A few weeks ago, I decided to rethink my Google Drive file management system. That very quickly turned out to be a huge mistake.

I’m not sure why I felt like my old system wasn’t working. Maybe my folder hierarchy didn’t make sense to me? Maybe the hierarchy was too deep and it took too many clicks to get to things. I’m not sure. So I decided to move things into different folders, and rename folders. The result? Muscle memory is taking over, and I am still trying to hover my mouse where old folders used to be – and end up opening the wrong thing.

Here’s my problem: I didn’t think about my user (me). I spend a lot of time talking to people about design and understanding user needs, and I jumped into redoing my filing system without thinking about what I actually need.

So, I’m starting over. Slowly and thoughtfully, I am going to rebuild my Google Drive from the ground up. I am going to document my process, in the hopes that someone else can get some ideas for their Google Drive – or ideas to share with students! – along the way. I hope you’ll join me.


When we create a new file in Google Drive, it is automatically called “Untitled [Document, Slideshow, Spreadsheet]” until we change it. How many times have you opened a slideshow or document to test something out, didn’t bother changing the name, and never returned to it? I’ll bet more times than you think. I was definitely surprised to find the number of Untitled items in my Drive.

In your Google Drive, click the Search bar at the top, and choose the blue Advanced Search link at the bottom.

In the Owner field, choose “Owned by me.” You don’t want to go accidentally deleting items someone else owns!

In the Item Name field, type UNTITLED. Case doesn’t matter, I just all-caps everything 🙂

Drive 1

Then, click the arrow in the Last Modified column. This will sort your drive so that those files that were modified longest ago are at the top – revealing just how old some of the things in your Drive really are! I had items in my Drive that were still Untitled and hadn’t been touched since 2013 and 2014. I don’t need those. I will never need those.

Drive 2

If you are nervous and just *need* to see the document one last time before deleting, click the Grid View icon in the top right corner to get a preview of the docs. Personally…that made me want to delete everything even more. I clicked the top row, scrolled for a while, then held the Shift key and clicked again. Then, I clicked delete.

Drive 3

Were there a few Untitled Docs that I spotted and wanted to keep? Sure. They got renamed and filed into the appropriate folder.

Ultimately, I deleted over 100 items in just a few minutes. I’ll call that a great first step in refreshing my Google Drive!

File Management Challenge!

Give this a try, and share with me on Twitter @sadieclorinda how many files you were able to get rid of in your Google Drive!

Visual Thinking to Manage Learning – Visualize Solutions

Visual Thinking to Manage Learning

Click here to learn more about this blog series and read Part 1: Visualize Time

Click here to read Part 2: Visualize Ideas. The simple drawing activities we share in this post will set students up for success in the strategies we’re sharing here in Part 4.

Click here to catch up with Part 3: Visualize Relationships

When we started writing this blog series (click the links above to read from the untitled_artwork (5)beginning!), our goal was to share strategies, activities, and processes to give students choice in what they create, and also choice in how they get there. We wanted to push the concept of visual thinking beyond sketching someone else’s ideas from presentations, videos, etc. – and start using simple drawings, color, and other visual tools to help students see the work they have in front of them, develop ideas that traditional discussion and writing may not, and plan their creations in a purposeful way.


Your students have put a ton of work into their project. They’ve set up a project management system to organize their time and set priorities. They’ve researched, interviewed, and engaged in empathy. They’ve worked through ideation activities to purposefully decide on how they will solve the problem or answer the driving question. Then, when the time comes to begin presenting their work, findings, and solution – they open a slideshow and start throwing text and images on slides – without spending any untitled_artwork (6)time planning their creations. The result? We get a collection of slideshows that all look the same – a slide for each section of the rubric, standard “Title and Content” slide layouts, and over-used slide design templates.

If we give students the time and support to visualize their solutions before they start creating, would their slideshows look different? Would they even end up creating a slideshow at all? Probably not.

Prototype Everything.

If you are at all familiar with design thinking, you already know that prototyping is a major step in the process. Prototyping allows designers to get their products in front of users in order to get feedback, before creating the “real thing.” Prototypes are quick, cheap, and usually conceptual. When the designers at Apple first imagined the Apple Watch, did they start by actually creating the Apple Watch and selling it to their global untitled_artwork (8)audience? Definitely not. Once they went through the design process and decided on wearable tech as their “solution,” a few of the engineers at Apple attached an iPhone to a velcro strap and had their colleagues wear it around the office for a week. This prototype was cheap – they already had iPhones available; quick – they didn’t waste time engineering a new product; and conceptual – they knew they wouldn’t actually put iPhones on people’s’ wrists. This allowed them to get feedback from users on essential questions like “Do people want to get notifications on a watch?” and “What features from the iPhone would be ideal on a watch, and which could we get rid of?”

We are so focused on preparing our students to work in these types of careers, but don’t always give them experiences that mirror the “real world” work that is being done. Whether they are creating presentations, videos, graphics, or physical products, using visual thinking to support students in various prototyping activities will help them organize their ideas, plan for their users, and create more authentic products.

