Start exploring infographics

During the last several years I have noticed a change in how I obtain statistical information.  As a child and a young adult when I read statistical information I would struggle to figure out what the data were telling me.  Paragraphs on analysis didn’t help.  But viewing the information in a graph format made it easier.  Then again I can only look at so many bar graphs and pie charts before I get bored and start confusing one set of statistics with another.

A few years ago I noticed that media outlets were starting to present information more in colorful pictures with a theme representative of the subject.  I later learned that they were called infographics.  I found these bright images to be engaging and helped to make data more memorable and interesting.  I also found that my ability to retain data improved because I was able to associate a picture or an image with the data.  The video below explains some of the science of why they work so well.

The Value of Data Visualization from Column Five on Vimeo.

I know my students will come across a lot of data in their lives.  Data and statistics are everywhere and it is always a struggle to help students understand the information that they come across. Kathy Schrock has a wonderful video that not only demonstrates how teachers use infographics but also provides suggestions for how to get students to create their own.

Infographics as a Creative Assessment from Kathy Schrock on Vimeo.

I love infographics personally, but I have struggled using them in the classroom.  The overall quality and difficulty level in the language used on the infographics ranges widely (link to two).  However, I am thinking of using this infographic.  As this graph uses a combination of powerful images that relate to the facts written below them. I also like this infographic as is it highlights two sides to the issue of hydropower.  While a lot of people think that hydropower is great and should be used more, they do not necessarily think about the changes that are necessary to the local habitat.


To introduce the graphic I will ask the students to look at it at home and write down any thoughts that they have about it.  This will allow them time the opportunity to thoroughly analyze the image.  Once the students arrive in class we will look at the information together and analyze the information.  This will lead to a discussion and debate on hydroelectric power and whether or not it is good for the environment.

Video and Image Credits

The Power of Data Visualization by Column Five, found on Vimeo

Infographics as a Creative Assessment by Kathy Schrock, found on Vimeo

The Belo Monte Dam in Brazil by GDS Inforgraphics, found on Flickr, Creative Commons Licensed



Filed under COETAIL, Course 3

Digital Storytelling

Growing up storytelling was always a big part of my life.  I remember sitting by my mother and having her tell me stories about her time in Africa and listening to my father recount stories about the antics of people in our community.  There were also countless evenings spent listening to a local raconteur and neighbour, Erskine Smith, tell stories with his distinctive vocal intonations and body language.

When I first heard of digital storytelling I was thoroughly confused.  Was this simply using digital media to tell a story or was there something more?

As I was reading about DS 106 I was confused by the phrase “using digital tools so that people can tell their own real-life stories.”  While simple, I found that this definition was limiting and actually quite boring.  For example, my digital story would be incredibly boring:  I get up, go to work, and come home, the end.  That story would hardly be entertaining for anyone.  However, upon reading the Wikipedia article the definition opened up:

The term “digital storytelling” can also cover a range of digital narratives (web-based stories, interactive stories, hypertexts, and narrative computer games); It is sometimes used to refer to film-making in general, and as of late, it has been used to describe advertising and promotion efforts by commercial and non-profit enterprises.

Essentially digital storytelling is storytelling using digital tools. The stories may or may not be true but the author has a desire for others to hear their story.  As I think back throughout the year, then my students and I have been experimenting with digital storytelling continually throughout the year.  Using digital mediums to help tell their stories has allowed my students to:

  1. Gain an aptitude with a variety of computer programs
  2. Gain a conceptual understanding of how films are made
  3. Learn that there are many people required to tell a story through film
  4. Learn where they fit into the collection of people who make film
  5. Develop essential social skills

The students in my class enjoy using iMovie and Movie Maker to create their films.  These programs have become an essential part of my teaching arsenal.  Most have gone out and purchased a copy of iMovie for their mobile device after I gave them a demonstration.  The stories they tell have ranged from summaries of stories they have read, dramatizations of the rights of children, analyses of media, to demonstrations of scientific principles.  It has been great to see them take to this format.

