Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Seeing Is Believing: Visual vs. Linear Content

Source: ASIDE, 2014
In order for our learners to see how designing information changes how it is viewed, the students this year placed their visual infographics side-by-side with their linear notes to see the transformation. It was the “ah ha” moment, when they could examine how the delivery of content mattered and how the deliberate choices in font hierarchy, color selection, and placement changed the way others perceived the ideas.

Source: ASIDE, 2014
Reflecting on their own work, the students saw firsthand how media could change and enhance a message. Paralleling the visual and linear content enabled them to observe the full effect of how design could give content power. It provided context for the information.

Source: ASIDE, 2014
For more than four years, we’ve been working with our students to think about the design of information and how presentation changes its perception. This newest crop of acronym infographics exceeded our expectations, in part because we worked closely to develop a stronger understanding of both the elements and principles of design. As with any other skill, students need guidance in this area. Design literacy requires the same instruction as media and financial literacies.

To help them better understand "the tools to make art" as compared to "how to use the tools to make art," we supplied them with the charts below to clearly separate the elements and principles of design.

Source: Split Complementary

The students were given other resources and guidelines to help train their eyes to think like designers. They looked at infographics created by professionals and deconstructed what they saw. The process of learning to look at visual information is a core skill of graphicacy. The ability to decode information helps students transfer these visual thinking concepts into creating their own work.

Of course, before the students started, they researched and gathered the information from various websites as notes. This included citations for the resources. We stressed that quality infographics source the information at the bottom. Our students know we stand by our mantra, “Content First, Pretty Second.” Without strong content and the evidence to support it, the message is questionable.

Seeing the shift from linear to visual helped the students teach others about their topic. It’s the same art of persuasion we refer to in media literacy. The best way for learners to understand how to manipulate information is to do it. Attraction and appeal matter, and perhaps it’s a lesson for us as educators as well. Designing information provides context for content; the more visual it is, the stronger the retention.

For other resources, please see:

Monday, October 6, 2014

The #Unclass Movement – Why Structure Is The Enemy Of Anytime, Anywhere Learning

Source: ASIDE, 2014
Many current initiatives, such as blended learning, genius hour, and flipped instruction, are all embracing the same potential of disrupted education. They all recognize the multi-latticed, pan-directional nature of contemporary learning. In essence, they are trying to make class time less like class time. We call this the "unclass."

Learning no longer begins and ends at the school bell. Students don’t switch off their devices and their senses of wonder just because the final period clocks out. Even though children have always pursued hobbies and outside interests, today they can network their school inquiries with their personal passions and continue their threads of discovery any time, any where. Learning becomes more like free time and free time more like learning.

Just like adults who juggle smartphones and information streams, kids today reach for a variety of sources to satisfy their natural curiosities. Schools that try to stifle this octopus impulse can run the risk of becoming irrelevant to contemporary learners.

Source: ASIDE, 2014
Recently, we have initiated the “unclass” philosophy to change our prevailing stencil of in-school activity. Rather than falling back on the typical model of teacher instruction and student compliance, the unclass approach imagines a classroom as neighborhoods of self-directed learning. It encourages imagination and skills through social media, backchannels, and self-publishing. Just as companies embrace flexible workspaces and educators flock to “unconferences,” teachers, too, can cultivate student dialogue and self-direction that can be continued at home at the end of the day.

The unclass approach is both a structure and a practice. It offers a strategy for running an organic environment in which children have ownership over their own time. It also still achieves the desired goals of learning and skill acquisition – such as linking the controversies of the Reconstruction Era to America’s racial climate today, or making the scientific method actionable in a digital, non-tinkering world.

The unclass philosophy also emphasizes a mindset. This outlook recognizes that students and teachers can engage in meaningful collaboration well after a 40-minute period has ended. In fact, only a few key questions can be addressed during a day's limited course time. The ramifications of these inquiries, though, can echo later into living rooms, ballparks, and backseats via social media and digital devices. Creative apps and self-directed technology mean that learning occurs via an unclass, with enlightenment an exuberant affirmation of student passion and teacher inspiration.

