Thursday, March 5, 2015

If Parents Can Work From Home, Why Can't Students? A Snow Day Doesn't Have To Be A "No" Day

Source: ASIDE 2015

We have another snow day today. The relentless snow this winter has forced many schools into crisis mode. Teachers are panicking about missed curriculum and make-up days. But with today’s access to mobile technology, shouldn’t there be a middle ground between all or nothing learning? Genuine remote learning should be a regular practice, not just a prediction. Even amid record-breaking blizzards, a snow day shouldn't have to be a “no” day.

Students frequently get sick and miss school. Consider, too, how many times you've seen a kid in your classroom who really shouldn’t be there. He has his head down, or has bags under his eyes, or has his mind clearly elsewhere. How many times have you noticed a student who truly needs a break? She's been burning the candle at both ends, or has been bearing the weight of a bully, or has been negotiating a tough family situation.

Source: ASIDE 2015

A kid sometimes needs a personal day. It used to be that a student’s absence meant a day of missed learning. Today, this not only seems strange, it seems unforgivable.

For parents, “working from home” is a common occurrence. Many companies have no problem with their employees telecommuting at a distance, staying in contact via phone, email, and instant message. With all of the dynamic digital tools available to schools today, why can’t students work from home? Many teachers post all of their assignments online anyway.

Source: ASIDE 2015

Video conferencing and social media and collaborative documents all offer easy avenues to engage a class of home-bound leaners. Many teachers use these resources daily inside of the classroom. Why can’t these tools also be tapped to coordinate a corps of kids, either in real-time or at the students’ own paces? 

Backchanneling, for example, has emerged as a valuable way to invite feedback and questions during an in-class lesson. If we can turn backchannels into forechannels, then we can transform these supplemental tools into primary vehicles for distance education.

Tools for remote learning:

Sources: Company Logos

  • TodaysMeet - The leading real-time channel, TodaysMeet creates discussion groups for instant message communication.
  • Twitter - The ultimate social media tool for education, Twitter mimics the classroom environment with chats, text, links, images, and videos.
  • - Both teachers and students can create a 30-second audio file with a url that can be embedded in a backchannel, website, or tweet.
  • Remind - This free way for teachers to text students protects everyone's privacy and instantly reaches kids on their phones.
  • - creates individual social networks via its texting feature that can be moderated directly from a smartphone.

Sources: Company Logos

  • Verso - Flipped learning with Verso can include videos, images, or links in self-contained classes with rich commenting features.
  • eduCanon - This site collects videos from across the web and allows teachers to add flipped learning elements.
  • EDpuzzle - Teachers can crop videos and add questions and explanations to fit any age group.
  • Zaption - Zaption makes videos interactive by adding assessments.
  • audioBoom - Teachers can record podcasts to pass lessons on to students, and kids can capture their own answers, readings, or projects.

Sources: Company Logos

  • Nearpod - The teacher guides the presentation, and students on their own devices see the slides progress as they interact from anywhere with polls and assessments.
  • Issuu - Intended to publish webzines, Issuu turns any .pdf into a scrolling web document for students to read and save at their leisure.
  • iBooks Author - The ability to publish customized content on iBooks is becoming easier and easier.
  • Wikispaces - Still one of the most flexible platforms for a class website, Wikispaces accepts any media and any embedded content.

Sources: Company Logos

  • Skype - Teachers can broadcast themselves in full video and audio to reach students in their homes.
  • Facetime - As more and more schools opt for iPads and Apple TVs, Facetime provides an easy way to videoconference.
  • Google+ Hangouts - Multiple participants from any device can come together in a live-streaming video chat.

