Parenting Like a Principal

Today, as I sat with a child in my office, one of the most fascinating discussions of my entire career began to ensue. Mind you, this particular student wasn’t kicked out of class, or called in for cutting. As a matter of fact, he’s not even enrolled in our high school.

This was my 5th grade son, affectionately referred to on Twitter as “EmerKid2.”

A little backdrop: Our son has recently been struggling with bringing home all of his homework materials. Today, yet again, he forgot an important textbook that he urgently needed for a pressing assignment. My wife was taking our kids out to dinner at a local restaurant as a special treat, and we agreed that it  didn’t feel  appropriate to include our 5th grader in this reward on the heels of this repeated offense.

Instead of enjoying a night on the town, EmerKid2 came to sit in my office and reflect on his behavior. When he arrived at our campus, he was visibly upset about missing the special dinner. I led him to my office and gave him a seat, and then left for a few minutes to go take care of some other matters.

When I returned, EmerKid2 was in much better spirits (coincidentally, my candy bowl was suddenly much emptier than it had been a few minutes prior). My son had taken out his Geronimo Stilton book, and was happily eating Mike & Ikes while poring over the pages.

I sat down in my chair and looked across my desk at the young charge in front of me. He looked back at me.

And then something wild happened.

We had a conversation.

Not a lecture. No yelling, pleading, or cajoling. Just a calm, respectful, mature give and take. I asked questions. I listened to EmerKid2’s answers.  It took me a few minutes, but then it hit me. I was having a administrator-student conversation, but with my own son. Somehow, sitting my office, my Assistant Principal instinct took over, and our conversation followed a template that I had been through thousands of times with my students.
And it was working!

 
I learned about the specific circumstances of his class schedule that were making it difficult for him to remember to pack his books in his bag. I learned a little more about which teachers assigned homework for which days. Armed with that information, we came up with some action items (I actually taught him what an “action item” is!) for what he can do to combat the issue of forgetting his materials. We also came up with an incentive plan that would reward him with a trip to Dunkin Donuts upon bringing home his work material for a week straight.
It was clear to me that being in my office had strongly impacted the manner in which I guided the conversation (the candy didn’t hurt either). I was approaching my son as I approach my students.

 
Now don’t get me wrong. I work very hard to maintain loving and respectful relationships with my kids at home as well, and we’ve had many positive conversations before. But I’ve also gotten extremely frustrated with my children, and I’ve even yelled at them.  I do think that there is an added degree of tension when it is your kid, that sometimes causes me as a parent to become overly emotional. Perhaps it’s the natural parental instinct to protect your children from harm. When it’s your own child that is doing something wrong, something clicks in the parent’s brain that gets our blood racing, and at times causes our first response to come out heavy handed, even when stemming from a place of love. When the discussion is with a student, as close as I may be with him, there is a natural separation, which allows for less negative emotion to seep into the conversation.

 
I came away from this experience with a firm resolve to bring more of the strategies that I have employed with my students into my home. Things like really listening, asking lots of questions, and trying to keep out negative emotion. It seems that the setting of the conversation is quite important as well. My esteemed colleague and friend Rabbi Elly Storch suggested that I designate a room in our home as the “conference room,” a quiet and separate place to have these sorts of conversations in. I agree wholeheartedly, especially in a home like ours with 4 awesome (loud) boys, and a baby sister who is learning to follow in their footsteps.

 
There will also be a good amount of candy.

The “Secret Sauce” of YouthCon 2012? Professionalism

On Sunday, I had the privilege of presenting at YouthCon12, an annual conference on Experiential Jewish Education convened by NCSY and its parent organization, the Orthodox Union.  It was an incredible day for a variety of reasons. (Full disclosure alert:  My wife, Rina Emerson, supervised and ran the event. While I am therefore not surprised that the day was so successful, I would be remiss if I did not share my reflections simply because we are married.)

All too often, the field of Jewish education is perceived to be made up of an unpolished and unprofessional bunch. Personally, I think the critique is leveled a little too broadly and unfairly at times, but we can’t deny the “heimishness” that often personifies our field. Perhaps we inherited it from the humble ‘mom and pop’ roots of the small schools that began dotting the landscape of America in the early to mid 20th century. Or, perhaps, the very real financial pressures of the Jewish educational system force organizations to skimp on items that our colleagues in the world of general education take for granted. Whatever the reason may be, we are living in 2012; our schools and organizations are ‘institutions,’ and as such, must be run with a constant attention to professionalism and class.

