Power to the lego people.

Image courtesy of my amazing grade 9 class.

When we talk about visual literacy we need to avoid the echo chamber of a ‘faculty only’ conversation.  Most teachers I talk to will agree it is important.  Most teachers I know online demonstrate their own keen awareness of how powerful visuals are.  But when and where do we make room for our students to think about the place visual literacy has in their school experience?

During the third week of Course Three, we considered the following question:

How does the ability to use, create and/or manipulate imagery foster effective communication?
I have long thought about this question in regards to my own presentation design.  I wanted to get out of the way of my students, and allow them to answer that question within their own peer groups.
One of the IBDP LP signs made by my 9th grade English class
One of the IB Learner Profile signs made by my 9th grade English class

I asked my students to select one of the following decks I had created for our classroom essential agreements:

Harkness Table Talk Expectations – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

IB Learner Profile – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires
From there, students selected their own teams, and decided on the resources they wanted to use for their remixes.  We spent about 15 minutes workshopping our editing skills with Picmonkey. We spent a quick 10 minutes thinking about the rule of thirds, and how it makes a difference in images we create. Lastly, we had a short discussion about the purpose,  and underlying themes we wanted to communicate in our images.  In order to do this, students had to think about the existing themes with the IB Learner Profile as well as our Harkness Table Talk guidelines.  In doing so, students had authentic conversations about the foundation of our classroom experiences.  As curators, students needed to unpack the nuances of our essential agreements.  As a teacher, I began to rethink the ‘real estate’ value of the signage spaces in my classroom.  Too many teachers dominate the signage ownership.  It is quick, easy, and effective to whip together another Haiku Deck for my room.  It is complicated, challenging, and a time commitment to hand this responsibility over to our students.  But it shifts the narrator of the classroom story.  No class should be told from a teacher’s first person perspective all the time.  Empowering our students to tackle the story-telling of our classroom norms means rewriting the dialogue to be open-ended.

One of the crucial understanding in this course is:

  • Audience and purpose behind your communication affect how and what you communicate.

When students make and communicate for their community, we also unpack why we value communication as a collaborative skill.

If we want to educate our school community about the power of the Creative Commons movement we need to give them ample experience as creators.  The more students construct their own signage, blogposts, music, videos–the more they understand the need for reuse, the joy of the remix, and the pride of creating something valuable to someone somewhere else.

Another creative interpretation of one of our values.
Another creative interpretation of one of our values.

I wanted to share the story of the risk I took in taking time away from ‘the curriculum,’ to get to the core of why we do the things we do in my classroom.  Scratch that, in OUR classroom.  Yes, we need students to carve out their own online learning spaces through blogging and Twitter.  We also need them to have room to communicate on our physical classroom walls.  We often become so obsessed with moving forward with our lessons, that we ignore the signs for ‘rest stops,’ along the way.  If we want our students to be effective content curators, we need to allow them the time and space to practice those skills in authentic, but low stakes situations.  Although this lesson in design, curation, and values assessment wasn’t on our unit planner–it was essential.  I wanted to share that story with other teachers.  When we prepare our students to collaborate on our needed classroom decor–wonderful things happen.  Thanks to COETAIL, I am more ‘design-minded,’ and from here on out, I hope to start with the following question the next time I need to design something:

“Would this be a more authentic experience if I helped facilitate the curation of this by students rather than all by myself?”

Shouldn’t the design of any classroom be a shared responsibility?

I hope my video invites other classes to think about creating and sharing their own version of the IB Learner Profile or other essential agreements.  Please leave me a comment on other ideas for sharing the role of classroom design among all the stakeholders. Thanks!



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.