Sunday, 18 May 2014

Teachers Guide to Unpackaging Infographics 2014 Edition

Post from 2013 revised and updated for 2014 workshops

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 globally 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 “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. Advise students to get feedback from others when they are done to ensure the story they are wanting to tell aligns with the story being told.

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
  4. the basic principles of 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 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?

Show an infographic on colour meanings. Discuss surprises (I'm getting rid of my red lounge cushions!)


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 cultural meanings of colour
  • What are some colours that could send mixed messages to people from other backgrounds?
The six principle of design are:
  1. Balance
  2. Space
  3. Proximity
  4. Alignment
  5. Repetition
  6. Contrast
Watch this video then go back to the infographic you were looking at to identify where these principles have been used.

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. – this was the best online site I found.  It was quite simple to use but didn't allow for a lot of creativity.
  3. – 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.  

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
  9. Save as an image .jpeg or .png
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 or places to find CC Images here are some resources to help you:

Friday, 20 September 2013

Santa's Little Helper, Task and Criteria Sheets

It's a long time since I've been a regular watcher of the Simpsons but there is one episode that has always stuck with me entitled, "Bart's Dog gets an F". For those of you unfamiliar with the Simpsons, Santa's Little Helper is Bart's dog and this quick clip sums up what he's like.

Not only does Santa's Little Helper struggle with catching a frisbee, in this particular episode he also struggles to understand commands from his owners and hears speech as blah, blah, blah.  Finally, he begins to hear blah, blah, blah, sit - YAY!  So what does a struggling dog have in common with task sheets and criteria sheets\rubrics\marking schemes  or (insert whatever you call them here)? 

Have you ever spent an "amazing" lesson deconstructing a task sheet, giving your students invaluable insight into what they need to do, received feedback from the students so you are confident they understood what is required, explained the criteria and how you will be marking the work - only to find two weeks later that what you received was nothing like what you had asked for.  At some point your "amazing" lesson had turned into blah, blah, blah...

So in your effort to turn it into something more, something where your students heard sit, you tried things like highlighting the task sheet and key criteria, explaining in more detail, recording your explanations so that students could use them "just in time" when completing the assignment or a myriad of other strategies that possibly worked or worked for some of the students.

That was me, then I had a "Doh" moment - why was I doing more work than my students? A conversation with a colleague (thanks @smitt_tim) led me to a light bulb moment and then another and another.  I've completely changing the way I deconstruct tasks and explain criteria sheets and I'm never going back. What's my new strategy? I don't do anything, my students do it. 

FutUndBeidl, Puzzle (Bender), CC BY 2.0

Deconstructing the Task Sheet

Using a think - pair - share strategy students work out what they are being asked to do (use post-it notes or a padlet to collate results).  If you ever want to find out how good your tasks sheets are, try this out and don't say a word (so you don't corrupt the findings).  Have each group report back to the class what they think they have to do and still say nothing until each group is finished.  Why say nothing? When you tell a student they are right, the whole class stops thinking. (This my favourite learning from 2013 so far). Okay you can speak to the class now. Hopefully the first words out of your mouth are something like "That was amazing work" but may need to be followed up with "and you've helped me realise there are some parts of this task sheet I need to clarify" - look who just got homework! That's right, if you need to clarify you should be rewriting.

A slight twist - what if I had walked into class and told my students that I had the assignment draft for the topic\methodology that they had previously selected and wanted their feedback? What level of engagement do you think I would have had from my class? I'm fairly certain it would not be blah, blah, blah. We teach students to take risks and that it is okay to be wrong, even encourage them to hand in drafts for correction and redirection. I firmly believe that there is nothing wrong in doing it ourselves. My relationships with my students have never faltered as a result of me admitting I'm wrong or that I need to fix something up, especially as I see carrying through as essential. It helps me to be humanised, real and seen as a learner too. 

You may see this idea as a waste of a lesson.  I have seen the benefits of co-ownership and co-creation many times and see this lesson as a way to have student buy in, understanding and ownership of a task which leads to subsequent improvement in outcomes.

Deconstructing the Criteria Sheet

In Queensland we have Essential Learnings and Standards descriptors in rubrics which are quite difficult for students to understand. The introduction of the Australian Curriculum has further complicated the matter.  Here are some examples for those from other systems:

From the ACARA English Syllabus for Year 9 (14 year olds)
Discerning evaluation of relevant ideas and information from a variety of texts to develop appropriate and justified interpretations
From Essential Learnings for Technology for Year 9 (14 year olds)
Discerning interpretation and analysis of information and evidence to generate well-reasoned design ideas
Now I don't know about your students, but my 14 year olds don't speak like that and would quite possibly require a dictionary for some of those words even though I've been sure to explain them in the past. In a perfect world, my students would create their own rubrics and decide how they would be marked, but I don't live in the perfect world, I live in the real world. Here is my next best thing.

