Tuesday, 30 July 2013

My New Favourite Tool - Readlists

In my never ending quest to learn more I have been exploring the offerings at Modern Lessons and in their free course "5 Powerful But Little-Known Ways To Use Your Apple iPad" I discovered a real gem.  Welcome to Readlists...

For the uninitiated, Readlists is a free web tool which allows you to collate a list of URLs and then download them into a collated ebook (ePub\mobi) for offline reading in the app of your choice. As we have iPads for Years 8 and 9 at my school, it is a simple process to download the book to the iPad and use it with iBooks.

10 Reasons why I think using Readlists to create ePubs for iBooks is an excellent way to support learning:
  1. It's free.
  2. Students don't need the internet which for some is still an issue at home.
  3. Students can highlight key points.
  4. Students can make notes and stick them in a location which provides context for revisiting.
  5. It is possible to make the text larger for those students with vision and literacy challenges.
  6. For those students who struggle with organisation - they don't have to keep going back to the LMS to access links, the entire collection has already been downloaded to their device and is ready to go.
  7. iBooks makes it possible to change the background colour to black or sepia if the eyes need a rest.
  8. It's a free textbook which is more up to date than any you could buy.
  9. iBooks remembers where you are up to in a book and you can also bookmark your page.
  10. The "speak" function allows an audio reading of the book for those who require assistance.
Go on, give it a go - what do your students have to lose?

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Collaborative Notetaking

Gone are the days when the focus was on having everyone sitting in neat rows, facing the same way and doing the same work.  In recent months I have seen and developed some great ways to utilise web tools, in this case a Google document, to maximise the effectiveness of note taking through collaboration with the side benefits of deeper learning, increased engagement and staff peer support.

At my school all staff and students have a Google Education account.  This gives us access to Google Groups and Google Drive across our entire community.  After taking the time to set up a Google Group for your class (approximately 10-15 minutes) any one of these activities takes 1 minute to set up and the students can do it for you. All students are signed into their Google Account and ready to go as part of their lesson set up.

Strategies for minimal teacher input (and planning) lessons:
  1. Explore and Share
  2. Answering the "Ungoogleable"
  3. Pay it Forward
  4. We all have a turn
  5. Not ready for Twitter yet 

Strategy 1 - Explore and Share 


We were learning how to use a new software tool in class.  In the past I may have demonstrated and explained different features and purposes and then let students play but that morning I had read an article on Twitter about how students retain more information if they are allowed to investigate by themselves first so I changed my strategy.  The desired learning goal was for students to learn the basics about how to use a particular piece of software.

Teacher work before the lesson = decide on what software the students will be investigating


A student again created and shared a Google Document with the class group.  Instead of demonstrating how the software worked I decided to let the students do it so I broke them up into four groups and instructed each group to take notes about the functionality of a section of the software (in the same document). Only one person from each group was allowed to type in the Google Document to encourage collaboration.  When all groups thought they had finished their note taking I gave them 2 minutes to prepare how they were going to present what they had learned to the class (possibly it could be better to warn them in advance that this is going to happen but in this case I wanted the focus on meaningful notes the student could refer back to as they were using the software).  Each group stood up and demonstrated the functionality from their section (recall that all students had already had time to have a play).  Other students could add additional notes to what the groups had recorded when discussion and questions identified areas that had been missed.


Not only were all students invested in ensuring that the notes for their section were thorough, they were all jointly responsible for making sure that there were no gaps left by other groups.  At the end of the lesson students felt confident that they had a strong foundational knowledge in the features of the software and could find any functionality they wanted to use in the next lesson.

Scenario 2 - Answering the Ungoogleable


I want my students to collaborate on answering a difficult question (that is not googleable) but they need an understanding of domain specific vocabulary, key concepts and a range of information to be able to answer this question.

Teacher work before the lesson = think up an ungoogleable question (obviously related to one of their learning goals)


Create a Google Document with a table with 3 columns and assign a student to each column.  The first column is for vocabulary.  The second column is for the researcher to post links to relevant websites and sources of information that the other students can use to inform their decision making.  The third column is for key concepts.  For this lesson, these three students sit together and they are the only ones to write in the document. As the researcher posts links, the summariser reads them and pulls out key concepts.  The summariser and the researcher can offer suggestions of words for the first student to add (and define) in the vocabulary column. Although these students have specific jobs to perform, they help each other prepare the resource for the class.  What's the rest of the class doing? Reading what these students add to the document, deciding in groups what their answer to the challenging question is going to be and preparing their response\justification\deliverable.


All students learn quite deeply about the topic.  You may think that the note taking students miss out on some learning but the level of reading, analysis and synthesis required to perform these roles can lead to quite deep thinking around the topic.  Obviously you would change around the students who held these roles.

Scenario 3 - Pay it Forward


Similar to the scenario above, sometimes you may just wish to have students take excellent notes from the lesson.  Telling them to do so is going to result in mixed and inconsistent results.  Or sometimes a new teacher or new to the subject teacher may want to learn from a more experienced teacher but it is just not possible for them to attend the other's class.  


