Shapes, Pictures and Colors: Environmental Print as a Teaching Tool

Environmental Print

My wife and I were driving in the car last weekend and were discussing environmental print. My wife is a retired Special Education teacher who taught in the K-3 grades for 39 years. Currently, she is Adjunct Faculty at Arizona State University. I found her discussion of it very interesting and saw some parallels with what we try to do with data visualization and infographics. My blog today discusses what environmental print is and how it is used to help teach literacy in our early stages of education. It is from a paper by  Rebecca McMahon Giles and Karyn Wellhousen Tunks (source noted at the end of the blog post).

Best Regards,


What is Environmental Print?

“Hey, Ms. McMillan, you have three McDonald’s in your name.” This observation, made by 4-year-old Jadin as his pre-kindergarten teacher wrote her name, reflects young children’s familiarity with popular logos and commercial print that they see every day. [1]

Early encounters with environmental print, words, and other graphic symbols found in children’s surroundings are among their first concrete exposures to written language.

These experiences

  • provide an introduction to making meaning of abstract symbols and
  • offer children their first opportunity to make sense of the world through print.

As a result, children typically read print from their environment before reading print in books.

Why Environmental Print Is Important in Early Literacy

More than four decades of research on the role of environmental print has substantiated its important influence in young children’s literacy development. The preponderance of studies on environmental print, however, took place in earlier decades and focused on its impact on early reading behaviors. Interest in the impact of environmental print on children’s early writing is a more recent development.

Research clearly shows the benefits of exposure to environmental print for emergent readers and writers. In one study of preschoolers, 60% of the 3-year-olds and 80% of 5-year-olds could read environmental print in its context of cereal boxes, toothpaste cartons, traffic signs, and soft drink logos.

Children typically read environmental print first.

Children are initially dependent on the label or logo associated with the word. As their understanding of print and phonetic skills necessary for reading increases, they gradually begin to read words presented separately from the logo.

Children’s responses to environmental print are the direct outcomes of their prior experience with it. Academically at-risk preschoolers recognized significantly fewer environmental print logos than did their academically advantaged peers. However, studies consistently show that regardless of socioeconomic status or home language all children benefit from exposure to print in their environment.

Barbie - Environmental Print

Choose Suitable Environmental Print

Using environmental print in preschool, kindergarten, and primary classrooms is an important part of developing a language/literacy-rich learning environment. Many products marketed in the United States are labeled in English, French, and Spanish, so they can be tools to broaden children’s language experiences even further. Even so, reading environmental print is likely to be individual and dependent upon geographic location. For this reason, children should collect much of the environmental print that they will learn from at school.

  • Experiences in which children take ownership, such as cutting out a recognizable name or label from a container or magazine found at home, are particularly beneficial.
  • Contributing their own examples of environmental print to create class books or displays also strengthens the home-school connection.

Activities like these reinforce the fact that readable and writable print can be found everywhere, while ensuring that the print is actually familiar to the children.

Env Print2The purpose of using familiar environmental print for instruction is to form a bridge between the known and new, so it is important that teachers use
examples that are meaningful for the children in each group. Horner (2005) recommends emphasizing the use of child-familiar logos—such as those from toys, movies, and television shows—rather than community signs or household items. These were found to be most recognizable by both males and females of various ages. For instance, the journal entries in Photo 1 (above) [1] by two kindergarten girls, reflect their recognition of and interest in the text found on a classmate’s lunchbox.

Horner (2005) also points out that an educator’s use of logos could imply approval of the products they represent. She recommends that teachers use acceptable toy names whenever possible. Children usually enter learning settings already familiar with a wide variety of commercial environmental print, such as road signs and household product logos. Their classrooms often are filled with homemade environmental print, such as daily schedules, labels on shelves, and a list of birthdays. Initial experiences with both types of environmental print enable children to associate print with meaning. This enables them to build confidence in their ability to read, which is necessary for becoming successful readers. In addition to supporting young readers, recent research demonstrates how print from the environment gives young children confidence to experiment and use print resources to improve their writing. These researchers found that children experimenting with writing engage in  “environmental printing”— copying conventional forms of print—directly from sources in their immediate surroundings.

