Archive for October, 2014


Imagine a world without images, without adverts or photographs,

A world with no diagrams or instructions from IKEA, books without covers devoid of drawings or beautiful illustrations

websites with just words and presentations with just bullet points…hang on a moment some people still do that!

I believe there are 3 types of people:

there are those who love using visuals and integrate them into their lessons daily

and there are those who understand and see the potential of visuals but may not be using them as often as they would like

and finally there are those who hated art at school, say they cannot draw and are wondering (why should they use images and) what use is this to me?

Over the next few minutes I would like to show you how I came to work with visuals

and Tell you how you can use visuals in your daily and professional life

We live in a visual world and we are literally surrounded by visuals, from the moment we wake up in the morning, view the icons on our phones and Facebook or Instagram images

and just like our students we watch videos to learn or entertain ourselves, and images help us choose our cereal and the products we buy

So why aren’t we all teaching with visuals?

Ancient man captured their stories and conquests on the walls of their caves

and as a child we all loved to draw So what changes as we get older? why do we stop drawing?

Why don’t we all draw now?

Our eyes dart across page when we research on the internet

Looking for recognisable symbols to catch our attention

We like to SEE images

our brains interpret them far easier

so AGAIN why aren’t we all teaching with visuals?

Think about your classroom, your office or home

What images do you use to inspire, ignite and inform?

Images guide us, help us to find what we are looking for,

They instruct us, map our ideas

Help us to interpret data

And, just as Music or smells can transport us back to a time a place or a person

So too can images remind us of time past

The senses are strong in aiding learning and memory

Yet it is the VISUAL SENSE that TRUMPS them ALL

And the real potential is when we combine the senses

just as Text and image work better together

so too does the Voice with visuals

and music and Photography

And this intrigues me – the power a visual has to help us to remember

(And in case you are wondering, each visual in this presentation serves to remind me what to say)

I remember my first Learning 2 conference 3 years ago in Shanghai

When Jabiz encouraged us to develop our PLN through Twitter

Then in Beijing when Ben Sheridan got lost on the metro in Japan

And Dana Watts expanded our ideas about using iPads in education

But do we remember the details of these and other talks months or years on?

I have been taking visual notes for several years now

From my humble beginnings on penultimate as a Tech mentor to animated Brushes drawings as an ADE And now using Adobe ideas

Last year Jeff at Learning 2 Singapore asked me to capture the L2 Talks through visual note taking

I had not appreciated how difficult taking notes live could be!

See for all you cynics and drawing phobics out there the difficult part it is not actually the drawing

It is the thinking, the metacognition,

and it is this skill that we should be teaching our students – to listen and synchronise our thinking in order to communicate this to other

How could you use this with your students, or yourself?

Wouldn’t meeting minutes be more engaging and easier to revisit and remember if they looked like this? Or the steps in a unit plan or the details of a book?

I was rubbish at taking notes at university

And terrible at remembering facts and figures at school

Yet now I can capture my thoughts visually to help me remember and to communicate my ideas to others

On my blog I capture visual notes alongside my weekly posts to help me synchronise my thoughts and to share these ideas with others

these images help to show the message I want to share

I have been banging on about the versatility of Art to deaf ears for over 20 years

But now I hope now you can all hear me:

Visuals are crucial for memory and understanding

I understand you may not remember much of what I have said

And I would like you to take away this:

VISUALS HELP US TO REMEMBER and they help to DOCUMENT our Learning

So I would like to leave you with a Challenge:

document your notes more visually, use a simple drawing or note taking app on the iPad such as Adobe Ideas or Paper 53 just like Shaun Kirkwood did last year and share them on Twitter using the hashtag L2visualnotes

So that everyone can benefit from your learning 2

The Power of Visuals: how are you going to use them?






It is argued that the first Infographic was way back in 1626, when Christoph Scheiner published the Rosa Ursina sive Sol, a book in which the Infographics were illustrations demonstrating the Sun’s rotational patterns.

Nowadays graphics that share information are a normal part of our daily lives and visuals help inform us wherever we turn. produces an Infographic everyday and some books are almost entirely made up of information graphics, such as David Macaulay‘s The Way Things Work.

Thinking Visually

As a visual learner and advocate of the power of visuals, Infographics help us to sort and bring order to complex information and I can see how they can form a major part in educating our students in a wide variety of contexts.

