Category Archives: EDTC 6102

Teaching Visual Literacy through Infographics

One of the most exciting ISTE Student Standards is #6, Creative Communicator. I believe that the goal of any educator, whether in the classroom with students or supporting learning via a coaching role, is to assist students in becoming independent critical thinkers who can clearly express themselves. For this week’s project, I chose to focus on 6c: “Students communicate complex ideas clearly and effectively by creating or using a variety of digital objects such as visualizations, models, or simulations” (, 2017).

I am a huge advocate of teaching visual literacy in addition to ‘traditional’ literacy. Images are a form of communication. Consider the emotion that can be conveyed through a group of emojis or the shared humor of a meme. For a more academic example, consider the power of World War II propaganda or the tactics used by advertisers to manipulate consumers. It’s easy to see how interpreting images is a critical part of media consumption. Science also supports the inclusion of visual literacy:

  • “When visuals and text are paired together, we have more information to rapidly decode the content and proceed with comprehension, delivery, and transmittal to others” (Johnson 2017).
  • “…[T]he effective use of visuals can decrease learning time, improve comprehension, enhance retrieval, and increase retention” (Kouyoumdjian 2012).

What better way to incorporate visual literacy into the classroom than to teach infographics?

Public domain image: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Infographic Components

Infographics that are easy to understand and that communicate information clearly share the following components:

  • Text features with titles, subtitles, and information. Authors use different fonts, sizes, and colors to emphasize important points.
  • Organized ideas that follow text structures such as cause-effect, chronological, compare/contrast, problem/solution, or description.
  • Images such as symbols, charts, and graphs that help visually communicate the ideas being shared.
  • Credit given to sources.

Introducing Infographics in the Classroom

My classmate, Susan, shared an excellent Edutopia article that provided insight into how Brett Vogelsinger introduces infographics to his English class. After reviewing infographic terminology and basic layouts, he selects three different infographics and has students discuss the following:

  • Which of these was the best infographic and why?
  • How does the writer try to engage an audience, even an audience who may not initially care about the topic?
  • Is the text or the visual design most important in each of these? How do the use of color and white space affect your ability to focus on the main message of the infographic? How is font size used to emphasize certain facts?
  • Does the infographic make a claim or develop an argument? If so, how can you tell?

I would add to Vogelsinger’s list of questions: How do the images support the text? Through discussion, students decide for themselves what makes a high-quality infographic. They are then in a position to evaluate others’ infographics and create their own.

Professor Tremonte brought up an additional point when she saw my topic: When we teach infographics, how do we equip students to use the best possible graphics to support information? And likewise, how do we prevent infographics from becoming nothing more than digital posters? I think the answer to this is with careful scaffolding. Just as we close read mentor texts before asking a student to write an essay, we must perform a close read of quality infographics. Students can evaluate each graphic choice the author made in a particular infographic:

  • Is this graphic to enhance a point? Example: an e-reader image next to a quote about libraries in the 21st century.
  • Is this graphic a symbol for something? Example: the outline of a state around a statistic instead of writing the name of the state.
  • Is this graphic a representation of data? Example: a pie chart or line graph visually representing data.
  • Is this graphic explaining something? Example: a diagram of how microbeads from face wash end up in the water system.

Ideas for Using Infographics in the Classroom

  • Support nonfiction: Students can create infographics in support of nonfiction articles. Challenge them to consider what information can be represented visually and how best to do so.
  • Start a discussion: Present a controversial topic (perhaps this infographic on gender pay inequality) and have students discuss the main points and brainstorm the causes.
  • Demonstrate learning: Students can create book infographics in lieu of traditional book reports. Consider this Fahrenheit 451 infographic for inspiration.
  • Offer additional context: Instead of teaching Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in historical isolation, why not explore how far America has come in fulfilling that dream?
  • Support arguments and research: Charts, graphs, and visual data can be easily incorporated into student presentations for added impact. Consider making visual data a required component of a presentation or research project. Check out this excellent tutorial for making charts and graphs in Google Sheets.
  • Present content: Infographics can be an engaging way to present content to students. Instead of a traditional lecture, students can independently review infographics on the topic–such as this infographic on the water cycle and conservation efforts.
  • Share passions: All students have a hobby or interest that they would like to share with others. Creating an infographic can be an engaging and creative way to share that passion while practicing visual literacy skills.


Piktochart: a tool for making infographics

Piktochart is one of the most popular tools for creating infographics online. It is user-friendly and offers many options for customization. Piktochart offers free and paid memberships. With a paid membership, you have access to additional images and templates. Additionally, you can create unlimited projects, download in multiple formats (not just PNG), and remove the watermark from your projects. The pricing for educators is very generous compared to their standard plans. Even if you aren’t in a position to pay for an account, you and your students can still create sharp-looking infographics. I have (happily) used both the free and paid versions. Another advantage is that Piktochart offers Single Sign-On (SSO) services which means that students can log in using their school Google accounts and not have another username and password to remember. Please watch below for a quick overview and tutorial.


Sources (2017). ISTE Standards For Students. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 Mar. 2018].

Johnson, L. (2017). Cultivating Communication in the Classroom: Future-Ready Skills for Secondary Learners. 1st ed. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.

Kouyoumdjian, H. (2012). Learning Through Visuals. [online] Psychology Today. Available at: [Accessed 16 Mar. 2018].

Vogelsinger, B. (2014). Inventing Infographics: Visual Literacy Meets Written Content. [online] Edutopia. Available at: [Accessed 16 Mar. 2018].

Rethinking Hands on Math with Understanding by Design

This quarter for our class EDTC6102 we had to create or modify a lesson that integrated technology in a meaningful way using the Understanding by Design model by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. After being assigned this project, I knew that I wanted to pick an upcoming unit that is apart of the school districts curriculum for math. I wanted to explore ways to enhance the math my students were already receiving. The unit I decided to revamp using the Understanding by Design model is Composing and Decomposing numbers to 10.

Understanding by Design Process

Stages of Backward Design

Stage 1- Identify Desired Results

Stage 2- Determine Acceptable Evidence

For this unit I wanted to create performance tasks that allows for students to show their understanding in multiple ways including using technology.

