Teacher Feature #32 – Assessment Today

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As an educator who taught junior and senior high students (Grades 7-12) Mathematics and Computer Science, I was proud of my assessment strategies. The percentage mark that appeared on each of my student’s report cards was extremely precise. In fact, it was so accurate that I never had any difficulty explaining to parents the mathematical formula that I used to determine each grade.

Teacher Feature-32 -Irmeli  Halinen

Teacher Feature #32 – Irmeli Halinen – October, 2013

However over the years, K-12 assessment has moved from my somewhat analytic procedure to a more anecdotal process to better capture the essence of the individual student’s strengths and weaknesses.

One of my past serendipitous learning opportunities, led me via Twitter to Joe Bower’s thought-provoking blog “for the love of learning”, which was subtitled “Assessment is not a spreadsheet — it’s a conversation”. I was so impressed with this assessment quotation, that I emailed Joe asking who was the originator of this powerful idea. He replied that he had heard this awesome statement from Irmeli Halinen who was Head of Curriculum Development for the Finnish National Board of Education. For more background, Joe recommended I read his blog post entitled “Irmeli Halinen on Finnish Curriculum”.

As I was writing this post and reviewing Joe’s blog, I was once again, by chance, exposed to a powerful assessment question entitled “Who Will Pack Your Parachute?” by Cherra-Lynne Olthof.  For those, like me, who used to feel so confident with our formula-driven, assessment procedures, this parachute packing anaolgy might causes us to think differently. Do you not agree?

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”

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Photos, Passion, and Pedagogy

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This past summer I attended a funeral. When one reaches their retirement years, it seems only natural to attend more funerals of friends and loved-ones.

However, as friends of his grandparents, my wife and I attended the funeral of a 19 year old youth. Scott Wachal left his family and friends much too early but he also left me with an important message.

Lense for an Eye

Scott’s unique talents and creativity were demonstrated by the wealth of memories shared through objects in the vestibule of the church together with the inspirational video tribute. Regardless of whether it was his violin that he played as a 9 year old busker, or his Irish dancing tap shoes, or his skate-boarding and free-style skiing tricks, it was his creative images, sketches, and photographs that caught my eye.

I believe that Scott’s view of life was influenced greatly by what he observed and what he captured in his photos. In fact, the following assignment, which was shared in his Order of Service, reinforced in me the importance of pictures:

8   Describe an event or idea that has become very influential on your life.

When I was in the sixth grade, my grandpa passed away due to liver cancer. My grandpa loved me deeply and I loved him back, however I didn’t see him all that often and I wasn’t super close with him.

I remember at his funeral, and throughout the following years, hearing endless stories and memories about my grandpa. Everyone has such positive things to say about him, and there was so much about him that i never knew. I remember feeling really sad that I hadn’t spent more time with him and really appreciated all his good qualities.

I think my feelings of regret and sadness after my grandpa’s death have sparked a need inside me to take in as much as I can from the people around me. I carry my camera around with me everywhere, trying to capture my friends and family living and breathing to the fullest extent. I pay greater attention to the character of a person and try to appreciate all aspects of their personality.

~ Scott Wachal

True … not everyone has the same passion for capturing life through a camera as Scott, but I do believe that all students today can learn much more about life when they view the world through a camera lens.

Today it seems that more and more students have access to a digital camera or smartphone. Although a past Panasonic ad campaign declared that “If it has a ring tone, it’s not a camera”, most students would disagree. Having immediate access to these pocket-sized, picture-taking devices allows one to capture many unique and serendipitous moments.

The question that remains is … “How can we, as educators, help students express their creativity through their photos?”

To help readers, I have a arranged below a variety of resources to help engage students in taking and sharing creative photos:

  • Darren Kuropatwa’s SlideShare entitled “Don’t Just Shoot” – Although today’s  students have the opportunity to take more pictures, they still need to understand what makes a photo look really good.

[slideshare id=18474541&doc=dontjustshoot-130409083404-phpapp02]


All educators are encouraged to review, download, and share this presentation which illustrates “five photographic composition techniques: the rule of thirds, framing, fill the frame, lines and forced perspective.”

