Presentation Transformation: Course 3 Final Project

Course 3…WOW! So many new ideas and ways to improve how I teach communication skills to my students.  Here are some of my projects:

For my final project, I decided to recreate my presentation that I use for parents at the beginning of the year. Instead of just telling them facts about the curriculum and our class procedures, I decided that I want them to come away with a message and a feeling. The message is: 

I have experience and am qualified. I care about your child. I am committed to helping your child develop strong roots and healthy fruit. When your children leave my class I want them to be students who are pursuers of personal excellence, active global citizens,  and ethical decision-makers.

The feelings I want them to have when they leave are trust and confidence.

With that in mind, I set out to make changes.

Here is my original presentation: 


Not bad, but it doesn’t really tell a story or convey the message that I want.

Here are some of the changes I made to improve my presentation:

  1. I tried to use CARP (Contrast, Alignment, Repetition, Proximity) principles. I chose a simple black back ground and kept the theme the same throughout the presentation
  2. I tried to use the rule of thirds on my first slide
  3. I simplified the text
  4. I used more photos and real examples from my class
  5. I included a video
  6. I planned to tell it more like a story and include small stories


Next steps:

  1. Screencast it for parents who can’t attend
  2. Give parents a curriculum guide as a handout and send them the same form as a google doc with hyperlinks.
  3. Replace some photos with short video clips

It’s been an amazing journey and honestly, I’m sad to say goodbye to this course. I will never give a presentation the same way again. 

I’ll conclude with an Edward Tufte quote that sums up all that I’ve learned from Course 3. 

Good design is a lot like clear thinking made visual. - Edward Tufte

Infographics for Younger Students


I have always loved them! And now I know why.

An infographic is a visual representation of data.

Simon Rogers, author of infographic books for children, in his post, The Kids are All Bright: Infographics for all Ages, says that psychologists have known for a while that showing rather than just telling a child helps them learn better. We are engaged by pictures long before we learn to read. This means that by using visual graphics along with the written word, children are more likely to understand and retain the information. However, children need to be taught how to read an infographic just as we teach them to read any type of nonfiction. Rogers co-authored the following fascinating infographic children’s books with Grundy and Blechman: 

Peter Grundy — Infographics: Human body

Nicholas Blechman Animal Kingdom

Peter Grundy’s website Grundini showcases many of his projects and some of his infographics would be very interesting for younger children. It’s definitely worth having a look at his work.

Infographics in my classroom

In my research this week, I came across the following infographic by designer Nam Tran Dang.

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VIETNAM: Urbanization and Water Sources Infographic by Nam Tran Dang

The timing is perfect because we are just starting our unit on activism and persuasive writing/speaking called “Change the World.” We will begin by exploring three different areas that deserve our attention and action.

Dignity, respect and help for others

Wildlife protection

Environmental protection

In a previous blog post, I wrote about the plan to use images and photography to help students open their eyes to the world around them and help them to fine tune their attention to the issues/problems they see around them.

This week I am learning about how infographics can be used to help my students visualize data related to issues they are studying. I am also thinking about how I can introduce my students to creating infographics.

I could use the infographic above to help students understand the issues related to improving water sources in a large and growing city. That would be interesting and the graphics would probably help them visualize the problems. But then I thought, how cool would it be if we could connect with the actual designer who is from Vietnam (currently living in the US) and let him explain it to the students.

I contacted the designer, Tran Dang Nam. Since the infographic was created in 2013, he wants to do some research and update it. We are planning to connect by skype and I have asked him to share a bit about his own background and work as a designer and then to share about the inspiration for creating this infographic. Then he will take some time to explain the information. I love being able to use skype to connect beyond the walls of our classroom. 

Here are a few ways we might use infographics in our classroom:

  1. Create anchor charts for reading and writing workshop
  2. Display data from our weather and climate unit
  3. Provide relevant infographics for students to study and discuss as they embark on a new unit of study
  4. Display infographic books like those by Simon Rogers in our class library.
  5. Teach students to first sketch out their infographic on paper and then introduce them to online tools like Canva or Piktochart. (There are many more, but these are the ones that seem the easiest to me)

If there’s anything I’ve learned this week, it’s that I need to explore the world of infographics and bring them into my classroom. 

