Presentation on Presenting

Recently — when making my daily pilgrimage to my favorite teacher blog dy/dan — I was directed to a presentation on presenting created by Scott Elias. I was blown away. [1] It’s not that it “said ” anything that I hadn’t read before (especially since getting sucked into dy/dan’s obsession with good design), but it reinspired me to do what I strove to do at the beginning of the year:

Pay attention to presentation, because presentation, content, and understanding are so damn intertwined its not even funny.

I used to think that math was the exception for all the design advice that abounds about PowerPoint/SmartBoard. (If you don’t know what SmartBoard is, play the video in this post.) How do you teach someone to do math by using very little text — text that usually explains some complicated math concept, problem, or formula?

Recently I’ve come to believe that one has to be more careful, but that it truly is possible to actually teach (not just gloss over) mathematics with the same advice that those design folk give to those lecturing about History or Literature.This year I’ve made a few presentations I’m proud of, but they don’t have that “wow factor” that I’m going for. I’ve realized that it’s for a few reasons:

1. My SmartBoard presentations serve a dual purpose, both acting as the driving motor to my lesson and to provide a resource for students at home to download and look at if they are confused. So I tend to write everything down, using entirely too much text. I do this because I think students will need it at home. I also do it because it is a crutch for me. I know exactly where I’m going and what I have to say if I have it on the screen.

2. I don’t use any pictures — save for the occasional graph.

3. I don’t have a way to indicate to students “take notes on this!” and “don’t take notes on this!

4. I don’t emphasize the “big” points well.

But I’m working on addressing of these. And I think I have made some pretty good slides for Monday. We’ll see…

[1] I liked the presentation so much that I sent it to this one particular email list (“course conference”) at my school for other teachers to check out if they wanted, and one of the computer teachers wrote Scott Elias the following (and copied me on the email):

Good Morning Scott,I am fortunate to work with a teacher named Sam Shah, who shared your blog post on presenting.

With more than 20 years of being a classroom student and 10 as an educator, this presentation is one of the top three most engaging I have ever seen, and the most useful in my teaching career so far.

I am attaching your pdf here to share with the Middle School Skills Team, Upper School Director and Technology Director.

Thanks so much.

I hope that a dialogue is sparked about how to make presentations and use SmartBoard effectively in the classroom. I find it crazy that we all have this tool and yet it appears to me that no one uses it to be anything more than a whiteboard with capability to save.


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