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.


Approaches to Learning, Learning, Publications, Technology

Into Alignment

Approaches to Learning (ATL) are a hot topic at my school at the moment.  We recently had Lance G. King at school to guide our understanding of how ATLs can and should be embedded in our teaching and how this long list of skills and executive functions can significantly impact our students.

With this in mind, and with a desire to see technology integration become a more fluid part of our program, I typed all the ATLs into a document. Tedious but also helpful, giving me time to think about each one and its connection to technology.  I then pulled up the new ISTE Standards for Students.


7 standards, each with four descriptors. I copied and pasted next to what I felt was a correlating ATL. A third column saw me list possible scenarios you might see in which these skills and standards were put into effect.

Confusing? Hopefully more clear if you take a look here:


My thoughts upon doing this?

  • I found the process was super helpful in taking a wide lense look at how everything can and should work together
  • I wondered, “Who else is doing this?” and “Can we do it together?!” I did google around a bit before starting and I know of one person who is starting down this road but would love to hear from anyone else also doing this or who would like to join me in working on this. Let me know and I can share the Google Doc with you.
  • I realized I am far from done! Here are my next steps:


  1. There are some ISTE standards that hit more than one ATL or standards that only partially apply to an ATL so I need to duplicate and add, and I need to highlight the specific portions of standards that apply
  2. The “How might we….?” column needs to be added to, linking with existing sources and documentation and external websites and apps
  3. Consideration needs to be given to a fourth column that encompasses the Visual Literacy curriculum objectives as many of these can be taught in the context of technology usage, media creation, viewing and presenting. Likewise, there are considerable overlaps with Visual Art (the Elements of Art and, particularly, the Principles of Design) and with the Library scope and sequence documentation.

These ideas are less than 24 hours old so there is a lot of scope for development but I am intrigued to see how this will develop in terms of guiding teachers toward a more integrated approach to technology in (and out) of the classroom.

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!


Digital Life, Tech, Technology

What Is Your Favorite Tech Tool?

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This morning I was on Twitter when #bfc530 came up with their daily topic: What is your favorite tech tool?

I quickly responded:

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I then sat back and watched the tweets pour in.  Later today, I went through the tweets and made the following word cloud of all the tools.


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Google was a clear winner and some of my favorites stood out but there were also a bunch of new (to me) tools I will be taking a look at. In particular:

I haven’t heard of or used any of these but they were all tweeted by educators who (for the most part!) were up at 5:30am to tweet about education so I am going to guess they are pretty passionate about it!

I will investigate and report back on their usefulness!


Coetail, Technology

You’re Not The Only Teacher In The Room

The theory of connectivism is a learning theory for the digital age that:

  • believes that knowledge can reside in non-human artifacts.
  • thrives in an environment that values diversity, autonomy, and freedom.
  • suggests that learning occurs when ideas are connected.

Is this an accurate description of our current education system? Are we more concerned about collecting ideas than connecting them? Does the role of “the teacher” as we know it, need to change?  I wish I had all the answers!

I am fearful that education won’t change until the teachers in the room realize that they are not the only teachers in the room. We have all heard of the adage “Sage on the stage, guide on the side” and most teachers would gravely nod and agree, but is this the reality for students once behind classroom doors?

The field of education has been slow to recognize both the impact of new learning tools and the environmental changes in what it means to learn. –George Siemens

I was surprised (and yet not) to see that this article was written ten years ago. It seems like the ideas around the need for change in education have been shared but in many cases, have fallen on deaf ears.  It is almost impossible to read any kind of educational literature that doesn’t highlight the increasingly digital and connected nature of ‘school’ and yet we still seem to resist the change that is upon us.

The digital world lowers barriers to learning, provides opportunities for peer teaching, allows students the chance to make their own choices, learn at their own pace, delve deeper into topics that ignite their passions and connect to others in ways that were previously impossible. Living and Learning With New Media showcases many of the ways in which youth interact digitally and the impact this has on the way they learn and the way they differentiate between ‘life’ and ‘learning’ (it’s one and the same).


Einstein figured out that providing the right conditions for students is the best way to promote, encourage, and support learning. This math teacher came to the same conclusion once he gave up his teacher-centred ways and focused more on a student-centred approach to teaching. He shares that the “integration of technology into every subject and at all grade levels allows unprecedented levels and types of exciting collaboration and learner to learner connectivity.”

One of my favorite authors on the subject of technology and 21st Century education is Marc Prensky.  In this ASCD article, Marc talks about kids ‘powering down’ when they come to school – and not just their devices.  He talks of students in the past as ‘coming into the light’ when they went to school – enlightened by the knowledge that was imparted upon them.  Today he describes students as being ‘born into the light’ -surrounded by and connected to knowledge from birth.

I found the readings this week to be encouraging and inspiring at yet at the same time, I found myself increasingly bogged down by what our education system isn’t. The problems, the faults, the gaping holes that need filling.  Then I read some more of Presnky’s work in which he reminds us of what an exciting time it is to be alive and offers the following advice to teachers:

Today’s kids are fledglings on the ledge of a new, and towering future and our job is help them leave the aerie in a way that allows them to soar.The most important thing any teacher can say to any kid in our new context is “Surprise me!”


Inquiry, Technology

Technology is a Tool

I really like Smore – a website for designing beautiful flyers. Tonight I doubled the number of Smore Flyers that I have made in my life to make a grand total of 2 flyers.  The first one has been viewed over 6000 times.  We’ll see if this one is as popular!

I was thinking about both the COETAIL course I am currently working on and the unit of inquiry I am integrating on with the fourth grade team at my school.  I had a lot of links to videos that I was adding to an email but these get lost easily.  Instead of a few emails with a bunch of links, I have embedded videos into a Smore Flyer for the teachers to share with their classes.

Their unit falls under the theme How We Organize Ourselves.  The central idea: Technology is a tool that impacts our lives.

If you have any ideas (this is a new unit this year) or have links I could add to my flyer, please let me know!

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Click on image to go to full Smore page.