From Consumers to Creators: Infographics in Social Studies

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How did science and technology innovations help to direct the US out of the Great Depression?

We are an information saturated society.

Information, data, and facts stream through our consciousness at surprising rates.  Our students have been raised on Google with its instantaneous access to information 24/7.  Immediate access, however, does not mean that our students (and most adults) have the skills and habits of mind to process that information, seek patterns, make sense, identify problems, and create solutions.

At TCEA in February, I wanted to attend a session on using infographics in Social Studies, but I ran out of time (too much to see…).  I’ve dabbled with creating infographics myself for the purpose of publicizing the library’s statistics and information, but I had yet to try having students create them to demonstrate learning. I was unable to attend the session, but I was able to locate some terrific sources to help me wrap my head around how students can re-mix information and data in a visual, graphic format.

Through my Google search, I found several terrific boards on Pinterest with infographics for social studies. But, with the exception of a handful of teacher blogs, I struggled to find resources for engaging my students in an inquiry process for the purpose of creating their own infographics.  Luckily, I came across Kathy Schrock’s Google Site, which provides how-to videos, rubrics, examples, and websites for creating infographics. Now all I needed was a willing teacher and a batch of curious students.

Thank goodness for professional relationships.  Wednesday, I blogged about one such relationship with my Math department chair.  Luckily, I had a similar relationship with a US History teacher founded on trust and like-mindedness.  “Marty McFly” (he chose his own pseudonym) teaches English and US History, and so he brings with him his experiences with inquiry, research, and literacy to his social studies classes.  “Marty” is also passionate about engaging his students in higher-level questioning, inquiry, and thinking in regards to his curriculum.  And, he’s comfortable with experimentation when the outcome is not easily known.

We began planning by identifying the content-specific objectives and learning outcomes.  Students were wrapping-up their exploration of the Great Depression and New Deal and were preparing for the unit test.  In addition to the time period objectives, “Marty” also wanted to address some of the process and critical thinking skills in the US History TEKS:

(A)  create thematic maps, graphs, and charts representing various aspects of the United States; and

(B)  pose and answer questions about geographic distributions and patterns shown on maps, graphs, charts, and available databases.

We agreed that students could demonstrate their understanding about an issue or topic relating to the unit AND satisfy these performance standards by having them work in small groups to create an infographic that seeks to answer a question.

Whenever I work with students with inquiry (which is ALWAYS), I begin by thinking about which part of the inquiry process is best to engage them in.  I’ve learned that it’s not always developmentally appropriate (or timely) to begin by having them create their own researchable question each and every time. For this project, “Marty” and I decided to create the questions for students since they were driven by specific content needs and formed from the US History TEKS:

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Another decision we needed to make was how much direct support to provide to the whole class.  Knowing that the infographic creation website was a brand-new tool for them, I struggled between taking the time to stop and walk through the process of creating one with the entire class, or allowing them to be independent problem-solvers and learners.  We opted for the latter…(more on that in a moment).

To prepare for classes, I created a Google Doc with all of the directions, links, and resources, which was shared with students through the class Edmodo wall.  We began the lesson by asking the question, “How does visualizing data help us understand an issue or topic?”

Using the YouTube video, “Fast Food” from “The Infographics Show” YouTube Channel, I invited students to comment on how the video helped them to remember significant facts about the topic.  We made a list of all the ways we saw the creators of the video visualize data (charts, symbols, maps, graphs, etc.)

Next, we analyzed a few different infographics as mentor texts in order to define what they were.  Here are some of our favorites:

Hamburger

Life Then and Now

Walking Debt–inspired by Walking Dead

Once students understood what an infographic was and its basic elements, I began to walk them through their research process beginning with the list of 10 researchable questions.  Demonstrating the use of three of our online resources, Student Resources in Context, Gale Virtual Reference Library, and Sharpe Online Reference, I reviewed how to cite sources and take notes electronically in a Google Doc, which they could share with their group members through Drive.

Students spent the next full class period searching for sources with data and information that would help them respond to their researchable questions.

On the third day, students met in their groups to share and compare information, determine which pieces of information they would use and how they would visually represent it, and create a hand-drawn, rough draft of their infographic. (I learned the importance of a rough draft for any digital project from my early days with Digital Storytelling).

Our plan to allow students to be independent learners of the infographic creator sites backfired, when the tutorial videos posted on sites such as Visua.ly and Piktochart were blocked by our school filter  (…..yep, I should know better by now…).  So,  we ended up spending about 10 minutes on the final day walking them through the process of creating an infographic in Piktochart.

