course 3

Summer Road Tripping: a COETAIL final project

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How I feel now that this project is behind me…
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Wow! There are not enough words to express how relieved I am to finally be finished with this project. Of course, finished is a relative term. How does a person really know when a creation is complete? I suppose that sometimes one just knows…or the deadline arrives (or comes and goes)…or messing around and geeking out has consumed more than enough time…or the proverbial monkey must be removed from one’s back…

The Process

I’m not really the type of person who really ever needed MTV. I was (and am) perfectly capable of listening to a song and visualizing in my mind the story that the lyrics tell. In fact, the reality of many a music video has been a huge disappointment after I have spent time watching my own mental video montages. So, digital storytelling and movie making should be so much fun for me! Alas, ’tis not the case. I am so blocked when it comes to making my mental movies become reality. 😦

The making of a video project is painfully messy for me. Intuitively I know that I should storyboard and plan, but I find that once I have an idea, opening video editing software and just dragging and dropping and editing and transitioning photos and videos to support my initial idea kind of works. I need to manipulate the images, reorder them, choose transitions, watch clips over and over ad nauseum, This is where my perfectionism gets in the way.

In an attempt to make the COETAIL course 3 project as easy as possible (HA!), I opted to document my family’s summer road trip. The key aspect that made this an “easy” project is the fact that the pictures are owned by me. For the soundtrack I found an old Garage Band track that my son created and looped it (he kindly granted me the proper permissions). In order to avoid a voice over, I chose to add simple text to many pictures to provide information for the viewer.

The Challenges

  • Perfectionism Leads to Procrastination: I was late getting started because I hadn’t yet come up with the “perfect idea.” You know, something totally epic! Luckily reality set in when I had to opt for an extension. I had to ask myself, “Self, how long do you really want this project looming over your head?”
  • Learning iMovie On The Fly: There are many glitches that I encountered that I had no idea how to fix. Mostly with combining transitions and titles. When I couldn’t figure out how to fix the problems, I would just delete the offending clip and reload it in order to start the editing from scratch. This work around was successful each time, but I am certain that, had I had more knowledge/experience, I could have quickly fixed the clip formatting.
  • Time: Yes, I was aware that this is a time consuming process, but I forget about the numbers of hours of my life that are consumed by the creation until I am actually living the process.


 The Discoveries

A couple of tricks I learned, quite be accident, along during this process:

  • how to take a screenshot of a chosen area of the screen on a Mac: Command + shift + 4
    This is far quicker and easier than taking a full screen shot and then opening the image in photo editing software to crop. For me this was a huge time saver since I used several screenshots from Google Maps.
  • how to search point-to-point map locations in Google: from: <insert location> to: <insert location>
    This was an accidental discovery that Google showed me while I was in the process of searching for map segments. Google is so intuitive sometimes it’s freaky!
  • It takes more than five minutes to upload and convert an iMovie file of the same length to Vimeo.

The Implications for Classroom Practice

The challenges listed above are really important to take into consideration when assigning video creation projects to students.

  • Teach/Train students the basics of a specific video creation software or app
  • Scaffold students’ initial forays into the video creation process
  • Offer students guided time to brainstorm and storyboard
  • Incremental deadlines at several stages throughout the process

The Final Product


Bigger Steps Towards Zen Presentation

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I recently blogged about some Baby Steps Towards Zen Presentation. Recently I have had the opportunity to take some bigger steps towards presentation Zen. The opportunity to collaborate was presented by the high school assistant principal and the MYP coordinator. Personally, I never pass up a good opportunity to collaborate with my colleagues.

Student engagement is a professional development topic to be covered in an upcoming high school staff meeting. Below is the original set of slides for the presentation that was offered up. I approached this particular slideshow as an example of analog planning, only using PowerPoint rather than a Moleskin notebook. Through examining the slides and talking through the purpose and the goals of the presentation with my colleagues, I eagerly volunteered to develop the Zen version of our presentation. Below are the before slides which served as an outline for the final slides that should be far more engaging for our audience.

As a group, we have very collaboratively developed a great opportunity for professional growth. As a result, I feel that I am farther along on the path to becoming a Zen presentation master!


Before: planning analog using PowerPoint to outline ideas

After: Presentation Zen


Baby Steps towards Zen Presentation

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In a recent blog post, I referenced my less-than-engaging PowerPointless presentations that often include screenshots. I must admit that I was somewhat relieved to learn in perusing the blog posts of another COETAILer that I am not the only one who has relied on screenshots to convey a message. However, if my goal was “to convey a message,” I feel safe in saying that my message may have been lost in the sea of presentation boredom (the audience’s, as well as my own!).