This study of kindergarteners’ journal-writing behavior revealed three distinct ways children used environmental print.

  • Some children used environmental print simply as a source to copy without regard to its meaning.
  • Environmental print also served as a resource for the correct spelling of particular words or phrases, such as the day of the week, needed in the child’s message.
  • Environmental print inspired children’s choices of writing topics.

Environmental Print in Daily Explorations

Env PrintEarly writing attempts can easily be promoted by deliberately stocking children’s play and learning areas with a combination of authentic environmental print and writing supplies along with other props. For example, a block center that contains street signs, “under construction” labels, and corporate logos such as those from
restaurants and manufacturers encourages the use of environmental print when building. Coupling such signs with blank index cards, sticky notes, and markers promotes environmental printing as children label or write about their structures.
Placing cookbooks, large colorful paper, and blank recipe cards in the pretend play area may prompt children to record the dishes being served.

They might design restaurant menus or transfer information from a cookbook to a personalized recipe box using the original text as a model and spelling reference. By adding labeled measuring utensils in pretend and water/sand play, children begin to see the relationship between quantities, numerals, and words. Setting up a classroom movie rental facility, pet rescue service, or grocery store with children for their dramatic play is another way to provide familiar environmental print as a motivation for writing. Telephone books, magazines, travel brochures, play money, and similar items all can expand children’s early literacy resources.

With a wide array of manipulatives that spark the use of environmental print, children will soon be able to write words to their favorite songs, learn color name words (in three languages) from crayons or markers, and match the names and shapes of seashells. Immersing children in a learning setting intentionally filled with environmental print to be used as a writing resource increases their ability and motivation to write.


Children who are surrounded by print flourish in literacy development and are often more successful in school. As children observe, read, discuss, and copy the signs and symbols in their world, they become aware that literacy is part of everyone’s daily activities. They come to realize that reading and writing fulfill various purposes and functions in their lives. Environmental print

  • provides models for children’s writing,
  • helps them internalize correct spellings of commonly used words, and
  • inspires their own writing through environmental printing. With support and guidance, young children eventually learn to write conventionally, composing messages for a variety of purposes and audiences.

Consciously capitalizing on their familiarity with environmental print as an aid for early writing is one way to promote their progress on the road to becoming independent authors and readers.



[1] Rebecca McMahon Giles and Karyn Wellhousen Tunks, Children Write Their World: Environmental Print as a Teaching Tool, Dimensions of Early Childhood, Fall 2010, Volume 39, Number 3,

The First Law of Data Science: Do Umbrellas Cause Rain?


This was something I saw in

It is from Dr. Michael L. Brodie (CSAIL, MIT) and was originally published in June 2014.

Dr. Brodie discusses the first law of data science, the role of data curation in Big Data analysis, and Thomas Piketty economic theories.

This excerpt is from the forthcoming article by Michael Brodie, “Data Curation: Tools and Techniques for the Emerging Discipline of Data Science”.



The First Law of Data Science

Since there is a strong, direct correlation between rain and umbrellas being unfurled one might conclude that unfurling umbrellas causes rain. Or does rain cause umbrellas to be unfurled? How could data analysis tell which is true? Unfortunately, correlations derived by data-driven models do not imply causation. At best data analysis could suggest a higher probability of rain causing umbrellas to be unfurled.

Umbrellas and RainIt all depends on the analytical model, on the data, and on data curation – what data was used and how it was prepared for analysis. A more detailed data analysis revealed that rain typically precedes umbrellas being unfurled leading to the obvious conclusion that it is not umbrellas that cause rain; it is a previously unknown unfurling force emitted by the umbrella unfurling crowd that causes rain.

As Richard Feynman said in 1974: Confirmation bias is one of the easiest ways for a scientist to fool himself.

The best outcome of Big Data analysis, or of any (computational data-driven) model, is a number of correlations each with a level of confidence that the correlation holds true in the real world – at least the world represented by the data.

Correlation does not imply causation.

