Friday Visualization #20

The World Cup is here and, like many people, I'm pretty excited.  However, there are a lot of games, times, locations and grouping to keep track of... too many for my simple brain to process.  Fortunately, some talented designer put together a phenomenal (and interactive) visualization.  It is so well designed.  Check it out here

World Cup Schedule Visualization

It would be really useful (and cool) if something like this was built into a student information system so a user could see a tremendous amount of information about a student at one time, in one place.  Makes me wonder why educational data and information design is stuck in the 1990s (or earlier).

Visualize Your Day

I was looking at NPR's Planet Money blog the other day and they had a link to this post that contained this excellent visual:



This got my brain working... what other ways could we keep track of something and create a similar visual?  I thought it might be interesting if student kept track of their daily activities (not all of them, just a few of the "major" tasks).  I created a "Time Sheet" that kids could use, my sample is here and the template here.  Lots of great math involved in keeping this chart.



Once I had all of the data I needed I created the visual below.  I used PowerPoint to create it since I wanted some "creative" license to make it the way I wanted but you could use any graphing program.



This was a fun activity for me to do and I think it would be fun for students as well.  You could have kids keep track of all sorts of stuff throughout the year (# of pages they read, minutes spent at recess, video game time, # of google searches, Big Macs consumed, etc.) ... once they have tons of data they could create all sorts of personally relevant visuals.


The math involved can be as simple or complicated as you would like.  I think it is important that we keep an eye out for these types of connections... they appear every day.  Making math relevant and interesting for students is important.

Dan Pink & The Candle Problem


I just finished watching the Dan Pink TED talk and I was really blown away with the educational implications of what he was saying (especially with how we grade/assess students).  Do yourself a favor and take 19 minutes and watch it... my guess is you will be happy that you did.  When you watch it, do this substitution in your head: when he says "business" you say "schools", or "education".  A few questions/observations I made when watched this.  I would really enjoy hearing your thoughts:

  1. Are we currently (and be honest) preparing our students to solve the first or second candle problem?

  2. Meetings are optional

  3. Traditional grading methods might work for the second candle problem but not for the first...

  4. Amen, intrinsic motivation is self-sustaining.  How do we foster intrinsic motivation in students?

  5. Meetings are optional* (I have to say, I like this one A LOT!)

  6. "If you want engagement, self-direction works better"  Do school leaders foster self-direction in teachers?  Do teachers promote self-direction in students?

  7. If you want to increase student performance don't do more of the wrong things... look for a whole new approach.

  8. How do we create an environment that is more right-brained, creative and conceptual?  My guess is that whatever we do here our system of assessment will need to change.



* Learning is social though, so I don't think he means don't gather and talk... at least I hope not.  I don't like meetings but appreciate meaningful discourse.

Visualization - Using a Calendar

The other day I shared out a neat financial literacy visual that illustrated how the things you own end up owning you.   I really liked the message of this visual and it was easy to understand (and would be a great infographic to share with students in a financial literacy class).



What I really liked about this visual is that it used a calendar as the primary way to denote time.  What a cool idea.  The more I thought about it, the more I thought about ways students could create similar graphical representations.  I made one that might be a good "getting to know you" type activity at the beginning of a school year.  It shows the places I've lived and the proportion of time that I live there (relative to my age).  I started on paper (see my messy brainstorm - and amateur math skills) and then just did a google search for "blank calendar" to find my background.  Finally, I ulled the graphic into PowerPoint and added some colorful textboxes and that was it.  The final result is below.  I'm pretty happy with it.


*click to enlarge

How could students use a similar concept in your courses?  Could they visualize events of WWII using this method?  How could it be used in science? I think it has potential.



