Monday, November 29, 2021

Student Infographics Come A Long Way!

Source: 6th Grade Students

It's been over ten years since we first started using infographics with our students to make learning visible. They have certainly come a long way! Not only is this due to our ability to redesign aspects of our lessons to promote visual thinking and design, but also because the design tools are so much better. Our go-to creative tool now is Canva. It allows for so many options and templates. This flexibility enables students to make selections and modify their designs to look professional.

Since we use Canva it at multiple grade levels, they continue to perfect their visual literacy skills. The early "linear to visual" infographics using iPads and PicCollage seem so primitive now compared to the variety of selections in Canva. We do still use PicCollage for our Kindergarten through second grade students; it's a perfect tool for introducing our younger students to the art of learning and designing infographics.

Source: 6th Grade Students

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Ubiquitous Google, The Blob Opera, And Student Creativity


Source: Google Arts & Culture

Our students fell in love with our refrain that "Google is ubiquitous; it's everywhere" when they realized that whatever they typed in their Google Docs showed up on any device. Now with Google Classroom, they especially see the connection that everything they need is synced in one place by multiple teachers. For educators, it makes hybrid learning streamlined for both remote learners as well as for those in the classroom, particularly when this situation remains fluid. Many know that the students are always checking their emails and Classroom with little to do because of the current situation.

Source: ASIDE Google Blob Opera

So when we recently sent out Google's new project called the "Blob Opera" to Classroom over the winter break, the students happily started making their own four-person, musical creations. Blob participation depends on the producer. It's simple and easy to launch. Compose an opera with blob vocals ranging from bass to soprano in just minutes. It's also easy to share via Google Classroom as a teacher, and students can send their creations in the same way as an announcement to their peers.

For more information, check out Fast Company's article on how to manipulate the blobs to create a symphony of your own chamber music. Google did not use any recordings of actual singers. Instead, it built the system by recording "hours of classic opera singers, and used that data to train an AI model to know and mimic what an opera singer should sound like."


It's a nice way to end a crazy year by bringing in a new one with a little joy and creativity. If you're not actively checking Google's Art and Culture resources, start today.

Here's an opera from a very proud student: Irene's Blob Opera

Monday, December 7, 2020

'Tis The Season And Joy Was On The Menu - Student Designs To Promote Well-Being

Source: 6th Grade Students

It's December, and it's been a long, long year for us as well as our learners. We're teaching hybrid, and our students go in and out depending on concern and fear of the virus. They definitely needed a pick me up by week 13, and that's when we read Dr. Dolly Chugh's recent post on Dear Good People entitled, "No Justice, No Joy." 

Source: Dear Good People

We couldn't ask for a more perfect advisory activity to promote joy as well as student agency and creativity. The students received a quick overview of the seven tips for a "Quick Joy Sandwich," with instructions for designing their own "Joy Menu" using a Canva template.
Source: 6th Grader
Their charge was to think about the heading from the article that read "Joy is as essential as food" to create a menu complete with appetizer, main course, and dessert. They loved it. Each student brought his or her own take to the three course meal, and each handled the descriptions differently. They took the opportunity to create catchy headings of their own with descriptions for their plates that were anything but food. 
Source: 6th Grader

We wish we could share all of them, but the sampling is indicative of what can happen when kids have free range to express their joy, especially in the world they live in right now. For a full size look at these joyous delights, click here. No matter the season, joy is as essential to learning as it is to the social and emotional well-being of our learners.

What would your joy menu look like? As Dolly Chugh recommends, take a look at the tips she provides and make your own "Quick Joy Sandwich."


Source: 6th Graders


Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Commitment To Design, Visual Thinking, And Now The Virtual Classroom

Source: ASIDE 2020

The reminder popped up today for our ninth anniversary since starting this blog. We had good intentions of entering the fall of last year, ready to contribute more to our passion and commit to haring our ideas, but life changes. We've had changes in job responsibilities, personal additions and losses to family, and of course, COVID19.

So today, on our anniversary, we begin anew. We never wavered from our initial mission; instead, we pivoted toward a range of other opportunities. While a good portion of what our students did was in the brick and mortar phase, it was the virtual classroom that advanced the realm of possibilities for learning. The last three months reminded us more of the 18th century nursery rhyme, "Jack be nimble / Jack be quick," with students jumping over "lickety split" to synchronous online sessions of remote learning. Metaphorically, it was a stressful breeze.

Source: Imagine Museum

We were fortunate. Our students, already provided with devices and trained in using them, made the transition far easier than in many other cases. They worked on a number of different projects this year that pushed the boundaries of their design skills, their creative thinking, and their independence. As learners, they developed a knack for tackling new applications across a range of platforms to bring the world of transliteracy front and center, especially as it applies to digital humanities.

In the coming posts, we hope to share the latest work by our learners.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Hate At Schools - An Infographic

Source: ASIDE 2019
Larger PDF Image

Our students often ask us, "Why we can't end hate?" We only wish we had a definitive answer. It's not hard to discuss what we can do to help, but it's not easy when the adults constantly demonstrate the opposite. Instead of adults doing everything they can to diffuse the spread of hate through the media, they fuel the fire of hate that often leads to appalling violence. It is no wonder that since the presidential election of 2016, the rise of hate and bias in schools has increased.

special report called "Hate At School 2018" from shows that schools are faced with challenges now more than ever. The study tracked hate and bias incidents for over a year; the data is a grim reminder of their pervasive rise in our schools. The incidents reported range from elementary to secondary school, both on and off campuses, and in all 50 states. Unfortunately, the news reports of these incidents is "only the tip of the iceberg."