On another note, has anyone read the latest whitepaper from Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon called 10 Principles for Schools of Modern Learning. I’m planning on reading it this weekend so I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Changing the World One Story at a Time.

Seize the Day

Digital storytelling is simply storytelling.

According to Robert McKee,

Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.

 Simon Sinek says,

“Stories are attempts to share our values and beliefs. Storytelling is worthwhile when it tells what we stand for.”

Before diving into the digital part of digital storytelling, it is absolutely essential that we step back and reflect on who we are as storytellers.

What stories do I have inside of me?

The stories that I share let others know what I stand for and my stories have power to put ideas into our world. 

From Storyteller to Writer

I have never considered myself a writer. I don’t like writing. I never liked having to write stories when I was in school. But I do like to talk and I love to share stories. 

I often tell stories of what it was like to grow up with parents who are deaf.

I tell the story of how when I was 18, God completely changed my life.

I tell the story of giving birth to a child with Down Syndrome.

I tell the story of what it was like to live for ten years in a dusty village in southern Kyrgyzstan. 

These stories remind me of my roots and what I value and give me a way to share these values with others around me. 

This week, as I researched the various digital tools that third graders could use for planning and publishing their writing, I realized that what I really want to improve as a teacher is my own ability to tell a good story and learn how to help my students tell their stories well. I am more interested in helping them develop the craft of writing. Digital tools are most effective when they enable the students to be inspired and share out their stories to a wider audience.

Alan Levine has created an amazing wiki called 50+ Web Ways to Tell a Story that has everything and anything you might need to get started with digital storytelling. I came across this wiki last year when I made my first attempt to lead a digital storytelling after school activity using iMovie and the DoInk Green screen App. (Thanks to Michelle Mathias and Frank Hua for their inspiration at the Vietnam Tech Conference 2016)

The following is my first attempt ever to make any kind of digital story. It was made with just an iPhone, a piece of green cloth hung in my room and my son. I used it to give students an idea of what they would be attempting so I needed to complete the whole thing in less than 5 hours. 


I needed a simple way to help students plan out their story idea. I discovered the Story Spine method recommended by Pixar that I have continued to use with my students. It goes like this…

  • Once upon a time… Sets the story in time, place, and introduces us to the central character.
  • And every day… This describes the “pre-story” life of the character, it sets the stage for what will change.
  • Until one day… Sometimes called the “inciting event” that changes that everyday world.
  • And because of this… The beginning of the unexpected path, the start of a journey.
  • And because of this… This series of events are all connected, one leads to another. Use as many as you need.
  • And because of this…
  • Until finally… This is where all the action leads to its major moment, a big event. It may not be what the character expected, but it does change their life.
  • And ever since that day... This is the “so what?” The life lesson of the story, what all of those events teachers the character (and us) about life.

Right now we are working on writing adapted fairy tales. This is one of the units of study from the Lucy Calkins Third Grade Writing Workshop. I use the story spine to help the students plan their story. They also spend some time sketching out their scenes and storytelling each scene to a partner before they begin to write. I find that if they have a strong plan and they take time to act out their story, they write stronger stories. For third graders, publishing stories in digital form takes longer so we don’t always use digital tools but when we do, here are my two favorite ways:

    1. Google Presentation + Screencastify

One more student example

2. Storybird

I like to use Storybird when students need some inspiration for writing. 

For now, my main focus is to become a better storyteller and teach each my students the craft of storytelling so they can be storytellers who change the world one story at a time. 

Please share…how do you teach storytelling and what are  your favorite digital storytelling tools for elementary aged students?





Presentation: Zen Style

This week we are talking about how to zen up our presentations based on the well known book Zen Presentation by Garr Reynolds.

Here is a great short video that summarizes the points in his book: 

YouTube Preview Image

This is my original presentation. It is what I presented to parents at the beginning of the school year. The original purpose was simply to give the parents information about our class, but after learning more about the Zen Presentation principles, I realize that what I really want is for my parents to come away from our time together with one core message: I care about your child and I will do my best to help your child grow.


Rethinking the Message and Design

I started with taking some for reflection.

