Incorporating Words Into Images


Most would agree that “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Perhaps strangely, allow me to make the case that sometimes there is also value in distilling those thousand words into a scant few. This little post is a bit of practical sharing meant to point to two things: a cute little iOS application, and a few quick examples of its practical use. Oh, and really, I wouldn’t be doing it here if it wasn’t worth at least a handful of words as well.

informal academic writing experiences

Once upon a time, I enjoyed doing the occasional “check out this fancy new tool” post, particularly for the local folks with whom I work. Looking back, it seems that most of those posts were logged within my first year of writing here. Though today it has become far easier to point to shiny tools using the quick and dirty practicality of Twitter, this one seemed fun enough to bring back into this space.

We all have our own modes of sharing, and while I’m as proud of an original podcast or video as anyone, it seems I have a preference for words in print. I share a pretty respectable percentage of the things I create in one way or another. And as likely most of us do, we tend to share those things in which we see value, and also those that we anticipate others might find valuable as well. In thinking about it, for whatever reason, I tend to be more confident in sharing carefully-selected words. I guess I enjoy lining up words that altogether either communicate or sell an idea I am grappling with, or believe in a great deal.

THREATENED: Caribbean Corals

If you’ve been here before, you might also know that I dig photography as well. I think this goes hand in hand with being a biology teacher. Both images above were originally snapped on student field studies in the midst of the natural world we were learning about at the time. Adding a fascination with images into a love of words naturally equals an interest in all sorts of creative typography.

So what?

What does this nifty little $2 app get us? The people who might get mileage out of this one will likely see the value instantly. From a purely practical standpoint as an educator, if you only create one graphic that helps to communicate an idea, then the $2 is worth the outlay. WordFoto is not Photoshop. It is not Illustrator. It only does one thing, and it does so rather simply. If you can get your image of choice into an iOS device, you can manipulate it with ease. And though I’d like a little more control over contrast, etc., once you have a .jpg inside of a web-connected device, the sky is the limit in terms of sharing. What idea would you like to convey?

How many dots are on your map?

Inspired by a question Will Richardson asked SJSD administrators this past September: "How many dots are on your 'map'?" (click to embiggen)

Several folks I admire have led sessions where participants were invited to mashup powerful ideas and images. Both Punya Mishra and Dean Shareski often try to push educators to begin to think in multiple media simultaneously. In my opinion, these exercises are always valuable. Because this type of thinking is so different for many, it pushes us almost instantly into a more playful mindset. That sort of mindset can squeeze creativity out of those who think they haven’t had a creative thought in some time. That reality equals valuable time spent for all educators.


When playing around with WordFoto for the first time today over morning coffee, I was instantly reminded of these exercises. In trolling through a few images on my phone, I created the images displayed in this post, as well as those within this Flickr set. Technically, WordFoto reminds me a bit of another nifty $2 iOS app called Percolator. This app helps to create abstracted versions of images much like this one of a reef shark on our honeymoon. Here is the same image from WordFoto using only the work “SHARK.” The important difference in this app is that it actually uses words to accomplish the abstraction. And that, to me, is a potentially significant leap. From here, we can quickly and easily incorporate words and ideas into the very fabric of images. Sure, posting contrasting text over a powerful image will always be a cool thing. And yet, this app allows something novel and interesting. Like several other techniques, if done well, it can even be used to synthesize something beyond the mere images or words themselves.

In memorial

Appropriately for the day, the first image that stuck out to me while trolling through images on my phone was this one, taken at Arlington Cemetery while at ISTE 2009. The version below (particularly when seen at full resolution) helps to convey the sentiment on my mind this morning while comfortably sipping coffee and playing with fancy toys…

Unknown Soldier

To sum things up, pictures are worth thousands of words. Sometimes, however, it might be valuable to distill a few of those words to the surface to make a point. We aren’t all graphic artists who can make Adobe’s Creative Suite sing. However, I also see value in quickly providing a scaffold for the rest of us to engage in the kind of visual thinking provided by simple, inexpensive apps. Perhaps this is one that could be a valuable gateway drug that gets more of us into the game. Care to play along?


I Am Network Literate

I am “network literate,” and thus, I am far less limited as a learner. I am not limited by my personal knowledge and skills, nor my personal affordances of time and or money. I am at the shifting center of an ever-changing, loosely-tied hub of humans and their products. Humans with varied backgrounds, interests, and perspectives.