To determine if a correlation is true in the real world, it must be verified empirically. This First Law of Data Science applies to all data-driven modelling and analysis. It is a fundamental law of science, of the Scientific Method, of political science, and of Journalism.

On a more serious note, one might consider Piketty’s highly controversial economic theories [1] based on the analysis of historical economic data from a data science perspective. Not only might one question the data science and data curation used [2] more fundamentally one might question the extent to which they are true.

[1]  Piketty, Thomas, and Arthur Goldhammer. Capital in the Twenty-first Century, Harvard University Press, March 2014

[2]  Picking holes in Piketty: The latest controversy around Thomas Piketty’s blockbuster book concerns its statistics, The Economist, May 31, 2014


DataViz as Maps: Movies Turned into Magical Maps


The most memorable movies take you on an emotional journey. Artist Anthony Petrie has grabbed onto that idea and made it literal with his pop culture maps. He takes films like Jaws, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and Indiana Jones and translates some of the iconic imagery into detailed and artistic cartography. Amity Island from Jaws turns into a shark-shaped mass of land, Isla Nublar from Jurassic Park becomes a dinosaur, etc.

Petrie’s work will be on display at Gallery 1988 West in LA until January 24th.

Here are a few more examples of his work. Click on the images to enlarge.

AnthonyPetrie_FeatureShot-969x545 pop-culture-map-1 pop-culture-map-2 pop-culture-map-4

Source: Amy Ratcliffe, Movies Turned Into Magical Maps, Nerd Approved, January 13, 2015,

Infographic: Dracula’s Bloodline


In 2013, illustrator Matthew Griffin was commissioned by In The Company of Huskies to create a family tree graphic of some of popular culture’s most famous vampires, in celebration of the Bram Stoker festival.

The image quickly went viral, appearing on cult blogs like and, and shared around the world. It generated fervent debate as to who was included and who was left out.

Here it is for you to check out to see if your favorite Dracula made the list.

Best Regards,


Dracula Bloodlines Infographic

Graph: How Winning Relates to Salary for the Top NFL Quarterbacks

QB Pay Graph

The old adage “You get what you pay for” applies in most situations. Apparently not in the NFL.

With the 2014 season in the books, compiled a list of the 25 highest-paid quarterbacks in terms of yearly average salary (data via and charted how they fared, as measured by wins.

QB Wins vs. Salary

Some of the results were expected. Aaron Rodgers, currently the highest-paid signal-caller in the NFL, is tied for the NFL lead among quarterbacks with 12 victories. Joining him at the top of the standings: Peyton Manning (No. 5 on the salary ranking), Tony Romo (No. 8) and Tom Brady (a bargain at No. 16).

Others surprised. NFC South quarterbacks looked egregiously overpaid this season, with Matt Ryan (the NFL’s second-highest paid quarterback), Drew Brees (No. 4) and Cam Newton (No. 20 as he’s still on his rookie-scale contract) all tallying seven wins or fewer. Jay Cutler’s deal (his $120M extension made him the fifth-highest paid quarterback) looks so bad that Phil Emery, the Bears’ GM who gave it to him, lost his job. Two quarterbacks (Sam Bradford and Matt Schaub) were paid nearly $20M combined last season … and won zero games.

Bargains do exist. Andrew Luck, who won 11 games, ranked 19th among all quarterbacks in pay. Recently retired Bills QB Kyle Orton won seven games for Buffalo, but didn’t even crack the top 20 in salary.

Find a full list below.




PhantomFlow: UI Testing With Decision Trees (Huddle Team)


PhantomFlow is an experimental approach to UI Testing, based on Decision Trees, created by James Cryer and the Huddle development team.

Available on GitHub, as a NodeJS wrapper for PhantomJS, CasperJS and PhantomCSS, PhantomFlow enables a fluent way of describing user flows in code whilst generating structured tree data for visualization.

PhantomFlow Report: Test suite overview with radial Dendrogram and pie visualisation

The above visualisation is a real-world example, showing the complexity of visual testing at Huddle.