Growing up at school my first love was always Art but coming a very close second, surprisingly was Mathematics. Ever since I was 12 I knew I wanted to be a Graphic Designer, yet one of my strongest subjects at school was Maths. I still love to problem solve, so understanding visual data seems the perfect combination of my passions. I sometimes describe myself as a mathematical artist, as many of my drawing methods are concerned with proportions, measuring or designing with regard to symmetry, emphasis or balance. One of my idols in the Art world, who successfully combined these 2 disciplines was MC Escher and, as a teenager I marvelled at his fantastical and surreal compositions with perspective and his tessellation designs. I have been teaching students about the fundamentals of design theory for over 20 years and in the application of the elements and principles to drawing, photography and composition as well as in the basics of good Graphic Design. My current visual notes graphically document my learning and communicate information in a similar way that Infographics and Data Visualisation work, yet I had not made that connection until just recently. I simply use visuals combined with text, as that is the most effective way for me to learn, recall and remember.

Back in 2008, I was teaching an eager group of IB Visual Art students in Ghana, who were keen to involve their home culture more into their personal works. We talked about the current issues faced in Africa and globally that might inspire meaningful work and eventually discussions and research centred on the corresponding statistics. Each student found an authentic statistic on their home country to communicate through visual means. Whilst a Swiss student looked into the amount of chocolate eaten in one year per person another student was astounded at the numbers of HIV deaths in certain areas of Africa and set out to visualise this data.


Seeing the Numbers of HIV in Africa, Eloi LCS student

Was this my first taste of working with information and graphics in an educational context? As a Graphic designer years ago, I saw companies represent their annual statistics or data in simple graphs or tables with just colours or pie charts but not much more creatively than that. Today we see data represented in the most beautiful and weird ways. From how much sleep we should have to the contents of your poop! Designers have never been so creatively challenged to find the best and aesthetic way to interpret numbers and facts.

I first came across Infographics, the image dominant designs we know them now as, when Noah Katz introduced the concept of visualising data to my Art Department back in 2010 and the concept struck a strong chord. Maybe it was then that the idea to bring together my Graphics background and the education of others began to take seed. I loved the idea of using facts and figures together with Design to help others to understand more abstract numbers or complex concepts.

But data itself is a complex thing and often a rather boring concept to some youngsters, so how can we make it more palatable and more engaging?

The Problem with Plastic

I talked about Chris Jordan’s complex data driven photography in a previous post (The Power of Visuals) and I was first inspired by his work back in 2009 in Ghana when researching for a GIN (Global Issues Network) conference in Qatar that I was taking my students to. Mike Johnston, now MS Principal UWCSEA, introduced us to the power a visual, and in this case a video, can have in grabbing attention and hitting a message home, hard. He showed the shocking, yet painfully simple video that sends its message, and the accompanying data plainly – recycle.

Chris Jordan’s photographic installations show us graphically the effects of consumerism, albeit focused on the US market, yet applicable to us all worldwide. Moving forward to 2010 at UWCSEA, I taught predominantly Middle School Art, yet I was also teaching Grade 3 Art. I decided to take a chance and show these youngsters Chris Jordan’s Midway video in the run up to the Junior School exhibition focussing on Plastic and recycling.
They were as shocked as I was about the amount of baby Albatross deaths all because of human plastic consumption. So we set about a task to show visually the amount of plastic that we were throwing away in our society and its direct effect on the birds in Midway. They decided to collect as many coloured bottle tops as they could to help make a collage and we soon found that most plastic bottle tops we used were blue or white, perfect for a bird in flight or on the water! So the collage developed……

Albatross birds from bottle caps by Grade 3 UWCSEA

The students were able to communicate the issue visually yet also the message clearly in their explanations and even now, many years on they remember the message well.
The environment and man’s impact on it has long been a passion of mine and in particular the problem with plastic pollution. Chris Jordan’s series Running the Numbers is still a fundamental part of my inspiration as I search for meaningful as well as achievable ways to change thinking in Singapore, a society with a huge throw-away culture. I would love to create a similar large scale mural of waves or the oceans made from thrown away plastic.

It would be great to pull the community together to complete the mural over time, each contributing to this collection of everyday plastic, and in turn to see what a terrible effect plastic is having on our waters, much of which give forth to the Asian diet rich in fish. Could the Art department help save our world or at least change thinking and affect action? 

Where does data feature in the MS curriculum?

food and data

Food for Thought, Grade 8 UWCSEA

Food for Thought, Grade 8 UWCSEA











Last year my Grade 8 students were looking at issues with food to inspire their ceramic sculptures and found statistics that linked to this unit Food for Thought installation at the end of year exhibition. Although the point was visually communicated, I feel now that I missed an opportunity to bring in Infographics to the unit or at least link up with another department to develop these to support the sculptural work. Art collaborating with Maths? Whatever next?!