Performance Tasks:

-Students will create visual representations of decomposition patterns and will record the corresponding addition sentences. Students will use unifix cubes to show the different ways to make a number (example: the number 8). Then students will create a visual using colored squares to represent the cubes. Once students have shown their patterns, they will write the addition number sentences to represent their decomposition. Students can choose an number 2-10 to show decomposition patterns.

-During math rotations students will use the classroom SMART board to solve decomposition problems. Students will show work using a different colored pen per student.

-Students will use to create an interactive whiteboard to teach others about part-part-whole relationships. Once students create their interactive whiteboard they will share it with the teacher.

Other: Students will also complete an end of topic assessment, along with quick checks throughout the lesson to check for understanding. At the end of the entire unit students will complete a self-assessment of their decomposition visual using a rubric. Students will then ranking their understanding using of the topic. To see an example click here.

Stage3 – Plan Learning Experiences and Instruction

Digital Citizenship-

When introducing technology to students it is important for students to become digital citizens before interacting online. With my students being only in Kindergarten, I am usually the first person to teach them technology standards. ISTE has seven student standards. Standard 2 Digital Citizenship is stated as “Students recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical”. Before teaching my Rethinking Hands on Math unit, I first need to teach my students about being safe on the internet, especially if they are going to interact with the site With our discussion on digital citizenship students will become aware of their role with safe, ethical, positive, and legal behavior when using technology.

Six Facets of Understanding-

  • Can explain—via generalizations or principles, providing justified and systematic accounts of phenomena, facts, and data; make insightful connections and provide illuminating examples or illustrations. 
  • Can interpret—tell meaningful stories; offer apt translations; provide a revealing historical or personal dimension to ideas and events; make the object of understanding personal or accessible through images, anecdotes, analogies, and models.
  • Can apply—effectively use and adapt what we know in diverse and real contexts—we can “do” the subject.
  • Have perspective—see and hear points of view through critical eyes and ears; see the big picture.
  • Can empathize—find value in what others might find odd, alien, or implausible; perceive sensitively on the basis of prior direct experience.
  •  Have self-knowledge—show metacognitive awareness; perceive the personal style, prejudices, projections, and habits of mind that both shape and impede our own understanding; are aware of what we do not understand; reflect on the meaning of learning and experience. (p.84)

During this unit students will be hitting all 6 facets of understanding. When making their visuals and creating interactive whiteboards to teach others this concept they are explaining what decomposition is, they can interpret their work to make it personal and available for others. Students will apply when creating their interactive whiteboard to teach the class this concept. When their interactive whiteboards are shared among the class they have perspective and can empathize. Finally, students will have self-knowledge when they complete their self-assessment of their visual and overall understanding of the content.


The Understanding by Design model was first introduced to me when I was studying for my undergrad. While I practiced using this model in college classes, I got away from using it during full time teaching. When this current course brought Understanding by Design back into my life I remembered how great it really is. Using this model allowed for me to step back and really think about the content I was teaching my students. I felt like I was often just using the curriculum assigned by the district rather than looking at what I wanted my students to get out of the lessons I was teaching. With knowing the desired results of a lesson or unit helps make these lessons/units more meaningful for students and allows for them to know the purpose of each lesson.  I really liked how this process allowed for me to integrate new learning opportunities for my students by using technology. I also really appreciate how this model made me think about what I wanted students to produce to show their understanding. In the past students have complete math magazines for each lesson, now I have allowed the students to demonstrate their learning in a personalized way. I love this simply because I am able to connect with all of the different learning styles my class has to offer.

Sources- (2017) ISTE Standards for Students. (Retrieved on 2018, March 17) from:

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, Jay. (2005). Understanding by design (Expanded 2nd ed., Gale virtual reference library). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Using infographics for traditional types of reports in elementary school

While technology and access to information has dramatically changed the way our students learn and the way we teach, there are some “classic” learning experiences that still have a place in the classroom in my opinion.  One of these learning experiences is the traditional reports that students typically do in elementary school such as state, animal, or country reports. These reports are often students’ first experience with research and the topic is usually something that is easy to find information on and there isn’t much dispute as far as the facts.  However, the traditional way of writing these reports may not be the most valuable and engaging for today’s students who have been raised as digital natives accustomed to limitless information, flashy graphics, and the urgency to get the information they are looking for quickly.


ISTE Student Standard #6 is Creative Communicator:

Having students communicate their ideas and research clearly and effectively using digital products is one of the indicators (6c) for this standard (ISTE, 2017).  Using infographics as a final product when completing a report is one way to meet this standard and engage students and allow them to communicate their learning creatively.


Why Infographics?


An infographic is a visual image which represents information.  Infographics are a way to engage the reader and convey a large amount of information more quickly than with traditional text. Both creating and reading infographics can be a much easier way to understand information for students that are more visual learners.  Summarizing information and determining importance are two very important skills for students. Creating an effective infographic requires these skills and also encourages the student to consider audience and purpose in order to help trim the content to include in the infographic (Vogelsinger, 2014).  When elementary students are reading through research on their topic and deciding what they would like to share with their audience, determining importance and considering the audience, are two of the skills I am looking for when evaluating them. Using infographics as a final product really stresses the importance of these research and communication skills. Although Bob Dillon wrote an article on digital story creation some of his thoughts on using digital images to convey “stories” apply to infographics. “Digital story creators need to select each image with the same intentionality that each word is chosen for the narrative. Beautiful images allow digital stories to be remembered by more people in a deeper way (Dillon, 2014).”


How to Incorporate


Vogelsinger suggests that the first step to introducing infographics to your students should begin with having your students look at a variety of different infographics and then engage in discussions on the pros, cons, and purposes of each.  “The key to creating infographics is understanding that the finished product looks deceptively simple. Every decision, including font, shapes, color scheme, and use of white space, will either contribute to or detract from the overall clarity of the message in the finished infographic” (Vogelsinger, 2014).  He also suggests having students begin with a template to provide support in the design process when they create their first infographic (Vogelsinger, 2014). That way they can focus on the text and images they are selecting rather than the design of the product. With elementary students doing reports I might give them a list of information I want them to include and a menu of images to choose from. I would likely create a simplified, custom template specific to the project I am having them complete.  Like with everything in our classrooms, some students will take to infographics quickly and easily and others will continue to need support and encouragement.