  • Basics of Photography: The Complete Guide Want an extensive resource on how a digital camera works, its automatic and manual settings, together with composition and editing tips? If so, check out this online Lifehacker night school resource.
  • DS106 – Daily Create – Photography Archives – Educators may want to stimulate students to take a creative photo each day or once a week and share them with the class. The DS106 Digital Storytelling course includes a number of creative prompts to engage students in taking pictures from different perspectives.
  • Ideas For Using The Digital Camera In The Primary Classroom – This SlideShare resource, of 17 frames, includes such innovative ideas as “What am I?”, digital portrait flip-book, and images taken from an ant’s perspective. Each activity displays an important “WALT” (We Are Learning Today) prompt.
  • The Digital Camera in Education – This site focuses on how the digital cameras in today’s mobile phones can be integrated into the educational process.
  • Image with a Message – Rather than have students search online for a Creative Commons image, challenge students to use a camera to capture their own background photo to which their favourite quotation is added.
  • Small World Pictures – Innovative ideas in both the blog post and comments that demonstrate how interesting images can be created by introducing small (HO gauge) figures into the picture.
  • Using Pictures to Create Rubrics – Although this “Picture Rubric”  is shared as a primary assessment tool, this strategy can be applied to many subjects at different grade levels.
  • Digital Photography Rubric – This extensive Word (.doc) file provides a detailed photography project rubric to provide students with important feedback on original images.
  • Photography Rubric – This PDF document was used by the Markville Secondary School’s yearbook team to help students improve on their photography techniques and documentation.

In closing, I began this post with an “eye-catching” photo created by Rachel Chapman. Not only does this manipulated image capture my imagination, it also reminds me of the important proverb that Scott Wachal believed in … “Beauty is in the ‘eye’ of the beholder”.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Credits: – Flickr – Creative Commons image “Look at us through the lens of a camera…” by Rachel Chapman
– http://www.flickr.com/photos/63697491@N00/2235381210/

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Teacher Feature #31 – Ask Questions To Learn

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Today’s “Teacher Feature” remix has a special connection for me. I have been lucky throughout my educational career, both as a student and as a teacher, to have usually felt confident enough to ask questions if I did not understand. For some students, this can be a challenging task. However, with human knowledge currently doubling every 13 months and, with IBM predicting in the next couple of years, knowledge will double every 12 hours, it will be impossible to know even a small amount of all the answers.

Ask Questions to Learn

Teacher Feature #31 – Chinese Proverb – September, 2013

Although I am able to increase my knowledge and tap into vast resources of information on the Internet, it is still my friends and colleagues in my Personal Learning Network (PLN) who help me find meaningful answers to my questions.

As teachers we should foster collaborative activities in our classrooms to encourage students to ask questions and learn as much as possible from their classmates.

Perhaps Bruce Lee said it best … “A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.”

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”

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I’m “standing on the shoulders of giants”.

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Over the past two years, I have been inspired by the creative activities, sharing, and reflective feedback of members of an important learning community. Digital Storytelling (or DS106) is a free, open online course hosted at the University of Mary Washington. It is an unique learning environment. One may join and leave whenever one wants while becoming engaged in learning to “tell digital stories” through more than 400 creative assignments and related components.

For example, today’s “Daily Create” #541 challenged participants to “Draw something abstract out of straight lines.”

My creation below, requires one to “read between the lines”:


This design reflects, in many ways, the actions of my personal learning network or PLN. Like the straight-line components, my network and support team works in the background with little fanfare. In fact, “They make me look good!” Through a variety of social networking apps (including old-fashioned email), they recommend and reflect on new ideas while renewing my passion for learning and sharing in K-12 education.

As Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” To all my PLN “giants”, be they students, teachers, family, or friends, I thank you all for caring and sharing.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Credits: – Flickr – Creative Commons image “Standing on the shoulders of giants”
by Brian Metcalfe
– http://www.flickr.com/photos/life-long-learners/9195860670/

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Teacher Feature #30 – Focus on the Future

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As the Canadian school year officially draws to a close today, I thought I’d take time to reflect on the future.