Sometimes when Manuel and I work with students on visual thinking, they ask something like “So, why would I use visuals like this when just writing the words is faster?” That’s a fair question. It’s usually older students who ask these questions, because they have become so focused on getting work done quickly so they can move on to the next thing. We always answer with something along the lines of “Honestly, this isn’t always faster. But, for some people, using sketches and visuals can help understand and communicate in ways that writing just can’t.” However, when we get to this part – the prototyping – they see how using visuals to express and communicate their ideas is more effective than just writing them out. This is when the skeptical ones “get it.”

Sketch It Out.

3D printing has become a huge trend in education (yes, we’re calling it a trend…), leading to “3D printing projects” and other design projects where the end product is pre-determined: a 3D print. This has caused much of the focus to be on the actual 3D print itself, not on the ideas behind it. Students are making their solution fit their assigned end product, when they should be making their end product fit their solution and user needs.

Instead of going straight to the 3D printing software, start with a blank piece of paper 4. sketched 3dand a pencil. This is one of Manuel’s favorite activities with students. He starts by asking students to explain their user/audience, the problems that they defined or the research they conducted, and their ideas for their product or solution. Then, he asks the student to draw a rough sketch of their idea. While they draw, they keep talking about the users needs that they explained earlier – which usually leads the students to discuss details of their sketch and label parts, things that they likely wouldn’t have done if they were simply writing a paragraph about their idea. 

Sometimes it’s hard to explain the images in our minds, but if we can say “Here, this is what I mean…” while drawing, that will lead to a deeper conversation. This labeled 4. student sketchsketch is a prototype. It allows the students to get feedback – from the teacher or, ideally, actual users – and decide which parts of the design should be changed, and which parts of the prototype should be printed. What started as a an entirely 3D printed prosthetic arm, for example, turns into a high-quality 3D printed connector or joint that can be attached to a mostly cardboard prosthetic arm.

Be sure to check out more of Manuel’s work with prototyping with sketching and cardboard on his website:


Your students have done their research, and through ideation decided that providing a digital platform – like a website or app – would best meet the needs of their user. So often, they immediately open Google Sites or their app creator of choice, and begin entering text and graphics without much planning or organizing.

Visual communication is an extremely important skill for students (and adults!). If your app or website is hard to navigate, or hard to look at, no one is going to use. Digital design and visual communication is Sadie’s favorite thing to do with students. For apps and websites, that starts with creating a wireframe – a simple, quick visualization of your design that allows users to “test” it for understanding and functionality.

Sadie’s process for creating and testing a wireframe:

  1. Start by giving students blank paper – notecards, 8.5 x 11, cardstock, whatever. They’ll need a lot of paper, because they will use a separate paper for each screen of their platform.
  2. Take some time to talk about layout – navigation should be at the bottom of the screen on an app, but towards the top on the website; should text be large for your audience?; including white space and margins/gutters
  3. On the first paper, students should draw out the home screen (app) or landing page4. student wireframe (website).
    • Include: Major text like titles and headings; image placeholders (a rectangle with an X through it); video placeholders (a rectangle with a play sign); navigation buttons.
    • Don’t include: All text – just write “Description of xyz here…” with some extra straight lines to show how much space the text will take up
  4. For each of the navigation buttons drawn on the home page, create a new page following the same process as Step 3. Continue this process until all pages/screens of the platform are sketched out
  5. Find someone to test the prototype. Put the first page in front of the tester without saying anything. The tester should “click” a button on the navigation bar, and the corresponding page will be placed in front of them. Continue this process until the tester has navigated through the entire app/site. It’s important that the tester ask questions out loud so that the designer can get that feedback.

Once students have worked through this process, we typically have them move over to Google Slides and begin designing their app/site in a slideshow using slide linking for the navigation.

Read more about Sadie’s work around digital design and visual communication at her Design School for Educators website:


Storyboarding is very similar to wireframing – it allows students to visualize the flow and4. sadie storyboard plan of a video or presentation. When planning a video, students start by writing out the script to the video – this makes sure all content is planned for before they start filming. Then, on a large 11×17 paper, draw lines to divide the paper into a gridded storyboard. We try to keep the boxes at least 2×2. Begin writing the script into the boxes, moving to a new box each time they think the scene should change. Once the script is written out, students then begin sketching the screen into each box. These sketches should be simple and quick – using 4. student storyboardnotes when needed. A storyboard is another way to visualize time – allowing students to see all the work ahead, prioritize, and assign responsibilities.

Storyboarding a presentation is very similar, and follows basically the same process. However, Manuel likes to use notecards instead of a large paper. This allows him to get all of his ideas for a presentation sketched out, but gives the freedom to move slides around or add new ones along the way.

4. wireframe graphic


Storyboarding can also be used to plan out social media graphics or multi-platform campaigns!


It’s your turn to give Visualizing Solutions a try! Grab a piece of paper and a pen. Divide the paper into 8-12 sections. Create a storyboard for your typical day – or a special event! Create this storyboard as if it were an actual movie or video someone would watch.

PROFILE PHOTOSDo you think this would help you explain your day to someone else? Would someone have a basic understanding just by looking at your storyboard?

