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Powerpoint Schmowerpoint: Teach kids to create really engaging presentations

March 15, 2010 · 20 Comments · Digital Storytelling, Ed Tech Software

In the past several years, I have developed a deep and intimate loathing of PowerPoint. Don’t judge me just yet – I have my reasons. To be honest, I understand the appeal of PowerPoint. It’s a quick and easy way to get your point across using text and photos. I get it. But it’s just so hard to create an interesting PowerPoint presentation that most of them bore me to tears.

  

More than this, though, is that I’ve met a lot of teachers who use PowerPoint as their only tech integration tool. Don’t get me wrong — I appreciate when any teacher tries to integrate technology, in any way. I just feel that PowerPoint is a somewhat misguided stab at this.

At its core, what’s the point of tech integration? I would argue that it isn’t to teach students how to use a single tool – any tool we teach kids to use now will most likely be obsolete by the time they enter the workforce. But just like we don’t teach students to read every book they’ll ever encounter, we don’t need to teach them to use every tech tool they’ll ever encounter. Rather, we need to teach them the skills – the grammar, the phonics – that will allow them to navigate the tech tools they will eventually use.

So what’s the grammar of technology? I would argue that one of the main skills of the 21st century is expressing your ideas compellingly, portraying a unique voice in a world of billions of voices. For most kids, PowerPoint doesn’t allow them to do this. It’s basically Word with less text on each page. If you put your average student’s PowerPoint presentation online, it likely won’t get more than a dozen hits. But it’s not entirely the fault of our students. We need to give them tools to truly express themselves, uniquely.

If we’re going to integrate technology, let’s really do it. Let’s teach students to create compelling, multi-media presentations that get noticed. If your students can do this with PowerPoint, more power to you. But at the end of the day, there are some presentation tools that blow PowerPoint out of the water. And many of them are even easier to use.

Prezi

My friend, Jen, showed me Prezi three weeks ago and, within two days, I was wowing my bosses with a Prezi presentation. This week, I’ll be training my entire department’s staff on using it. When you have the choice of Prezi or PowerPoint, there really is no competition in my mind – Prezi is like PowerPoint on steroids.

For years, I’ve been trying to get teachers away from PowerPoint, but their only alternatives were time-consuming complex programs like iMovie. Prezi, however, is quick, easy, and, better still, FREE.

Prezi is a Web-based tool, so there’s nothing to download. You create an account, and all your presentations are stored online, so you can access them from any computer with an Internet connection (you also have the option to download your presentations). Rather than individual slides, you build a Prezi on a single, infinitely large workspace. You can zoom in and out of specific slides, videos, photos, or text to take your audience through your presentation. It’s great for showing the big picture (i.e., a large timeline) and then zooming in on all the details. The motion and the ease of integrating multimedia are what make Prezis so compelling.

Here’s the creation and presentation of a simple Prezi in just three minutes:

Anyone can create a free Prezi account, but then your presentations are publicly accessible. There are also “Enjoy” and “Pro” membership options for a fee. Luckily, the Enjoy upgrade is FREE for teachers and students (you just need an e-mail address that’s connected to a school or district Web site).

Glogster

Glogster has been around for a while, and it’s gaining a lot of popularity in schools, from Kindergarten to Master’s programs. If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s a Web-based tool that allows you to easily create multi-media posters called “glogs.” Users can design glogs with their own style, so students can express their individual voices while still communicating what they’ve learned.

Glogs are great because they’re displayed much like single, self-contained Web pages. They’re a lot easier to build than Web pages, so some teachers even make them, with videos and links, to guide students through an assignment.

Glogster is so fun to use that a lot of middle schoolers glog outside of school (there are a ton dedicated to Twilight’s Edward).

Glogster is FREE to use, but there’s also a FREE GlogsterEDU. Rather than having each student create their own account, GlogsterEDU allows teachers to register and monitor their entire class from a single teacher account.

One warning: Be sure that your students save their glogs often. Some users get confused because rather than a “save” button, Glogster only has a “save and publish” button. Make sure your students click this often – they can still edit their glog, and if they don’t “save and publish,” they could lose hours of work.

Digital Storytelling

I wrote a bit about digital storytelling in my blog post Use What Their Mamas Gave ‘Em: Students Cell Phones in Education. But there are some other digital storytelling tools that might be good substitutes for PowerPoint. This is especially true if you have shy students who would prefer to create a stand-alone presentation that doesn’t require them to present in front of the class.

