Friday, July 24, 2015

Designing “Anti-Logos” - Using Visual Satire To Rekindle Civics Education

Source: Bored Panda

We admit that we're fanatical about the power of logos to expand student learning. A logo packs a world of meaning into a tidy visual icon. Corporate and candidate logos combine precise elements, such as color, text, strategy, replicability, malleability, recognition, branding, and loyalty. For students, if they can unpack these multiple tiers of significance, then they can truly grasp the messages stowed within each succinct icon. This is visual and cultural literacy at its best.

Source: Lawrence Yang

In our classes, we have used logos with students to develop media literacy, to explore visual civics, and to trace Olympic history. One of the ideal uses for emblems, though, lies in visual satire. Visual satire twists familiar images to convey ironic or satirical takes on society. By warping commonplace trademarks, artists (or students) can create “anti-logos.” An anti-logo turns the intended message of an insignia on its head, using the expected visual components to springboard to a higher level of parody and meaning.

Source: Visual News
Recently, anti-logos have popped up in all sorts of places:

In lessons, teachers can invite students to create their own anti-logos. Kids can choose an established symbol and then sketch a redesign – perhaps for famous novels, historical eras, scientific discoveries, or Fortune 500 businesses. 

This activity incorporates five different rungs of higher-order thinking:
  • Understanding the essential components of a company’s, country’s, or person’s identity
  • Crafting a persuasive point of view about the topic to communicate
  • Designing a new version of the logo with a clear graphic representation and visual metaphor
  • Manipulating efficient language to tweak the original wording or intent
  • Incorporating the subtle art of satire to exaggerate or caricature the original message

Source: Fast Company, Christophe Szpajdel

Especially in the world of civics and government, a student’s ability to lampoon a candidate’s logo can provide a prime avenue for research into current events and for the development of individual political opinions.

Source: Viktor Hertz

EdSurge and Flocabulary have recently partnered, in fact, to redesign the traditional logo for a “teacher.” The familiar symbol of a bespectacled adult pointing to a blackboard seems out of date for modern, student-centered classrooms. They invite anyone to submit a new graphic via Twitter (@EdSurge) to rebrand the image of today’s educator. It reminds us of earlier efforts to rebrand education and the next generation learners.

Source: Viktor Hertz
For more ideas about teaching with logos, check out:


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What Is "Interdisciplinary Geography"? - 5 Animations To Get Kids Excited About Maps

Source: NATS

Students like geography more than most adults think. Kids are actually drawn to maps' visual characters, their quirky variabilities, their puzzle-like natures that hold secret troves of meaning just waiting to be decoded.

For evidence, take a look at these ideas that reveal maps' complexities:

The problem with most geography instruction is not that maps are boring; it's that they are largely cordoned off within the confines of social studies classes. Maps, however, are by definition interdisciplinary. They unite physicality with artistry. More specifically, they combine political borders with spatial terrains. They expose slave trade routes across temporal spans. They chart celestial bodies through time and space.

Source: Business Insider

The five animations below take map visualizations a step further by adding movement to standard geography. These interactions uncloak a whole new way for students to examine the world they inhabit. Each of these explainer videos adds an unexpected interdisciplinary twist to traditional maps, making them perfect for a range of lessons.

Geography + Sociology




The video entitled "Animated Map Shows How Religion Spread Around The World" was produced by Alex Kuzoian for Business Insider. It elegantly and efficiently traces the progression of global faiths through their continental migrations. It would make an effective companion to a range of sociology, anthropology, history, and religion lessons.

Geography + Technology



London 24 from NATS on Vimeo.

This mesmerizing visualization by NATS (formerly National Air Traffic Services) is called "London 24." It sketches the number of airplane flights over London each day. The animation is being used in the debate over expanding UK runways, to handle the 3,000 daily flights to these five metropolitan airports. It is a nifty representation of how technology, science, and global wealth have created unexpected issues for modern safety.