I was worried how people perceived this type of project.  Luckily, I was asked to speak to a group of parents about using technology within the classroom.  As I was crafting the presentation I met with my principal who recommended that I include practical example of technology within my classroom and not just talk about theory.  Taking his suggestion to heart, I decided to include a movie the summed up a story that the class had read.

At the meeting I asked the parents to see if they could identify different things that I as a teacher could evaluate through the process of making this movie and the completed projected.  After the movie was over I asked the audience what they thought, no one was willing to raise their hands.  On the next slide I listed off a list of things that I could evaluate through the process.  As I looked around the room the parents were all nodding and I as my eyes went over to the principal I saw a big grin cross his face.

A quick list of some of the things I saw while the students made their movies.

Storytelling has been around for centuries and is as important now as it was then.  In a sense we are all storytellers. What digital media has allowed users to do is to democratize the process of creating stories that use music, pictures, movies, transitions etc. to help us fully realize the visions we have for our stories, whatever story that may be.


Image and Video Credits

Story Tellings Shows at the Festival of Small Halls 2010 found on YouTube, uploaded by SmallHalls

Screen Shot Image taken by Brendan Lea

a brief history of storytelling found on YouTube, uploaded by timelessvideo

1 Comment

Filed under COETAIL, Course 3

Tell Me a Story

I have attended and given many presentations over the years.  Some were good while others were downright awful.  As an audience member, I have my own ideas of what I like and don’t like about presentations.  For example, I have always hated presentations where every last word is given on the screen.  Whenever this happens I immediately read the screen and begin to alter the presentation to my own style in my head.  This shifts my focus from the content of the presentation to the form.  Over the years I’ve had the fortune to be invited to speak to students, staff, and parents on a variety of different issues.  I have tried to learn from some of the poorer presentations I have seen and with each presentation I give my style becomes more simplistic.

When I first started using PowerPoint in university I always did my best to ensure that each slide had a title and that I used bullet points to highlight important ideas.  Essentially using them to cue me and remember what I wanted to say.  This method stuck with me for years and I usually got compliments on my presentations; however, in 2010 I was introduced to Presentation Zen at the Create the Future conference.  At the time the idea of inserting an image with a text box seemed incredibly easy and I again modified my presentation style.

Inserting images into a presentation is the easy part, however, using those images to help craft the story you want to tell is more difficult.  During my course on the Exhibition I was asked to create a presentation outlining the important elements of the exhibition for an audience.  I immediately thought of creating a Presentation Zen presentation using pictures of making okonomiyaki.  Overall I feel like I did a decent job but I was disappointed with it because the pictures were from a variety of different sources and thus the story that I had in my head was never fully realized.

In my mind as I created the presentation I imagined a group of friends going through the process of making this wonderful meal.  I realize now with the help of Garr Reynolds that in my head I was not simply creating a presentation to disseminate information but was indeed crafting a story to tell my audience.  In my head the story was of friends enjoying the meal.  However, because the people in the images kept changing, I felt that part was lost and my vision for the presentation never fully realized.

After several months I am now preparing to give the presentation to parents.  To help me with this I asked two of my friends to join me for a meal.  While eating we took pictures that I used to help modify my original presentation.

I feel the second slideshow turned out better because it tells the story that I wanted from beginning to end.  This to me is perhaps the most important tip to remember while preparing a presentation.  After all who doesn’t enjoy a good story.

Video Credits:

Presentation Zen: The Video found on YouTube, uploaded by PeachpitTV


Filed under COETAIL, Course 3, IB PYP

Teaching animal emotions through pictures

What emotion do you see in this picture?

In our Sharing the Planet unit the class will be exploring sustainability and the impact our energy sources have on animal habitats.  As the unit progresses I am hoping to have the students write a story about how animals react to human interference with their environment.  As a child it took me a long time to understand that animals have feelings.  In order to help students with that concept, I am on asking them to deconstruct pictures of animals as a class.  As each image is presented students will be asked to explain the emotion that is conveyed by the animals in each picture and what in the images conveys that emotion.

