Teaching Students to Become Image Detectives

When we teach students to read, we teach them techniques for finding context clues within a text. We show them how to annotate text, marking it up so they (and we, as their text guides) can visually identify their thought process throughout the text.

In a visually rich world where students just as commonly encounter visual elements (photos, videos, gifs, emojis, memes, etc.), we should also get serious about teaching students how to "read" the clues and context available within visual media. While marking up text-based media has always been far more common in literacy instruction, we now have tools readily available to annotate or "mark up" images in the same ways to help us uncover their thinking as they observe images.

There are tools available on any device to do this with ease with your students. If you are in an iPad classroom, you can use the Markup tool in the Photos app. If you are using Chromebooks, you can just as easily use Google Drawings to do the same kind of activity in class.

Setting Up a Successful Image Detective Lesson

Teaching students to look closely as images is not a new idea. Teachers have long used images to capture a student's interest an attention, to create context, or to encourage students to ask questions about a topic/subject. However, to help students develop the skills of being image detectives, we need to carefully select the right images and utilize the right tools to let students "uncover" the key clues.

The process starts with three key components: a topic, a driving question, and interesting imagery.

Topic and Question

Every content area lends itself to some level of imagery exploration, so this will work in any classroom. The real challenge is asking questions that students will find compelling, and that can truly be answered by the images that you uncover. To begin, develop a generic question you will have students answer, which will give you a starting point to begin your image search. This is the "rough draft" of your question for students to answer. You will need to be flexible with the question, adapting it to fit perfectly once you find the right image.

Selecting an Image

Images are everywhere on the Internet. However, not just any image will do for this kind of investigation. When selecting an appropriate image for this type of lesson, the goal is to find images that have historical, geographical, or contextual clues hidden within them. There has to be evidence within the image to tell a story, which can in turn provide points for students to consider and discuss.

Let's look at an example of two images. The generic question I want students to ponder is this: 

"What is it like for an immigrant to start a new life in a new country?"

The top image is from a wonderful site that teaches students how to become  Image Detectives . The lower image is from a Google search which turned up an  image  from a 2006 immigration march in Washington D.C.

The top image is from a wonderful site that teaches students how to become Image Detectives. The lower image is from a Google search which turned up an image from a 2006 immigration march in Washington D.C.

Both are images intimately tied to immigration. The lower image is far more timely, relevant to our students lives, and attractive to view (color, interesting subject, focused). But the upper image -- there is so much more richness of detail. While we could definitely foster a conversation with the lower image, the upper image lends itself to student exploration. And that is exactly what we are looking for when we select an image for students to explore and uncover.

Once you have selected the right image, you can then tailor your question to the image to promote even richer thinking and conversation.

"This family that has recently immigrated to America.
What issues may they be confronting as a result of this life change?"

Using Technology to Annotate Images

For those in an iOS/iPad environment, marking up images on the iPad has become very simple. You no longer need an additional application. The Markup function on the iPad comes baked in iOS 10 and beyond.

Start by distributing the image to your students so that every student has a copy of the image on their device in the camera roll. This can be achieved in a number of ways. Whether using the AirDrop function (especially if you use Apple Classroom where you can AirDrop to all students with one click of a button), or just placing the image in Google Drive or on a class website, the goal is for the students to save the image to their iPad Photos.

Next, your students will be accessing the Markup tool in the Photos app (yep, the one that came with the iPad!).

A full range of image editing tools will appear as a part of the "Markup" tool set.

A full range of image editing tools will appear as a part of the "Markup" tool set.

  1. Open the Photos app, tap on the image you shared with your students, and "Select" the image.
  2. Then click "Edit" to reveal the editing tools, and select the ellipsis button (three dots).
  3. Select the "Markup" tool.  The drawing tools will appear.
  4. When finished, select "Done" and the drawings/text/shapes placed on the image will be saved as a part of the image.

You will need to teach students how to use some of these editing tools to produce better results. For instance, instead of handwriting on the image with the pen, use the text tool to type to make the writing smaller and more legible. Use shapes and arrows to point out specific details in the image. Use the pinch gesture to zoom in and out of the picture to get close to the details while drawing on the image.