We want to see your work! Take a picture and tweet us @sadieclorinda and @manuelherrera33 and add #VisualThinking


Visual Thinking to Manage Learning – Visualize Relationships

Visual Thinking to Manage Learning

Click here to learn more about this blog series and read Part 1: Visualize Time

Click here to read Part 2: Visualize Ideas. The simple drawing activities we share in this post will set students up for success in the strategies we’re sharing here in Part 3.


In this blog series, Manuel and I talked a lot about using visual thinking to help visualize your own ideas – pushing beyond using sketches to capture someone else’s presentation, podcast, etc., and using drawing to see ideas clearly and communicate your thinking to others.

In project and design work, students are generating lots of ideas as they engage in research – whether that’s through interviews, observations, or finding sources on the internet. With different types of information coming from various sources, it can be difficult for students to organize and understand all of this information, and see how things are connected. Using visual thinking, we can give our students the tools and supports to see the connections in their research and ideas, and begin to visualize relationships between people, ideas, processes, and more.

Ditch The Diagrams.

Asking students to record and outline their research and learning isn’t a new concept.Venn.jpg We’ve likely all outlined a research paper. Graphic organizers are a popular way for students to organize information and ideas – but are they really effective in helping students synthesize information and make connections between ideas? Venn Diagrams are a popular way to compare and contrast – and have gained new life with digital tools like Google Drawing. However, the learning taking place with Venn Diagrams, and many other graphic organizers, is often low-level – students are making lists, recalling information, categorizing items, and comparing/contrasting.

Using visual thinking techniques provides structure to help students organize information, while still giving them the freedom to see all the information in front of them, synthesize that information, and draw their own conclusions. Remember, visual thinking doesn’t always have to mean drawing or sketching – visual thinking means getting ideas out so that you can better understand, organize, and communicate those ideas.

Empathy MapEmpathy Maps. A popular component in the Empathy phase of the design thinking process, empathy maps help designers better understand the experiences, emotions, and needs of their audience. The maps are wonderful for design thinking, but can be used outside of the design process as well. When researching in history, geography, or government, students often use graphic organizers to list dates, information, and traits of different people, places, or events. Replacing those graphic organizers with empathy maps push students to go beyond making lists, and start making connections between those people, places, or events. For example, if I am researching the events leading up to the American Revolution, I could complete an empathy map for the Colonists and another for the British Soldiers – this would help me see how two different groups of people experienced, and acted upon, the same events. Click here for a printable Empathy Map.

Observation map

Observation Maps. While empathy maps capture emotions and experiences, observation maps are used to capture detailed observations of people, places, or processes. The five columns of an observation map – Activities, Environments, Interactions, Objects, and Users – gives students a solid structure to capture – through simple drawing or quick notes – detailed observations and visualize connections between the things they are observing. Click here for a printable Observation Map.

2.-Sticky-Notes.pngMind Mapping. We’ve all completed mind maps – we start with one concept in the middle of a paper, and lines come off that concept in spokes leading to related ideas, characteristics, etc. Like other graphic organizers, this structure is pretty straight forward – which can sometimes mean we get stuck in that structure. What if we encourage students to start with visualizing ideas, rather than starting with a structure? Start by making a “brain dump” of all the ideas, research, information, etc. that need to communicated or included in a project. This can be through sketches or notes, in any format you choose – sticky notes, notecards, a large whiteboard, etc. Then,  take a step back and look at all the information you made visual – do you see any commonalities or trends? Can you make groups or subgroups? What connections do you see among all this information? Are there any large factors that separate ideas? You might start to see a “mind map” form – but the key is that you started by getting your ideas out, and were able to visualize relationships and connections among those ideas.

Check out these amazing maps that @ajrisedorph shared from his classroom.

Visualize Connections.

Sketching 1As students read stories and novels, we often ask them to keep notes on the plot and characters in order to better understand complex stories. What if, instead of listing character traits, Sketching 2we mapped out the stories in a non-linear way? As we learn more about each character, we use icons from our visual library and quick notes to visualize those traits, and use connectors and icon combinations to show the relationships between characters and plot points.

A high school teacher I work with is using visual thinking with her students to work through the characters and places in Greek mythology. Think about how complicated those myths can be! Zeus was the king of gods, and he had four wives. He married Hera, the queen of gods, and they had two children, Ares – the god of war, and Hephaestus – the god of fire….I could continue to list names of people and try to explain how everyone is connected. Or, I could just show you this visual and spend time discussing the characters, the stories, and how they are connected.


Manuel also shares this image the students at his high school made to make sense of The Great Gatsby as they read the novel. Visualizing stories and books can be done individually, or as a group to help think through a story and understand connections.



It’s your turn to give Visualizing Relationships a try! You can print out the empathy map linked above, or just get out a piece of paper and a pen, and dividing the paper into four equal parts. Think of a person or character from your favorite book. Complete the empathy map for that person, really thinking about not only their characteristics, but also their experiences in the story.

Do you think this would help you explain the character to someone else? Would someone have a basic understanding of person just by looking at your visuals?