Source: ASIDE 2019
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This infographic (Larger PDF Image) summarizes the data for the 2018 - 2019 school year reported in its monthly newsletter. The URLs listed under each month refer to the individual reports sent out by the organization. These hate and bias incidents cannot be disregarded or underestimated. We also cannot ignore the possibility that they may be just below the surface in our own schools.

Education and schools need to be vigilant about matters of inclusion. We need learners who aspire to be empathic, who understand that diversity is fundamental, and who accept that being different is a choice.

Our hope as we start the new school year is to keep these aspects in mind as we go about our routines, rituals, and traditions. 

For more information, please see:

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Building A Cohesive Community — Where Educators Become Neighbors

Source: Michael Maslin, The New Yorker; Condi Nast; (for sale)

One of our favorite New Yorker cartoons by Michael Maslin depicts a woman at a party replying to a suited gentleman, “I’m hearing a lot of buzzwords from you, but I’m not getting any buzz.”

Educational conferences can be like that. Despite the best intentions of dedicated presenters, sometimes the reruns of familiar talks can feel like a litany of mots du jour. The session titles can feel like “Christmas Tree” bills in Congress — so nicknamed because Senators will hang endless amendments on a well-intentioned law, such that the final text is a mishmash of unrelated pet projects. Session headlines often do the same, smooshing as many buzzwords into a 64-character limit as possible.

Source: Building Learning Communities 2019

That’s why the Building Learning Communities (BLC) conference from November Learning is one of our annual favorites. Alan November, an international leader in edtech, personally invites expert educators from around the world to share on-the-ground experiences and best-in-class techniques. This recent BLC19 conference, from July 16 - 19 at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, lived up to its pedigree.

For example, one of the new friends we met from South Africa introduced us to how diversity education is framed in his community. Personally, we have been struggling with terminology, from the outdated “tolerant community” to the slightly better “inclusive community.” Both of those, however, position one group in higher status that “tolerates” or “includes” the other group.

Source: ASIDE 2019

In his South African school district, they use the notion of a “social cohesion.” For some reason, this immediately struck a chord with us. "Cohesion" refers to unity and solidarity. It doesn’t give one group more agency than the other. It suggests effort with lasting effects. It implies disparate elements coming together to coalesce around a common core. We really liked his suggestion, and we are eager to take this framing back to our own school.

In fact, our session about reimagining a curriculum based on social justice inspired all sorts of meaningful and spontaneous exchanges. Many audience members offered valuable resources, while others raised due concerns about a wording shift from “social justice” to “social good.” This thoughtful debate played out even further over Twitter.

Source: @theASIDEblog

We want to thank the many individuals who attended our conversations and who lent global perspectives to the collective thinking:
Other highlights of BLC19 included:
  • "Healthy Grading," by Joy Kirr (@JoyKirr) - Kirr led a master class in fostering a debate about grading, with a group activity that worked so well, we are going to steal it for our own faculty meetings
  • Keynote, by Shaya Zarkesh (@ShayaZarkesh) - As the teenage founder of Polyup, Zarkesh introduced us to one of the most intriguing math apps we’ve ever seen, combining true gamification with adaptable learning
  • "Innovative Leadership," by Matthew X. Joseph (@MatthewXJoseph) - Joseph reminded us that “only tasks can be managed – not time,” and we should, therefore, prioritize efficiency and communication
  • "Beyond TED Talks: Voice, Influence and Impact," by Caitlin Krause (@MindWise_CK) - Krause emphasized how stories start with connections. They are "something I give in a box and care about" to share with others; to hear them, we need to be present.
  • "Encouraging and Supporting Leaders To Foster Social and Emotional Learning Through Technology," by Vincenza Gallissio (@vgallisso), Christine Zapata (@CGoffredoZapata), and Jackie Patanio (JPatanio) - This group from NYCDOE, District 31 implemented a district-wide SEL program that would be the envy of most schools. It exemplified a growth mindset toward professional development.
Finally, the conference’s prime location near Copley Square and Back Bay made for lush local dining choices — from our regular “welcome to town” lunch at the Parish Cafe, known for its eclectic sandwiches from star Beantown chefs; to the spicy pasta, fresh mussels, and sincere service at Lucca (despite having a full glass of Cabernet knocked onto our white pants by an embarrassed busboy); to the French Mediterranean flavors of Mistral, featuring a summer corn soup with lobster and chive leaves, a fabulous halibut over shrimp risotto, and a sumptuous Maine crab ravioli.

We have full heads and full stomachs after a conference like this.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Visualizing The Complexities Of Time and Place

Source: ASIDE 2019

Mapping challenges learners to think, develop literacy skills, and understand the complexity of global issues, design, and data. There is a direct correlation between the act of making a map and the knowledge acquired by doing it. Mapping their own visualizations increases a student’s understanding; they become more actively engaged in the learning process. This exercise in fine-tuning reinforces the notion of relational meaning and spatial adjacency. It is the fluid movement of change in time, position and detail instead of a static fixed point. It is about observing patterns or relationships alongside external connections. The chance to practice visual thinking through the mapping process builds proficiencies in reading multimodal, visual inputs.

Source: ASIDE 2019

Lessons And Resources


Mapping Activities For The Classroom

Current Events & Map Engagement

 Digital Tools And Hands On, Experiential Mapping
Source: Logos For Referenced Sites
Mapping As Social Narrative
  • Maptia: reimagines geography as a social narratives
  • Mapbox: choose layers and details to quickly share online
  • Mapstack: create custom maps, with easy access to social portals

Jerry's Map from Jerry Gretzinger on Vimeo.
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