Different Infographics Apps and Websites


Being new to infographics, I only have experience using Pikochart, which I have found very user-friendly and the end results are beautiful and impactful.  On Common Sense Media, which is a website I use often in my work as an educator, I found a list of the top 11 “Best Infographic Design Apps and Websites”. It appears that there are three that are officially suggested for elementary students, although I imagine there are a few more than can be used by elementary students with support.

App or Website Cost Suggested Grades
Canva Free 4-12
The Noun Project Free 4-12
Smore Free (basic), paid 5-12
Office Sway Free 6-12 Free; paid 7-12 Free; paid 7-12
Lucid Press Free to try; paid 7-12
Piktochart Free; paid 7-12
Venngage Free to try; paid 7-12
Adobe Spark Free 8-12
Grafio 3 Paid 9-12



Sources: website (Retrieved on 2018, February 28) (Retrieved on 2018, March 17) from:


Dillon, B. (2014). The Power of Digital Story. Edutopia. (Retrieved on 2018, March 17) from: (2017). ISTE Standards for Students. (Retrieved on 2018, March 17 ) from:


Vogelsinger, B. (2014). Inventing Infographics: Visual Literacy Meets Written Content. Edutopia. (Retrieved on 2018, March 4) from:

Credibility, Citation, and Curation: a 21st Century Take on Research Skills

Throughout this quarter in the Digital Education Leadership MEd program, I’ve been working on a unit plan that encompasses the Understanding by Design teaching model, Common Core English Language Arts Writing standard 8 which deals with research skills, and ISTE Student Standard 2c which asks students to consider the rights and obligations of using others’ intellectual property online. This blog post serves to outline the process I took in applying the Understanding by Design Model as well as sharing the unit plan I created.


In my prior district, all of our 8th-grade students completed an interdisciplinary research project where the English teachers, History teachers, and librarian worked together to assist students as they researched an issue of their own choosing within the umbrella of Human Rights. By far, the most difficult aspect of this project for students was in determining which sources they should use. Even when given a specific database to use, students had difficulty in determining the best source when multiple options were presented. The problem was compounded when using Google to find outside resources. Too frequently, students attempted to use websites that were not credible or they simply chose the top results on Google. As a teacher, I was so focused on the end result (a presentation supported by a digital presentation tool of student choice) that I didn’t spend enough time thinking through this critical element of the puzzle. Throughout the quarter, I was asked, “Is this a good source?” much too often. Other teachers argued that students’ online research should be limited to school-subscribed databases like SIRS to avoid this issue altogether. I felt (and continue to feel) passionately that effective, real-world searching skills are necessary so I diverted from the department norm. However, I clearly could have done a better job of scaffolding the individual research skill sets.


I began my unit by formulating an essential question: How can students effectively and ethically find and use online sources? I then broke my question down by considering what I really wanted students to accomplish. I followed the advice of Wiggins and McTighe: “Curriculum should lay out the most effective ways of achieving specific results” (14). Or, to put it simply, begin with the end in mind. The end result of this backward design thinking was the separation of the unit into four skill sets.

  • How can students effectively and ethically find and use online sources?
    • Effectively searching requires that students find online sources that are credible. It also requires students to evaluate multiple sources in order to determine which source best meets their research needs.
  • How can students effectively and ethically find and use online sources?
    • Ethical sourcing of information online requires that students avoid plagiarism by giving credit to source authors/creators. This includes knowledge of HOW to cite (MLA format for the English classroom) as well as the knowledge of WHEN to cite.
  • How can students effectively and ethically find and use online sources?
    • Finding information online requires that students do more than just pop their essential question into Google. Students can use Boolean search operators and advanced search options to get better quality results.
  • How can students effectively and ethically find and use online sources?
    • Using sources online can take many different forms. Regardless of the end project (be it the traditional research paper, a blog post, or a paper poster), students need to know how to actively read and interact with online sources.

Stage 1 of the Universal Design process includes the identification of desired results.

Established Goals (with standards)

  • Students will effectively and ethically find and use online sources. Throughout this unit, students will: 1) use search terms effectively, 2) assess the credibility of each source, and 3) use online information while avoiding plagiarism and citing sources.
  • Unit addresses CCSS ELA Writing 8 (which covers researching, evaluating, citing, and synthesizing multiple sources) and ISTE Student Standard 2c (the respect of intellectual property online). The unit is appropriate for students grade 7-10.
What essential questions will be considered?

  • What tools can be used to find relevant sources online?
  • How can a reader determine if information online is trustworthy?
  • What makes one source more beneficial than another in terms of answering an essential question?
  • How can writers avoid plagiarism and properly credit their sources?
  • What does it look like when researchers actively read and interact with sources? Why is this important?
  • Why is it important to curate and publish information online?
What understandings are desired?

  • Students will understand how to refine their online searches for more precise results.
  • Students will understand what makes an online source credible and relevant to their research.
  • Students will understand how to use information from online sources in a legal and ethical way.
  • Students will understand how and why to actively read (using notations, underlining, and comments) online sources.
  • Students will understand how and why to curate information online.

Stage 2 of the Universal Design process includes the identification of acceptable evidence.

For the unit’s performance task, I wanted to include an authentic and engaging way for students to demonstrate their understanding of research skills. When I came upon a blog post on curation from Jennifer Gonzalez, the idea for a project was born.

Show You Know with a Curated List: Students will research, evaluate, and critically respond to a topic of their choosing. The research and evaluation process will look similar for all students, but the topic and curated list is unique to their interests. They can choose to explore a future career, a hobby, social or political concerns, etc. The end result will be a curated list published online via  A curated list is essentially a collection and synthesis of information on a single topic from a variety of sources. It requires the traditional research elements taught in the ELA classroom with the addition of analyzing and evaluating the quality of sources in order to meet a specific publishing goal. For example, “3 Must-Read Harry Potter Fanfictions” would involve the creator’s personal preference and also their ability to summarize the stories and persuade readers to read them. Instructional topics such as “So You Want to Play the Drums” require students to present their findings in a sequential way that is clear enough for a beginner to benefit from their curated list. In addition to the academic benefits, curated lists are an ideal classroom tool because they require higher-order thinking and they may be published to an authentic audience (at teacher/parent discretion). Student example on differing interpretations of free speech. On the platform, students customize each element of their list (title, photo, and commentary). Because of this, the possibilities really are endless.