NCSY and OU clearly appreciate the importance of professionalism in our field, and the experience at YouthCon demonstrated this over and over again. The conference was located in a beautiful hotel, the schedule was clear and carried out with precision. The sessions were presented on timely and important topics in conference rooms that had enough space and were set up with screens and projectors in advance. The “TED Talks” style portion of the program was excellent, and it offered participants a chance to hear from Jewish educators from a variety of backgrounds. The fact that attendees could attend a full day program like this for a paltry $36.00 sent an important message about the OU and NCSY’s commitment to the field: They wanted as many people as possible to attend, and they did not allow cost to serve as a barrier. This allowed close to 500 educators and Jewish communal professionals to attend and to learn from one another.

Being a part of this ‘big tent’ of Jewish educators was particularly powerful. Too often, educators in general, and Jewish educators in particular, live in professional isolation. YouthCon helps to advance a culture of sharing and collaboration that can help the field of Jewish education in very significant ways. Part of my presentation at YouthCon on the value of becoming a “Connected Educator” was about creating a PLN, or “Personal Learning Network” of fellow educators, and it was so gratifying to meet so many other like-minded professionals who were interested in learning and sharing. It was wonderfully exciting to connect in person with educators whom I had previously met through Twitter and #JEDCHAT.

The attention to detail at the conference was particularly impressive. Take something as basic as the signs at the conference. A critical person might say that producing room signs, banners, and schedules in graphically pleasing colors, with the conference logo prominently featured, is a waste of money.

I couldn’t disagree more.

I’ve been to a few conferences ‘out there’ in the world of general education. Most recently, I attended the ISTE  (International Society for Technology in Education) conference in San Diego, where close to 20,000 educators convened for three days to talk and learn about implementing educational technology in schools. There too, I observed the attention to detail and intense focus on logistics that allowed the conference to run smoothly and effectively. When you attend a conference like that, you come away energized. When the event is run with professionalism, you stand a little taller, and feel proud of the field that you are in and ideas you are representing.

This is how I felt as I walked the halls of the Stamford Hilton on Sunday. Coming together with like-minded educators from all denominations, hearing true rock stars in the field of Jewish communal work, I felt so proud to be a part of this incredible field. I came away energized for the coming year, not just because of the new information and ideas I gleaned, but because of the dedication, enthusiasm, and, yes, professionalism of the attendees and organizers.

Attention to the ‘little things’ served to enhance the greater experience for everyone. But it did more than that. Because when Jewish educators feel pride in being part of something so focused and mission driven, their students can’t help but tap into this contagious sense of vigor. When they see their teachers, program coordinators, and advisors conducting themselves like professionals, they too begin to feel pride in being a part of it. The best way to imbue in our students a passion for Jewish education is by modeling that passion in our own pride and professionalism.

My #YouthCon 12 Presentation – “The Connected Educator”

Dov Emerson presenting at YouthCon12, photo by Miriam Brosseau

Wow – YouthCon 2012 was unbelievable. What a great conference! It was such a thrill to see the culture of sharing and collaboration spreading across our field. My presentation was titled “The Connected Educator: Tech Tools for Growing as Educators and for Effective Teaching in the Classroom.”

My presentation focused on two elements of being a “Connected Educator.” Firstly, I spoke about the value of a PLN, or Personal Learning Network. This is a network of fellow educators that one can develop by making connections online through social media outlets like Twitter. I have found my PLN to be an incredible valuable resource, and we discussed some of the ways a teacher can begin developing their own.

The second part of the presentation focused on tech tools that can be used in the classroom as well as by the teacher to keep organized and on top of new educational developments. What’s great about most of these tools is that they are either free or very low cost.

I used Prezi, an online format for creating dynamic presentations, to present my material. I also distributed a ‘Cheat Sheet’ which included all of the resources and links contained in my presentation.

I am including both the Prezi and the Cheat Sheet in this post – hope you enjoy it! Would love to hear your feedback!

Link to the Cheat Sheet (Google Doc)

Link to the Prezi

Presentation on Digital Communities – YU Experiential Education Seminar – LINKS – 6/5/12

Here are the associated files with today’s presentation.