PROFILE PHOTOSWe want to see your work! Take a picture and tweet us @sadieclorinda and @manuelherrera33 and add #VisualThinking


Visual Thinking to Manage Learning – Visualize Ideas

Visual Thinking to Manage Learning

Click here to learn more about this blog series and read Part 1: Visualize Time


In Part 1 of this blog series, we discussed using visual thinking to help students visualize time and better understand and organize the work in front of them within a project. Once students understand what needs to be done, and where the priorities are, how can we help them visualize the thinking and ideas that develop as they work?

2. VisIdeasYou have likely heard of sketchnoting – a popular note taking format that uses drawings and icons to capture ideas from presentations, podcasts, videos, lectures, etc. Sketchnoting largely focuses on capturing and visualizing someone else’s ideas. Visual thinking goes further, and gives students tools and processes to visualize their own ideas. Sometimes this means using sketches to represent their thinking. On a larger scale, using visual thinking allows us to get our ideas and thinking out of our head so that we can see things clearly, understand how parts might fit together, and help others understand our thinking.

Stop Brainstorming. Start Visualizing.

D234E67F-0A19-4A60-AED1-1154EF844B60Manuel uses notecards as part of his process to visualize his ideas. When planning a project, his ideas don’t always come to him in a linear, ordered way. Using notecards to quickly sketch or write ideas allows him to get all of his ideas out, then rearrange the notecards into a logical flow – with the flexibility to add or move the ideas around as the project develops.

How many of our students could benefit from this process? So often, students start a presentation by opening a slideshow and starting with their title slide. If given the chance to use notecards to visualize all of the ideas that will go into the slideshow, do you think their presentation would turn out differently? Would it end up being a presentation at all, or could it morph into something completely different?

This process of using notecards is simply an upgraded version of traditional brainstorming. How often, when asking students to develop ideas for a project, do we jump into a brainstorming activity? This usually looks like creating written lists, sometimes individually and sometimes as a group. While brainstorming can be productive, without a structure in place it can become very chaotic. Research shows that unstructured brainstorming in groups often discourages participation by quieter brainstormstudents, and doesn’t hold each individual accountable for participation. The result? Brainstorming sessions end without solving the problem at hand.

Digital tools have increased our ability to do collaborative brainstorming, but have also given us the ability to delete ideas that we don’t like or are embarrassed to share with others. In reality, some of our worst ideas can develop into the best solutions!

Ideas. Not art.

The concept of visual thinking might be intimidating to some, and students often say things like “I can’t draw” and “I’m not good at art.” It’s important to remember, and to help students understand, that visual thinking is about showing your ideas. It’s not about creating beautiful drawings, perfect banners, or intricate lettering. Walk students through this sketching activity to show them how easy it is to create visual representations of their ideas.

  • On a piece of paper, draw a circle, a square, a triangle, a line, a dot, a blob. What 2. Simple Shapesdoing this with students, you can model it, but be sure to tell them that their does not have to look like yours.
  • Next, give them some simple items to visualize – a lock, a tree, a house, etc. Explain how each of these is simply a combination of those first six simple shapes they drew.
  • Think about a topic in your content area that students are already familiar with – explorers, the water cycle, weather. Give them 4-6 vocabulary words and ask them to make those words visual.
  • You will be amazed – some students will use those simple shapes to create an icon for each word, others will create elaborate scenes. This is where you begin to see how each student visualizes things differently – their definitions would have all been similar, but their drawings are drastically different.
  • Ask them to explain their visuals to a partner – chances are you will hear explanations of those terms that are much richer than they would have been if you had asked students to write a definition and compare it with their partner

Once students are more comfortable with the practice if visual thinking, encourage – but don’t require – them to use it the next time they would typically take traditional notes. This can be during a lesson that you teach, an interview during the empathy phase of a project, or as do online research. Using visual thinking will push them beyond simply recording someone else’s ideas to representing and sharing their interpretation and thoughts on those ideas.


A reinvention of traditional brainstorming, ideation is the process of pushing ourselves outside our comfort zones to generate as many problems, ideas, or solutions as possible. Ideation gives us the freedom to create a large quantity of ideas without worrying about quality, then share and discuss those ideas with others.


At its core, ideation is meant to be quick and timely. This is where visual thinking plays a huge role. When we give students the tools (like the simple shapes activity above), they are much more successful when engaging in the process. Fast sketches in ideation activities, when combined with some notes, allow students to quickly get their ideas out of their head and make sense of their thoughts. Here are a few ideation techniques that we love to use with students and adults.

Paper Clip. This is a fun divergent thinking activity to help students become comfortable with creative constraint and ideation before using it within a project or with content. Start by giving students a stack of sticky notes.Tell them they will get 2 minutes to come up with as many ideas as they can, and each idea should be recorded on a sticky note. Then, give them their topic just as you start the timer – Come up with as many alternate uses for a paper clip as you can. When time runs out, you can have them compare to others in their group, share out their wildest ideas, or see who came up with the most ideas. The goal of this activity is quantity over quality, which is why we use sticky notes – they can visually see the quantity. The activity also results in a lot of laughs!

