Visual Vocabulary Sheets

A colleague of mine uses what he calls Visual Vocabulary Sheets to teach vocabulary of physical objects.  It’s simply a sheet of paper folded in half, and then further folded into eight cells.

Each cell has a simple picture or cartoon the kids draw themselves, based on his model on the board.  Some are more elaborate than these; some kids use colored pens to make them more particular.  My colleague tells me that some kids do much more elaborate versions of his cartoons, too.

This is not an easy thing to replicate on a computer.  Most computer companies make you pay extra for even simple drawing or paint programs.  Programs like Illustrator and graphic design programs often require tablets or other hardware to work them well.  And while my colleague would be the first to admit that he has virtually no drawing talent at all, he does give kids extra points for including the drawing on their quizzes, tests, and exams.  “Art,” he would say, “is as important a thinking skill as writing.”  And I agree.

Are there some cheap/free ways of transferring this to a digital environment?  of wikifying it, so that many students can contribute to the same drawing, improving them and redesigning them and flagging them?  Could his students create a database of such imagery, complete with not only their drawings but also photographs?  I don’t know.

But I suspect it’s an important part of a digital education — learning to think visually as well as digitally, and learning to think collaboratively and contextually, as well as individually.

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  1. It’s a question in two parts — devices with some form of natural hand/pen interface, and ones without.

    For tablets or iPodTouch style devices the primary challenge is simplifying the workflow between the creation of the image and it’s storage and display. A wiki with a bulk upload command would let kids push all of their images onto a page at once, or an “auto collage” program (like ) could combine a them drawings into one stable image. While the iPhone/iPod platform has a bunch of great simple drawing tools, they’re often limited in how you get the files off (primarily email). If I found one with a built-in upload+Tweet function, that would be my choice. Have a class drawing and follow everyone’s progress and work via TwitterFall. IWBs are almost a good choice, but the limit of one (maybe 2!) simultaneous users means that it won’t work as a class activity.

    Without a pen interface, you’re left with simple drawing programs. While there are lots of good tools for this (web and open source) the trick is to find something simple enough to just use.

    I did an exercise with my 5th graders earlier this year where we discussed the conceptual similarities between their faux-Lascaux cave wall drawings and early computer art (ranging from ASCII/ANSI through KidPix). They did animal drawings using only the basic construction tools (rectangle, circle, line, fill, etc) and it turned out neat. It’s a different skill and different experience, but could still fit some of the same requirements.

    The heart of the matter is this – there are many ways that humans think and process through their tools. Just as I wouldn’t ever want to give up the use of writing by hand in a math class, “Paperless” or not, I think there’s lots to be said for the pen-in-hand experience you describe above.

    The cheapest solution would be a good hopper-fed scanner. My last school had a stand-alone device we called The Chipper, but they’re built into most big copier/printers now. Have the kids draw! But scan everything and post it to the wiki during class.

    Save the experience and use the digital tools to expand it. Don’t trim the good stuff to fit the tech.

  2. Jeff,

    I think that’s a great idea for building a database of imagery, sure. But it doesn’t train your hand to draw, or use visual thinking as a tool. It’s still word-based.

    My friend Dave Gray might be able to explain this better than I can, and of course the left-brain/right-brain discussion is so overheated these days, but in essence, drawing a picture for yourself helps you understand the meaning much more effectively than searching for images that fit someone else’s ideas.

  3. I quickly thought of one way to do it, though my initial thought is that it would be extremely time-consuming:

    * Use a search engine to find an appropriate picture
    * Download/save image
    * Upload the image to a website like picknik
    * Edit it as you see fit
    * re-save the image
    * Upload it to class blog

    The problem obviously starts with finding an appropriate picture… sometimes the almighty Internet just doesn’t have the perfect one.

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