Stage 3 of the Universal Design process includes the specific learning experiences that will guide students through the learning process.

As I frequently do with my teaching, I blended existing online sources with unique sources I made specifically for this unit. My unit is broken up into the 4 skill sets I identified in Stage 1: Strategic Searching, Credible/Quality Sources, Credit Given to Authors, and Meaningful Interaction with Sources. I used a puzzle piece metaphor to help students visualize the various skills coming together to support solid research. This metaphor extends to the student note page which provides students a way to collect evidence from class discussions and work through an essential question for each skill set. At the end of the unit, the note page is a reference sheet that students can use in the future for any research assignment (including the performance task). Below is my complete, 2-week unit, “Credibility, Citation, and Curation: a 21st Century take on Research Skills.” To access the resources linked within, please open via Google Docs, here.

For a preview of the Performance Task (and explanation of curated lists) please check out the video tutorial I made below.


Understanding by Design was not a new concept to me, but it was extremely helpful to take an existing learning objective and rethink the learning process using the framework. If my experience is like that of other teachers, the best practices we learn in our credential programs occasionally must be sacrificed in the interest of hundreds of papers to grade, clubs to advise, meetings to attend, and lessons to present.

I’m thankful for the opportunity through my MEd program to take a deep dive into previously taught material while considering the lens of the ISTE standards. ISTE Student Standard 2c is a key component of any research project. Students must learn when and how to credit other sources. Students often think that they only need to credit a source if a direct quote is used. Or they change a few words and believe that is not plagiarism. For this reason, I wanted to incorporate not only the formatting guidelines of MLA, but also give students practice with crediting the various types of note-taking (quotes, paraphrasing, summarizing, etc).

Part of the Understanding by Design framework is evaluating what it means for students to truly understand the material you are presenting. Through the Performance Task, students were asked to apply the various elements they’d learned about research in publishing a curated list of sources and information on a topic of their choosing. I love the idea of having students create a curated list of sources because it is an ideal project to demonstrate knowledge of searching strategies, website evaluation, proper citations, and synthesis of information. Throughout the project, students much choose the BEST source, not just any source, and the justification they write allows their thinking in this aspect to be visible.


Wiggins, G. and McTighe, J. (2008). Understanding by Design. Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

How can teaching students about loops help them understand automation and use this understanding to solve problems more efficiently?

Computational Thinking and Automation


ISTE Standard for Students #5 is “Computational Thinker: Students develop and employ strategies for understanding and solving problems in ways that leverage the power of technological methods to develop and test solutions.” There are four indicators listed under this standard and the last indicator reads: Students understand how automation works and use algorithmic thinking to develop a sequence of steps to create and test automated solutions. (ISTE, 2016).   Automation is defined as “having computers or machine do repetitive or tedious tasks” (ISTE, 2016). The words repetitive and tedious typically have negative connotations, but when you shift your thinking and consider automation as a model for efficiency and simplicity it becomes a very positive and powerful concept. Efficiency and simplicity allow us to focus on the important issues and ideas because our thinking is not bogged down with the “repetitive and tedious tasks”.  Automation is a key component of computational thinking. In order to “leverage the power of technological methods”, students need to be able to focus on the primary learning objective.

I believe that teaching elementary students coding, specifically explicitly teaching them about loops and repeat functions, allows these young learners to begin to become computational thinkers.  “Coding is the language of critical thinking. It requires students to define problems, break them into parts, and be resourceful in finding the answers to their problems” (Kiang, 2014).


Teaching Loops and Repeat Functions offers some pretty amazing teaching and learning opportunities. Some of my favorite are their unplugged lessons. While the lessons that require technology are extremely engaging, I feel that beginning with the unplugged lessons can allow for the crucial foundational understandings of the concepts being taught. These unplugged lessons allow for those “oh, now I get it!” moments that come from collaborative discussions and real-life learning experiences.  Gaining these understanding before you move to more “game-like” modules allows students to approach the coding puzzles online as learning tools that are helping them develop problem solving skills and strategies that will transfer to the “real world”.

One of the major concepts in the elementary curriculum is loops and repeat functions.  We want students to begin to identify patterns in their code that can be replaced with a loop. “Frequently the linear set of instructions includes patterns that are repeated multiple times and as students want to write more complex and interesting programs, manually duplicating that code becomes cumbersome and inefficient. To enable students to write more powerful programs, we’ll need to rely on structures that break out of the that single linear list. Loops allow for students to structure their code in a way that repeats.” (

My favorite unplugged lessons that introduce the idea of loops and making your code more efficient are:



1st grade:


2nd grade:

Sources: website (Retrieved on 2018, February 28) (2017) ISTE Standards for Students. (Retrieved on 2018, March 4) from:


Kiang, D. (2014). 3 ways coding and gaming can enhance learning. Edutopia. (Retrieved on 2018, March 4) from:


Exploring Computational Thinking via the Backpack Redesign Challenge

When tasked with exploring computational thinking skills, I must admit that my first reaction was to question the practical application for those of us not teaching computer science. What role can computational thinking play when teaching history or English? It turns out that computational thinking can support problem-solving in a variety of subjects. We use elements of computational thinking on a daily basis without even thinking about it.

What are computational thinking skills?


  • How can we take complex problems and break them down into simpler tasks?
  • Everyday Example: Making cookies is a complex task that can be broken down into smaller, simpler tasks such as mixing up the dough, forming into shapes via cookie cutters, and baking.
  • Academic Example: Writing an essay is a complex task that can be broken down into smaller tasks such as developing a thesis, gathering evidence, and creating a bibliography page.

Pattern Recognition

  • What similarities, differences, or patterns exist within the problem?
  • Everyday Example: Obeying the basic green – yellow – red pattern for traffic signals ensures that traffic moves safely through an intersection.
  • Academic Example: Pattern recognition is required when categorizing rocks as either igneous, metamorphic, or sedimentary.