Source: Yong Zhao, Zhao Learning
In his terrific book, World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students (Corwin, 2012), Yong Zhao talks about the "grammar of schooling," which refers to the organization of class time and rosters into periods, sections, grades, and subjects (180). He points out the "inherent logical contradiction" in trying to instill student innovation and initiative within this type of structured, one-size-fits-all curriculum (94).

In fact, Zhao quotes Professor Kyung Hee Kim in the observation that while "teachers claim to value creativity in children," they often squelch "creative behaviors," because they are non-conformist and hard to wrangle (14). Zhao argues that transferring the responsibility to the learner emphasizes engagement, accountability, and relevance for all students (171).

Extrapolating from Zhao's thought-provoking work, teachers in an unclass find that their "primary responsibilities have shifted from instilling the prescribed content in students following well-established procedures in a structured fashion to developing an educational environment that affords children the opportunity to live a meaningful and engaging educational life" (176).

For more ideas about the unclass movement, we recommend "The EdCamp Mindset - How An 'Unconference' Can Yield An 'Unclass.'"

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Don't Save It For Later - Financial Literacy Through Infographics & Animations

Source: History.com and Column Five

Financial literacy is about much more than balancing one's (online) checkbook. Financial literacy represents a cross-curricular mindset, a sophisticated understanding of how money, media, and messaging unite in the public sphere.

Source: History.com and Column Five
Courses in economics or life planning typically target high school students in order to instill values of earning and saving. These are noble and much-needed goals. Authentic financial instruction, however, should begin much earlier, as children first become aware of sales taxes on their lollipops and marquee ads during the Superbowl. True financial literacy embodies the cross-section between business and consumerism, entrepreneurship and federalism, investing and gambling.

The videos and infographics below provide excellent ways to introduce financial literacy at the elementary and middle school levels. These topics can be woven into any course of study, from mathematics to social studies. They are great ways to kick off a morning's discussion or to enrich students who always seem to finish their work early.



The TED-Ed video, "What Gives A Dollar Bill Its Value?," from educator Doug Levinson and animator Qa'ed Mai, offers a superb overview of how America's currency functions. Specifically, it traces the value of paper tender in its transition from gold-based notes to faith-based cash.

This TED-Ed animated cartoon is a prime companion to the History Channel's infographic about "The Story Of Money." Produced in partnership with Column Five, this detailed visual narrative parades a fascinating series of monetary facts, from the legend of the first penny to the largest bill in human record.


As young students plan their futures, they can appreciate the sobering facts about saving for college via the NBC News video, "How Bad Is The Student Debt Crisis?" Part of its winning Show Me series, NBC explains the crushing costs of tuitions, fees, and textbooks as impediments to twenty-something progress.

Finally, as many teens play variations on the Stock Market Game in their math and social studies classes, the real truth about modern equity emerges in the infographic, "How High Frequency Trading Works." Also designed by NBC News, this illustration illuminates how hyper-speed data processors rig high-volume trading to favor computational efficiency. The casual investor is no longer a factor in moving the market.

Source: NBC News

For other ideas about teaching financial literacy to younger learners, we recommend:

Monday, September 15, 2014

The EdCamp Mindset - How An “Unconference” Can Yield An “Unclass”

Source: ASIDE, 2014
Perhaps only an EdCamp could inspire educators to dedicate a September Saturday to vigorous professional development. Despite the bustle of back-to-school work — and the ache to cling to summer's penultimate weekend — several hundred teachers and parents convened yesterday for the inaugural EdCamp Long Island event at the Willets Road School in Roslyn Heights, NY. 
Following the mold of the EdCamp movement, this “unconference” featured a roster of organically generated sessions. Rather than being tethered to a prefab schedule of speakers, participants at #EdCampLI could join conversations posted by like-minded souls on a wall-size chart of sticky note suggestions.

