Category: contest

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Contest: My Annual Report II

I hate to repeat myself like this but let’s run this one again.

Throughout 2008 I tracked dozens of variables, most collected from categories of geographic location, recreation, food & beverage, and communication. I collected these data in an Excel file comprising 14 worksheets in excess of 100,000 cells. The process took minutes per day and that minimal investment is paying out huge returns here at the end of the year as I learn new techniques for data analysis, extrapolate conclusions from 2008 – some of which I knew intuitively while others surprised me – and represent them visually.

The work has been nothing short of exhilarating and I want to encourage you to undertake it also.


  1. Design information in four ways to represent 2008 as you experienced it. This can mean:
    • four separate PowerPoint slides with one design apiece,
    • one JPEG with four designs gridded onto it,
    • an Excel spreadsheet inset with four charts,
    • etc.

    Feel free to use pies, bars, dots, bubbles, Sparklines, stacks, or designs of your own construction.

  2. Submit your designs. Either:
  3. Post your reflections either:
    • in the comments here, or
    • at your own blog.

Illustrative Examples

  1. Last year’s entries.
  2. Nicholas Felton’s 2008 Report, to which this content owes a debtTo all the armchair graphic designers hating in the comments, time to give it a shot yerselves..


  • Monday, February 2, 23h59, Pacific Standard Time


  • TBD


Prizes for First Place, First Runner Up, and People’s Choice Award. Don’t forget to declare your winnings next April, etc.


  • You own your images, though we’ll post them here (attributed) and, in all likelihood, pick several apart.
  • Let’s limit this to those with some demonstrable connection to education – students, teachers, professionals, edubloggers. Basically, no professional designers slumming it.

The NECC 2008 Merch Table

Scott McLeod issued a call for button designs mid-April, for use at NECC, working with the slogan, “I’m Here For The Learning Revolution.”

My submissions wandered a mile or two from his chosen theme (distractable, can’t help it) so I won’t hold my breath for the win. I will, however, take this moment to announce the grand opening of the dy/dan mercantile.




Buttons: $75.
Tees: $90. Two for $180.

Leave your order, size, and credit card number in the comments. I’ll take care of the rest.

The Feltron Project

[BTW: the post-mortem.]

At the start of winter semester, maybe a month ago, I told them they’d have homework every night, even weekends.

I called it The Feltron Project. I showed ’em mine and asked them to identify the mathematical forms. I told them we were going to take their lives and make math out of them.

Track Your Life In Four Ways

I told them they had to track four variables this semester. I shared with them my ownAnyone crazy enough to try this with me: it’s essential you play along with your students.:

  • where I’ve been [cities per day]
  • text messages sent / received [quantity per person per day]
  • movies I’ve watched [title per medium (dvd, theater, ipod) per day]
  • coffee drinks i’ve purchased [accessory per drink per location per day]

The Feltron Notebook

While they thought on it, we made Feltron notebooks: graph paper, folded, cut into quarters, and bound with repurposed file folders the last teacher left behind.

I showed them how I designed my own Feltron notebook (Coudal’s Field Notes, natch) to maximize page use.

How Do We Grade Your Life?

We discussed grading. What would an A look like? An F? A C? I steered the conversation towards three criteria:

  • the interesting-ness of the variables chosen
  • their consistent tracking
  • their clear & pretty design

We discussed interesting and un-interesting variables. Some students are rocking this thing all semester long, counting calories, tracking everyone they text over a semester, tallying every ounce of everything they drink.

Other students are skating, tracking the number of days they’re late to school, tracking the number of times they sneeze, etc.

We conferenced, each student and I, and I suggested changes, both to add value to their final project and to make the assignment easier for themFor instance, 100 kids decided to track “TV Watched.” “What does that mean?” I’d ask. “Uh.” they’d reply. “So make it min/channel/day or min/show/day, whichever you prefer.”.


This thing runs on bi-weekly checkpoints [pdf] where I move around the class and verify that everyone’s keeping up.

One Indication This Assignment Wasn’t Stupidly-Conceived

Not one student has taken exception to the workload. Several students, without my prompting, have integrated a notebook update into their daily classroom routine.

The Moment I Fell In Love With The Thing

One freshman decided to track the cigarettes she smoked each day. Not because she wanted to scandalize me or her classmates. She just “always kinda wondered.”

One Month Later

I surveyed 99 students last week: “how much time do you spend updating your Feltron notebook each day?”

The average response was 5.5 minutes with a maximum of 31 minutes and a minimum of 0 minutesNo idea what the minimum’s about..

Next Steps

  • I ordered a hard copy of Nicholas Felton’s annual report (to which my assignment pays seeerious homage). We’ll pass pages around and develop a written narrative of his year.
  • Then I’ll fabricate entire data sets. eg. some girl’s caffeine intake over the course of a semester. We’ll run through several infodesigns and discuss which ones tell the most effective, truthfulAll better? story. We’ll use other data sets (eg. hours spent studying) to introduce some superficial correlation.
  • Uh. That’s all I have.

The Big Questions

  • Do we make the graphs in Excel or work out the math by hand? One option gets ’em dirty with the math. One is more useful to their post-grad experience.
  • What do I do when a student comes to class a month into the project and claims her dog ate her Feltron notebook? The question, as of first period today, ain’t hypothetical.

The Regret

I should’ve collaborated with someone here. I don’t know another teacher, period, who’s out there sweating the connection between language and math like I am here which makes The Feltron Project something of a blind jump off the high dive when it ain’t altogether obvious that the pool is filled with water, thumbtacks, or nothing.

