Tag Archives: visualization

Summertime & the Livin’ Is…

The Gershwins would have said “And the Livin’ is Easy” and I am going to second that line! For those of us who teach, summer has always been a time to kick back and relax and reenergize. Even for those who have a summer job, the change in venue or hours or responsibilities usually provides an opportunity to refresh.

Harking advice gleaned from many Learning and the Brain conferences, this summer I am tapping four basic tips for maintaining the health of my aging brain.

There has been much written about the positive impact of exercise on the human body and the human brain. No surprises here, as the brain and body are very closely intertwined. Like every summer past, my husband and I are back in the pool logging our laps, swimming side-by-side and matching one another stroke-for-stroke. Being a foot taller than me, he usually sets the pace! And of course, we continue to kayak.

Novelty – something that is different or out of the ordinary. Exposing ourselves to novel circumstances is one sure fire way to keep our brains stimulated. I have avidly been practicing yoga for five years, and in the fall will be teaching yoga to 7th and 8th graders as part of their phys ed options. This is going to be quite a novel endeavor for me (and one I requested!) Yes, I have been teaching for 28 years, but I’ve been teaching the subject of computers. And practicing yoga does not a yoga teacher make 😉 I will be taking the one week 40-hour intensive YogaEd program offered by Always-At-Aum.

Exercise, novelty and learning will mesh in my upcoming yoga class; computers and learning mesh in my current online class offered by The Online School for Girls. Twenty-five independent school educators from most of the disciplines including the arts, as well as a number of division heads, have come together online to learn about the whys and hows of blended learning. Here is how one of the OSG’s organizers announced the course, PD: Creating Great Blended Learning.

This course is designed for the secondary-level teacher who is comfortable posting assignments on the web, is interested in the concept of blended instruction, but needs guidance or exposure to the online tools and methods that exist, literally, at their fingertips.

We will spend time exploring current research and theories to answer the question: Why is blended learning so powerful? Once we have established a solid understanding of blended learning, we will shift our focus to practical matters to answer the question: How do I create a great blended learning experience for my students?

Participants will connect and collaborate with each other through a variety of online activities, averaging 2-4 hours a week, as we explore best practices and practical tools available for blended learning instruction. By the end of this four week experience, teachers will have concrete ideas about how to apply blended learning methods to their own teaching.

Week one will conclude this weekend, and so far I am loving this class! I am excited and energized by the possibilities, and looking forward to applying them to Presentation Communication, a new course I am teaching this fall in the upper school.

And then there is the importance of a social community. My community of two for swimming, kayaking, walking, hiking and just plain hanging out with is my husband. The Yoga Sanctuary is my community of local yogis, many whom I’ve practiced with these past five years, and my new community of yogis with whom I will be learning to teach yoga. And there is the vibrant, active online community around which my online class revolves.

Toss in a slew of books, lots of conversations, vegetarian cooking, my other online communities, seeing some friends I haven’t seen in awhile, exploring of new places, and continuing with Marian Diamond’s UC Berkeley Human Anatomy course lectures, and I think the Gershwins got it right!

Check out these related articles:


Brainy Henry Markram!

I have just watched this fascinating TED Talk: Henry Markram builds a brain in a supercomputer. (The link goes to a high definition version of his talk.)

Markram is the director of a project that runs on high intensity IBM computers and is called Blue Brain. (Hmm, does the Blue refer to  IBM’s also being known as Big Blue?”) Blue Brain is “a supercomputing project that can model components of the mammalian brain to precise cellular detail – and simulate their activity in 3D.” The graphics, let alone the math and science, are incredibly striking. And after listening to Markram, I couldn’t help but think of a tenth grader at my school who recently attended the Singularity Summit that took place in New York City over the weekend of October 3-4.

The Singularity represents an “event horizon” in the predictability of human technological development past which present models of the future may cease to give reliable answers, following the creation of strong AI [Artificial Intelligence] or the enhancement of human intelligence.

You can read about the Blue Brain Project, also described as “the first comprehensive attempt to reverse-engineer the mammalian brain, in order to understand brain function and dysfunction through detailed simulations.” Or check out this SEED article by Jonah Lehrer, Can A Thinking, Remembering, Decision-Making, Biologically Accurate Brain Be Built From A Supercomputer?