Not surprisingly, many of the workshops centered around technology. We were intrigued by Voxer in its combination of voice, text, and photos. We were also excited to try TodaysMeet as an easy backchannel for student questions and feedback. Our two favorite sessions, however, had little to do with edtech and everything to do with communication and leadership. 

Source: Voxer
The meeting about “Transformational Leadership In The 21st Century School" with Dr. Sheilah (@docsheilah) demonstrated a host of tried and true ideas built around the philosophy that just because it’s always been done one way, it doesn’t mean you can’t step back and rethink the purpose. Imagine faculty meetings where the administrators make their own simple “TED” style talks to promote discussions, or an a la carte menu of meeting topics from which teachers get to choose. This forward-thinking approach made it clear that in this type of school, the administrators model the concept of "lead learners."

The round-table discussion on “Fostering 2 Way School-Home Communication” gathered thoughtful teachers and parents who were genuinely motivated (and at times frustrated) in getting school constituencies on the same page. The small-group seminar was organized by principal Dennis Schug (@DJrSchug) of Hampton Bays, NY, and parent Gwen Pescatore (@gpescatore25) of Philadelphia, PA (and #PTchat). The unstructured confab yielded honest questions about the most efficient technologies for communication and the barriers to inclusivity in PTO meetings. There were also creative strategies to welcome non-English-speaking families and adults intimidated by social media.

Source: TodaysMeet
In fact, the day’s free-flowing learning made us realize that regular faculty meetings could be better structured like an EdCamp. They could involve authentic colloquies spawned from the bottom-up. They could welcome differentiated dialogues initiated by teachers themselves, rather than administrative decrees.

Even more, our classrooms could become miniature EdCamps. We could do more to solicit interest from the students themselves, to invite direction based on kids’ curiosities and passions. Our daily lessons could embrace the messy beginnings of finding a path and honing an objective. In the end, we would probably still nurture the same key skill sets. But we would reach our goals by letting the children themselves scribble post-it notes of wonder and glom onto subjects that matter not to us, but to them.

If you were unable to attend, here is the Google Doc of session notes from Saturday. Also, the hashtag #EdCampLI captured all of the lively exchanges and resources. Many thanks to the organizers who staged yesterday's event, and we look forward to EdCampLI 2.0 next year.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Centaur - How Collaborative Edtech Is Building A Brawny Hybrid Beast

Source: Smarter Than You Think
Gnawing at the edtech underbelly is the unshakable worry that today's digital stampede may not be helping the herd. It is unquestionable that apps and devices are changing education. But the question remains: Are they genuinely building better students, sharper thinkers, and smarter learners? Or is the edtech "revolution" an example of change-for-change's-sake, when newfangled glitz replaces traditional tools that worked just fine?

Clive Thompson makes the compelling case in his book, Smarter Thank You Think (Penguin Press, 2013), that technology is indeed transformational for the good of humankind. Thompson posits that the evolving hybrid of mind and machine is generating a new species. This potent beast is greater than the sum of its parts, strong and nimble in combining the best of the human brain and the efficiency of computational thinking. Thompson calls this new cognitive animal "the centaur."

Source: Padlet
The metaphor of the centaur is perhaps more approachable for classroom teachers than the tiered SAMR model or the complicated Periodic Table Of The Internet. The daily marriage of student ingenuity and digital possibility can spawn a creation that would have been impossible before the advent of 1:1 technology.

Source: Padlet

One of the clearest examples of higher-level, centaurian potential is Padlet. This Web 3.0 resource combines an interactive, collaborative doc with a customizable, embeddable canvas to offer students avenues for publishing and sharing that were unimaginable only a few years ago. Formerly known as Wallwisher, Padlet underwent a winning redesign to enhance its flexibility and usability.

Source: Padlet

Padlet allows learners anywhere to share ideas on a cooperative whiteboard. The design options offer a host of backgrounds and icons, and each url can be personalized to suit the class. Best of all, the "smart" space welcomes any web link and transforms it into a clickable image or video that can be accessed without ever leaving the Padlet world.

