Good Design Could be a Matter of Life or Death

After the snafu at the Oscars this year, people became a little more aware of the role poor graphic design can have on people making errors. The following video highlights this, along with poorly designed voting ballots and medical pill bottles.

But what does this have to do with schools?

At our school, like the majority of schools I know, we have a number of students with serious allergies – some of them life-threatening. Knowing which students have allergies and how they need to be treated is extremely significant.

Our sharing procedure (following meetings at the start of the school year) was to have this list of students up around the staffroom and in key areas staff gather (names/photos have been blurred for privacy reasons).

On an A4 sheet of paper, each student photo is about the size of one fingernail. Pretty hard to distinguish in a hurry. The text was also tiny, so if a quick assessment of a student’s allergies was required, a teacher would have to read through a tiny font to find out the details.

I thought about what information was most important for staff to know about the students with allergies. I came up with bigger images, an icon to represent each allergy, together with the class & grade the student is in, and a description of what to do if they are having an allergic reaction.

I designed icons using Keynote and used Pages for the template.

My redesign looked like this (borrowing my son’s name/image for template purposes!):

The finished template is also an A4 piece of paper, but is much easier to recognise students and allergies due to the size of the image and icons. Names and class information are also easier to see, along with descriptions of students’ allergies and medical plans.

Graphic design could be a matter of life or death. Perhaps this is a good opportunity to see if your health and safety information is as clear as it needs to be.

I would love your feedback 🙂

Wonder-full Portraits

As I mentioned in my previous post, Classroom Design Matters, Miles Beasley‘s Grade 6 classroom has a design focused on the book Wonder, by R. J. Palacio.

To build community with the 3 classes he teaches, he asked each class to draw a self-portrait in the style of the cover of Wonder.

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FullSizeRender (3)Using an iPad, each student took a selfie in the classroom, and added it as a photo layer in the free app Adobe Ilustrator Draw [NB, as the students are under 13, they logged in with a class account Miles had created]. They turned the opacity slider down, then moved to the draw layer to trace around their features.

Using a brush size of about 4 points, they went around the outside of their face. Zooming in, and reducing the size of the brush to 2.5 or so points, meant they could get more detail around the eyes.

Some students had good results colouring their hair in entirely in black. Others went black at first, and painted in strands of white to show detail. Some preferred general lines to indicate the contours of their hair.

Once complete, the photo layer was either turned off or had the opacity slider turned right down, leaving you with the finished portrait.

Students seemed to enjoy the exercise, and it was nice for them to try a new app in the first week of school. Having the photo underneath, meant all students were able to complete a portrait they were pleased with.

It was easy for the students to export the finished portrait to the camera roll, then airdrop it to their MacBook Air, where they shared it in a specially created Google Drive folder.

Another of our favourite features of Wonder are the precepts Auggie’s teacher Mr Browne shares with the students each week. Miles followed this lead, by getting the students to search for a quote that resonated with them, which then formed part of the classroom display, together with their portraits.

As an English/Humanities teacher, it was a great opportunity for Miles to reinforce the importance of attributing one’s sources, and checking the validity of the quote.

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Classroom Design Matters

As a classroom teacher, one of the most exciting aspects of starting a new school year was organising the classroom learning spaces. Where would the desks go? Can everyone see the board properly? Can everyone move around the room easily?

While I took a great deal of time thinking about the physical objects, I didn’t spend as much time thinking of the use of display areas in my classroom – how students would learn best using the materials selected for display. The classroom environment truly is The Third Teacher.

As my love and appreciation of design has developed, I have noticed those who make a considerable effort to consider an holistic view of classroom design. Physical space, classroom displays, learning opportunities, student preferences, movement of people – all contribute to an engaging learning environment and a positive learning climate.

Flexible Learning Spaces

Effective teachers are catering for a rStanding up desks Jakiange of learning preferences in their classrooms. Jaki Graham, Grade 3 teacher has a combination of traditional group desk formations, standing up desks, low tables with cushions, and bean bags in her class set up this year. “I want students to be able to choose a space to work at which suits them best,” she said.