List of Infographic creation websites:

https://magic.piktochart.com/

http://infogr.am/

http://www.easel.ly/

http://visual.ly/

We discovered that students needed more time to synthesize the information and create the infographic than originally planned, which ties back to our original reflection on teens as information consumers that they are so used to consuming information rather than using it to form new interpretations and solutions.

“Marty” had some interesting thoughts relating to the gap between students who successfully completed the assignment and those who really struggled,

 I think this demonstrates Piaget’s theory that not all people reach the formal operational stage. Those that I knew would understand did, and those I knew who wouldn’t understand didn’t. Those that didn’t I think would need someone to walk them through step-by-step in order for them to create something we would say was a good product.

That “Marty McFly”  is one smart guy…

 Overall, “Marty” felt that the project, “gave [students] a better look at numbers (people affected, money lost, money needed to formulate programs, etc.) so it helped them understand the enormity of the situation…it helped them learn the different New Deal programs better. It also helped them see the parallels of the recent recession.”

We both agree that had we chosen one website like Piktochart, demonstrated for all students the basic features they need to create the infographic, and provided more support and modeling of the keyword searches for various questions, then we would have seen greater completion and better products.

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How did the New Deal’s approaches to resolving the Depression compare to the opponent’s approaches?

Looking at the final infographics, I have to say that I am impressed with most groups’ ability to synthesize that amount of information, identify a clear message for their graphic, and use visuals to convey that message.  I do still see many who relied heavily upon text rather than images, which I find curious.  Perhaps that can be addressed in the planning phase next time.   I’d also like to include a mini-lesson on utilizing the images and primary documents available in our electronic collection and Creative Commons images to add another layer of content to the infographics.

My greatest take-away from this experience is that we need to have students locating and re-mixing information in various formats for  the purpose of creating new solutions and messages.  By learning to manipulate and represent information for a given audience, they will learn to be more discerning of the information that courses through their daily lives rather than being mass consumers.

Student Samples:

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Experiential Learning in Algebra I: The QR Code Experiment

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The librarian went to Algebra I class today, and I learned so much!  Not only am I now solid on identifying inequalities on the coordinate plane, but I also understand much more about the importance of technology tools applied in authentic learning experiences.

As the campus Library Media Specialist, I am extremely lucky to have such powerful professional and personal relationships with faculty across all content areas.  Technology integration is scary and make-me-want-to-pull-my-hair-out frustrating at times.  Our professional relationships are an integral lifeline when seeking to innovate any instructional context–but especially when integrating technology.

Our principal began the year with three very specific instructional expectations for our campus:

1)  Engage students in learning.

2)  Seek to integrate technology in instruction.

3)  Design lessons using the VESTED format (a sheltered instructional model developed by the Kolak Group)

As a campus and as individual teams we’ve faced many obstacles to meeting these goals–especially with technology integration.  These barriers seem to stem–ironically– from technology, in particular our infrastructure’s capacity to support wireless connectivity for 30+ devices in a classroom and our very tightly-woven internet filtering software.  When faced with these barriers, many teachers understandably quit.  Those who are adaptive and responsive to these barriers, often find the support and creative solutions they need to innovate instruction through professional relationships and collaboration.

One such collaboration that has taught me tremendously has been with our Math Department Chair and Coach.  Wendi and I share a platform of trust, which is paramount in any professional relationship.  She and I also share like-mindedness when it comes to engaging students in learning.  We have different levels of comfort and experience with technology integration, which allows for a dynamic relationship.  I know next to nothing about math and instructional methods for teaching math to teenagers;  she feels that she knows next to nothing about using technology when teaching math to teenagers–our collaboration is founded on reciprocal teaching and learning from one another as colleagues.

Wendi’s spark of innovation appeared in one of her own children’s Language Arts assignments that came home one day.  The teacher had used QR codes to teach students about synonyms and antonyms.  Wendi was so impressed with the basic premise of the assignment and her experience as a parent supporting her young learner through the assignment, that she made immediate connections for adapting it for an upcoming lesson with her Algebra I team.

She showed me the assignment–a simple table with 9 QR codes that linked to a website students used to respond to the prompt. We started by talking about her content goals for her Algebra I studnets first.

Whenever I collaborate with teachers on integrating technology with learning, I ALWAYS start with the content and expected learning outcomes.  Integrating technology is not about finding ways to use iPads or QR codes in the classroom, but rather integrating technology is about identifying what tool best supports students’ learning in a given context.  (p.s., sometimes the solution has nothing to do with technology!)

