The Treachery of Images

cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by rocor

I’ll get back to Magritte’s famous 1929 work toward the end of this post. Switching gears to another of the 20th century’s great creators of art and imagery, J.R.R. Tolkien once said, “Not all who wander are lost.”

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Well, sometimes I wonder… This Grade 4 unit in which I’ve been immersed is very much akin to a journey, much more so than other units I’ve taught. Most likely the issue is that more than in any other unit I’ve taught — aside from my 1st year teaching I suppose — I really have not known what the destination would be, despite what I thought it *should* be. Nor did I realize how many forks-in-the-road and rest-stops there would be along the way.

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With a backpack full of COETAIL, my 40-odd Grade 4 students and I have been searching for a way to understand how the media influences thinking and behavior by acting as graphic designers intent on visually communicating messages of personal import. As my bag of granola (er, patience) runs empty, I’m now — finally, thankfully — starting to see some fruits of all of our labor: endlessly iterated rough drafts which now exhibit some of the hallmarks of good visual design (i.e. the principles of Contrast, Unity, and Balance). We’re not quite there yet but…

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Shawn Knight

Anyway, without mixing too many more metaphors: as the end of the unit and of COETAIL near, I ought to consider where the students are now, what comes next, and how we’ll wrap up our unit of study.

Beyond (a) the varied reactions to — and good feedback from the students about — the Digital Interative C.U.B. Treasure Hunt



…and (b) the mixed results thus far incorporating Creatubbles into our world…



…there have been other developments.

  • At the outset, students were given the choice to create the final draft version of their posters either manually (created by hand on paper with pencil and/or markers, colored pencil, paint) or digitally (using their laptops, drafted and colored and printed out from their choice of software). There was some good discussion about the types of programs that could be used to make the posters on laptops (among the students’ suggestions: Photoshop, Pages, the dreaded ComicLife, the postermywall online poster creator, Word). As I vaguely referred to at the end of an earlier post, one boy seemed initially determined to create his poster on Minecraft, to which I said: “OK! Do it!”, despite the fact that I did not see (nor could he explain) the connection between Minecraft and his campaign to stop littering and soiling our earth. But hey, what do I know about Minecraft and who am I to stop a generally-not-interested-in-art boy from pursuing a creative activity that he’s passionate about? In the end, he was frustrated by various aspects of logging in at school and at home on different computers with his father’s account, by being limited to his Minecraft Hours at home, and by something related to the building of his idea that he didn’t want to explain. So, this boy had ended up making his poster by hand. Of the other 46 Grade 4 students, one girl decided to create her poster on her laptop (and is currently only one of two students to have completed her final draft), and two boys — working as a team — are creating their text online using ComicLife while choosing to draw their imagery by hand. So, in the end, I’ve been surprised at how few students wanted to create their poster digitally. (By the way, the latest development of the two-boy design team is that when one was absent last week, his partner went rogue and decided to go solo and create an entirely new design. Ah the drama in the world of advertising design…)

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Charles Crosbie

  • As I’d mentioned in my last blog post for Course 4, I was hoping to have time for students to go down another digital avenue with their campaign and have each student create a 3D model of a marketable campaign poster character toy in both plasticine & digitally-rendered/-printed. At present time, the two girls who have completed their posters have moved on to working on TinkerCad on their laptops, using an account created for us by one of our tech teachers (renown COETAIL instructor Clint Hamada). Each is working to develop some sort of three-dimensional character or object related to their campaigns, not unlike the merchandise that comes with each successive Star Wars movie or the toys I used to find at the bottom of my cereal boxes when I was a kid (do they still do that today?). Then, once the scheduling of the teachers, students, and 3D printer can be arranged, we’ll head over to witness the first live-and-in-person 3D printing of these two girls’ lives. They are, suffice to say, very excited — if still not totally certain what “3D printing” is.


  • A final thought has to do with a critical big-picture issue which I have yet to address and may simply save for a unit-end conversation with the children. Although the more I think about it, perhaps it’s something that should be an unit-opening focus. Perhaps incorporated into the provocation (the aforementioned Digital Treasure Hunt). The issue — as related to our Central Idea of “The media influences thinking and behavior” — is that of Surface & Substance, or Surface vs Substance, or The Lies That Are Advertising, or The Treachery Of Images (apologies to Rene Magritte) or… I could go on. What do I mean? Put it this way: arguably one of the most powerful examples of successfully influencing people’s thinking and behavior via visual design (contrast, unity, and balance) was that of Joseph Goebbels and the Nazi Party. Not to belabor the point and without peppering the blogpost with an excess of too-well-known images (check here and here, among many other places on the web, if you’re curious), how do we convey to students that just because a picture or poster or advertisement or video “looks great” or “looks authentic” doesn’t mean it IS great or authentic. How do we assure that our students are focused on making their work successful visually without letting them forget that the content matters even more than the composition? During this unit I’ve been pounding this holy trinity of Contrast, Unity, and Balance into my students’ heads, and yet I have not dealt with the dark side of the issue. The upside is that the content these 9 year olds are developing posters around are issues about which children are often very passionate (clean water, protect animals, eat healthier, etc); so we’re not dealing with negatively-charged topics, generally speaking. Challenging and a bit controversial yes, but evil — Third Reich evil? — no.

Heading into spring now, the Grade 4 students (and I) have still got a fair bit of work left to accomplish for this unit. Most are now working to complete their final draft poster designs. How many will have time to design a 3D token or toy or “collectible” on TinkerCad remains to be seen. How I address the issue of “things are not always what they appear to be, boys and girls”…

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…remains to be decided. And lastly, to what extent has the integration of technology in this unit created transformative learning experiences for the children? That is, beyond substitution and augmentation to modification and, hopefully, redefinition? I look forward to reviewing the unit as a whole in my next post.

One thought on “The Treachery of Images

  1. So many elements in this unit Aaron! So glad you’re trying out so many different things – and even if it doesn’t end up where you expected it to, there is so much learning along the way!


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