For example, the fourth slide contains a monkey grooming another monkey.  While viewing this particular picture I remember all those times as a child when my mother would try to make me look my best by fixing my shirt or combing my hair and I felt incredibly bored, most likely giving a similar look to the one in the picture.  I imagine that most of my students have felt like that at one point or another and I feel that this picture and others in the slideshow will help them relate to animals.  As the class goes on students will be asked to provide a scenario for the animals that might have resulted in the image.

Once the activity is completed the class will be asked to choose an image of their own and to write a story to accompany the picture.  As the unit progresses students will be shown images of animals in distress because of human interaction in their environment.  Eventually this will lead to the students writing their own anthropomorphic tale about how a particular animal feels when humans interfere in their habitats.  I believe that by starting with a simple slideshow and by asking my students questions, it will help them develop a deeper appreciation for animals and hopefully will help them with their stories.

Image Credits:

I’m ready for some more by ucamuri found on Flickr, Creative Commons Licensed


Filed under COETAIL, Course 3, IB PYP


TumbleBooks is an interactive web site that aims to provide access to e-books and audio books to people.  All of the e-books and audio books provide audio recordings so that the students can listen to the books.  For younger readers the picture books feature animated images from the original books.  I have used the site in the past as a way to help students develop both their textual reading and oral comprehension skills.  Each year the book selection improves; however, I wish the visual layout of the site would do so as well.  For this particular post I will only address my issues with the main page and the login page.

Upon arriving at the main TumbleBook page the user is greeted with three boxes of text each with their own colour scheme.  One must remember that this web site is designed to be used by children and I know from experience that it takes some explaining to show both parents and students how to navigate this page.  To help make the site easier to navigate I would take away all but the essential text and replace it with photographic images that highlight the differences between each site:

          TumbleBook Library:

This product is aimed at young children and provides books suitable for younger readers. To highlight this I would showcase a child using a computer that has one of their books on the screen.  This image should be hyperlinked to take the children immediately to a simple login page.


                        This product is aimed at junior high school students and provides books that are more difficult.  To highlight the difference between this product and TumbleBook Library, the image for this product should contain a teen demonstrating the use of a more challenging book.


This product provides access to audio recordings of over 1000 books.  The books offered here are aimed at older readers.  For this I would show a university student with a pair of headphones listening to a book.

Each image should provide a link for subscribers to be taken directly to a login page.  The pictures providing the links to the subsequent pages could be artfully arranged in a creative manner or laid out side by side.  The font and colouring should be the same to provide uniformity and a visual cue that they are related products. At the bottom of the page there should be link for people who want to sign up for a free trial as well as a link to learn more.

A mockup for a redesigned Tumble Books main page.

If you click on the TumbleBooks at the top of the page link you are taken to a page that contains a lot of information (seen below).  This page may be okay for adults to navigate, however, in my experience students have often found this site difficult to navigate.  I would suggest that there should be a separate page for students containing only the essential information: a place for login details, featured books and a search function.  This would hopefully simplify it and make it more user friendly for young students.

This is too confusing for students and contains links to information they do not need.

Overall I enjoy using this site with my students.  They have a great time exploring the books and playing games.  However, I feel with the suggestions I mentioned the site would gain more users and help to improve the overall experience.

Image Credits:

Screen shot of TumbleBooks main page taken using Skitch

Children using the computer by San Jose Library found on Flickr, Creative Commons Licensed

IMG_4950 by bionicteaching found on Flickr, Creative Commons Licensed

Ich bin ein tourister by tstadler found on Flickr, Creative Commons Licensed

Screen shot of TumbleBooks login page taken using Skitch


Filed under COETAIL, Course 3

Usage Agreements

Copyright is confusing but Creative Commons helps

When I first started thinking about what I wanted to do for my second COETAIL project, ideas were swarming in my head and I was having difficulty nailing down what I wanted to do.  Sean Thompson approached me one day and asked if I would like to work with him on creating an online usage policy.  I immediately agreed because the idea was one I was thinking about and Sean and I have had some great tech conversations.  We began exchanging our ideas back and forth via e-mail and had a wonderful meeting at my house to hammer out the project.

