Big Praise for Prezi

I made my second “Prezi” this week.

In my class the children arrive during a 15 minute window before school starts. During that time, I usually have them settle in, read a morning message, and engage in a math problem as well as look up our word of the day in a dictionary.

Since I’ve taught at my school, there has always been an event called Celebration of Science. The kids love it. It includes a whole school assembly, hands on exhibits, and workshops that the children attend all organized by our wonderful science teacher.

I wanted even more of the day to include science including that short time in the morning when the kids arrive. I found a great video on youtube of adélie penguins nesting so that the children could take the time to observe some of the animal’s behaviors. Unfortunately, I couldn’t embed the video into a powerpoint slide since I’m using powerpoint 2003 on an XP machine. Well, prezi.com allows you to put youtube videos in a presentation and you don’t need any software loaded onto a computer other than your web browser.

While that slide was projected, I was able to teach the first two children how to use the interactive whiteboard to replay the video as others arrived. It took seconds for them to click on the board with the interactive stylus and figure out how it worked.

While we’ve all heard about death by powerpoint, using media effectively can motivate kids. A slide with tons of text on it is only good if you expect the children to read it in order to practice reading. Visual images should enhance lessons and slides should not be one slide after another of bullet points. Prezi is really one slide and you can choose how complicated to make it by zooming in and zooming out. Like with any technology, you can overdo it, but prezi is a nice free alternative to software that’s 7 years old. To me the board isn’t interactive if it’s just me interacting with it. Students need to interact with it too. With second graders the only downside is that they are too short to reach the upper half of the board. I suppose I could buy a stool or something like that to solve that problem. Anyway, if you’re a teacher, you should check out prezi.com. The free educator’s license gives you a few more features too.

Try Something New

I’m a latecomer to blogging. As I mentioned on my blog before, the intent was to share with my school community what I was learning at a conference. I also wanted to find a way to use technology in a productive way (so I could teach it to my students as such), be reflective on what I love to do, share what I’m learning/reading, try something new, practice writing, and try to push my teaching forward into the 21st century.

9 months after starting this blog, my last post on innovation and creativity was featured on “Freshly Pressed” – wordpress.com’s homepage. As of this writing, my blog has been seen by over 2,000 people today. I have no idea who they were, except for the many comments (thank you to all who did), nor do I know if any will return. Whether one agrees or not with my thoughts on education and where it might head, this sudden uptick in visitors reminds me of something Stephen Johnson wrote about. The environment for innovation has to be one in which ideas are shared and the potential for connections exist. We are certainly in an age where that connectivity is increasing. I’m don’t fancy myself a writer, and yet yesterday’s post was chosen among the many to be featured, and thus the potential for connections increased greatly. Will this lend itself to innovative teaching. Who knows?

What I know is that innovative teaching requires trying different things, especially if the current paradigm doesn’t work. Some of these things haven’t been researched yet, so there is no data to support them. Some are just new ways to present the same material, but perhaps with John Medina’s Brain Rules or the Heath Brother’s Made to Stick ideas behind the lesson.

This is the first year I have a mounted projector in my classroom and feel very fortunate, but I already feel that powerpoint is to some degree outdated and while slides can enhance a lesson, if it doesn’t, don’t use it. Today I tried two different brands of interactive boards for the first time. One required me to just plug and play (and it worked like a charm). The other required me to learn some new software, create the content for it, but it too, worked wonderfully. There are a lot of interesting free web-based presentation sites out there. One I looked at recently was a site called prezi. I created a lesson using it tonight and will try it out tomorrow. There’s no guarantee that it’s going to work, but what’s the harm in trying something new. Playing with new technology just takes a little time and you can’t do that for everything (or can you?).

As a co-worker put it, schools across this country are being treated like businesses (and not necessarily good ones). Apart from the cost, schools are not businesses. Education isn’t something we ‘sell’ or ‘market’. It’s what we pass on to our future generation so that they can in turn create and innovate. But how are they going to know how to do that, if teachers aren’t creative and innovate themselves. We’re not talking world-changing innovations (although some would argue that we need them), just a small step forward here and there. Soon enough, they turn might turn into a giant leap.

Just for posterity’s sake, I captured the ‘Freshly Pressed’ page which you can view below. If nothing else, it made my day.