The Future - Yogi Berra

Teacher Feature #30 – Yogi Berra – June, 2013

To help readers understand my “future perspective”, I thought I’d share the process I use to create my monthly “Teacher Feature”. My procedure is based on an activity I created called “Image with a Message“. I maintain a list of thought-provoking, educationally-related quotations. Whenever I wish to create a “Teacher Feature” image, I choose an appropriate quotation. Next, I use the Flickr advanced search process to select a Creative Commons-licensed image which gives one permission to “modify, adapt, or build upon”. After downloading the appropriate image, I insert it into PowerPoint, add the quotation and Flickr URL credit line, and save the resulting slide as a “Teacher Feature” image.

While searching my list for an applicable June “Teacher Feature” quotation, I thought that Yogi Berra’s statement about the future seemed fitting. In particular, the future of education has changed dramatically over the years as technology and the Internet resources have impacted on students and staff.

When I began teaching Grades 7 & 8 Mathematics, the future was so much simpler. As a new  teacher, I could focus exclusively on curriculum. For me, there were fewer non-classroom-related issues. By comparison, today’s teachers have to worry about a plethora of responsibilities and are often forced to teach a multitude of different subjects to a wide variety of student needs.

True, I did “network” and share resources and ideas with other Mathematics-teaching colleagues in our school. However, with the introduction of technology, the Internet, email, blogs and a host of social media apps, teachers today can “connect” with teachers within their same school with the same ease as like-minded teachers throughout the world.

Without a doubt, I believe the key to survival of overworked educators is to belong to a supportive Personal Learning Network (PLN). To better understand what my PLN means to me, I encourage readers to peruse my earlier post entitled “My PLN: A Teacher’s Resource“. In fact, it was a serendipitous sharing opportunity that motivated me to write about the power of joining a PLN to be better prepared for the future.

As you recall, I had already selected Yogi Berra’s quotation “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Normally, I would have proceeded to the advanced Flickr search to find an image that I could use to enhance the quotation. However, I first happened to check a series of tweets of individuals and educators that I follow on Twitter.

In scanning my tweet feeds, I was intrigued by the following “Cloud busting” message shared by Darren Kuropatwa. Darren is a talented Curriculum Coordinator for Digital Learning with the St. James Assiniboia School Division. When I clicked on the link in Darren’s tweet, his creative Instagram image was displayed.

Darren Kuropatwa Tweet

Darren’s innovative image of clouds, viewed through a pair of glasses, was a perfect image to complement Yogi Berra’s quote about the future. So, it was Darren’s sharing of his creative image, that motivated me to write this June’s “Teacher Feature”.

Below his innovative image of clouds viewed through a pair of glasses, Darren asks viewers “What do you see?” ….

I see educators connecting and sharing resources so that the future with technology can be an exciting place where students and teachers learn together.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”

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The Importance of Intangible Talents

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As the end of the school year fast approaches, teachers start to focus on final assessment. Too often, in the teaching profession, both educators and their students measure progress by “the almighty mark”. Today, I want to reflect on the importance of viewing students more holistically and suggesting that both teachers and students work through an assessment process that gives important consideration to the intangible qualities that we all have.


The idea of focusing on this important theme was indeed a collaborative family endeavour. It started with our younger son who is working as a computer engineer in an American software development company. He recently told me how his colleagues were saddened to learn that one of their engineering team members was “poached” by another firm. Apparently this happens frequently in the IT industry, where technical skills are in high demand and companies regularly entice perspective employees from other firms.

When this individual approached his management team, indicating that he had a “better offer” with another firm, a decision was made to let him go. The remaining staff members were disappointed that management did not appear to negotiate to keep him. Rather than focus exclusively on his talents in programming, they overlooked (in the eyes of his colleagues) the important intangible qualities that this person demonstrated. Rather than just being friends with his team-members in the programming section, he had important social qualities that allowed him to mix equally-well with individuals in all departments within the company. Furthermore, he was the catalyst that organized activities for all company members on weekends and outside regular work hours. Our son felt that this individual’s social endeavours, which fostered a special camaraderie and support for colleagues both at work as well as after-hours, had a very positive spin on the way many of the employees functioned and that the company benefited indirectly from this supportive intangible quality.