Geography + History




This motion graphic from Vox, entitled "220 Years Of U.S. Population Changes In One Map," explains why the mean center of population is one of the most important and the most understudied metrics of U.S. density. The video offers unique insights into the growth of the American frontier, the expansion of states, and the effect air conditioning has had on the South's emergence as a population powerhouse.

Geography + Science




"What The Earth Would Look Like If All The Ice Melted," from Business Insider, offers a compelling case for amping up the awareness of global climate change. Behind oddly disarming music, the animation moves its lens around the world, laying bare which major cities would be flooded if the earth's temperature continues to rise.

Geography + Geology



Due to cartographic distortions, many people misjudge the size of the world's landforms. This clip, also from Business Insider, is called "9 Animated Maps That Will Change The Way You See The World." With jaunty music and cartoon graphics, the video gives a side-by-side slideshow of how the globe's countries really stack up.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Visual Content Completes the ARC: The Value Of Appeal, Retention, and Comprehension

Source: Little Bits of Big History
The influence of visual media on how content is communicated and consumed plays an enormous role in how we synthesize information. So it is no surprise that A&E History partnered with the design firm Column Five to produce Little Bits Of Big History. We’ve been big fans of Column Five as one of the leaders in developing visual communication that educates, engages, and inspires – all core parts of its mission. These mini-infographics, along with their accompanying short animations, illustrate a selection of history facts on a variety of subjects from a "just because it’s interesting" approach.

Source: Little Bits of Big History
Each of these little gems is colorful, engaging, and informative. They’re not only ideal to use in any classroom, but they also provide clear stylistic approaches as guides for learners to follow in designing their own bits of information. They fall into the “ARC” of visual thinking – Appeal, Retention, and Comprehension.

Source: Column Five
The images catch viewers' attention, help retain what they see, and assist with comprehension. Take a look at Column Five’s infographic on “Why Your Brain Loves Visual Content” to view how making content more visual increases its impact and effectiveness because of ARC.

Source: Little Bits of Big History
The wide variety of tech savvy tools to make one's own infographics and animations provides a great way for students to present content. The research does not require a huge amount of time, and leaving the topics open to student choice could yield some interesting facts. It is an interesting and effective way to share information for any discipline. We can easily see these used for historical tidbits, scientific morsels, mathematical crumbs, and more.

Who knows, maybe we can start our own in-house trivia channel? We’re sure our kids would love that, and for them, audience definitely matters.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

In Pieces: A Beautiful Interactive Exhibit Of Endangered Species

Source: In Pieces
Every once in a while, an interactive website comes along that is as beautiful as it is instructive. In Pieces is just that site. The interactive exhibition turns 30 of the world's most interesting endangered species facing a fragmented survival into captivating images of complex, paper folding using 30 pieces. Bryan James is the creative designer who built the project using CSS polygons that morph and move. He provides an extensive list of sources for his content as well as a host of links for other organizations that would be helpful for student research.

Source: In Pieces
The site is thought-provoking and guaranteed to engage learners about the beauty of nature and the need to protect species under the threat of extinction. With melodic music playing in the background, users can chose to have the exhibition cycle through all the species, or select one at a time to explore.

Source: In Pieces
Artistically, it fascinates the eye, but on a deeper level, it provides extensions for learning and discovery. Teachers can easily use the tools and links for students to explore the risk to each one by selecting, "What's the threat?" A brief summary appears describing the dangers, predators, and organizations trying to help. They can also watch a short video showing the animal in its natural habit.

Source: In Pieces
In addition, In Pieces supplies a range of statistical information using an interactive graph. Each one, like each threat, is slightly different. The information includes topics such as population, recovery plan, re-introduction into the wild, and captivity. Using the statistics, students could plot their own charts to compare the rates of decline or the efforts to recover. Whether in a science or a math lesson, the possibilities are endless.

Source: In Pieces
In Pieces hopes to inspire and educate others about the sensitive need to protect the diversity of species. The intriguing way the designer brings fragmented pieces together makes a powerful connection.