Here is a link to the PREZI – http://prezi.com/43oxbky_zouv/digital-communities/

Here is a link to the session CHEAT SHEET (word doc)

Here is a link to the session CHEAT SHEET (google doc)

 

Link to the article “Teaching the iGeneration”

http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb11/vol68/num05/Teaching-the-iGeneration.aspx

 

Prepping for the Webinar: So What Exactly is this Google Apps Thing?

Cross-Posted on YU 2.0

As you are hopefully aware, YU  2.0 is hosting a webinar next week, on Thursday, March 22, at 8:45 PM,  that we are really excited about, on the implementation of Google Apps in the classroom. Rabbi Dr. Aaron Ross will be presenting based on his real world experiences using Google Apps in school.
But let’s take a step back. Before we talk about how Google Apps can be implemented in the classroom, let’s talk about what it is. Google Apps is a suite of applications (hence the “App” designation) that can be used to enhance productivity. Many of them are very similar to the popular Microsoft Office suite of programs.
o   Google Docs allows you to create word processing files like in Microsoft Word, or spreadsheets like in Excel, or presentations like in Powerpoint.
o   Gmail is Google’s mail service.
o   Calendar – Google’s calendar and date book app, like Outlook’s calendar function.
o   Groups – A platform to set up groups of users, have discussions and share resources around a specific topic.
o   Sites – Google’s platform for creating personal web sites. You can use this to set up a class web site to post assignments, share notes, etc.
o   There are several other Google offerings that the company includes under the ‘apps’ grouping, including Blogger, Reader, YouTube, and Google +.

While many of these apps sound quite similar to programs you may already be using, there are some key functions that make Google’s suite of apps unique:
It’s in the cloud. If you have ever worked on a Word doc with other people and had to contend with the frustrations of emailing versions of the document back and forth, confusing multiple versions, etc., the Google approach is a little different. All of your files reside online, on Google’s servers (they are password protected and secured). You may have heard the phrase “in the cloud” used recently in discussions of online entities. Well, this notion of storing files online is precisely what this cloud concept is referring to. And it has a lot of advantages. You can access your files anywhere you have internet access, on a computer, tablet, or smartphone. And perhaps even more significantly, you can share your files with others and allow them to work on and update files in real time collaboratively with you.
It’s free. You can access Google Apps in one of two ways: you can sign up for a free Gmail account, which gives you automatic access to all Google Apps, or your school can sign up as an institution for Google Apps for Education. The latter option would allow every staff member and student to be assigned an email address that is @ your school’s online address (as opposed to @gmail.com), as well as get access to all the other Google Apps, and it is completely free. Many public and private schools have already outsourced their entire email to Google Apps for Education, eliminating the costs involved with running and troubleshooting an in house email server.
It just works. One of the hallmarks of a Google product is its ease of use. Play around with Gmail, or the calendar, and it becomes immediately clear that the program is designed in an intuitive way.

You probably already have it! Many people already have a Gmail account that they use for their email. Well, if you have Gmail, you already have access to Google Apps! In many situations, if you are trying to get a group of people on board to use a new product, it may require purchasing items, or cumbersome sign ups that can leave the tech-phobic even more hesitant to jump in. With Google Apps, you will find that often most people already access to the programs by virtue of their Gmail account.

Now that you’ve learned a little about what Google Apps are, it’s time for the fun stuff – be sure to attend the webinar on Thursday to learn about the incredible real time collaboration that Google Apps allows you to foster in your classroom, and to learn about the magic of Google Forms! See you there! Register for the webinar HERE!


A Twitter Visit “In Real Life” – My Time with @NMHS_Principal

Cross posted on YU 2.0

A few weeks ago, I had an incredible opportunity, that, while very much a ‘real world’ experience, had as much to do with the online world of social media connections as it did face to face ones.

Allow me to explain.

About two years ago, after using Twitter for a while as a fun and casual way to connect with family and friends, I happened upon some Tweets from an educational leader who went by the Twitter handle @NMHS_Principal. I started following him, and was blown away by the incredible amounts of high quality education and edtech resources he was sharing. The names of people he was retweeting were not familiar to me, but as he mentioned them, I began to follow them as well.

Thus began my journey into the world of a PLN (Personal Learning Network). I was soon following and making connections with many educators from around the country and beyond. At the time, I did not realize that @NMHS_Principal, known in real life as Mr. Eric Sheninger, Principal of New Milford High School in New Jersey, was an education administration rock star. It was really only after I got a chance to interact briefly with him at last year’s ISTE Conference, and to see his packed presentations in action, did I see how far of a reach he has.

