Shaking Up Student Presentations

Ipad with glare

My Ipad with some glare

Searching for an Alternative to Horrible Slideshows

Recently my colleague over at awritablelife posted about a project her students were doing. While describing the project she mentioned a specific type of presentation called PechaKucha and said that any sort of blog post about it was mine to do since I introduced it to her.  So, this is going to be that post.

A couple of years ago I came to a realization: Student presentations made me want to gouge out my eyes…or at least cry. They were all the same. When it came time for students to stand up in front of the class, the presentations seemed to boil down to putting as much information as possible on a set of slides and then reading those slides to the class. No matter how I phrased the instructions for presentation assignments, they never changed.

Such began my desire to find something different for my students to do when it came to presentations for my classes. Luckily I didn’t have to wait too long. A former student dropped by one day and was telling me about a college communications class he was taking that turned out to be very challenging. We were mainly talking about photography and how the instructor was really pushing them when it came to the images they used in Powerpoint or Keynote. When we finished talking the former student offered to lend me the book he was using for that class.

The book turned out to be Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. One possible answer to my frustration with student presentations was inside. This is where I first learned about PechaKucha and it struck me as having potential to really shake up how my students handle presentation projects.

My Typical PechaKucha Assignment

When I give this particular assignment the rules are pretty simple:

  • 2o slides
  • Each slide automatically advances after 20 seconds
  • No more than 6 words per slide
  • Must provide a handout
  • Must turn in your notes

A word of warning is probably needed here–the first time you give this to a class, the whining and complaining will be deafening. By the time they have done this 2 or 3 times the complaining will vanish and they’ll actually be pretty good at it.

The way I look at the overall assignment is that is consists of 3 components: 1) the slideshow, 2) the handout, and 3) what they say during the presentation. What I really like about this approach is that is puts the focus on #3–what they say during the presentation. And isn’t that what a really good presentation is supposed to be about? The presenter and what they have to say.

What Works With this Format

I try to explain to my students that when they are putting all of this together they really have to think about their information and the best place for it to be. We talk about how the slides are acting as visual reminders, or bookmarks, that correspond to what they are talking about at that specific time. If the student really gets it and chooses powerful, fitting images, the slides will serve as memory aids. I tell them the handout should contain information that is important–but that they knew they would not have time to cover during the actual presentation. I encourage them to create handouts they contain some reminders of key elements while pointing the way for the audience members to learn more later.

It is in that process of evaluating and ranking the various bits of information students want to bring to their presentation that the true value of this format shines. Students can’t just copy and paste text or images on a slide if they want to create a good presentation. They also quickly realize that they cannot just get up in front of the class and just wing it. They may have to actually–gasp!!–practice what they are going to say. No single student or group dominates the amount of time in front of the class. If they really want to stand out, they just can’t be in front of the class longer than anyone else–what they say. and how they say it, becomes the most important element.

While having a 1-1 Ipad program makes certain aspects of this assignment easier, the first year I did this was before our school’s Ipad program. That group of students handled things just fine with only being able to do everything at home of in the computer lab.

If I can find a way to make my students think a little more, I am always for it. So far assigning this type of presentation has done just that whether it is an individual project or a group assignment.  Plus, I no longer feel the need to hurt myself during every single student presentation.

How do your students handle presentations? What do you do differently when it comes time to use Powerpoint or Keynote?

As always feel free to leave comments, or questions. If you like this post or site, like it on Facebook, follow it on Twitter, subscribe, or share it with someone. The more, the merrier.

Link of the Week: TodaysMeet

My Ipad

My Ipad

Online Discussion in the Classroom

For this week’s link of the week I thought I would suggest a site that my colleague over at AWritableLife introduced me to over the summer: TodaysMeet. After having used this a few times this year with different classes and grade levels, I can honestly say that this is a great resource for the classroom.

TodaysMeet allows the teacher to create a room for online discussions. It honestly only takes a few seconds to set up a room and get the ball rolling. When you create the room, the site gives you an address as todaysmeet.com/your_room_name that you share with your students. Once the students go to that address, they just sign in with a name and can begin contributing to the discussion. No one has to sign up for any sort of account or even give an email address. You just think of a name you want to use for the room, tell the site how long the room needs to be up, and that is that. Plus, the site will work on Ipads. If you are lucky enough to be part of a 1-1 program this is a great benefit.

If you happen to teach at a school where Twitter is blocked, like mine, then TodaysMeet is a great alternative. The comments are limited to the same number of characters as Twitter, so students get the Twitter experience with having to choose their words carefully. When I have used this in my classes, we have even used hashtags to make things easier to follow. So, if you have ever wanted to host a tweetup for a class, this is an easy way to do that if you are blocked.