We decided we wanted to create a web site where schools could send their teachers and students to view resources, complete activities, and in the end feel comfortable enough to begin drafting their own policies.  Early in the creation process Sean and I determined that our main focus should be creating sample policies for students and teachers.  We discussed it and decided he would work on the student policy and I would focus on the policy for teachers.

Privacy is a concern for me

As I sat down to create the online usage policy for teachers, I kept thinking about the articles I have read, videos I’ve seen, and issues that have been brought up in class.  Creative Commons and Copyright popped to the forefront of my mind, as did cyberbullying, privacy students, and age of consent for web site memberships.  The issues chosen were ones that I felt were the most important and I doubt I’ve touched on them all.  I also did not want it to be too long or technically worded.  Finally I wanted my document to come across as supportive and understanding that teachers may make mistakes and may need help with certain things.

I had two different options when creating the actual form.  At first I created the form using Weebly’s own form generator.  However, during our COETAIL meeting misternorris showed me how Google Forms records their results. the easiest way to determine the differences is to compare them side by side.

Bullying is an issue that has gotten a lot of attention lately

Weebly Google Forms
Variety of response types Yes Yes
Specific name field Yes No (but you can create it)
Mandatory question option Yes Yes
Variety of themes No Yes
E-mail form results No Yes
Easily accessible spreadsheet of results No (only accessible when it editing mode of that cell) Yes

For my personal use I want to keep this agreement in mind when I’m using the Internet and Social Media within my class.  I would also love to conduct a session with teachers and students to talk about these issues and facilitate a conversation as they create their own usage agreement.

Please feel free to go to the Acceptable Usage Agreement Teacher Assistant and have a look.

Image Credits:

All Images created using Wordle and text from my past posts.


Filed under COETAIL

Introducing the new and improved mrbrenlea

Take control of your brand.

Over the past several years I have been thinking about my online presence and how best to help cultivate it.  However, I had no idea where to begin or what strategies to use.  All I knew was that I needed to have a web site somewhere with my work history and some pictures.  I had dabbled a few times with creating them but nothing has really stuck with me.  Over the past three months, there have been many different lessons. The two that struck me the most were the importance of controlling my presence and consistency.

Your online presence is incredibly important and can have both positive and negative consequences.  If you are the one putting information out about yourself then you are in control. If you sit back and don’t put out information, then you run the risk of others putting out information about you.  The information that others put out may or may not be positive.

Over the years I have registered for all manner of sites, using a variety of different handles.  None really stuck.  BrendanLea is usually taken, Blea sounds like pee (this will not work with elementary students), LeaBrendan confuses people, and BrendanCIS limits me.  All of the handles exist on various sites that I have used.  This not only makes it hard for me to remember but makes it almost impossible for others to find me online.  After many years, I seem to have settled for the username mrbrenlea.  Why?  It’s easy for me to remember and it’s unique, which means I’m almost always guaranteed to get it.

My mrbrenlea image.

In a sense I have begun my product branding in earnest.  As I read the blog Personal Branding 101, I realized that I have a long way to go.  I do have a web site that contains all my professional information (resumes, education, video, links to other online spaces) but there is still work to be done.  I have also started to switch over my old site handles to mrbrenlea.  These handles will then be added to my web site to make it easier to access.  I also decided on an image for myself.  Finally I have chosen an image for myself that I feel captures the essence of me.

Why am I doing all this and why will I continue?  It is kind of fun and addicting to create a profile that others can see and I’m learning a lot about web site design.  I want my learning and my experiences to go beyond the classroom.  However, to do this I need to make connections.  In order for these connections to work properly, then I need to make it easy for people to find me.

I know there is a long way for me to go in developing my online presence, however, I do feel as though I am off to a very good start.  My hope is that my mark will identify me as a fun loving professional who continues to grow and cares deeply about teaching and his students.

Image Credits:

Against Social Control by Jaume d’Urgell, found on Flickr, Creative Commons Licensed

mrbrenlea by Brendan Lea, Personal Photo


Filed under Course 2

The Joy of Hyperlinking

I always enjoyed using the hunt for more resources and losing myself in the quiet solitude of a library.