Here is an example of the work a student might produce.

Notice how typed text makes it easier to read. Also, using color can help point out different types of details the student has uncovered in the image they are annotating.

Notice how typed text makes it easier to read. Also, using color can help point out different types of details the student has uncovered in the image they are annotating.

While Markup works in the iOS/iPad environment, there is a similar tool that works on Chromebooks and computers: Google Drawings. (Drawings does NOT work on the iPad at this time.)

This instructional video from Kelly Hollis (@hollis_k) will demonstrate a similar process for marking up images using Google Drawings.

Fostering a Conversation for Image Detectives

Depending on the images a teacher has selected, there can be great clarity and agreement on what story is being told in the image based upon the clues that are available, or there can be considerable disagreement and discussion. As with any deep thinking activity, it is important to find ways to have students share their ideas/perspective and listen to the findings/thoughts of others.

One way to do this in an iOS environment is to have students AirPlay their image to the classroom Apple TV if one is available. Here every student can quickly and efficiently share their ideas.  Another way to do this is to have students select a partner and AirDrop their individual image to their partner for review and discussion.

If you are in a Google environment, you can easily share Google Drawings with another student to start the conversation.

Sometimes the details in an image can be rather limited. There may not be enough details to uncover for all students to have an opportunity to share. This does not mean, though, that any student should be allowed to opt out of sharing their thinking. To be sure all students get a chance to share, you can use Padlet to foster an online conversation. (I know that Padlet has become far more limited since introducing their pay model, but even if you only have three free Padlet boards, you can at least spark a conversation in your classroom. Remember -- for ed tech companies to exist at all, they need to be able to make a profit.) You could just as easily use a Google Doc or Google Slides presentation, though, shared with all students allowing them to upload their images to the presentation or document.

The key is reflection and debriefing. How can you get your students to talk about what they have uncovered? When students talk about their thinking, they learn! And that is the ultimate goal in any activity we do with students.

Feel free to share your ideas in the comments below about how you have encouraged your students to become image detectives. What tools have you used? What have you witnessed for results in student learning?

Making the Most of the Tools You Have

Tonight I'm going to be leading a webinar on the Intel Teach Live series called The Dangers of App Overload.  If you would like to register to join and follow along live, here is the link:

Before I write any more, I want to say thank you to Naomi Harm (@naomiharm) and Vanessa Jones (@vkajones) for the opportunity to connect and share tonight.  It is an honor! Thank you for the opportunity.

This blog post below is inspired by my reflection on and preparation for tonight's webinar.

Something I hear more often in my work than I would imagine, and something that forces me to reflect on the question of how well we are using the tools we have available to us for teaching and learning is this comment that I will sometimes get a version of from teachers:

"So, I used to use this tool that I could use for lots of different projects.  Is there an app for that now, or something that is just like it?  It was called Photo Story. It was great."

Now, for those of you reminiscing about Photo Story, here is the reality.  Photo Story has not been updated since 2006.  As late as 2013 I can still find posts of people successfully installing and running Photo Story, but after that I'm not sure that there is quite as much success (except for those of you still rocking the XP).

If you don't know Photo Story, it basically allowed users to create a Photo Slideshow complete with instrumental music, transitions, voice overs, and text.  By today's standards that maybe doesn't sound that impressive.  Remember, this software was available at a time when merging and mashing media was, well, complicated.

Anyhow, the bigger picture is this.  When I engage teachers in the question of why they loved Photo Story so much, the response is generally pretty consistent.  

1 - It was easy to use.

2 - It was easily adaptable.  

3 - It was reliable.

Teachers could learn the software once and then apply it to almost any media project or presentation.  Want to tell a digital story?  Use Photo Story.  Want to create an engaging version of a science lab report?  Use Photo Story.  Want to impress your parents and students with photos and music from the spring concert?  Use Photo Story.

The landscape looks VERY different today for teachers.  Back then there was definitely a lot of software available at the time when Photo Story became popular. The trouble was that the software was most often not free (at least the well designed, easy-to-use stuff was not often free) and it was a laborious process to have it even installed on computers.  Today, there is an ever-flowing stream of high quality, innovative, well designed free software, and it is all a button tap away from being installed on your tablet for use in your classroom. Apps are easy to acquire, easy to use, and there are generally several to choose between.