What reaction do you have to this possibility? To the stunningly vibrant images?

Character Study

I co-teach Directing for Film, a class that focuses on film production –  from writing and casting original scripts, to directing, filming and editing movies based upon the scripts. This year we are in a unique position of having not only our lead teacher and me, but also a creative intern who majored in film, and an upper school senior whose passion is to write original scripts and make movies from them; he is doing an independent study by helping to teach and assist in our class.

For our opening class, Alice (intern) set the tone for the year with an opening activity of writing a character study: What’s in your character’s pocket? Standing before the class, she began to paint a picture of a character as she slowly took objects out of her very deep skirt pockets and placed them on the table in front of us all. From the peckle of ten items, she then asked us to choose four objects that would be found in our character’s pockets. Ponder that, and write about our character. The adults also took part in this activity, and purely for the fun of it I present my character study.


He found himself leaning against a column in the book store. Tall, lean, kind of relaxed looking, staring off into space as if he were contemplating something of great interest. He had just purchased two books on sustainable architecture using the cash in his pocket, but he wasn’t thinking about his new books, the receipt for which he had stashed in a pants pocket, or about the book store.

When he reached into his right pocket to make the payment, he had felt a ring, and it was on this ring that his thoughts were now focused. His bag of books was sitting on the floor, nestled between his feet, and his hands were fiddling with a rubber band, trying to contort it into a form of cat’s cradle. He always seemed to think more clearly when his hands were occupied; perhaps that why he liked building enough to pursue it – at least for now – as a profession.

Where did the ring come from? He hadn’t seen it before, and certainly never noticed it’s arrival in his pocket. Had someone dropped it in there accidentally? Did it fit any of his fingers? He withdrew his fingers from the cat’s cradle and slipped the rubber band over his left hand, settling it onto his wrist. The fingers of his right hand reached back into his right pocket and went on a searching excursion, feeling around in the deep recess of material, passing over the dollar bills and coins until his middle finger alighted upon something smooth and round. He closed his hand around the ring and lifted it out into the open air.

Holding it up before his eyes for closer examination, he noticed the wine colored ring was patterned with a flower and a bird. Nothing about this ring was jogging his memory. It could have come from anywhere – from someone at the Cob Company, from one of the teenagers he mentors at the local penitentiary, from the children of his house mates. The ring might not be jogging his memory, but it was certainly nudging his curiosity.

Shapes & Sizes of Creativity

It’s summer time, a favoured time of those of us in education because we generally have time to pursue whatever is on our minds. My husband has many interests, among them SketchUp, architecture, and sustainability, specifically, green architecture. Over the years he has used the first of these to create the second of these in digital format; then he’s used tools such as pipe cleaners, straws, wood, paper and poster board to craft tangible versions. Now he has gone a step further and created a prototype of an idea that he’s been mulling over for awhile.

I’ve been working on a prototype curved space frame using 1x6s, 2″ PVC pipe, and dry wall screws. The prototype frame is finished and came out quite well given all the things I had to figure out while constructing it.




Start with a couple of summer days, enough time to tinker, an idea that’s been percolating, and tools for the task. Mix them together, and the result is creativity come to life. 🙂 Being able to exercise one’s creativity is crucial to cognitive well being. And using one’s hands to create, playing in the proverbial “mud”, is a wonderful way to involve multiple senses. Indeed, in early September our two sons (age 18 and 25) are going to play in the mud at this Cob Cottage Workshop.

Visual Aphorisms

An aphorism is a handy means of expressing an idea succinctly and cleverly. And aphorisms are WORDS. But words are not the only means of expressing ideas!

The Eide Neurolearning Blog, which is devoted to “neurologically-based approaches to learning and learning differences”, has a poll on “How Do You Solve Problems” that offers a number of choices, only one of which involves using words. 

Indeed, it is not always possible to come up with the words you want when trying to describe something. Although, if stumped, here is an interesting online application, Tip of My Tongue, that tries to help you “find that word that you’ve been thinking about all day but just can’t seem to remember.”

