Monday, November 28, 2011

45rpm Records, Audiotape Cassettes, & Tablets: How Things Change

Source: Wikipedia
Many of us grew up with some sort of device featuring book recordings, whether on vinyl 45rpm records or audiotape cassettes, that had little chimes to remind you to turn the page as you followed the story. As these became popular, toy manufacturers such as Fisher Price made child-friendly players for kids. Electronics giants such as Sony and others also jumped into the market, creating their own products such as My First Sony. In other words, kids using technology for learning and fun really hasn’t changed much, but the way they can interact with technology has. Touch screen and tablet computing, particularly the iPad, has been a game changer. The vast number of education “apps” available to educators and parents for children in the preschool years cannot be overlooked in terms of the possibilities for learning. 

Source: Electronic Blog
So do kids learn differently as a result of new technology? You bet they do. At the recent New York State Association for Computers and Technologies in Education (NYSCATE) conference, Steve Dembo, who is Discovery Education’s Director of Social Media Strategy and Online Community, showed the following video clip. A Magazine Is an iPad That Does Not Work. What is telling is how our youngest kids are growing up with devices and doing things using touch screen technology that we could not fathom a decade ago. Is this too much too soon, or the next occupier to keep kids content? We know the warnings about too much television, videos and computer games. Nevertheless, kids are using touch screen devices younger and younger.

Source: Fisher Price
To make his point, Steve Dembo also showed the Fisher Price "Laugh & Learn Apptivity Case." This protective case was designed so toddlers could use their parent's iPhone or iPod touch, a far cry from My First Sony. To be sure, there are plenty of skill-and-drill types of applications. But in the growing world of “apps,” the ability to find interactive tools for education that benefit young learners, where they are, is mounting. If we are watching two-year-olds using these applications now, perhaps we should be considering what kindergarten will look like three years from now.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Let them Soar! - NYSCATE 2011

We just wrapped up three days in Rochester at the 2011 annual NYSCATE conference. The New York State Association for Computers and Technologies in Education (NYSCATE) assembled a roster of galvanizing presenters and speakers to empower our students through technology. We met a lot of impressive teachers who shared their savvy and expertise, and we thoroughly enjoyed Diana Laufenberg's keynote address. Some of the particularly valuable workshops we attended focused on web 2.0 accessibility, 21st-century global teaching, and school iPad deployment.

Special thanks to the lively, collegial crowd who attended our session on "Designing Information: Infographics As Literacy." The thoughtful comments made for an enriching conversation. All of the infographic examples we shared are available on this blog, as are all of the resources for creating original graphics. The skill tips and curriculum tools are posted as well. As promised, here is a copy of our presentation [Update: presentation available upon request]. Please feel free to contact us if we can help in any way.

Source: ASIDE

This NYSCATE conference may have been the best-run gathering we've attended in recent years, and it was all done by volunteers. The pacing of the programs and the paperless program app allowed for full but unhurried days. And the little things, like free hotel Wi-Fi, gifts for presenters, welcoming receptions, and helpful tech support all made the conference convivial.

Special thanks to Dave Mileham for organizing the daily details. He was approachable for the most mundane questions and kept the nifty conference app up-to-date.

If you were unable to attend, resources from the conference are available via the #NYSCATE11 hashtag on Twitter or on the NYSCATE ning. Also, if you're in the area and primed for a relaxing, post-tech dinner, check out the escarole and cannellini beans at Pane Vino on N. Water Street.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Edsign: Infographics As Literacy

For magazine subscribers and blog aficionados, infographics may seem ubiquitous these days as fads for the design intelligentsia. For our students, however, infographics are brand new. The notion of a dynamic visualization, riddled with appealing facts, is almost too-good-to-be-true for our modern learners. Infographics can dazzle children with their neon hues and wry caricatures, and when expertly constructed, they can provide an innovative glimpse at complex data.

Putting together an effective graphic is difficult, especially when the audience is under 18 years old. Crafting images and ideas to educate young learners involves a full complement of teacher skills. We call this approach "edsign."

Edsign is the design of information for education. It is the shaping of concepts for the most successful delivery to learners. Edsign involves filtering the "need to know" from the "nice to know." It requires careful planning about what elements to present, in what order, and in what lingo. Edsign applies the talents of the teacher to present details in a logical, dynamic, permanent way that grabs the student's attention and internalizes the key take-aways.

