Five “Smart” Tech Skills

Posted by Jack Jarvis on December 28, 2011

During the last decade, schools received unprecedented funding through both federal and state initiatives.  For example, in California, we had Immediate Intervention for Underperforming Schools and the High Priority Schools Grant Program.  Together, these two programs alone pumped millions of dollars into California Schools, and many schools tapped these funds to purchase technology in the form of laptops, projectors and “smart” technology.  Projectors and speaker systems were mounted in classroom ceilings and control panels patched into walls.  The “modern classroom” was born—for the moment.

But as we look back almost a decade, what do we have in classroom technology? And what should we do next?

Well, what we have is a lot of teachers equipped with the ability to present content with their laptops.  We have content available in many places.  And we have a majority of teachers who have expertise in one area: using an interactive whiteboard as an overhead projector.

Coming from a district of over 70,000, I have seen numerous elementary classrooms where teachers teach with their laptops.  While there are certainly some gems among the rocks, most teachers I observe use slideshows they download from the web or those created by central office instructional personnel.  While this is a vast improvement over 2001 and overhead transparencies, it’s not the most effective use of the technology. In fact, one could argue downloading these ready-made materials has made teachers less involved in the cognitive planning of their instruction.  (I can’t tell you how many times I heard a teacher saying, “Oops, wasn’t expecting that, ha, ha” when an unanticipated slide pops up.)

What do we do to address this, to enhance the instructional experience for our students, to tap into their world of smart phones and iPads?  What we didn’t do in the last decade!
Train the teachers in the right tools.  I’m sorry, but SmartBoard is not it.

All teachers should be trained in and evaluated on their use of technology to teach.  Just projecting images with an interactive whiteboard or throwing up a presentation they didn’t create should not be deemed proficient.  Instead, we should see a movement towards these basic skills:

  1. Creating and manipulating graphical objects.
  2. Creating and manipulating text boxes.
  3. Using animation, especially the path animation in PowerPoint.
  4. Creating hyperlinks from PowerPoint to websites that support the learning.
  5. Accessing/inserting pictures and video into lesson materials.

Why these five?  Because if you are fluent in them, you can create almost any type of presentation. These five skills would give teachers a cornucopia of strategies that would grab student attention and make content more understandable.  Imagine the difference between reading a core selection with your class while linking in and out of websites connected to the subject.  Imagine creating live moving animations to stimulate student thinking about mundane number sense concepts.  Becoming proficient in these tools should be spelled out in the credentialing process more exactly, and should be the focus point for professional development it should have been back when all that equipment was purchased.


Presentations to Remember

Posted by Thom Dunks on December 20, 2010

Presentation applications, such as PowerPoint and Keynote, are invaluable tools in the workplace and most particularly in the world of teaching and learning.  True, they are often maligned as an impediment to getting the message across, but used well they can help you reach the mind and the heart of your audience and create a truly lasting impression.

Recently, I was impressed with a fellow named David Jakes and his ideas about applying some basic knowledge of brain biology when you are constructing a presentation.  “The optic nerve is constructed of about 1 million nerve fibers; the auditory nerve, about 30,000,” says David.  “There is a tremendous amount of bandwidth associated with the eye, suggesting that presentations should contain a visual component.”  Accordingly, he suggests we should create more visually based materials and move away from too much emphasis on text.

In his hour-long presentation, “Standing Room Only:  How to Create Unforgettable Presentations,” David provides ten strategies for improving visual presentations.  The strategies are constructed around brain-based learning and the principles of visual modalities.  Particularly germane to this discussion are his inclusion of Visual Literacy, Brain Research/Cognitive Load Theory, Locating Images, Understanding Intellectual Property, Design Considerations, and Developing Voice.

David works with high school students in Illinois and is passionate about students approaching the creation of digital presentations with understanding and integrity.

“You first want the kids to write, to write deeply.  Have them make a scholarly argument on paper. Then have them take that piece of writing and create a storyboard.  Plan a presentation. Use visuals. Use emotion.  They should be able to convince me that they are right or their ideas have merit.  You then have a deep backup document that allows you to know that they have a true understanding of the topic at hand.”

Among the important topics David covers is acquiring royalty free images for use in student presentations.  Here are just a few of the resources he recommends for you to check out:


Ignite—rapid fire presentations!

Posted by Phoebe Bailey on December 5, 2010

Bored by tedious PowerPoint presentations?    Recently, I learned about two alternatives worth your consideration.

I was working with a team to plan a technology conference for 100 technology teacher leaders in our state when our keynote speaker, Tony Vincent, introduced us to “Pecha Kucha.”  To me it sounded like a character from a video game, and my two technology geek friends were clueless as well.  In fact, Pecha Kucha is a presentation format that restricts each presenter to 20 slides, each shown for 20 seconds.  The slides are set to advance automatically to ensure the time limit is honored.  Ultimately, each presenter has just 6 minutes 40 seconds to explain  ideas.

Yet even with that short time frame, we realized we would not have enough time for everyone to create and show a Pecha Kucha.  Mr. Vincent had an immediate answer: Ignite.  In this even briefer format, participants are given five minutes to speak accompanied by 20 slides. Each slide is displayed for 15 seconds, and slides are advanced automatically.  We agreed to give it a try and have an Ignite showcase the final day of the conference.  After all, how hard could this be, right?

We built time into the conference for participants to work on their presentations—either alone or with a group.  On showcase day we drew names to see who would have the opportunity to take the stage and share.  We allowed time for 18 presentations.  Sounds long until you do the math and see it’s only 90 minutes of total presentation time!    We had a variety of topics that ranged from parent involvement to Wikispaces in education to the impact your skin color has on others’ perceptions of you.  Using wiffiti, participants gave feedback on each presentation, which kept everyone engaged during transitions between speakers.

The overall feeling of the group was that preparing to give this type of presentation is not as easy as it looks!  It takes a lot of thoughtful planning to get the timing down and to get your message across in your allotted time.  However, the benefits are great.  (If fact, if teachers adopted this style of information sharing it might capture some of that the much-discussed shrinking attention span of students who are not being engaged in their learning and are bored in class!)