Sources: Company Logos

  • Google Docs - Google Drive keeps getting better and better, and the real-time collaboration is still the industry standard for essays, presentations, and spreadsheets.
  • Padlet - Padlet is an infinitely customizable public space with customized urls to post text, links, images, videos, and student projects.
  • Dropbox - The larger storage capacity of Dropbox makes it ideal for file-sharing.
  • Email - When in doubt, simple email can allow students and teachers to swap instructions, questions, and assignments.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Design Principles For Students As They Create Visual Projects And Digital Stories

Source: DesignMantic (click for full-size image)

Students are producing more projects than ever before. The proliferation of visual apps and the access to easy tech tools have allowed learners to create all sorts of digital stories and custom graphics. Yet, as Marvel Comics teaches us, with great power comes great responsibility.

It is tempting to assume that because children are growing up in a visual world, they automatically know how to decode and encode optical inputs. This proficiency is known as graphicacy, which is the key to visual thinking in a differentiated classroom. If educators are going to ask students to design posters and slideshows, then they also need to guide young learners in the skills of effective design. Any teacher who has seen children layer neon pink fonts on top of vertiginous purple backgrounds knows that kids don't innately grasp the keys to clean layouts.

Source: DesignMantic (click for full-size image)

The logo design firm DesignMantic has published a series of extremely helpful infographics to help budding artists generate successful visuals. Even though these placards are intended for marketing and business purposes, they perfectly suit the needs of teachers looking for classroom resources.

DesignMantic's graphic of the "15 Golden Principles Of Visual Hierarchy" marches through a framework for art and imagination. As the firm notes:

"Visual hierarchy ... offers to your eyes visual assistance, suggesting to them, what information to linger on to, as your vision glides through it. It lays down a path for the data to flow in, to get absorbed into the brain smoothly. It guides the human eye from one element of the data to the next, like an invisible pointer moving through the data, to keep the reader free of any visual fatigue."

Source: DesignMantic (click for full-size image)

The company also offers a primer in "The 10 Commandments Of Visual Communication." Much like its tenets for quality logos, these guidelines range from line and font choices to arrangement and sizing tips. In essence, it provides "a layperson’s handbook of visual communication." It reminds us of similar advice from "The Design Of Project-Based Learning - Color Theory For Web 3.0."

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Heart-Shaped Maps - Valentine Primary Sources

Source: Wikipedia - Oronce Fine, 1531
It wasn’t until our students started making heart-shaped worlds as part of a way to promote peace that we wondered if there were any historical references. To our surprise, there were plenty. One of the earliest heart-shaped (cordiform) map projections by Oronce Fine, a French mathematician and cartographer, was created in the sixteenth century. According to Wikipedia, this might have been his most famous illustration and one that influenced other cartographers, such as Peter Apian and Gerardus Mercator.

We love when something our learners do triggers a curiosity in us. Instead of showing our students the many infographics we’ve collected about Valentine’s Day that tabulate the amount of money spent by men and women on items such as flowers, chocolate, and jewelry, we chose to show these beautiful heart-shaped maps that so wholly connected to their designs. As expected, our students delighted in seeing the connection to their creations, especially since they had no idea of their connections to history.

We uncovered other examples of cordiform map projections that obviously take their influence from Oronce Fine's beautiful cartographic design. The maps below, illustrated by Giovanni Cimerlino and Pierre Moulart Sanson, were done more than a century apart.

Source: Rare Maps (Left) and Britain (Right)
Two more recent uses of the heart-shaped map appeared on stamps issued in the United States (1991) and Venezuela (1972). We wonder if the graphic artists knew of Oronce Fine's hand-drawn map of 1531.
Source: Dan's Topical Stamps
The "Love" stamp from the United States does not necessarily represent a cordiform projection, whereas the stamp from Venezuela celebrating World Health Day more closely resembles the heart-shaped designs from the fifteenth century.

Source: Biographile
As we probed the Internet for other examples, we discovered a heart-shaped map of Seattle from 1905 and one of the New York City subway system from 2008.

