language and learning

I had an eye-opening conversation several years ago, as I was learning Italian at the fabulous America-Italy Society of Philadelphia with my Italian teacher. We were having a conversation about the structure of courses and so on, and I carry one of these insights with me to this day as it has become one of my philosophies about facilitating and learning in general. Here is a draft as I create visuals to go with my philosophy:

Traditionally we start in what we believe to be a simple version of the beginning and then work our way ‘up’ by chunking the information into pieces. We teach our students vocabulary first, then sentence structure, then grammar and so on, attempting to be solid in each category before moving on to the next. We’re building blocks.

In order to teach adults language, we change the process a bit. So, rather than building blocks, think of a pie where each piece is a category. Some of these categories may still be vocabulary, grammar and so on, as well as concept categories. An example of a concept category is transportation. In this category one might cover vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure while including contexts such as culture simultaneously.

Imagine a swirl that begins in the center of this pie representing wherever you are in your own learning process and then moving in and out of different categories rather quickly. This allows each to learn in life context rather than by each prescribed-simplified-out-of-context chunk.


Does this make sense to you? What do you think? What if we taught our kids this way too? What might happen?


To experience my philosophy in action, check out the upcoming one-day workshop DRAW IT OUT, again! on March 22, 2014 at the NY Peace Institute! Mention this blog post for a $25 discount! Deadline to register is coming up Friday, March 7! Reach out if you have questions! Details: 

Educon 2.6 day 3, drawn

DAY 3 – Day 3 of Educon 2.6 opened with a panel discussion, Openness; Creating More Transparent Schools. The panelists included Alya Gavins, Jose Vilson (@thejlv), Christina Cantrill (@seecantrill) and Philipp Schmidt (@schmidtpsi).

There was conversation around what it means to be open & transparent as a teacher and as a school.

Vulnerability is present in being open.

Someone made the distinction between calling somebody out versus calling people in to say we can do this together. That resonated with me, as I think so often we get caught thinking in individual absolutes and we don’t think about the community in the way that we could. There are so many possibilities for collaboration, we just have to be open to them.

CONVERSATION: Modern Learning Alliance with Will Richardson (@willrich45) – Richardson asked, “Why school?” as we inspected our assumptions and challenged ourselves and others not be skeptical of technology. Watch the conversation as it unfolded.

 CONVERSATIONMake Art, Not Pics with Kevin Jarrett (@kjarrett) – In this session, Jarrett asked participants to think about context, composition & color in photographs, among other things. We took a photo walk through Science Leadership Academy photographing subjects and objects we found interesting. The conversation and sharing was lively. Check out some of our photographs via our twitter feed: #makeartnotpics.

CONVERSATION:  Privileged Voices in Education  with Audrey Watters (@audreywatters) & Jose Vilson (@thejlv) - The conversation was rich with personal stories from those in the room, clarifying and challenging assumptions. Watch the session here. Facilitating these types of conversations can be difficult. Watters & Vilson admitted to being a little nervous to bring this conversation to a conference that has a history of bringing together mostly white, fairly rich, technology savvy educators. The honest candor & vulnerability that Watters & Vilson brought to the conversation was appreciated – as was the opportunity to have the conversation. It’s conversations that help people begin to be aware, shift thinking and change minds. Thanks Audrey & Jose, for holding that space!

“Learning isn’t linear[!!!!!!]” YES!! Yet, still so many of our learning systems are linear. This is one way in which drawing your notes, whether you’re a student, educator, or…, can help you better understand. We can connect our ideas in various ways, allowing us to better understand context & the greater system within which something fits.

The group talked about microaggressions and the many different forms they can take on for different people. Microaggressions exist in our culture in places that many of us are unaware of, especially when your perspective is one of privilege – and that lens of privilege can be more complicated than meets the eye.

Another take away for me was to make sure to “Do your own research. Don’t take someone else’s word for it. Go there. Experience someone else’s world.” Sharing stories is a great way to learn, but being there in the moment can truly teach you so much more.

Sketchnotes by Amanda Lyons of VISUALS for CHANGE. If you’re interested in utilizing visuals in your teaching / learning / working feel free to reach out. I’d love to hear from you! Email: amanda(at) or find me on Twitter: @amanda_lyons


Educon 2.6 day 2, drawn

For background on Educon 2.6, visit my last post. I’ll jump right in….

