Archives for February 2013
As part of my work as a graduate student at VCU, I am undertaking a program evaluation study of the Goochland High School Senior Project. The results of this study will be presented to teachers at GHS and to Mr. Newman this spring.
At this time, I’m collecting data from parents (parents of seniors) and from students (seniors). Participation in the survey is voluntary and anonymous. I appreciate your time in participating if you have just a few minutes.
For parents, you can complete the survey here. There are only 8 required questions.
<!–For students, you can complete the survey here. You can also scan the following QR code to take the survey on a mobile device.
In full disclosure, I was asked to read Reynolds’ Presentation Zen for a course I am taking on data presentation. Other texts that came recommended were those by Nathan Yau and Edward Tufte. I like the topics all three folks focus upon in their writing. Zen is probably the best to speak of, and perhaps not for the most obvious of reasons.
So, to paraphrase how the book came about, and before that, simply the idea, picture a guy riding on a train. He happens to be in Japan, where they serve food different than what you’d probably get on a train here in the U.S. (go figure). He’s had a fulfilling day, and he pulls out his bento box meal. He looks outside, and sees a majestic mountain–Mt. Fuji. So far, you can probably picture all of this: sun setting with a mountain outside, a fast-moving train, business people around him, and he pulls out his meal, a bento box. You’ve likely seen them at a Japanese restaurant.
He looks over and sees one of those business men looking at a handout (education parlance creeping in) of Power Point slides. They are chock-full of images and bulleted text, and the guy looks awful. We can’t be sure why he looks tired and upset, but Reynolds assumes its the tedium of reading through a “deck” on paper of poorly-prepared slides.
Inspiration hits. “Presentations,” it comes to Reynolds, “should be like my bento box. It’s beautiful, and everything is in its place, and it’s just enough. It won’t over-stuff you, or cause stress. Presentations need to take on the zen of the bento box.”
And that’s the gist of the book.
So, Reynolds prescribes to not do all the things I feel I shy away from doing now: using clip art, using bullets, using small text, using illegible charts and tables, etc. He also believes the presentation is the speaker. Slidware, such as Power Point or Keynote, is there to support the speaker, who ultimately, should be a story teller.
Yes. I know this, and who knows how I assimilated these ideas years ago. It probably was through Reynolds, his blog, and those who liked what he had to say.
But I got more out of this than I thought. He shares the ideas of Ben Zander, whose TED Talk I loved. To wit:
Look at their eyes. If their eyes are shining, you know you are doing it… if the eyes are not shining you have to ask yourself a question… Who am I being when I am not seeing a connection in the eyes of others?
He’s talking about engagement and when you know you have it. Reynolds talks about rows of chairs (in a lecture hall) not lending itself to engagement. Yes! He is a fan of Steve Jobs and found a reason why he was a successful speaker: you knew he believed what he was talking about. He was authentic.
And he talks about stimulating curiousity in your audience. For an educator, that is your students.
the problem today in many schools is that the methods of instruction do a poor job of nurturing students’ natural curiosity. This is nothing new. Einstein said many years ago that ‘it is in fact nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiousity of inquiry.’
He goes on to say quote Kenichiro Mogi, a brain scientist in Japan. “By forgetting how to be curious we are losing something really valuable. Because curiousity is the single most important trait that brought us here today.”
Chapter 10 is the one on engagement and it opens with the photo of a classroom. Reynolds says “We praise the best teachers for being able to engage their students. With or without multimedia, engagement is key.” Reynolds goes on to suggest that emotions are the key to winning an audience’s engagement.
Finally (no not finally, there’s more good wisdom in the book than what I’m rehashing here) there’s a mention of Brenda Ueland’s book If You Want to Write which speaks of finding a way to maximize your creativity. I believe creativity is at the heart of all good education. Reynolds writes:
Harnessing this creative energy and being fully present is more of an intuitive activity, not an intellectual one. Brenda compares this kind of creativity and connection to a wonderful musical performance.
And with that, I’ll leave you with two TED Talks. The first from Benjamin Zander, which I referenced above, and the second about the importance of creativity (and I believe too, curiousity).
I have an admittedly difficult time with the term innovation, especially as it deals with education. It’s a term that is closely related to creativity, and I tend to think of it as a type of application of creativity. But the term is so often used, within different contexts, that it’s hard to apply consistently, especially when you speak of things like innovative technologies in an educational context. Is it the technology that adds innovation? Or the teaching style (pedagogy)?