Crazy Eights. This ideation technique is one of our favorites to use when developing solutions in the design thinking process, but it can also be used as a stand-alone activity to develop project ideas, identify problems, and more! Give students a crazy8large (8.5×14 or larger) piece of paper, and have them fold it into 8 equal parts. Tell them that in each section they will quickly sketch one possible solution (or idea). They will get 30 seconds per section – they must stay in that section for the entire 30 seconds, and cannot move onto the next section early. This sometimes results in frustration from students, or they feel uncomfortable because they run out of ideas and aren’t drawing anything. However, that’s when the magic happens – that discomfort that is created by creative constraint often develops the best ideas! Click here for the slides Manuel and Sadie use when facilitating Crazy Eights.

Bad Ideas. The Bad Idea Factory is a great activity when students – or adults! – are truly 2. Bad ideas“stuck” and can’t generate more ideas or solutions. Asking teams for their “worst” ideas or solutions gives them the freedom to be silly, and terrible ideas will flow! For each team, have students generate as many “bad ideas” or “bad solutions” as they can on individual notecards. Then, have the team randomly draw the notecards and discuss the bad idea – why is it bad? What would happen if we implemented this idea? How would our audience feel? Through these conversations, students will begin to develop new ideas that take them to a great solution!

Four Scribbles. Have students fold a piece of paper into four squares. In each square, give them five seconds to quickly make a scribble. Then, beginning with their first scribble, give them 60-90 seconds to turn that scribble into something that could solve their problem. This activity can be difficult, but really pushes students to see things in a new way.


It’s your turn to give Visualizing Ideas a try! Get out a piece of paper and a pen, pencil, or some markers. Start by completing the Simple Shapes activity – draw a draw a circle, a square, a triangle, a line, a dot, a blob. Then, think about a topic that you teach – it can be something simple or something complex. Write 4-6 terms related to that topic. Using combinations of those simple shapes, visualize your definition, description, or thoughts about each of those terms.

Do you think this would help you explain the terms to someone else? Would someone have a basic understanding of the term just by looking at your visuals?

PROFILE PHOTOSWe want to see your work! Take a picture and tweet us @sadieclorinda and @manuelherrera33 and add #VisualThinking



Visual Thinking to Manage Learning – Visualize Time

Visual Thinking to Manage Learning

Part 1: Visualize Time

Over the last couple of years, there has been a huge shift in education toward fostering critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity in our students. Students are engaging in project based learning, design thinking, and other activities that push students beyond worksheets and memorization, and encourage them to create and present their work. 1. Rubric

When we give students choice in what they create, are we also giving them a choice in how they get there? So often, students are given a rubric and a due date, but aren’t always given the tools and processes they need to support them in managing their time, responsibilities, and planning as they move through a project.

Visual thinking can help students see the work they have in front of them, develop ideas that traditional discussion and writing may not, and plan their creations in a purposeful way. Visual thinking is a way to show thinking using images in order to better organize and understand concepts, and goes far beyond sketching and drawing to quickly take notes. In a recent study published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, researchers found that IMG_1758drawing, when compared to writing and listening, results in better recall of words and ideas due to the process of creating an original image when using visual thinking.  In this blog series, Manuel Herrera and I will share strategies, structures, and resources to help your students manage their learning through Visualizing Time, Ideas, Relationships, and Solutions.



1. VizSched

If you have spent any time in an elementary school classroom, you’ve likely noticed visual schedules displayed for the class to see. These schedules highlight each component of the day with a word and icon – like the word “Reading” with a cartoon picture of a book. The combination of words and icons makes the schedule accessible to all of our learners, and the way the schedule is displayed helps the students see the whole process of their day and make sense of what comes next. However, visualizing time and schedules typically stops after elementary school. Is making time visual any less valuable to older students or adults? Or do we just assume that they are capable of managing their own time?


Project management is a valuable skill for students of all grade levels to learn, but many projects are still designed with the teacher in the role of Project Manager – directing the learning experience and making many of the decisions. Putting students in the role of project manager, and supporting them in the process of identifying tasks, assigning responsibilities, and choosing how they work will help them understand the work that is in front of them, and give them an organized way to work through it.


1-timeline1.pngTraditional project management logs – digital or printed – typically consist of a multi-column table, where students can write a task list in one column, responsibilities in another column, with columns for due dates, updates, etc. for older students. Each row usually has a checkbox so that each task can be “crossed off” as it’s completed.

Task lists and to-do lists are a great way to generate ideas about all of the work included in a large project – but this is where project management should start, not where it should end. A task list is simply a list of work to be done, and doesn’t do a great job of helping students understand how to actually prioritize those tasks.

Taking a task list and turning it into a visual timeline helps students not only see what work needs to be done, but go further and see the relationships between tasks, and how responsibilities and priorities can overlap. A vertical task list that only includes the work to be done can be very overwhelming to students (and adults!), and can lead to procrastination and last-minute work. Visualizing a large project helps students break things down into smaller chunks, and understand which items should take priority and advanced planning, helping them move through their project more efficiently and effectively.

Supporting Students in Visualizing Time

img_3484.jpgPractice First. When Manuel and I use timelines with students, we never introduce the concept of visualizing time within the project. We always start with a comfortable topic for students, so that their focus can be on how to visualize time. Take 20 minutes and ask students to use quick drawings and words to create a timeline of a task or process they often complete – their morning routine, sports practices, a task they complete at work, etc.