DAY 2 – I was late due to slow trains because of the cold weather, and unfortunately missed the morning keynote. Doh! I popped in and out of several sessions and so these are my visual notes based on what I caught throughout the day.

CONVERSATION: Cultivating Connections with the Arts with Michelle Baldwin (@michellek107) – Michelle facilitated conversations about using the arts for learning beyond art class & shared some specific lessons that have worked well for her.

ENCIENDA: Participants gets 5 minutes to present using 20 slides which advance every 15 seconds… I took liberty to eat during this lunch time event and captured a few moments here and there. Presenters included Jen Orr (@jenorr), Jeff Kessler (@jeffk8), Teresa Bunner (@RdngTeach), and Kristi Blakeway (@kblakeway). (There were several I missed in the beginning, as I walked in late – sorry if I didn’t catch yours! If you send me some info I am happy to include you here as well!)

CONVERSATION: Standards, not Standardization facilitated by Diana Laufenberg (@dlaufenberg) – As the title suggests, this session focused on common core standards and how different schools implement them with varying degrees of teacher freedom. I think one of the important questions, is, “How do we move forward with standards in positive ways, so it doesn’t become standardization?” After all we are not trying to turn our students into robots….

CONVERSATION: Developing Empathy with the World using Online Maps with Steve Goldberg (@steveg_tlc) – Steve has an awesome blog post about his session here. I caught the end of his session….

CONVERSATION: The Mindful Teacher with Sarah Macdonald and Lydia Maier – Sarah & Lydia, former Outward Bound Instructors (go OB!) who currently work at Waynflete, facilitated a fabulous conversation on mindfulness. The session helped participants to find the time for self care. We even got to practice a small 5 minute meditation!

One of my visual take-aways was when we talked about the moment between feeling & doing…

That was a wrap on Day 2 of Educon 2.6! HUGE THANKS to all the amazing facilitators who did their best to rock our assumptions & learn with us!

Educon 2.6 day 1, drawn…


Educon 2.6, conversations & a conference, brought together people who are passionate about learning from many perspectives. This 3 day sliver in my year allows a safe space for difficult conversations, big questions with unknown answers and the kind of change in thinking that inspires action (or so I hope). My biggest take away from this year’s conference – What will I/we DO next? I’m plotting something…, probably drawn….

Educon 2.6 is hosted by Science Leadership Academy (SLA), a public magnet school in Philadelphia focused on inquiry-driven, project based learning. SLA partners with the Franklin Institute throughout the school year and hosts the Friday night panel discussion. Enough words, have a look through my visual notes….

Find resources including information about using visual note-taking (& other visual learning techniques) in your classroom/learning environment at the bottom of this post….

DAY 1 – Opening Panel Discussion at the Franklin Institute

This year’s theme, openness, challenges the mere walls of school, paying homage to learning in many forms, not just in school and not just via testing. Panelists include: David Wiley of Lumen Learning (@opencontent), Kin Lane (@kinlane) of Department of Veterans Affairs, Sunny Lee (@soletelee) of Mozilla Open Badges, author Homa Tavangar (@growingupglobal), & Global Education Evangelist at Google, Jaime Casap (@jcasap).



- Last year’s Educon 2.5 visual notes:

- SLA & the Franklin Institute -

- Educon’s website -


Visual note taking, sometimes called sketchnoting or strategic doodling or …, can help us better understand and connect information since not all information is best understood linearly. It asks the note-taker to take paying attention to the next level. to deeply understand the content AND context as well as ‘do something’ with the content – turn it into pictures. I encourage learners to take their notes this way. It’s not about creating something beautiful. It’s about listening, filtering, organizing & drawing with your own style (and you don’t need any prior drawing experience). Teachers, if a student asks to take notes like this, please let them. Remind them it’s ‘strategic doodling’ which means their doodles need to directly relate to the content of the class.

Feel free to reach out via email (amanda(at) or twitter (@amanda_lyons) for visual note-taking tips, or to schedule a school visit for student classrooms or teacher professional development, or to share a visual tool/technique used in your classroom for my blog, or to simply chat visuals! I’d love to hear from you!

I also build visual activities based on particular lessons or take-aways. These are generally custom designs, some of which have evolved from the experiential education world.

An idea sprung from a workshop

I was fortunate to attend a pre-conference workshop before Educon 2.6 on VISUAL NARRATIVE. The workshop was  facilitated by SLA’s (Science Leadership Academy’s) Rough Cut Productions, a group of staff & students focusing on video production.