In Thinking in Images: Nine Tips for Communicating Visually, Stanley Leary quotes Aristotle:

There can be no words without images

and shares a suggestion I have heard elsewhere – that of using charades to coax thinking visually about ideas.

My husband naturally thinks visually. Here are some of his visual aphorisms, created with SketchUp. You can see the more of these visual aphorisms at Design With SketchUp. (Note, the images will soon be catalogued under 9 & 10 ‘08.)

Pearls of Wisdom


Esoteric Idea


Thinking along the same lines


Thinking outside the box



vizthink: Dave Gray


If you were creating your own alphabet comprised just of symbols, how many symbols would you utilize and what would they be? The “visual alphabet” you are designing will have its utility in being used “to represent an idea”. That is the task Dave Gray gave himself when he set out to design a visual alphabet.

Gray’s alphabet consists of twelve symbols. The first six he calls “Flows” and likens them to vowels:

  • point
  • line
  • arc
  • angle
  • spiral
  • loop

The second six are “Forms”:

  • circle or oval
  • football
  • triangle
  • square or rectangle
  • 5-sided
  • cloud

With these twelve symbols you can draw a representation of anything, according to Gray. During Dave’s vizthink session he demonstrated his point by quickly creating a number of drawings. That’s where I learned the term “sweatles” – motion lines that show energy, like little beads of sweat coming off someone’s brow or the motion lines behind a vehicle. To further his ideas, Gray has a self-published book that appears to be continually in the works, Marks and Meanings, version zero, which you can purchase on Lulu.com

I’ve written a bit about Dave Gray and much of my previous writing covers, more or less, the content of Gray’s portion of the Global Online Visual Thinking Workshop webinar.

Gray’s visual alphabet, along with my husband’s many SketchUp models, has gotten me thinking about the ways in which people process information and think about what they hear and see, in particular within the world of education. My next post on this topic will be more visual than textual.

Organizations/Programs dedicated to visual thinking in schools:

vizthink: Karl Gude (+ some)

Karl Gude “is the former Director of Information Graphics at Newsweek, now a professor at Michigan State University’s School of Journalism.” He was also the third presenter at the Global Online Visual Thinking Workshop webinar, in which I participated last month. In addition to Gude’s presentation, my post concludes with two additional “views” on presenting graphical data.

During his hour, Gude illustrated how to use graphs, charts and maps to present information, and shared innumerable examples, often depicting various stages of a particular graphic as each iteration improved upon the original. Gude’s message is that “the point of charts is to clearly illustrate data and not to be creative works of art!”  and the point of design is to make “order out of chaos”, and to help accomplish that task you might want to consider using GRIDS as your foundation. Grids “are your friends” in that they provide a framework from which you can create just about any type of layout. To the right is a screen shot of a 6-column grid, which was part of a 2-page grid spread Gude used to illustrate his point. He went on to show several examples of layouts made with this grid.

To help keep your design consistent, Gude talked about the usefulness of having a style sheet, style samples, and avoiding Word Art at all costs, going as far to suggest that it be flushed down the drain.

Why bother with the quality of graphs, charts, maps or, for that matter, any other form of visual representation, be it graphic or text or some combination. Quite simply, to paraphrase Gude, if your data presentation looks sophisticated and can be easily understood, it leads to credibility and greater understanding. For more on information design Gude points to Nigel Holmes on the VizThink site.

In August of this year the New York Times printed the article Lines and Bubbles and Bars, Oh My! New Ways to Sift Data. The focus of the article is Many Eyes, a social sharing site for visualizing data. Many Eyes is an interactive site that lets people experiment with some 16 different ways to visualize both their own data and data supplied by others, and get feedback on the visualizations they create. For more about this process check out Richard Hoeg’s Many Eyes tutorial and his related blog post with additional links.

If you haven’t already watched Hans Rosling “debunking third-world myths with the best stats you’ve ever seen”, take a look at his February 2006 TED Talk. His company, Gapminder, unveils “the beauty of statistics for a fact based world view” using the Trendalyzer software developed by the company and acquired by Google in 2006.