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.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Visualizing The Human Cost of World War II

Source: The Fall Of WWII
We were hoping to have this post ready for Memorial Day last Monday, but with one week of school left, final exams, report cards, etc., the time just vanished. The data visualization used to tell the story in The Fallen Of World War II is an interactive documentary showing the human cost of war. It was written, directed, coded, and narrated by Neil Halloran. The film is a timeline of events that allows viewers to pause the narration to interact with the data.

Source: The Fallen Of WWII
The documentary focuses on the casualties and the pivotal moments in the course of the war when there was a dramatic shift in the numbers. It counts both military and civilian deaths. It blends the use of icons and charts with actual black and white photographs to show the human side of the war, creating a narration that is both a visualization as much as a story.

Source: The Fallen Of WWII
The narrator informs the viewer at the appropriate time to stop the video to interact with the charts. It occurs somewhere in the middle of this 15-minute data visualization, and again just before the end of the film. While it may seem long compared to many motion graphics and explainer videos, it is well worth the watch. We can see how our students would be mesmerized by the continuous tale recounting the huge number of victims of World War II.

It is definitely one for any history teacher’s toolkit. It is a powerful reminder of the tragedy that war inflicts on people.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Benefits Of Good Design - Resources For Community College Learners

Source: ASIDE 2015

Community college students everyday interact with a range of materials: handouts, worksheets, outlines, templates, PowerPoints, etc. From the simplest to the most complex, these resources are sometimes the primary conduits for information and training. The design of these materials, therefore, matters. The visual presentation of instructional tools can make the difference between detachment and engagement, between reticence and retention.

One of the touchstones of the design world is the unity of form and function. This “big picture / small picture” harmony is an equally crucial lesson for teachers and learners of all ages. Whereas art is something we look at, design is something we use everyday. It gives context to content and supports the relationship between the two. Good design of information delivers content that is engaging to the eye without becoming a distraction. It guides the attention through carefully controlled and selected visual components; it retreats to the background, enabling the purpose of the finished product to come forward.

Source: ASIDE, Tommy McCall

In creating both tangible and digital presentations for college learners, educators can ask themselves about the desired purpose, audience, and format of their materials. Similarly, considerations of layout, font, color, and alignment can make positive differences in conveying crucial concepts. A few notions to keep in mind include:
  • Visual media bombard the modern eye
  • Images increase the level of engagement and retention
  • Design creates meaning and relationships
  • The eye reads many types of "texts"
  • Simple tools and techniques can aid understanding
  • Emphasis, typography, hue, layout, and balance are key
Source: ASIDE 2015

We recently had the privilege of discussing these ideas with the faculty of the Department Of Reading And Basic Education at Nassau Community College (NCC) in New York. It was a pleasure speaking to them for their spring professional development. Our session was entitled, "The Benefits Of Good Design: Simple Strategies For Creating Elegant and Effective Materials To Engage Students." All of the slides, links, and resources from our presentation can be found here.

Many thanks to the warm and welcoming educators at NCC for inviting us and for being such gracious hosts. It was a pleasure sharing ideas and exploring the potential of visuals to make a difference in the lives of learners. We look forward to staying in touch and continuing the dialogue about design!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Inspiration Plus Creativity Equals Innovative Teaching And Learning

Source: ASIDE, 2015
Education is smack in the middle of an earth swell of change. No matter how hard the system tries to maintain a rigid set of evaluative assessments, something has to give. Otherwise, we will lose too many teachers over restrictions, and worse, too many young people who know that outside of school the freedom to learn, experiment, and create exists.

Source: ASIDE, 2015
Sure, we know that the fundamentals of reading and writing are key to understanding complex information. We are not advocates for throwing the baby out with the bath water. But perhaps the recent change in Finland to dump teaching subjects in favor of topics should send shockwaves through a system that constantly tries to reinvent itself with nothing more than new standards.

Source: ASIDE, 2015
One of our mantras over the last few years with our learners has been to, “Look at more stuff. Think about it harder.” We don’t claim to take this as our own, but recently we felt compelled to revisit one of our favorite books, Look At More: A Proven Approach to Innovation, Growth, and Change, by Andy Stefanovich.

While we know that schools are not businesses, we also know that the insights Stefanovich tries to bring to companies apply to any institution with the desire to promote innovative thinking. His ideas and concepts cross over into any discipline. His fundamental formula:

 I + C = I, or Inspiration + Creativity = Innovation


This equation also applies to education. We seek to inspire our learners to use creative thinking to come up with innovative ideas; likewise, we hope to do the same with our approach to teaching.

To inspire others is, after all, why we teach. We rely on inspiration as the fuel for engagement. Just like a business, we want to encourage an environment of productivity for learners. To do this, we can no longer sacrifice inspiration for efficiency.

Source: ASIDE, 2015
The framework behind LAMSTAIH includes five key drivers, including mood, mindset, mechanisms, measurement, and momentum to push the thinking and change the behavior in order to extract new ideas.

The concept behind each “M” not only provides a way for leadership to look at the needs of an institution, but it also helps to promote innovative ways of teaching and learning. Educational conversations circle around many of the same ideas.

So perhaps we could learn a thing or two by looking at more, including the insightful description of the three kinds of curators mentioned the book. On the one hand we have the traditionalist, who is the keeper of objects with the role of making sure that people of the future benefit from the collection of knowledge, and the Zeitgeist curator, who captures the essence of today and connects it to the not too distant future. This sounds like the role of the teacher. And then there is the hunter-gatherer curator, who constantly searches for anything that interests him or her and shares it with the world. Sound familiar? This represents most of the learners we teach.

Source: ASIDE, 2015
So where are teachers and learners as curators? More importantly, where do we want to be? At the moment, many educators are in the middle, yet our students outside of school are hunting and gathering.

Life-long learning is far more like the migrating hunter-gatherer, and technology has opened that door. We need to harness that energy, that inspiration, and that understanding of the power of connections to explore ideas. We can’t keep kids from exploring, connecting, and learning; we want them to be inspired, creative, and innovative.
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