If people come together, we can save the species the world is on the verge of losing.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Visual Civics: Designing A Candidacy - Hillary Clinton

Source: Hillary For America

More ink has been spilt over Hillary Clinton’s campaign logo than on all of the other candidates' emblems combined. Much of the commentary has come from exasperated Democrats, who are gnashing their teeth and throwing up their hands at the inexplicably chunky symbol that Clinton’s team devised. Twitter went gonzo over the medieval, early-1980s graphic. A "@HillaryLogo" parody account quickly sprung up from the folks at Cold Spark Media to lob satirical grenades about the motif's perceived inelegance. Other outlets were cautiously more complimentary, while still pointing out the stiffness of the overall archetype.

All of this attention and consternation, however, actually proved the genius of Clinton's design. In politics, all press is good press. In branding, recognizability is the raison d’ĂȘtre. The laser-focused media spotlight meant that in an unbelievably short time, a vast viewing public got a good look at the former Secretary of State's presidential campaign. The accusations of over-simplicity were in fact its brilliance. Like the iconic 2008 rising-sun “O” of then-candidate Barack Obama, this instantly recognizable “H” gave Clinton an immediate leg up on any other team’s marketing efforts.

Source: Hillary For America; Mark Kingsley, UnderConsideration

The Clinton logo features a lust red arrow pointing rightward atop a sans-serif, palatinate blue "H." Designed by Michael Bierut of Pentagram, the sharp, block arrow and the single, spartan letter together recall the simplest of auto-shapes in Microsoft Word. The badge has been compared to everything from the FedEx logo to the "Hospital" sign to the Cuban flag.

For several years now, we have used the concepts of logos and branding in our classes to teach visual civics. As avid consumers of visual media, our students become engaged with social studies and political science through the dynamic interactions of advertising, bumper stickers, and presidential insignia. In the last election cycle, we invited kids to rate presidential logos on each banner's ability to communicate candidate values and campaign themes. When our middle schoolers checked out Clinton's 2016 design, they immediately grasped its message of forward progress. They also astutely pointed out that with Clinton's widespread name recognition, she needed little more than an "H" to connect with voters.


The greatest asset of Clinton's icon is its flexibility. It can be easily modified to adorn any type of placard or attire. It can be quickly customized to suit any constituency. The campaign has already incorporated a variety of incarnations in its mailings, tweets, and policy proposals. If fact, a quick search of "Hillary logo" in Google Images reveals the impressive malleability of Clinton's crest (albeit in some not-safe-for-work incarnations).

The surest signs of a symbol's effectiveness are its subsequent imitations and derivations. Graphic designer Rick Wolff, for example, created an entire tongue-in-cheek alphabet in a new #Hillvetica font. Other designers immediately started redrafting the "H" logo into more contemporary styles (here and here). Political cartoonists had a field day incorporating the block arrow into their Clinton commentaries.

Source: Rick Wolff

If the purpose of a logo is to establish a relationship between the product and the consumer, then Clinton's brand succeeds in spades. Its almost instantaneous market saturation proves its potency. Whether this identifiability leads to an electoral college victory, however, is unknown. But for now, the other campaigns are playing catch-up in the logo department.

For further ideas about using visual civics in the classroom, check out:

Friday, June 26, 2015

Peace Through Understanding - GPI 2015

Source: ASIDE, 2015
Last week, the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) released the 2015 Global Peace Index (GPI) on its Vision of Humanity website. As with our earlier posts on the topic of peace, and in particular the release of the 2013 and 2014 GPI, we believe that sharing these findings each year helps to establish a deeper understanding of the effects of peace on society. The resources available on the site provide educators with a variety of learning materials, including an interactive map, infographic highlights, and a short motion graphic explaining this year's report.

Unfortunately, while peace did not necessarily decline a great deal in 2015, the GPI for this year does reveal an increasingly more divided world. The motion graphic below helps to explain how the most peaceful countries are enjoying increasing levels of peace and prosperity, while the least peaceful countries spiral into violence and conflict.