This leaves us with a new challenge, and it  relates closely to the topic of digital distraction. It is incredibly easy to find new tools, use new tools, and replace new tools with newer tools.  

Buggy app?  Switch to a new one.  Not fond of the advertisements?  Switch to a new one.  Clunky layout?  Switch to a new one. Friends (or students) using something else?  Switch to a new one.  We are switching our tool set so frequently that the reality is we never really get to be truly proficient and productive with the tools we use.

So, maybe our new tools are easy to use. That's generally a given as no app can make it very long in a design-conscious marketplace.

Are they adaptable, though?  Well, if Photo Story could be considered adaptable, so could nearly ANY creative app today.  Whether it is iMovie, Pages, Notability, Explain Everything, the Google Apps Suite, or anything else you can imagine, the adaptability of the tool is in the mind of the user (and in my case, the mind of the teacher framing the instructional goals).  These tools have the power to be used for a wide variety of instructional reasons.

The last question, though, is if these apps are reliable.  And that is an interesting question.  Software and apps today are more reliable than ever.  Developers get more feedback from users today (or at least can get the feedback and data if they choose to) more quickly than at almost any other time in history.  So, the apps themselves are very reliable.  The follow-up question, though, is if we, the end users, are committing to the tools reliably.  If we are fickle consumers and users of these apps, especially the apps that we use in our classrooms with students, then we will NEVER get to a point where we can determine the reliability or the adaptability of these powerful tools.

As educators, we must focus on how to make the most of the tools we do have readily and reliably available to us.  Teachers are the most creative people I know.  They can make meaningful lessons out of almost any set of resources.  We now just need to slow ourselves, commit to the tools we do have, and then make magic happen in our classrooms.

I hope that in 10 years some teacher says to me, "Hey, do you know of any apps that I can use with my kids that is just like Explain Everything.  That app was great.  My kids did so much with that!"

Then again, in 10 years I hope that no teacher is still saying to me, "Do you know if Photo Story is still available for download?" :)



Moving Beyond Substitution: Innovative Use of Book Creator Climbs SAMR Ladder

If somebody promises gains in student achievement as a result of the purchase of 1:1 computing devices or of introducing an app in your district/classroom, it's fair to say they may be feeding you a line.  However, when a teacher shares an educationally relevant, SAMR climbing use of that same tool or app, pay attention. Student achievement is likely to follow!

Recently a teacher in my district, Emily Hernandez, shared one way she uses the Book Creator app for iOS that pointed to an educationally relevant, instructionally appropriate use of the app.  If you are not familiar with Book Creator, it is a way to develop interactive, multimedia-incorporating ebooks/iBooks on the iPad.  It is a simple, easy-to-use app that could very easily be overestimated due to its apparent simplicity.

Ms. Hernandez, though, saw the potential in the tool because she dared to think differently about how her students would utilize the app to demonstate knowledge in her foreign language classroom.

Foreign language students need to demonstrate a wide variety of language acquisition skills, measured primarily through their ability to write and speak the language.  This is traditionally assessed via written works and through the use of conversation and oral presentation with classmates and instructors.  

In Ms. Hernandez's application of the Book Creator app, she was able to utilize these two assessment techniques to demonstrate the students' knowledge to date.  Through the use of written text in the eBooks students created, as well as through the ability to record audio and place audio files into the eBook (a feature built into Book Creator), Ms. Hernandez achieved Substitution by having students do something they had always done, only now using technology to do it.

She climbed the SAMR ladder another rung, though, through the meaningful incorporation of audio, images, and written text into a singular demonstration of learning.  Using the medium of a "published" eBook as their palette, students were being asked to provide written text, were asked to record and supplement that written text with an audio version of that text, and were able to incorporate meaningful images that supported the key themes and messages of their eBook.  Here the teacher was taking advantage of the benefits of the technology built into the Book Creator app, as well as the student's pre-conceived notion of a more professional level of communication in a published book, to gain efficiency and to add authenticity to the demonstration of learning.  This is clear evidence that Ms. Hernandez had now achieved Augmentation on the SAMR ladder in her use of Book Creator.