Look up

I cannot know everything. I cannot even hope to know most things. The flow of human technical knowledge is said to double now every few days. And yet, our schools and our curricula are too often set up to rely on the teacher to be just that: the expert. Statistically-speaking, likely hundreds of books were published during your read of this blog post. If connecting to others has always been a human need, then what, if anything, has changed for the positive in the rather recent past? I suggest that it is a relatively dry tipping point in the construction of digital communication frameworks, tools and their subsequent adoption. The sheer speed and efficacy of digital communication turns this seemingly uninteresting milestone into a communications environment none of us were prepared for. It seems that the old adage “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” has finally found teeth in something other than a political sense.

Tree huggers in the most literal sense grab the critter by the trunk and hold on. And yet, the most interesting work is being done around the periphery, in the luminous green leaves at the tips of its existence. Each one stretching itself closer to the sun. I could go on and on with this rather imperfect yet interesting metaphor, but I have recently sworn to smaller posts. So let’s cut to the chase…

You are likely a node in my network in one or more ways. I read differently because of you. I think differently because of you  I likely even act differently because of you. Perhaps network literate is now merely a subset of literate in today’s world. Does that discount being able to digest rigorous text and ideas? Nope. Does that discount being able to craft a cogent argument? Nope. Does that discount the sense of knowing when to say what? Nope. Does it mean that all of this now happens at an exponentially fast pace in the real world? Yep. At what pace does real human discourse happen in our public schools? Has the process of how our students make meaning of the world changed? Should it have?

the worlds network

I am network literate. At least I think I am. Maybe not. Perhaps I’m overstating the magnitude of this shift. Thoughts?

Are you “network literate?”  Does it matter?


*”Look up” by James Thorpe on Flickr

*”the worlds network” by saschaaa on Flickr


Is This a Sluggish Strategy?

The following verse was created in response to and in reflection on the following mass-media story:  Sea Slug Surprise: It’s half-plant, half-animal.  Overall, this post starts with a bit of participation and play, continues with the story of how the “Sci-Po” fun began, how I gave it a shot in the classroom, and why this sort of thinking matters.  It then ends with a few specific resources for biology teachers.

Elysia chlorotica

Is this a sluggish strategy?

Thieving genes seems crazy to me
When seeking food in the mighty sea.
It doesn’t take a Phd
To locate a parcel of green algae.

And yet this shell-free busy bee,
A sea slug with a far lesser degree,
Attempts to boost his MPG
By somehow producing chlorophyll b.

My thoughts on this: In harmony.
I appreciate getting food for free.
Many beasts have green devotees
With sugar secretion their docking fee.

It isn’t merely charity
This molluskan peculiarity,
For algae ultimately die in this
Symbiotic irregularity.

This may seem like barbarity:
Genetic coup of the highest degree.
But I’d bet when we search we’ll see
Biological regularity.

Though no degree from MIT,
I know a fair bit of biology.
I’m nowhere near insanity,
This twist: a slant I just I failed to foresee.

Perhaps we’ll get some new study
That changes the rules for you and for me.
Starvation ebbs, but we shall see:
Would we submit to our skin being green?

What is a “Sci-Po”

Sci-Po.  You read it correctly.  A digital (thus far) friend of mine, Dr. Punya Mishra (who is an associate professor of Educational Technology at Michigan State University), recently wrote a post on his blog about a little project that his daughter had been working on. Shreya is ten years old and writes at Uniquely Mine, her blog. Give it a look- I think you’ll like it.

Punya wrote about the blog and the “Sci-Po’s” within it as a comment on this blog post of mine about some truly ugly mathematical poetry within Mother Goose.  Everything up to and including these two blog posts was completely unrelated.  Months later, another comment to this post was made by Sue VanHattum, a community-college math teacher in California. She then wrote a blog post challenging her readers to write a positive poem about either the beauty or significance of math. Even her first comment by a reader named John is rather impressive.

Punya then responded to this whole woven set of communications by people from all over…  and of very diverse ages. His post on this emerging phenomenon: “Poetry, Science & Math, OR why I love the web.” He was then inspired enough to write a few Math-Po’s of his own.

What’s a guy to do?

