Storytime Open House

Photo Credit: BRICK 101 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: foilman via Compfight cc

It’s been a while since I’ve remixed the IB Learner Profile.

I’ve made a few versions of it via Haiku Deck, like this one here.

And I still love the remix version I made inspired by ‘texts from Hillary.’

I want to take a step back from narrating this digital story.  Instead, I want to ask my students to take the lead.  There is no shortage of amazing Creative Commons images featuring beloved Lego friends, just check out Compfight for evidence of that.  But what if my students made their own CC images with Lego to retell the story of the IB Learner Profile?

Will everything be awesome?

Can I encourage other teachers around the world to make their own IB Learner Profile digital stories too?  Could we share our work and examine the different perspectives we take?

According to the Digital Storytelling Process, I think I’ve just come up with my proposal for anyone reading this right now.  If you’d like to connect with me, please just leave a comment.  I think this could be the beginning to a really rad story…

Photo Credit: Ken Whytock via Compfight cc

Turning back time

Two years ago, Paula Baxter put Presentation Zen in my hands. Since then, the Reynolds book is a staple in my ‘recommended summer reading’ letter for high school students.  It is a wonderful guide for understanding how to distill your message, and be more mindful of those in your audience.

Another guru of presentation design is Seth Godin, and his work here is worth your time.  Both texts remind us that a presentation is meant to ENGAGE the audience, not simply make them sit through what should have been your speaker notes.

The best presentations do so much more than inform.  They inspire.

We can only build inspirational presentations when we have the following ingredients:

a) time

b) an authentic understanding of where this material needs to go (a focused purpose)

c) someone to bounce ideas around with

d) an open minded community

Inspired presentations are not about the tech.  They aren’t about the sound equipment, the stage, the mic, the devices or the lighting.  Inspired presentations are about the people.  When do we make our fellow colleagues feel safe to fail?  Safe to share a story? Safe to ask for more time to get it right?  Safe to ask others for help?

“The one thing that all successful people have in common is persistence,”
Garr Reynolds, The Naked Presenter: Delivering Powerful Presentations With or Without Slides

Photo Credit: Don Voaklander via Compfight cc

If we want our presentations to come from a foundation built on persistence, we need time and people.  Whenever I see a poorly constructed presentation, I empathize with that person’s lack of one of those key ingredients.

“Only through mistakes can you see where you’re lacking, where you need to work.”
Garr Reynolds, Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery (2nd Edition)

As a DP teacher, I spend a lot of time preparing my 11th and 12th grade students for oral presentations.  They need to practice making mistakes in front of an audience.  They need to have that experience happen again and again and again.  It doesn’t feel good to make mistakes, but in our classrooms, it should feel safe.  I design several low-stakes speaking opportunities.  A professional basketball player probably misses thousands of free-throws in the gym without an audience before they ever reach that dramatic fourth quarter pressure shot moment.  Sometimes our students just need a ‘shoot around.’

They also need to be exposed to good presentation models.  Lawrence Lessig is a favorite model to share.  This is someone who nails simplicity.  The effort behind his slides is palpable.  Check this out for classic Lessig brilliance.

In July,  I was honored to be a part of the Apple Distinguished Educator showcases at the Institute in Holland.  I was allotted three minutes to share something I learned as an ADE.


Me trying to not look nervous.
Me trying to not look nervous.

You can watch my opening to the presentation here:

My presentation was okay.  I was happy with my layout, my slides, my images, etc.  I wish though that I had just told a story.  The ADE crowd is intimidating, and I felt a huge amount of pressure to say something profound.  I thought I needed an allegory, some huge ‘aha!’ moment.  In trying to find that, I lost my narrative.

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”
Garr Reynolds, The Naked Presenter: Delivering Powerful Presentations With or Without Slides

I wish I had remembered that we all find our colleagues intimidating.  More importantly, I wish I remembered how much we all love a good story,  we love being involved.

If I could turn back time, I would have told the story of just one image:

TriciaShowcaseADEThe image featured here.

There is a great story behind that image.  I briefly touched upon it, feeling I needed to outline exactly what my message was.  I wish I had worked to unpack that image, to give the audience a narrative they could have tinkered with themselves.  Involving the audience means giving them room to think, room to play with your narrative.  That is what Presentation Zen is all about:  the artful way of inviting your audience in.

“Give them something to think about later” (from the Presentation Zen blog)

What will resonate with your audience?

Will you be brave enough to find out what resonated?

I was too shy to ask for feedback on my ADE one in three showcase.  I felt a wave of relief when it was all over and I didn’t take that decisive step to ask anyone what I could have done differently.  The best presenters push through that awkward haze.  I will be sure to make that a new goal for this year.  Embarrassment fades, but losing out on an opportunity to get better sticks with us unless we act.  Rock balancing only happens when you are willing to let the whole thing fall down…and start all over again.

Photo Credit: neilalderney123 via Compfight cc

Show, don’t tell

The quickest way to lose an audience is to start your slides with a big block of text.  I’m amazed at how often I see this happen in meetings.  Teachers spend so much time putting together amazing presentations for students, but for some reason we often short change our colleagues.  Images engage us, make us wonder, invite us to think.  Inquiry and imagination are both invited in by the powerful images we embed into our work. Give your audience a moment to pause, and try to guess where you might be going with your visuals.