Wendi’s goal for her students:  Identify inequalities on coordinate planes.

How would students demonstrate this skill to her?  By correctly identifying a shaded graph with it’s symbol.

I heartily agreed that QR codes could be an effective tool to support students with these goals.

Wendi worked over a weekend to collect images of shaded graphs, and then we sat together to put the assignment together, which involved troubleshooting certain technological barriers.

Barrier 1:  QR codes needed to link to images; however, Google Images as well as photo hosting sites such as Flickr and Tumblr  are blocked by our filter.  We needed a place to house the photos online that students could access through our network.

Solution:  We created a folder in Google Drive, uploaded the images to the folder, changed the sharing permissions for the entire folder so that anyone within the district’s Google domain could access the link, and then used the shared links for the images to create QR codes.

Creating the assignment once we had all the images took about 20 minutes.  I then showed Wendi how she could make a copy of the assignment’s Google Doc to use as a template for future assignments, saving her time in the future with formatting.

assignment

Wendi shared the assignment through Google Drive with her Algebra I team and scheduled the cart of iPads for each teacher.

We were excited to see how students and teachers responded to the activity.

The day of the assignment, Wendi and one of her teachers came to me with our next unforeseen barrier.

Barrier 2:  When using the QR scanner on the iPad with the devices connected to the student wi-fi network, the links were blocked–even though they linked to the district’s own Google Drive (exasperated sigh).  Wendi and her teacher could have given up then and there.  We had less than 20 minutes to find a solution.

One of the most important traits of a 21st Century teacher and learner is the ability to adapt and problem solve.

Solution:  …I may have found a loophole to the wi-fi issue, which I cannot entirely disclose…let’s just say I applied a little creative compliance to find a network solution…

I asked the first teacher to try the activity with students if I could stay and help support her and her students.  That way I could be available to trouble shoot anymore barriers or obstacles that may arise.  Since we were using the district’s Google Drive domain, it was necessary for one student to log in to Google Drive the first time they scanned a code, which they adapted to very easily.

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The QR activity followed a quick introduction, which drew upon students’ prior knowledge of inequality symbols.  The teacher displayed a visual with four coordinate graphs and their corresponding symbol and asked students to talk to their partner about what they noticed.

As I walked through rows of students observing, I heard responses such as “if you notice where the lines are located …” and “in general, when the shaded area is beneath the line…” By inviting students to note patterns first, the teacher placed the learning experience in  the hands of students rather than delivering content knowledge.  What I really appreciated about this was how natural it came to students.  You could tell by their willingness and openness to share their thinking out loud that this type of discourse was a regular part of their classroom experience.

She then asked them what they noticed, “Why are these two lines dashed and these two solid?”  By utilizing  higher-level questions to guide them to justify their responses, the teacher drew upon students’ ability to think metacognitively.  Learning was happening at higher levels  before technology was even introduced.

graph

Students then received directions for the QR activity, and I walked them through scanning and identifying the first coordinate graph to ensure all devices were working appropriately and students felt successful using the iPads as a learning device.

The teacher and I walked around, actively supporting students if they had any issues with the QR code or device, and observing students’ conversations with their partners as they scanned and worked together to determine the correct symbol.  The initial visual remained on the board for students to use as a key.

All students were engaged in the activity as academic discourse flowed throughout the room.  As partners completed the assignment, I reminded them to check to make sure they signed out of Google Drive on the devices and cleared the scanning history in the QR reader app.  I chatted informally with groups of students about their reactions to the assignment.  All but one student reported that they felt they understood more about inequalities on coordinate planes after using the iPads than if we had provided the images of the graphs on the paper.  The one student who didn’t feel this way said that the experience would have been the same for her without the iPads.  All students reported that they felt confident in identifying the correct symbol for an inequality and commented on how fun class was that day.

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Learning did not stop when the devices were dark. Even when the activity was over,  I heard pairs talking about the graphs they had discussed.  One pair in particular was pointing to different QR codes, recalling the differences and similarities between the graphs they linked to and the inequality symbol they recorded.  Even though the visual was no longer in front of them on the screen, it was painted on their mind because of their experience with the learning task.  When looking at a QR code, they still saw the graph it represented.

Without the collaboration of the team, my relationship with Wendi, the Department Chair, and the adaptability and resiliency of the classroom teacher, this lesson may have never been actualized.