What about this year? What ideas do I have? As part of my Global Concerns group PAW (Promoting Animal Welfare) we will be looking initially at endangered species and the decline of certain animals in our region and searching for effective ways in which to communicate this to the community to raise awareness. Perhaps Infographics would be a cool visual way to start this off?

CRAP design

Just over a year ago I was privileged to attend Kelly Grogan‘s Extended session at Learning 2 Singapore, “Visual Literacy and Big Data Infographics”. Through her 3-hour session Kelly helped us to think of how we could infuse Infographics into our classrooms and how to make our own. She cross-referenced Noah Katz’s Visual Literacy session and the importance of understanding layout and the use of colour. It is clear in the examples that follow that Visual Literacy and the principles behind CRAP design are crucial in understanding the information presented.

The Infographic to the left about the Global killer Cancer, shows careful, balanced use of symbols and data to communicate the message effectively but using a limited palette of colour to emphasise key points. So too does the graphic on the right about the impact of a toxic office on workers clearly using contrasting values and simple iconography to capture the points also in a linear format.


Other Infographics may use more of a timeline design working from left to right to track information logically showing the main message or more creatively in the example of American Presidents.

But sometimes less information results in a clearer message, as in Gemma Bussel’s interpretation of the Creative Process. I know I couldn’t agree with it more!

David McCandless talks about how “Information is Beautiful” in his book and website of the same name and, in his TED talk he calls information overload “Info Glut”. He explains how Infographics help us to ‘see” through the information and help us to sort and understand it more easily. Examples these days range from simple data represented logically using symbols and icons to complex and visually explicit examples such as Langwitches Visible Thinking Routines.

Story telling with Data

In her informative post, Silvia Tolisano (Langwitches) describes Inforgraphics as “Telling a story with data” and it is with this in mind that we should be careful to consider the types of layout that can be used when designing an Infographic. From symmetrical comparisons to timeline designs, each help the viewer to track through the content, just as a story takes you from introduction to conclusion. In order to start you on your own Infographic, Kelly asks us these 3 questions:

What story is it telling? What pattern should I use? What data do we need?

DIY Infographics – getting it right

There are many websites these days that can help you to make your own Infographic (and links galore at Kathy Schrock’s Guide to Everything). But you don’t really need a dedicated app or website to make one yourself as everything is available on software such as Pages, you just need some creative thinking, a simple approach and the data itself.

Information can be overwhelming but occasionally data can also be inaccurate or just plain wrong and it is crucial that we know first that the data is correct and that the source it came from is reliable. Once we establish this and have filtered and sorted it, we can look at the best way to use it and create something visually understandable and clearly communicable. Start small, think context, then design – what is the big message?
Often when I am creating my Visual notes I have to sift through much information before deciding the main message to get across and then decide what the main points are that I want to communicate. It is in this same process that an Infographic can be developed. What is the message? What do you want to say? How can this be shown more visually? How might you sort the data or information? How can colour and layout help or hinder this process?

Creating and Collecting Data

Start with something you know to be true. For example: How many cups of tea (or coffee or even water consumption) you have in a week, month, year or what percentage of your food is sugar or how much exercise you take in a week. Convert this big message into a visual by taking your own photograph to form the backdrop, much like the Poop or cups examples above. You could use simple symbols from flaticon or the noun project to visualise the individual points, add in some text or data and hey presto an Infographic is born. Try it with your students – what do they know about or what interests them? Get them to create the data and there you have authentically sourced Infographics. Then share them online so others can benefit from your visuals too. Flickr has a wonderful range of Inforgraphics here if you are not sick of them yet!
Think how can you interpret other information more visually – the minutes of a meeting, the steps in a unit plan or the details or characters in a book?
It may take you or your students more time to create in this way, but if you keep the concept (and the drawings or images) simple, and the structure clear, it will prove invaluable for retaining and recalling the information over time.
Trust me, I know! My talk in Bangkok a few weeks ago depended on this statement and all 92 slides helped me to remember what I needed to say to the audience at Learning 2 without the need for notes or a script.

And, if you’re interested and have just over 5 minutes to spare you can see a version of it for my final assignment in the final blog post for Course 3.

Ink - Learning 2 Talk by Paula Guinto at Learning 2 Singapore 2013, visual note by Nicki Hambleton

Ink – Learning 2 Talk by Paula Guinto at Learning 2 Singapore 2013, visual note by Nicki Hambleton

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin….