A great resource about the benefits of data visualization is this short video from Column Five. It's been making the rounds of some excellent blogs, but it's worth a look if you haven't seen it - and our students most likely haven't.

The Value of Data Visualization from Column Five on Vimeo.

Infographics can be the epitome of edsign. Good infographics are amalgamators of charts, graphics, icons, symbols, and fonts. They are arresting ways of uniting visual and analytical tools to broadcast clear, data-driven messages.

Bad infographics, however, rely on spash over substance. They ignore the lessons of rigorous graphs and instead blur analysis in the name of pop appeal. Attention to detail is absolutely necessary in creating a quality graphic. Hastily assembled images can lead to misinformation and inaccuracies.
Source: Think Brilliant

We try not to rely on flashy visuals without also emphasizing the analytical skills that students should be developing across every grade level. Ideally, we would be able to infuse daily lessons with examples of graphics that shed light on modern technology or popular consumerism. Teaching learners how to decode infographics is crucial to understanding facets of meaning.

Our students are accustomed to seeing percentages in their textbooks and arrows on their PowerPoints. These are the building blocks of edsign. High quality visuals provide an easy progression from children's comfort zones to more layered, analytical interactions that at once excite the eye and engage the mind. They can enlighten learners through a form of literacy that emphasizes critical thinking, communication, and creativity.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Visualizing How to Feed the World

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday and begin to collect food for the less fortunate in many of our schools, it would be a good idea to talk to kids about feeding the world’s population and the problems in doing it. The How to Feed the World film by Denis van Waerebeke helps explain this concept in a simple, clear way using infographics. It begins with the globe filled with humans and explains how the majority of the world contains 850 million people who are undernourished.

How to feed the world ? from Denis van Waerebeke on Vimeo.

Visually, it does an excellent job of using graphics to explain the relationship between supply and demand, imports and exports, and food pricing and production. As for economics, it’s simple. There are plenty of mini-lessons in this resource from how food distribution affects price to why yield doesn’t always mean lower costs. This short visual representation is packed with information, much the same as the Visualizing the World at 7 Billion produced by NPR. Perhaps the most important point is about sustainability and fixing the problem. Its straightforward message just might help kids to make a difference in trying to figure out a solution, too.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

10 Ways Twitter Has Made Better Teachers

Source: PhireDesign, ASIDE
We've been using Twitter for about five months. We can't tell whether we are embarrassingly late to this near-universal social medium, or whether we are still ahead of the slow-to-change teacher curve. We're probably somewhere in the middle, and for us, that's a good thing. We are eager but judicious in latching on to new tools and trends (as anyone who has visited our straightforward Facebook page knows). On Twitter, we have benefited enormously from the innovative thinkers and generous sharers who have introduced us to eye-opening concepts, articles, and resources. In these few months, we've progressed professionally by leaps and bounds. Here are 10 ways that Twitter has helped make us better teachers:

1. Recommended, pre-curated articles from trusted educators - The idea that a fellow teacher has sorted through a battery of blogs and publications to recommend only a few choice readings means that we can faithfully click on the links and reap the rewards of someone's curating. We're grateful for their hard work, which is why we keep following them. Their readings propose new ideas that we can incorporate into our instruction and share with our colleagues.

2. Links to terrific resources - In looking for online help, we always comment that we don't need lesson plans, we need resources. Web 2.0 tools and interactive sites offer dynamic ways to engage students and create projects. Through Twitter, we've been introduced to new web tools and have also gleaned helpful ideas for using them.

3. Wake-up calls about what we don't know and aren't doing - There is at once a soaring sensation and a sinking feeling when we realize all of the methods that are working successfully in America's classrooms and that we have not yet tried. School reform is a monstrous beast, and educational theory morphs in minutes. We try to keep up, but Twitter lets us know there is always more to learn. We stay motivated intellectually and keep improving professionally.

4. Tried and tested tips by respected professionals - Anytime someone recommends a new lesson or project, and then shares evidence about what worked well, we know we can successfully follow their lead in our own classrooms. Mimicking people we respect is the easiest form of professional development.

5. Important comparisons of challenges facing independent and public schools - Parochial, charter, independent, home-school, and public models all face similar difficulties in gauging achievement and motivating learners. But from there, the challenges branch in disparate directions when considering funding, testing, unionization, and leadership. As independent school teachers ourselves, we feel it is important to stay connected to the issues affecting all educators nationwide.