In the cell phone post, I wrote about student-created videos, podcasts, and slideshows. Those require some time and hardware, but there are a lot of Web-based tools that allow students to create similar presentations more simply.

  • Blabberize is a great tool for students researching a specific animal or historic figure. They can upload a picture of their topic, then record a first-person account of that animal or person, and make it appear as though the photo is speaking.

 

  • With voicethread, students can upload an image, document, or video and then record their own narration. Other students can then add narration, comments, or questions to the original presentation.

Anyone can get a single FREE voicethread account. Teachers can get more features for a one-time $10 fee or a classroom account (where you can monitor all your students) for $60 per year.

Some students communicate facts best when they’re allowed to create a story. For example, some teachers have students create their own public service announcements to communicate information about recycling or littering. Other teachers ask students to perform skits that illustrate historic events or important scenes in literary classics.

All of this can be accomplished with free Web tools, as well. That’s not to say that these tools should always replace PSAs or skits. But they allow students to create similar products individually and quickly. Some teachers might prefer to give students a choice – those who express themselves better verbally can choose to perform a skit, while more shy or tech-savvy students might choose to create a film with one of these tools:

  • Xtranormal’s motto is “If you can type, you can make movies.” And that’s exactly what this FREE tool allows students to do. You can use xtranormal as a Web-based tool or you can download a software version to your computers. Either way, students choose pre-made cartoon characters, type in a script (in any number of languages), select movements for each character, and press play. What they create looks something like this:

 

  • GoAnimate  is a more customized FREE cartoon-making tool. It’s a bit more complex, but students can create more personalized cartoons by creating their own drag-and-drop characters and using their own voices.

  • I used to have students use Comic Life on our school Macbooks for some presentations. But now, teachers don’t need Macs or even any software at all to use comics in class. Pixton is a click-and-drag comic creator that’s FREE for anyone. (You can also pay for a school account.)

Lesson Integration Ideas

Elementary Classroom

Grade: K-5
Subjects: English Language Arts and Science
Objective: The student will be able to

  • research and report on a topic;
  • understand that different animals live in different places and have body parts that they use for different purposes.

At some point in every child’s early elementary years, they do a research report on an animal. Wouldn’t it be great if these kids could express their own personality in these reports and share them with the world?

With blabberize, they can. Students can write a research report on an animal, as always, but, rather than reading the report to the class, they can upload a photo of the animal to blabberize and then make the photo talk. Students can act as the animal and record a first-person narration that includes animal facts.

Middle School Classroom

Grade: 5-8
Subject: Science
Objective: The student will be able to illustrate the transfer of energy through a food web.

When I taught fifth-grade science, energy flowcharts, food chains, and food webs were a large part of my class. Students each had their own terrarium or aquarium, and they each created food webs for the living things inside. This became a difficult task because, as we learned more about the things inside our bottle ecosystems, students wanted to add to their food webs. They soon ran out of room.

With Prezi, though, students can create enormous food webs that an audience can view from afar. Then, students can zoom in on each section of the food web and provide more details about the animal or plant represented there. The food webs can be made more interesting with the inclusion of photos and videos (possibly some taken by students).

High School Classroom

Grade: 9-12
Subject: Foreign Languages
Objective: The student will be able to

  • understand and explain cultural differences between their home country and a foreign country;
  • write fluently in a foreign language;
  • hold common conversations in a foreign language.

Often, foreign language classes have students present on customs or traditions of foreign countries. Xtranormal gives students a chance to practice their written communication, as well. Students can type a foreign-language script into the program, and it will be converted to a movie scene.

Students can use the program to create scenarios exemplifying local customs or traditions. These short foreign-language films can serve as intros to larger presentations or as tutorials for students at lower linguistic levels.

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20 Comments

  • Michelle

    OMG! you’re talking about me. I want to do more and need a blogsite like yours to lead me down the path of greener tech sites.
    Thank you!

    • Katy Scott

      @Michelle,
      Haha! No worries — PowerPoints were the big tech project in my classroom five years ago. Now, I’m working as an ed-tech specialist. It’s amazing what resource-sharing blogs can do for you.

