Creativity, Digital Life, iPad, Technology, Visible Thinking

Sketchnotes 101

A number of people have asked about my sketch notes. I have given a few workshops at school for teachers and for students and now, am putting a few thoughts down here for those who are interested.

So, here we go! My top five tips for sketch notes!


  1. Steal Everything – Be on the lookout for ideas. They are everywhere. Specifically: take a look at Pinterest. I have a board dedicated to Sketchnotes and I am not the only one! There are loads of examples of excellent work to get you started and keep you motivated. Search for: sketchnotes, visual notes, sketch noting, visual language.
  2. Go Digital – I would have never said this until I started exclusively taking notes with my Apple Pencil on the iPad Pro. Game changer. What I love about digital notes is the ease with which you can add color, erase mistakes, re-order content. I have done notes in notebooks with pen and while I love that, I love digital even more. Apple pencil is outstanding.
  3. Get ‘Appy – All who sketch note will likely have an app that they LOVE above all other apps. For me, my app of choice is Paper by Fifty Three. Now, they have upgraded the (Free!) app recently and I am not in love with some of the changes, but I am learning to adjust and it is still, by far, my favourite. If you prefer the idea of layers, Adobe Photoshop Sketch would be a good choice, and if you are also arty or like to dabble in the artistic realm (and want to pay for your app), Procreate would be another good choice.
  4. Practice – Yep, all the Apple Pencils in the world won’t mean much if you don’t practice. Visual dictionaries are a good idea. But it is also a good idea to sketch in all your meetings. Being able to listen, process, and translate words into pictures in a short amount of time is something that you need to practice. Choose ‘low stakes’ opportunities to practice like your faculty meeting before heading off to sketchnote a live TED talk or international keynote speaker.
  5. Think Visually – A great place to do this is with the Noun Project. It is one of my favorite websites. With over a million icons, NP is a great way to get your brain thinking visually. A quick search of any word will bring up suggested icons that you can be inspired by or spin your own sketch from. If you are taking a break from sketching, you can use all icons (royalty free) in your presentations (including Google add-ons for Docs and Slides). In our last PD, I had my laptop open to the site and would frequently type in words to get ideas for ways to represent words visually.


Like everything, sketchnoting is a journey. If you click on my blog header, you can scroll through my posts and many will have a sketch note or two attached. Some I put together on the fly and others are a result of trying to visually represent an idea (so I had more time). Everything is a progression. Some ideas are easier to represent than others.

One of my colleagues asked me, “What do you do with these (sketchnotes) once you are done?” Great question. I keep them here. I flick through them on my iPad to remind myself of ideas I deemed important enough to draw. They are my notes and the ideas represented by pictures help me recall what I listened to or read. More recently, I have started drawing them ‘live’ during lessons. They aren’t as perfect as something I have prepared prior to the lesson but they let the kids in the room ‘see behind the curtain’ at how I can put things from ideas and words into pictures.

Mostly, I just have fun! I like the challenge of distilling information into a visual format without diluting the message.


Design, Inquiry, iPad, Thinking, Visible Thinking


One of the resources that I’m using a lot in my new role as a design teacher, is the book called Invent to Learn by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary S. Stager. This book details an inquiry type cycle simply called TMI: Think, Make, Improve. This is very accessible language for students and most of the kids who have been in our school are very familiar with this terminology and how to put it into practice.

Here are each of the stages in a little more detail:

I particularly like the “improve” section. Once kids have made something they are challenged to ask themselves are they stuck or are they satisfied? Can I fix it or can I make it better?

Today I was working with Grade 3. Their challenge was to use what they had learned from previous lessons to create a balloon powered vehicle. We talked about TMI and as we talked about the first stage, I sat with the students and modeled how I might document my thinking. Using the Paper 53 app and my iPad Pro with Apple Pencil I was able to think aloud while drawing and projecting on our screen. This was my second time doing this lesson and I didn’t do the same kind of modeling of this documentation process with the first group. We really noticed a difference in quality when the kids were shown how it is possible to plan out their designs. 

I get to do this lesson for a third time tomorrow. I want to make sure that we refer back to the image of all the things that “thinking” entails and identify the elements that we touch on so the kids see that there is not just one way of thinking. Edit

How do you help your children to make their thinking visible?

Change, Innovation, iPad, Organization, Tech, Technology

Think Like A Startup

Last week I was fortunate to go to Amsterdam with four fabulous colleagues to attend the European Conference on iPads in the Classroom hosted by the International School of Amsterdam.

Our trip started like this:

And then on to the ‘real business’ – two days of guest speakers, breakout groups, classroom observations, speed geeking, and great conversations about the use of technology in the classroom. The tech team at ISA offered some great tips and ideas about getting started with iPads including appointing iPad Point People to support learning across the school and they had some practical ideas for making the day-to-day use of iPads easier for everyone (students and teachers). Sue Worsnup, the Grade 3-5 IT Facilitator at ISA shared the following:


The Keynote speaker for the conference was Warren Apel – the former Tech Director at ISA who currently is operating his own startup, Scholastico, before moving to Tokyo in the fall as Director of Technology at the American School in Japan.

As a sidenote, Warren’s company offers a way for schools to set up Parent-Teacher Conferences that is so quick and easy. If you or your school are interested, it really is worth your while to read the brochure linked above or to watch this 2 minute video on how it all works. It really looks awesome!


With his recent experience in building his own startup business, Warren’s keynote “How Schools, Teachers, and Administrators Can Learn To Think Like A Startup” was a great combination of his experience as a teacher and tech director, and his past year of starting a company. He presented his 12 lessons that he learned over the past year that could be applied to the work we do in schools when looking to innovate or start a new project:


  1. Be curious
  2. Focus on what could be – not what is
  3. Be disruptive
  4. Learn from failure
  5. Move with speed
  6. Embrace a playful attitude
  7. Get the team right
  8. Communicate!
  9. Be transparent
  10. Learn together with the customers (or in this case, students/parents/teachers)
  11. Dream big – go for your Moonshot!
  12. Start with “why?”

Warren has written up his keynote as a blog post (linked above) and it is a really worthwhile read for those looking to lead change within your school. I was most grateful that there were five of us from my school hearing this message together. There is such a lot of power and added value to sending a small group to the same workshop or conference that I think some schools overlook. As the conference went on and conversations bubbled up, it was great to see the ideas and suggestions forming within our group and the enthusiasm for what could be regarding our iPad program at MIS.

This group of go-getters, early adopters, innovators, were motivated by what they saw and heard and inspired to bring these ideas back to their own classrooms and teams. For me, this was the most rewarding part of the two day event. The other thing I loved was that the conference was held during the week which allowed us the opportunity to observe classes in action.  The opportunity to walk through a school when the kids are there was fantastic and in itself, was a great PD session full of ideas and tips for cultivating a mindful learning environment.  Here are a few shots from around the school:

As the two days progressed, I made notes that I later turned into an iBook titled “iPad Integration Guide”. It focuses on technology in the PYP classroom, a core set of apps for learning and sharing, coding apps, students as authors with a focus on Book Creator, and a ‘nuts and bolts’ section which gives a few tips and tricks for rolling out iPads into the classroom. Click on the link below to download for free from iTunes.

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Download from iTunes – click here

We have had a less than ideal (!) start to the year with our iPads as we transitioned to the VPP program and a new MDM system so this conference was just what was needed to help us recalibrate and set ourselves up for the rest of the year and the year ahead. I am looking forward to seeing the authentic, purposeful, and innovative advances in teaching and learning that will come from all of this!