I know full well why I (and so many others) have fallen into the trap of using the PowerPoint default bullet format,  including lots of text, and embedding screenshots. Here are what I see as my personal obstacles to quality presentations:

  • fear of public speaking: detailed slides act as a crutch to hold me up when in front of a group
  • undefined purpose: failing to ask the question, “What am I hoping to accomplish with this presentation?”
  • lack of preparation: not taking the beginning steps to “plan analog” and to begin away from the screen and really think through the intention of the presentation OR just sitting in front of the screen and throwing up all of the information onto a series of slides

The presentation below is really a series of screenshots of how to log in and get started in the Atlas curriculum mapping system. Not necessarily the most fascinating of subjects, but in hindsight I realize that I missed an opportunity. Yes, teachers need to know how to log in in order to begin to realize the potential of Atlas; however, this series of slides resulted in a missed opportunity for me to convey that message.

You won’t be missing anything if you skip out on scrolling through it. I won’t be offended.


This school year I have been working with the MYP Coordinator on the role of the MYP unit planner and Atlas. The presentation below was created after only a few readings of the COETAIL course 3 resources. In an attempt to go Presentation Zen, I opted for no bells and whistles and stayed away from using a prefab template. I feel that I started strong and true to the concepts of Zen design (slides 1 – 4). However, those insidious screenshots make an appearance and hang in there until the bitter end (slides 5 – 9). Below I have highlighted how each slide served to support my presentation (or not).

  1. TITLE: A guiding question helped to focus my thoughts in the development of this presentation. This slide also served a dual purpose in that it helped the audience to immediately focus on the purpose and begin to anticipate what to expect.
  2. PUZZLE PHOTO: Here I used a photo of a puzzle as a metaphor for all of the tools that work together to support collaborative planning and student learning in our school. The image was enough of a cue for me as a speaker to know what to say without having my message typed onto the slide.
  3. COLLABORATION PHOTO: Again, this image helped to remind me of the point I wanted to stress with my audience. I also followed my on-screen presentation using the DocsToGo app on my iPad where I could use cues in the Notes section. This is now my presentation crutch, which is only seen by me and not my audience. The notes that I have are short reminders that help to keep me on message both during the planning and the delivery of the presentation.
  4. TEXT and PHOTO: This slide was only to provide the audience with the URL so that they could browse their planners in Atlas on their iPads during the next slides.
  5. SCREENSHOT: I couldn’t quite end my relationship with the trusty screenshot.
  6. SCREENSHOT: This is another screenshot that I chose to use to emphasize the look of the MYP planner within the Atlas system. The three pieces of Stage One planning got red circles because those were a major focus of the training session.
  7. SCREENSHOTS: The next two screenshots were used to share two years of significant concepts for the same unit. The MYP Coordinator and I are working to support teachers in upgrading the quality and documentation of units. These were used to exemplify an upgrade in quality. In hindsight, I would rework these slides to only emphasize the significant concepts.
  8. (see #7)
  9. LAST SCREENSHOT: Honestly, I can’t even remember what my point was with this slide! This was another missed opportunity to remind my audience of the message. Sorry, dear colleagues!

It’s the process…

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Bored People
Probably my Atlas presentations are the most boring visually. Boring for me as a presenter, so probably über-boring for my audience. I resort to screen shots. <hangs head in shame> I think presentations are the most challenging when, as the presenter, I recognize how easy it might be for the audience to disengage.


Presentation Zen

The timing is great for this week’s lessons as I have been trying to repackage the presentation and perception of the Atlas curriculum mapping system this year. Now, I don’t have a formal plan, per se. It’s just a series of a few ideas that I’ve been tossing around in my head, along with a mantra that I’ve repeated to a few people. I’ve been talking about it during small group professional development sessions. The more I have been talking (and, thus, thinking) about it, the more I realize that a visual representation of the concept that I am aiming for could be very beneficial. After this week’s readings, I definitely appreciate the various ideas developed by Garr Reynolds in a variety of his blog posts on Presentation Zen. Presentation Zen has helped to clarify that a well-thought out presentation is the realization of a plan.

Plan Analog

Somehow I need to rethink the boring slides of screenshots (the only thing worse is watching a presenter navigate through a program on a large screen) into an engaging series of visuals supported by design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning. Basically, I’ll be starting from scratch. Out with the old, in with the new. The idea to “Plan Analog” resonates with me. Too often I sit down and open PowerPoint or Prezi and just begin to create (as an English teacher, I totally discouraged this type of approach to writing!). I neglect the process and rush directly to the product. This is not very zen! How silly of me to skip the brainstorming and planning stages of the process! This is probably the biggest reason why I have walked away from this particular presentation less than impressed with my work. I have focused on the how-to use tutorial when what I really wanted to do was to sell usefulness of Atlas as a collaborative planning tool…and how is supports the MYP unit planner and backwards planning.

