Geographic has once again produced a stellar interactive about history and geography. This scrolling motion graphic traces the idiosyncrasies of California's water supply. It pinpoints the causes of the state's current drought, and it highlights the importance of groundwater, snowmelt, reserves, and cultivation in managing the pipeline to the people.

Global Forest Watch


Source: Global Forest Watch

The highly customizable map by Global Forest Watch melds multiple data sources into one terrifically educational (and at times terrifying) survey of tree cover, land use, conservation, and population. The options are too many to list here, but they include Google Earth resolutions, specific country statistics, timeline progressions, and zoomable analyses. This is a great first landing site for teachers and students interested in displaying how the world's forests are changing over time.

World Air Quality Index


Source: World Air Quality

This index by World Air Quality employs an understated map of colored tags to let data be the star. Every flag reveals vital statistics for a global locale: the air quality index (AQI), air pollution level, health risks, and cautionary statements. Together, these figures furnish a revealing look at how atmospheric pollution can have concrete effects on the well-being of cities and citizens.

Unnatural Coastal Floods


Source: Climate Central

"The Human Fingerprints On Coastal Floods," by Climate Central, is a compelling article that includes a clear interactive graphic about the flooding of American cities. The clickable map projects graphs of year-over-year increases in sea levels. For example, since 1950, parts of the Chesapeake Bay have seen water levels rise by a foot, directly due to human influence.

Climate Time Machine


Source: NASA

The Climate Time Machine from NASA is beguilingly simple at first glance. Upon deeper digging, though, the different interactives prove their complexity. The high-octane maps reveal historic transformations in sea ice, water levels, carbon emissions, and global temperatures. The site is a data gold mine of evidence to rebut those who claim that climate change is just unproven fear-mongering, rather than an immediate cause for concerted global action.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Power Of Student-Made Videos - Easy Apps For Projects & Primary Sources

Source: ASIDE 2016

The use of videos in learning is no longer exceptional. Whether via classroom viewing, flipped instruction, or self-directed YouTube searches, kids expect a multimedia accompaniment to their otherwise humdrum lectures and daily note-taking.

Having students create their own videos upgrades the internalization of ideas to a much more nuanced level. Inviting learners to produce their own content is the difference between input and output, content and skills, decoding and encoding, passivity and activity. 

Luckily, an array of user-friendly (and largely free) websites and apps has made it easy to incorporate video projects into any humanities or scientific classroom. For example, we’ve written before about how much we like Adobe Voice and Renderforest in giving students agency over their own learning.



Source: Magisto
One of our favorite (and effortless) apps for creating videos is Magisto. Intended as an automatic editor, Magisto’s algorithm self-selects the best parts of your video clips and images, and it splices them together into a stunning finished product. Even using only still photos, the app does a magnificent job of melding photographs into a powerful short film. Yes, there are free and paid options, but the free version offers a nice buffet of styles and songs to allow for customization. In addition, setting up student accounts is a breeze, with no concerns for firewalls or emails.

In our history classroom, we’ve used Magisto to particularly worthwhile effect in studying primary sources. For example, in our investigation of assimilation and the Dawes Act in the American West, our eighth-graders examined the photographs of Edward S. Curtis in his documentation of Native Americans. Among historians, Curtis owns a difficult legacy. On one hand, he was the only Easterner who committed years of his life to record and preserve the vanishing tribes of the continent’s First Peoples. On the other hand, he posed his subjects in deliberately disingenuous headdresses, choreographed untimely rituals, and removed contemporary technologies from the photographs he thought should speak only to yesteryear.

Whether “true” or not, Curtis’ choices invite valuable conversations about historiography and ethnography. In the end, all photographs involve making choices. They are, therefore, by nature artificial. Every kid who frames and retouches an Instagram snapshot knows this. All primary sources, in this mold, are less-than perfect, because they all emerge from the lens of their creator. But does that detract from their value as illuminating historical relics? Or put differently: the lesson here is for students of history to be rightfully skeptical, while still appreciating the value of evidence.

Using Magisto, our eighth-graders made videos with Curtis’ photos, using the following determinations:
  • Selection - which images would properly relate to their theme?
  • Sequence - what progression would make sense from start to finish?
  • Style - what editing suite would complement the intended mood?
  • Music - what instrumentation would add value to the theme?
  • Text - what title and summary would help teach others?
  • Tone - what overall feeling or motif would wed the images together?