Source: Padlet

Padlet accepts all embed codes, so third-party media and flipped videos are easily extended to students. Furthermore, it permits learners to broadcast their projects, posted online for peers to appreciate and internalize.

Ultimately, Padlet is a daily tool. Kids can ask questions anonymously. They can post homework responses. They can share links to current events. They can document notes from the day's lecture. They can elevate their regular thought processes to a fusion of technology and partnership, in which the new mutant creature is more beneficial and compelling than the pre-digital brute.

For other resources, please see:

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Kids Have Questions: Visualizations About Terrorism

Source: GTD WebGL Globe
With the constant discussion in the news about the high-tech use of social media by the terrorist group ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) to recruit members from around the globe, we know that many of our learners will have questions as we head into the new school year.

National newspapers show armed police in public places, and the threat of homegrown terrorism is a daily conversation from the networks to the Congressional floor, no matter what the media.

While we don’t want to make the discussion of terrorism a routine part of our classes, we do know that providing ways for students to process and understand what they see and hear can ease anxiety. Giving them concrete ways to visualize information provides opportunities to decipher the constant bombardment in the news on the subject.

Source: Periscopic

The World of Terror was produced by Periscopic to visualize the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database that catalogs terrorism events from 1970 to 2013. It is a fascinating interactive view that adjusts depending on the categories, including longest active group, recent activity, victims, geographical spread, and name of group. It’s color coded to show the number of incidents, and a click on the map provides more information depending on the selection criteria.

The GTD WebGL Globe from the University of Maryland is an interactive geographic visualization that plots location and frequency. The timeline of incidents sparks at different lengths in a neon show to pinpoint sites on a darkened globe. The globe itself can be rotated to view each year and the number of incidents that have occurred.

Source: GTD WebGL Globe
The last interactive graphic called Strange Bedfellows was produced by The Wall Street Journal. It shows how the spread of ISIS may be pushing enemies often at odds with each to work together against a common enemy.
Source: The Wall Street Journal

The educational process is not just the prescribed curricula; it's about the need to help our learners understand to the world around them. Anytime we can provide multiple views to help them comprehend the complexities of world politics, the better off they are at making informed choices as young adults.

For other resources, please see:

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Resource Roundup: The Pencil Metaphor - The Point, Labor, And Fun

Source: ASIDE, 2014
We are down to the last few days before the Labor Day weekend signals the end of summer. All schools will be back in full swing next week, and summer Fridays will end for those lucky enough to have them in the work world.

For most educators, back-to-school decorations still include the proverbial apple, school bus, writing strips, and black and white composition notebooks. We definitely need a revamp in the bulletin board market to bring it into this century. We’ve yet to see tablets to add to the decor. That said, one of the most useful, iconic, and versatile images in education is the pencil.

Looking back, we wanted to round up some of our favorite resources that highlight the pencil as a metaphor for leadership, work, and fun.

The Pencil Metaphor graphic that has been reproduced in many places is a perfect place to start. It symbolically represents a continuum of where individuals might be on the learning curve of adapting new technology. The closer to the point, the more willing to take chances, lead, and share knowledge with others.

Source: Chief Technology Learning Center

I, Pencil: The Movie could not be better suited for the holiday weekend. It’s a symphony of human activity at work to produce one of the most basic tools used to record information, draft ideas, and doodle creations. It represents the interconnectedness of labor in the same way the pencil connects with learning.




Lastly, #Pencilchat had to be the one of the best viral chats on Twitter in 2011. It was friendly and a real mix of clever ideas, but at the same time a pointed discussion about technology integration with the coming onslaught of the tablet boom. We cannot help but revisit the hilarious video entitled Ode to #Pencilchat: Technology Integration in the Classroom.




Whether metaphor, symbol, or tool, the pencil is flexible, durable and timeless. We wish everyone a great school year.
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