When I discussed this situation with our elder son, who is in a management position with a local Winnipeg firm, he said that it is very important to be aware of the “intangibles” that all people bring to the work environment. As educators, we know how we welcome the support of those who light up the room with their presence, willingly share suggestions, tips and resources and are always there to support us.

Let me illustrate the importance of intangibles by showcasing the unique activities that Canadian astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield demonstrated during his recent visit to the International Space Station (ISS) from December 19, 2012 to May 13, 2013. Although I believe that Commander Hadfield is an outstanding astronaut, I’m sure there were others who could have acted as commander and carried out related duties in a responsible fashion. However, in my mind, it was the extra “intangibles” that Chris Hadfield demonstrated that make him such an outstanding ambassador for the space program. For a start, Forbes described  Hadfield as “perhaps the most social media savvy astronaut ever to leave Earth”. With over 930,000 Twitter followers as of May 2013, together with his innovative YouTube videos, Hadfield was welcomed into conversations around many dinner tables. Whether Hadfield was providing insights into his duties Controlling the ISS, or the more personal daily hygienic routines of How To Brush Your Teeth in Space, or the challenges of using The Space Toilet, he shared information through amazing videos in a relaxed, informative manner with which we all could identify.

As an educator, I was particularly engaged in learning as Hadfield shared his “space experiment videos” which often answered questions posed by students. Although they ranged from the more simplistic How do you use Math in Space? to those involving the effects of zero gravity such as Can you cry in Space? or What happens when you wring out a wet wash cloth in Space?, Hadfield engaged his YouTube audience members through his short and informative videos. The culmination of Hadfield’s intangible talents were demonstrated in the following innovative “space to earth” musical collaboration with Ed Robertson of the Barenaked Ladies and the Wexford Gleeks singing “I.S.S. – Is Somebody Singing”:

Chris Hadfield and Barenaked Ladies: I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing)

Undoubtedly, the collaborative endeavour shown in this video is literally “out of this world”. Yet Hadfield continued to push the envelope and engaged close to a million students from across Canada and around the world to help him simultaneously sing “Is Somebody Singing” as part of the Music Monday initiative.

Obviously, Hadfield’s skills and talents were developed over a lifetime. However, we as teachers, need to be cognizant of the hidden “intangible talents” of all our students. To illustrate this process, I turn to experiences that my wife, who taught elementary children for 32 years, has shared with me. Like many educators, that I have had the privilege to work with, she was an extremely dedicated teacher. However, in my mind, her greatest “intangible talent” was her ability to foster self-worth and confidence within all her students. Students in her classes knew they were part of an important classroom family, where inclusion was reinforced on a daily basis. Rather than focus exclusively on “marks”, she made certain that her Special Needs students knew that they were indeed “special” and that they all had hidden talents that others needed to appreciate.

When preparing to write this blog post, I was discussing with my sister my belief that all students have “intangibles” that teachers need to recognize. After mentioning my wife’s passion for finding the hidden talents in her students, it was my sister who asked if I had ever heard the message about “Johnny the Bagger”?

When I admitted that I was unaware of this story, she suggested I search the Internet to learn how a young man was able to use his “intangible talents” to foster goodwill and develop a sense of community.

The following true story is told by Barbara Glanz:

A few years ago, I was hired by a large supermarket chain to lead a customer service program – to build customer loyalty.

During my speech I said, “Every one of you can make a difference and create memories for your customers that will motivate them to come back. How? Put your personal signature on the job.

Think about something you can do for your customer to make them feel special – a memory that will make them come back.”

About a month after I had spoken, I received a call from a nineteen year-old bagger named Johnny.

He proudly informed me that he was a Down Syndrome individual and told me his story.

“I liked what you talked about!” he said, “but at first I didn’t think I could do anything special for our customers.

After all, I’m just a bagger.

“Then I had an idea!” Johnny said.

“Every night after work, I’d come home and find a thought for the day.”

“If I can’t find a saying I like,” he added, “I just think one up!”

When Johnny had a good “Thought for the Day”, his dad helped him set it up on the computer and print multiple copies.