Thought provoking commercials - IBM

IBM really has some great, though provoking commercials that I hope are more than just marketing spin.  They always make me think... which, let's face it, is not always an easy thing to get me to do (just ask my wife).  When I watched the ones below, I asked myself, how well am I preparing students to tackle the complex and ill-defined problems articulated in the commercials?  How well am I giving them opportunities to think and express their own ideas and opinions?  How well am I doing to create an environment that allows them to ask and answer their own questions?  Is it possible IBM gets what is needed in education reform better than education policy and decision makers?  I don't know, just watch the commercials* and let me know what you think.

Update (1/17).  I found some additional IBM materials that are additionally thought provoking.  The "Smarter City" project is pretty neat.







* There are more great ones... just having trouble finding them :-)

Creative Graphing

You know, I love creativity.  I think we need to infuse our teaching with it.  For all you math teachers out there who might teach graphing sometime, think about creative ways to do it.  Here are some ideas...
Accurate Pie Chart

This would be an easy (and fun) one to replicate (with pizza, pies, rice crispy treats, who knows).  Use a digital camera to share if you do.  Speaking of using a digital camera, take a picture and graph right on top of that... you could graph your toes :-)
(285) Length of My Toes, From Ball of Foot to Tip (A Bar Graph) on Flickr - Photo Sharing!
Uploaded with plasq's Skitch!



You can even teach graphing (albeit very creatively) through popular songs, poems, stories, pretty much anything where numbers and choices are involved.

made by sftekbear on Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Uploaded with plasq's Skitch!



... thanks, Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel.  You can see more of these creative graphs here on flickr.  I guess my point here is that once you start thinking about the creative ways you can get your graphing objective met, you should really GO FOR IT!

Food, glorious food

I'm a big fan of project-based learning (PBL) and students in my 6th grade technology class just finished what I believe to be a great activity.  Fun, creative and loaded with all sorts of learning opportunities.

I began the unit by telling the kids that I had just spoken with the CEO of the once powerful MegaFood corporation.  She explained to me that, given the recent economic downturn, the MegaFood company was in a difficult time.  In short, the company needed our help.  Sales have been down and moral was at an all time low.  What they needed was a new product to re-invigorate the entire brand.  They needed us to create a new "on-the-run, quick meal" product.






I explained to the kids that it was going to be their job to create several different product ideas and the advertising campaigns for those ideas.  Once they were finished, they would pitch these ideas to the CEO and board of the company.



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My goals for this unit were:




  • to work on descriptive and persuasive writing and speaking skills;

  • to understand the advertising techniques used to sell (i.e. to become savvy consumers);

  • to understand some of the basics of quality design (and how it can aid in getting "the point across")

  • to practice effective presentation skills

  • to promote risk taking and creativity


Of course, the students also learned a load of technology skills related to PowerPoint, Excel, CoreFX (drawing on the computer), Audio recording, Internet applications, and more.  What is important here is that they improved their technology skills by participating in an activity where the focus was not to learn the technology.  The purpose was to improve the skills required to create, design & pitch a new product... which, I am proud to say, they did with flying colors.

Take a look at one of the finished projects by clicking on the image below.  For best results, download the PowerPoint for viewing (that way the animations and radio ad will work - click the radio on the radio ad slide to play).


I uploaded all of the finished (and mostly finished) presentations up to our slideshare.net space for sharing and "showing off".   I think that some of these products could actually be taken to market (hmm, maybe my retirement scheme). I love projects like this where all of the kids have the same general assignment but they all go about it in different ways.


"Simple is Good"

I'm lucky enough to live near Washington, D.C. where we get all sorts of wonderful exhibits that come through our plentiful museums.  This summer* I went to see a really amazing one about Jim Henson (yes, the Muppets guy) called "Jim Henson's Fantastic World".  I knew it was going to be good when I saw the sign above the entrance:

simple is good


What I came away with was that Jim Henson was an extremely talented and creative soul who lived his life through storytelling and storymaking.  His legacy is one filled with joy; I mean real joy.  You could see this happiness on the faces of the people in the exhibit (especially, the 30-40 something adults who grew up with The Muppet Show).

At some point, the educator in me started to wonder, "how would a young Jim Henson have done in today's NCLB classroom?"

It got me thinking, what are we doing to foster creativity (by students AND teachers) in our schools?  Can you successfully learn (or teach) math, science, languages, history through activities that employ a healthy amount of the spirit of creativity?  I think so.  In fact, I sincerely believe that the use of technology tools can really facilitate the creative processes in students (and teachers).  The challenge is to break down the barriers (both real and perceived) that are preventing us from taking the risks to teach by blending technology and creativity into our teaching.

So, channel the spirit of Jim Henson and create a little puppet theatre in your classroom and let your students make some puppets, write a script designed to teach other students all about Mitosis (or plate tectonics, or the electoral college, or conjugating Spanish verbs...) and perform it to the class.  Go ahead and take a video about it, put it on your blog and share it.  I'm sure the results will be wonderful and the learning that will happen around such a simple project will amaze you. Take a risk, it does not need to be fancy or polished, remember, "simple is good".

Make sure to "prime the creative pump" by watching some of The Muppet Show prior to doing this activity with your students.  This will give them a glimpse into the genius of the man and, who knows, might launch one of them into a similar direction.

I'll leave you with this final quote from Jim Henson that I found in a book in the museum bookstore.  By random happenstance this was the first page I turned to.  Thank god for mobile phone cameras...

henson quote.jpg


* I've been thinking about this blog post for some time now :-)

How online video engages audiences

Some new research (conducted by Forrester research) provides some insight about the power of online video.  To me, as an educator, a couple of tidbits jumped out at me:

Forrester defined Engaged Viewers as those who watch more than an hour of online video per week.


  • A third of them - 36% - are between 13 and 24 years old

  • They spend 2.5 hours with online video a week (on average), watching 6.1 different types of video content

  • They pay close attention to what they are watching (vs. when watching TV)

  • more likely to pay full attention to the videos they watch

  • Engaged Viewers want even more content



We know many students enjoy videos.  We should be creating educational videos, related to the concepts we are trying to teach, that compete with the skateboarding, faceplanting, exploding videos that they are currently watching.  As teachers we should create video to help students understand complicated concepts.  Even better, we should be facilitating the creating of such videos by our students.  They can watch them online and download them to ipods.  They can shoot short 15-20 second clips on their cell phones and send them to each other.  Imagine, having student create short, purposeful 15 second phone clips to summerize a concept or conduct a reflection.  I don't know how it all could work or what the pitfalls might be, but I'm willing to try.

See inside your brain



So, scientists are working on new technology that will let you see your brain activity, in almost real time. This has huge potential for learning. Imagine being able to see what is going on inside the head of a student while they are learning something new. You could use this information to route around learning disabilities, or increase functionality. We like to say that all students learn differently, well, now we can actually see this happen. Pretty amazing. Watch the video, less than 4 minutes long.

Its time for TED

So, regular readers will know I have a bit of a thing for TED. Well, TED2008 is finally here (*polite clap*). It looks like it should be pretty good. I'll try to follow along as much as I can.

This year we will be asking "The Big Questions": Who are we? What is our place in the universe? Is beauty truth? Will evil prevail? How do we create? And more. Questions that hopefully will be answered by the speakers:


TED logo

What is del.icio.us?

In a nutshell, delicious is a simple way to organize your bookmarks (I literally have over a thousand of them). By organizing, you make it easy to find them later on. I couldn't live without it. I recently came across this video tutorial that explains, in plain English, what delicious is and can do.



I love this video presentation style. It showcases that an effective presentation is informative, accurate and interesting and does not have to be hi-tech. The presenters at common craft are really masters of this and really creative. You should check out their site - I wish they had more videos. Some of my favorites from them are...

  • Blogs in plain English

  • Zombies in plain English

  • RSS in plain English