visual literacy

I launch myself onto Youtube


Having spent some time setting up the structure of my reverse learning classroom I have now truly flipped it by making my own knowledge front loading videos.  The final push was that I could not find anything on the web that was just right for my class to cover the concepts of power and efficiency.

I used camtasia recorder to simultaneously capture my screen (writing onto a Smart Note) and my webcam (so adding my face to the proceedings).  It took me a little time to get the section of the screen I wanted to capture correct and I also had to place a pile of books behind my screen to keep it still whilst I was recording.  Yet these were minor teething issues.

For the structure of the vodcast I wanted to keep it short and too the point with; key formula, discussion and then example (s).  I mapped out what I wanted to point out on paper and placed the discussion point and example question at the top of different SmartNote pages.  Structured so I could go over all in one take requiring no time consuming editing – which I managed.

Camtasia recorder automatically transferred the recorded content into a camtasia editing suite in which I added a title screen and then uploaded directly onto my youtube channel. This was incredibly easy!

So here is my first video discussing power:


Here is my second video discussing efficiency:


I look back on them and already have some issues.

1) My handwriting is not great and this is accentuated by writing onto the tablet screen.

2) Why did my first video have to be at the end of MOVEMBER.  I have been developing the kind of moustache which should not be seen around young children.

3) It should be displacement not distance in my deconstruction of the power formula.

Yet although I have those minor concerns I am really pleased because with the outcome because of the relative ease and the short time they can be produced in.  These are the features which I need to convince me to keep on producing these vodcasts.  Plus I know next time I teach this content I will do it again and it will be better (just like all teaching should be).

PowerPoint in my classroom


So it needs to be made clear from the start the context in which I am discussing the use of PowerPoint.  I am a teacher and I am talking about the use of PowerPoint by a secondary school teacher during a class.

1)    This means I am not talking about the corporate presentation which is mentioned in Seth Godin’s blog on the Really Bad PowerPoint  (but I have responded to some of his advice from the point of view of a teacher at the end of this blog).

2)    I am also not talking about getting students to use PowerPoint in my class to make presentations as pertinently denigrated by Edward Tufte in “PowerPoint is Evil” .


My context is as a tool which I regularly use in my classroom to help provide structure for my teaching and to both stimulate and support my students’ learning.

1)    Easy use

No one has ever told me that PowerPoint was anything but easy to use.  Plus it is most effective when kept simple.

2)    Planning

I use it as a visual template for my lesson which helps me consider the various stages of my lesson and the time required.  Plus it forces me to identify any additional resources – mine is a science class so this is vital.

Lesson starting slide by Neil Commons

3)    Setting the stage for the lesson

I like my students to enter my classroom, and at least initially, be presented with familiarity to help them settle and organise themselves.  PowerPoint provides me with a clear template to the start of each lesson with a title, objective and often key words.  For me having this pre-built means that my class to class transition is faster so that I can greet my students as they enter.  For my students it provides a familiar structure and a clear guide as to how to organise their work in OneNote page (we are a one-to-one laptop school).

4)    Starting activity

A starting activity is something that will stimulate an inclusive response and it is often an image, in recognition of the visual literacy of my students, and these can be very easily pasted into or developed within PowerPoint.

5)    Zoning in (the teaching bit)

I will take 10 minutes to help students zone in on an idea.  PowerPoint allows me to integrate diagrams and animations into these explanations which assist the visual learners in the class.

6)    Activity instructions

Having the instructions clearly displayed on a PowerPoint stage means there is a constant point of reference available to all the students, it is especially useful for my more active students who get involved but then forget what exactly they should be doing.   This will also include extension tasks for my gifted students.

7)    Personal Reflection

My lesson is not static for the existence of a PowerPoint. I will nearly always be making live adaptions in response to the class and as I have a saved version this acts as an ever improving starting template for the next time I teach similar content.

8)    Tailoring for the individuals

Yes I do worry about the font, font size and font colour because I need to take into consideration the short-sighted, colour blind student with reading disabilities in my class.  However, I do agree with what Don McMillan says in his sketch “Life After Death by PowerPoint”

9)    Spider writing

My board writing skills look like that of an elementary student at the best of times so having content typed out really helps me.


So those are the reasons why I continue to use PowerPoint in my classroom.  Is there another tool which helps me do all these things with such ease?


*Seth does propose 4 steps to help improve a corporate business PowerPoint, which I have paraphrased, compressed down and responded to:

1)    Use cue cards

No – I am a teacher and I really know my stuff

2)    Make slides that reinforce your words, not repeat them

Yes – good point and I continue to strive to do that

3)    Create a supporting written document

Yes – when I am using a PowerPoint I do not expect my class to be constantly taking notes. I will create notes for later reference or integrate key points into other learning instructions

4)    Create a feedback cycle

I am constantly setting formative assessment tasks, whether it’s a well-considered question or an engaging activity, which allow me to evaluate an individual student’s understanding. I also expect my students to say, “Hey Mr. Neil. I just don’t get it. Can we go over it again?”