How can we ensure that teachers have the collaborative relationships and support they need in order to experiment with new technologies and innovate learning for their students?

Reel Reads for Real Readers: We are all MAD here…

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This month’s display in the library is inspired by the Cheshire Cat and zany mix of characters in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland .  

We’re all mad here.

The weeks leading up to and following Spring Break often feel like madness.  But, in the library, we’re mad about books, especially books with mind-bending adventures!

Here are a few books featured this month where readers can expect a wacky, adrenaline packed, adventure with unexpected twists and turns.  Many genres are represented in this month’s display as adventures.

Reel Reads for Real Readers: Under the Never Sky Trilogy

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  “She sank to her knees and lifted her head. She had become so accustomed to the rippling blue tides closing her in, pressing down on her, but this sky was open . . . this night was infinite.
She felt like she might fall upward forever, drifting into space. Floating across the stars. Sable had spoken of embers scattered across the roof of the universe. It was a good description.”

I find myself getting out of bed a little more quickly, leaving my house sooner, and taking the longer route to work in the mornings to get in just a few more minutes with my good friends Perry, Aria, and their merry band of misfits.  I picked up Veronica Rossi’s first installment in the trilogy, Under the Never Sky,  a little late in the game about a month ago.  I have a tendency to hold off on a trilogy when I know that the last installment is releasing soon–I loathe the wait in between installments.

With a little less than an hour to go until the end of the series, I’m feeling that pang of nostalgia already, knowing that I’ll soon be saying farewell to the ether-torn world and those who are perpetually seeking “the still blue” and all the freedom to love and live that it promises.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0TnH3GEieE

The Nonfiction Reading Experience: Balancing Stance with Reader Response

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“When we read nonfiction we read with a blend of the two stances:  we can learn information from reading nonfiction but we can also pay attention to our personal response as well as our aesthetic experience” (Heard, 2013).

In Finding the Heart of Nonfiction, Georgia Heard draws upon Louise Rosenblatt’s, The Reader, the Text, the Poem:  The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work to demonstrate the value of supporting students’ nonfiction reading experiences.  Even when we approach an informational text, we have an aesthetic response as readers.  We think about the facts, data, information, stories, etc that move us, connect with us, confuse or enrage us, through a personal and emotional lense as we grapple with the information, internalizing author’s message and purpose.

As I thought more about how to continue to support our English I Pre-AP students’ individual journeys with their nonfiction titles, I knew that in to elicit the type of reflective and purposeful written response we hoped to achieve in the nonfiction book review, we needed to tap into that personal reader response during the course of students’ reading.

After examining and deconstructing real-world book reviews, I sent the students back to their classrooms with five reader response prompts for their teacher to integrate, one each week over the next five weeks.  The teacher did not set a certain schedule or number of pages students were expected to accomplish on a pre-determined timetable, but rather, she chose to invite their experiences back into the classroom through written reader response.  My goal in crafting these response times was to literally help nudge students along the continuum of reading stances from aesthetic (personal/ emotional)to efferent (informational/ analytic).

Nonfiction Reader Response Prompts

Response #1-Tap-in to Prior Knowledge

Before I started reading _____________, I thought/ wondered/ experienced/ understood……

 Now I think……

Response #2-Thinking More Deeply

Lift one line* out of the book that “sticks with you” for any reason at all.

  • Write that line down at the top of your paper.

  • Write in response to that line.

  • What does it make you think of?

  • What questions does it raise?

Response #3–Taking Note of Genre

response #3

Response #4–Considering Purpose

  • What does the author do that makes the book believable (or not)? 
  • What does the author do that makes him or herself a credible source (or not)?
  • Is there anything the author could do to improve credibility?

Response #5–Synthesizing

What moments, stories, examples, etc. are the most memorable for you? Why?

How would you sum up—in one to two sentences—the message of this book?

Why should someone read this book?  Who in particular should read this book?

My intention for these prompts was to not only help students think reflectively about their reading experience as they engaged in both stances, but also to support their understanding of nonfiction structures, features, and purposes.

Keeping the end in mind, I also anticipated that those students who really put effort into these entries would in essence have a draft of their book review before we even talked about sitting down to draft.
*A quick note about giving students prompts to respond to their independent reading books–I feel like this is a fine-line to walk in the classroom.  On one hand, reader response prompts provide students–especially “non-readers”– with thinking models for their reading experiences.  Prompts allow you to hone-in on a specific skill, term, strategy, or text feature with all students when they are not reading a collective text.  On the other hand,  I believe that students should freely and openly respond to the texts that they read.  In general, I often posed a prompt for students with the caveat that they could respond however they needed to that day.
Where do you stand on teacher-directed reading responses?  How do you walk the fine-line between scaffolded support and spontaneous transaction?

