Random Thoughts

Using Prentation Zen in the classroom

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I’ve always believed that getting teachers into this connected world will slowly trickle it’s way down to affect student learning…and today I proved myself right.

The 3rd grade is getting ready to open their market place where they will sell their homemade goods. One of their requirements is to create an ad to be shown on the SmartBoard when their market is open.

I’ve been working with the teacher to walk the students through the process of thinking about their ad. We decided that PowerPoint would be the best tool for the job and that each student could make two ads (two slides) that would then play in a slide show on the SmartBoard while their market was open.

Taking from my own experience of using the ideas out of the book and blog Presentation Zen, students started their brainstorming on paper first, away from the computer.

Garr Reynold’s believes (and I agree after going through these steps myself) that the computer really doesn’t allow you to be creative. It’s great for the finished product, but actually drawing things out on paper allows you to be far more creative and clear your mind of the other distractions that comes from working on a computer (i.e. facebook, twitter, music, etc).

So we did the same for students. We had them just brianstorm and create on paper first. Get an idea in their heads allow them to “feel” their ad before actually transforming it into digital format on a PowerPoint slide. To the right you can see a student brainstorming out their designs. We talked about picture palcement, fonts, backgrounds, etc. After they had a good idea of what they wanted to do, the students opened up their laptops and went to work.

So here’s how the breakdown of the lessons went. This was done with laptops in the classroom with each student having their own computer.

  • One hour on exploring and learning PowerPoint (text boxes, images, fonts, font size, backgrounds, rotating things). Students took to it like ducks to water. It was more of an explore session then a teaching lesson (co-teaching format between myself and classroom teacher).
  • 30 minutes on logo, branding, slogan, etc (lead by teacher).
  • 30 minutes on brainstorming ad ideas and sketching them out on paper (co-teaching).
  • 1 1/2 hours creating slides in PowerPoint (co-supporting)

It turned out to be a pretty good project. The kids finished up their ads today to be displayed tomorrow when their market opens.

In the end it just reinforces that by being in this connected always learning, presenting world that I was able to take what I know and transfer that to students. Is this something new or different? Probably not….it’s not a complex idea to have students brainstorm off the computer before producing something on a computer. But I do think it helps in learning how to best use a tool like PowerPoint. Understanding colors, boxes, layout, design, etc in 3rd grade in my mind….is pretty cool!

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


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  2. Here’s where I think things get interesting: because of technology, you spent 3.5 hours doing a lesson that would have taken just 1 hour to do on paper.

    Is learning PowerPoint and making cooler ads worth that investment of time?

    This is the dilemma I face in my classroom — sure, we can do cool things with computers, but are the students actually learning more as a result? Maybe… if we think of PowerPoint as content. But will PowerPoint be around in 10-15 years when these third graders are finally out of school?

    • Is learning PowerPoint and making cooler ads worth that investment of time?

      Thanks Mark for bringing this up and starting such a discussion!

      IF our final goal was to create just an ad….then no….the time isn’t well spent. But if your time is to help students be creative, learn to think outside the box, and understand graphic design and how paper translates to digital…then I think the time is well spent.

      To often I think we focus on the product instead of the journey. The product…the ad…sure that’s what the teacher wanted. What I wanted was the thinking, the creativity, the ideas generation from students going through the creative process. One in which the struggle with as they do not get enough practice. Our students are really good at “playing school”. You want an ad…they’ll make you an ad. You want them to memorize something they can do that too. But ask them to think….to create…and our students struggle. They struggle with thinking….with creativity. That’s what this lesson was about at a third grade level. That’s what I wanted them to get out of it anyway. The ad was just a way to reach that creative site.

      It’s the difference of teaching concepts rather than teaching content. What are you looking for?

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  4. Mark has an interesting point and one I’m certain many teachers (particularly those who are do not use technology a lot — for whatever reasons) would agree with. However, Jeff brought up the premise behind Reynold’s book, that it’s vital to the creative process to begin away from the computer. It’s a premise that I follow as well. Too often we see students (and teachers) go immediately to the computer when in fact most of the work should be done off-computer.