Today I had the pleasure of visiting the high school and middle school in instructional rounds. It was fun to see different teaching styles, how students engage with their class material, and of course, I’m always on the lookout for innovation.
The most innovative thing I saw all day was very refreshing. I encountered two teachers in a noisy classroom; they had re-arranged seating so that kids were grouped into small circles, and students were talking, comparing, sharing, and collaborating. This was the good kind of noise you encounter, it’s the sound of engaged learning. One of the teachers admitted that “this was the first time we tried something like this…” And that was the thing that made me smile.
Those two teachers had the will and confidence to try something new. There was no guarantee it would succeed, but it was exciting. Taking chances is part of the recipe for innovation. And best of all, this innovation had little to do with computers, iPads, or Promethean boards. But it had everything to do with meeting the needs of students with real challenges. The biggest take away was a responsibility for my own learning, and the success of my peers.
It was a good day to take stock of learning!
Why We Love Beautiful Things has a catchy title, and before you get into reading it, you probably can scratch your head and figure out the answer: because they’re beautiful. Before we get to what this means, and the gist of the article, I want to throw another idea in the spotlight first.
For one of my classes I am taking, the assigned textbook was Presentation Zen. I have followed Garr Reynolds’ website for years, and was a bit taken back to have to buy his book. After all, I do a lot of presentations and got the gist of cleaner slides without a lot of text.
This book surprised me however, with a rationale behind his style and his recommendations. Presentations should be beautiful. They can, and should, have an aesthetic quality. And then I began to think about this in the context of a teacher presenting notes to a class.
We probably never think about making those presentations beautiful. “Just the facts, ma’am. That’s all we need…” you can imagine a boy telling his teacher in a black and white TV show set in the 1950s. (He later becomes a cop in a trench coat for sure.)
So, the first article talks about beautiful things actually moving us. Studies in color, geometry, and the golden triangle are interesting. But more so was Garr’s inspiration for slides: a Japanese bento box meal. That’s where, I suspect, the simplicity comes from in the Zen reference. Nothing over-done, a nice presentation, and concentrated bits. In each smaller box is a little morsel for us to focus upon.
I won’t spoil it by saying there’s a simple formula to choose in Keynote or PowerPoint to make all you have to say beautiful. The benefit, of course, is a listener’s attention span. By amping-up your presentations with beautiful things, you’re more likely to hold attention.
And that’s not a bad thing.
But here’s the bad news: Presentation Zen isn’t about putting notes on slides for kids to copy down into notebooks. It’s about amplifying the speaker’s presentation. Which underscores, in the end, that presenting content to be copied down from slide ware is a questionable pedagogy in our schools. It may be efficient, and simply necessary from time to time, but as a mainstay, it’s showing kids how to bore others.
I no doubt will pick up on this topic in the future. Thanks for reading.
I led a new workshop with teachers this week on social media for teachers. This blog post has a number of resources they, and each of you, can use!
We talked about better blogging, Twitter, and Edmodo!
- Better Blogs Tip 1
- Better Blogs Tip 2
- Better Blogs Tip 3
- Better Blogs Tip 4
- Better Blogs Tip 5
- Better Blogs Tip 6
- Better Blogs Tip 7
- Better Blogs Tip 8
- Better Blogs Tip 9
- Biggest Twitter Tips
- Edmodo Help Center
E-mail me if you need the school codes — I do not want to publish them online.
I hope you’ll be inspired to try social media. My “talk” about this is also available in the following video. Thanks for watching.
Be authentic. Most writing is a more fun read when it comes from the heart. But there’s an easy way to be authentic – pass the “pen!” Consider giving your students the opportunity to report what they’ve been learning about, what the homework assignment is, or what the class will be doing in the coming week. Students will look forward to reading, watching, and observing their own writing, their projects, and the artifacts of their learning.
As an example, I wrote here about passion and how I believe it relates to engagement. It wasn’t something I did at work; it was simply on my mind one evening before going to bed, and I took a few minutes to get my thoughts out.
It doesn’t have to be the most polished thing… it doesn’t even have to be long. (I can be long winded, so noted!) But writing with an authentic voice will sell your content, whether your 6 years old, 16, or 46.
By the way, I’ve been embedding cool pictures into these posts through Flickr. I am using Creative-Commons licensed photos, and the “Share” capability to simply copy-paste the code into my blog.