Does an infographic reflect me?


So I have spent a few minutes using some infographic resume sites which all pull data from my own personal linkdin site.  Let me share the initial outcomes

Spoken language map from


Here is my personal infographic resume from this site –

This is my favourite of the three offerings.  I like the timeline representing my educational and working lifetimes in parallel.  My interests, and crucially the scaling of them is fascinating.  As seen on the diagram when my own limited language skills are represented on a world map they seem far more impressive than they really are.


Skills and specialty proficiency from


Here is my personal infographic resume from this site –

I think that there is a great deal of interesting extracted information but the proficiency and frequency of use source information presently does not well reflect me.  For instance the statement of having only one year of science skills does not well represent my life time of scientific pursuit.  In fact it only reflects when I updated linkdin so I need to look at how I can change that information.

Employment timeline from



Here is my personal infographic resume from this site –

There is just not enough information on this site.  There is only a employment timeline and two large icons showing my university qualifications.  So simply there is just not enough information there to justify it’s existence.



So, as I mentioned before, I instantly warm to the version and feel it reflects me the most – and considering that they all come from the same information this really does emphasise the power of visual representation.   For me I felt they effectively highlighted the gaps.  For instance there was no reflection of my voluntary history which I feel represents a large part of my life so this needs to be somehow rectified.

So to wrap up I am going to recognise the power of infographics they promote an emotive response to information and when we are talking about trying to get someone to give you a job this can only be a good thing – if done correctly.

Do I think these tools are great – yes.  Am I glad that I am not presently looking for a job and have at least a year to work on these – yes.  So will I be using these tools to help me get my next job – BIG YES.





Evaluating my own digital student communication


So I have started to evaluate the digital gateways which I create for my students.  This post explains how my journey went and why I made the alterations that I did.  Yet I have to admit to a feeling that I have only just scratched the surface and really need to consider more research based information on this topic.


In 1997 Jakob Neilson first wrote about “How user’s on the web” and clear stated the requirements for a scan able text which should be represented on the web as having:

  • highlighted keywords (hypertext links serve as one form of highlighting; typeface variations and colour are others)
  • meaningful sub-headings (not “clever” ones)
  • bulleted lists
  • one idea per paragraph (users will skip over any additional ideas if they are not caught by the first few words in the paragraph)
  • the inverted pyramid style, starting with the conclusion
  • half the word count (or less) than conventional writing

Now in the context of school I am not required to produce a true website but I do use our intranet (the portal) as the gateway to teaching and learning resources for my students for each unit of work I teach. I do very much see these to be act like the contents page of the units book and have endeavoured to keep them as such uncluttered and effective.

My old car safety unit portal page

A basic structure would be 1) a title followed by some additional useful additional links, 2) A list of assessment tasks, and 3) A table breaking down the content into topics and the related resources.

So now I need to reflect upon this format with respect to the student.  Does the typical student really care about the additional websites and options that I identified?  Now even if a student was interested in these hyperlinks it would still not be an every lesson occurrence so clearly these need to be moved further down the page.  What students care about is what do I have to do now – lesson content – and what am I going to be assessed on.  So I am going to bring the lesson content table up and follow that by the assessment tasks.  Considering my audience is a digital generation I am less concerned that to access those additional resources will involve some additional scrolling especially if I can use this model with all my classes.

My old portal content

Now I look at the more subtle features.  Typeface can be used to highlight points so in turn this means consistency in typeface is important.  I read an article about “Which fonts do children prefer to read online?” which shows that research indicates comic script.  Yet this is not an option within the editing page for the portal so I just set everything on Arial font.   I was also informed that a font size of 14 is also preferable and again this is not a built in option.  So the bulk of the text is set at font size 12.  I do recognise that with a bit of cut and pasting I could fix both of those problems but that really does not feel like a good use of my time. The sub-levels in my contents table are all meaningful as they highlight the relevant topic.  Yet I can improve on this by setting them in bold and aligning them to the left.  I have also removed all underlining – using font size or bold – to highlight points and to save confusion with hyperlinked options.

I also spot the opportunity to consolidate my key learning objectives with visual prompts under each of these topic headings.  Is this beneficial for my students?  I have to do some more research on this feature.

So I have tweaked my first portal page with a greater consideration for my audience.  I will endeavour to adjust all my portal pages with the student in mind.  I wander if anyone will notice?  And feel that an even bigger change is required.

New portal structure

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