  • Enable a more expressive way of describing user interaction paths within tests
  • Fluently communicate UI complexity to stakeholders and team members through generated visualisations
  • Support TDD and BDD for web applications and responsive web sites
  • Provide a fast feedback loop for UI testing
  • Raise profile of visual regression testing
  • Support misual regression workflows, quick inspection & rebasing via UI.


See also

PhantomFlow also comes as grunt plugin! grunt-phantomflow

Try it!

  • node test/test.js – First run will create visual test baslines with PhantomCSS
  • node test/test.js – Second run will compare baseline visuals with the latest screenshots. This’ll pass because there have been no changes.
  • node test/test.js report – An optional step to load the Decision tree visualisation into your Web browser

Mac OSX users should be aware that PhantomJS doesn’t load the FontAwesome glyths used in the test suite, I don’t understand why. I fixed this locally by downloading FontAwesome and double clicking on the .otf file to install the font.

There are two example test suites, these suites will be executed in parallel, the command line output is a bit muddled as a result.

The D3.js visualisation opens with a combined view which merges the test decision trees. Click on a branch label or use the dropdown to show a specific test. Hover over the nodes to see the PhantomCSS screenshots. If there is a visual test failure the node will glow red, hover and click the node to show the original, latest and generated diff screenshots.

Test Example

The demo describes a fictional Coffee machine application.

flow("Get a coffee", function(){
    step("Go to the kitchen", goToKitchen);
    step("Go to the coffee machine", goToMachine);
        "Wants Latte": function(){
                "There is no milk": function(){
                    step("Request Latte", requestLatte_fail);
                        "Give up": function(){
                            step("Walk away from the coffee machine", walkAway);
                        "Wants Espresso instead": wantsEspresso
                "There is milk": function(){
                    step("Request Latte", requestLatte_success);
        "Wants Cappuccino": function(){
                "There is no milk": function(){
                    step("Request Cappuccino", requestCappuccino_fail);
                        "Request Espresso instead": wantsEspresso
                "There is milk": function(){
                    step("Request Cappuccino", requestCappuccino_success);
        "Wants Espresso": wantsEspresso

And below is the visualisation generated by this simple feature test.

PhantomFlow Report: Feature test visualisation as tree Dendrogram

The visualisations

Deciding how to visualise this data is the hard part. It has to be readable and insightful. These visualisations are still evolving, it would be great to see contributions for better visualisations. Visit for inspiration.

PhantomFlow methods

  • flow (string, callback) : initialise a test suite with a name, and a function that contains Steps, Chances and Decisions
  • step (string, callback) : a discrete step, with a name and a callback that can contain a PhantomCSS screenshot as well as CasperJS events and asserts.
  • decision (object) : Defines a user decision. It takes an object with key value pairs, where the key is the label for a particular decision, and the value is the function to be executed. The function can contains further decisions, chances and steps
  • chance (object) : The same as a decision but offers the semantic representation of a chance event, as opposed to a deliberate possible action by the user

NodeJS setup example

    var flow = require('../phantomflow').init({
        // debug: 2
        // createReport: true,
        // test: 'coffee'

    //; // Show report{
        process.exit(code); // callback is executed when PhantomFlow is complete

NodeJs Methods

  • run (callback) : Runs all the tests. Takes a callback which is executed when complete
  • report () : Spins up a local connect server and loads a browser window with the visualisation generated on the last test run.


  • createReport (boolean) : Should a report/visualisation be built?
  • debug (number) : A value of 1 will output more logging, 2 will generate full page screenshots per test which can be found in the test-results folder. Forces tests onto one thread for readability.
  • earlyexit (boolean) : False by default, if set to true all tests will abort on the first failure
  • includes (string) : Defaults to ‘include’, it is the root directory of custom global includes (within the PhantomJS domain)
  • port (number) : Defaults to 9001, this is the port that will be used to show the report/visualisation
  • results (string) : Defaults to ‘test-results’, it is the root directory of the test results
  • remoteDebug (boolean) : Enable PhantomJS remote debugging
  • remoteDebugAutoStart (boolean) : Enable autostart for PhantomJS remote debugging
  • remoteDebugPort (number) : Defaults to 9000, the port on which Web Inspector will run
  • skipVisualTests (boolean) : If set to true the visual comparison step will not be run
  • test (string) : Test run filtering with a substring match
  • tests (string) : Defaults to ‘test’, it is the root directory of your tests
  • threads (number) : How many processes do you think you can parallelise your tests on. Defaults to 4.