As we move into Modification, it is important to understand that the key focus must be on how the teacher changes the lesson design or demonstration of learning to take advantage of the functionality and efficiency the technology provides.  Ms. Hernandez decided to make student reflection a key component of this project, allowing students to continually reflect on their "performance" based upon teacher feedback to inform their future learning.  In her lesson design, she allowed students to return to the eBook to make changes prior to final publication. 

The stroke of genius that Ms. Hernandez conjured was in using AirDrop and/or Google Drive (both export functions are natively available in the Book Creator app), functions that allowed the student to share the "draft" of their eBook with the teacher, as well as the audio recording function of the Book Creator app, to provide that feedback.  As students shared the draft of their eBook with the teacher, the teacher reviewed it on her iPad in the Book Creator app, added a page for audio feedback in which she spoke her feedback to students, shared it back with students using the same AirDrop/Google Drive method the student selected, and then allowed them to continue working. While that feedback could have just as easily been spoken to the students in class, the ability to use Google Drive and audio record provided four key advantages.  


  • The students could work on the rough draft of the eBook at any time and "turn in" that draft as soon as they were finished.  Ms. Hernandez could do the same with the feedback.  This creates an ability to provide just-in-time feedback to students as they meet natural finish points, not just on a once-size-fits-all, pre-determined collection date.
  • The feedback was recorded, meaning that both the students and Ms. Hernandez had a record of the feedback provided.  This becomes valuable to the students as they make suggested changes and alter their final product, and it becomes valuable to the teacher as a way of measuring growth from previous iterations of a similar work product.
  • Through the drafting process, Ms. Hernandez reinforces the concept that language acquisition is about a process of learning and growing, not a unit of study that is explored and then completed or forgotten.
  • Students create a lasting product that demonstrates their understanding at a given point in time.  This can be posted to an electronic portfolio, shared at conferences, or later revisited and revised as the students grow in their language acquisition.


Ms. Hernandez's work should be applauded, as it is an incredible reminder that the simplest of tools, used in meaningful, thoughtful, and creative ways, can really transform the way that our students perceive and experience the journey of learning.

YouTube Offering Free Audio Tracks; Aids Users in Following Copyright

Many of us have wrestled with the questions surrounding what constitutes educational use of media as it relates to copyright.  While it is important for each of us to come to an understanding of what is appropriate fair use and what isn't in the world of copyrighted material, it is just as important that we begin to have discussions about copyright with our students.

As students publish more of their work for a larger audience, the discussion about copyright becomes a non-negotiable point of instruction that every educator must address.  However, our own misinformation about copyright makes that conversation a difficult one to lead and to provide definitive advice to students on.  

One resource I particularly appreciat for its simplicity and definitive answers, along with their offerings of pre-formatted lessons on teaching copyright to students, is the Teaching Copyright website (  The site isn't filled with so many lessons that you can't manage it all.  In fact, the lessons and resources are incredibly direct and to the point -- something that those of us who don't love talking about copyright but know it is critical will appreciate.  I'd encourage you to take a look, if only to further inform yourself as an educator prior to engaging in a multimedia project with students.

However, another key to the copyright conversation is helping students to find resources that are marked for full use because they are royalty free or have been given a Creative Commons copyright distinction.  There are increasing libraries of these kinds of resources out there, but one notable service is now offering 150+ audio tracks that are free to download and use in media projects because they are truly royalty free!

YouTube recently announced it's expansion of a library of royalty free downloadable audio tracks.  The tracks can be searched by genre, mood, instrucment, and track length.  It's a great starting point for students to consider as they are looking for just the right feeling in their media project audio.  It also allows educators to enter into the conversation about how audio tracks contribute to or detract from the meaning and personality of a piece!  What a valuable lesson to engage in.  Best of all, you can be certain that as your students share their project with the world, at least the audio portion of the project is safe to publish!  

If you are interested in checking out the YouTube library, it's available here:

Downloading and Using Video in the Classroom

There is little doubt that video engages kids.  The evidence of that reality stares me in the face each time I watch my three-year-old daughter become slack-jaw while watching her favorite television show.  As an educator, I know that we need to harness that kind of power in our efforts to engage students.