  • What general principles exist within the problem? What unimportant details can be ignored?
  • Everyday Example: Any map with a compass rose can be interpreted if you are familiar with North, South, East, and West directions.
  • Academic Example: To be classified as a fruit, a food must be seed-bearing. This is the key principle. Factors like taste can be used to describe the food as a fruit, but they shouldn’t be considered due to the variable nature of human taste buds (ie- one person thinks bananas are delicious and another hates them).

Algorithm Design

  • What steps are needed to solve the problem and how can the steps best be organized?
  • Everyday Example: Getting ready in the morning is a multi-step process. Certain steps must be performed in a specific order. For example, you must put on your socks before you put on your shoes.
  • Academic Example: In math, the mnemonic device PEMDAS (“please excuse my dear aunt Sally”) helps students remember the order of mathematical operations.

What is the “Backpack Redesign Challenge”?

The Backpack Redesign Challenge was created by the Institute of Design at Stanford. It is one of many projects available on the school’s Wiki page. Though no longer being updated, there are many exciting projects still hosted on the Wiki. The challenge is completed by students in pairs. The goal is to create a better backpack for your assigned partner. The following step-by-step instructions are adapted from the PDF guide posted on the Wiki.

Step 1: Interview (5 minutes per partner)

  • Conduct an interview to find out your partner’s likes and dislikes about their backpack. What needs do they have that aren’t being met? What do they look for when choosing a backpack? Jot down notes or sketches as your partner shares.
  • Note: Students should generate their own questions, however, it is helpful to give them examples of open vs close-ended questions (“Do you like your backpack?” vs “What is your favorite part of your backpack and why?”)

Step 2: Insights (1 minute)

  • What is your takeaway from the interview? What stood out to you?

Step 3: Empathy (3 minutes)

  • Identify your partner’s needs based on the interview.
  • Create a needs statement: {Partner} needs {fill in the blank} because {fill in the blank}.

Step 4: Brainstorm (5 minutes)

  • Jot down your ideas for a redesigned backpack taking your partner’s needs into account.

Step 5: Prototyping (8 minutes)

  • Create a prototype for your partner using provided supplies.
  • Note: For time purposes, students aren’t making an actual backpack. They should use poster paper, markers, crayons, and other art supplies to bring their vision to life for their partner. Encourage labels (ie- solar panel for cell phone charging).

Step 6: Feedback (5 minutes per partner)

  • What worked about the design? What could be improved on?
  • Note: A possible extension activity is having the student pitch their prototype to their partner or even to a panel of judges (other students or teachers/staff members).

Step 7: Reflect (3 minutes)

  • Which parts of the process were most challenging?
  • Describe the moment where you had your best idea?
  • How well did you capture your partner’s needs?

How does the Backpack Redesign Challenge support computational thinking?

Typically, redesign challenges are thought of as tools to teach design thinking (ISTE student standard 4). However, the process required to successfully take an existing design and improve on it lends itself particularly well to introducing computational thinking skills to students in a non-intimidating way. Substandard C of the computational thinking standard asks “Students [to] break problems into component parts, extract key information, and develop descriptive models to understand complex systems or facilitate problem-solving” (, 2017). In the case of the Backpack Redesign Challenge, the problem is identifying the needs of the user and developing a better backpack based on those needs.

Each component of computational thinking is covered with the Backpack Redesign Challenge:

  • Decomposition: Based on the information gathered during the interview portion, students must identify the elements of existing backpacks that work for their partner as well as elements that aren’t meeting their partner’s needs.
  • Pattern Recognition: Certain similarities exist within all backpacks and must be factored into the prototype. For instance, all backpacks have the same purpose…to easily transport items. All backpacks also must have a way to be carried conveniently. The variables lie in the partner’s needs. Based on the variables, alterations must be made to the standard design. As students are prototyping, they are constantly considering which elements to keep (similarities) and which to replace (differences).
  • Abstraction: At its core, a backpack serves to conveniently carry items. What this looks like and how it works are elements students must create based on their interview. Another aspect of abstraction is deciding what the most critical elements are. As students carry out the interview, they may receive conflicting data or ideas that don’t seem feasible. It is their responsibility to determine which pieces of the design are most critical in meeting the needs of their client–aka partner.
  • Algorithm Design: The process of the redesign is in itself an algorithm: students must interview their partner in order to gain insight to their needs, students must then reflect on these needs and convert them into tangible design choices, students then take the changes that need to be made and combine them with the existing elements of backpacks, and finally students receive feedback on their design.

Taking the Challenge Further with Data

One of the sub-standards within ISTE’s computational thinking standard for students is to gather and analyze data digitally and then use that analysis to guide the solution to a problem (5b). I immediately thought of Google Forms, which is a very powerful (yet extremely easy to use) tool for collecting and analyzing data.

After students go through the interview and backpack redesign process with a partner in class, why not open the challenge up to a broader audience using Google Forms? Data can be collected safely from fellow students, family members, teachers, and even the public at large (if shared through social media).

If you’re not sure how to get students started on Google Forms, this video is an excellent introduction which can guide them through the creation of their survey. After sending the survey out and collecting responses, this video will guide students through the process of transporting their data into Google Sheets, working with various types of graphs, and publishing the results via Google Slides. Students can then use the Google Slide to share their data, insights, and backpack redesign prototype with the class or teacher. If students select the Google Form option to collect responder’s emails, the presentation could also be shared with anyone on the internet who took the survey. This enables students to still benefit from the feedback piece of the project. Another interesting option would be to have students pitch their data, insights, and prototype to the class who could then provide feedback and judge if the ‘clients’ needs were met through the redesign.

This extension task with Google Forms encourages students to be deliberate and strategic with their questions. In digital format, they don’t have the ability to say, “That’s interesting, can you tell me more?” So they must be sure to phrase questions and choose data input types (short text, long text, multiple choice, checkboxes, etc.) that will yield the most valuable information. For this reason, I think it is valuable to carry out the traditional challenge with an in-person interview before switching to Google Forms.

The collection of data from multiple sources introduces a new challenge for students. What to do when you receive conflicting data? For instance, one person loves traditional backpack straps and another prefers a shoulder bag style…which do you decide to implement into your design and why? While challenging, these type of decisions mimic real-world decisions that companies must make all the time. What a great opportunity for students to have an authentic experience!