I remember being young and being asked to research a topic.  Usually this involved going to the library and getting a few books.  However, I was always encouraged to go further to find other resources.  I quickly learned that a bibliography not only helps provide authority for the author but also gave me new resources that I might not have known about otherwise.  From these resources I usually gained some new insight and was again provided with a list of new materials that I should check out.

The Internet has made it easier to share information through the use of hyperlinks.  For one, I never get frustrated that the library doesn’t have the book I want because all of the information is only a click away. When I first started using hyperlinks, it was only for information.  The person wrote about a topic and provided a link that might contain new nuggets of knowledge.  This was very basic and only allowed for a one-way process of sharing knowledge. I was nothing more than a taker.

Remembering the old adage that one should be able to give as well as take, I have decided that I want to contribute.  To that end I finally started this blog and usually always try to include a few interesting links to materials and information that I found.  The linked sites may be simple explanations, or ones that provide additional information to support to my point, or ones that I just find funny.  Social media has also evolved how people share information.  People have found me on Twitter and I have found them.  We share thoughts and resources.  Most times the posts are about work but other times they are not.  I can take this further and visit his or her profile to see if there is anyone I want to follow.

The power of linking information together is helping me to expand my own knowledge and expand my PLN.

The power of linking and finding out about people has helped me grow both personally and professionally.  These are things that I am truly thankful for and will continue to use long after the course is over.

Image Credits:

Library Bird by C.O.D. Library, found on Flickr, Creative Commons Licensed

Chain by pratanti, found on Flick, Creative Commons Licensed

1 Comment

Filed under Course 2

Cyber Bullying: New methods but still bullying

It seems like hardly a week goes by without some mention of the ills caused by cyber bullying. Cyber bullying is similar in concept to off-line bullying with a several key differences:

  1. It is online
  2. Due to the nature of the Internet, the offending item could be permanent.
  3. The Internet can be accessed from anywhere at anytime, thus the bullying can go beyond the traditional school day.

Before I begin any discussion on cyber bullying, I must make it clear that while this is a relatively new form of bullying, it is still at it’s core bullying. Bullying itself has been around for a long time.  Below is a section from a letter from the 1960’s belonging to a family member:

“There has been a lot of bullying of the new form II’s – physically (apparently) vocally (as most of the staff can witness) and in giving them the hard or unpleasant work to do.  On Tues. one had made an ill-chosen remark which was considered to be abusive by a form III and a fairly large group of them planned retaliation.  It may have been something which we should expect and accept, but when you consider it along with other factors in the school, we decided on a general and serious tightening up of the school rules which are taken lightly.  Fine! and I was really thrilled during the short time we had the students with us to see that we might succeed”*

      This example highlights the fact bullying has been around for a long time.  While we may think to ourselves that we can end it, nothing will truly change until we as a society truly demand it.

Over the past few years the It Gets Better campaign launched by Dan Savage has gotten publicity and praise from all walks of life. When I first heard about it I felt empowered and happy that people were doing something about bullying of GLBT youth. However, the campaigns core message of trying to encourage kids to remember that after high school things can only get better, is nothing more than a sad commentary on the state of affairs of being a kid nowadays because it puts all the onus on the vicitim and does nothing to address the core issues of violence against LGBTTIQQ2SA.**

Don't blame the tool.

So if we are truly committed to improving school life for everyone, what are we as educators supposed to do?

Most people remember what is was like to be a kid. Nowadays it seems like any instance of temporary childhood idiocy is deemed bullying and people are more than willing to take the issue public.  What we need to remember is some students are either testing societal boundaries, dealing with their own issues, or simply unaware of the harm they are causing. I truly believe that conversations about bullying behavior and addressing the core issues, instead of constant punishment would do the world a lot of good.

However, I also believe that as a society we truly need to be the change we wish to see in our students and our children. In the home and the classroom we encourage young people to be kind and respectful to each other. But, do we as a society actually follow it? Look at how we behave with our friends behind closed doors. Look at what young people are watching. Look at what people have to say in the commentary sections on popular web-sites. Look at how governments act. Look at the web-sites we visit.

