Visuals, Infographics, and the Noun Project


Lately I’ve been learning a bit about design, and this week I’ll be starting new lessons on creating infographics with Grade 3 students studying the solar system. An infographic is a powerful and easy way to engage audiences with content, help readers connect with information through the use of visuals, and an opportunity to inquire into new media types and literacies. To make this happen, I want to softly introduce the CARP design principles (contrast, alignment, repetition and proximity, a.k.a CRAP outside of schools) and create links for the English language learners (ELLs) to connect their understanding of their solar system inquiry with the new tools. That’s a lot of new stuff for third grade.

I decided I would start with a look at how we can make design principles and language accessible to ELLs and non-technical readers (3rd grade).

While exploring resources to help teaching design, I loved Keri-Lee Beasley’s (@klbeasley on Twitter) free iBook Design Secrets Revealed for it’s accessible language and clear tutorials, but for now the design elements aren’t the focus of the lesson. Third grade is inquiring into our solar system. I needed to incorporate some of these principles, while keeping the spotlight on the unit. I decided to minimize the new vocabulary and focus on the project element with a demonstration.

Luckily for me there are tools that help students with the CARP design elements without us having the time to make teaching the language explicit. For this exercise, I will use a free version of Piktochart. The built in ruler tools and easily scaled/recoloured vector images will help students visualize concepts like contrast and alignment from my demonstrations, taking some of the pressure off of teaching these aspects explicitly until the students have some practical understanding.


As I search through the clipart and prepare my demonstration, I realize that although there are great graphics included on Piktochart, there is no icon for the planet Jupiter, which students may want to display as the largest and heaviest planet in our solar system. Third grade students are already well versed in searching for “labeled for reuse” images, but for infographics (and language learners) there is no better site than The Noun Project, an easily searchable library of freely licensed vector images indexed by keywords.

Now things are starting to come together. I have a lesson that embodies the integration of design, language supports, and unit research.

  • Students will work with the librarian and homeroom teacher to research and gather facts about the solar system. This will be ongoing over several weeks.
  • I will introduce the tool with minimal focus on design vocabulary in the first lesson, while students get comfortable with the interface, tools within Piktochart will help students visualize design principles.
  • With subsequent lessons I will shift focus in live demonstration toward the vocabulary of the CARP design principles, making connections to the hands-on experiences of the students without distracting from the unit focus.
  • The use of The Noun Project connects students with resources that can help build understanding and extend that understanding to others in a non-divisive language.

I’m pretty excited to be using such a vibrant, relevant form of new media and visual literacy with young learners.
Keep an eye out on Twitter or future postings to hear how it turns out!


Google Translate vs. The Telephone Game

Raising student awareness of the limitations of Google Translate.

Many of us rely on Google Translate as a tool to get through to the English language learners in our classrooms, as do many of the staff, students and parents in our community. It can be a fantastic support, enabling lesson modifications and differentiation that did not previously exist, but it is also important that it’s users understand it’s limitations. Automatic translations often subtly change the meaning of phrases, and when repeated those changes can accumulate for drastic results.

One way to demonstrate this is by using Translate to play the infamous “Telephone Game” (also known as Chinese Whispers). Rather than repeating a word or phrase to the person next in line to see what mistakes accumulate along the way, try changing between languages multiple times in Google Translate. In order to work properly, each phrase must be translated into a new language, swapped with the previous language, then translated again. Repeat enough times for interesting results!


The Long Game

In search of EAL goal setting strategies for team teachers and coaches

They call me a “technology coach” around here. When I first heard the title, even coming from a background of technology education and experience working with adults, it immediately conjured images of me shouting suggestions from the sidelines instead of being a player in the game. In my experience, that’s rarely been true, as we are all learners of technology in this rapidly changing world. Being a coach has called me out as a “subject matter expert” who brings a certain skill set to the team, but I’m still a player in the learning game. I rely on the strengths of my team to achieve student erudition, and sometimes they rely on me.

Karen Johnson’s article for Edsurge discusses coaching in learning communities and cited studies discussing implementation as a key factor in the success of those initiatives. I like where the research is heading… teachers value coaching from peers, rather than administrators, and see increased value in coaching when it becomes a regular part of their work experience. Aside from every teacher’s struggle with time, I think I’m with it there. Now let’s try add being a language teacher to the mix.

When I try to apply my understanding of my role to being a language teacher, I have difficulty defining where I stand among the impressive experience of my peers. I have tactics for tech. How do I set goals to improve them for English language learners, while supporting those of the teachers I support? Techniques for coaching adults do not always apply to teaching children. My greatest obstacle in teaching children is the breadth of material and the lack of time to differentiate. Many lessons are “left hanging” as the next thing comes along. How do I ensure that the lessons I design integrate unit, skill, language and the individual learner? It’s a little bit daunting. 

So it’s time to play the long game, the one that needs strategy as well as tactics. I need to identify attainable goals before I can set them. I wrote previously on the codification of language and I hope to use that as a starting point… leveraging the multimedia, symbols, gestures and simulations of technology to find common ground, whether coaching or teaching. I would like some coaching feedback from teachers and TAs who do not have English as a first language to better develop my tech teaching tactics for the professionals I work with (@emilieqi, @theanysiv, @valeriealpanes, I’d love to hear your comments). As for teaching children, my first step is to make differentiation and language support part of my collaborative planning for tech integration as opposed to leaving it as the responsibility of “the classroom teacher” or “EAL specialist” that I then rely heavily upon. It’s a start, but as in all things, I’d love to talk about making it a team effort.