In our classrooms, we receive countless questions from young learners regarding current events with reference to violence both in the United States and abroad. We suppose, too, that so much of what we teach in our history classes involves conflict, conquest, and seizure. It’s no wonder that we get this question every year, “Do you think there will ever be a time without war?” We can only reply with, “We hope so.” The strife and conflict in the news does not bode well for a better answer, and if history is any indication, the prospect looks grim.

Source: Vision of Humanity

Source: IDP
Nevertheless, we will do our part to educate young learners to be peacemakers, builders, and keepers. We need young people to believe in social justice, human rights, and peace. The more mindful we are about our actions, the greater the chance for change. This includes talking about divisive issues of racism, immigration, and sexual orientation. We don't want to think about the ramifications if we don't make peace part of the daily conversation. The more voices, the better. Make them heard by preparing now for the International Day Of Peace on September 21, 2015.

For other resources, please see:

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Sketchnoting, Mapping, And Making Enhance The Visual Thinking Process

Source: ASIDE, 2015
Oh, what a year it’s been. It seems we flew through May without taking a breath as we worked through a myriad of projects. One of our favorites this spring was completed as part of the second grade social studies unit on communities. We collaborated with our colleagues Stefani Rosenthal (@StefRosenthal) and Jessica Raffaelle (@miss_raffaelle) to build a project-based learning unit to answer the question, "Where Do People Live?" More importantly, we wanted to build a visual vocabulary to help support the thinking process using sketchnotes, maps, and three-dimensional design.

Source: Stefani Rosenthal, 2015
We introduced sketchnoting several years ago to educators at various grade levels. The second grade teachers never looked back. They’ve made it a staple in their toolkit ever since. The bulletin board image featured in this post represents the variety of visual thinking strategies that the learners employed to convey the different types of communities, including rural, suburban, and urban.

A closer look at the details in the sketchnotes provides a real sense of the selection process that most accurately represents what the students are thinking, not only in the types of visuals, but also in the arrangement of the descriptive information to help them fully grasp the content.

Source: 2nd Grade Students, 2015
In the next phase of the project, the students mapped out the different types of communities. They worked in groups, with each student making his or her own hand-drawn map and key. Each community contained certain must-haves, such as police and fire stations, but the land use from rural areas to urban cities made the maps quite different. It involved a lot of discussion and decision-making on their part as to how to design the roads, types of buildings, and homes.

Source: ASIDE, 2015
This involved a good deal of spatial awareness, and these charming two-dimensional maps with hand-drawn keys represent their visual acuity. The details are delightful, showing barns with silos, swimming pools in suburbia, and skyscrapers in the city. The students absolutely loved making these maps. They even took it upon themselves to add street names. With such strong maps as actual plans for the next step, it’s no wonder that the three-dimensional construction of these communities came out so well.

Source: ASIDE, 2015
The final piece to the project involved building the actual community in the new makerspace in the library. This took some planning and negotiation within the group, because they had to visually transfer a flat design into a three-dimensional environment. Occasionally, it was not without argument either. We allowed some latitude on this; it was important for them to figure it out for themselves.

In the end, they realized the first thing they needed was to lay out the road system. This help them visually see where they would need to place buildings, put in parks, provide for homes, etc. They traced the box bottom on the board, gave it a number, and then coded the bottom of the box with the same number. This made assembly of the final, painted boxes on the map easy. With a little Model Magic, the students added transportation, rooftop playgrounds, and tomato patches.

Source: ASIDE, 2015
Each phase of this project incorporated visual thinking skills that built upon the previous step. Threading the content through the various stages in the design process reinforced the essential question.

The students became independent photo journalists, taking aerial and detailed shots of the maps, and then wrote illustrated reports using the Nearpod app on their iPads. The last thing we did was to use an iPhone as a little drone that traveled through the entire map to take a video of the finished piece as a whole.



This project did more than just build a deeper understanding of the different types of communities. It fostered a stronger sense of community as a whole; the sense of pride and accomplishment on their faces was priceless.
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