The father of data visualization, Edward Tufte, likes to say that 1 + 1 = 3. He refers primarily to white space and spatial adjacency. But another corollary suggests that when combined, two visual elements create a third sense of meaning simply because of their union. The marriage of two parts establishes a separate sensibility via their juxtaposition. Nowhere is this more true than in producing videos. The images, text, editing, soundtrack, transitions, and effects all fuse together to give birth to a wholly original animal that is more than the sum of its parts.

When kids design their own films, they become the educators of their peers. They must stitch together a narrative and storyboard each moment in a process that combines logical reasoning, cause-and-effect, and content mastery. They also must employ their graphicacy skills to fashion compelling and appealing visual displays. On a most basic level, students also genuinely like making movies. It’s a low-cost, high-reward project that gets them excited to dive into primary sources and eager to engage with the material.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Worldwide Water Crisis - Animated Motion Graphics To Educate About The Earth

Source: Kasra Design

Students are always the first to want to care for Mother Earth. At our school’s Earth Day planting event on Friday, the kids asked why we didn’t do this more often — why we didn’t tend the gardens and grow vegetables and think about composting, recycling, and conservation on a more consistent basis.

The ensuing discussion led to questions about water. Each day seems to bring new headlines about the crisis in Flint or California, not to mention the global droughts that affect millions of people. Few people realize that only 2.5 percent of all the water on earth is fresh water. And two-thirds of that fresh water is locked in glaciers and ice caps, leaving only 1 percent to sustain the 7 billion inhabitants.

Source: Kasra Design

Think of the inordinate amount of water we use every day through drinking, cooking, bathing, cleaning, producing food, making products, and generating electricity. It takes 2400 liters of water just to make one hamburger.

A terrifically produced explainer video from Kasra Design, called "Precious Water - Animation Awareness," brings these startling facts to life through a kid-friendly cartoon. The motion graphic, seemingly made for the Iranian Butane Industrial Group, offers 10 ways each of us can make a difference in conservation. These kind of tips resonate with students, because they require little sacrifice but offer a big reward.

Precious Water - Awareness Animation from Kasra Design on Vimeo.

Aside from the obvious advice of not running water while brushing teeth or not letting toilet leaks last too long, there are some clever ideas. For example, if we reduce our shower times by just 60 seconds, we can save 570 liters of water a month.

Source: Matter

Another compelling motion graphic about the water crisis here in the United States is "Groundwater and the Drought: How the West Is Miscounting Water Supplies." Created by Jons Mellgren and Anna Mantzaris for "Killing The Colorado," a collaboration between ProPublica and Matter, this stop-motion video not only points out the facts behind our nation's water supply, but it also proposes genuine solutions at the governmental level. The design is appealing and cute for a wide range of young viewers, to get them excited early about working for lasting change.

Groundwater and the Drought: How the West Is Miscounting Water Supplies from Matter on Vimeo.

For other animated explainer videos to teach about STEM and the environment, check out:

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Build It - Project-Based Learning In Full Bloom

Source: ASIDE 2016
The library makerspace was in full bloom this year, giving our students an amazing opportunity to learn by doing. They were encouraged to use a variety of applications to explore different ways to demonstrate their academic abilities as they related to curricula thematic units. The finished products were anything but projects; they combined informational, visual, and spatial literacies, and they actively pushed students to think critically and solve problems.

Source: ASIDE 2016
As with any project-based learning experience, it required collaboration. The nursery, Kindergarten, second-grade teachers, and librarians worked together to design an interactive, hands-on unit to engage students on multiple levels throughout the process. The following projects represent a symphony of parts, but most of all, they could not have culminated into this extraordinary learning experience for the students without an incredible group of dedicated friends and colleagues.

Source: ASIDE 2016
Teachers Elizabeth Wakhale and Lori Zwick described it this way: “The nursery children worked in the library makerspace with librarian, Stephanie Temple, to transform everyday materials into upcycled instruments. The inspiration came from the book entitled The Animal Boogie, by Debbie Harter, where they listened to the sounds of the rainforest. Tissue boxes became guitars, oatmeal containers became drums, paper towel rolls became rain sticks, and egg cartons became bell shakers. Their imaginations soared, and the sky was the limit.” The children will play their musical instruments in their outdoor celebration of Earth Day and the rainforest in the campus amphitheater at the end of the week.

Source: ASIDE 2016
The students in Kindergarten used engineering skills to create blue prints of world landmarks by deconstructing the shapes of buildings, finding the materials they needed to build them, and erecting the structures in three-dimensional forms. Geography was an integral part of the learning process. The students studied the continents and made map keys to mark where each of the landmarks was located.

