Web Design by Google

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For our course 5 final project, my partner, Lindsay and I decided to revamp our unit on the graphic novel, Persepolis. We updated the presentation of the content by switching from the old print media with images to the snazzy new Google Sites. Pretty pleased with the results, I decided to try out Google Sites with my 10th grade English classes. Stay tuned for those results…

21st Century Skills

In reflecting on this project, I think the best part about the revamp was Google Sites. I just had no idea that creating a website could be so easy, and at the same time, look so professional and polished. The judges, Alexis and Andrew, were both effusive in their praise of all of the Sites. Alexis noted that the project measured two very different skills: one, the ability to deliver content in a clear, concise and easily understandable way and two, the ability to organize and design the content with the aesthetic in mind. One of the students I interviewed added to this sentiment, saying that she felt this assessment felt more like something she would do at a real job, as opposed to, say, writing a 5-paragraph essay on a book. (Note: as an English teacher, I felt it was my duty to try and convince her of the life-long benefits that learning how to write an essay can provide. I think I was successful. 😉

Authentic Tasks


My other favorite part about the revamp was the fact that we had two outside judges as the audience for the task. It seems simple (and it is, really), but the effect this knowledge had on my students was striking. It added an impetus to their work that I have not seen from many second semester seniors and appeared almost to give them a second wind. It would seem then, that adding that component of authenticity does in fact make a task more meaningful and therefore engaging. As soon as my students knew the votes were in, they were dying to know which class’s Google Site had been chosen by the judges. It was refreshing and fun to see the students so excited about something that seemed, at first, to be so insignificant.



One of the challenges that we faced and I mention in the video is that of source citation, specifically images and videos. For some reason, students of all ages and sizes have an aversion to citing images (maybe because it seems so convoluted?), so this was a great time to refine that skill. Luckily, here at AIS-R, we are blessed with the best librarian in the world. After creating a LibGuide for our students, Kelly hosted a workshop on how to properly cite images and videos.  With her help, students were able to produce complete and accurate lists of the sources they used, including those oh-so-challenging images and videos.

Final Thoughts

As I think back over the last two years, I am struck with how much I have learned to actually DO, and then transferred that new knowledge to my students and asked them to also DO. From blogging, to elements of design, to properly citing images, the skills I have learned are really invaluable in this new age of technology. The final task, using iMovie (gasp!), was one of my greatest feats and I am quite proud of what I was able to create. And so, without further adieu, my final project…


*All images are my own.

Introduction to Final Project

via Superbond1
via Superbond1

For my COETAIL FINAL project, I’ve decided to redesign a culminating task for my senior IB Language and Literature course. Working alongside Lindsay Lyon, my colleague and fellow COETAIL’er, we’re asking our students to explore a tech tool that is new to them – Google Sites. What makes the site so great is that the technology is very intuitive and so it requires very little instructional time in terms of teaching students how to manipulate and create.  According to tech blogger, Daniel Nations, one of Google Sites’ best features is its design ease and the fact that you can be a web designer “without having to know how to code it yourself.” Google sites also “falls under the Collaborative category in Google’s Apps for Work,…which is what makes it so powerful and such a valuable tool for teams.” In other words, Google Sites fits our criteria for a presentation platform: digital, simple, collaborative and dynamic. And off we go!

The Plan

In revisiting our unit on the graphic novel, Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, we decided that the previous culimating project, where we asked students to create a simple “One-Pager” presentation of their background assignment was not inline with our own new tech-savvy, courtesy of COETAIL. Lindsay had the brilliant idea of using Google Sites to revamp the project and voila, we were ready to go!

All rights reserved via Bookaholic
All rights reserved via Bookaholic

The Goal

Our goal with this new and improved project is to move the content of the presentation away from the straight-forward presentation of facts in a linear fashion and more towards an integrative and dynamic platform of presentation. We are creating a Site for each of our classes and assigning them the position of curator and designer. Each pair of students will have their own tab (subtopic) where they are responsible for compiling graphic data, facts, images, videos and helpful information for their classmates as they build on their contextual knowledge of the novel, Persepolis. They will then embed a quiz (in the form of a Google Form) for students to demonstrate their learning from the site.

via bulls eye DSC_3491 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The Hopes and Dreams

As we move through this process, I hope to see students authentically and enthusiastically engaging with this task. Okay, enthusiasm might be asking too much of my second semester seniors at this point in time, but I am hoping that with the relative ease and aesthetic that Google Sites offers, students will show a genuine interest in the subject matter. I also dream that the knowledge my students gain from this assignment will be enough to propel them all to 6’s and 7’s on their IB Paper 2 Exam. A teacher can dream…

Course 4 Final Project

As I pondered which course and unit I wanted to revamp for this final project (it took me a while…), I knew that I wanted to choose a unit that would lend itself to 1. a revamp and 2. a summative task that would be well-suited to a digital format. The natural fit is my next unit of study with my IB SL English Language and Literature seniors – the graphic novel Persepolis. 

