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.

Monday, March 23, 2015

"What Is Graphicacy?" — An Essential Literacy Explained In An Animated Motion Graphic


What Is Graphicacy? from The ASIDE Blog on Vimeo.

We live in a visual world. Smartphones, television, Internet, and social media all push information in real-time, all the time. Visual media bombard us in constant streams. Learners of every age, therefore, need to understand how to analyze pictorial information. This skill of parsing images, interpreting pictures, and decoding diagrams is known as graphicacy.

The motion graphic (or explainer video) in this post describes the many reasons for graphicacy education. Maps, cartoons, and photographs all feature symbolic cues and metaphoric elements. An animated infographic itself can become a conduit for graphic instruction.

Sixty-five percent of people today identify as visual learners. In fact, the brain processes optic inputs 60,000 times faster than text. Yet schools and scholarship rarely apply the tools and time to train people how to understand all of these visual streams.

Source: ASIDE 2015


Graphicacy stands with literacy, oracy, and numeracy as one of the four indispensable corners of education. It dates to W.G.V. Balchin's coinage of the term in the 1960s to identify the visual-spatial aspect of human intelligence. What began as a staple of South African geography education has ballooned in importance, especially in today's 1:1 classroom. With today's rightful emphasis on differentiated instruction, contemporary classrooms need to incorporate coaching in graphicacy to reach students via their learning preferences. (Continue reading for more information….)


Visual literacy is about learning how to look. It involves learning how to internalize and deconstruct the images that the brain sees. It involves input. Visual thinking is about learning how to design. It involves imagining graphic representations of new or traditional concepts based on the mind's unique creation. It involves output. Graphicacy, therefore, is the union of the two acuities. It marries the essential skills of decoding and encoding to embrace a range of pictorial proficiencies. (Continue reading for more information….)


Source: ASIDE 2011

Tommy McCall hit the nail on the head when he called “graphicacy the neglected step child in the classroom” during his TEDx East talk on Literacy, Numeracy, And Graphicacy. In the new e-cology to design and create digital content that is transmitted, interactive, and shared, it is even more vital to incorporate graphicacy skills in daily lessons. By training kids to thoroughly study what they see, we reinforce their visual acuity, attention to detail, and ability to notice conspicuous absences of information. We want them to develop a keen eye for seeing, to detect problems, and to understand the message inherent in the design. (Continue reading for more information….)


Graphicacy often takes a backseat in traditional classrooms, because understanding pictures is thought to be a natural consequence of basic vision. The conventional wisdom says that if people can see, then naturally they can comprehend what they see. Parents, however, know this is untrue. They know children must learn to decode images and connect the visual parts to the cognitive whole. Mothers and fathers dedicate evenings to paging through picture books with their toddlers, pointing out clouds and jackrabbits and smiling moons. (Continue reading for more information….)


Whether graphicacy is the “fourth R” or the “third skill,” as Howard A. Spielman refers to it, the format for representing data and visuals is much more complex today. Data visualizations such as infographics and the myriad of designs used in their creation are arguably more complex in many cases. This is quite the opposite of what infographics are by definition, which is to present complex information quickly and clearly. They often combine images and data in ways very different from standard graphs, charts, and maps in most elementary textbooks, thus prompting a need for graphicacy in education. (Continue reading for more information….)

Source: ASIDE 2015


We use four steps in guiding students to interpret charts, maps, cartoons, infographics, and logos. These four steps progress from base-level identification toward more analytical and sophisticated skills. The understandings proceed from: 1) Substance, 2) Scaffold, 3) Story, and 4) So What? (Continue reading for more information….)


Amid the national emphasis on STEM programs, charts are becoming key tools to represent visual statistics. As more and more schools migrate to 1:1 tablets, therefore, students need a foundation in reading and rendering their own optic inputs. The language of apps today is printed in icons. On handheld devices, colorful squares dance across each swiped screen. Children need to recognize these badges and identify the relationships between the logos and the corresponding actions. (Continue reading for more information….)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Currency Of Fairness — Why Aren't Women Allowed On The $20 Bill?

Source: Women On 20s

Who is on the 10 dollar bill? Who is on the 100? The 1,000? 10,000?

For the record, it's Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, Grover Cleveland, and Salmon P. Chase. Only one of them is a president, and he's an admittedly lesser known Chief Executive.

Most Americans use coins and dollars every day, but they can't tell you whose faces occupy their notes. Most people know who's on the penny (Abraham Lincoln), but they can't name who is on the dime (Franklin D. Roosevelt).

The one thing, however, that all Americans intuitively know is that all of these etched and sketched faces are of white men. Why aren't there any women on U.S. bills?

Especially today, as the U.S. Mint is rotating images in its 50 State Quarters and its President $1 Coins, it seems inexcusable that none of the nation's women leaders are celebrated on our currency.



One group is trying to change this — and they're getting a lot of buzz. News stories this week featured the organization "Women On 20s," which is trying to replace Andrew Jackson on the 20 dollar bill with one of 15 inspiring women who championed freedom, voting, rights, medicine, and justice. Although Jackson's legacy reaches to the War Of 1812 and Big Block Of Cheese Day, he is largely remembered for leading the Trail Of Tears and the Indian Removal Act. Surely the country can honor a hero who did more to elevate the progress of the aspirational.