The Kindergarteners learned about community helpers with their teachers Marybeth Horne and Jessica Shippos. This project was a way for them to see how community builders must have worked together to construct important cultural landmarks. “It was amazing to see how the students carefully deconstructed the different geometric shapes for their blueprints to figure out they materials they needed to build their own creations,” said librarian, Stephanie Temple.

Source: ASIDE 2016

Source: ASIDE 2016
The second graders became urban planners and architectural engineers to answer the question, “Where Do People Live?” They used a variety of visual tools such as sketchnotes and mapping to plan their physical urban, suburban, and rural communities. This involved visually transferring a two-dimensional map into a three-dimensional environment.

The second grade teachers, Stefani Rosenthal and Jessica Raffaele, had the students document the communities by taking photographs on their iPads. They imported the images into the Book Creator app in which they reflected in writing on the needs of a community and the type of community in which they would like to live. It was a perfect combination of “High Tech, High Touch.”

Source: ASIDE 2016
Our “Build It” after school program was also a big hit. The whimsical robots and imaginary landscapes captured the hearts and minds of everyone. It was an amazing experience for the students to see their handiwork on display. It was the school hot spot for the week, with lots of photo opportunities with their creations.

Most of all, nothing limited their creativity. When the exhibition opened, the students could not have been prouder, nor could we.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Classroom Sleeper – Are We Paying Attention?

Source: Michael Wesch
We’ve all had students in our classes over the years who sat in the back to put their heads down to sleep. This is not the student we’ve referred to as the “understudent,” who waits in the wings or quietly sits in the shadows of the room doing the required work. We’re not talking about the quiet ones, the introverts, or the “low verbals” either. The “sleeper” is different.

We recently showed a group of students preparing public service announcements one of our favorite videos called the "Vision of Students Today," produced in 2007 by Michael Wesch, for its effective way to deliver a powerful message. That’s when we discovered his recent animated video titled “The Sleeper.”



The message hit home. We’re positive that educators experienced the same frustration as the teacher in the animation, and perhaps even thought that the sleeper deliberately set out to annoy us. Some may have wondered if the student disengaged because of boredom, or questioned whether it was the material or their teaching style. For others, it’s personal and exasperating.


Source: Michael Wesch
Why are sleepers so unsettling?

Are they not paying attention, or are we?

How sensitive are we to students who disengage?


This becomes our challenge!

We should not be so quick to judge, or make assumptions about why they're tired. If we never stop to ask, we may never know the hidden talents that push students to stay up late to create something they are passionate about through sheer desire.

In an education system too focused on narrow pursuits, it misses the strengths, the interests, and the opportunities for not only the sleeper, but also for every other student as well.

Source: Michael Wesch
We need to stop and ask, make it personal, and tap curiosity. When we do, we just might find out something that surprises us.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Why Design Matters For Educators And Learners

Source: ASIDE 2016
We just finished attending the New York College Learning Skills Association (NYCLSA) Symposium in Saratoga. We met impressive educators who shared their expertise and resources, and we presented “Design Gives Context To Content To Engage Learners.” The following is an excerpt of why we feel so passionate about this topic.

The harmony between form and function not only applies to design, but it also relates to the synergy between educator and learner. It supports both. Good design of information guides the attention of our students, creating a relationship between context and content. It allows for engagement without distraction.

Design Matters, because it can:

  • Steer the eye of the viewer
  • Remove the noise and congestion
  • Separate ideas into succinct areas
  • Create a consistency across materials
  • Align information for clarity
  • Establish a hierarchy of content
  • Make information easier to navigate

Design plays an integral part in the skills of graphicacy, visual literacy, and visual thinking. If companies spend billions of dollars on advertising to grab our attention, it would make sense for educators to think about information design as well. With the growing industry of online learning, how we incorporate visual information makes a difference not only in the way a student engages with the content, but also how he or she comprehends the information over the long run.

Source: ASIDE 2016
Attention, comprehension, and retention, or “ARC,” are inextricably linked when the visual information is included in the overall design of content. It’s why people and kids remember commercial, jingles, logos, and brands. The connection increases engagement with the material, making it memorable. The more we incorporate these aspects into our teacher toolkit, as well as in the options that students have to deliver content, the deeper the link to the material.

Source: ASIDE 2016


Design can influence the perception of information, the visual communication, and the engagement with text. It enables learners to make associations, and it provides opportunities for greater understanding.
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