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January 30, 2020

Collaborative Hearts And Minds Help Kids Cope

Source: ASIDE 2015
With the increasing questions we received from our sixth graders about the abhorrent news this past week, we realized they needed to do something to make them feel they were sending a positive message to help the world be a more peaceful place. Eleven- and twelve-year-olds hear the news, and most have far more access to content than their parents realize. Their questions abound and need an outlet. As middle school educators, we know this.

Source: ASIDE 2015
So with our friend and colleague, Francine Wisnewski (@fwisnewski), we decided to bring hearts and minds together to let the kids create a message to share on social media and with the school community. We asked them that each finished design somehow include a heart, map, and peace sign. That’s it. How they incorporated the criteria and with whom they worked, or not, was up to them.

We cherish the flexibility in our curricula that allows us to stop everything to promote mindfulness with our learners. It does not matter that the schedule listed math and history; we pulled the kids together to address their concerns about world conflict and violence.

Source: ASIDE 2015
We continually try to build the hearts and minds of our young learners to be peace builders, peacemakers, and peacekeepers. As adults, we understand the turmoil in the world, and sometimes we just have to stop to help them cope. It’s worth every minute. If we don’t, we lose the power of positive thinking that the world so much needs.

For other resources, please see:
January 29, 2020

Creating Logos With Students - Understanding Visual Metaphor And Symbolic Meaning

Source: DesignMantic (click for full-size image)
Logos are short-hand, visual cues that companies use to evoke their brands. Effective logos represent automatic associations between a corporation and a customer. They connect a unique icon with an emotional reaction.

This type of tidy pictorial design can also be employed to winning effect in the classroom. Students can use logos to study visual metaphors and symbolic meanings. They can experiment with thesis and synthesis, in boiling down a range of meanings into a concise, original image.

Source: ASIDE 2015
History students, for example, can sketch logos to embody specific presidents or time periods. We had our U.S. history classes brainstorm logos for the era of the Great Depression. The designs featured in this post range from a juxtaposition of the Empire State Building going up while the stock market goes down, to a financial Dust Bowl of lost dollars.

In studying literature, learners can similarly design logos to accompany a book or a character. It's no surprise that the Hunger Games mockingjay pin became so popular among fans. Science students can draft logos for key principles or elements, or global thinkers can draw emblems to capture current events.

Source: ASIDE 2015
By translating their understanding into self-created icons, students can climb a level in their comprehension, from decoding to encoding. They can capture the essential significance or recurring tropes via clever designs that will in turn help educate their peers.

Steps for creating logos with students:
  1. Begin by having learners identify logos and brands from current media. We use these sheets of letters and symbols as games to get students excited and to introduce the range of possibilities.
  2. Invite students to rank their favorite logos and explain why some stand out in their minds. For example, we had children rate the logos of presidential candidates in 2012.
  3. Introduce some tips for contemporary design. DesignMantic has a helpful infographic of the "10 Commandments Of Logo Design." FastPrint also offers a terrific infographic about "How To Design The Perfect Logo."
  4. Ask them to brainstorm the key characters, themes, or takeaways that they would want a logo to evoke.
  5. Finally, give them a range of tools to use, from hands-on pen and paper to visual apps like Pencil by FiftyThree.
Source: FastPrint
Above all, a logo should present a clear, somewhat unexpected relationship between picture and subject. The video below, "49 Years Of Super Bowl Logos," reveals how images can evolve with the times to add layers of significance.

For further ideas, we recommend:
January 28, 2020

Heart-Shaped Maps - Valentine Primary Sources

Source: Wikipedia - Oronce Fine, 1531
It wasn’t until our students started making heart-shaped worlds as part of a way to promote peace that we wondered if there were any historical references. To our surprise, there were plenty. One of the earliest heart-shaped (cordiform) map projections by Oronce Fine, a French mathematician and cartographer, was created in the sixteenth century. According to Wikipedia, this might have been his most famous illustration and one that influenced other cartographers, such as Peter Apian and Gerardus Mercator.