You can imagine my excitement then, when my good friend and fellow Community of Practice (YU High School Chinuch) facilitator Rabbi Yehuda Chanales informed me that he had arranged a visit to Eric’s school, and that I was invited! What follows are some of my initial thoughts and observations about what I saw at New Milford High School. Eric is doing some incredible things there to move the school forward, and I think that there are applications for our own schools as well, and because NMHS has a well-deserved reputation for being a forward thinking place in terms of educational technology, those concepts are even more significant on our particular CoP.

Time for Sharing: One of the most striking aspects of our visit was how much time and attention Eric gave to us. This is an administrator that clearly works at a frenetic pace, and yet, he gave us an hour and a half of his own time! I thought that maybe we’d say hello, get 10 or 15 minutes, perhaps a conversation with a teacher or mid-level administrator that he would hand us off to. No such thing. We sat for a while in his office, asking him questions and learning about the culture of his school. He then gave us an extremely comprehensive tour of the campus, which included introducing us to several faculty members and some detailed discussions on how certain classrooms were set up. Eric is clearly proud of his school, as well he should be, and that pride shone through in his tour. But for an administrator in his position to be so sharing and open with two individuals who are not even in the same public school universe as he is, well, I think there is something different at play. I think that this tendency is a real world manifestation of the connections and spirit of sharing that exist among educators online. Eric is a member of “Connected Principals,” a blog made up of many thought leaders in the world of educational administration. This culture of sharing with and wanting to learn from others is very much present in Eric’s online persona, and it was wonderful to see this play out in the real world as well. As members of this CoP, it is important for us to remember that we are modeling this culture of sharing every single day, and that we have to be a cheerleader for it when talking to our colleagues and staff who are not yet on board with the concept of connecting and sharing. Especially in our world of Jewish education, the attitude of looking at other educators as competitors and not worthy of sharing with and learning from, still exists. Social media helps break down these barriers, but we can do it face to face in our schools as well.

Tech is not the solution:  One of the themes that Eric kept reiterating on our tour is that “I don’t mandate tech in the classroom.” He wants the faculty stretching themselves, always improving, and making the classroom a truly student centered experience. While EdTech tools are often quite helpful in accomplishing those goals, they are not the only way to do so. So in New Milford High School, a lot of the school looks like, well, a regular high school. It’s not some futuristic wonderland. Sure, there are plenty of smartboards, but there are even more regular whiteboards.

It was very interesting to speak to several teachers who are integrating technology in their classrooms. The ones that we spoke to had not completely overhauled their entire classroom. Rather, they were using one or two simple tools, like Poll Everywhere or Twitter, to enhance their existing framework of teaching. It is this recognition that technology is only a tool towards achieving a much more significant goal of improving instruction, that makes New Milford High School a place that is at once moving quickly to the future, and yet at the same time, very well grounded. Those of us who are real tech enthusiasts (and I certainly include myself in this group) can sometimes get caught up in the technology itself, and forget that it has to be utilized with a plan, on top of a solid foundation of good teaching.

Change must be supported, not just championed: Eric was clearly very proud of his school and the building, but he was particularly proud of the purchases he had helped initiate: Carts of netbooks and iPads, a set of digital SLR cameras, and even non tech items like resurfacing the old chalkboards with a material that turns them into whiteboards. The source of his pride, however, was in the fact that he was supporting his teachers with the proper equipment that they needed to teach the class and to grow as educators. The message was clear: in order for any change to occur, it cannot just be talked about, or even mandated. It has to be actively supported. That was why it was so important that all of the classroom computers be new models, because, as Eric said, “how can I ask my teachers to integrate technology with tools that don’t allow them to get the job done?”

Another concrete way that Eric fosters innovation among faculty members is by giving them as much as 3 periods a week from their schedule to work on whatever they feel passionate about that will help them improve as educators. This is loosely based on the Google 20% approach, where software engineers are encouraged to use up to 20% of their time to work on projects they are passionate about (which has spawned such Google products as Gmail). At New Milford, staff members are asked to document their progress in their area of focus, and share their findings with other faculty members in a presentation at the end of the year. This not only provides the staff with time and resources to develop themselves and grow, but it also encourages faculty to learn from one another.

