Sunday, September 21, 2014

Start the Year with a Game

"The way to get started is to quit talking and start doing".  (Walt Disney)

As most schools enter their first few weeks of school, you can bet that many teachers have passed out course outlines and methodically mapped out with students their topics, class rules and details on assessment.  This ritual at the beginning of the year has been a familiar routine for most in middle school and high school.   

Yet, I wondered if there was a new way I could start the school year.  As students enter the building after many weeks of play and relaxation, I want to "wow" them and hook them into thinking that coming back to school was a good thing.  Yet, I am realistic and know that it is important for students to have an overview of my class.  So, I brainstormed ways I might "marry" the idea of instilling a sense of excitement into the students on the first few days and also ensuring they are aware of my course content and philosophy.  The result was to turn to a game.

Board games like Sorry and Monopoly offer many educational benefits to the classroom.  These may include:

1. Being able to follow the rules and instructions to achieve a goal.
2. Building social skills like fair play and teamwork.
3. Developing interpersonal skills through conversation and ice breaking talk during the game to get to know each other.
4.  Thinking skills are fostered as most board games have a element of strategy.

Thus, I decide to build a board game that would afford my students the opportunity to learn about my course outline and at the same time get to know each other and build on other learning skills.  After much search on the internet, I found a great blog by Kat Okula, who posted a way to re-design a Monopoly board.  So, I changed it to fit my course on Design.  

Here are the steps I went through to create my own Customized Monopoly Game:

1. I re-worded the properties on the board game so that they were indicative of some of the themes, topics and ideals that were part of my Design Class.  For example, Inquiry AVE, Asssement AVE, etc.  You can see a large copy of my board game here.

2. I re-worded all the property cards in two ways.  Firstly, I changed their title to match the properties on the board game.  Secondly, I added a question to the property cards.  If a student wants to purchase the property they must correctly answer the question on the property card first.  If they get the question wrong, it goes back into the pile. You can see samples of the property cards here (they will look misaligned in google drive, but when you download them they should look formatted properly).

3.  I re-worded the Chance and Community Chess cards to reflect possible situations that might arise in a school setting.  You can view a sample of these cards here.

4.  I found game pieces from objects around the classroom ex. paperclip, eraser, etc. for the game board players.

5. I purchased Monopoly money from the local dollar store, or you can print your own here.

The 'Design-opoly' game adopts most of the same rules of a normal Monopoly game with a few exceptions or changes:

a)  Students cannot purchase a property unless they answer the question correctly on the property card.
b) There are no houses or apartments to add to the properties.
c) One person should be designated as the banker and property manager; their role is to manage the money and property cards.  It would be difficult to both play and do this job because the questions on the cards need to be kept private.

Besides using this game at the beginning of the year, it would also be beneficial as an additional activity when students have completed work or a project and need some enrichment.

I hope your students have as much fun learning about the fundamental concepts of your courses as mine did.  Please let me know about your experience.

You can access additional files I used to make the Design-opoly game here.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Transforming Information Using Infographics

The great Aristotle once said, "There can be no words without pictures."  Although he was probably not talking about the engaging power of infographics, I would like to share with you my ideas on how to create these wonderful visual tools.
Infographics are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge.  They are intended to present complex information quickly and clearly.   Infographics take important events and data and tell a visual story. Furthermore,  infographics may also use typography (fancy and appropriate fonts) to transform data in an interesting visual format.  Here is a great explanation of infographics by Kathy Schrock,

Using Infographics in the Classroom
Having students develop research questions and then portraying their synthesized answers in an infographic is a very valuable learning experience.  Students will develop the following approaches to learning skills:
a. Organize and depict information logically
b. Use and interpret a range of discipline-specific terms and symbols
c. Collect, record and verify data
d. Present information in a variety of formats and platforms 
e. Collect and analyse data to identify solutions and make informed decisions 
 Here is an infographic about Infographics by infolicious:
Infographic About Infographics

Explore more visuals like this one on the web's largest information design community - Visually.

Steps to Creating an Infographic with Students
a. Come up with a compelling challenge- Research has show that students are more engage when they are solving real world challenges.  The more we can anchor our assignments based on problems the world is already facing the better.  To do this, stay abreast with current events going on in the world.  I watch the news and read various online publications so that I am aware of current issues.  Then, I turn these issues into a real world challenge.  Here is an example of one I created for my grade 7 science students on a unit of inquiry related to plants: (you can access my complete plant assignment here).
Design Challenge
There has been a growing trend by consumers to purchase less and less of certain types of plants in Canada.  The farmers of these plants are having a difficult time making a living.  They have petitioned the government of Canada to do something about this alarming trend.  You have been hired by the Government of Canada to create greater awareness toward one of these particular plants by creating an Infographic.  Your well-designed infographic will hopefully generate greater interest in the plant and help farmers of these plants create more business.
b.  Create Clear Instructions-
 It will be important to provide detailed procedures and instructions for students when they are making an infographic for the first time.  The more you are able to scaffold the process the greater success students will feel.  Here is a sample a procedure:
Step 1- Pick a Topic from the list of topics below.  Here is a list of possible topics to create your infographic about. 
__________________(these topics will depend on what your unit of inquiry is about)_____________________
Step  2- Generate 3 Questions-  What inquiry questions will you address in your infographic about your topic?  Questions should lend themselves to pictorial and graphical information.  For example, where in the world is it found? How is it processed? What are the most popular types? What is it made of?  Please come up with 3 questions that you will represent on your infographic page.
Step 3- Gather your data/information- Research your questions and gather your data, facts and information regarding your questions.  Remember to cite your resources in MLA format.
Step 4- Chose 3 ways to transform your research questions into visual information.  Examples include: a visual timeline, a graph (pie, histogram, pictograph, bar, line etc), a visual map, a unique image, etc.  The easiest way to do this is using an website that allows you to create the infographic using a template.  Here are 2 sites that do this:
Step 5-Customize your page layout: Edit your page by putting in your title, data and any new images you need.
Step 6-Save your template as a jpeg or image file.
 c. Choosing the Right Program-  Several factors will determine what type of program you use to create your infographic.  Age, level of technology experience and time are three factors that will help you decide what you will use.  Here are possible levels:

1. Beginner-  if you are working with upper elementary or middle school students that have never created an infographic before then I recommend they use; a)  or b)  (here is a great tutorial on   These programs make it very simple and easy to generate infographics as they have tools and templates that will enable students to transform data and information without any prior knowledge.  These two programs are also helpful if you can not afford a lot of class time toward this project.

2. Advanced- for students that have experience with infographics and/or computer graphic programs that use layers, then they will appreciate having more control over their design by using a program like a) Adobe Photoshop or b) Adobe Illustrator.  This more advanced method requires much more time.

In the 21st century, we are presented with more and more information in visual format.  People are becoming more accustom to reading visual based information then straight text.  Thus, if we want to get our message across in an interesting and engaging way, then infographics is a great tool for students to learn how to create.  What has your experience been with creating infographics?

Additional Resources

1.  Ways to Teaching using Infographics
2.  Basic Infographic tools for teachers
3. Why should Teachers use Infographics?
4. Five Great Tools for Creating Infographics

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Fostering New Ideas by Adding "Perspective" with Google SketchUp

American author, Chuck Palahniuk once said, “The trick to forgetting the big picture is to look at everything close up.”   But finding new perspective whether it be about life or solving a problem is never easy.  We sometimes need to look to new tools and techniques to give us a different viewpoint.

Image Labeled for Re-use on Flickr  by Sadie Hernandez
Although Palahniuk was not speaking specifically about design projects, I feel this quote is an appropriate segue to talking about an amazing program I am now using in my Middle School Design classes; it is called Google SketchUp.  Google SketchUp, a free downloadable program, allows users to create 3D models in an engaging 3D environment.

One of my motivations to learning how to use Google SketchUp is to teach and coach my design students how to take their 2-dimensional architectural drawings to a new level.  As part of the design cycle, students are asked to create several feasible designs for a solution to a problem or challenge.  These usually involve sketching various 2-dimensional ideations/versions for a specific model in form of blueprints like the ones seen here of a model train car.

2-Dimensional Blueprint of a possible Indian Train Car
Then, students are asked to analyze each labeled sketch or blueprint and justify which one they might build.  From here, students pick one solution and elaborate a bit more on it's form and function by putting in further details and features before they move to creating the product.  This is often a difficult step for students as they have a hard time coming up with new ideas to further enhance their detailed blueprint.  However, with Google SketchUp, students might now take one of the 2-Dimensional drawings and create a 3-Dimensional version of it in Google SketchUp.  This is a superior approach to elaborating on their proposed solution.  When expanding a model into a 3-Dimensional program like SketchUp, students will be forced to have new "perspective".  Google SketchUp has several features that will empower young designers to look at their possible solution from  "new eyes".  Some new understandings that students may develop from expanding their proposed solution into a 3-D drawing are:

1.  What does my product dimensions look like  when in 3-Dimensional format?
2.  What does my proposed product look like from various angles? (top view, side view, etc)
3.  What are some of my aesthetic options?  Color, texture, shape
4.  Where is the most effective/strategic location for this  seat, coach, fountain, etc.?

My son and I worked together with Google Sketchup on building a model of the Alberta Legislature Building.  You can see the finished product here:

We had to pay attention to several details in order to make the model historically accurate.  As we were translating our ideas into a 3-D model, a fresh perspective enabled us to learn far more than we imagined.  For example, there is a large circular fountain  at the entrance to the building.  When we sized and created the fountain, we noticed that made it difficult to walk around the fountain to get to the entrance to the Legislative Assembly.  We both wondered why the designers would want to make the journey so narrow and difficult.  After much discussion about security, we realized that this might be intentional for security reasons.  Furthermore, from above we noticed that the Building is in the shape of a cross, which  has significance based on the religious affiliation of the original designers and architects. 

Stepping back, taking a breath and finding a new perspective is often a difficult mental task.  Yet, with the right tools, we can teach students to see things differently and therefore develop allow them to develop new ideas.  What techniques and tools do you employ to help students develop new perspective?

If you are interested in using Google SketchUp to give your students new perspective here are a few sights that might be helpful:

1.  Google SketchUp Download

2. Free video tutorials to learn Google SketchUp

b) Google SketchUp for Dummies by Aidan Chopra

3. Sample Lesson Plans using Google SketchUp

4. For the complete PDF version of the 3DVinci Google SketchUp Teacher Guide, go to:

5.  Video Presentation by Joe Donahue on the use of Google SketchUp in the Classroom