We love when something our learners do triggers a curiosity in us. Instead of showing our students the many infographics we’ve collected about Valentine’s Day that tabulate the amount of money spent by men and women on items such as flowers, chocolate, and jewelry, we chose to show these beautiful heart-shaped maps that so wholly connected to their designs. As expected, our students delighted in seeing the connection to their creations, especially since they had no idea of their connections to history.

We uncovered other examples of cordiform map projections that obviously take their influence from Oronce Fine's beautiful cartographic design. The maps below, illustrated by Giovanni Cimerlino and Pierre Moulart Sanson, were done more than a century apart.

Source: Rare Maps (Left) and Britain (Right)
Two more recent uses of the heart-shaped map appeared on stamps issued in the United States (1991) and Venezuela (1972). We wonder if the graphic artists knew of Oronce Fine's hand-drawn map of 1531.
Source: Dan's Topical Stamps
The "Love" stamp from the United States does not necessarily represent a cordiform projection, whereas the stamp from Venezuela celebrating World Health Day more closely resembles the heart-shaped designs from the fifteenth century.

Source: Biographile
As we probed the Internet for other examples, we discovered a heart-shaped map of Seattle from 1905 and one of the New York City subway system from 2008.

These maps clearly illustrate the change in design from one era to another. The map of Seattle represents a more typical illustration at the turn of the twentieth century, whereas the subway map, completed more than a century later, closely follows the style of a modern visual illustration or infographic.
Source: Zero Per Zero

Sometimes it's the innocence of children that triggers inquiry in adults. We attribute our curiosity to them. Finding other models based on their creativity led to the discovery of historical references. Connecting history through primary sources reinforced their global view of the world.

With the continued onslaught of violence and terrorism in the news, we could all use a little more heart.
January 27, 2020

Design Principles For Students As They Create Visual Projects And Digital Stories

Source: DesignMantic (click for full-size image)

Students are producing more projects than ever before. The proliferation of visual apps and the access to easy tech tools have allowed learners to create all sorts of digital stories and custom graphics. Yet, as Marvel Comics teaches us, with great power comes great responsibility.

It is tempting to assume that because children are growing up in a visual world, they automatically know how to decode and encode optical inputs. This proficiency is known as graphicacy, which is the key to visual thinking in a differentiated classroom. If educators are going to ask students to design posters and slideshows, then they also need to guide young learners in the skills of effective design. Any teacher who has seen children layer neon pink fonts on top of vertiginous purple backgrounds knows that kids don't innately grasp the keys to clean layouts.

Source: DesignMantic (click for full-size image)

The logo design firm DesignMantic has published a series of extremely helpful infographics to help budding artists generate successful visuals. Even though these placards are intended for marketing and business purposes, they perfectly suit the needs of teachers looking for classroom resources.

DesignMantic's graphic of the "15 Golden Principles Of Visual Hierarchy" marches through a framework for art and imagination. As the firm notes:

"Visual hierarchy ... offers to your eyes visual assistance, suggesting to them, what information to linger on to, as your vision glides through it. It lays down a path for the data to flow in, to get absorbed into the brain smoothly. It guides the human eye from one element of the data to the next, like an invisible pointer moving through the data, to keep the reader free of any visual fatigue."

Source: DesignMantic (click for full-size image)

The company also offers a primer in "The 10 Commandments Of Visual Communication." Much like its tenets for quality logos, these guidelines range from line and font choices to arrangement and sizing tips. In essence, it provides "a layperson’s handbook of visual communication." It reminds us of similar advice from "The Design Of Project-Based Learning - Color Theory For Web 3.0."
January 26, 2020

If Parents Can Work From Home, Why Can't Students? A Snow Day Doesn't Have To Be A "No" Day

Source: ASIDE 2015

We have another snow day today. The relentless snow this winter has forced many schools into crisis mode. Teachers are panicking about missed curriculum and make-up days. But with today’s access to mobile technology, shouldn’t there be a middle ground between all or nothing learning? Genuine remote learning should be a regular practice, not just a prediction. Even amid record-breaking blizzards, a snow day shouldn't have to be a “no” day.

