Visual Communication Tools online course



You asked for it, so here it is!

VISUAL COMMUNICATION TOOLS is a 3 week online course focusing on how visuals improve our work, cognition and connections to content & people. We will learn to draw our notes, begin to ‘read’ other’s visuals & find applications for visual communication in a setting that feels comfortable to you.

We start next week on Thursday, June 12! Join us!

There are 5 two hour sessions and 2 optional labs with minimal work between sessions. There will be activities involving reflecting, writing, and drawing. No drawing experience necessary!

Details & instructions for registration via:

Looking for some reasoning or inspiration to join us? Check out Sunni Brown’s TED talk on why doodling really is helpful in many situations! 


a brilliant Socrates’ quote


drawing of Socrates w talk bubble quote

This brilliant quote makes me smile. It’s not that I didn’t learn from my teachers or that I wish to disrespect anyone who identifies with the profession. Please don’t take it that way. I realize there are lots of existing assumptions about education from many perspectives. I’ll simply share some thoughts and ask a few questions.

“I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.” – Socrates

“…and ask them to draw!” is my addition to this quote. I identify with this quote. From my perspective I see a greater need for facilitating and learning (regardless of your title or position) rather than attempting to ‘teach’. Let’s together ask questions without answers and draw out possibilities. Let’s focus on things that matter to us & connect subjects & content as it is in the world. Even for those things that don’t seem so important at first, where can they fit? How can we at least use methods to connect content with ways of facilitating where learning can happen at a greater pace and depth than some of our traditional school system suggests? Perhaps exploring some of the following questions can help us begin to explore this one.

When do you do your most intense thinking? Do you generally learn from that thinking? If you’re a teacher (or facilitator), what about your students?

What problem do you/they (i.e. students/clients…) have and what questions do you/they have about that problem if you/they look at it from a new perspective?

What has been your/their biggest learning thus far in life? What was present in the environment that helped that learning occur? Who was there? How did it feel?

What makes you/them think? How do you/they learn best?

Draw it out!


what gives you energy?

Having recently attended a workshop on Liberating Structures*, I’ve been a bit more in tune to my energy level and curious about what truly gives me energy versus zaps my energy! It can seem easy to fall into a routine of thinking negative thoughts you may even call the ‘drudgery of the everyday’ – when this happens to me, “ZAP!”  Energy gone. Motivation on a trip far away. What is it that gives you energy these days? And what at work gives you energy?

Personally, I love to draw with people to solve problems, gain insights about vision or just have some fun!Adding color and movement to the page via the bodily movement of drawing gives me energy.

drawn marker & talk bubble

The connections that are created when we add the dimension of drawing continue to amaze me. My energy rises when there’s a challenge involved and I ‘really have to think/draw’ (thinking & drawing go together in my world). (#drawitout) Conversations where I don’t know all the answers give me energy, for I find that it’s usually a good question rather than an answer that propels me forward.

Often people say coffee or caffeine. Ha! Personally, coffee gives me the jitters which I’d equate to an anxious energy … I tend to avoid it for this reason. I do appreciate the point they are bringing up: that what we eat and drink and how much we sleep certainly effects our system & energy and that plays a role. Yet I’m asking about the kind of energy that backs passion – the kind of energy that allows you to parent 4 kids while working part-time, to run a marathon regardless of the obstacles, to bring together people for building a community garden or ice cream shop where kids run the show. I’m asking about big energy. It’s real. It pushes boundaries. You thrive throughout your day. You feel strong and ready.

When was the last time you checking in on your own energy? So, I’ll ask.

What gives you energy? Today? In the last week? At work? How can you fit more of that thing you do or think that gives you energy in your life? What would it take?


Liberating Structures provide ways to avoid dreaded drudgery! More in an upcoming blog post.


sketchnotes from NYCORE (New York Collective of Radical Educators), NYC 2014

NYCORE, the New York Collective of Radical Educators, hosts an annual conference in NYC. This year’s theme was Radical Possibilities and by the sheer number of participants climbing each year, there’s something good going on here. If there’s one thing people bring to the NYCORE conference, it’s energy – you can feel the passion for education in the room. Keynotes and workshops, workshops and keynotes. Here are my drawn notes from the opening & the first keynote:


KEYNOTE with Shoneice Reynolds & Asean Johnson


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!