Using Slides to Engage

It’s one thing to use technology in a classroom  such as an interactive whiteboard and enhance your lessons with slides (and I don’t mean death by bullet point) – I mean well-thought-out slides that actually enhance and engage by adding the right amount of text and visual content so auditory, visual, and text based learners can all benefit.

It’s the first year we’ve had these tools, which puts us quite behind and the pressure to use them has been a little overwhelming. Only because there’s no point using it if it doesn’t convey the message of the lesson effectively. One thing I’ve learned in creating some of these slides is to keep it simple, have little text (unless of course the objective includes having the kids read the text), and put less on each slide. One simple thing I learned this year was just to get rid of bullet points altogether. At our curriculum open house last week, I decided to start simplifying our slides and giving it more visuals that weren’t just clip art in the corner of a slide. I was happy with the edit. Not great, but overall, better.

Of course, the templates that come with powerpoint are usually the main problem and have a lot to do with why presentations at meetings can often put one to sleep. Usually it’s a title followed by five to a dozen bullet points. Charts should also be visually appealing and designed so the graphs have the maximum impact in conveying its message. Some data make more sense in a pie chart, others make more sense in a bar graph. Colors can make a huge difference too. Whether at a faculty meeting or in a classroom, a presentation is a presentation, and if we are going to use visuals to enhance the presentation, we need to learn how to do it effectively. There are a lot of how-to classes in powerpoint which focus on how to add a shape, or add a transition, but not a lot of tips on how to make those visuals resonate with your audience. Like most kids, at first you want to put every bell and whistle into your slide deck, but actually thoughtfully putting it together requires paring it down quite a bit.

In the end though, we are educators, not designers and haven’t been taught these things in school (in fact much of this didn’t exist when we went to school). Now, some 7 and 8 year olds seem so at home creating slides. I can’t afford to leave what I love doing to go to design school, for the sole purpose of making my lessons peppier. Yet, kids seem to be more and more visual in the way they learn and process information and it would be a shame if we didn’t tap into this media – but only if it enhances the lesson by making it more meaningful or engages kids more.

In his book Brain Rules, Dr. Medina mentions that the brain processes information in a visual way. Rule #8 – Sensory integration (stimulate all the senses) and Rule #9 – Vision Trumps All Other Senses means that we need to also think visually. Graphic organizers are wonderful, when getting kids to organize their thoughts before they begin to write. In order to make slides effective though, one really has to observe others who do this well. Below is a youtube video of a powerpoint slide deck. The first two slides are just credits but do go past it. It’s worth it. After that, watch how artfully the elements are put together. And yes, the entire thing was done in powerpoint 2010. It’s a little ironic that our students are using computers with powerpoint 2010, but many of their teachers are still using 2003. In some ways though, that constraint has helped, as it has forced me to keep things simple. Transitions are only effective if they add to the meaning. Otherwise, they become clutter. Microsoft paid this company to show the potential of using many of the features of powerpoint which may make part of it seem busy, but boy, if I could learn to do half of those things. Of course when you find out how long it took a team of people to do this, you have to wonder, is it realistic for teachers to prepare lessons this visually appealing? Am I going to have to learn how to animate next? Furthermore, educators need to learn more about “fair use” and “creative commons”. Not just for our own use, but to teach children how to use their sources responsibly. It’s really a confusing and difficult thing in this rapidly changing world. Is linking to a url of an image ok (apparently it’s ok to link to an article)? I’ll save that for another post. Anyway, here’s that video. Hopefully it inspires us rather than the opposite.

Can Cartoons Change the World?

I’m still a little shaken from watching the film Race to Nowhere yesterday. I was retelling a scene to someone and started getting all worked up again. Thankfully, this TED talk came along today, which tries (in 6 minutes) to teach us how we might change the world one laugh at a time. We have to make sure we nurture kids’ sense of humor and visual skills.