As a child I remember being told stories, reading stories and hearing stories on the TV. I loved the stories my dad told me about his days in the Film industry and his meetings with famous people. When I was very small there a was a fantastic programme called Jackanory, the title taken from an old English nursery rhyme. Each day a celebrity would read from the week’s chosen story, sitting in a big armchair. Some of my favourites were Bernard Cribbins and Rik Mayall for their sheer brilliance in creating funny voices and captivating any viewer, young or old.

Photo Credit: Rickydavid via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Rickydavid via Compfight cc

As a parent, my two boys were brought up on stories and would love to choose a book to be read to them. I have vivid memories or reading and rereading Owl Babies by Martin Waddell night after night in between Bob the Builder and other such childhood classics! Nowadays they read themselves but I occasionally sneak a moment of reading David Walliams books as I am certain they are written as much for adults as they are for children! (If you have young boys do read Billionaire Boy – the school dinner menus are pure genius writing!)

As a teacher, the room goes quiet, even with HS students, when you ask them if they want to hear something personal that happened to you or you say those magic words, “Let me tell you a story about..” The conversations stop, their eyes turn towards you and hey presto you have a captive audience. That is the power of words and the impact a story can have. I expect you too can remember a book you read that kept you gripped and you can recall how you felt when it ended.

As an educator I learn so much from English teachers about engaging others through stories. About a year ago, at Learning 2 Singapore, a colleague of mine Paula Guinto spoke of how she came to be telling her own story and how she had begun her storytelling from journals as a child to blogging as an adult. She encouraged us all to find our own voice and to believe that we all have a story.

As adults we still love the idea of a story and apparently the cable TV channel Dave continued the success of Jackanory but this time for an adult audience calling it Crackanory. I can’t wait to look that one up on Youtube!

Twitter is a form of mini blogging and a great way to start, but blogging takes many forms. By scrolling the internet we can connect with others of similar interests and learn new things through their posts. Jabiz Raisdana uses blogging to share the stories from his Grade 8 class and there are many examples on this blog that show the power students have and the standard they can reach through this media.

Photo Credit: Danny Montemayor via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Danny Montemayor via Compfight cc

Once upon a Time

What is it about stories that draws us in? How can we incorporate stories into our teaching and how can we use technology to bring these stories to life and engage our students in their learning?

Most recently a post was doing the rounds on Facebook about The Book with No Pictures by B J Novak. Now as an art teacher, this intrigued me. How could a book with no images engage an audience? and that is where the twist came. Watch this video to understand more….

This aside, every image tells a story and none more so than photographs. As I mentioned in a previous post, photographs are a powerful way to connect with the audience but also to help them to interpret or understand. I showed this following video to my Grade 8s last year as they started a photography unit and the conversations that flowed were indeed powerful.

We all love to hear a story, it helps us drift back to our childhood, step out of our stress filled lives and into another. Stories help us to connect with the person and find out more about them, to discover connections or differences and to understand who they are and where they are from.

The idea of storytelling goes back to early man documenting their conquests on the walls of their caves through pictures. Storytelling recounts events or incidents, can be a form of entertainment or cultural preservation.

Storytelling is a huge part of all cultures from The Dreaming stories of the indigenous people of Australia to the engaging stories from Ghana. We find out more about the culture by listening to the stories continued for hundreds of years and can preserve a piece of history in doing so. When I was living in Ghana we used a local puppeteer to tell traditional stories, one memorable one being of Anansi, a trickster and West African God who takes the form of a spider.

We all love to watch movies and these too follow traditional and non-traditional forms to recount or share a story. Walt Disney was one of the most prolific storytellers and his animations almost always had a strong message or moral behind them.

The Scriptlab shares the Top 10 central themes common in films from Revenge to Love Conquers all and you can learn more from Alan Levine (@cogdog) who teaches Digital Storytelling and film studies through DS106. When he came to Singapore a few years ago he talked about the way effective documentaries use specific shots to capture the story. Through his blog and website there is a wonderful expansive source of ideas and inspiration including this link to 50 ways to tell a story. It is sure to give you many ideas for incorporating storytelling.

But what is our story and how can we use stories in our teaching?

Photo Credit: CJS*64 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: CJS*64 via Compfight cc

What’s in a story?

There are many gurus that we can learn from who have a strong focus on storytelling including Alan Levine. Jane Ross, Digital Literacy coach at JIS, has had much success over the years with her young students publishing their stories using Book Creator. You can read more and see examples of student created books on her blog.

Books are now far more interactive and engaging through technology and there are many examples to choose from.