Don’t be scared of new ideas: Finally, under Eric Sheninger’s leadership at New Milford, there is a culture of embracing change a willingness to experiment with new ideas. When we were sitting in Eric’s office, he showed us one of his newest toys, what he called a “Smartboard in a Bag.” Basically, it is a projector, Apple TV device, and an iPad. It allows a teacher to wirelessly present the iPad content on the projector, wherever he or she may be in the classroom. It has much of the functionality of a Smartboard at a fraction of the cost. It’s not a kit that is sold by any retailer or education company. It’s a configuration that Eric recently learned about from fellow educators online, a mere few weeks ago. He went ahead and made the investment because he believed in it.

Eric showed us a new classroom that had just been converted from a computer lab. It was a wonderful prototype for a 21st century classroom, with a long conference table to encourage collaboration, computer workstations along the wall, large projector screens on either side of the room with integrated webcams for videoconferencing, and smaller stations for groups of 2 or 3 students to work together.

One of the programs that New Milford has embraced has been a Holocaust education class. In the class, the students and faculty have made connections with Holocaust survivors throughout the world and frequently interview them via Skype.

These are the types of ideas and initiatives that are often talked about in education circles in wistful tones, as ‘if only we could do this.’ At New Milford, these ideas are implemented in reality. Not every new program will work, but Eric is showing a remarkable willingness to try and experiment.

New Milford High School is an exciting place. There is a buzz in the school, and a sense that faculty and students alike are committed to learning at the highest levels using 21st century tools. The bold vision of their principal is clearly an instrumental component of this culture, and we are grateful that he took that time to share with us!

For more pictures from our trip to New Milford HS, click HERE.

Do Our Teachers Even WANT EdTech??

“That just won’t work here.”

“The teachers don’t want it!”

“Ha! They wouldn’t even be able to the find the power button!”

How often have we, as EdTech leaders and early adopters in our schools, heard lines like these before? It could be after coming back from a really cool conference and being incredibly excited to share some wonderful new EdTech resources with our fellow teachers, and then someone invariably responds with a negative comment about how the teachers just don’t want it. Period. End of story.

Well, a recent survey  conducted in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation asked teachers across America to gauge the effectiveness of different types of education materials. When asked to evaluate the statement “Digital resources such as classroom technology and wed-based programs help my students’ academic achievement,”  44% indicated that they agreed strongly with that statement, and whopping 93% of all teachers indicated that they agreed, either strongly or somewhat! When asked to evaluate a similar statement, which indicated that the aforementioned digital resources “engage my student in learning,” again, 95% of teachers agreed, either strongly or somewhat. (Click on the image below for an infographic with full response details)

While I will grant you that this data is from only one survey, the results are nonetheless striking. They indicate a level of buy in by our faculty that is not generally ascribed to them. This information should get us excited, because it points to a range of really cool possibilities for integrating technology in more meaningful ways in our schools going forward.

But at the same time, the data should be sobering.

We should be asking ourselves: Why, with the acknowledgement from teachers that technology HELPS students learn and achieve, are we not more successful at integrating EdTech in our schools? I think the missing element here (and it’s not rocket science!) is training and support. The contrasts between this data and the reality of the facts on the ground in terms of teacher technology adoption, leads me to believe that we need to redouble our efforts at outreach, support, and cultivating a culture where it is ok to experiment and fail. As the survey indicates, our teachers like EdTech. They even see it as educational valuable. But all too often, they don’t know where to start. It becomes all the more vital for us to smile, be patient, and teach technology to staff members that want to integrate EdTech, but just don’t know how to yet.

(Of course the cynical response could be “well, Jewish schools are different,” or “this survey is bunk,” etc etc. What do you think? Is it as simple as providing support? Are there deeper issues here?

Want a Fun Way for Students to Demo Mastery? Have Them Make a Silent Movie! (iPad app)

 

Any student of film history knows that before the big budget blockbuster, and even before the various “golden ages” of Hollywood, there were silent movies. These black and white movies were made up of short scenes, and, because technological limitations prevented the use of audio conversations, there were short notes on a black screen in between or even in the middle of scenes that would fill the audience in on the conversation and/or storyline.  These movies often had a simple and upbeat soundtrack playing, which was generally produced on a single piano.