Standing up DesksFellow Grade 3 teacher Kim Duffy experimented with stand up desks last year, and she noted how much of a difference it made to her more fidgety students. “It really helped them focus,” she explained.

Nicole Tripp, who teaches Grade 4, has also provided the option of stand up desks for her students (see photo, left).

Comfortable Furnishings

Traditionally, a comfy chair was a privilege only given to teachers. Nowadays, we recognise that, like adults, all learners enjoy working in comfortable environments. Many teachers, like Anne Marie Chow, Middle school Literacy Coach, organise armchairs, lamps, or couches in their classrooms, which make them feel more like homes than classrooms.

FullSizeRender_3Heather Kingston, Head of Grade 6, has Turkish carpets, armchairs, as well as bright red couches and cushions, which gives her room an inviting feel.

If you were a student in these classrooms, you’d want to settle in some of these places, surely!


Theme for the Year

IMG_8943Some teachers select a theme which sets the tone for the classroom experience in the year ahead. Middle school English teacher Paula Guinto has taken this approach for a number of years. This academic year, her theme is “Level Up”.

Her classroom features retro-inspired game elements, from Mario Bros to Pac Man, and invites her students to level up their thinking. Paula shares that for her, the theme is a chance to set the tone and allow her to focus her energies on teaching and learning.IMG_8940

She explains,

“Big picture though, it’s really an act of love. I put a lot into it because I want the kids to know that I love them. That I value their space and the time they spend in it. That they inspire me. To be creative. To be a learner. To be better in what I do. It’s a way for me to say, this space is safe, that I have your back, that from the very beginning, they are the priority and yeah, we’re in this together.” 

Middle school English and Humanities teacher Miles Beasley has worked with themes for the past 2 years. Each theme was carefully chosen to pass on a message about the year ahead to the students he teaches. Last year’s theme was around Dr Seuss’s book “Oh the Places You’ll Go” which aimed to create a sense of excitement about the first year of Middle school for his Grade 6 students.

IMG_2378This year, Miles has selected another of his favourite books – Wonder, by R. J. Palacio – to set the tone. It says to students, in this place, we care about each member of our community. How we treat each other is one of the most important aspects.

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His teaching partner, Trish Waszczuk, helped select some of the precepts that featured in the book, to be made into large posters to inspire the students.

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Student Involvement

20654602841_44064e4c3e_kGreat teachers like to get students involved in design, rather than have it solely be a teacher-directed experience.

Middle school English teacher Jabiz Raisdana had his mentor class this year put together a shelf to put plants on. They planted seeds, and got their hands dirty, providing a real sense of ownership in the class decor. This community building, participatory environment reflects Jabiz’s approach to teaching and learning.

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Miles’s Wonder theme also invites student participation. He plans to kick off the year by having students make Wonder-style self portraits using the iPad, so they can contribute their images to the blank walls, to make it really feel like their classroom.

Grade 1 Head of Grade Ben Morley and his team create inviting displays that will encourage student exploration and creativity in their shared Pod area. Each new unit gets a brand new display.

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IMG_1389These Reggio inspired pod displays spill over into the classrooms as well, with natural wood and other materials featuring.

Living Things

There is something about having living things in classrooms that make them feel more real. Increasing numbers of teachers include plants in their classroom design. Aside from their obvious decorative and aesthetic qualities, plants have been used as the inspiration for poetry writing, and lessons on responsibility.

As a parent and a teacher, I understand the effort that goes into the decisions around classroom set up, and appreciate the care and concern it shows for our children.
They are truly in great hands.

Additional Resources

IMG_894420 Classroom Setups that Promote Thinking – This blog post outlines a number of different approaches teachers can use to set up their rooms. There is something for everyone in here.

Classroom Makeovers to Engage Learners – This article from Edutopia shows a collection of 5 minute videos that show different classroom set ups.

Stephen Heppell speaks here about Space: The Final Frontier

Ewan McIntosh speaks about the 7 Spaces of Technology in School Environments.

I would love to hear your thoughts on great classroom spaces.
Have a wonderful year ahead.

Designing Effective Presentations

Every educator today needs to learn how to present effectively. But how much do they know about what makes an effective presentation?