Similar to the methodology above, a shared document can be completed by three students for vocabulary, links and key concepts during a wide variety of classroom activities and shared with not only the students in the class but other teachers or students of the same subject in a different class.


Teachers can learn from other teachers and all students have more detailed notes than they would have taken individually.

Strategy 4 - We all have a turn 


The other day we were watching a documentary which was rather content heavy.  I wanted the students to have notes about the important aspects of the video but did not want them all to be focused on taking notes rather than watching the documentary. The learning goal was for them to be able to apply the knowledge they gained from watching the video in the evaluation of an existing product.


A student created a Google Document and shared it with the group.  All students had the document open and ready to go.  Each student took notes for a couple of minutes before passing on the job to the next student. Students were encouraged to add to the notes others had taken if they felt that important information had been neglected but this was not their primary role - their primary role was to be an observer of the video.


A far more comprehensive set of notes than if one student had taken them alone. The students' subsequent blog posts demonstrating the application of their learning were quite sophisticated and of a higher level than I had initially anticipated.

Scenario 5 - Not Ready for Twitter Yet


You want the students to have a place in which to post notes and comments and to be able to ask questions but you are not quite ready for Twitter or Today's Meet.  


You can use your three column Google Doc for any combination of data collection and feedback.  Some options include:
  • Comments
  • Questions
  • Vocabulary
  • Key Points
  • Links
  • How do I...
  • I don't understand.....
Another option would be to use your Google group to create a post for the days lesson and have the students post their comments and questions in reply.


Students have an opportunity for their voice to be heard, to ask questions and to receive immediate feedback within the safety of a closed environment.

Tips for Success

  1. All of these suggestions require a Google Group to be set up.
  2. Swap the roles around so that all students have a chance to try out the different roles - either within a lesson or for different lessons. 
  3. Be clear in your expectations from the notetakers and be prepared to redirect them if they are not meeting these expectations
  4. Prepare engaging activities for the rest of the class to be doing that require them to draw upon the knowledge in the collaborative notes, thus providing an audience and purpose.
  5. Don't expect your students to be perfect the first time - they'll probably muck around and write some silly things the first few times but will become much more proficient the more they are exposed to this type of activity.


Wiredforlego, Stop, Collaborate and Listen, CC BY-SA 2.0

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The Non-Designer's Guide to Teaching Infographics

I have been talking about infographics for the last year or so and they were one of those things that only a few people expressed any interest in.  Enter Year 10 Religious Education. Who would have thought that 14-15 year old, sometimes reluctant learners would revolutionise the way that infographics were viewed at the school?  No teacher had ever given so many As in their religion classes nor had any student, ever, in the history of the school, uttered the words “my RE assignment was too local so I created a second, more global focused one to hand in as well. I hope that’s okay”. 

What are Infographics?

Simply put, infographics are visual representations of data.  On a deeper level, infographics are a means of being able to tell a story; a way to inform, persuade and call to action. Not all of these purposes have to be incorporated into every infographic, however, the majority of those that go viral tend to have these characteristics.

Why use infographics?

What thinking skills do infographics develop? As a teacher in Queensland, both the general capabilities and the Common Curriculum Elements from the QSA
  1. As students need to collect a lot of raw data to make an interesting infographic their research skills, particularly in the use of statistical databases become more developed.
  2. Once the raw data has been collected, students need to interpret, analyse and synthesize the data to select relevant statistics and facts, which they can use to tell their story.
  3. Once the data is synthesized, numeracy skills are needed to create data representations. This does not mean that students create 20 pie charts, rather that they select the most effective means of communicating their information for each statistic or piece of information.
  4. Literacy skills such as the use of correct spelling, punctuation and grammar go a long way in helping a student’s work look professional and authentic (these are made to go online and be shared)
  5. Design skills are also essential for the presentation.  A good understanding of layout, white space, the principles of design, font and colour will go a long way.
  6. The final skill set is reasoning and logic.  The flow of information when leading the reader needs to be logical, paced and  or readers will move on.
I could go on and on here but I think you get  the idea.

How do I teach infographics to my class?

I’m going to make an assumption now that the readers of this blog have research, synthesis and analysis, numeracy and logic skills and focus on how I teach infographic design to students. The lesson I designed for this purpose involved three stages: 
  1. Orientation
  2. Domain Knowledge
  3. Creation
Some additional notes for before we begin the lesson overview:
  •  I like to use a strategy whereby 3 students are assigned the role of note takers for the class (on a collaborative document eg google doc) which can then be easily shared with the class (via google group or by being uploaded to the LMS).  Specific jobs for this lesson included:
    • Student 1 - Links - any websites or references are written in the first column
    • Student 2 - General Information\Content - general facts; any information regarding what types of content should be included etc
    • Student 3 - Design specific information - how should the infographic look
  • I am going to assume that the students have been engaged in a unit of work that has required them to research the chosen topic and have a variety of research, statistics and course of action available to them.