Johnny cut out each quote and signed his name on the back. Then he’d bring them to work the next day.

“When I finished bagging someone’s groceries, I put my thought for the day in their bag and say, Thanks for shopping with us.”

It touched me to think that this young man – with a job most people would say is not important – had made it important by creating precious memories for all his customers.

A month later the store manager called me…

“You won’t believe what happened. When I was making my rounds today, I found Johnny’s checkout line was three times longer than anyone else’s!

It went all the way down the frozen food aisle. So I quickly announced, ‘We need more cashiers; get more lanes open!’ as I tried to get people to change lanes. But no one would move.

They said, ‘No, it’s okay – we want to be in Johnny’s lane – we want his ‘Thought for the Day.’”

The store manager continued, “It was a joy to watch Johnny delight the customers.”

“I got a lump in my throat when one woman said, ‘I used to shop at your store once a week, but now I come in every time I go by, because I want to get Johnny’s ‘Thought for the Day.’”

A few months later, the manager called me again…

Johnny has transformed our store.

Now when the floral department has a broken flower or unused corsage, they find an elderly woman or a little girl and pin it on them.”

Everyone’s having a lot of fun creating memories.

Our customers are talking about us… they’re coming back, and bringing their friends.

A wonderful spirit of service spread throughout the entire store… and all because Johnny chose to make a difference!

Johnny’s idea wasn’t nearly as innovative as it was loving. It came from the heart – it was real. That’s what touched his customers, his peers… and those who read this story.

Great service comes from the heart…

Will you be a Johnny today?

In summary, I encourage educators to pay particular attention to their students and to seek out and identify the powerful “intangible talents” that each student has. Furthermore, by modelling your own “intangibles”, be it your positive outlook, your compassion, your energy, your sense of humour, your ability to focus on assets rather than disabilities, your support of colleagues, or your gift of being a good listener, you will demonstrate to your students how an individual can be recognized as much more than a good teacher … namely, a great teacher.

Lastly, I feel that it is so very important that I acknowledge the “intangible talents” of my immediate family, who have provided me with the important ideas and insights that I have shared with you.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Credits: – Flickr – Creative Commons image “Today I am mostly …” by Danny Nicholson
– http://www.flickr.com/photos/dannynic/6924278976/

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Teacher Feature #29 – Learning from Experiences

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My father was a very wise man. He claimed that he got to be so smart because he attended “the school of hard knocks”. Ever an optimist, he said that it was important to learn from one’s experiences. In creating this month’s “Teacher Feature”, I was thinking of Dad’s outlook when I searched for motivational quotations and found the following Chinese Proverb that definitely applies to both students and teachers.

Teacher Feature-29

Teacher Feature #29 – Chinese Proverb – May, 2013

My own experience was enhanced today as I searched for the components of this month’s “Teacher Feature”. As many of my readers know, these motivational or thought-provoking messages are created following the steps outlined in my “Image with a Message” educational activity. When I decided to enhance this Chinese Proverb, I used the Flickr Advance Search process to find a Creative Commons-licensed photo that gave me permission to “modify, adapt or build upon”.

I searched through several photos before I chose this one, depicting a student falling down stairs. However, my experience was definitely enhanced, when I discovered that although I could have selected a photo from a multitude of world-wide Flickr contributors, the image I finally chose had a very important connection. This photo was taken by middle-years students from the province, of Manitoba, where I live. Furthermore, it was shared online, as part of a Bias Photo activity, by their teacher Clarence Fisher from Snow Lake, who I have met on several occasions and follow on Twitter.

In summary, not only was I able to create my monthly “Teacher Feature”, I was able to experience and learn from other students and teachers who willingly shared their Creative Commons-licensed photos. Thanks to Mr. Fisher and his talented students for making my experience so positive.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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Teacher Feature #28 – Pay It Forward Day

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I must admit that I look forward to reading the regular Saturday’s “Random Acts of Kindness” page in our local Winnipeg Free Press newspaper. With all the drama and sensationalism, that is often dispensed through our news media, it is so refreshing to read about individuals who do good deeds for others without any thought of thanks in return.