Images Speak

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Puzzle desde la ventana de la oficina


I chose this image to use in a teacher professional development workshop this week. In an attempt to help new teachers connect the work that they will do with MYP unit planners to other facets of planning, record keeping, electronic gradebooks, etc. that are part of our school culture. This image was intended to make that point that the Atlas curriculum mapping system, is one piece of the puzzle that is AIS. Other pieces include: IB programmes (PYP, MYP, DP), tech integration, literacy, Write Traits, critical thinking, MYP unit planner, Gradequick, etc. As these pieces are connected, a more complete picture of learning at AIS begins to emerge.

Rather than viewing each “piece of the puzzle” as an added layer of responsibility, many actually can be used to support each other; like Atlas being used to support the MYP unit planner and collaborative team planning. When the various “pieces of the puzzle” are connected a complete picture is revealed.



Making Sense of Visual Hierarchy

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This week’s readings and dabblings reminded me of just why I am part of the COETAIL cohort. Many of the basic ideas about visual design in Understanding Visual Hierarchy in Web Design by Brandon Jones are not necessarily new to me. I’ve read and heard about them before. I find visual design very interesting from a non-artist point of view. However, I don’t consider myself an artist, which has allowed me to excuse myself from putting into actually practicing visual design elements. The difference that this course is going to make for me, though, is the practical application of all of these ideas and details. I am now forced (totally by choice) to experiment with this information through the creative design process, whereas without the level of accountability of coursework I would just continue to read about design, think about it, and move on without necessarily making a conscious effort to do anything specific with it.

 The Hierarchist’s Toolbox

So, I took a look at my COETAIL course blog armed with “The Hierarchist’s Toolbox.” Here is the current look, which has some aspects that I really like. Then there are other pieces that really bug me.


This particular blog theme doesn’t have much to offer when considering the size of the title of each blog post. For me, a title should stand out and grab the eye of the reader. Especially if the title is well thought out and sheds insight into the content of the post.


I remember plopping that picture in the banner. It is a picture I took of one of my favorite places in the world: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake Shore in my home state of Michigan. The colors are fairly neutral, so it has the potential to go with anything. However, the right hand column is gray! Really?! Not a fan of this column at all (and for more reasons than the color that will be detailed below). There is just too much going on with respect to color in this particular screen shot. I am now aware that the photos that I use in each blog post need to be considered for their color scheme, rather than only the subject.


Aha! this is what drew me to the banner picture in the first place. For me the contrast between the sand and the foliage emphasizes a path. This symbolizes my COETAIL learning path and maybe the path of those who choose to read my blog posts. I do like the contrast between the white space of the blog post and the gray side bar, but is too much contrast a bad thing? The contrast of white and gray might be too extreme.


The top-right of a web page as an “official” space where people look for information is very interesting, especially since the placement of tabs within many WordPress themes are on the top-left. I imagine that it is no coincidence that the COETAIL Asia theme uses that top-right space just as Brandon Jones suggests.


Clearly I excel at the use of this element in my blog! Gray text paragraph after gray text paragraph. Even with a photo thrown in for good measure, not so visually stimulating,


The side bar has some proximity issues. I have included widgets with the intention of providing visitors with ways to find information on my site. Each widget area blends into the next without any clear visual boundaries. I like the idea of having a widget linked to my GoodReads account, but despite the book covers being organized in a grid, it still looks a bit crowded. That said, this blog theme does a good job of separating the left side content space from the right side widget space.

Density and Whitespace

I would say that this theme does not capitalize on this element of visual hierarchy. Of course, my placement of a photo near the top of this blog post on the right hand side only serves to clutter that area (what should really be part of the “official” area).

Style and Texture

For me, this is probably the most intimidating element of visual hierarchy. It sounds so artsy. You mean I have to have a style? Texture as a visual, rather than a tactile, element…This is going to take some serious thinking!

In summary, here is a list of what I am looking for in a blog theme along with aspects to consider during the design of future blog posts:

  • theme considerations

    • larger title font
    • top-right “official” space
    • visual boundaries within the widget space
    • better use of density and whitespace
    • a theme that provides or supports style
  • blog post considerations

    • establish a color palette
      • I’ll give this a try, but wonder if there is potential for a color palette to be too limiting.
    • does the color palette of the photos used in a post work with the color palette of the blog?
    • How best can I interrupt repetition to add emphasis?
    • How can I use blog posts to establish a style?