March is Women's History Month. The conversation around women's exclusion from patriotic displays is critical toward continuing the conversations about equality. This campaign, led by Barbara Ortiz Howard, is trying to gain enough signatures on its petition to inspire action by the White House. You can vote for the candidates and add your name to the petition at the website.

Source: Nerd Wallet (click for full version)
The spotlight on the 20 dollar bill's likeness offers a valuable opportunity to blend in other activities about financial literacy. This moment invites relevant lessons in elements of U.S. currency, including national leadership, image symbolism, Latin mottos, serial numbers, Treasury secretaries, counterfeit prevention, the U.S. Mint, and the Federal Reserve.

For other ideas about teaching financial literacy, we recommend:

Friday, March 20, 2015

Most College Athletes Are Failures — Learning From March Madness

Source: NCAA

Cheer for the stumbles
The he-shoulda-had-thats
And the tears that linger

For in those moments
Greatness lies

There you will find 
The provoked
The determined
The unified

It’s in those moments 
That champions are born

Most NCAA athletes are failures. They don't win the championship. They don't enter the pros. They don't take home a trophy at the end of the season. Only a handful of elite programs reap the acclaim and hardware that accompanies major spectacles like the men's NCAA basketball tournament. Most Division I, II, and III competitors are well-rounded college students giving a tremendous amount of effort for the love of their sport and their college.


Just watching one game of the March Madness media blitz is enough to make even a non-fan sympathetic to the kids with their heads hung low after a devastating loss. Anyone in an office pool knows that their bracket will be busted after the first weekend. There are no trophies for participation.

Yet these are the moments that turn kids into adults, that enforce life lessons of diligence and duty, grit and grace. That's why the March Madness tournament offers a great chance to talk to students about failure, about perseverance, and about process over product.

Ad agency Leo Burnett produced an award-winning TV spot for the NCAA last year called "Cheer." Since then, its aired over 850 times, and it's in heavy rotation again this week. It's easy to see why.

The ad is a brief masterpiece of narration and language to encourage everyone — athletes, kids, and adults — to relish the stumbles of life and the tears of as-yet-unmet goals. As the transcript reads, these moments turn disappointed players into "the provoked, the determined, the unified."

Source: NCAA
Teachers talk a lot about failure with their students, about the unreachable expectation of perfection and the inescapable necessity of hard work. This ad is a perfect companion for homeroom discussions, circle time, advisory conferences, or recess pick-me-ups.

For more ideas about teaching with the NCAA tournament, check out: "March Madness In The Classroom — Teaching With Tournament Graphics."

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

SXSWEdu 2015: Education For All - How Far Have We Come?

Source: TES Global

An important and undeniable thrust of the 2015 SXSWEdu conference has been the attempt to reconcile the nation's educational inequalities. Marquee panels and sofa conversations alike have centered on this notion of access – access to college, to technology, to careers, to mentors, to professional development, to contemporary learning tools.

Last night's reception at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library made this theme immediate in bringing together historians and educators to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.

Source: LBJ Presidential Library, ASIDE 2015

This morning, Second Lady Of The United States Dr. Jill Biden kept this dialogue moving forward in leading a summit by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation about redesigning higher education to fuel student success. Dr. Biden noted that education is the great equalizer, the basis for a better life. For this reason, she stressed, "Teaching is not what I do. It's who I am."

A panel discussion later with Jamie Casap, Timothy Jones, and Isis Stephanie Cerda focused more intently on the need for diversity within educational technology. Similar messages emerged in workshops on "Equal Opportunity For Deeper Learning," "My Brother's Keeper: One Year Later," and "Teaching A New Narrative For Black Male Achievement."

Source: ASIDE 2015

An equally critical thread appeared in the number of talks about empowering girls and women in technology and entrepreneurship. For example, EdTechWomen was named this year's official SXSWEdu Change Maker. Other titles included: "Women Disruptors 2.0," "Paying It Forward: Leveraging Today's Female Voice," "Empowering Girls And Women To Lead," "Digital Diversity: Minority Women In EdTech," and "EdTech For Educational Inclusion."

Another highlight of the day was Kristin Ziemke’s and Cheryl Boes’ presentation of innovative project examples to engage young learners with voice, choice, and audience. Their use of easy apps and elementary blogging revealed the many avenues that let children demonstrate understanding in exciting, authentic ways.

A later workshop featured a panel of thought leaders who promoted creativity in schools. They championed "less talking and more doing." The speakers paraded both theoretical and tangible ways to inspire kids as imaginative thinkers. As Jonathan Plucker, Professor at the University Of Connecticut, noted, “creativity is about constraints.” A teacher’s task, therefore, is to help students identify constraints and then decide which ones to get rid of, which ones to ignore, and which ones to live with.

Ultimately, after a day of education and introspection, of creativity and contemplation, we recalled John Ashbery's lines from Three Poems, which speak to the impossibility of certainty and the elusiveness of knowing:
"The term ignorant is indeed perhaps an overstatement, implying as it does that something is known somewhere, whereas in reality we are not even sure of this: we in fact cannot aver with any degree of certainty that we are ignorant. Yet this is not so bad; we have at any rate kept our open-mindedness -- that, at least, we may be sure that we have -- and are not in any danger, or so it seems, of freezing into the pious attitudes of those true spiritual bigots whose faces are turned toward eternity and who therefore can see nothing.” 
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