“Every now and then one paints a picture that seems to have opened a door and serves as a stepping stone to other things.”
Pablo Picasso

Relying on pictures forces the teacher to think as a storyteller.  When I am putting my slide deck together I am thinking about mapping out a journey.  What do these ideas look like?  What tone should I set? How can I visualize the learning outcomes?

The added design step pays off.  Students need to practice reading images.  Advertisements bombard us, but when and where do we take the time to help our students unpack the way they work?

Reading images is a big part of what IBDP Language and Literature teachers do.  In our course everything is a text.  We look at approaches to decoding and constructing a wide variety of text types.  We consider the ways biases, stereotypes, and prejudices are overtly spread.  We think about the relationship between words and images.  We analyze fonts.  In short, we think about everything one might have to read in a lifetime and we do our best to prepare our students with a library card for that world.

If we are going to learn to read images, we might as well use images along the way.  A few years ago I fell in love with Haiku Deck.  I loved it when it was just a mobile app.  Now Haiku Deck is everywhere.  This is a good thing.  Haiku Deck operates with Creative Commons images.  Here is the sample deck I use with my DP class when we prepare to ‘read’ an advert:

Reading – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

How can we help our students read images while using images? Can we inspire the next generation of presentations to be? Can we make room for our audience to engage with our topic with an image?

Photo Credit: Tahmid Munaz™ via Compfight cc

Seeing is believing

I’m being a rebel.

Me, the rebel, in black and white...
Me, the rebel, in black and white…

This post was meant to focus on the way I could redesign my blog/VLE.  Sprucing up my digital dwellings is something I enjoy doing (oddly, it always happens right around the time I have a massive bundle of exams to mark).

Right now I want to talk about the ways our online lives encourage us to remix our physical classrooms. 

Schools don’t always value the power of visuals.  When they do value the importance of living and breathing design, amazing things happen.  Take this stellar model via WAB:

YouTube Preview Image

I visited WAB for the amazing Learning 2.0 conference a few years ago.  The conference was inspiring, and the physical space did so much to level up on that palpable passion.

When we show our students that we care about learning ‘looking nice,’ we are reminding ourselves how much school matters.

“People don’t believe what you tell them.
They rarely believe what you show them.
They often believe what their friends tell them.
They always believe what they tell themselves.”
Seth Godin

The incredible Paula Guinto is one of the all time gurus of gurus on classroom design.  Her work is featured in this post by Keri Lee Beasley.  Stop whatever you are doing and read that post.

Photo Credit: betta design via Compfight cc

Wow, right?

What can we learn about design in the online world from great design in the physical classroom?

1.  Make the effort

Students will notice when you put in the additional hour(s) to make your course’s home appealing.

2.  It needs to change

If your space looks the same month after month, year after year–what message are you sending about the characteristics of learning?

3.  Your creative leaps encourage their creative leaps

We go to our students with requests for creativity…shouldn’t we model it when and where we can?

Photo Credit: Fu Man Jew via Compfight cc

Good design anywhere can inspire good design everywhere.

I make sure to make my google slides appealing.  Does that take me an additional 30-40 minutes of planning? Absolutely.  It pays off.

It is that time of year when my 9th graders are starting up blogs.  Many of them have created  a visual space–could that have been inspired by the visual nature of my classroom and class resources? I’ll be positive and think…. maybe.  The same applies when we put the time and effort into our email correspondence with students.  They learn to be more mindful in their responses.  Good design then boils down to making the effort.

Everything we do as a school should promote the notion of making the effort.


“The idea of #coetailsketch is that we use the spirit of this course to sketchnoting. Doodling is a private process but what might happen if we start sharing our learning?

We might have our thinking around a topic clarified.

We might find that others have been pondering the same questions as we have and start to collaborate.

We might inspire others to share their learning.

We might see our ideas evolve over time.”

Read more from Stephanie Thompson here.

When we experiment, when we make that decision to experiment, we open ourselves up to a great opportunity.   I’ll that call Design Learning. Create authentic opportunities for learning by learning something yourself.  Wow, that went for a philosophical-turn.

Photo Credit: Digital Explorer via Compfight cc
Perhaps that is what I want to continue working on as a designer:  purposefully creating places where inquiry can arise.  Can design do that?

In the amazing multi-touch book by Keri-Lee Beasley, she reminds us that good design provides comfort.  Comfort produces a learning environment where risks and mistake-making is possible (like I’m doing right now in the context of our COETAIL group).

The principles of good online design are something try to embed in my classroom, as pictured below:


My IB Learner Profile is on display via Haiku Deck.  The images are Creative Commons, and I make a point of mentioning this frequently.  I believe in having plants in the classroom because they add a human element to our space.  Plants have always been an important tool in my classrooms across my career.  More on why here.


I’ve tried to add splashes of color.  We have a great deal of white space at my school, and according to this reading,  we shouldn’t. The bean bag chair is a new item, as is the green bucket stuffed with New Yorker magazines.  I’m an English teacher, if my room doesn’t encourage reading, I’ve failed.

I feel the same way about my blog.  I feel the same way about my email.  That’s why my new signature includes a Goodreads update on what I’m currently reading.  In the world of high school emails, that’s a splash of color.


Books and Batik: I update our physical classroom library constantly.  I believe in getting the books off the shelves and putting them where you absolutely MUST see them.  Call it my employment of the mud puddle principle via Vicki Davis.

My colleague, Phil Bruce uses that principle when he embeds ‘easter eggs’ in his google slides.  Avenues for inquiry are in the spaces we design.

Here’s to a new year of experimenting on and offline with new looks.