My 2 Favorite Aspects

The aspect I like the most about using TodaysMeet is that I have been able to get input from students who I never hear from during a traditional class discussion. I have noticed students who I would have thought were clueless about what we were reading had some really great insights to offer. That is a priceless thing and has reminded me to not judge students so hastily. Along with this, I have gotten more discussion about texts compared to times when we discussed things outloud.

The second aspect of TodaysMeet that I really like is that once we have finished the discussion I can save the entire transcript of the meeting. I usually save it as a PDF file and email it to all the students when we are preparing for discussion or essays questions at test time. When my senior, college credit class was discussing The Crucible the transcript for that session was 40 pages long. That is a pretty hefty study resource.

I really recommend you check out the site. I know I plan on using it even more next year and will devote time this summer trying to dream up some different ways to use it.

How have you used online discussion in your classroom? If you have tried TodaysMeet, what are your thoughts about it?

As always feel free to leave comments, or questions. If you like this post or site, like it on Facebook, follow it on Twitter, subscribe, or share it with someone. The more, the merrier.

3 Ways the iPad Can Improve Your Classroom

IPad, Apps, and Stylus

IPad, Apps, and Stylus

Every teacher wants to improve the life inside the classroom–for both student and teacher. While I do not consider myself an expert on using the iPad in the classroom, I thought I would post some ideas about how it can improve some aspects of life in the classroom. The following suggestions come from my experiences thus far with using Ipads in my classroom. At my school we are almost 3/4ths of the way through our first year with a 1-1 iPad program with our students.

Better Classroom Management

One of the impacts the iPad had on my classroom that I noticed is that it got me moving around more. By using the Splashtop Whiteboard app to control my laptop and thus control the interactive whiteboard in my room, I can move around the room more and monitor my students’ activity. Just the simple act of not having my back turned to the class helps keep students on task. Being able to more around more also allows for more 1-1 interaction with students who might have a question about something being discussed or on the board. Any teacher will tell  you that being able to keep an eye on what is happening in the classroom is a good thing. The iPad definitely helps with that.

Improved Assignment Collection and Distribution

In a previous post I’ve written that one of the first things I wanted to try with the 1-1 iPad program at my school was make my classroom as paperless as possible. I am still sticking to that move and don’t see any way I would go back to handling my assignments the traditional pen and paper way. The biggest benefit when it comes to distributing assignments digitally through email is that students who are absent get the assignment faster. They don’t have to come track me down and get a slip of paper in order to get their assignment–it is already in their inbox.

Emailing the assignments also allows the students to plan ahead with a little less stress when they know ahead of time when they will miss class. Recently a senior came to inform me that they were going to be absent later in the week. As he started to ask what assignments he would miss for that day, he stopped himself before finishing the question and said, “Wait. I’ll just be sure to check my email and get it from there.”

As far as collecting assignments goes, having every assignment turned in as either an email or a blog posting cuts down on the size of stacks of paper on my desk. Usually the only stack on my desk is a test or quiz. To keep track of blog assignments I use Feeddler Pro to aggregate the feeds from my students’ blogs. I have them sorted into class period and can tell who has posted the assignment with just one quick glance.

Most typical homework assignments are turned in via email. By using a Gmail account set up just for homework,  every assignment is available for review whenever, and wherever, internet access exists.  Gone are the days of lugging home stacks of homework to sort through. Setting up folders (labels in Gmail) keeps things organized and setting up filters to auto-sort incoming emails really saves a lot of time.

Implement Student Portfolios

I’ve always loved the idea of having student portfolios. I’ve never been crazy about–or very good at–keeping up with them. Folders and binders take up room and are a pain to look through. Bringing the iPad into the classroom makes the creation, storage, and review of portfolios a lot easier to implement. In fact, it is almost impossible to pass up the opportunity. Just by having students use their iPads to turn in their assignments via email which I  then sort into folders, I unwittingly created portfolios for every student. I have every assignment every student has turned in for the whole year available with a couple of touches or swipes on the iPad screen. That can come in pretty handy when it is time for parent-teacher conferences.

Having assignments on a blog is also pretty handy. The research project for my senior literature class is going to be on the students’ blogs instead of being submitted in a folder or binder. No need to worry about where the projects can be stored.

Having assignments on the blog also can help with parent communication. Twice this year I have had a parent ask about a low grade for a blog assignment. I was able to send the url for the student’s blog to their parent as part of the response I emailed. This allowed the parent to see for themselves that the post was either late or was not done.

Another option some teachers use for creating student portfolios is Evernote.