However, video is a difficult world to deal with when it comes to the Internet.  The quality and size of video files causes it to suck up a lot of network resources (meaning that other people cannot access what they may need to teach or learn).  If you have ever suffered through a “choppy” video that plays faster than it streams to the computer, you’ve dealt with this frustration.  It becomes especially difficult to justify that constraint on resources when you walk into the neighboring room of people crowded around a computer, all laughing uncontrollably at the latest viral video. 

Of course, there is also the issue of the appropriateness of content.  You understand that if you have ever shown a YouTube video (that you’ve previewed and decided is appropriate) to a class and then had a host of “suggested” videos appear on the sidebar with less than appropriate subject matter.  In my case it was a video on “mob mentality” that returned pictures of scantily clad people dancing and a video on a dog breeding program (you can imagine what the images for that one looked like).  Needless to say, I lost my audience before the intended video even started.

With that said, there are ways to get the upper hand on Internet video to maximize its power and limit its distractions.  Below are several ways that you can capture Internet videos in order to share them with your students.

*Disclaimer:  The world of Internet video is peppered with lots of technical jargon and elements.  Downloading Internet video is more of an “art” than a science at this point.  Patience is critical! Also, having a few “methods” to fall back on is helpful.

Internet Overrides

YouTube and other sites are often filtered at school.  However, there is little doubt that some educationally valuable content is available on these sites.  For this reason, any staff member in my district can use an override code to access these filtered resources.  This allows him/her to access any content that he/she may need while at school simply by using the override code whenever he/she encounters filtered material.

If you do not presently have access to these resources at school, perhaps its a conversation starter with your Director of Technology to get the ball rolling in the right direction.

Of course, without that option in place, it's nice to be able to "collect" or download Internet video content directly from the web BEFORE going to a filtered environment.  If that option speaks to you, you can utilize to download videos from several Internet video streaming sites. 

  1. First you will need to locate the video you want to download. 

  2. Then, copy the URL and open another browser window to .

  3. On the green box in the center of the page, click the second tab, which reads “Download Videos”

  4. Under “Step 1” paste the URL of the video into the text box

  5. Under “Step 2” choose one of the following formats:

    1. FLV – if you want to place the video directly into a SMART Notebook file

    2. WMV – if you want to play the video with Windows Media Player

    3. Under “Step 3” enter your school email address and then click “Convert”

    4. Zamzar will send a link to your email inbox.  This is not an immediate process, but if you have not received the link within 24 hours, check your “Junk Email” folder.

    5. Click the link emailed to you, click “Download Now” on the web page, and save the file to your computer.

Pros: Cons:
-Reliable download of videos -Slow process; may take hours to receive email from Zamzar
-Lots of file formats available -Small video files only; 100 mb limit

Another reliable source that is a bit more streamlined is

  1. First you will need to locate the video you want to download. 

  2. Then, copy the URL and open another browser window to

  3. In the “URL” box in the middle of the page, paste the address of the video you want to download

  4. Click “Nab” just to the right of the URL box

  5. Wait a few seconds, and several buttons will appear below the “URL” box that will indicate the preferred file format and quality of the video for the video you want to download (FLV medium, FLV high, WMV low, etc.).  Click on the preferred format and quality.

  6. Wait a few more seconds and a “Save” dialogue box will appear.  Click “Save” and identify where you want the video to go.

Pros: Cons:
-Faster download process -Video files formats limited to what is available; not all formats available
-Reliable download of videos -May have to use another service to convert video file formats


*Not all video players are made equal.  If you’ve got a file that won’t play with a standard media player (like Windows Media Player), you may want to download and install another media player – VLC Media Player.  You can download VLC at this site:

Alternative Video Sites

There are lots of great video sites out there to pull resources from.  Here are just a few worthy of mentioning.

School Tube and Teacher Tube

While no comparison to the expansive library of YouTube, School Tube and Teacher Tube are vetted content sources that have systems in place to monitor the content hosted on the site.  There is a wide array of educational resources available on both sites.