Now, when we live in an age where “there’s an app for that” and everything else, we can apply the styles and themes of the old silent movies to contemporary projects. The “Silent Film Director” app is available on the iTunes App Store and works on all iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch). It allows you to easily create a silent film project with your own resources.

I learned about this app by an excellent member of my PLN, Sean Junkins. Sean is an Apple Distinguished Educator, and an all around EdTech guru, based in Myrtle Beach, SC. On his blog, he talks about this app. And of course, it’s a fun app, and I’m sure we have all already begun thinking about the cute silent films we can make of our kids, or our dog, etc.

But here’s where it gets cool for us educator types.

Sean posted an example of how students could use the silent film app to develop a really creative presentation explaining historical events as they relate to the Cold War. In his example, the silent movie is about the Cuban Missile Crises, and it integrates into his Social Studies 5 curriculum.

Seeing this app utilized this way really got me excited. Certainly, a teacher in a Judaic Studies classroom can use this as an impactful and entertaining way to introduce, say, a storyline in Tanach. And for those of you already playing around with Project Based Learning, this seems like an excellent tool to provide the students to utilize in presenting their findings. And at .99 cents, it’s not a huge investment.

So, did any light bulbs go off in your heads? How would you utilize this app in a Judaic Studies classroom? Please share in the comments! And don’t forget to add Sean to your PLN on Twitter!

P.S. If you are interested in making (or having your students make) film projects that are from a slightly later time period, the 60’s-70’s, there’s another great iOS app called Super 8, which creates video footage that looks like it was created in that “The Wonder Years” home movies era, with a filter that recreates the Super 8 camera style.

Avoiding “Death By PowerPoint”

A valued member of my PLN, Tony Baldasaro (@baldy7 on Twitter), recently shared a video that was at the same time incredible powerful and hysterical. Entitled “Every Presentation Ever: Communication FAIL,” it presents a parody of the common missteps taken by presenters at conferences and the like. Not surprisingly, much of the video’s critique focused on the ways people misuse the ubiquitous presentation software Powerpoint (and keynote, and Google presentation, and the like). Such presentation sins include: leaning heavily on fancy slide transitions and clip art, creating slides that are dense with text, and then to make matters worse, reading every single last bit of that text out loud during the presentation, and simply having too many slides.

(For another interesting article on the abuse of Powerpoint in boring audiences, this example in the US Military, check out this article  that appeared last year in the NY Times).

Most of us that are in the field of education are in one way or another, presenters. Certainly those of us who present at conferences and the like fall into this category. But even if you’ve never worn a conference badge in your life, when we teach in a classroom, we are often a presenter. Or when we pitch an idea to our faculty, or board, or parents, we once again play the role of presenters.

Looking at a video like this can be a source for a chuckle or two, but it can also serve as a means of reflection. Specifically, we can ask ourselves:

1) What makes a good presentation?

2) Why do we often seem to retreat to these ‘worst practices’ when we present?

I don’t have all of the answers, but I will try and share some of what I have been privileged to learn about on this topic. Virtually all of what I have learned has been a result of the wonderful educators in my PLN that have shared materials and answered my questions.

TED’s Impact

I believe that the development of TED Talks (and the wonderful decision made by their creator to release them all online, free of charge) has done us a great service. Besides providing excellent and thought provoking content, they have also introduced us to some first rate presenters. As was referenced in a different post on TED and web video spurring innovation, the TED Talks have caused presenters to ‘up their game,’ spending weeks and months preparing for a single 18 minute session. And what do we in the audience, the beneficiaries of all of this one-upmanship, see? Well, the TED Talks, by and large, seem to have two important qualities that stand out for me:

1) Impactful visuals

2) Clear and well prepared ‘speeches’ by the presenters.

Many of the TED Talks use Prezi, or some other variation of that platform. Prezi is an online service (free of charge for educators!) that looks at a presentation as a blank canvas. You, the presenter, can populate that canvas with anything you want – a picture, a video, text, etc, and you can control the degree to which a particular element is zoomed in on, as well as the order of the session. Instead of looking at a session as a series of slides, think about it as a large football field, with a Skycam hovering over it. This camera, developed to provide alternate views of the action on the field, can be maneuvered by a series of cables horizontally and vertically over the field, and can zoom in or out of the action depending on the needs of the broadcast. In your Prezi, you can lay out the elements of your presentation on this open ‘field’, and then use their ‘Path’ tool to create an order for the camera to focus on one element or another.