At the start of this post I stated that I don’t consider myself an expert at using the iPad in the classroom–I am always looking for new ways to improve any aspect of my students’ experience in my classes. So, if you have any ideas on how to do that, please share them.

Tuesday: 5 Favorite Blog Posts

My clean iPad screen

My clean iPad screen

For today’s post I thought I would do a quick roundup of some blog posts that caught my attention at various times throughout the day.

Anyway, these are just a few posts from other blogs I found interesting and thought I would share. Enjoy.

The Journey into the (Almost) Paperless Year

Photo of paper and books from my desk

Paper and books on my desk

The Challenge of Going Paperless

So, we are a little past the halfway point of the school year and my jump into trying to go paperless in my classroom. When I set up this blog back in the summer, one of the things I said I wanted to do was go paperless–at least as much as I could. I thought now would be a pretty good time to take an assessment of where I stand on that journey.

During the summer I knew that I needed about key areas and come up with some kind of plan before school started. The more I had in place and ready to roll on day 1, the easier my life would be in those first days and weeks of school. I felt that with all the students coming into class with an iPad for the first time they were going to expect some differences while they were learning to use the new device in their hands–why not change the way they receive, complete, and turn in assignments. Just about all of the planning I did centered around my English classes because my journalism students did most of their work on computers anyway and computer class speaks for itself.

So, with my English classes in mind, I thought about the following:

  1. Reading assignments/textbooks
  2. Distributing and receiving assignments
  3. How to handle big projects
  4. What to do about quizzes and tests
  5. How to give feedback

I thought that if I could come up with a plan that required the students to use only their iPads in regards to those areas I had a pretty good chance of going paperless in my classroom.

The Plan

1. Reading assignments/textbooks: I knew this was going to be a problem area pretty quick. Our school was adopting new literature textbooks; and while I hoped for an accompanying etext or online version, I knew chances were slim. Most of the online version of high school literature books required flash–and we all know the iPad doesn’t do flash. Shortly after school started I discovered that our new textbooks did have PDFs available of almost every page in the hard copy. So, students didn’t have to lug home the heavy textbook if they didn’t want to. I am also able to email copies of the reading assignment to students who were absent.

For my college credit English class I knew from the start that their textbook was not available. So, I just accepted that the best I could do was to provide additional reading materials in an electronic form, usually through email.

For any outside readers like novels, the students have the choice to either buy a hardcopy or an ebook.

2. Distributing and receiving assignments: This was probably the easiest area to plan. I decided that anything that would have been given to students as a handout would now be emailed to them. As far as turning in homework, the students wold just email them in to me. I set up a gmail account just for sending and receiving assignments. On the first day of school I had the students send an email to the account so that I had all the email addresses and could sort their addresses into groups by class period. I also set up folders for each class period to hold their assignments. This has worked pretty well so far.

3. How to handle big projects: When I say “big projects” I mostly mean things like research papers, or assignments that are a collection of smaller, linked assignments. For this I decided that I would set up a blog for each student using Edublogs with the intent of having them use the blog as an alternative to a 3-ring binder or portfolio. My classes are just about to begin their big projects for the year, so I can’t come to any conclusions on the project aspect yet. The students do use the blogs regularly to complete various assignments that have them respond to what we are reading and each other’s ideas. To keep track of the blogs, and to speed up assessing them, I used Google’s reader service on the account I set up for receiving homework. I then installed Feeddler Pro on my iPad and have it linked to that gmail account. The blogs are listed in groups according to class period so that I can tell at one glance who has completed their blog assignment.

4. What to do about quizzes and tests: During the summer I worried that this was going to be the area that kept me from completely gong paperless. I wanted a system that allowed students to take quizzes and tests on their iPads but minimized any temptation to cheat. I found some apps and software systems that would work, but they all meant the administration would have to spend some more money. So, I am still in a holding pattern on this one. My students take quizzes and tests in the traditional paper form.

5. How to give feedback: This turned out easier than I thought. For ordinary homework assignments I reply in an email to the assignment the student emailed me. For blog posting I leave a comment on their post. For longer assignments like formal essays, I use the Goodreader app on my iPad to annotate a PDF of their essay and then email that back to them. I absolutely love Goodreader because I can circle, highlight, and write comments on the essay like it was a printed version.

The Results Thus Far

At this point in the school year, I think the move towards a paperless classroom has gone pretty well. On the few occasions that there are stacks of paper on my desk from students, it is far, far smaller than in previous years; it also means that the stack consists of quizzes,tests, or a homework assignment from a student whose iPad is out of the picture for some reason.

At some point in the future, I may have to do a post about some of the challenges involving some students having their iPads–and some general challenges that pop up from time-to-time.

As always any comments, questions,  or suggestions are welcome.