What is the story I want to tell? What is my core message?

I have experience and am qualified. I care about your child. I am committed to helping your child develop strong roots and healthy fruit. When their children leave my class I want them to be students who pursue personal excellence, active global citizens,  and ethical decision-makers.

What is the one thing I want them to remember when they walk away?

I want them to feel they can trust me.

Next, I planned my presentation offline.

Kim Cofino in her post, Less is More: Making your Presentations Zen-tastic!  has a great step by step guide to follow with tons of very practical ideas. What is Good Presentation Design?  by Garr Reynolds is also very helpful.

I started with the suggestion to brainstorm offline and break my story into three parts. I then broke three parts into separate parts and thought about images I could use for each slide.

new doc 2017-02-11 13.07.18_1

This was my first sketch. I plan use post-it notes and lay out the design idea for each slide. 

Then, I worked on a few slides to see what I could come up with. Here is what it looks like now. This is only the first part of three parts. 

Next steps…

  • Plan stories to tell. I usually tell the story of when my son, who has Down Syndrome, was born and how I determined to do everything I could to help him learn. I like to share about his life now. He is an active 20 year old who now goes to Shepherd’s College and has many friends. This is how I communicate empathy. I know what it’s like to be a parent who wants the best for her child.  I also hope to share a few stories that will help parents visualize how their child will be learning in our class. 
  • Include a video or two. I should be thinking about that at the beginning of the year. I can plan exactly what I want to show them. For example, show a clip of me teaching a mini lesson for Reading workshop or genius hour footage.
  • Screencast my presentation for parents who can’t attend. It would be great if I could include subtitles on my screencast for parents who are learning English and might have a hard time following along. I have no idea how to do that so if anyone knows, let me know.
  • Prepare a handout. I am planning to remove all the slides that explain the curriculum we teach and just include that in a handout and put hyperlinks to the different resources on a slide at the end of the presentation that parents can refer to later when I share it with them.
  • Include minimal text, enough so that if parents don’t understand what I say on that slide they will at least catch that message. Some of my parents don’t speak English, so I want to do what I can to help them understand. 

So that’s it for now. Let me know if you have any ideas for improving my presentation.



Writers Live With Their Eyes Opened to the World Around Them

Flickr Image “Trash collection and transportation” by Tri Nguyen CC 2.0

Who is in this photo?

What are they doing? Why?

What else do you notice in the photo?

What message might the photographer be trying to communicate?

How do you know that?

These are some of the questions we will discuss when I use this photo to introduce my students to our third grade opinion writing unit called “Changing the World: Persuasive Speeches, Petitions, and Editorials,” by Lucy Calkins (The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project).

One of the enduring understandings I hope to impress on my students is that…

Writers live with their eyes open to the world around them, imagine how it could be different and persuade others to think, feel and do something differently.

One strategy for generating ideas for this type of writing is for students to look around their world and make a list of problems they see around them or people who are under-appreciated.

This means that while they are going about their everyday life, they can pause and notice what is going on around them. Instead of complaining about these wrongs or injustices, they can ask, “Is there something that we can do differently to improve the situation and how can we persuade others to join us?” 

When beginning any writing unit, we usually produce one piece together as a class. This piece is the model that I teach from. This photo will be used to introduce our class persuasive essay entitled “Community workers who keep our streets clean deserve our appreciation.”

Here are two ways I hope to use still images to help students “open their eyes to the world around them.”

Curate a collection of images of our community for students to study

In small groups, students will study images of our city created by other photographers who share their work in online spaces like Flickr or Pixabay in order to prompt thinking about issues in our community.

According to ISTE’s Media Literacy in the K-12 Classroom by Frank W. Baker 

Visual Literacy=Reading Pictures

Students can be taught the skill of “reading” pictures. They can observe a photo and understand that the photographer made choices about framing, angle, use of light, composition, and focus in order to communicate a message. With practice students can be taught to read those messages.

A very practical way to teach students how to read photos is by using a simple photo analysis worksheet such as the one provided by the National Archives here.

  • Students study the photo for 2 minutes and get an overall impression.
  • They write down a list of people, actions, and things they see in the image.
  • They write down three things they can infer from the image.
  • They write down two or three questions and think about where they could find the answers to those questions.