A Taste of Design Thinking: Redesigning the Backpack. (2012). [ebook] Institute of Design at Stanford. Available at: [Accessed 4 Mar. 2018].

Computational Thinking for Educators. (2018). What is Computational Thinking?. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Mar. 2018]. (2017). ISTE Standards For Students. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Mar. 2018].

Valenzuela, J. (2018). How to develop computational thinkers. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Mar. 2018].




Becoming Innovative Designers

This week we examined ISTE Student Standard 4: Innovative Designer- Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions. To best fit this standard for a Kindergarten classroom I need to answer the following questions.

How can Kindergarten students use digital tools to help solve problems? What digital tools can be used to teach students about a design process?

Why learning to solve problems through a design process is important-

When adding a new subject into our schedules it can seem like a daunting task, however, teaching students to code is an important skill. In the article Adding Coding to the Curriculum by Beth Gardiner from The New York Times, Beth stated “programming is highly creative: Studying it can help to develop problem-solving abilities, as well as equip students for a world transformed by technology”.(Gardiner)

“Kids these days are all stuck to their phones, their tablets, and are constantly using technology, but very few of them are learning how to create it,” said Roxanne Emadi, a strategist at, an advocacy group based in Seattle that is behind the Hour of Code effort. “Even if it’s something simple, like a kid programming a maze or programming a robot, when you can see your work brought to life, that’s where light bulbs go off.” (Gardiner)

Digital Tools for Coding-

While researching for different digital tools that foster in teaching students the design process, I discovered the site  ScratchJr is an introductory programming language that enables young children (ages 5-7) to create their own interactive stories and games. Children snap together graphical programming blocks to make characters move, jump, dance, and sing. Children can modify characters in the paint editor, add their own voices and sounds, even insert photos of themselves — then use the programming blocks to make their characters come to life. With this program students learn how to create and express themselves with the computer, not just to interact with it. In the process, children learn to solve problems and design projects, and they develop sequencing skills that are foundational for later academic success. They also use math and language in a meaningful and motivating context, supporting the development of early-childhood numeracy and literacy.

Using ScratchJr. in the Classroom-

Activities- ScratchJr. comes with a assortment of activities for students to complete through the app. These activities come in a variety of difficulty, which allows for differentiation among students.


  • Block Images-You can print high quality images of the ScratchJr blocks for classroom instruction.
  • Animated Genres-The curriculum will be divided into three modules based on three interactive genres of ScratchJr-based projects. These genres are collage, story, and game. Each of these modules is comprised of two units: 1. A series of lessons that introduce ScratchJr features and programming blocks 2. An opportunity for children to create their own projects by applying concepts learned in module lessons
  • Playground Games-In the eight lessons of this curriculum, children learn how to use ScratchJr as they re-create familiar playground games
  • Reinforcing Literacy and Math- These curricular modules describe ScratchJr projects that reinforce the Common Core Standards

Assessments- These assessments allow for teachers to determine the depth of students’ understanding of the relationship between the programming blocks and their associated behaviors.



Gardiner, B. (2014, March 23). Adding Coding to the Curriculum. Retrieved February 19, 2018, from

ISTE Standards FORSTUDENTS. (n.d.). Retrieved February 19, 2018, from
Scratch – Home. (2017, April). Retrieved February 19, 2018, from

PBL Meets ELA: A Case Study

Project Based Learning (PBL) is one of the hottest buzzwords in education. The term brings to mind students hard at work researching or creating, groups crafting tangible projects worthy of display during Open House night, and teachers beaming as students take the lead in their own learning. PBL is a goal many teachers aspire to implement.

I am one of those teachers. I even received training and certification in PBL two years ago. Despite this training, I was left wondering how individual teachers (especially those of us in the humanities) could implement PBL in our individual classrooms. Programs like the Apollo School in Pennsylvania offer wonderful, personalized, Project Based Learning for students. But what I wanted to explore this week was how teachers who don’t have administrative support, extra funding, interdisciplinary co-teachers, and extremely small class sizes could implement PBL.

Another reason I wanted to explore successful PBL was to counter the many less than stellar examples I’d observed in the past few years. For example, a high school English teacher boasted about skipping teaching narrative writing and instead having students blog pictures of themselves throughout the day to ‘tell a story.’ While I’m sure his students were very excited and engaged, I struggled to see an academic component or a tie-in with ELA standards. Furthermore, are selfies really a skill that students need to be prompted to do?

Further complicating my search were the numerous amounts of projects that teachers were calling Project Based Learning which really were just good old-fashioned projects. For instance, writing and performing a modern adaptation of Macbeth after reading the play is a great summative project, but it doesn’t qualify as PBL.

Defining Project Based Learning

So what constitutes Project Based Learning? According to the Buck Institute for Education (a nonprofit organization focused on promoting student learning through Project Based Learning), the PBL teaching method should include the following 8 components:

  • Key Knowledge, Understanding, and Success Skills: Project is goal-based and informed by standards with an emphasis on critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and self-management.
  • Challenging Problem or Question: An appropriately challenging question or problem frames the project.
  • Sustained Inquiry: To explore the problem or question, students engage in research. Through the initial research, new questions emerge and are also explored.
  • Authenticity: The project should deal with real-world concerns and issues relevant to students’ lives. The task, impact, and process should also be authentic.
  • Student Voice & Choice: Within the project, students have the opportunity to choose how to work and what to create to demonstrate learning.
  • Reflection: Students should have a chance to reflect on the process and outcome including what challenges they faced and how they tackled those challenges.
  • Critique & Revision: Feedback is not final. Students have the opportunity to refine their product/project based on peer or teacher feedback.
  • Public Product: Audience for the final product is not just the teacher. Students have the chance to present or post their learning in a public forum.

On her blog, Cult of Pedagogy, Jennifer Gonzalez explains Project Based Learning as follows:

“With project based learning, the content is baked inside of a long-term project, a real-world problem students need to solve in a creative and authentic way. In the process of solving the problem, students also meet required standards, but this work is integrated into the project, not separate from it.” (2016)

PBL Success in the English Language Arts Classroom

In the course of researching PBL, I stumbled upon a post by junior high English teacher, Hannah Reimer. The title of the post piqued my interest: Literature, Deep Inquiry, Makerspace: Memorial Projects for the Holocaust & Other Cataclysmic Events. A makerspace project in English class? Tell me more!