Source: PhireDesign, ASIDE
6. Confirmations about how much agreement there is among educators, and how much disagreement there is among administrators, parents, and politicians - Everyone we follow on Twitter seems to concur about creativity, play, projects, technology, collaboration, and problem-solving. Why do so many other voices fight against these proven influences? Why do so many forces crowd the teacher out of the classroom?

7. Revelations about real-life colleagues who are also on Twitter - It's neat to read what's on our friends' minds away from the daily hallways. We think we know our colleagues well, and then they surprise us with their reading lists, clever outbursts, and political leanings. Tracking their tweets, we know them anew.

8. Realizations about how funny the Twitterverse is - There are a lot of funny people out there. Who knew how witty teachers and Tweeters were? It's nice to laugh and learn at the same time.

9. Introductions to visually keen Twitter aggregators - Impressive tools such as and! help cull related ideas and offer them in imaginative, accessible layouts. Individuals can design self-published newsletters around particular areas of interest. Threads of hashtags help connect ideas. Check out our daily, about graphicacy and design in education.

10. Recognitions about Twitter's value to other social media - Social animals prowl freely. They know no cage. Every networking possibility links to readers and friends in other social media. If you're on Twitter, your blog, Facebook page, and LinkedIn profiles will all see upticks through their interconnectivity. Feed one, feed them all.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Taking The Lead - NMSA 2011

We've spent three days here in Louisville among a loyal community of educators and learners at the National Middle School Association (NMSA) conference. Thank you to everyone who shared their self-created materials and their years of experience to promote high-quality teaching. Because middle level students occupy such a quirky niche within the many tiers of schooling, a dedicated gathering for their teachers truly helps foster like-minded innovations. We have attended valuable workshops on advisory relationships, web 2.0 tools, social studies strategies, service learning, comparison skills, and family communications.

A highlight of our visit was meeting with Ashley Smith, Jr., Southern Trustee of NMSA, now known as the Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE). He was candid and sincere in soliciting feedback on how AMLE can better serve its members.

Source: ASIDE

Many thanks to everyone who came out and attended our presentation on "Where Financial Media Meets Media Literacy: Integrate, Don't Isolate." The inspired ideas and free-flowing collaboration yielded a terrific session. At heart, the message of motivation and student interest made it more important than ever to target that in-between place of money and messaging where today's teens operate.

Here are the links and projects that we referenced to unite branding, advertising, markets, trade, entrepreneurship, and new media:
By the way, if you're in the neighborhood, the Kentucky Frito Misto at Bistro 301 is tasty, and the vibe is low key and welcoming. Thank you, Louisville, for your hospitality.

    Wednesday, November 9, 2011

    FaME: Financial and Media Education

    Throughout history, economic strength has determined the rise and fall of empires. Understanding the power of money transcends time and to some extent continues to determine the strength of nations. Yet the power of money is not the only influence on the structure of daily life. Today, the media plays an even larger role in determining who wins. Perhaps more than ever before, there is a need to be forthright in educating students in these areas, making them an integral part of the curricula. Likewise, bringing financial and media literacies into the classroom should not be viewed as separate “units of study.” Instead, they should be incorporated across all subject areas to make connections to real-life applications, especially for learners in the 21st century.

    The deliberate design of information extends far beyond a combination of data and images. In fact, we see it everyday through advertising. When you think about it, every company, institution, or politician considers the selection of graphics, data, and text to market goods and services. Media of all types tell stories through branding, whether selling a war from a podium or advertising a product during a football game. For this reason, our students need the skills of analyzing and interpreting to grasp the underpinnings of finance and the messaging behind the media. They need to learn to “read an image.”

    One way we do this is through visualizations such as infographics, which teach to students' interests and connect to their daily lives. For example, this Starbucks and McDonald's graphic on the Princeton University website has a clean, crisp design to compare two corporate giants:

    Source: Princeton University
    Although this particular infographic dates from 2003, the point about branding is clear. The financial information about McDonalds is telling, especially with the mini, built-in geography lesson comparing its nearly $32 billion in sales with the $21 billion GDP of Afghanistan. McDonald’s is a financial powerhouse in this image compared to Starbucks and other fast food competitors. Cool Infographics updated the data in 2007 showing Starbucks almost doubling the number of stores to 11,225 and McDonald's flat in terms of sales. Asking students why they think this occurred would open the discussion to changes in diet or perhaps the sheer marketing power of the Starbucks brand.