Persepolis Marjane Satrapi

The WHy.

The focus of the last semester of this course is on texts and their contexts, specifically on the way in which the social, political and historical backgrounds of a novel are important in creating and shaping meaning. In fact, one of the key questions that the IB poses to students is: “How might the contexts of the authors have influenced their portrayal of these social groups?” With an emphasis on background knowledge, this unit is perfect for redesign with a technology slant for the summative.


Honestly, I don’t have many concerns in the redesign of this unit because it already lends itself so well to the incorporation of technology. AND, working with my teaching buddy and fellow COETAIL’er, Lindsay Lyon, will be a major boon for the planning – two brains are most certainly better than one!


After Lindsay and I recently attended a tech PD session hosted by our school, we decided we wanted to step out of our (and our students’) iMovie/Prezi/Blog comfort zone and give a new presentation format a try. At the PD session, one of our middle school Humanities teachers presented on Adobe Spark. It’s relatively simple and intuitive to use, but the product is really quite impressive. Before we begin this unit, we’ll definitely need to create our own Adobe Spark presentations to work out the kinks.


Although most of us want to believe that because our students have come of age in the digital era, this automatically means that they are intuitively skilled at navigating all forms of technology. This, as I have learned too many times, is simply not true. They may be able to tweet, snapchat and Instagram their little hearts out, but when it comes to learning new tech tools, they require direct instruction. It’s kind of nice that they still rely on us…or at least that’s what they let us believe.

And so, without further adieu, the proposed Unit Plan for Persepolis:Texts and Contexts.

From Bland to Grand!

Next week, I will be presenting in Bangkok at the NESA (Near East South Asia) Spring Educator’s Conference. My workshop is based on the Jane Schaffer writing method, a model that I learned years ago when I was teaching HS English teacher in the inner city of Los Angeles. There, my students struggled with the same thing that most other students around the world struggle with: achieving clarity and precision in their writing.

I’ve delivered this presentation a number of times and have, more or less, used the same Google Slides presentation each time. Because I’m presenting at a fairly large conference (it’s a big deal!), I decided I needed to apply the skills we’ve been learning in COETAIL to this presentation.

Here’s the Original Presentation:

The new (and hopefully improved version):

What changes did I make? Lots. And spent a good number of hours perfecting, obsessing and simplifying the design. In a nutshell, I applied the principles of CARP (Contrast, Alignment, Repetition, Proximity) along with the ideas from Presentation Zen, specifically that the content should be “simple, balanced and beautiful.”

I also knew it was too long and I had way too many words on the page. Keeping in mind Brandon Jones’s mantra that “Good visual hierarchy isn’t about wild and crazy graphics or the newest photoshop filters, it’s about organizing information in a way that’s usable, accessible, and logical to the everyday site visitor,” I decided to cut out 6 slides and instead, have that information readily available on a handy-dandy paper hand-out. I figure it’s something tangible that the audience can hang on to. (My presentation is scheduled at 4pm on Friday – the last event of the day, so I have to do everything I can do grab their attention!)

Overall, I think I’m most proud of my new and improved presentation’s simplicity, calm aesthetic and balanced design. I’m excited to try it out!

The Art of the Story

Course 2 Final Project Reflection

Courtesy of 100 Pedals


This quarter, my colleague here at AIS-R and I decided to spice things up a bit in the grade 10 English curriculum. We knew we were going to be covering narrative writing, but wanted to tweak the unit to make it more 21st century-friendly. Et voila! Our grade 10 blogging unit was born. My colleague also graciously allowed us to collaborate with another HS English teacher in Los Angeles, California (who also happens to be my big brother!:) in order to fit the parameters of the Coetail assignment. So far? It’s been a truly rewarding experiment! So great to work with my brother again (we taught together a few years back) and to collaborate with a classroom halfway around the world.

A Focus on Tech Tools

We knew going in to this unit some of the things that we absolutely had to cover, i.e. specific and concise instructions on how to set up the basic tools of the unit: the blog and  the RSS reader. On the advice of our tech guys, we decided to go with Blogger and Feedly, both of which I highly recommend. They are both intuitive and relatively easy to manage. I have to say – that first class where we set-up their blog and Feedly account took a LOT longer than we had planned. It continues to surprise me just how much these kids do not actually feel at ease using technology. This whole concept of students being “digital natives” is often times not the case; I find that many of my students feel just as confused and lost in tech-land as I do!

Courtesy of Genea Bloggers

Cite what?!?!

Another area that we knew we wanted to focus on was the issue of copyright and citing digital sources. Our students are plenty familiar with MLA citations and how to create an accurate Works Cited, but when it comes to citing digital material (mostly photos), they’re lost. This lesson also took quite a bit longer than expected, and in fact is an ongoing battle of constant reminders. Their correctly cited images/videos/photos will be a part of their final product (not due until January), so it continues to be a work-in-progress.

The Final Product 

We’re excited to see how their final product comes out! Check back in January for an update and some examples of student work!