Find them at:  and

YouTube Edu

About a year ago YouTube launched YouTube Edu (  Partnering with academics and universities the world over, there is an expansive list of lectures and resources available for free on the site.  Hosted on YouTube, you’ll have to access the site using the Internet override you were given, but it has lots of great content that may just fit your classroom needs.

The most important element to remember is that video engages students in a wide variety of ways.  Although showing video from YouTube isn't an option that is presently available for every teacher, it is definitely worth the extra effort to pre-plan, download in advance of the class period, and show the video to students using some of the techniques and tools mentioned here.

Episode 5: A whole new PowerPoint!

Today's show is about a topic that I haven't thought much about over the past year, but it was an idea I was introduced to by Glen Lehmann in my master's program, and it's an idea I've used in my classroom before. I really liked the final product, although there was some tweaking that I will be doing before I reintroduce it to my students this year.

I'm talking about a whole "new" way of using PowerPoint. Now, the idea is clearly not new, and it isn't something I came up with, either. However, the "new" portion of it is in how we think about PowerPoint and how we utilize it. Typically, PowerPoint and other presentation software is used to deliver a linear presentation. That means we start at one end and work our way straight through to the other end of the presentation. It's the way most people use PowerPoint, and it certainly has many benefits.

However, today's show is talking about non-linear presentations. In this style of presentation, a central presenter/speaker is not necessary. The audience/viewer gets to interact with the PowerPoint, directing their own experience by manipulating the PowerPoint with directions created by the creator of the presentation. It is really a different way of using PowerPoint, and it allows the creator of the presentation to really focus on content and manipulation of content, as opposed to concerning themselves with their presentation. It also engages the audience more and allows the viewer to do what many of our kids know best: interact with the content. It is a perfect way to make the existing curriculum in your classroom something that students can manipulate and interact with.

Links from the Show

Guides and Tutorials: Non-linear PowerPoint tutorial:

This is a handy little walk-through of what non-linear PowerPoints are, how to plan for them (planning for these types of presentations is far different and more intricate than planning for a linear presentation), and how to tweak the "user interface" of the presentation. There are also some great flash videos on the site that will actually demonstrate how to create the presentation in a step-by-step, easy to follow manner.

Internet4Classrooms Online PowerPoint Assistant:

The Internet4Classrooms website has a wide variety of tutorials aimed at teachers who need to brush up on their skills in various programs. I particularly like this site because the creators of the site assign levels to each tutorial. For the very beginner, there is a "Basic" category; for the advanced user, advanced tutorials are available.

Baltimore County Public Schools PowerPoint Guide:

I didn't mention this resource in the show, but I've used the tutorials on this site before, and I really like them. The tutorials are from the BCPS Office of Instructional Technology, and the folks who put these together seem to really know their stuff and break down the steps of some more complex PowerPoint tasks with ease. If you need more help with your understanding of PowerPoint, check this site out.

Examples of Non-Linear PowerPoints:

If you have an interest in seeing what this kind of PowerPoint looks like before you set out to create your own, or if you struggle to wrap your mind around non-linear PowerPoints, check out this site. There are several good examples that will introduce you to some of the possiblities that exist within this use of PowerPoint.

Classroom 2.0:

I mentioned it several times in the show, and I will link to it here, again. If you haven't logged on to Classroom 2.0, you really need to try it out. The best advice I can give, though, is to not be afraid to make connections with the community. Find like-minded educators/professionals on the site and send them a message or write a note on their page. Your willingness to reach out to meet them will pay enormous dividends and will be rewarding and enjoyable. If you sign up, you can find me on the site: brianyearling.

Tech Trial - Pandora:

You will love this online radio station for use in your classroom. Sign up for free, identify artists you really like, and kick back and wait for your musical library to be greatly expanded. They consider the artists you like, and they select artists you may also like that you have never heard before. Best of all, if you like it, you can add the artist to your station. If you don't like it, you can block them from the station never to be played again. Fun resource that will liven up your classroom and will make your hours of work time pass with ease.

If you've got questions, comments, ideas, suggestions, or want to share your use of non-linear PowerPoints with me, send it to:

Thanks for listening.
Brian Yearling

Host and Instructional Technology Enthusiast