In 3 hours, groups made short videos, learning about what it takes to create a video. Rather than tell us all about how video is a powerful way for our students to learn, Rough Cut Productions had us jump right in, working in groups with our hands. Awesome experiential learning!

One idea that I had (although not my own idea as I’ve seen it done before) was to film my hand drawing a photo in black and white pen and then fade to that photo. Although my group got too ambitious and didn’t finish our video, I was really excited about how it turned out. Here it is:




(This is a link because this photo is not creative commons.)


Our video was called Empathizing with the World and we focused on an event in Cairo. Here are a few other drawings we included:

Steve Goldberg (@SteveG_TLC), one of my group mates, is doing really awesome teaching around empathy. He uses real world events and Google Earth among other tools. Check out his blog & middle school initiative Triangle Learning Community in North Carolina. If you know anyone in the Triangle looking for an innovative & amazing middle school, he’s your guy!

Graphic recording training: Draw It Out, Again!


Saturday, March 22, 2014,
9am – 5pm 

Hosted by the New York Peace Institute

210 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn, NY

For more information & to register:


This program is aimed at beginners and intermediates and no drawing skills are necessary. The content is applicable to anyone who attends/runs meetings/classes/workshops or does problem solving (Wait, isn’t that all of us?!)  Are you interested in adding and enhancing to your visual thinking toolbox? It’s going to be fun, too!


peeragogy in action

Peer learning rocks! I’m excited to be part of a group of people creating their own individual learning journeys collectively! Tidbits from the conversation which can be watched below!

Peeragogy in Action, it’s happening. This visual capture is from a rocking session from the beginning of January 2014. Enjoy.

Interest piqued? Join us!


wait, what do I do again?

I think I’ve figured out what I do! You may laugh, or say, what? However, describing what I do has been one of my biggest challenges… people ask and the conversation generally goes something like this:

ME: ‘I draw for a living. I capture the essence of what’s happening in a room by drawing real-time to help people better understand.’

THEM: ‘Oh, cool. Wait, like people do in courtrooms?’

ME: ‘Not exactly.’

THEM: ‘Like a book illustrator?’

ME: ‘Sorta. My work is live though.”

THEM: ‘Like those RSA videos I’ve seen where a hand draws as someone speaks?’

ME: ‘Almost. I’ve done some of those as well.’

THEM: ‘Huh.’ (Thinking: Do I get it? I don’t even know what to picture. What is she saying? Huh? I don’t get it….)

ME: ‘Imagine someone walking into a meeting with a piece of paper that is 4 feet tall and 6 feet wide, taping it to the wall and drawing what’s happening using both images and text. That’s one thing I do.’

THEM: ‘OOOOOhhh. Whoa. I’ve never heard of that before.’

ME: ‘It’s a new field, technically this live drawing I described is called graphic recording (or facilitating if you have some say in the group’s direction), although I also do other facilitation and consulting work. I am always trying to get people drawing. ‘

The conversation goes on as I do my best to paint a visual picture inside someone’s head with words. I see the irony here. Sometimes I pull out a piece of paper and draw something during our conversation in attempt to show them what I mean, although that doesn’t always help. I’m lucky to now have a video or two where I can send someone to see me in action. Still, once we get to understanding, I’ve only shared one piece of what I do. Yikes! I’m constantly reminded how important language is, and how important visual language and experiential techniques are to help people truly understand.

I have spent hours upon hours of my life simply describing what I do. I believe it’s important to help people learn about the fields of graphic recording and facilitation, of complexity, of experiential education, and of organization development.

If anyone in marketing right now is reading this, they are probably cringing based on the imperfections in my language. However, I honestly don’t want a cookie cutter saying to repeat each time someone asks me. I’d rather be as real as I can be in the moment and share what feels appropriate. I’d rather share my struggles with language and my own understanding of what I do because it’s raw and it’s real. It’s change. I deal with change.

As a consultant, I know my mental state greatly effects all of my facilitation, whether it be with visuals, words, or movement. And for me, this simple exercise of answering the question, ‘What do you do?’ acts like a mirror for me. I have a better understanding of my state based on my response, and that self awareness is crucial to being able to self manage in my client engagements. All that said, here’s my latest attempt at finding the right language to describe what it is that I do… language that inspired me to write, “…I’ve figured out what I do!” in the beginning of this blog post.