  • Jeremy Kaiser

    Awesome blog Katy. I ran across it on Classroom 2.0 this morning. I would have to say that you have the most information intensive blog posts that I have seen. This is exactly what teachers need to see. Keep the great posts coming.

  • John Sowash

    Great, in-depth post, Kathy. I recently wrote a blog post called “PowerPoint Coma” that relates closely with your introduction and dislike for PowerPoint. Prezi has become my replacement tool of choice for PowerPoint, however it should be noted that variety is the spice of life!

  • Faith Shabat

    Thank you so much for sharing! This is a great resource. I will share it with all of my teachers. You give a clear picture of each program. Here’s my website where I’ve been posting Web2.0 stuff that I’ve discovered. I hope it’s okay if I add you as a link. (http://sites.google.com/site/faithsfiles/)
    Thanx,
    Faith

  • linda babcock

    thanks for all this incredible information! Things to try out before school starts, and maybe Prezi presentation for Back to School Night, as a dry run before I try something with the kids. I appreciate the examples and links to get started easily!

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  • Eric Hartman

    Blabberize is a great resource tool for students, especially if they’re presenting an informative report on historical figures or even an autobiography. However, unless you’re John Moschitta, Jr (that fast talking guy on the Micro Machines commerical), how are you supposed to do that when your audio clip can only be 30 seconds long?

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  • L Holwerda

    It seems that although Xtranormal is really a cool site it has very limited use without payment for the features. New accounts start with only 300 points and they go quickly.

    • Katy Scott

      Leslie, you’re right. Xtranormal has changed dramatically since I first wrote this post last year. It’s no longer one of my favorites on the list above (I prefer GoAnimate, which now offers text-to-type video creation). However, I still have students who choose to use the site. Because I want students to get accustomed to troubleshooting different applications, I generally only have them use the site for one or two projects, asking them to choose different multi-media tools throughout the year, and the 300 points is quite enough for that. However, I have had a couple high school students run through their points too quickly. There are two options to deal with this:
      1.) Students can build projects even with no points. They can’t publish these projects, but if they login to their account, they can view the project in the “preview” window. I’ve had students give me their username and password, so I can view their video (and show it to the class on the big screen).
      2.) If you really want your students to be able to publish their project on a blog or share it with family, etc., students can create an additional dummy account. One of my sophomores did this — he made one video, using all his points. Then, he created a second xtranormal account and created another.
      I hope this helps. Thanks for your comment!

  • John

    While I agree with you about the limits of PowerPoint, some of the other sites you point to don’t fit my needs as well. I have students who have used Prezi and like it, and I have made an effort to learn Glogster because it seems like a great site. I also have my students make videos with Windows MovieMaker or iMovie, if they have a Mac. But I have to know how to use the tools before I can require my students to use them and a bunch of new ones isn’t really helpful without time to learn how to use them.
    Furthermore, I see a lot of posts like this proposing using these cool new applications, so I wonder if the glossingness of some of the sites aren’t because they are new.

    For me, a key question for me is what payoff will I and my students get if I invest my time, which is finite and feels like it is shrinking, in learning how to use the application and introduce it to my students? Plus if I use the application, will it work better than what I am using now?

    • Katy Scott

      You make some good points, John. However, I think that if we look at what skills our students will need in the 21st century, two key ones include: 1.) troubleshooting new technology, and 2.) communicating ideas effectively. I strongly believe that technology integration should make teachers more effective and more efficient, not become a time suck. What I’ve done with students, from 4th grade through adults, is to show them examples of several of the mentioned tools. I then give every student in the class the same a rubric (the same one I’ve used for past poster projects) and tell them to use any tool they choose to create a presentation. I tell them that I’m not an expert at any of the tools, so they will have to troubleshoot the tools on their own. And, honestly, it always works. The students always create amazing presentations and, though there are frustrations at times, they learn to work through them, which is an important 21st century skill.

      With so many rapidly changing multi-media tools out there, it’s unrealistic for teachers to become experts on them, especially since many of them may not last the test of time. We need to re-evaluate how we teach technology tools, specifically thinking about the 21st century skills our students will need. Giving students choice helps us differentiate our lessons, and it also has our students practice valuable troubleshooting skills.

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  • kylie

    that is a great idea

  • vMEJI002

    WOW! I am amazed by all the resources you have listed here. Thanks for sharing! I was about to make my kids do a power point presentation but after reading this I am definetly doing something else!

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