(cross posted on Tech for Teachers on teachinghistory.org)

Many links and hints and tips and tricks find their way past my screen on a daily basis care of Google Reader, Twitter, and email exchanges with teachers. One day last fall, this video featuring LucidChart came to my attention. I played the video for my students as an example of storytelling, useful in both my American History and American Government classes as they created stories to accompany the research they were conducting. The simplicity with which the tool was used to create organization of ideas to tell a story resonated with them as an option for communicating complex ideas in a visual manner.

LucidChart identifies itself as “the missing link in online productivity suites.” The web-based, clean interface allows for the collaborative creation of diagrams and flowcharts for publishing. I recommend this tool as fast, easy to learn, collaborative, and functional on any browser.

Getting Started

Registering is a breeze, needing only a valid email address. I created a flowchart in LucidChart to detail the steps for getting started with the tool. Many of the boxes are hotlinked—run your mouse over the textbox, and if a hand appears there is a link to explore. (Make sure you have popups unblocked to view the included links.) The tour, examples, forums, and tutorials are appropriately helpful and clear.

If you believe that this is a tool that would suit your educational pursuits, there is an educational version that is available free of charge to K–12 teachers and students. For the more tech-savvy, there is also an integrated function between Google Apps and LucidChart. In an email exchange with David Grow of LucidChart he stated,

“For K–12, we are committed to always providing LucidChart free of charge so there is no expiration. Also, an educational account is essentially the equivalent of a paid Team account which has all of the premium features! We are eager for more teachers and students to be using LucidChart.”

I cannot stress enough that with a tool like this, it will take you a bit of time to feel as though you are a “master,” but you can feel functional almost immediately. The drag-and-drop-style features make it quite intuitive. I created the Getting Started flowchart to demonstrate my own willingness to create and play a bit in the pursuit of encouraging more teachers to do the same.

Examples

Quite traditionally, my American Government classes work through the three branches of government in their investigation of the American political scene. For the study of the Executive Branch, we look intently at the complex bureaucratic structures developed over time at various levels of government. I find that students often think that the Executive Branch is just the president or governor or mayor, but fail to consider the elaborate web of bureaucracy that the Executive Branch oversees.

The end-of-unit project is based on the understanding of a selected bureaucratic “task.” The goal of the project is for the students to actually pursue the task by assembling and filling out paperwork, making phone calls, reading . . . reading . . . reading, and asking questions. At the end of all of it, the partnerships present the body of evidence with the paperwork, but also with a flowchart that details the process by which the average citizen would complete the task. They are to add in links, tips, tricks, hints, and such.

At the completion of the project the students had to not only analyze the complex structures of government bureaucracy, but also produce a “deliverable.” LucidChart was one of the best choices of tool for this task because of its simple, web-based, collaborative functions. Being able to investigate, research, create, and then present/publish their findings meant that the learning was not just a creation for in-class sharing, but could be shared digitally and hence more broadly. One of the most functional tasks chosen by the students was completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). As seniors, they are all in the midst of applying for college and now for financial aid. The students that worked on FAFSA were able to share their flowchart with their peers in order to demystify the process a bit.

Much of students’ reflection commented on the complicated nature of the processes and the struggle they had to attempt to simplify the procedures down to a flowchart. As a teacher I was able to see the level of research and clarity of understanding in the graphics they produced on LucidChart.

Student Examples:

* Green Card Flowchart and Student Reflection
* FAFSA Flowchart and Student Reflection
* Filing Income Taxes Flowchart and Student Reflection