ME: I listen and draw for a living. I facilitate realizations. I convince people to draw, not for beauty, but for better understanding.

Already I’m at too many words? Time to get out the markers and keep at it…


the 2013 James Beard Foundation conference, drawn

Although I often emphasize the ‘drawing’ and visual side of what happens in my work, I have a deep appreciation for that which gets me thinking on a deeper level in a way that makes me squirm with un-comfort, often reshaping and shifting my ‘grounded’ paradigms…

“We need inspiration, not just education.” This was my biggest take-away from this year’s James Beard Foundation conference: The Paradox of Appetite: Hungering for Change. I had the opportunity to do some Graphic Recording at the conference and WOW – what an experience. There’s nothing quite like getting to work in this kind of space. People were asking hard questions about the root of issues in our food system rather than just skirting the surface. There was talk of change and challenge for deeper thinking & action.

I’m excited to share as most of the conference was captured and shared via Live Stream. Archives are available for watching, including some of the live drawing – woohoo! It’s two days of inspiring conversation around our appetites. This group had the courage to jump into some of the hard questions and create the inspiration for action. Check out the portion I graphically recorded here (link below to the rest of the conference):

INTRODUCTION to WORLD CAFE (Joseph introduces World Cafe around the 2 minute mark and I introduce myself & what I’m doing around the 5 minute mark… there is lots of movement and milling, with a touch of me drawing in the background. Feel free to skip to the second video for more live graphic recording.)

CAFE APPETITE Part 1 “How Will We Satisfy Our Hunger for Change?”

CAFE APPETITE Part 2 “What Can We Do To Move Forward & What Do You Need?”

FINAL IMAGE (click to enlarge)

HUGE thanks to the James Beard Foundation for hosting the conversation, to Joseph McIntyre, Process Artist of Ag Innovations, for his facilitation, to Live Stream for their amazing work, to Kristin Madden & her team at Bowen & Company for their amazing event planning work and to Kent and team from Kent Miller Studios for gorgeous photography. Y’all rock!


Conference Specific Links

James Beard Foundation conference videos - (go to the bottom for the beginning)

An article in Edible -

General good to know…

James Beard Foundation - (These guys do so many amazing events! Check them out!)

Ag Innovations - (Wow, amazing facilitation supported by great thought & action.)

Bowen & Company - (If you need your event to go off beautifully, these guys are experts!)

Kent Miller Studios - (For photography that captures the moment beautifully and honestly!)

Live Stream -


*NOTE: Recommendations are my own, no one asked me to…

Sketching with the UX crowd

UX Sketchcamp NYC = a mini conference this past fall at NYU Tisch School of the Arts – ITP (Interactive Telecommunications Program) facilitated by a collaboration of amazing UX professionals. Shout outs to MJ Broadbent (@mjbroadbent), Dean Meyers (@deanmeistr), Jonny Goldstein (@jonnygoldstein), & Marc Niola (@MarcNiola) for designing, facilitating & creating an overall rocking experience. Keep drawing & designing!!

I had a good time sketchnoting at the event. It was hard to choose which workshop to attend as there were so many great options! Sketchnotes and links below…


stick figure people taping index cards to a big piece of mural paper on the wall

The first workshop I attended, Story, was facilitated by Jonny Goldstein. The workshop was a solid combination of learning and experimenting with building & sharing our own stories. There were great mini lessons through out the session, too!


The second workshop I attended was Sketching Across the Design Process with Ray DeLaPena & MJ Broadbent. I love the concept behind this session, essentially they were asking us to consider ‘how’ we use sketching, and making a case that it’s usable in many ways!!!! Specifically, we use sketching differently when thinking, showing & talking… (Again, great group exercises!)

53′s Paper App was up next for showing. The keynote showed off the sexy app and talked about the design process as those at 53 aimed to make an app for the everyman.

What’s Sketchcamp without a bit of comedy? These sketchnotes may seem a bit out there… as Lee Sachs rocked UX Comedy, filling the room with laughter. (Beginning after the keynote.)

Takeaways from the crowd…

Thanks, y’all! A huge shout out to the organizers and presenters!


NYU Program – ITP (Interactive Telecommunications Program) -

MJ Broadbent –
Dean Meyers –
Jonny Goldstein –
Marc Niola -

Lee Sachs -

53 – Paper