At this point, I had to shift my personal involvement in this issue over to my teacher identity and present this little instructional sub-genre of poetry to my students.  By this point in the year, they are likely rather comfy with new.  Be sure to check out the developing thread on our classroom network regarding SciPo’s.  At our last meeting, I invited my students to play along.  I suggested finding any single reading from this past semester as a starting point.  Below is what I personally see as the anatomy of a “Sci-Po” (or a “Math-Po” for that matter).  Allow me to suggest a protocol:

  • Read an interesting article in a field of science (I teach biology, thus the more specific origin of our work).
  • Re-tell the article in your head.  This is summarizing folks.  It is not an autonomic reaction.  Many have published this fact.  At the very least, demonstrate this for your students before you assign it.
  • Reflect on why the article matters.  If it doesn’t have lasting impact, then don’t use it.
  • Retell the main ideas from the article in poetic verse.  You may choose to go back to the original Mother Goose verse and spin yours as well with a sing-songish rhyme.  Somehow I think this even adds a step in the challenge direction.  Try it yourself, you’ll see what I mean.  The poem above is my shot at a Sci-Po.  It came from an article we used for a read aloud earlier in the week.  I cannot imagine expecting students to do something you aren’t doing along with them.  You shouldn’t either.
  • Link back to the article in your post.  My students seem to have taken to creating this link within the text of their poem.
  • Publish in some open Internet forum.
  • Reflect.
  • Communicate.
  • Rinse.
  • Repeat.

The other thing you must understand at this point is that as a classroom project, this one was thus far done in a vacuum.  During this first trial, my students were provided virtually zero instruction toward composing poetry.  Several remarked that they had never actually been required to author their own work in a related genre.  I say this to be fair to those students.  This is experimentation out loud.  As a science teacher, I feel that it is imperative that I give my students the opportunity to explore biology through many other lenses that carry the potential for personal engagement.  I say this because, as of now, that thread includes scientific poetry that is the result of 100% inspiration and 0% instruction in terms of constructing poetic verse.

Let’s get this straight:  I’d love to provide this instruction.  Time is always the issue here.  Even students who feel comfortable with this genre could learn from content instructors with differing vantage points.  However, our current NCLB-influenced curricula almost inhibit such a crossover approach.  Disclaimer:  My Dual-Credit Biology curriculum currently permits experimentation.  My students earn one-university-semester worth of work (5 credit-hours) in an entire high school year.  We have time to enhance and explore.

Personally, I’d find a way to make something this rich work in my classroom at some point regardless.  However, as an instructional coach who has worked with many teachers in the course of the past four years, I would understand the hesitation to do so.  Since NCLB, our core curricula have become more broad, and yet more screwed-down to specifics.  This tends to inhibit innovation.  And yet we must push through that somehow.  The more these content goals are lasered, the more rich pedagogy gets clipped in a vain attempt to meet such specific goals.  The more pedagogy gets clipped, the more student engagement is allowed to plummet.  Lack of student engagement is the first step toward disaster.  Anyone care to talk graduation rates with me?  How did we get to this topic from…  scientific poetry?

simplicity is hard

At this point in my life as an 18 year educator with two toddlers, I seem to see fewer silos and restraints on what we do during the day as teachers than many folks do.  I realize that perhaps the best thing I can contribute to education (outside of what I do in the classroom) is to show folks that there is an alternative to shooting disparate facts into the heads of kids.  In writing that sentence I realize that I intend to stand up for a philosophy of education that pushes beyond segmented practice and into a space where students can find something that inspires them to thinking deeply about new things… whatever those are determined to be.

I believe in and I am certainly analytical enough to help teachers hone in on specific curricular goals with laser precision.  However, I somehow seem to find myself more frequently asking, “why wouldn’t you consider connecting this to that?”  I hope our national system doesn’t soon drive us all to the point where those connections go the way of the dinosaur.

If you are still rather rigidly delivering disconnected lectures in secondary science and mathematics…  find a way out.  If doing anything else feels too fluffy or out-of-sorts, grab a constructivist colleague by the sleeve.  Sit with someone doing things differently.  Find a consultant.  Give another approach a try.  If you really are that traditional, then I certainly recognize the potential for this blog to annoy the daylights out of you.  For another… since you are still reading, I wish you’d have seen the faces of my kids during the 30 minutes of class time I allowed them to explore this on Friday.  I am accustomed to engaged kids, but these were the furrowed brows of surgeons in a pinch.  I love it.  I plan to continue working on it.  I’d love to do so inclusively.  Anyone want to play along?

Content matters?

For the biology educators:  this blog post is a rather nice outline (more content than MSNBC above) of the ecology of the aforementioned little critter.  New Scientist does this one nicely as well.  Even better, Dr. Mary Rumpho, at the University of Maine has a nice little website advocating, as well as supporting, the use of Elysia chlorotica as a model classroom organism for study.  There seem to be a ton of positives to this.  I once had a student keep a colony of hundreds of Hydra viridissima alive and thriving for months (until Christmas break) for an independent research project… and those are some delicate beasts to keep.  Biology teachers: (and perhaps many elementary educators) I suggest giving them a try.