Like many middle school teachers across the country, Reimer is tasked with teaching the difficult and painful subject of the Holocaust. Unlike many teachers, Reimer uses Project Based Learning to explore the ideas of remembrance and learning from the past.

Reimer begins her Holocaust unit by asking the following thought-provoking questions:

  • How do we remember or memorialize the people, all the people, scarred by genocide?
  • Why should we remember them?
  • What does it mean to remember?
  • How does art help people remember?
  • How is memory connected to education and change?

Students explore the questions through historical fiction and nonfiction (they choose the books) as well as online research. Students are then asked to create a model of a memorial for someone who suffered due to the ‘us versus them’ mentality that the victims of the Holocaust faced. Students are free to choose a single person, group of people, or an idea to commemorate. They’re not limited to creating memorials solely for Holocaust victims. For example, one student chose to memorialize young people who had committed suicide due to cyberbullying.

Students visit real-life memorials in their city to get a feel for the relationship between architecture, design, and honoring the dead. Before constructing their memorial models in their junior high’s makerspace lab, students had to write a persuasive pitch including facts and statistics about why the memorial was warranted. They also needed to justify their design choices.

As students work to construct their 3D models, they are able to consult with local artists and architects as well as a college professor. The final projects are photographed and edited using software like Photoshop to look like authentic architectural proposals. All students present their projects to faculty members at the Milwaukee Institute of Art. The best projects are then displayed at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee.

Reimer’s Holocaust project is a great example of what successful PBL looks like in the English classroom. It involves literature, research, writing, design thinking, modeling, art, computer design, and verbal presentation. The ability of students to consult with experts and present to an authentic audience further makes the project a real-world learning experience.

In addition to the many Common Core English standards met through this unit, students also meet ISTE standard 4, Innovative Designer. Specifically, students worked with an open-ended problem, built prototypes as part of the design process, used digital tools to research and create their memorial models, and created an authentic artifact that demonstrated their learning (, 2017).

Of course the academic element to this project is extensive and exciting. More importantly, this project encourages students to empathize with victims and consider the impact of their actions on others. In a longer version of the post, Reimer shares that her inspiration for the project stems from a request that a principal (and Holocaust survivor) made to his teachers: “Help your students become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human” (as cited in Reimer, 2016).

Sources: (n.d.). What is PBL? | Project Based Learning. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Feb. 2018].
Gonzalez, J. (2016). Project Based Learning: Start Here. [online] Cult of Pedagogy. Available at: [Accessed 12 Feb. 2018]. (2017). ISTE Standards For Students. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 Feb. 2018].
Reimer, H. (2016). Literature, Deep Inquiry, Makerspace: Memorial Projects for the Holocaust & Other Cataclysmic Events. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Feb. 2018].
Reimer, H. (2016). Searching for Meaning from the Holocaust. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Feb. 2018].

Kinders as Knowledge Curators

For this module, we examined the ISTE Student Standard 3 “Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others”. From this standard I had a couple of questions I wanted to answer.

The first was what does curating resources look like for Kindergarten students? The second is what digital tools can these students use to produce artifacts?

To answer these questions I first started by thinking about how my kindergarten students currently gather resources and what products they were producing to show understanding. For literacy, students are given an essential question each week. To extend their learning students in the past used a site called Pebblego to research information related to the essential question. However, students didn’t have an effective way to organize their research and had trouble showing what they learned.

Why it’s important

“To thrive in today’s complex, global, technology-rich world, acquisition of knowledge is not enough. Students must also be proficient using and communicating knowledge creatively. To do so students’ need to know how to ask and investigate questions, find and manage
information, analyze and synthesize ideas, create valuable products, solve problems, collaborate, and communicate effectively in writing, orally, and visually. In our 21st century world, effective learners are not just consumers of information but also constructors and even curators of information and knowledge.” (D’ Acquisto)

Research in Kindergarten

Before students can find information and create any artifacts to show their knowledge. We first need to find out what research looks like in a Kindergarten classroom. Concordia University of Portland, Oregon published an article with five ways to increase research skills in elementary students. The first way to help increase a student’s research skills is to define the task to the student. By defining the task student’s will know what they are looking for and how to get specific results. After defining the task student’s should discover keywords. Students need to learn how to come up with keywords to get the results they need when using a search engine. Now that students know how to find the results they want, they have to use appropriate tools. Google and Bing are probably the most popular search engines, but they may not be the best for teaching research skills to young students. For my students I use the site Pebblego when introducing students to research. Using something like Pebblego makes it easier to teach research skills by weeding out a lot of the chaff that so often comes up on the more popular engines. Next, student’s should learn about source hierarchy and evaluation. Teachers can explain about primary sources, original research and the reliability of information found on the Web. Through examples, teachers can demonstrate the way various information sources find their information and present it to the public, and how to determine which information is best to use for their projects. The fifth way to improve research skills is by note taking and compiling information. For this part I wanted to find a Kindergarten friendly way to record information.


Popplet is a web and app based program that allows for students to capture and organize their ideas. Used as a mind-map, Popplet helps students think and learn visually. Students can capture facts, thoughts, and images and learn to create relationships between them. Students can type, draw, and insert photos to help convey their learning. Another great feature for this site is that students can color code different aspects of their Popplets to show connections between ideas and concepts. One way I would use Popplet in my classroom is by students answering the essential question of the week. The screenshot below shows what a Popplet might look like for a student who is answering the essential question. Students can organize their thinking in a way that best fits their needs or they can pick a pre-formatted template to plug their information into. Once students have collected all their information they can share with other students, teachers, or parents. With this share feature students can present their knowledge of a subject in front of the  class or small group.

Popplet Essential Question



D’ Acquisto, L. (n.d.). Students as Knowledge Curators: An Apt Metaphor for Today’s Learner. Retrieved February 3, 2018, from (2017). ISTE Standards For Students. [online] Available at:

Popplet for School. (n.d.). Retrieved February 05, 2018, from

Teaching Research Skills to Elementary School Children. (2017, November 08). Retrieved February 05, 2018, from

Using the Big6 Method for Effective Research

Students frequently carry out informal research. They consult Google when not sure about a math formula or ask Siri what the weather will be like tomorrow. This research is quick and requires no vetting. For many students, this is the only type of research they’ve been exposed to. It should come as no surprise when students apply this same ‘strategy’ to academic research.