    I think it’s critical that students realize that computers and their various apps are simply tools to get a job done. Though 3.5 hours might initially be spent on the ‘investment’, as students become more and more familiar with apps this time will be drastically reduced.

    Will PowerPoint be around in 10-15 years (I think it probably will be)? I don’t know that that is the point. If you currently look at the various presentation apps available you’ll notice that most of them are very similar. Even if PowerPoint itself isn’t around, the concepts used will be and I think that spending time on learning this basic tool and then being able to apply it to other apps is time well spent.

    And just as a personal comment, I for one am ‘drawing challenged’. I know that if I can use a tool that will enable my final product to look more professional I will be more apt to spend time developing the content knowing that I have tools at my disposal that will bring to life my ideas.

    • I agree that there is “investment” that many teachers do not see. There is so much content to cover that many teachers try something once, find it takes to much time and never go back to that skill again….at least when it comes to technology. I’ve also seen teachers who focus in on using one tool, or learning one skill and having students go from hours to minutes in producing artifacts with technology. The Students Teaching Students podcast that our 5th graders produce is a perfect example. The first couple of episodes took hours. The last one took 15 minutes.

  5. Mark’s point, on the surface, is a good one. You took 3 1/2 hours to complete an hour-long lesson, and that seems bad — on the surface. Yet this is 2.5 hours more than you would have spent on these skills — typography, page layout, graphic design, animation, and content creation.

    Malcolm Gladwell says (and I believe) that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice at any one skill to develop those skills. These third graders have now made some minimal progress along those lines of creativity — and they will continue to make progress along these lines if their fourth grade and fifth grade teachers and beyond do not shut them down.

    In the 16th century, Renaissance humanists kept “commonplace books” of their ideas, phrases, notes, and critical ideas. These tools helped them integrate their reading, writing, thinking and drawing in one handy file system. Your third graders have begun collating commonplace books of their own, and they have begun learning how to learn to use new software tools at an early age — explore, experiment, design, think, experience, redesign, rebuild, and so on.

    You should look at A HREF=”http://www.davegrayinfo.com”>Dave Gray’s website, where there’s a video called flows, forms and fields for a set of basic tools on how to draw better.

  6. Andrew,

    Just to play the Devil’s advocate once more, although the students gained 2.5 hours of the skills you listed, there was a cost to that. Perhaps they lost 2.5 hours of reading, or math, or science instruction. Everything we choose to spend time on replaces time spent on something else.

    How can we make sure that our use of technology actually enhances our efficient use of classroom time, rather than the opposite? (Example: Math websites that allow for differentiation as students progress at their own pace through a variety of skills would be one clear, if simple, way that technology can use students’ time more effectively than traditional instruction can.)

    And 10,000 hours is almost the entire length of time a K-12 education will spend on academic topics (taking out recesses, transitions, etc.), so I’m not sure that is a reasonable goal for ANY topic or subject.


    • I guess it depends on what you want students and what you believe technologies role is in the classroom. Sure, this lesson wasn’t earth shattering. It didn’t lead to higher order thinking like I love to create lessons that do. But it did build some foundational skills. The interesting thing I found and what I love as things have progressed is that the students learned the interface of not just PowerPoint but of all Microsoft Office products as they are all the same layout and design. Not that I think we should be teaching student Microsoft Office, but they have a better understanding of where to look for the font choices, where to look for the color changes. They are experiencing the operating system and even if some day they move to Open Office or some other program they have the foundations of where to look, what things do, and the confidence to explore a program and learn on their own…..or so I hope. 🙂

  7. This is a great conversation and parallels my thinking since I just got around to Presentation Zen this weekend. I have a question about the concept of “analog planning” but first I want to comment on the current discussion.
    I agree that our decisions in one area of the curriculum always impact other parts but from our experience this year the seemingly disproportion time is well worth it. I think the underlying issue is thinking skills and when we take time to delve into process there is a lot of deep learning that takes place that cuts across the curriculum. Other than the time spent introducing the tool it seems the rest of the time was all about decisions, planning, audience, clear communication and message. Mark, I agree it is hard with all we “have to” cover to take time to go deep, its hard to prioritize our standards and all that material but I think making some choices to spend a little more time to work through a creative thinking process is just what we need to do.

