"Zenning" Your Presentations

I've had a renaissance with my presentation skills. Learning from masters like Garr Reynolds and Steve Jobs this week whose share the caveat "less is more" gives a real simplicity and zen to presentations. I've pumped out hundreds of math and science presentations over the years with clunky and busy bullet points, data tables and uninteresting clip art which now makes me barf.

"Having the mind wander is a much more enjoyable visual experience rather than having slides read out loud"

I'm not arguing that presentations can't be informative. That's their nature. But I do think that they can tell a story, and give a certain amount of freedom to the viewer in a way that makes the viewers mind wander and wonder. Having the mind wander and wonder "huh?" "wow" or "what if" is a much more enjoyable visual experience rather than having slides read out loud or answer questions on cue. We've all given presentations like this and we've all been subjected to them.

Jesse Desjardins has made a viral appraisal of this with "You Suck at Powerpoint". Some of the more interesting points that he makes are that hundreds of power points are given every second around the world and that most of them (99%) are terrible. Some of his more interesting arguments:
  • If you're reading your slides, sit down and take a seat. 
  • Don't inundate the viewer with information
  • Keep it relevant
  • Put time into it

The Tully Monster Challenge
I decided to apply the skills towards a lesson on classification and taxonomy for my sixth graders. We are currently learning about classification and taxonomy in science, but I haven't found many activities where students actually get to classify an organism like an actual biologist does after its discovery.

I came across an activity last spring called "The Tully Monster" in the NSTA press for developing good writing skills in science. The gist of it is that a mysterious organism called the Tully monster is an anomaly within taxonomic classification. Students are given a handout of information that they might use to develop an understanding that would lead them to drawing conclusions through inferences, but I wanted to make a presentation that conveyed these notes in an interesting and engaging way.
 


Design Reflection
When I starting out on this presentation, I thought that "less is more" would mean less work. Was I wrong. Because of it's simplicity, I was forced to find high definition images and really think about the best images that conveyed the message that I wanted. The images became not just something to "fill in" in the space but rather the cornerstone for how well the text and images played with one another.


"The third slide, whose caption was "Always found in groups, never...individually" was done in the same fashion with the word "individually" being by itself."

My second slide "No complete fossils found" was fun to make, namely because the text was "broken up" and scattered around the image in the same way that the fossils were. The third slide, whose caption was "Always found in groups, never...individually" was done in the same fashion with the word "individually" being by itself. Slide 5 was a lot of negative space that then went into a four slide photo bomb with high resolution images that spoke for themselves. The digestive system picture took some effort to make, but after playing around with it, I realized the linearity of the image on the left side would be complimented by a similar configured text box on the right.

My heading for the final student prompt was re-written over and over until I settled on "Discuss, Debate, Speculate" which sound much more dynamic than merely "Questions" or "Answer". The former has a much more lively feel to it and would be a activity that I'd like to engage in. As was my presentation; I enjoyed making it as much as I did watching it.


Leaving the Pride of Ownership Aside
For the first time in my life, I decided to not have my school, name and date on the title slide. I think with pride of ownership, most content creators feel compelled to put such personal information out there to lay "claim" to their intellectual property. However, if they upload it to slide share or the like, isn't their upload signature and username on that? As I am joining the ranks of connected educators that constantly share work, I'm starting to feel that we can all acknowledge intellectual property but still present a slideshow to our students that was not obviously made for or by "someone else". Claiming intellectual property is fine, but I believe that if you want your presentation to be used by others over and over, leave your name and job title out of the title slide and make it property of the commons. No embarrassment and no excuses why someones name is splattered all over. In the presentation above, I've moved my name to the final credits to not distract the viewer in the beginning and take subtle credit after the presentation is over. It's still there, but doesn't forcefully say to the world "Look at what I made!"


"If you want your presentation to be used by others over and over, leave your name and job title out of the title slide and make it property of the commons."

The Student Response
The students were absolutely captivated. Where as before I would need to smack my classroom management stick on occasion, all students were glued to the visuals, eager for another piece of the puzzle. The whole presentation took only 4 minutes, but the resounding discussion afterwards was the gleam of what all educators dream. Motivation. Curiosity. Intrigue.

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