Here is an example of a Prezi I made, for a presentation I gave at YouthCon ’11, which I hope can illustrate some of its features.

YouthCon ’11 on Prezi

What’s nice about Prezi is that it forces the presenter to think more about the visual message of the presentation, and to hopefully come up with a graphic that can emphasize the point (rather than just text). The zooming feature is an exciting visual approach for an audience, and a quick zoom out to the ‘full canvas’ view allows for the presenter to show the participants where one concept fits within the larger structure of the presentation, something that is more difficult to do on a Powerpoint presentation.

PowerPoint is Here to Stay

Prezi is not for everyone, and even for fans of the platform, it’s important to recognize that Powerpoint is not going away any time soon. Nor should it, as it remains a very powerful medium for telling a story to an audience, when used effectively. In addressing the question of what makes a good Powerpoint presentation, I would recommend getting to know one educator in particular. Bill Ferriter (@plugusin on twitter) teaches 6th grade language arts in North Carolina, and in addition to being an all-star educator (named regional teacher of the year), he also maintains a first rate blog called The Tempered Radical. Among his many passions in the world of education is our issue of presentations and the visuals that make them up. Bill maintains a growing collection of what he considers to be effective powerpoint slides, which he readily shares on his blog and on Flickr. (As an aside, this is what the culture of sharing on a PLN is all about: Bill shares an actual Powerpoint version of his slides, so you can download it, play around with it in Powerpoint, see exactly how he made it, and modify it for your own use!).

Ask Your PLN!

When I was recently working on a classroom presentation for graduate school, I decided that I wanted to try and mimic the presentation style of the most effective sessions I had seen at conferences I had attended over the last few years. The two qualities that I kept coming back to again and again were: 1) keeping text to a bare minimum, and 2) utilizing images to emphasize a message. I reached out to Bill on Twitter for some advice.

Bill responded with a full blog post on the subject, entitled “Five Tips for Creating Powerpoint Slides that WON’T Bore Your Audience.” I encourage you to read the post closely. To summarize, however, I was glad to see Bill reiterate what I had been thinking in his first tip, entitled “Ditch the bullets – and MOST of the Text.” Too often, our presentations are made up of written summaries, in bullet format, of what we are communicating verbally to the audience. I decided then and there that I was going to make my presentation “Bullet Free” as best as I could.

Well, it took longer than I had thought it would, but I was able to make a bullet free presentation! Here it is:

So what is an effective use of text in a presentation?

As Bill recommends, resist the urge to write summaries of lists of what you are speaking about. Instead, look for the “money quote,” one line that can be particularly impactful for driving your message home. Unlike in the “Every Presentation Ever” video above, the quote should be relevant to the point being made. There may still, of course, be times when you need to show a list, etc., but it seems that best practice is to use those only when you really need to. Perhaps as an alternative, you can offer a link to a file or web site that lists those resources in more detail for audience members to peruse later (use a link shortener like bit.ly to come up with a short link that audience members can quickly write down and remember. It can even generate a QR code for you!).

But we are not yet done. We need to come up with the image that is going to complement the text you have chosen. Rather than rely on the existing Powerpoint backgrounds, with an image inserted somewhere in the middle of the slide, make the image the ENTIRE slide. This gives it a lot more ‘pop,’ and when properly paired with text, can really complement your verbal presentation. So where do we turn to for images?

Creative Commons

Before we get to resources for finding images, let’s quickly get familiar with the concept of “creative commons” license. As you are aware, creators of content (be it movies, books, pictures, and so on) protect their rights by copyrighting the material. In this way, it is illegal for other parties to use (and profit) from their hard work, without getting permission first. The Creative Commons license was created in order to give creators of digital content the opportunity to share their material and allow it to be used by others along with proper attribution. For more on Creative Commons and other fair use issues pertaining to pictures on the internet, see this very thorough blog post.

Image Resources

The best images to use in your presentations are going to be those that have creative commons licenses (or ones that simply indicate no restrictions on use by 3rd parties). So how do you find these images? Well, the Creative Commons organization has a convenient search page on their web site which allows you to search a variety of photo sites for Creative Commons licensed images. But you can also check out some of the photo sites themselves. My favorite is…

FlickrFlickr is a a photo sharing site that is used by everyone from mom’s posting family snapshots to amateur and professional photographers alike. It uses a tagging system which allows for easy searching of photos. HERE is a nifty little page on Flickr which clearly breaks down all of the different rights that photographers give for use by others through a Creative Commons license. Using Flickr’s “Advanced Search” page, you can filter it to include only results that have a Creative Commons license.