Test execution is parallelised for increased speed and a reduced test to dev feedback loop. By default your tests will be divided and run on up to 4 spawned processes. You can change the default number of threads to any number you think your machine can handle.


Debugging is often a painful part of writing tests with PhantomJS. If you’re experiencing trouble try the following.

  • Enable debug mode 1, to show more logging. This will also prevent parallelisation – better for readability, but slower.
    var flow = require('../phantomflow').init({
        debug: 1
  • Enable debug mode 2, same as mode 1 but will also generate full-page screenshots per step, to allow to see what’s actualy going on.
    var flow = require('../phantomflow').init({
        debug: 2
  • PhantomJS provides remote debugging functionality. This setting allows you to use the debugger; statement and add breakpoints with the Web Inspector interface. Remote debugging can be use in conjunction with the debug modes described above.
    var flow = require('../phantomflow').init({
        remoteDebug: true
        // remoteDebugAutoStart: false
        // remoteDebugPort: 9000

Rebasing visual tests

Rebasing is the process of deleting an original visual test, and creating a new baseline, either by renaming the diff image, or running the test suite again to create a new image. The PhantomFlow UI provides a quick way to find and inspect differences, with a ‘rebase’ button to accept the latest image as the baseline.

PhantomFlow UI: Rebase button

What next?

James and the Huddle Team have been using this testing style for many months on Huddle’s biggest UI application. It’s still an evolving idea but for the team actively worked on it, it’s making a huge difference to the way they think about UI, and how they communicate about UI. It supports TDD well, they use it for ‘unit’ testing UI but it has great potential for end-to-end as well. James would also like to do more work on the visualisations, they look great and are very communicable, but he feels they could be a better. Of course, this is an Open Source project and it would be great to see contributions.

Source: Created by James Cryer and the Huddle development team.

Infographic: The World’s Biggest Data Breaches (Information is Beautiful)


Happy New Year!

In late November, presumed North Korean hackers targeted Sony Pictures Entertainment in an unprecedented cyber attack. This resulted in the exposure of thousands of sensitive emails from Sony executives and threats to release more if the release of the film “The Interview” wasn’t canceled.

While this breach was indeed historically devastating, it’s not the first successful cyber attack on a big corporate powerhouse.

David McCandless and the folks over at Information Is Beautiful have put together an amazing infographic with the biggest data breaches in recent history. You can see when the attack happened, who it happened to, and how large the impact was.

I always encourage my social media friends to reset all of your passwords each new year. Now is the time to do so.

Safe blogging.


[Click on image to use the interactive version]


Infographic: Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh by the Numbers


I grew up a Big-10 fan. Most of my family either went to The University of Michigan or Michigan State University. I loved Bo-Woody football and still root for the Big-10 even though I have been living out in the Western region of the country my entire adult life. Bowl season has been painful for the Big-10 in the past; particularly the Rose Bowl. But I still root and get excited when they pull out a Rose Bowl win.

I, like thousands of other folks, was thrilled when Jim Harbaugh agreed to become Michigan’s new coach yesterday. I have been a big fan of Coach Harbaugh for many years and feel it is the right fit for Michigan as a school and as a football team.

Here was a nice infographic I found related to stats on Coach Harbaugh.

I hope all of you have a nice New Year’s and are healthy, happy and prosperous.

Best regards,


Jim Harbaugh

Infographics Related to AirAsia Flight QZ8501












[1] Channel NewsAsia, LIVE BLOG: Missing AirAsia flight QZ8501, December 28-29, 2014,

[2] malaymail online, Device onboard Airasia flight QZ8501 can locate missing plane, says expert, December 29, 2014,

[3] Yahoo! Singapore, First full day of search for AirAsia jet #QZ8501 yields little fruit, December 29, 2014,



Disney DataViz: 2010-2015 Walt Disney World Crowd Calendar Donut


In the past, I have blogged about Dave Shute’s 2014 and ’s 2015 Walt Disney World Crowd Calendar. Dave’s site is blog and discusses everything you need to know for your first visit to Walt Disney World.