Reel Reads for Real Readers: How to Love by Katie Cotungo

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64664-reelreading2I can be such a girl.  I gravitate to first-love-lost-tales like a moth to a flame.  I’d like to think that I’ve advanced in the stages of a lifelong reader, but whenever one of these young adult novels like Gayle Forman’s Just One Day or  Jenny Han’s The Summer I Turned Pretty surfaces on my radar, I’m right back at reading for autobiographical experiences and little 17-year-old me has her heart broken and repaired over and over again.

What I love about Katie Cotugno’s How to Love is how the author grapples with the reality of first loves.  Recently, I came across a video on Pinterest where Laurie Halse Anderson is talking about her newest novel, The Impossible Knife of Memory.  She discusses her approach of writing an adolescent love story, as not necessarily one of romantic love, but familial love and seperation, finding an adopted family in a group of friends, and then finally that first romance.  How to Love captures the dynamic interrelationship between all of these spheres:  family, friends, and romance.

What We Have in Common: Listening for Truths Among Dissidence

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photo (2)There’s this terrific conversation happening in my Facebook feed inspired by Amy’s recent post on threeteacherstalk.com on free-choice reading in the AP classroom.  Friends of mine who are teachers themselves, parents of students in HS English classes, and former students are sharing their thoughts and wishes for their ideal English experience in secondary classrooms.  Who says there’s nothing good on Facebook anymore?

Here’s what they all have in common: no matter where they fall in the spectrum of whether or not free-choice reading belongs in the AP classroom, developing a love for reading and identifying yourself as a reader is an integral part of being a happy, successful, compassionate human being.

Slowly, thanks in large part to Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide and Penny Kittle’s Book Love free-choice or independent reading is starting to take root in many secondary English Language Arts classes.  But, the conversation seems to stall-out when when we get to the AP and Pre-AP classes.  How do you convince traditionally trained teachers, most of whom were at the top of their Literature classes in high school and college, that they don’t have to tell their students what to read every time, all the time?  How do you convince them to let go of Billy Budd to allow their students 30-45 minutes a week to read and talk about books of their own choice?

Even among my National Writing Project colleagues who I consider to be revolutionaries in English instruction, there is much dissidence between those who teach AP.  And, it’s interesting listening to them politely talk around the subject.  As an outsider, I can see that they clearly aren’t hearing what the other is saying when it comes to what one they believe about free-choice reading.  Apart from one another, they reveal to me the following misconceptions:

Jill: Andy doesn’t provide her students with the collective experience of reading and sharing a complex text.  As advanced readers, this is one of the benefits of being in an AP classroom–the phenomenon that happens as a group of humans grapple with Literature together to make sense of their world and understanding themselves.

Andy:  Jill doesn’t let her students read their own books in class and still practices the whole-class novel approach.  Even advanced students need to continue to develop their skills through texts that they choose for themselves.  I can still teach them AP strategies and skills in conjunction with free-choice reading.

Guess what Andy and Jill, you are both right! Here’s what you may not be seeing in one another’s practices that I know to be true:

Both of you:

  • Talk to your students about what you are reading everyday.  You share what surprises, excites, frustrates, and challenges you as readers.  Your students then flock to your well-stocked classroom libraries or school libraries to read the books you recommend–whether during or outside your class time.

  • Invite students to examine challenging and diverse text.  Whether your students read the entire text or excerpts, they are ALL experiencing the wonderfully critical world of Literature!

  • Consider your students needs as life-long readers and AP students when designing your instruction and selecting texts.  You both keep your eye on the evolving world of College Board AP test writers who are bringing in more and more diverse and contemporary texts for students to grapple with in the exam.  When you choose a whole-class text it is deliberate and in direct response to your students needs and experiences.

  • Celebrate your students experiences as readers through innovative and engaging reader response and discussion.  Whether it’s a shared reading experience or self-selected reading, students learn the value and importance of developing personal responses to texts in order to think critically about the text and their world.

  • Continue to learn, grow, and expand your knowledge as teachers of literature and facilitators of thriving reading and writing communities.

Perhaps the divide isn’t nearly as wide as we perceive it to be.  The question remains, how do we get more secondary ELA teachers on board with re-imagining our adolescent students’ experiences in English?

See also:

5 Myths About Independent Reading