    Another good example to drill home the connection between finance and media is the infographic, "Is There a Tech Bubble?" In the fight to be number one, are financial investors willing to pay over-the-top valuations for these brands? This image would appeal to students, since social media is so much a part of their lives. It has all the key players: Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Comparing the branding and looking at the numbers can open the eyes of students to read between the hype. For this reason, using media and finance are essential in any classroom. If we stop and look around, there are countless examples for incorporating both of these literacies into everything from language arts to mathematics.

    Sunday, November 6, 2011

    Visualizing the World Population at 7 Billion

    Whether the world's population reached 7 billion people as of this past Monday is still in question, but the figure is close, if not over it. According to the running tally on Breathingearth, there are still about 50 thousand more births to go. More importantly, what does this look like when we try to explain it to our students? For most of them, the concept of understanding 7 billion people is writing out the number with a lot of zeros. Even though we can demonstrate this by having students compare the number 7 to 7,000,000,000 to see the difference, to them it is just a number. They have no real connection to it.

    Knowing how large the population is today does not help them understand how we got there, nor does it explain why it continues to grow. An excellent visualization to help younger students grasp population size and the reason for its sustainability is the NPR video clip below, called Visualizing How a Population Grows to 7 Billion, by Adam Cole. It is a clear and creative demonstration using the concept of water in a glass to represent continents and countries over time. Liquid filling the glass symbolizes births and leaking from the glass signifies deaths. As advances in medicine and food production take hold, the leaks slow, and eventually births begin to outnumber deaths. This simple visual representation of population growth would fit into any history, math, or geography lesson.

    Thursday, November 3, 2011

    Doodling the News with DoodleBuzz

    Arguably there are many news aggregators available today to use in the classroom, perhaps even too many, but selecting from those that have a unique way of presenting information allows students to think about the news from a different vantage point. As we mentioned in a previous post, Newsmap was one of our favorites. It helps students with the skills of decoding information based on size, frequency and proximity of events, as well as helping them learn to look at the news at a glance to make connections between currency and importance.

    Created using DoodleBuzz

    We recently started using another news aggregator called DoodleBuzz. This is no ordinary amalgamation of information based on a selection of criteria, organized into a pre-determined display, such as Newsmap. Although Newsmap presents the information from Google's news aggregator in an efficient, eye-catching way, it is still linear in nature. DoodleBuzz is anything but linear and bills itself as a typographic news explorer. It's designed to lead the viewer to explore information in an organic way through chance and discovery.
    Created using DoodleBuzz
    “You may start at Iraq but end up finishing on Britney, whilst taking in The Catholic Church, Global Warming and 50 Cent.”
    Essentially, DoodleBuzz provides you with a blank canvas for drawing. To start, open DoodleBuzz, type your search term, and click go. For your results, simply doodle any shaped line you like to layout the information for your news journey. As the mouse rolls over each line in the results, the title turns red and becomes enlarged. To see an excerpt of the article, doodle a line from the title. Click on the excerpt to be taken to the original source of the full text article. Holding down the space bar lets you see your original map, and clicking toward the edges of the black square will bring back areas out of view, much like using Google maps.

    The one thing to remember when using this with students is that it’s supposed to be a fun way to explore the news and not a search to a specific event. A good place to start is to give all students the same search term, but let them design the path they want to take. Invite them to share their findings as a way to demonstrate the connections they took in looking at the news.

    DoodleBuzz is the dream aggregator for the visual thinker and relates to what we featured in an earlier post on learning by doodling with Sunni Brown. The process of organically taking information on a spontaneous path can lead to new discoveries and ideas. Using DoodleBuzz with students can allow them to journey through the news to make personal connections that they might not have taken if done in a more linear environment. It allows them to change the way they think about information by the sheer nature of how they draw their lines to extend their search.

    Created using DoodleBuzz

    Brendan Dawes is the creative designer behind DoodleBuzz. He explores the interplay of people, code, design, and art in his work. His website features an eclectic mix of digital and analog objects, including toys and projects. DoodleBuzz is also part of the recent Talk To Me exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.
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