Recently, Fred Hazelton of posted a variation of Dave’s calendar showing years 2010-2014 and 2015 projected. I have included Fred’s graph below with his explanation by month. Fred refers to his graph as “The Donut.”

For now, I am off to Disneyland…um…Disney World.

Best regards,


2010-2015 Walt Disney World Crowd Calendar Donut

New Year’s Eve is fast approaching, which means 2015 will soon be upon us. Let’s take a quick look at the 2015 Walt Disney World Crowd Calendar.

Disney World is a crowded place that attracts 50 million visitors per year, and 2015 will be no different. Below is the crowd calendar donut (until we find a better name) that shows the hot spots and low zones for Disney World crowds since 2010. There are three things we notice from the graphic right away: the extreme crowds of Christmas and Thanksgiving; the extreme crowds at Easter that fluctuate yearly depending on when Easter falls; and the low crowds of early September. But there are a lot of other little tidbits of information, as well; let’s take a closer look.

Walt Disney World Crowd Calendar 2010-2015

Walt Disney World Crowd Calendar 2015 – by month


The New Year’s rush should fade by Monday, January 5, quickly followed by crowded resorts during Marathon Weekend. We expect January to be a good month for visiting the parks in 2015 if you don’t mind the risk of cooler temperatures. Martin Luther King Jr. day is January’s only bump in crowds after New Year’s Day. Notice how January’s crowds have been slowly building over the years. We expect that trend to continue in 2015.


Mardi Gras and Presidents Day fall back to back in 2015, so watch out for major crowds that week. Avoid Magic Kingdom on Super Bowl Monday (after the big game) unless you want to see the parade. Any other time in February is manageable but busy.


Easter falls in early April in 2015, so March crowds will be influenced primarily by school breaks. There is enough variation in school schedules next year to make every week fairly busy throughout March. Early March is less crowded than late March.


Avoid the Easter crowds the first week of April, and you should find busy but manageable crowds the rest of the month. As we can see, the later in April you visit, the lighter the crowds become.


May crowds were light in 2014, but we expect slightly more moderate crowds in 2015. Memorial Day weekend is busy but not nearly as busy as most holidays – a good choice for a family trip if you want to minimize days off school. Star Wars Weekends highlight the event schedule in May and June, so watch out for bottlenecks at Disney Hollywood Studios on weekends.


As we see from the graphic, summer crowds are steady year in and year out, no matter the year. June 2015 will be hot, humid, and busy every day.


July 2015 will be like all other Julys: really hot, really humid, and very busy, especially around July 4th. Later in the month is less busy, but plan for large crowds every day. Extended hours in the summer allow for more options with your planning, so take advantage.


Think of August as two halves – early August with busy summer crowds and late August with smaller, fall-like crowds. If you plan to visit in August, the later the better.


Our favorite month for low crowds, if you can stand the heat. Crowds during the first two weeks of September 2014 were some of the lowest we’ve ever seen. Will 2015 be the same? Let’s hope so. What is clear is that September has the best, lightest crowds every year, by far.


Festive in a Not-So-Scary way, October is one of our favorite choices, too, but like January it has grown in popularity since 2010. October 2015 will bring steady crowds like we saw in 2014, but if you can avoid weekends, you will enjoy less crowded parks.


Thanksgiving crowds are among the busiest of the year, but we expect them to last only from the Tuesday before the big day until the Monday after in 2015. Other than that, November is a good time to visit, for crowds and weather.


Like August, December 2015 can be split into two groups. The moderate crowds of early December and the full-blown, five-alarm Christmas craziness of December 24 to January 2. Both halves of December are cool, festive, and worth doing, but not without a solid plan.

Happy Touring in 2015!


Source: Fred Hazelton, Walt Disney World Crowd Calendar 2015,, December 28, 2014,


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