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 We've got to see that as an outdated way of thinking.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?

1 comment:

  1. For lists of tools that students could use for projects, try this site out for starters: http://cooltoolsforschools.wikispaces.com/Home.