These maps clearly illustrate the change in design from one era to another. The map of Seattle represents a more typical illustration at the turn of the twentieth century, whereas the subway map, completed more than a century later, closely follows the style of a modern visual illustration or infographic.
Source: Zero Per Zero

Sometimes it's the innocence of children that triggers inquiry in adults. We attribute our curiosity to them. Finding other models based on their creativity led to the discovery of historical references. Connecting history through primary sources reinforced their global view of the world.

With the continued onslaught of violence and terrorism in the news, we could all use a little more heart.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Creating Logos With Students - Understanding Visual Metaphor And Symbolic Meaning

Source: DesignMantic (click for full-size image)
Logos are short-hand, visual cues that companies use to evoke their brands. Effective logos represent automatic associations between a corporation and a customer. They connect a unique icon with an emotional reaction.

This type of tidy pictorial design can also be employed to winning effect in the classroom. Students can use logos to study visual metaphors and symbolic meanings. They can experiment with thesis and synthesis, in boiling down a range of meanings into a concise, original image.

Source: ASIDE 2015
History students, for example, can sketch logos to embody specific presidents or time periods. We had our U.S. history classes brainstorm logos for the era of the Great Depression. The designs featured in this post range from a juxtaposition of the Empire State Building going up while the stock market goes down, to a financial Dust Bowl of lost dollars.

In studying literature, learners can similarly design logos to accompany a book or a character. It's no surprise that the Hunger Games mockingjay pin became so popular among fans. Science students can draft logos for key principles or elements, or global thinkers can draw emblems to capture current events.

Source: ASIDE 2015
By translating their understanding into self-created icons, students can climb a level in their comprehension, from decoding to encoding. They can capture the essential significance or recurring tropes via clever designs that will in turn help educate their peers.

Steps for creating logos with students:
  1. Begin by having learners identify logos and brands from current media. We use these sheets of letters and symbols as games to get students excited and to introduce the range of possibilities.
  2. Invite students to rank their favorite logos and explain why some stand out in their minds. For example, we had children rate the logos of presidential candidates in 2012.
  3. Introduce some tips for contemporary design. DesignMantic has a helpful infographic of the "10 Commandments Of Logo Design." FastPrint also offers a terrific infographic about "How To Design The Perfect Logo."
  4. Ask them to brainstorm the key characters, themes, or takeaways that they would want a logo to evoke.
  5. Finally, give them a range of tools to use, from hands-on pen and paper to visual apps like Pencil by FiftyThree.
Source: FastPrint
Above all, a logo should present a clear, somewhat unexpected relationship between picture and subject. The video below, "49 Years Of Super Bowl Logos," reveals how images can evolve with the times to add layers of significance.

For further ideas, we recommend:

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Collaborative Hearts And Minds Help Kids Cope

Source: ASIDE 2015
With the increasing questions we received from our sixth graders about the abhorrent news this past week, we realized they needed to do something to make them feel they were sending a positive message to help the world be a more peaceful place. Eleven- and twelve-year-olds hear the news, and most have far more access to content than their parents realize. Their questions abound and need an outlet. As middle school educators, we know this.

Source: ASIDE 2015
So with our friend and colleague, Francine Wisnewski (@fwisnewski), we decided to bring hearts and minds together to let the kids create a message to share on social media and with the school community. We asked them that each finished design somehow include a heart, map, and peace sign. That’s it. How they incorporated the criteria and with whom they worked, or not, was up to them.

We cherish the flexibility in our curricula that allows us to stop everything to promote mindfulness with our learners. It does not matter that the schedule listed math and history; we pulled the kids together to address their concerns about world conflict and violence.

Source: ASIDE 2015
We continually try to build the hearts and minds of our young learners to be peace builders, peacemakers, and peacekeepers. As adults, we understand the turmoil in the world, and sometimes we just have to stop to help them cope. It’s worth every minute. If we don’t, we lose the power of positive thinking that the world so much needs.