The strategy used again is a think - pair - share model but this time some more tools are required: a dictionary and a collaborative document.  This document has already been shared with the class and contains a table with 5 columns and as many rows as you have criteria (all of this content is mandated and not written by me, I'm just the copy and paster). Notice that the "C" column is first.  That's because I want the students to think first about what they would have to do as a bare minimum to pass.

At the think stage I gave students a digital copy of the first three columns of the table (you could use paper) and had them go through the task sheet (remember they already have a solid understanding of what they have to do from its earlier deconstruction) to pull out each part of the task and enter it in one or more boxes next to the criteria they thought it would count towards. Students then joined with a partner to compare notes and refine their decisions.  

A criteria was then assigned to each pair.  With their partner they had to decide the amount of detail that would be needed to meet the descriptor for their criteria eg what did "relevant interpretation and analysis of information" look like. Students added comments such as "used 3 sources of research and picked ideas that showed the use of the principles of design".

An essential part of this process was learning the meanings of the vocabulary used.  What do "relevant interpretation" and "analysis of information" mean? If you want a fresh way to look at teaching vocabulary try this blog post by Rebecca Alber. Students at the Year 9 level I'm currently teaching can successfully break these criteria descriptors down into language such as what, why, include justification, say how you would improve next time, needs to be real etc. 

Once pairs turned into groups and refined their C grade descriptions, groups then turned their attention to the A grade with a focus on what extra things would need to be done to meet this descriptor.

Each group then had to present their findings to the class.  As all students had invested time into deciding which elements of the task would count for each criteria they all had opinions and could challenge the presenting group if they thought they had left things out.  As a teacher, I was very happy with the descriptions the students came up with and my main role in this process was to keep asking questions such as "what would that look like", "how many examples" (not that I'm a huge fan of saying x number of things), "how would that be shown" etc. One group member was in charge of updating our shared document while the discussion took place to ensure that it was complete.

Before class finished we had all agreed on exactly how the assignment would be marked and a B was judged to be "more than a C but didn't quite make it to A" which fits quite nicely with the syllabus descriptors for a B.  Finally, and quite importantly, we spent another few minutes talking about the thinking processes we used, determined how they could have been more efficient and came up with a checklist to use next time. 

Monday, 16 September 2013

Checking for Understanding in the Digital Age (with Analytics)

This is my presentation for the Brisbane Teachmeet on 17 September 2013.  It is a quick overview of strategies that teachers can use to gather more data on how their students are going in achieving their learning goals.  All tools used are free and commonly available.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Encouraging Students to Interact with New Knowledge

I Think Therefore I Am Dangerous by JohnE777, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  JohnE777 

I have been reading "The Art and Science of Teaching" by Robert J Marzano this year and have found it invaluable as a means of focusing my self reflection.  Much of what I have been reading is not necessarily new to me but serves as a fantastic reminder of the "best practices" supported by the research.  In addition, I have been thoroughly enjoying looking at new ways to combine these best practices to make my pedagogy more effective and thus improving the learning of the students under my care.

Central to this process is the selection of critical learning experiences.  A couple of critical learning experiences per learning goal gives students the opportunity to develop new knowledge and build upon it by creating connections from one learning experience to the next. By clearly identifying which of the learning experiences are critical, students know where to dedicate their time and focus their energies.

Previewing and Cuing

Previewing involves activities which come before the presentation of new content to activate prior knowledge or encourage students to begin thinking about the topic prior to critical instruction events and have been found to be particularly useful for students with limited prior knowledge (Mayer, 1979). One particularly useful type of previewing activity is an advance organiser which is the presentation of content that facilitates the student organising and interpreting new information (Mayer, 2003). Effective previewing can be done in a number of ways including:
  • asking what students think they know; 
  • asking students targeted questions which will focus their attention on specific parts of the content in the critical learning activity; 
  • providing a brief teacher summary; or 
  • providing opportunities for students to skim the content (looking at sections and subheadings and then logically guessing what the content is about). This is a strategy which will probably need to be explicitly taught and it can be beneficial to look at all the students' summary statements to look at similarities and differences in their perceptions. 

Basically, it is the provision of a scaffold on which to hang the new information. When previewing is used in conjunction with cuing, the process of teachers providing direct links between previously learnt content and the new content, students are situated in a great location to begin learning new content. 


Regardless of whether or not one subscribes to cognitive load theory, the benefits of chunking, or breaking new information down into small manageable chunks cannot be disputed.  This is the case regardless of whether or not the new information is visual, a lecture, text or some other method. To aid students in the processing of this information, ask for a variety of thinking around the content such as descriptions, discussions and most importantly predictions.

Some strategies to support chunking include:
  • Reciprocal Teaching: in small groups students make predictions about a text, read a portion, a group leader asks the others questions to discuss and clarify understanding, students make new predictions about the text and the process continues. The group leader can change with each chunk.
  • Jigsaw: in small groups students are assigned a topic and each student has a role to become an expert on a specific subtopic.  The students with the same subtopic meet in groups to become experts then return to their original group to pass on their expert knowledge.

