Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Powerpoint – Ugh

Ms. Richmond’s class (Juniors and Seniors) came by to do research on Afghanistan to prepare and build background knowledge prior to reading The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. We did comparison searches using Google, Google Scholar (GREAT new resource, by the way), various databases, and we also looked at what was available through the library catalog. At the end of our class, while students, working in collaborative teams, looked for materials, I asked Ms. Richmond how the kids would be presenting the results of their research. Powerpoint. They would present their results with Powerpoint presentations.

It just so happens that a growing number of very smart people have been talking a lot about Powerpoint presentations lately, and thanks to my trusty RSS feed, they have been making me think.

“After 10 years, it was time. We could not sit through another bullet-ridden, brain-numbing student presentation. We interviewed the kids. For them it was just as bad. They dreaded each other’s Powerpoints.” Joyce Valenza http://www.schoollibraryjournal.com/blog/1340000334/post/130020413.html?nid=3714

Kate Richmond is one of those great, brave teachers who welcome new experiences, ideas and concepts, and works hard at incorporating them into her teaching. As an example, she went to Ghana last summer with a group of teachers and used the experience to enrich her teaching of novels with African themes. Her classroom is draped with Kente cloth and various handcrafts from Ghana. Anyway, after a brief conversation about possible alternatives to Powerpoint and strategies to improve traditional (and typically pretty poor) presentation skills, Kate decided to offer her students a challenge. They were to try something new, and think about an audience outside of the classroom. In creating their presentations, they should challenge themselves to speak to a global audience. Let their research on Afghanistan tell a story of that country and have meaning beyond bullet points.

To support students, I created a wiki with various resources ranging from presentation skills, alternatives to bullet points, examples of great presentational speakers, the importance of story-telling, making an emotional connection with the audience, and new free tools available on the web.

Beyond Powerpoint, is available on the CCHS Library website. The links are rich repositories of resources, illustrate the power of image and music, and provide a commentary on the importance of giving our students the opportunity to craft their own voice, connect meaningfully with content, and build those crucial 21st century skills.

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Friday, February 1, 2008


We deal with a lot of students every day. This past January, as a matter of fact, we seated 10,420 kids at an average of 521 per day. That is kids in seats, not just those who walk through the door. I know this is true, because we count them every block.

Midterm week, however, was a totally different challenge. In years past the library (and school) has been overrun with hordes of students looking for places to study, to socialize, to relax. Last year was apparently epic. To avoid a repeat of that, we needed a plan.

In the past, students were required to maintain strict silence and individual study in the library during exam weeks. How would that suit students who wanted to study in groups? Recent studies support the benefits of collaborative work with students. I was prepared to chuck the “rule of silence”. Before making a decision though, we decided to poll our patrons, the students.

Look at the survey and see the choices.

To be honest, who would choose A? To my surprise, one-third of students chose silent, individual study as their preference. There were a few comments, too. One student, who chose B, wrote “This answer is false. Really, I circled A but my over-talkative friend made me change it to B”. When I was in high school, I probably would have been that chatty friend.
So what did we do? We compromised. The 1st and 2nd floors would be for “regular library rules”, meaning business as usual. (That’s where I would have chosen to sit). The 3rd floor would be for silent, individual study. Of course, lots of kids chose the 3rd floor and then didn’t get that they couldn’t do group study. Mostly, though, we had students on the 3rd floor working incredibly hard, and very intensively. Clearly, they needed that space.

The 3rd floor study carrels have always been for individual study, but there is pressure during lunch blocks for it to be a social space. Given the experience of midterms, I have a new appreciation for the large number of students who really want/need a quiet place to work. We will be reinforcing this area as a quiet area.

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