For other resources, please see:

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Charts, Graphs, And Visual STEAM - Teaching The Super Bowl By The Numbers

Source: Asbury Park Press

Aside from the physical drama and the halftime theatrics, the Super Bowl provides prime fodder for data analytics. The enormous volume of communication and marketing around this shared cultural moment offers a case study for exploring numbers and significance.

These days, graphs are no longer the sole purview of math class. This fall, for example, we spent a “math week” in social studies talking about how historians incorporate statistics and charts in probing the details behind pivotal events. Similarly, the Super Bowl bridges academic disciplines as an appealing touchstone for students to get excited about analytical reasoning and data design. That’s how right-brained and left-brained mindsets can merge perfectly in a contemporary STEAM study.

Some examples of lessons and visual aids that use graphs and charts include:

Source: Yellowfin
On Super Bowl Sunday, 1.25 billion chicken wings are expected to be consumed. The number of tweets is predicted to top 25 million, up significantly from the 13.4 million last year. And the average American is projected to consume 2,400 calories of Super Bowl chow.

The emphasis here is on the visual presentation of numerical sets. Graphic literacy (or “graphicacy”) means that learners can “read” the grammar of lines and bars. Understanding trends and anomalies are key skills in interpreting mathematical and scientific figures.

As every educational institution searches for ways to blend STEAM proficiencies into the curriculum, the pop draw of the Super Bowl can be just the ticket to grab kids’ attentions in discovering the day’s dynamic details. Any of the tables or diagrams below would be terrific examples to show on Monday in kicking off a week of visual STEAM activities. The logical reasoning of numbers meets the illustrative narrative of the liberal arts:

Source: The New York Times

Super Bowl ads often get the most attention from both football diehards and passing revelers alike. This interactive tool from the New York Times allows students to compare a timeline of percentages as they parse the media blitz across the years.

Source: Yellowfin

The media literacy component of Super Bowl mayhem cannot be overlooked. Many avenues exist for teachers to guide students in realizing the emotional tug of advertising during this high profile event. Yellowfin has designed an easily understood graph of Super Bowl ad prices to engage any student.

Source: Yellowfin

For aficionados of the sport itself, Yellowfin has assembled a horizontal bar chart of MVP winners by position. The results are familiar enough to let the content drive the comprehension. In other words, even the youngest mathematicians can expect QBs to win awards, and thus the extended blue bar becomes a visual signifier for their predictions. 

Source: Yellowfin

For strategists of team offenses, bubble graphs can blend with traditional tables to illuminate the choices of quarterbacks in certain situations.

For other Super Bowl educational resources, we recommend these posts:

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Creating Infographics With Young Learners

Source: ASIDE, 2015
In our previous post, we wrote about the infographics that second grade students created for their social studies unit. We’ve created infographics this year with a number of our elementary grades, and through trial and error, we’ve perfected the process to help them gather their data facts for the topics they researched.

Source, ASIDE, 2015
For younger learners, a clearly defined way of collecting the information is key. To do this, we designed the simple graphic organizer in this post to help them. The purpose of separating the number from the description is twofold. It not only clearly delineates the data from the facts, but it also aids in designing the actual infographic.

In order for the number to stand apart, it needs to be in its own textbox. This allows the data to be sized differently from the text in the infographic. The data piece is important. It should be more pronounced, in order to highlight each key fact in the overall design. We found that using this method with younger students also helped guide them through the editing process in writing the descriptions without repeating the number within the text.

Empowering kids to be their own content creators helps them visually look at ways to encode the design of information. We firmly believe that building the skills of design literacy develops a keen sense of how to manipulate content for maximum impact. It develops visual literacy and visual thinking, the key components of graphicacy. The process of shifting from linear to visual information aids the learning process by providing context for content individually and by educating others about their topics.
Source: ASIDE, 2012
The earlier students learn to do this, the savvier they become at scrutinizing other information they see on a daily basis in the media. Understanding that design and media play a huge role in content creation can only help them as they go through the continual bombardment of advertising by infographics in the future.

Source: ASIDE, 2015
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