    So I also have another question… I get the point of “analog” planning time supporting creativity. It certainly works for me. However, I just wrote about this on my blog and I am wondering if it is true for our students in the same way it is for us. I also am wondering what the impact of this concept is in a one to one environment especially if you are not getting tablets. It seems that many of the early 1:1 programs used tablets but we are going 1:1 with netbooks. We are thinking about providing every student with a portable white board so they have a place to brainstorm and draft ideas. Any thoughts?

    PS Greeting Jeff..long time since I’ve been by…its been quite a year! Hope all is well.

    • Hi Barbara…thanks for stopping by!

      I think you’re on the right lines with this thinking! To me it comes down to choice. I’m not going to tell a kid they have to do it this way or that way as long as they can be productive and they are learning the skills. I think it comes down to allowing choice.

      We started a conversation today in the 5th grade team meeting around allowing students who wanted to to write their stories directly on the computer. Some students would rather write on the computer while others would rather rough draft it on paper. By allowing students the choice to produce and find a process that works for them they become more motivated. I know if someone told me today that I had to write a story in a notebook before putting it on a computer I’d have a fit.

      Maybe the “analog” is for us? Maybe it’s for some of us…in the end allowing the choice is the important part.

  8. Eduardo Zevallos Reply

    Hello Everyone! My two cents: I will agree with Barbara in regard to the thinking skills that can develop from this type of technology oriented lesson. Which can then further extend into other areas of the curriculum.

    There is a great deal to be said about Procedural knowledge in lessons (vs. Declarative knowledge), and appropriately designing a lesson for these objectives. I only mention this after reading Pollock’s Improving Student Learning One Principal at a Time. If our task is to prepare students (digital natives) for careers in the 21st century flat world then we would have to provide them these necessary procedural skills – regardless on whether the technology will turn obsolete in the next decade. On that point I turn to my father who spent his university days learning Fortran and Pascal. Is that information useful today? Of course not. But his value of these programing languages does not lie on their practical use, but on the procedural knowledge he gained from the countless hours he spent programing. With out it, he would have had a harder time tackling the newer languages (e.g. Java).

    A teacher’s time is extremely valuable and limited. We have to stop thinking that the only use of technology is to ‘enhance the lesson’- like rainbow sprinkles enhance an ice cream sundae. If that’s the case, what teacher wouldn’t opt to cut out the sprinkles and save him/herself from the extra time it takes to digest, it could very well turn into a stomachache! Rather, we must plan for the integration – designing lessons for procedural objectives (e.g. learning how to effectively use Power Point) within a provide practical application (e.g. advertisements- the power of words, images, etc.)

    Finally, I’m sure all of you who read Jeff’s blog are life-long learners. And as learners you would know it takes a considerably longer time to learn something new and to practice it effectively. However, practice makes perfect! In the future, these kids who are just learning to use power point will be able to apply their skills (across the curriculum) much quicker than the 3.5 hours it took them to successfully acquire them.

    My two cents.

  9. In my times..things like that at school would have been impossible even to immagine…I think the approach is correct and the TOP would be teaching kids (and adults) on howto brainstorm…

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  16. Less is more.

    I believe the 3.5 hours spent on one focused activity – going through the process and weaving through its intricacies – is better spent than spreading out 3.5 hours across 3 different subjects (as devil-advocated by Mark up there :)).

    I’m a teacher as well, and what I have learned over the years is that it is infinitely more important for us to teach students to teach themselves, to become better tomorrow than what they are today. Many teachers today are still content-driven rather than process-driven.

    But content is cheap nowadays – just go to Google. Teachers should veer away from teaching content and focus more on bringing out children’s creativity and honing their thinking skills.

    So kudos to Jeff for a job well done.

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