For this month’s “Teacher Feature” remix or mashup, I thought that I’d attempt to accomplish two tasks – one to inspire and one to remind:

Teacher Feature 28 - Pay It Forward Day

Teacher Feature #28 – Aesop – April, 2013

Following the inspiring pattern that I have established in my previous 27 “Teacher Feature” remixes, I blended a powerful message with a complementary Creative Commons licensed photo, together with its Flickr address. However, I also took the liberty of including a reminder for teachers and students that, each year, the last Thursday in April is reserved as “Pay It Forward Day”. Unfortunately, due to family commitments, I have not recently been blogging as regularly as I would like. As such, I missed giving adequate warning this year of the very powerful teaching opportunity of the “Pay It Forward Day”. It is hoped that teachers will print out this image reminder, or at least mark their calendars well in advance, to take advantage of this teaching opportunity in future years. Perhaps, Aristotle said it best … “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”

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Pay It Forward Day – April 25, 2013

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As a classroom teacher, are you looking for an activity which will engage your students? If so, I recommend that you and your students investigate the “Pay It Forward Day” resource. Although the official day is tomorrow, the last Thursday in April, I still feel that this idea has merit and can be implemented on any day or during any week, and still have amazing, positive results.

I was inspired by the “Pay It Forward Day” founder, Charley Johnson’s TED Talk “Simplicity in a Complex World” in which he states that a world-wide universal truth is that “we all want this world to be better”. As a teacher, I encourage you to start by reviewing the “Pay It Forward Day” video trailer or Charley Johnson’s, “Pay It Forward 2013″ message.

To help your students understand the important ripple effect in paying a good deed forward, I recommend the YouTube “Kindness Boomerang” video. I’d recommend exploring the on-line school resources and downloading and printing the applicable grade level “Pay It Forward Day” card as shown below:

Pay It Forward Day Card - Primary

If you are unable to act on this opportunity in a timely manner, I encourage you to begin sharing the “Pay It Forward” concept and ideas with your students throughout the remainder of this year. However, make certain that you mark, the last Thursday in April next year (April 24, 2014), as a reminder of the important teaching opportunity that awaits you and your students.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

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Teacher Feature #27 – Never look down …

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This month’s “Teacher Feature” displays the results of my “Image with a Message” activity. I believe that all students, regardless of subject area, should be able to use technology to accomplish the following three basic tasks:

  • search the Internet critically;
  • enhance projects with images from Creative Commons; and
  • give appropriate credit.

Help Them Up 400x300

Teacher Feature #27 – Jesse Jackson – March, 2013

To create this combination visual display, I first searched through a variety of motivational quote sites. I particularly like resources such as “Brainy Quote”, “Motivational and Inspirational Quotes”, or “World of Quotes” because it is possible to search for quotations by topics such as “Education” or “Teaching”.

Once, I had selected this powerful quotation by Jesse Jackson, I then began using the Flickr Advanced Search mechanism to search for Creative Commons licensed images that I could “modify, adapt, or build upon”. I entered the terms “reach” and “hand”, into the upper Flickr search field, and was delighted to find this powerful “Reaching Hand” image by Brett Sayer. I downloaded the “large” size of this Creative Commons image and recorded the Internet URL address for giving proper credit.

Although there are many ways that Jesse Jackson’s quotation and the Internet address could be added to this image, I chose to use PowerPoint. I simply start with a blank slide and inserted the downloaded image into the slide format. Once the image was positioned appropriately, I inserted text boxes to contain the quotation, the individual, and the Flickr credit address.

The last step in the process is to use PowerPoint’s “Save as > Other Formats” and pick “JPEG File Interchange Format (*.jpg)” under the “Save as type” category. On the next screen, one need only select “Current Slide Only” and save the resulting remix image to your computer.

Once I publish the remix in a blog post, I usually try to remember to go back to the site of the original Flickr image and enter a comment thanking the individual for sharing her/his creative images with me through the Creative Commons process.

I trust that some readers may be able to use this “Image with a Message” activity with their own students.

Take care & keep smiling :-)

Larger Image: Brian Metcalfe’s Teacher Feature “photostream”

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