*Image of Elysia chlorotica.  This one is now all over the web, and sadly, it is tough to nail down the origin.  Therefore, no citation, nor linky.  Anyone?
*”simplicity is hard” by Will Lion on Flickr


Zero Hour in the Edublogger World

Teacher as Writer

Whew.  I barely got this logged in time.  Too much fun making snowmen as of late.  Or work?  yeah, that too.  Allow me to get straight with it…

Last year I nominated Michael Doyle for the “Best Teacher Blog” in the 2008 Edublog Awards in this post.  Dr. Doyle writes a blog quite simply entitled “Science Teacher.”  If you dare think, “oh, a science blog… what’s the next one” then you and going to miss out in a big way.  This blog doesn’t need a snazzy title.  It doesn’t need a dozen crafty widgets or badges.  Here the words speak for themselves.

Desperate Horseshoe

If you’re a science teacher at any level, then this is your blog.  If you love honest and crafty writing with a fat dose of wit, then this is your blog.  Far more importantly, if you have even a shred of a connection to our natural world left within your spirit, (or perhaps even more importantly if you don’t) …then mark it.

Doyle blogs about the daily experience of teaching in the classroom, from the newspaper as a conscientious citizen interested in education in America, and from the Atlantic shore as a curious observer of life.  These threads are present from post to post as you read down the page from day to day.  However, what is particularly inspiring is the fact that they are typically interwoven within most individual posts as well.  If this award was more about writing from the heart and soul and less about edtech popularity then Science Teacher would be a shoe-in.  I hereby nominate this blog once again in the category of “best teacher blog” in the 2009 Edublog Awards.

Networks or blogs?

I am a huge proponent of the power of Ning networks done well.  Like most things, if you don’t know what you’re doing, the slick and simple technology at Ning certainly won’t save you.  However, if you are really good at facilitating strong community, then this platform has a million advantages.  I have led my school, our district and my classrooms through the use of this platform for rich sharing and reflection.  A quick glance to the right sidebar will net links to the networks I manage in some way or another.


Speaking of facilitating community, Connie Weber has it going on at Fireside Learning.  She is one of the few network creators who does things that make me say:  “hey… I need to try that.”  This network is also not an edtech toolfest.  Hear me loud and clear:  I am a huge proponent of the potential of web technology in education.  However, I am rarely an outspoken fan when said technology is not mostly invisible.  Anyone can tap keys on a blog.  A monkey can start a social network on the Ning platform.  Yet where gifted educators apply their skill, sweat, and spirit… good things happen.  Fireside Learning is a solid recommendation for “Best Use of a Social Networking Service.

However, there is a bit of overlap where the rubber meets the road on blogs/networks.  Bear with me on this one.  It’s like this:  Melissa Corey’s Benton Media Center network is truly one of the best technical uses of social media in a school library that I have seen.  I am far more than happy to say that this is the website of our school library media center.  This site is truly a blog, but obviously also a crafty aggregation of multiple tools on the Ning platform that help to bring information to the students at Benton.  In fact, if I need a second pair of eyes on any design I create, she’s the gal I consult.  My nomination for “Best Library Blog” goes to Benton Media Center.  Yes, you wish your library were like this.  And yes… I fully understand that this site doesn’t use traditional blogging software, but it really is primarily just that…  a library blog.  It is certainly the dominant feature on the site.


School administrators blog?  Seriously?  Wait…  did you say central office administrators?  What impact could they possibly have on a school system?  OK, sure, there are a small band of school administrators who write publicly in blogs.  For example, Chris Lehmann is the school administrator of a model school that rides the progressive edge.  I have followed Chris’s blog for a while.  His blog is an excellent blueprint for an administrator blog.  There really isn’t an award for “Best Administrator Blog.”  This is a pretty substantial shame.  We have a nomination for “best tweet” but not for a school administrator?  OK, I love Twitter, but I’m not remotely capable of laying out a nomination in that category.  Wait, I know-  let’s pretend!  Let’s assume for the time being that there really is a category for school administrators who blog.

3D Team Leadership Arrow Concept

For the central office administrator up-and-coming blog to follow, I recommend:  In The Lead.  This blog is written by Dr. Jaime Dial, the Asst. Director of Secondary Education in the Saint Joseph School District.  Jaime has only been writing this blog since summer, and I think you’ll see that her strength is slow blogging.  She allows ideas and experiences to simmer away inside before spilling out some very readable synthesis.  Not many people do that well.  I think you’ll agree with me…  this is a blog to keep track of.  I would love to see In The Lead score an official nomination in the 2009 Edublog Awards.  Perhaps next year we’ll score that category, huh?