Big Paper. Any time we do visual thinking activities with students, we always give them 11×17 copy paper. This gives them the freedom to spread their drawings out and not worry about how to manage the space.

1-post-it-timeline.pngFlexible Timelines. In any project – from creating animal habitats in 1st grade through forensics in high school – there has to be a level of flexibility. Sometimes checkpoints and deadlines get pushed, new responsibilities are added, or certain portions of a project are taking longer than expected. Sticky notes are a simple way to allow flexibility in a project plan. Sketching tasks onto sticky notes, then arranging those onto a larger timeline allows students to move tasks around and add items as needed. I love these full-adhesive sticky notes that lay flat on paper.

Class Timelines. In younger grades, project management can be done as a whole class. Create a large timeline on bulletin board paper, and let students sketch out the tasks on larger sticky notes and place them on the timeline. Create a “We are here” marker and move it along as the class progresses through the project – this allows students to visually understand where they are in the project, what is coming next, and celebrate the work they have completed! These large sticky notes are great for young students to visualize ideas.

Use Color. Simply adding color to icons, sketches, and notes can be a powerful tool in helping students manage their time. When working collaboratively, students can assign color to each person on a project team. All of Sadie’s responsibilities are written in purple, or are on purple sticky notes, and all of Manuel’s tasks are in blue. Both the team and the teacher can quickly see how they work is divided, and if all team members are completing their responsibilities.

For individual project work, color can be used to create a visual hierarchy – assign red to high-priority tasks, green to low priority tasks. Yellow can be used for any new work added mid-project.


It’s your turn to give Visualizing Time a try! Get out a piece of paper a pen, pencil, or some markers. Think about a project that you are currently working or have coming up – it can be big or small, personal or professional. Using a combination of icons and words, create a timeline or “visual schedule” that helps you see the work you have ahead. Think of ways you could show how some tasks take priority, or add details about timing, responsibilities, etc.

Did this challenge help you understand your project better than a traditional task list?

PROFILE PHOTOSWe want to see your work! Take a picture and tweet us @sadieclorinda and @manuelherrera33 and add #VisualThinking




You Are The Music Makers

You Are The Music Makers

Last month, Manuel Herrera and I were lucky enough to work with teachers in the Jackson R-2 School District. One of our workshops was designed specifically for the district’s elementary music teachers. Manuel and I are both big advocates for arts education – and work to integrate the arts and creation into core classes – so we were very excited to work with this team!

One of the tools we used with the music tealogo.pngm was Song Maker. Song Maker is one of the many tools in Chrome Music Lab. The more we worked with this fun, user friendly tool, we started to see the many connections to core content areas. In the time since our work in Jackson, Manuel and I have continued to revisit Song Maker and develop some fun activities to get kids creating and collaborating around music.


writing.pngPut Music to Writing. In Jackson, Manuel and I did a Paint Chip Poetry activity with the music teachers, where they created poetry from the names of paint chips. Then, that poetry turned into lyrics as it was put to music. Song Maker is a great tool to put any student poetry or writing to music, instantly transforming students’ words into lyrics and creating a whole new piece of art!



Songs About Science. What does the water cycle sound like? Does precipitation sound heavier or louder than evaporation? Pick any process in science, and ask students to first take notes on the different parts of the process – importance of each step, speed at which the process moves, and even how they feel about the process, etc. Then create a song that represents that process.

When students in early elementary collect weather data through the week, they typically graph their observations. Take that a step further and have them write a Weather Song for the week – rain and sun probably sound very different! Can you hear the different days and weather in this song?



Soundtrack a Story. Students retell a scene or chapter from a book through a song, or use music to represent a character’s feelings. Rising action likely sounds very different than falling action! In The Hunger Games, the scene when Katniss takes her sister’s place would have a very different tone than when Katniss is in the arena.

Imagine all the characters in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby – each of their personalities or feelings would sound very different when told through music – happy, angry, excited, in love, etc.



Musical Math. When younger students are learning about patterns, have them arrange a piece of music that follows a certain pattern. Give students this handout to create their pattern first, then build it in Song Maker. Once their pattern is created, encourage them to make changes by adding or deleting in order to make the song sound better – all while staying in a pattern!

For older students, ratios can be used to compose a song. Give students ratio requirements – for every 4 red beats, use 1 blue beat – and allow them to use those ratios however they like! Give students the handout to plan out how they’ll use the ratios first, then build it in Song Maker.



Collaborative Compositions. Working in pairs, students should discuss a song they will create. This song can be content related (maybe from one of the examples above!), or something just for fun. They should discuss beats, tempo, etc. Then, have each partner fill out these pages individually – one planning the beat and one planning the melody. When they come back together, they will each put their work into one Song Maker song. Have students reflect on their work – did it sound how they planned? How could they change it?


When students are finished creating their music, they can easily share it by clicking “Save” and copying the link. The link can be emailed, bookmarked, or posted to Google Classroom. 