As teachers, our duty is to differentiate between casual everyday research and formal academic research. ISTE Student Standard 3a states: “Students plan and employ effective research strategies to locate information and other resources for their intellectual or creative pursuits” (, 2017). Research is also a major component of the Common Core Writing Standards. Students must…

  • Gather relevant information from multiple … sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase … while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.”
  • “Draw evidence … to support analysis, reflection, and research.”
  • “Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem.” (, 2010)

One framework that can be used to teach research in an explicit manner is the Big6 research method. The beauty of the Big6 method is that is a lifelong tool that can be used across disciplines and grade-levels. The Big6 emphasis on the process over the end result is invaluable if we want students to not only gather information but also to think critically and evaluate the information they are gathering.

What is the Big6 research method?

The Big6 research method is a detailed 6-step process to guide students through the research process. Much like the scientific method standardizes the process of research in science, the Big6 method standardizes research in the humanities. The method was developed by Mike Eisenberg and Bob Berkowitz in the late 1990s and is still used in K-12 schools today. The Big6 method is still very much applicable today. The Big6 is a program which “…integrates information search and use skills along with technology tools in a systematic process to find, use, apply, and evaluate information for specific needs and tasks” (, n.d.).

Librarian Anne Rouyer published a student-friendly walkthrough to the Big6 process which she touts as a way to ‘research like a librarian.’ According to Rouyer, what sets librarians apart is “we know how to evaluate information, dissect it, analyze it, reassemble it and put it to use effectively” (2013).

How can the Big6 research method support critical information-gathering skills?

Half of the Big6 process focuses on strategic planning to research. This concept seems very counterintuitive to students, whose first instinct is to Google the topic. Yet these steps are critical if we want students to be intentional, selective, and critical of their sources.

Step 1 of the Big6 process, called Task Definition, asks students to define the problem they will solve and identify the information needed to solve the problem. This step can be broken down even further if we consider that students need to develop a research question as well as identify the project requirements as outlined by the teacher. Once students understand the project requirements, they need to consider what they already know about the topic and identify what they need to know. One way they can brainstorm these ideas is through a digital K-W-L chart.

Step 2, Information Seeking Strategies, focuses on determining the best sources for the project. Instead of going straight to Google, Students first identify the types of sources they will use. This might include an interview, an encyclopedia entry, a nonfiction book, and a newspaper article. Students need to consider the pros and cons of each source. For example, an interview makes an excellent primary source as it provides a firsthand account. But on the other hand, it may contain bias, so the student may want to include a news account of the event for a neutral perspective. Students also must be taught to identify credible sources. One tool that can be used to teach evaluation of sources is the CRAAP test.

In order to search effectively, students need to identify keywords and subtopics. Keywords will guide research when performing online searches or consulting the index of a book. Subtopics provide a way for students to organize the information as they research.

Step 3 is called Location and Access, a title that is fairly self-explanatory. The logistics of research include the location of information. A student needs to know if they’ll be using the school library, or if they will need to arrange to visit the public library. If a student plans to use a library database, they’ll need to know if it can be accessed from home or only at school. They’ll need to have their login and understand the overall database.

An often overlooked step is teaching students how to access information within a source. I found that even in my advanced middle school Language Arts class, most students had not been taught to identify text features or use the table of contents or index to narrow down their search. They were also unfamiliar with the Boolean search operators which would help them hone in on relevant sources. Teaching these skills to students, along with the skill of scanning, is critical.

Step 4 of the Big6 process, Use of Information, details how to record information from sources. This can be a time-consuming step to teach as it involves organizing information as it is received and also documenting sources so as to avoid plagiarism and respect copyright. Online sites like CiteThisForMe and EasyBib can assist students in developing a bibliography. Digital note-taking options include Google Slides, Coggle, and Evernote.

Step 5, Synthesis, requires students to put together their findings in a logical way. This is where having subtopics comes in handy. The digital note-taking options make it easy for students to sort information and delete redundant or weak facts. Once the information has been sorted and a conclusion reached, students present their findings. This is a great opportunity for students to demonstrate choice…will they create a poster, write a blog post, or give an oral presentation? The choices are nearly limitless.

The final step of the Big6, Evaluation, is one that is often neglected in the classroom. Pausing to consider what went well, what was challenging, and why is critical for students. Students can take an active role in the assessment process by reflecting on their own progress and learning. Read Write Think has a free reflection handout that can be reproduced in the classroom.

For a student-friendly, step-by-step guide to the Big6 research process, please view my previous post.

Using the Big6 to support student choice and real-world learning

Lisa Johnson emphasizes the connection between autonomy and agency and why it is essential to allow students a choice in their learning: “[Autonomy] is the intentional practice of valuing agency over task. It is being given the why and allowing students to determine the how and the what on their own so they become independent thinkers and decision makers” (Johnson, 2017).

The following graphic is helpful in visualizing how a Big6 research project can be standards-based while still allowing students to demonstrate agency in their own learning.

Johnson goes on to acknowledge that scaffolding may be required to execute this process with younger students. For example, students might be given an umbrella under which to develop their topics. This might be a very general topic (ie- Civil Rights) or an open-ended question that still allows for choice (ie- Choose an event from the Civil Rights movement and describe its impact on America).


Sources: (n.d.). Big6 Skills Overview. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Feb. 2018]. (2010). Common Core State Standards English Language Arts. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Feb. 2018].

Eisenberg, M. and Berkowitz, R. (2000). Teaching Information & Technology Skills: The Big6 in Secondary Schools. Worthington, OH: Linworth Pub. (2017). ISTE Standards For Students. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Feb. 2018].

Johnson, L. (2017). Cultivating Communication in the Classroom: Future-Ready Skills for Secondary Learners. 1st ed. Thousand Oaks: Corwin, p.74.

Rouyer, A. (2013). Research Like a Librarian: Using “Big6 Skills” for Better Grades!. [online] The New York Public Library. Available at: [Accessed 4 Feb. 2018].