In fact, if I could point to two, I’d also nominate my close instructional partner in crime at Benton High School.  Jeanette Westfall is Co-Principal at Benton High School in Saint Joseph.  She is the boss in charge of instructional improvement.  As the instructional coach at Benton, I work closely with Jeanette in the “pedagogy” sphere of the TPACK framework.  Jeanette is the author of Ancora Imparo.  She is an excellent example of a day-to-day practitioner in a public school who writes about it in digits for all to see.  In the end, keep your eye on these two.  Surely next year we’ll have a category that honors the rarest of educator-bloggers:  the school administrator.


*Desperate Horseshoe by Bemep on Flickr
*legs by Thomas Hawk on Flickr
*3D Team Leadership Arrow Concept by lumaxart on Flickr


A Reflective Anniversary

Happy anniversary to “nashworld.”  This post is the 65th of the year, and it comes exactly one year after my first post on April 21st, 2008.  Wow.  Looking back at that post, it was quite clear I was full of questions for the coming year of study and reflection, but very shy of answers.  In fact, this blog was initially titled “virtual southside” that first month.  My first plan was for this space to be a group blog to facilitate PD for our brand-spanking-new tech cohort starting in June.

My first flickr anniversary!

Forming a purpose

Then I found Ning.  In one weekend, it was clear to me that this platform would be a far better, and more flexible, match for our school’s edtech PD mission.  It also served to bring some comfort for our staff in the world of social media.  Though we control membership to the site, it is certainly a more free-wheeling place than a simple group blog.  It was the decentralized nature of a Ning network that I loved.  I didn’t want to drive “virtual southside.”  I didn’t want anyone to drive.  I wanted to be merely another loud voice on a very enthusiastic and speedy bus.

So after a quick rename, nashworld became more of a personal place for reflection, sharing, and synthesis of thought.  I do drive this bus.  However, I had my first guest move up from the passenger section just this month.  Though I certainly do have an amazing passenger list here, this is where the metaphor breaks down, for the readers of this blog certainly help steer my thoughts and words with their comments.  To those of you who have put in your two cents here, I thank you greatly.  You have helped to develop many of the thoughts and beliefs I currently own.

Year One Archive

A couple of months ago, when I started to really reflect on what blogging has meant to me over the past year, I decided to create a different type of archive for the blog.  If you look up, you’ll notice that just to the right of the “About” page is a link to a new page entitled:  “Year One Archive.”  This page lists every post I have written over the course of the year by month-  with somewhat of an abstract-like summary.  I hope this provides yet another way to navigate the site.  It certainly isn’t a quick and efficient way, but it does provide a bit of a different approach.  The archive page also serves as an interesting chronological history of the past year.

Meer Reflections


In fact, after that first post in April…  I didn’t write another that month.  I didn’t even write one in May.  During that month I was working hard on both Virtual Southside as well as my first shot at social media for an actual course I teach.  June, my most prolific month, was the result of using the blog  to fulfill the requirements of a really lame online grad course on “educational technology.”  Truly the worst course I have ever experienced.  You can easily tell this by the lame posts and lame books and movies and edtech articles from five and ten years ago.  Jeeeez.  I wish I hadn’t looked back over those just now.

Things got much better when school started and I began to feel a true mission for the blog.  When November began, I followed along with Steve Dembo in his 30 Days to Being a Better Blogger adventure.  That experienced helped tremendously.  Also in November, I was actually even nominated for a 2008 Edublogs Award.  You can imagine my surprise as such a green little blogger, but that was no doubt extrinsically empowering.   I am certain to post several more reflective pieces on things I have experienced, learned and accomplished over the past year.  Stay tuned for those.  As soon as my grad program is completed in May…  I have a lot of things to explore yet.  Grad school, a new baby girl…  it’s a wonder I could pull off any of this at all.

To community

Most of all-  thank you.  Thanks for coming here.  Thanks for reading.  Thanks for commenting.  Thanks for joining in the discussion.  Thank you for helping to steer my personal learning mission over the past year.  I cannot thank each and every one of you enough.  The thinking I do about the things you say… is worth a graduate course in something each time.  In reflection over this past year, I can for certain that the biggest thing I have gained from blogging is people.  I now have current and future collaborators on from all over the country.  We have and will collaborate on projects that will no doubt extend not only my learning, but that of my friends and colleagues in Saint Joseph.  I am humbled by the professionalism, creativity, and generosity of people in this newly-generated community.  Thanks isn’t enough.


*My 1st Flickr Anniversary by cuellar on Flickr.
*Meer Reflections by Dave Whelan on Flickr.
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