Google Images – Google’s image search engine remains a very popular way for people to find images, although I would argue that you will find significantly more dynamic and better quality images using Flickr. For a video tutorial on how to use Google Image Search to find Creative Commons photos, check out this helpful post from Free Technology for Teachers.

Other resources: Finally, this blog post lists several other search tools that can help you find Creative Commons images. And Photo Pin is another cool image search site for finding pictures you can use in your presentation. As an aside, the Pinterest social network has been generating a tremendous amount of buzz lately, and its graphic/image oriented platform with a heavy reliance on tags is another great resource for finding images and getting graphically inspired.

On the 2nd question, as to why we revert back to poor presentation habits:

For me at least, the main motivation here is simple. It’s easier. We spend hours and hours researching a topic, putting together the foundations of what we are going to say. When it’s time to work on the actual presentation visuals, we’re tired. We’ve finished the content, and what easier way to disseminate that information than through a bunch of text based bullet lists? While it may in fact be easier that way, see if you can try out some of the tools and guidelines described above.

Your audience will appreciate it!

Boys Will Be Boys?

(cross posted on YU HSCHINUCH online CoP)

In a recent blog post, Josh Stumpenhorst, a middle school teacher and recent Illinois Teacher of the Year awardee, wrote about his concern that schools are failing boys.

He listed three concerns, which in his opinion are contributing to a situation where “schools are setting up boys for failure from the moment they walk in until they either comply or get through to graduation.”

1) The lack of male teachers, especially in elementary schools settings, which result in a dearth of male role models for young boys in schools.

2) The lack of acceptance of the fact that boys are inherently rambunctious, loud, and while they can work hard, they also like to play hard.

3) He cites a “post-Columbine obsession with zero tolerance policies in schools,” where even words about fighting said in jest and horseplay are considered serious offenses.

I think most of us would agree that in many ways, the culture of the typical American public school is quite different than in one of our Jewish Yeshiva day schools. As such, I think that the first issue raised is less relevant for our boys, as the presence of the Rebbe can play the role of the male role model (although one could make the point that in elementary school and middle school this may be an issue). And while unfortunately we can no longer claim, as a community, to be immune from issues pertaining to the demise of the family unit, I think that we are better off as a demographic than the average in this category, and the presence of the father is therefore a significant factor here as well.

Likewise, I think that the 3rd issue cited is not as relevant in our community. Thank G-d, we have never had a Columbine style violent event in our schools, and our schools are generally not areas where violent criminal activity is committed by students. I do think that we have rightfully become more sensitive to bullying and the severe damage it can cause, and have crafted policies to more forcefully fight back against it, but I still think that this is a somewhat separate category.

It is the second issue, the lack of appreciation that ‘boys will be boys,’ which I think bears most relevance for our communities. Josh writes in his post:

“Another place in which I see us falling short with boys is the overall structure of our schools. Boys are inherently rambunctious, active and often loud. Yet, we ask them to sit in nice rows, be quiet, keep their hands to themselves and stay out of the dirt. If they fail to do this, we discipline them and if that doesn’t work we label and medicate them…all for just being boys. How can we create more boy friendly learning environments that support and encourage those naturally boy-like characteristics?”

One of the hats that I wear in my (all boys) school is that of dealing with discipline. I will admit that sometimes I walk through the halls of our sister school, or talk to their administrators, and find myself wishing that we could trade, if only for a day, the disciplinary issues that come across our respective desks. I realize that all girls schools have their own challenges, but still, sometimes I think: Can’t our guys just behave??

But then, the question becomes, are we setting them up in a system where they will inevitably not behave? Are we providing them with enough hands on activities, enough opportunities to get excited and loud, enough ‘disorder’ for them to succeed? And I remind myself, even amidst the discipline consultation, that boys will be boys.

So I ask: Are we doing enough to educate our boys in a learning environment that celebrates who they are? What do you think? Looking at the landscape of yeshiva high schools, are there differences between co-ed and all boys schools in how this issue is addressed? Can we learn from one another? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I would sure like to learn from all of you.

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