Manuel and I hope you can find ways to use Song Maker – and the other fun tools on Chrome Music Lab – to bring music into your classroom! Please share anything you or your students create with us on Twitter and Instagram – @sadieclorinda and @manuelherrera33 on both platforms.


Google Cast for Education

Google Cast for Education

As the school year moves forward, I am spending more and more time out in classes, working with teachers and students. In many of the conversations and planning sessions, the same topics of feedback, student voice, and sharing work continue to come up. In these conversations, I always find myself offering Google Cast for Education as a tool for the teachers and students to use.

Google Cast for Education is one of my favorite tools, because it is super easy to use and can be used in a variety of ways! To start using Cast, you’ll need to install it from the Chrome Web Store. Students won’t need to install anything (awesome!).

Once installed, you simply open Cast from your Extensions toolbar, give it a name (that’s you!) and invite students to cast.

Here’s my one page printable for Google Cast for Education!

Here’s a quick video showing how Cast works:

A few things to note as you start using Cast:

  • Students can cast just their Tab (so they can browse to other tabs) or their entire Desktop
  • You can choose to have students Request (recommended) or Present without approval
  • You or the student can end the casting session at any time
  • Cast is not based on proximity – anyone who is invited can cast. So, remember to remove students/classes by using the Share button!

Five Ways to Use Cast for Education:

  1. Fast-Paced Presentations. When pitching an idea or giving Ignite Talks, students can cast their Tab, rather than take the time to share with the teacher and open the file.
  2. Let Students Drive. Students can cast their Desktop to share their findings or walk the class through a process.
  3. Real Time Feedback. Students can cast their work to the class to get authentic feedback on content and design.
  4. Untethered Teacher. Teachers can log onto Chromebooks and cast to their own desktop, allowing them to teach from anywhere in the room and adapt on the fly!
  5. Special Guests. Coaches, TOSAs, and other classroom visitors can cast their screens to the teacher desktop, eliminating the need to log on share materials.

I’d love to hear about how you are using Cast with your students and teachers! Share it on Twitter and tag @sadieclorinda!

A COLORFUL Start to the Year!


This year begins my third year out of the classroom. While I absolutely love my job and the work I get to do with teachers and students, I still miss those first days of school. Getting to know my new classes, and reconnecting with students I had in previous years, was always something I looked forward to.


I always tried to start the year with some fun activities to get the kids talking to one another and sharing things about themselves – while also sneaking in some content along the way. I taught middle school business classes, so basic graphic design was something I focused on a lot. I used design concepts in my beginning of the year activities to start introducing those things to students in fun ways. The kids always loved it, and the work they did in those first days ended up being used for the entire semester!

Now that I’ve left the classroom, I still use these activities in PD sessions with teachers and in classrooms when I’m co-teaching. I hope you find at least one of these can be used in your classroom, or that these activities spark new ideas in your mind!




Paint Chips. That’s it!

The lovely people at Lowe’s or Home Depot might look at you a little strange, but they’ll never tell you that you can’t take as many as you want!




Putting students in random groups at the beginning of the year helps them get to know one another, and lets you see how they work as a team. When planning group activities, why not let color guide the way you group the students!

  1. As students come into class, give each one a paint chip at random
  2. Display one of these slides – one for pairs, one for larger groups
  3. First, explain complementary colors and warm/cool colors. Then, have students group themselves based on the paint chip they received
  4. Have them regroup as many times as needed to complete your planned activityIMG_3640.JPG


You’ve likely heard of Book Spine Poetry. Well, why not do the same with color? Paint colors have such fun names, they’re perfect for this activity!

Use this slide as a facilitation tool if needed.

  1. Put students in groups of 3 to 4 (maybe the groups from Colorful Collaboration!)
  2. Give each group a stack of paint chips
  3. Give students time to arrange the titles into a short poem
  4. For fun, have them trade one of their paint chips with another group and incorporate it into their poem


This one is fun, easy, and quick! Paint colors have really fun, creative names. This activity gets students thinking about how words can conjure up certain images in your mind.

  1. As students come into class, give each one a paint chip at random. Alternately, if doing this later in class, just hand out the paint chips
  2. Make sure to tell students to keep their colors and color names to themselves!!
  3. As students to volunteer to read the name of their paint color
  4. Allow other students to guess what color they think that might be

I also used this activity to pair students. As students would guess the color based on the name, I would ask “Who thinks they have a color that is complementary to that?” and students would get into pairs or groups based on that.


This activity is great for team building and allowing students to share how they feel in a fun way, but can also be used throughout the year with content!

  1. Get students into groups of 3 to 4
  2. Give each group a stack of paint chips – with or without the names (I always keep a stack with the names cut off)
  3. Give students a prompt –

    • How are you feeling about the first day of middle school?
    • How would you describe our school?
    • How would you describe [character name] during [specific book chapter]?
    • The water cycle
  4. Ask groups to build a color palette that describes the prompt
    • If you left the names on, they will likely use the color names to build their palette. This is a great way to do this activity the first few times
    • If you removed the names, students should choose their colors and give them names that are representative of their topic

This is one of my favorites. I’d use it so often, all I’d have to do is say “Collaborative palettes on maintaining a budget. Three colors, name them all and name your palette. Go.” and they would know exactly what to do!