Have students take their own photos of things they notice and want to change in their community

Another way that students can generate ideas for their persuasive writing is by going on a photo walk through the community to open their eyes to things they wish were different or people they wish were more appreciated. Students can use their own devices (phones, cameras, iPads) or a class set of devices to capture these moments and reflect on them later.

Courtney Slaznik at Click it Up a Notch offers some great suggestions for teaching kids skills they need to take interesting photos. Skills such as using the rule of thirds, filling the frame, and using negative space can significantly improve their photos.

These simple lessons can be taught in a short time and the students can try to create 3-5 images that demonstrate each skill.

I haven’t taught this unit yet, but yesterday one of my students just happened to share some of his photos from around his neighborhood. These will be a perfect way to introduce the other students to the way we can use photography to capture moments around our community.

Let me know if you have any other suggestions for teaching young students to “read” images or if you have any resources for teaching photography skills to 6-10 year olds.

Coetail Blog Makeover: Take 1

It’s been a perfect week to delve into visual literacy.

It’s the Tet holiday and I’m in Phuket, Thailand enjoying views like this with my family:IMG_1823

Visual images are powerful.

I am no expert in design and I am definitely not an artist, but I know what appeals to me. I have an eye for good design, but I feel stuck when trying to design something myself. After this weeks’ readings, I am encouraged to know that effective design techniques can be acquired like any other skill if I take the time to learn and practice.

Armed with my new understanding of Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity, from Design Better with CRAP, I wandered into the hotel lobby to pick out a few sightseeing brochures to see if I could apply my knowledge.

There weren’t any that were totally amazing, but these ones caught my eye:


In the first one, I notice the contrast between the white and cool blue water. I also see alignment with the image in the center crossing diagonally separating the tagline “Love, Peace, and Serenity” and the seal of the island. Apparently, centering text is rarely a good design technique, but I like how it works here.

In the second brochure, the size of the font (contrast) definitely lets you know you are going to RACHA. There is also contrast between the blue water and the white sands. The logo and tagline, while aligned, are difficult to read.

This one did not appeal to me:


There is not a clear focal point or message so my eye wanders everywhere and nowhere. There is too much visual information and a lot of fine print. It took me a long time to find the information I needed.

According to Brandon Jones in his article Understanding Visual Hierarchy in Web Design, good design helps people organize information. Designers make choices. It starts with the designer having a clear vision of what needs to be communicated. Good design doesn’t just communicate a message but moves people into action.

In my mind, the brochures that looked simple, clean and beautiful meant the cruise was also going to be simple, clean and beautiful. Even though the price was a bit more, I was willing to pay more because  it meant that the tour company was paying attention to detail.

I decided to take a look at my own COETAIL blog from the perspective of good design principles. The original template I chose was Twenty Ten because it was simple and classic and easy to use. Simple and classic is a style I prefer. It comes out in my home decor and the way I choose to dress.

Here is my original COETAIL Blog Before:

Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 7.24.30 PM

While it was simple and fairly easy to use, it definitely had some limitations.

Here are the changes I made and why:

  1. I chose a new template (Hueman) that would be responsive to any device. My original template did not allow for that which basically meant that whenever anyone wanted to read my blog on their phone or iPad they couldn’t and they probably didn’t. That was a huge barrier to getting my message out there.
  2. I changed  the header photo. I loved my original photo because I love Hanoi and the photo was taken by a good friend. I liked how it captured the idea of community, living close to one another in order to survive. While I didn’t really want to get rid of it, it just didn’t look as good as the stock photo of a cityscape. The new photo captures the same idea but looks more professional and visually appealing.
  3. I chose a template that displays images for each blog post in a grid format. My goal in this course is to pay more attention to the images I choose and make sure they reflect the message I am trying to get across. I went back through each of my older posts and chose a feature image for each post that I felt reflected what I was trying to communicate in that post.

Here is what it looks like now:

Screen Shot 2017-01-31 at 3.15.03 PM

One thing I wish I could change with this template is the font color. I think it’s too light and maybe hard to read. If anyone knows how to change the font color let me know.