The technology may be new but the act of bullying itself is not.  If we truly want to end cyber-bullying and bullying in general, then it is time for to stop berating the behavior of the students and blaming the technology and begin an inward reflection of what change we want to see from society.


* This journal is used with the permission of immediate family members, on the condition that the family member was not named.

** According to  Toronto Pride this stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Transexual, Intersex, Queer, Questions, 2-Spirited, Allies

Photo Credit:

cyb-bully_323 by J_O_I_D Creative Commons Licensed, found on Flickr

Apple Aluminum MacBook (Late 2008)  by William Hook


It Gets Better: Dan and Terry uploaded to YouTube by itgetsbetterproject

1 Comment

Filed under COETAIL, Course 2

Copyright Headache

Copyright is a subject I both want to talk about and fear both at the same time. I’m interested in learning about it because I believe it is important to set a positive example to my students. Since I was a kid the idea of copyright in the classroom has been drilled into my head. I remember hearing stories of music teachers who had made multiple copies of sheet music because the school didn’t have the funding to provide enough legitimate copies. However, there was a rumor that companies were starting to crack down copyright, which led to further rumors of teachers burning the extra copies.

While I cannot verify of the above example is true or not, it does help to illustrate my fear of copyright in general. Don’t get me wrong I understand the ideas behind copyright but what thoroughly confuses me are the practical applications within the classroom. As I went through my education program the 10% mantra was hammered into my head. But as I was reading this might not be the case.

Technology is now changing the game but the law of the land is slow to respond. For example video streaming sites like megavideo and videobb, have become increasingly popular over the last several years. These sites are similar to YouTube in that users will upload material into the site and people who wish to view it stream it in their browser (if you’re on a free account there is a daily time limit). What is the legality of someone who is simply viewing this content? Are they technically breaking the law? How do the rules apply in other countries? What about using streamed content within the classroom? Am I supposed to report material that is illegally uploaded to streaming site?  How do I know if a particular video violates copyright?

As you can probably guess I like the idea of copyright because it helps to protect both the creator of a piece of work and the work itself.  I would like to conduct myself in a manner that is considered legal. Not only to ensure that my school or I do not get hauled into court but also because I think it is important to teach students how to ethically use and share material in a manner that is similar to other situations.

Do I believe that teachers should teach students about copyright and how to use different materials ethically? Yes I do. However, education programs and schools need to begin placing greater emphasis by offering courses and ongoing training to ensure that teachers are kept up to date with the latest information.

The issue of respecting copyright gets completely thrown up in the air when working in a setting where the laws are not available in English. While I may be able to find English explanations of the laws of western countries, I struggle to find the same information here in Japan. Not only is access to information difficult, but actually understanding the laws can prove difficult understand. How am I supposed to enforce the laws if they are not presented in a manner that is easy to understand?

The issue of respecting copyright gets completely thrown up in the air when working in a setting where the laws are not available in English. While I may be able to find English explanations of the laws of western countries, I struggle to find the same information here in Japan. Not only is access to information difficult, but actually understanding the laws can prove difficult understand.  How am I supposed to enforce the laws if they are not presented in a manner that is easy to understand?

Copyright is a complex issue and it requires further exploration and reevaluation.  While there may be a lot of confusion over what exactly is breaking copyright laws, there is one shining light in it all.  The Creative Commons movement makes it clear how people may use different works.  The movement also makes it easier for creators of work to clearly explain how their work can be used.  Since being introduced to it, it has helped saved me from several sleepless night.  While it may be a bit harder to find an image or video that I am want to use, when compared to just looking in Google, at least I can easily tell how I may use that work.

Image Credits:

Copyright Symbols by MikeBlogs found on Flickr, Creative Commons Licensed

Video Credits

The Florence Kelley Project – A Discussion on Library and Technology uploaded to YouTube by NorthwesternU

Alan Siegel: Let’s simplify legal jargon posted on March 2010



Filed under COETAIL, Course 2