Garr Reynolds, author of the popular book Presentation Zen Design, notes:

“For many of us, there is a hole in our education when it comes to visual communication… In the past, the tools for creating high-quality graphics and multimedia presentations belonged only to a select few. Today, those tools are in the hands of virtually anyone with a computer. However, possessing the hardware and software tools and knowing how to operate them does not a designer make.” (p. 22, Presentation Zen Design).

Keynote iconMy colleague Dave and I are very passionate about Visual Literacy. We want to give educators the tools to develop their Visual Literacy skills, and presented recently to our fabulous Primary Leadership Team on Designing Effective Presentations.

Embedding the presentation here would not make sense. If you could understand the content of our presentation just by looking at the slides, then we would have failed in our job. There would be no point presenting if you could just read our slides! However, we did create some other resources which might be useful to share.

Handout

We wanted our audience engaged in our presentation. We didn’t want them to feel they had to take copious notes as we spoke. We prepared this handout, because there were a few key things we wanted them to take away from the presentation, and we thought this 1-page handout could be posted at a desk to refer to when designing presentations later.

Presentation Redesign


Finding Quality Images

Finding the right images to support the message you are sharing takes time – and is time well spent. This slide-doc takes you through how to find quality images. It is geared for teachers at our school, so bear that in mind as you look through.

Focus on the Audience

Really understanding what your audience needs and is hoping to gain from your presentation is important. We had participants in our workshop consider the needs of their audience using this handout we adapted from Nancy Duarte’s fantastic resource Resonate.

Know Your Audience

Additional Resources

Some of our favourite resources for presentation design can be found here:

We hope you found these useful! Please let us know if you would like further information about designing effective presentations.

6 Alternatives to Comic Sans (With a True ‘a’)

You are just not my type

It is no secret that I am a bit of a font geek. It is also no secret that I (like many others) dislike the widespread use of Comic Sans. Sites such as Comic Sans Criminal are solely devoted to the derision of the font.

The main reasons why Comic Sans bears the brunt of this font snobbery, really comes down to fonts having a personality and purpose: in the case of Comic Sans, it has a childish, overly informal quality, that I feel suits a very limited range of writing.

FontsFonts are the clothes with which we dress our words.

We need to choose a font to match the way we want our text to be received. If we want to be taken seriously, Comic Sans would not be a natural choice.

Many educators choose Comic Sans deliberately because it is one of the few fonts available natively on both Mac and PC which has a ‘true a’ – that is, an ‘a’ which is a circle and stick (rather than the one used in my current font!). “I know Comic Sans isn’t the greatest,” they say, “but it has the ‘true a’.”

It’s time for me to be solution-focused! Here are some alternative fonts you can use that contain a ‘true a’.The following fonts you will need to download and install on your computer:

National First Font

Hattori Hanzo Light Italic (make sure you select light italic, as the regular version does not have a ‘true a’.)

Hattori Hanzo Light Italic

Aller Light Italic (make sure you select light italic, as the regular version does not have a ‘true a’.)

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Daniela

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The following fonts are also Google Fonts, so you can use them in your docs/sites too.

Ubuntu Regular Italic (install the whole font family, or select regular italic to get the ‘true a’.)

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Architect’s Daughter (this installed better for me within Google Apps)

 

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I hope this helps you! What other fonts do you know of that have a ‘true a’?


Image Credit:
CC licensed (BY-ND) flickr photo by (debz): http://flickr.com/photos/debbybosman-debz/4109261288

CARP Design Posters

I have been meaning to get a set of posters up for the elements of design – Contrast, Alignment, Repetition & Proximity (CARP) – for some time. Finally, with help from Dave Caleb, I have managed to complete them.

Please feel free to download a copy here and use them in your classroom.

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Design Secrets Revealed

Design Secrets RevealedHave you ever been disappointed by the quality of student-produced posters? Do you want to make great posters yourself, but they always seem a little lacklustre?

If so, then my most recent (FREE) multi-touch book, Design Secrets Revealed, can help!

It will take you step-by-step through each design principle, and provide you with examples and suggestions to help guide the teaching process for your students.

I would love your feedback, so please let me know if you find it useful.

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