Your Annual Report Contest: Awards

  1. First Place & People’s Choice Award:
    Iain Campbell

    The judges’ decision as explained by Nicholas Felton:

    It’s odd because every year someone will request that I make some sort of online tool that will allow others to make annual reports that look like mine. But what’s great about all of your entries is that the design of them is just as communicative as the data.

    That said, I do have my biases for clarity of communication, and I was impressed by the submission of Iain Campbell. But it’s not just the polish of his entry that I admired. I appreciated how he focuses on the areas that define him, and I am reading a great story in his entry.

  2. Second Place:
    Sameer Shah

    The judges’ decision as explained by Paul Williams:

    A collection of deeply personal but highly interesting data, that was developed into truly thought provoking design. Mixed typography colour, size and font with coloured graphical highlights really worked exceptionally well with such muted and clean backgrounds. The themes of indecision, travel, change and hope all intermingle to give this year in report form give a priceless insight into Sameer’s personal journey this year. Overall the fun really stands out in this entry, snapshots of moments that transport us on a path of discovery about music, and friendships (both new and old). Outstanding was the cry from this judge.

  3. Third Place (tie):
    Arthus Erea &

    Dave Stacey

Grab Bag:

We’re waiting for one more judge to weigh in, which is cool, ’cause he’s had his hands tied up with his own annual report until recently. After that we’ll summarize a few things and close this one up until next year.

Until that announcement, here’s some miscellany I wanted to put out there:

The Faculty Room

Just for the dy/dan completists. I’m a contributor over at The Faculty Room, a blog run by Grant Wiggins, who I guess is kind of a big deal. It’s like a LeaderTalk for, uh, well, um, well just what the hell demographic are we over there?

I’m gonna keep it up in spite of the motley company simply because Meg Fitzpatrick’s writing prompts bring the heat every time. This week’s was especially solid and kinda got me going on two familiar fronts:

Stephen King once said of writing, “I don’t believe writers can be made… the equipment comes with the original package.” Is this true of teachers?

You can find my response here:

If any deception was ever perpetrated upon the teaching community – particularly upon its new and preservice members – it’s the lie that teaching is an art, when, in fact, teaching is equally, if not moreso, a profession deeply rooted in the scientific method of try, fail, adjust, and try again.

The 36 Exposures Contest

Great contest prompt. Great ethos behind the prompt:

In the analog era, when we had to pay to see what we shot, we were more careful when we took photographs. This forced a discipline that is hard to imagine today. In the words of Stephen Shore, “[Today] there seems to be a greater freedom and lack of restraint … as one considers one’s pictures less, one produces fewer truly considered pictures.”

So File magazine accepted 100-word story submissions. They sent one 36-exposure film canisterDamn, uh, lessee … see … back before you had digital storage and imaging chips and what-not, pictures came on … uh … y’know what, never mind. to the authors of the five most promising submissions, who will then tell their stories in exactly thirty-six shots, sending back their canisters sight unseen.

The contest ends January 31. I imagine you’ll find a link here once the winners are announced.

Best Media Artifact Of My Year

This being my first full year with a reader, I know I’ve consumed more media than in any year previous. I wish, then, that I had done a more dutiful job cataloging the good and the great but since I haven’t, I’ll dispense with a comprehensive year-end listThe drive-by edition would include: No Country For Old Men for movie (though there’s at least one contender still outstanding); The Wire for TV show; Umbrella for single; In Rainbows for album; Entertainment Weekly for book.. However, I do want to highlight the single best media artifact I consumed all year.

It’s an MIT production from 2006 (linked up in 2007 by David Simon) called “TV’s Great Writer,” a moderated Q&A with David Milch, who wrote for Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, Deadwood, and John From Cincinnati, most recently.

His shows feature some of the most unapologetically immoral characters on TV, but theirs is an extremely complicated immorality, one that doesn’t reflect a lack of moral fiber but rather a rejection of itcf. CSI’s sociopathic killer du semaine..

Milch walks that line with tremendous balance, enough to have won the Humanitas Prize – the Catholic Church’s prize for film and TV writing which “seeks to promote the full realization of humanity” – three times.

Two segments of this interview worked me over every time I heard them.

  1. The first (length: 2:17; beginning at 19:14 and excerpted here) details his contempt for and eventual reconciliation with the same priest who awarded him the Humanitas prize year after year.
  2. The second (length: 7:57; beginning at 1:49:47 and excerpted here) is a nuanced description of America’s indiscriminate tendency toward TV and how that tendency basically doomed public perception of the war in Iraq from its onset.

    This media criticism comes, of course, not from a clucking, self-appointed cultural critic but from a master of that media.

Final Exams

I’m writing this while my kids sweat my final exam, a semester-end rite-of-passage which, over the years, has seen a steep decline in the weight I give it, both in my head, and on my students’ grade sheets. This sucks because they’re no less cumbersome to administer.

This being my second year of blogging, I’m noticing some cyclical themes to my output. For example, from Finals Fever!, posted almost exactly a year ago:

Now they’re a nuisance. My exams are worth a paltry 10%, simply because I’ve already assessed my students so much.

I know what my students know about Algebra and Geometry. In fact, if any grade out of any of my three classes rises or falls by a letter grade or more, I’m buying drinks for the entire blogosphere.

There are better ways to spend this time, I’m positive. Better ways to end a semester than this.