Students frequently get sick and miss school. Consider, too, how many times you've seen a kid in your classroom who really shouldn’t be there. He has his head down, or has bags under his eyes, or has his mind clearly elsewhere. How many times have you noticed a student who truly needs a break? She's been burning the candle at both ends, or has been bearing the weight of a bully, or has been negotiating a tough family situation.

Source: ASIDE 2015
A kid sometimes needs a personal day. It used to be that a student’s absence meant a day of missed learning. Today, this not only seems strange, it seems unforgivable.

For parents, “working from home” is a common occurrence. Many companies have no problem with their employees telecommuting at a distance, staying in contact via phone, email, and instant message. With all of the dynamic digital tools available to schools today, why can’t students work from home? Many teachers post all of their assignments online anyway.

Source: ASIDE 2015

Video conferencing and social media and collaborative documents all offer easy avenues to engage a class of home-bound learners. Many teachers use these resources daily inside of the classroom. Why can’t these tools also be tapped to coordinate a corps of kids, either in real-time or at the students’ own paces? 

Backchanneling, for example, has emerged as a valuable way to invite feedback and questions during an in-class lesson. If we can turn backchannels into forechannels, then we can transform these supplemental tools into primary vehicles for distance education.

Tools for remote learning:


Sources: Company Logos

  • TodaysMeet - The leading real-time channel, TodaysMeet creates discussion groups for instant message communication.
  • Twitter - The ultimate social media tool for education, Twitter mimics the classroom environment with chats, text, links, images, and videos.
  • Croak.it - Both teachers and students can create a 30-second audio file with a url that can be embedded in a backchannel, website, or tweet.
  • Remind - This free way for teachers to text students protects everyone's privacy and instantly reaches kids on their phones.
  • Cel.ly - Cel.ly creates individual social networks via its texting feature that can be moderated directly from a smartphone.

    Sources: Company Logos

    • Verso - Flipped learning with Verso can include videos, images, or links in self-contained classes with rich commenting features.
    • eduCanon - This site collects videos from across the web and allows teachers to add flipped learning elements.
    • EDpuzzle - Teachers can crop videos and add questions and explanations to fit any age group.
    • Zaption - Zaption makes videos interactive by adding assessments.
    • audioBoom - Teachers can record podcasts to pass lessons on to students, and kids can capture their own answers, readings, or projects.

    Sources: Company Logos

    • Nearpod - The teacher guides the presentation, and students on their own devices see the slides progress as they interact from anywhere with polls and assessments.
    • Issuu - Intended to publish webzines, Issuu turns any .pdf into a scrolling web document for students to read and save at their leisure.
    • iBooks Author - The ability to publish customized content on iBooks is becoming easier and easier.
    • Wikispaces - Still one of the most flexible platforms for a class website, Wikispaces accepts any media and any embedded content.

    Sources: Company Logos

    • Skype - Teachers can broadcast themselves in full video and audio to reach students in their homes.
    • Facetime - As more and more schools opt for iPads and Apple TVs, Facetime provides an easy way to videoconference.
    • Google+ Hangouts - Multiple participants from any device can come together in a live-streaming video chat.

    Sources: Company Logos

    • Google Docs - Google Drive keeps getting better and better, and the real-time collaboration is still the industry standard for essays, presentations, and spreadsheets.
    • Padlet - Padlet is an infinitely customizable public space with customized urls to post text, links, images, videos, and student projects.
    • Dropbox - The larger storage capacity of Dropbox makes it ideal for file-sharing.
    • Email - When in doubt, simple email can allow students and teachers to swap instructions, questions, and assignments.
    January 25, 2020

    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 CasapTimothy 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.” 

    January 24, 2020

    "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….)
    January 23, 2020

    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 FaceTimeSkypeVineInstagram, 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 SnapChatYik 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.