Presentation Upgrade

The beginning of the school year seems a bit of a distant memory as we have just finished week 7.  However, the early weeks were formative in setting up many systems and building relationships that have lasting impact throughout the year.  One particular important beginning of the year event was the Open House session (Back to School Night for some) where parents came to school to meet the teacher and learned more about their child’s upcoming year.  At our school, we conduct this during the school day.  We start with a whole grade level presentation to parents.  It is this presentation that I would like to re-examine as I’ve struggled with the presentation that I’ve used in the past.  Feeling overwhelmed with the amount of information needed to share, the presentation became a sit and get for parents.  Here’s the presentation:

As you can see, this presentation does not align with many of the principles of presentation design that experts write about.  It is far from being simple and balanced.  It doesn’t tell a story or revolve around a central idea.  There is too much text on some slides and much of the information could be accessed by parents before or after the open house through handouts or additional information sessions hosted by the school (e.g. technology, assessment, EAL).

I would really like to rethink this presentation and incorporate best practices from presentation zen which includes going back to the very beginning and reviewing purpose.  Instead of sharing so much school logistical information I’d really like this Open House session to convey some big ideas and themes around the year.  I started to think deeper about the purpose of the session and what my personal goals were (What I hope parents would walk away knowing or understanding).  This got me thinking critically about what kind of information is best shared in person and what information is best accessed through handouts.  Here is a list of the ideas that I brainstormed that are important to me (not in any particular order at this stage):

  • Who are we as a group of educators working with your child every day?
  • What are our fundamental beliefs about learning (especially for this age group)?
  • What are some features of this particular grade (that sets in apart from other grade levels)?
  • What is the learning environment like and how does this support student learning?
  • What do we believe about home-school connections and partnerships?
  • What is the role of technology in learning?

My next step was to find powerful images that represent these ideas and would help me to convey a message.  After a quick search I realised that finding the perfect image is hard work and on reflection perhaps the best way to get the ‘just right’ photo would be to use some my own images.  If I’m talking about the idea of creativity in the curriculum would it be better to have the word creativity on the slide or an image of students being creative?

For example:

flickr photo shared by Sean MacEntee under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license


Image by author, photos by ASB
Image by author, photos by ASB

In this presentation I definitely want parents to know that I believe that learning is a social activity and that students have an opportunity to learn in many different ways including partnerships, groups, and independent practice. It’s important to me that I convey that the learning environment is dynamic and interactive.  An image would serve well to represent what I could talk about in an authentic way to the audience.

Photo by author
Photo by author

I want the overall feel of the presentation to reflect simplicity both in individual slides and the presentation as a whole.  For this reason, I connected with the Kawasaki Method (10 slides – 10 major ideas).  This seems a reasonable number – anymore and I’ve probably tried to include too many ideas in the presentation and may be veering from my initial goals. 10 slides seems to be a good fit for this audience, purpose and time limit (15 minutes).  With respect to including text, I want to ensure that powerful words (perhaps quotes) are used as this will help create a balance between text and images.  I envision a mashup of the Lessig Method and Kawasaki method while at the same time applying some of the other great points I read about this week.

I’m really liking the direction that this new presentation is going and the vision that I am creating in my mind.  I am considering using this for the final course project.  While I don’t see myself adopting one particular presentation style, I do see many elements coming together to form my own style.  Which brings me to this quote which is one that resonates with me throughout the whole COETAIL journey as I am presented with new ideas and choosing what and how much to let into my life.

“You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life.”
Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative


Visuals in the classroom

Thinking about the amount of information that students are exposed to day after day in the their school setting plus the additional information out of school makes me feel like I am competing for their brain space.  What are they really going to remember about a particular lesson on any particular day?  Often I ask my son how his day was, what did you learn?  The most common answer is good or blank stare.  I worry about what’s really sticking or resonating inside of him.  

For this I know teachers have to work hard at capturing and maintaining students’ attention and we have become creative at how we can stimulate and captivate our students.  For me personally, using visuals is one very important way to support student learning – to engage, to inspire, to remember, to highlight, to conclude, to represent, and to analyse.  There are many reasons why visuals can enhance learning including those described by Karla Gutierrez.  If you need more information about this in a visual way this infographic gives 13 reasons.  This is why I am a big believer and user of charts in the elementary classroom.  I believe it helps students to anchor their thinking and create memories around learning.  it’s also a valuable resource that they can return to in order to build their own independence as a learner.  That being said, some of my charts are better than others and it would be fun to analyse them with some of the design principles in mind.  Do I have text and images balanced right?  Bulleted list of information or longer pieces of text?

I’m planning ahead of how I can use more images in the classroom to foster thinking and promote communication.  I found a powerful image of a local river near our school and I plan to use this for a morning meeting activity as a provocation for the beginning of a unit of inquiry about to start – Sharing the Planet.  In this activity, I plan to have student looks at the image using the Visible Thinking routine ‘Think …. Puzzle…. Explore….’  

flickr photo shared by ravi khemka under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

I’m also planning to use this image in class.  

Photo by author
Photo by author

This idea came from my 10 year old son.  I was trying to hurry him up to get out the door to leave for school.  He was meant to be brushing his teeth.  I found him staring out my bedroom window with his toothbrush in his mouth and my patience was slowly slipping away.  After ditching the toothbrush, he told me that he was looking at an ant trail and a bunch of ants carrying a worm.  Sure enough, there was a busy line of ants hauling the worm/caterpillar away at quite a great speed.  I rushed to get my phone to take a photo and with no prompting at all he gave me a good suggestion of how to use this image in the classroom.  He suggested that students should try to connect this image to our How We Organize Ourselves unit all about working together as  a team – brilliant idea.  And a good reminder to me to look out the window more often.  Yes, we are surrounded by images, but when used intentionally and explicitly in the classroom a deeper level of thinking and  learning can occur.