One such gorgeous example and following my family fascination with Alice in Wonderland is Alice for the iPad and you can see others on this article.

Ex-Pixar designer, William Joyce has used his incredible skills to create The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore and this demonstrates the versatility of how ebooks are heading.

Rob Appino, MS Technology learning facilitator at South Saigon International School, recently ran a fabulous pre-conference at Learning 2 on Immersive storytelling and Game design and you can see his resources from the course here. One of the most intriguing parts to me is the use of multi-modal learning.

Telling the story helps students to document a process, recount an experience or a trip and helps them to develop good habits and strategies in essay writing – tempting the reader/audience: introduction, content and ending


As an artist, my ambition throughout most of my adult life has been to follow in the daunting footsteps of my father who illustrated  a book by Fay McGregor called Alice in Starland. I am worried that the process may affect me in the same way it did him, as I inherited his perfectionism and tough self criticism, but I am determined to pursue it. One day.

With the inclusion of technology anything is possible and the idea to do this more in my sights. But the story? I am no writer and I certainly do not know what I would write about, maybe there is a writer out there who would be interested in my style, digital or traditional? Maybe then I can help my ambition to come to life……..

One of the most engaging and inspirational use of stories with technology I have seen is documented on this TED talk. I urge you to watch this gorgeous video and fail to be impressed and inthralled.


More than just a story

Photo Credit: Cian Ginty via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Cian Ginty via Compfight cc

I cannot help but reflect back on the past week and Learning 2 in Bangkok. I will not bore you anymore with my Keynote (although for those suckers you will see a version of it on my final Blog post for Course 3!) as I have lamented it for many months and several blog posts! But I cannot help but look back on the process of these talks and the affects on the audience. For a Keynote to be effective, one must connect with the audience, right? In comes storytelling, recounting a situation, retelling an event or telling a funny situation. But to me, it is much more than that. I need to take something away, a message, a strategy or something I can ponder and apply to my own teaching or life.

Did we do this?

Reflecting hard is a tough thing to do and, as a Brit, I am naturally self critical, but recounting the talks this year there was a strong emphasis on storytelling. But was the message clearly communicated too? In order for us to grow as educators we need to learn, rethink or change our thinking and a strong or subtle message can do this. Sam Sherratt made me rethink and reminded me of where I started from in capturing ideas as a child, at university and even in recent years. I have a multitude of Bubble catchers (sketchbooks) from my years as a designer and thinker and it is lovely to see my youngest son has a similar affliction with notebooks. In these bubble catchers he remembers counties of England (!), plans potential menus and of course captures types of cars and names for his youtube channels of the future! So too did John Rinker take me back to time past and helped me to refocus my thoughts on getting out into the open more and making the world big again – how often do we do that?

The future of Learning 2 talks must incorporate this element if it is to be successful in engaging educators into action and helping them too to find their direction and passion. Who knows, like me they may end up on stage next year.

Photo Credit: Untitled blue via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Untitled blue via Compfight cc

What’s next?

I love Storify and how it can document the development of or reflect back on an online story on Twitter and I can see a real use for this in our learning. Currently on their website you can find out about Malala Yousafzai and embedding Getty images in your story. Has anyone used Storify in the classroom?

Whilst drawing the Learning 2 Talks last year I found real learning myself in capturing the main message and integrating visual metaphors to communicate the idea. Following on from this, I would like to reflect on my takeaways this year by revisiting the talks when they come out on youtube and to capture them through simple visual notes like last years cogs. I am hoping that through this it will reconnect me and others to the message and the story being told and to help us to take our own ideas and interpretations forward into practice. Watch this space…..

But how can we use digital storytelling in our classrooms?

For me, my next unit with Grade 8 is Documentary Photography and, in previous years I have set the task to take photos to tell a mundane task or a simple story. This year I would like to include more technology, starting with simple slides and images, and incorporating voice and visual??

At this stage I do not have the expertise or the time to implement a unit on ebooks or animated illustrations but I do have many ideas to incorporate animated gifs and augmented reality to extend the image beyond and incorporate movement to track the story.

As usual I have too many ideas and must leave some in the depths of my planning to fester and rise up in the future. I am lucky to be in a department where I can devise my own curriculum and involve these kinds of new direction and , it is only October and I have the whole year ahead of me.

You may not be a great storyteller yourself or you may think you do not have a story to tell, but perhaps your students do. Maybe they don’t know it yet, but it is up to us to draw this out of them and help them to document their learning in a different way, using storytelling as a start. Perhaps this will be  the start of something new for some of them.