Inferential Questioning

Whilst questioning students to check understanding definitely has a place, inferential questioning which requires students to think beyond the information presented to them is much more powerful. Stretching the thinking of students offers opportunities for cognitive development by forcing students to make connections between pieces of information. For example, why do you think that is true? An interesting perspective I heard recently is to withhold whether or not an answer is correct or not because once students have a confirmed answer they stop thinking about the question.

Some types of inferential questioning include:
  • have students use their background knowledge to fill in implied knowledge (default questions)
  • infering what is likely or not likely to be true (logical reasoning)
  • Why do you believe this is true? (draws out the thinking behind the answer) It can also be useful to restate what the student has said to have them examine their own reasoning
  • What are the typical characteristics you would expect? (generalisation)
  • What do you think would happen if..? (elaboration)

Student Reflection on their Learning

Looking at a learning experience to determine what was simply understood, what caused confusion, how confident the students feel about their understanding, and an evaluation of which of their preconceived ideas were correct or incorrect can be an invaluable tool in consolidating students' understanding about their learning.

Cooperative Learning

Coperative learning gives students the opportunities to view the content from multiple perspectives to enhance their own understanding.  This can happen in a number of ways: by explaining to others; by asking questions and clarifying understanding; by gaining new perspectives and insights into the content.

Putting it All Together

A strategy to combine many of these techniques is detailed below. It provides great opportunities for students to deconstruct and support one another in the acquisition of new information by combining a number of other strategies including cuing, chunking, inquiry questioning, student reflection and cooperative learning.  Before beginning the critical learning activity, have students share any prior knowledge they have about the topic verbally with the emphasis not being on what is right or wrong, but rather what the students think they know.

  1. Divide students into groups of 3 and assign each student with a letter
  2. Show the new content to students eg watch a video of new content for a few minutes (Visual instruction is the preferred method as it results in the highest retention of information one year after instruction at 77%, Nuthall, 1999; Nuthall & Alton-Lee, 1995)
  3. Student A share with the small group their understanding of the new material
  4. Students B and C listen to A and then question and present alternative views - all members have the opportunity to clarify their understanding
  5. Whole class discussion for questions, conflicts in understanding and for the teacher to ensure that each group has correctly understood the critical aspects of the content.
  6. Repeat but this time Student B takes the lead in the small groups; repeat again with Student C
  7. When all the content has been discussed, the whole class comes together again but this time the focus is on the teacher asking questions which require the students to go beyond the information that has been presented to them, to make inferences, or apply the knowledge. 
  8. Each small group then has an opportunity to summarise what they have learnt, perhaps graphically or through notes.
Please feel free to leave comments detailing your strategies to help students interact with new material so we can learn from each other.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

The 12 Must-Have Skills Of Modern Learners

via Edudemic via User Generated Education

I consider myself a modern learner.  I participate online, share ideas and resources with both students and teachers (known and unknown) and collaborate with others, working towards a greater good. This infographic made me stop and reflect on how well I am providing opportunities for my students to also develop the skills of a modern learner.  It is a great summary of not only the so called "21st Century Skills" we hear so much about but takes it a bit further in its consideration of values and the characteristics of an independent learner.

  1. Critical thinking and problem solving
  2. Initiative and entrepreneurialism
  3. Curiousity and imagination
  4. Hope and Optimism
  5. Self-regulation
  6. Vision
  7. Empathy and global stewardship
  8. Resilience
  9. Grit
  10. Agility and adaptability
  11. Collaboration across networks
  12. Effective oral and written communication  

In considering this list I stopped and considered (even looked up) exactly what was meant by grit and resilience.
Grit (psychology) is a positive, non-cognitive trait, based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or endstate coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective. This perseverance of effort promotes the overcoming of obstacles or challenges that lie within a gritty individual’s path to accomplishment and serves as a driving force in achievement realization. (Wikipedia)
Psychological resilience is an individual's tendency to cope with stress and adversity. This coping may result in the individual "bouncing back" to a previous state of normal functioning, or simply not showing negative effects. (Wikipedia)
Thanks Wikipedia for a quick definition of these two terms and a new insight into the huge favour I will be doing my students by ensuring that I intentionally integrate opportunities for them to develop these skills - not that I don't - but I believe that the intentionality is important. I've been spending a lot of time lately thinking about ways to more effectively develop my relationships with students and the idea seemed to logically flow that this makes it far easier to tap into their passions and thus provide opportunities for them to develop their perseverance or grit through overcoming difficulties and carrying on. Resilience seems a little more tricky - it's not like I'm going to traumatise my students so that can learn to bounce back.  Providing constructive feedback and opportunities for others to do so in a safe and nurturing environment still seems like my best bet but if you have other ideas please comment at the bottom of the post, I would love to learn from you.

Wouldn't it be great if we could all include all of these skills and attributes into every unit of work. With a little creativity, well crafted essential\inquiry questions and the willingness to "let go and let our students" it is possible. In fact, isn't it just a case of practising what we are preaching.