The learning goals for this stage are an understanding of:
  1. what an infographic is
  2. why a person would want to use an infographic
  3. that images are powerful representations and should be chosen carefully
  4. the purpose of an infographic
Some sample opening questions and answers:

Q:  Can anyone tell me what an infographic is?
  • Graphic representation of data
  • One of those really long graphics with lots of statistics and information on it
Q:  Why do you think using a visual representation of data is a good idea?
  • 6 out of 10 people are visual learners – Who learns better from watching a video on YouTube than by reading text ? (Conveniently, it’s usually about 6/10ths who put up their hand)
  • 75% of our brains is used to process visual information
  • Your brains process visual information 60000 times faster than it processes text
  • Visuals are powerful ways to deliver a message
Demonstration Example

Put up an example of an infographic – I like to use one I found on visual.ly “The Alarming State of SingleParenthood” to use as my example. I start with just showing the top title and image of the infographic to the students and ask them their initial thoughts on the type of message they think this infographic will carry, on what they see when they look at the image.  The types of answers I get are along the lines of:
  • It will be a negative representation.  Why?
  • The title is a powerful message – use of the word “alarming”
  • The kids are all crying
  • The mother is not comforting the children
  • The mother is dressed “skankily”
  • The mother is too busy on her iPhone
From this I lead into a discussion on how students should be very careful in the images they select for their infographic as they do not want to send a message unintentionally.

Q: What do you think the purpose of an infographic is?  (I scroll slowly down the page and let students see the type of content in the infographic)
  • To inform
  • To persuade
  • A call to action

Domain Knowledge

The learning goals for this stage of the lesson are an understanding of:
  1. the variety of data representations that can be used
  2. how information can be organized
  3. the role of colour in design
Some sample questions and answers:

Q: How is information depicted: (another slow scroll)
  • Pie charts
  • Arrows showing rising or falling statistics
  • Bar graphs
  • People (6/10 is 6 one colour and 4 of another)
  • Money bags or $ are used whenever a dollar figure is used
Q:  How is the information organized? (another slow scroll)
  • Red banners with subheadings
  • Coloured boxes
  • Image backgrounds
  • Text boxes


All students to go to the visual.ly website (or in pairs) and choose any infographic they like (they are on the bottom of the page)
Look at:
  • How is data represented?
  • How is the information organized?
Add to the answers given earlier.

Q:  What can you tell me about the colour schemes used?
  • Monochromatic
  • Only 2-3 colours
  • Usually quite bright
  • Occasionally rainbow type colour schemes are used but these are usually not as effective
Q:  Colours are meant to bring about certain feelings.  What does blue mean? Red? Green?


What type of colour scheme would you use for:
  • An infographic about the environment? Why?
  • An infographic about geological structures? Why?
  • An infographic about cities? Why?


Some other considerations:
  • The meanings of colours are culturally biased.  If you are creating for a global audience it is important to consider alternative colour meanings.
  • Look at information on culturalmeanings of colour
  • What are some colours that could send mixed messages to people from other backgrounds?
Q:  Who thinks that they can create an infographic now? (You’ll only get a few)

Q:  What about if I tell you that you can do it in Powerpoint?


The learning goals for this stage of the lesson are an understanding of:
  1. the simplicity with which an infographic can be created 
  2. the importance of planning
  3. the creation process
  4. how to use the software
I have used three different types of software to create infographics:
  1. Powerpoint (recommended for students with computers)
  2. Infogr.am – this was the best online site I found.  It was quite simple to use and worked well on an iPad.
  3. Easel.ly – this is a website with templates you can use to create your own infographics.  The free version did not seem to have a great number of template choices.  It did not work very well on an iPad.

Why do I like Powerpoint?
  • The students currently in high school learned to use it from birth (well maybe not quite)
  • Clip art is royalty free, you don’t have to attribute your images
  • Shapes, arrows, text boxes are already all there for you to use
  • It comes with built in colour schemes that have been designed by graphic designers.  Once you choose a colour scheme on the Themes\Design tab, the top row of offered colours is from your selected colour scheme whenever you draw a shape or text box
  • There is little or no cognitive load on learning to use the software.

Open up powerpoint
Go to the Design Tab and then select Page Setup – change the page length to 60
Practise creating:
  • Text boxes
  • Arrows
  • Graphs
  • Using clip art
At our school we have a subscription to Atomic Learning.  There are some 1-2 minute videos on doing any of these activities if you are not confident yourself.  Alternatively, you’ll be able to find information on YouTube \ Google.


I like to have a discussion with the students at this point for them to step out the process.
  1. Research
  2. Decide on audience and purpose
  3. Re-search
  4. Analyse information and decide how you are going to tell your story - what information stays in to advance your purpose
  5. Sketch it out (very important tip for powerpoint - an A4 page is approximately 30cm long - add an extra 15cm to the page length as you can't add more later without stretching out the content - it's far easier to crop space off the bottom)
  6. Create
  7. Review, get peer feedback
  8. Edit
Remember Image Attribution

If you are using one of the online options you will need to attribute any images that you use (or if you have used images that are not built into clipart). 

It is a good idea to only use creative commons image searches so that you do not accidently use a copyrighted image.

The format is Artist, Image name, URL, Type of License

Alternatively, you can use the Artist, Image Name (as a hyperlink to the original image), Type of License.

If you need to know more about Creative Commons here are some resources to help you: