Coetail Blog Re-design

I really enjoyed exploring the resources around Visual Literacy this week.  It really made me look at everything (my blog, my presentations in class, other presentations, and the world around me) with a critical eye. I’ve been wanting to do a revamp on my COETAIL blog for a while, so with this new information in hand and design principles (CARP) to lean on, I’m going to give it a go.

Like most of us, I dove into the COETAIL course with great energy, reading, thinking and absorbing many new ideas.  The act of blogging was a great reflective practice and I was quick to get the blog up and running.  Wordpress was a new platform for me, but with the instructors’ videos and transferring other skills, it was quick to set up. With so much thinking around the early concepts, the blog site itself was set up in a functional matter and it hasn’t changed much since those early days.  I was more absorbed with the content of my blog posts, rather than the blog design.

Here’s a screen shot of how it looked:

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 10.23.26 pm

Here are some issues I have:

The banner image – As I said, this blog was created quickly at the beginning of course 1.  This image is one of my favorite photos I’ve snapped.  However, it is not at all connected to the purpose or focus of this blog.  It is not a metaphor for teaching or anything smart like this.  It’s just a nice, colorful picture that bring me good memories.  So this was the first thing I want to change.  I wanted an image that reflects the blog content and connects with the blog title – Tracy 2.0.

Density and Whitespace – There was too much white space around the top and top-right hand corner in the original layout.  The theme of the blog was creating this effect, so I explored a variety of the themes to find a better style. In fact, I tried on almost of all of the themes. The ones I liked the most were Storyline, Sixteen, Magazino, and TwentyTen. However, there was at least one small thing about each theme that I would’ve liked to be able to manipulate further.

COLOR & CONTRAST – The blog was lacking in color except for the banner image.  It was very much black on white.  Too much white.  Everything was swimming in white. While I do like simplicity, I think the blog was too bland.  I thought to use more color would liven it up and provide some structure to the page so it didn’t feel like the text was slipping off the side of a snow covered mountain.

ALIGNMENT – This was not a problem on the original blog design as everything was aligned on the left side giving it a sleek and organised feel.

PROXIMITY – Again, too much white space and one scrolling blog meant that connections were hard to find between information and some of features of the blog.

So in the new design, I chose the theme Magazino.  I used Picmonkey to make a Site Logo for the top of the page.  I decided to use pictures of myself since this is a website about my teaching practices and reflective of my philosophies.  I only wish that I could’ve extended the collage across further so there wasn’t so much white space. This was a limitation of the theme. I chose a black background to act as a border and provide some structural feel to the page.  The Social Media Icons were a new addition which I think are important and align with the focus of Course 1 – connected educators and learners.  The new theme gives an image to represent individual blog posts in close proximity which I think helps the reader to connect the information from separate posts and get a sense of the overall theme (visual literacy). Using Proximity to make connections may mean a viewer is more likely to go on and read other posts.

Here is a the new look:

Screen Shot 2015-10-18 at 10.27.35 am

After reading Michael Agger’s article Lazy Eyes, I’m trying to be more conscious of how much text I use, the length of paragraphs, and the use of subtitles, bulleted lists and white space in individual posts.

A last minute alteration to change the background colour to match the blue text of the blog titles and I think I’m done.  Any feedback is most welcome…

Screen Shot 2015-10-18 at 12.24.07 pm




Info Me – Course 3 Final Project

For the final project, I decided to do option 3 “Create an “About Me” page on the COETAIL blog, including an infographic or visual resume.  I chose this option because I feel creating a resume is a highly relevant task for all professionals and especially so for educators working in the international school system where there is constant change and fluidity. Whilst not recruiting for the next school year, it will be something I will do in the near future. Not only that, to create a resume is to really take oneself through a highly reflective process as it is impossible to create any resume without considering some essential questions and filtering what is important and what is not important. I knew it would force me to consider questions such as:

  • Who am I as an educator?
  • Which of my experience, qualifications and skills are most important?
  • What information is no longer relevant?

My last resume was written and used for recruiting in 2010. Here is a link to that resume.   It is a traditional resume in most senses.  Now, there is new content to be added; moreover, things have changed in the international teaching world and the world in general with respect to information literacy which I want to infuse into the new resume.  The elements of the old resume that I liked include the quotes, the use of colour and that it is organised.  Other than this, the resume is pretty conventional and standard in terms of content and layout.

After almost 15 years of work experience the teaching experience (work history) section is starting to get lengthy. As is the core competencies and professional development sections.  I have been privileged to work at school that offer many onsite professional development as well as had opportunities to attend PD through various conferences, institutes and specialized programs; however, I felt that I need to find a way to consolidate all of this information and represent it visually.

My main goal with creating an infographic style resume would be to synthesize this information and present it in a more visually appealing way. However, I fear that some information (specific details which I think are important) would be lost in the process. That is why I’d also accompany the infographic with a full traditional resume. I’m proud of both my work history and the time I’ve invested in professional development over the years and am conscious that this could be lost.

I decided to take a similar approach to what @jutecht.  recommends from week 3 on creating visual presentations which is to start in analog. So to do this I considered elements of my resume that I valued and put each one on an index card in some visual form. I played around with the placement of the index card keeping in mind the principles of layout (CARP).  See below my design process:


One big change that I wanted to include in my new resume was some interactive components to step away from a flat document style resume.  I thought this would also be a solution to not being able to include all information in a one-pager infographic. Therefore, I want to include one component that is a link to a video showing a typical teaching scenario in my classroom and places were more information could be found through links and pop-ups.

So after considering all these components I was fairly happy with my vision. However, I quickly realized that I didn’t have the tech skills to make it happen. That’s a real blow when you realize your abilities do not meet your vision. Although I could see how I could create some of the components using various tools, I did not know how to stitch the pieces together in a beautiful and professional-looking way. One of the benefits of Piktochart and other such software is the ready made designs and themes. But on the other hand, it doesn’t give as much control to the user and I knew that it would not give me the flexibility I needed.  So I found the most basic theme that looked easiest to modify to put in my elements.  It doesn’t at all match what I want my Infographic Resume to look and function like, but it is a start and a good practice applying various skills.

To represent all the professional development section of my resume, I decided to do a word art visual representation. Here are a couple of different versions. While I’m happy with the visual elements, I do not think it truly represents the extensive professional development that I’ve been a part of over the years.  Therefore I would somehow link this back to the traditional resume.


To represent my teaching experience, I wanted to include a map which when you roll over the places I’ve taught a box pops up with the school name, years taught, roles held. I could not make this and had to settle for a simple map created using MapChart.  I made a simple graph using Excel.  In addition, I selected a video I created last year showcasing Math Workshop.

I also tried some of the other resume generating web-based tools including:

These do give a clean look and they take much of the design principle decisions out of the users hands to produce a clean and organized product.  However, the final product is a little bit predictable.  Any potential recruiter will recognise that this is a plug in your information type tool.  It does not show what the user can do in terms of applying design principles or creating own content.

In addition to the infographic Resume, I also wanted to rework my About Me page.  So far, I haven’t spent much time on it.  I have only really just added information as a placeholder until I had more time.  On the About Me page, I want to include the Infographic Resume, the traditional resume and a more detailed narrative about myself as an educator.
To end, I’m not at all happy with the final product.  It is not professional or polished.  It certainly does not match the infographic that I haven’t painted in my mind.  However, in my opinion… Process trumps Product.  So in terms of a learning experience this project definitely fulfilled my goals.  I’ll continue to develop my skills so as to be able to turn this into something useable come recruiting time.  I may have to ask for some help from an expert but I definitely know what a want.

Including Infographics

As a kid, I grew up on a steady diet of posters.  Posters were the go-to product at the end of units of work or when presenting data.  Right up to and including university we were making posters (that’s showing my age).  I loved making posters – choosing colors, what to go where, layout, styles, fonts etc.  I didn’t realise at the time, I was being exposed to and learning essential design principles.  To this day, I love to use visuals to organize my thinking by sketching, creating flowcharts etc.  While posters are out of fashion these days, as there are many way cooler ways to display information, there are still many of the same metacognitive skills to apply. Out with posters, in with Infographics.  Infographics are being used for many purposes including:

They have many educational uses as students can consume infographics (read, intepret, and discuss) or create their own.

Currently in class, we are just starting a new unit (Sharing the Planet) which focuses on biomes of the world and their threats.  We are using mangroves as a case study as it is a big local issue where I am currently located (Mumbai, India).  To learn about global threats through mangroves we use sources such as:

But I’d like to include an additional source of information as a result of the focus of this week’s course.  In this unit the purpose of including an infographic would be to learn more about our subject area and to focus on the key skills of <how to read and interpret> an infographic.  I found an infographic that supports our learning objectives at the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment, and Health website.
Infographic From United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment, and Health

At the same time, we would be inquiring into ‘How this text compares to our other sources of information’ through these key concepts:

  • What makes an infographic an infographic?  Form
  • How does it work?  Function
  • Why is it like this?  Causation

What I’m really trying to do is set up a foundation for future units when students could have an opportunity to create an infographic.  A lot of groundwork is already laid.  They would already know what infographics are like and when is it best to use it as opposed to other forms of text.

When thinking about infographics I immediately thought of Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano who has written a lot of blog posts about the use of infographics as well as creating infographics herself for a variety of purposes for example this infographic on copyright.  She has some fantastic resources to help teachers use infographics in the classroom.  

A spanner:

When I was ready to push publish on this blog post, I came across one last article that I could have done without reading at this point in time.  But once read, I can’t hit the undo button in my brain.  Essentially, it is discussing the difference between an infographic and digital posters.  It’s possible that there are many digial posters disguised as infographics if you were to get technical on some of the features or even the purpose of an infographic.  So, I am going to have to rethink some of my work.  

  • Am I using an infographic or a digital poster?
  • Are students creating an infographic or digital poster?
  • Does it matter?  

I’m interested in your thoughts.  For now, I’ve got a plan and I’ll implement and reflect and modify for next time.  Teaching is like that.  You make decisions based on what you know at that point in time, and it is likely that you’ll acquire more information and experience and change.  If I think back 15 years ago when I started teaching, there are many things I cringe at (think tri-fold brochure – really popular back then).  

Well… “The times they are a-changin’ ” – says Bob Dylan… constantly…







Telling a story

When considering how I could use digital storying telling in the classroom, many ideas popped into my head.  As outlined in the article by Educase, digital storytelling can be  instructional, persuasive, historical, or reflective.  Therefore, across the year, I can think of multiple connections in various units and various subject areas:

  • digital storytelling for the migration unit (Where we are in place and time) – historical
  • beginning of the year narrative writing unit
  • informational writing unit – (Sharing the Planet) – instructional
  • student learning journeys across the year (reflective) for showcasing at Student Led Conferences
  • opinion writing unit – personal and persuasive essay writing
  • tracking the steps in a human-design centered project currently underway in partnership with two NGOs.

With so many opportunities, it sounds easy, right?  I started to think this through a little further to focus in on one of these possibilities. The most natural choice went to incorporating digital storytelling into the narrative writing unit currently ongoing in my class.  In fact, this unit is in its last few weeks where students have chosen one piece of writing to take through the writing process and will publish their small moment story in class.  But something just keeps buzzing around in my head (and it’s not the drilling coming from the apartment three floors down which is under renovation).

flickr photo shared by Samuel M. Livingston under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

And that is, the why?    I’m asking myself:
Is this just an add on?’
What reasons do I have for doing this?’
Does it transform learning rather than enhance the learning and how?
Is it worth the extra time?
The curriculum map says I should be starting the informational writing unit.  What does this mean for my pacing for the rest of the year?
Should I have thought of this at the beginning and woven it in? Is it too late?
Do the benefits out way any negatives?

Reading through David Jakes Towards a Framework for Visual Literacy Learning did help answer most of my questions.  It settled the confusion and validated my thinking around the importance of digital storytelling opportunities in the classroom.  Further reading confirmed the benefits further due to the multitude of skills that are involved including 21st Century Skills. The readings helped me to understand that it is not just about telling a story using digital tools, but it is about the act of telling and sharing a story.

One point of hesitancy and this in itself is how I drew the conclusion that this is not an add on, is the multitude of potential teaching points that might need to be included when making a digital story.  This is not a case of extending my unit by a week to have them record in digital format because there are many other facets that need to be included.  Here are some possible learning points:

  • crafting a script from a personal narrative
  • narration and fluency
  • sourcing still images
  • creating own images and video
  • video filming techniques and shot types
  • green screening
  • understanding creative commons and copyright
  • using the hardware and software for digital storytelling
  • uploading and sharing products

So the potential for integration and the incorporation of benchmarks across multiple disciplines, means that digital story telling can be your friend to save time in the ever packed school year.  However, for that to happen, it is important to be strategic and plan for this across the year and across school (e.g. K- 5) as not everything can be taught in a year but should be built up in layers.  You can then leverage students background knowledge and experiences so the digital story telling project is not so overwhelming.

Like any decision I make in the classroom, I want to ensure that there has been a thoughtful process.  To help me make the decision to digital story tell or not, I’ve asked myself this:

Does it allow students opportunities to consume, construct and connect?  And the short answer is YES and on multiple levels.

Inspiration is all around.  Stories are everywhere and screaming to be told as attested by the success of the Humans of New York series.  I’ve been so deeply inspired by what I read and viewed this week including this last item:



“Tell your story,  Take the data of your life and turn it into real people doing real things”…”change the world through storytelling”.

Presentation Upgrade

The beginning of the school year seems a bit of a distant memory as we have just finished week 7.  However, the early weeks were formative in setting up many systems and building relationships that have lasting impact throughout the year.  One particular important beginning of the year event was the Open House session (Back to School Night for some) where parents came to school to meet the teacher and learned more about their child’s upcoming year.  At our school, we conduct this during the school day.  We start with a whole grade level presentation to parents.  It is this presentation that I would like to re-examine as I’ve struggled with the presentation that I’ve used in the past.  Feeling overwhelmed with the amount of information needed to share, the presentation became a sit and get for parents.  Here’s the presentation:

As you can see, this presentation does not align with many of the principles of presentation design that experts write about.  It is far from being simple and balanced.  It doesn’t tell a story or revolve around a central idea.  There is too much text on some slides and much of the information could be accessed by parents before or after the open house through handouts or additional information sessions hosted by the school (e.g. technology, assessment, EAL).

I would really like to rethink this presentation and incorporate best practices from presentation zen which includes going back to the very beginning and reviewing purpose.  Instead of sharing so much school logistical information I’d really like this Open House session to convey some big ideas and themes around the year.  I started to think deeper about the purpose of the session and what my personal goals were (What I hope parents would walk away knowing or understanding).  This got me thinking critically about what kind of information is best shared in person and what information is best accessed through handouts.  Here is a list of the ideas that I brainstormed that are important to me (not in any particular order at this stage):

  • Who are we as a group of educators working with your child every day?
  • What are our fundamental beliefs about learning (especially for this age group)?
  • What are some features of this particular grade (that sets in apart from other grade levels)?
  • What is the learning environment like and how does this support student learning?
  • What do we believe about home-school connections and partnerships?
  • What is the role of technology in learning?

My next step was to find powerful images that represent these ideas and would help me to convey a message.  After a quick search I realised that finding the perfect image is hard work and on reflection perhaps the best way to get the ‘just right’ photo would be to use some my own images.  If I’m talking about the idea of creativity in the curriculum would it be better to have the word creativity on the slide or an image of students being creative?

For example:

flickr photo shared by Sean MacEntee under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license


Image by author, photos by ASB
Image by author, photos by ASB

In this presentation I definitely want parents to know that I believe that learning is a social activity and that students have an opportunity to learn in many different ways including partnerships, groups, and independent practice. It’s important to me that I convey that the learning environment is dynamic and interactive.  An image would serve well to represent what I could talk about in an authentic way to the audience.

Photo by author
Photo by author

I want the overall feel of the presentation to reflect simplicity both in individual slides and the presentation as a whole.  For this reason, I connected with the Kawasaki Method (10 slides – 10 major ideas).  This seems a reasonable number – anymore and I’ve probably tried to include too many ideas in the presentation and may be veering from my initial goals. 10 slides seems to be a good fit for this audience, purpose and time limit (15 minutes).  With respect to including text, I want to ensure that powerful words (perhaps quotes) are used as this will help create a balance between text and images.  I envision a mashup of the Lessig Method and Kawasaki method while at the same time applying some of the other great points I read about this week.

I’m really liking the direction that this new presentation is going and the vision that I am creating in my mind.  I am considering using this for the final course project.  While I don’t see myself adopting one particular presentation style, I do see many elements coming together to form my own style.  Which brings me to this quote which is one that resonates with me throughout the whole COETAIL journey as I am presented with new ideas and choosing what and how much to let into my life.

“You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life.”
Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative


Visuals in the classroom

Thinking about the amount of information that students are exposed to day after day in the their school setting plus the additional information out of school makes me feel like I am competing for their brain space.  What are they really going to remember about a particular lesson on any particular day?  Often I ask my son how his day was, what did you learn?  The most common answer is good or blank stare.  I worry about what’s really sticking or resonating inside of him.  

For this I know teachers have to work hard at capturing and maintaining students’ attention and we have become creative at how we can stimulate and captivate our students.  For me personally, using visuals is one very important way to support student learning – to engage, to inspire, to remember, to highlight, to conclude, to represent, and to analyse.  There are many reasons why visuals can enhance learning including those described by Karla Gutierrez.  If you need more information about this in a visual way this infographic gives 13 reasons.  This is why I am a big believer and user of charts in the elementary classroom.  I believe it helps students to anchor their thinking and create memories around learning.  it’s also a valuable resource that they can return to in order to build their own independence as a learner.  That being said, some of my charts are better than others and it would be fun to analyse them with some of the design principles in mind.  Do I have text and images balanced right?  Bulleted list of information or longer pieces of text?

I’m planning ahead of how I can use more images in the classroom to foster thinking and promote communication.  I found a powerful image of a local river near our school and I plan to use this for a morning meeting activity as a provocation for the beginning of a unit of inquiry about to start – Sharing the Planet.  In this activity, I plan to have student looks at the image using the Visible Thinking routine ‘Think …. Puzzle…. Explore….’  

flickr photo shared by ravi khemka under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

I’m also planning to use this image in class.  

Photo by author
Photo by author

This idea came from my 10 year old son.  I was trying to hurry him up to get out the door to leave for school.  He was meant to be brushing his teeth.  I found him staring out my bedroom window with his toothbrush in his mouth and my patience was slowly slipping away.  After ditching the toothbrush, he told me that he was looking at an ant trail and a bunch of ants carrying a worm.  Sure enough, there was a busy line of ants hauling the worm/caterpillar away at quite a great speed.  I rushed to get my phone to take a photo and with no prompting at all he gave me a good suggestion of how to use this image in the classroom.  He suggested that students should try to connect this image to our How We Organize Ourselves unit all about working together as  a team – brilliant idea.  And a good reminder to me to look out the window more often.  Yes, we are surrounded by images, but when used intentionally and explicitly in the classroom a deeper level of thinking and  learning can occur.