My personal favorite. In this activity, we ask students, individually or in a group, to create their own custom color and give it a name. It allows them to share something fun about themselves, but also teaches them how to use the color tools in Google and find the HEX code. I shared these templates with my students through Google Classroom early in the year, and had endless color ideas for the entire semester!

Individual Activity

  1. Share this Google Drawing with your students
  2. Give them time to create their own color from the Custom palette that represents them
  3. Encourage them to give it a name that doesn’t have “blue” or “purple” in it
    • Example: Soccer Turf or Copper Clarinet
  4. When done, you can download each Drawing as an image and compile them into one document that the class can pull from throughout the year!

Group Activity

I usually did this as a group after teaching basic color theory, but it really can be done any time.

  1. Share this document with students – one student per group should open it
    (Tip: Have them change the zoom in Drawing to 50%)
  2. Give groups time to create their own color palette – warm colors, cool colors, complementary, etc.
  3. Encourage them to give the colors creative names
  4. When done, you can download each Drawing as an image and have palettes that the class can pull from throughout the year!

While these activities are great for the beginning of the year, they can be modified and used throughout the year in all content areas!

As you use these in the classroom, please share pictures of how it goes and how you put your unique spin on things! Tag me in your tweets so I can see them, and use the #DesignEDU hashtag!


Creative Coding

Creative Coding

In a first grade class one day, I asked a few students “Do you like coding?”
They had no idea what I was talking about.

What they did tell me: “I made this bracelet out of rubberbands and beads.” 

The current nationwide conversation around STEM focuses very heavily on coding, programming, and engineering. Which is great, if you are interested in those things.

What about our kids who just aren’t interested in coding? 

Girls in STEM, Girls Who Code, CSforAll – a few of the many movements and hashtags that are trying to get our kids interested in STEM. Why are they so focused on changing our students’ interests, rather than focusing on their current interests?

And for some reason, the STEM movement has started sending this message that’s it’s somehow a bad thing to be a girly-girl. An entire group of us are being left out of the STEM conversation.

That’s a problem.

I started thinking “How can I take these little creators, and use their current interests to get them into computational thinking, coding, STEM, etc?”

I decided to create an activity for these little learners that focuses on patterns and codes.


Using different colored beads, students could “code their name” using the key, or create their own pattern with a few colors and repeat it over and over.

The intro to this activity was quick – we talked about patterns and secret codes for a few minutes, then they were off on their own!


I loved seeing their creativity in creating their own unique patterns. One friend asked if he could have two patterns on the same necklace. He decided to use a black bead to separate the two patterns.


The students who decided to code their names were excited to take the necklaces home and have their parents “decode” them.

I included a little card that I threaded onto their necklaces that explained the activity, and gave them some “unplugged coding” ideas to try at home.

Click here to view and print my Coding Bracelets pages.

I loved this activity, and will be doing it again in other kindergarten and first grade classrooms. Taking the students’ current interests – making jewelry – and bringing in some basic computation thinking skills worked well. They started using “coding” language and will have that in their toolbox when “real” coding and programming is presented to them as they get older.

Give Me a Minute!

Give Me a Minute!

Teachers are busy. And rarely have more than a few minutes of “extra time.”

That’s the barrier I’m attempting to tackle lately – and, as always, I’m using my Design Thinking Coaching model to do it.


How can I provide meaningful ideas and strategies to teachers, without taking up too much of their time?

After analyzing the data from my Needs Assessment sent out in September and January, it became clear that teachers prefer to receive professional development in a way that doesn’t take up too much time. An overwhelming number of respondents – over 75% – expressed interest in receiving PD through instructional videos, tutorial documents, and self-paced courses.

This led me to create a Curriculum Technology Newsletter this fall, filled with PD opportunities, videos, links to online resources, etc. Because I use URL Shortener to create links to the newsletter, videos, and resources, I could see which things were getting “clicks” and which were not. It seemed anytime I described something as “quick” or “short,” people clicked on it!

As a teacher, time is precious. Between planning, grading, conferencing with students, meeting with departments, admin, and parents – and SO much more – it can be difficult to find the time to sit and watch a 10 minute tutorial video during plan time. So, my goal was to create something that honored my teachers’ time.


What I came up with was Give Me A Minute. Each week, I will create a video or graphic of a quick, easy tool or idea that takes teachers no longer than one minute to watch or read. We’re not talking big, multi-step tutorials here. We’re talking taking tools they are likely already using, and showing them a new way to use – a feature they hadn’t noticed, a different way to use it with students, or a way to be more productive.

Give me a minute of your time, and I’ll give you an awesome tool or strategy you can use right away.

That’s my first video – using the Bookmarks Bar in Google Chrome to curate resources for a lesson. It’s nothing amazing or mindblowing – just a new way to use something you’re likely already familiar with.

Hopefully providing these Give Me A Minute resources will give teachers an entry point into other, more advanced forms of professional learning.

I’d love to hear how YOU are tackling the issue of time in your district or school! How do you deliver professional development that fits teachers needs and schedule?