PowerPoint - Just One Tool in the Toolbox

Five years ago, I was teaching students all the ins and outs of creating a PowerPoint presentation. We talked about how to use a PowerPoint as a visual aid without having it take over the show. We also talked in great detail about how much text should go on a slide. Much of what they learned seemed to be a bit pointless at the time because they rarely got a chance to use it outside of the Computer Lab. Over the last five years, the students have become PowerPoint experts. They can almost create a slideshow with their eyes closed and their hands tied behind their back!

Five years ago, many of the teachers these same students worked with had little experience with or knowledge of PowerPoint yet and didn't include it in their lessons very often. It took these teachers some time to learn more about the program and to become comfortable with its use. I am noticing that now these teachers are using PowerPoint a lot. It has become their tool of choice. Ironically, the students they are using these PowerPoints with now are already at the "been there, done that" stage. They are ready to move on and add some new tools to their toolbox. The challenge is going to be moving the teachers forward along with the students.

PowerPoint is a great piece of software and has its pros and cons. It can be an effective tool if used correctly and if not over-used. There are so many other tools out there that students could be using to create a final project or to display their knowledge of a particular topic. The number of tools grows every day. It isn't going to be possible for me to teach the ins and outs of all these different sites and programs. My goal at this point is to teach students how to analyze a website, how to problem solve, and how to teach themselves to use new sites and programs. Many students already do these things: i.e. when they are trying to figure out how to play a new video game or how to use the latest social networking website. It's second nature to them. It's not second nature for a large number of teachers.

It may require teachers to get outside their comfort zone, but I think it is crucial that we all start adding some new tools to our toolbox. Teachers often think they need to be an expert at something before they feel comfortable asking students to try it. We've got to see that as an outdated way of thinking. We can share all that we know about our area of expertise (math, science, social studies, reading, etc...) and then give students the option to show you what they've learned about that topic using whatever tool works best for them. Provide the class with the list of things on which you will be assessing them, and then give them the freedom to choose a way of demonstrating those things.

Students, because they have become experts at creating PowerPoints, may need to be nudged out of their comfort zone as well. Perhaps on some assessments, students will have to be told that they need to use a new tool - something other than PowerPoint. It might be helpful to talk with students about some of the different tools available and how they can be used in different subject areas. Create signs to post around the room as a reference.

The benefits of this approach are two-fold. The students will take more ownership of their learning if they are given some choice in how they can present it. The teacher and the rest of the class will have a variety of projects to see/listen to instead of sitting through 30 PowerPoints all on the same exact topic which can be a bit boring!

How many tools do you have in your toolbox?

Get Your Head in the Cloud...

...or at least get your bookmarks, documents, photos, videos, and so on... in the Cloud. It was the BEST thing I did starting back in 2005 when I signed up for a Delicious account. (I won't be telling my fellow tech gurus anything new in this post, but I hope to share some useful information here with those who are just starting to explore the potential that the web holds.)

What is "the Cloud", you ask? The phrase refers to resources and applications that are Internet-based and are accessible from basically any device that can go online. So, putting your bookmarks, documents, videos and such in the Cloud means that you have stored them in a place that allows you to gain access to them from any computer or other device that has Internet access.

Saving things online is simple, gives you flexibility, helps with organization, and can even provide opportunities for collaboration.

SIMPLE - Getting started is as simple as finding a site that meets your needs and signing up for an account. Many sites offer free accounts which sometimes offer limited options. Once you have an account, you can begin uploading items to it. This is also usually a very simple process. If you know how to download pictures from your digital camera or how to add an attachment to an email, you should be able to figure out how to upload items to the Cloud.

FLEXIBLE - Having your items in the Cloud offers you the flexibility of going almost anywhere and still having access to them. When you get to work and realize that you've left your removable drive at home, you don't have to worry if you have everything saved online too.

ORGANIZED - Many of the storage sites also let you tag your resources. Tagging provides a way of organizing similar to a database. When you are searching for a particular topic, you can search through your resources by the tags you've created. For example, I have tagged all of my online bookmarks by grade level and by subject among other things. If I am looking for a third grade math site, I just have to select those tags.

COLLABORATION - Once you have your resources in the Cloud, you are sometimes able to grant others access to them so that you can collaborate. Several people can be working simultaneously on a document, slide show, or spreadsheet and don't even have to be in the same room, same city, or even the same continent for that matter! Check out this Google Doc for an example. Add a "Hello" while you're there, so you can see how easy it is to collaborate.

Check some of these sites out:

Some online bookmarking/collection sites are Delicious, Diigo, Reddit, Clipmarks, Digg, Livebinders.

Store your videos online at Vimeo, YouTube, Viddler, Dailymotion.

Places to keep your documents online include GoogleDocs, Dropbox, Box.Net, FilesAnywhere, 4Shared.

Some online photo albums are Photobucket, Shutterfly, Snapfish, Flickr, Picasa.