Surviving in a PowerPoint Classroom

Most of the posts here on Brainslides are directed towards teachers who want to improve their slide design and presentation skills, but today I've decided to focus on the other half of the equation. Here are a few tips for those of us who aren't yet desperate enough to throw tomatoes at the projector screen but still want to make the most of our time in the lecture hall.

Read More

No better way to sink a lesson

This post was originally written over a year ago. I discovered it lurking in my drafts folder and thought it was worth posting even though it references a dated news story.

“As a professional speechwriter, I often tell my clients that there’s no better way to sink a speech than to build it around a Powerpoint presentation. Watching Mitt Romney’s much-hyped health care speech only confirmed that theory.”
David Meadvin

This quote, from the Presentation Magic blog, is a fabulous summary of what is wrong with many speeches, lectures, and presentations today – that the speech is built around a PowerPoint.

But it's only half the story. It doesn't provide a solution. Fortunately, a simple answer is found by flipping this idea:

"There's no better way to improve a speech than to build your slides around your presentation."

The biggest mistake teachers, speakers, lecturers make is creating the slides first in PowerPoint and then speaking by using the bullet-laden, information dense slides as a teleprompter. The correct way to prepare a speech or lesson plan is to first determine what the important points are, develop supporting statements, facts, figures, and even script the presentation in what you feel is the most effective way. Only then should you open your slide software to create simple, visual supporting slides – including blank ones when appropriate – to accompany the points you want to emphasize.

That's it. It's simple. Stop building your lesson around the notes you've unfortunately typed into PowerPoint by habit. Start preparing great lessons by teaching using good practices that have been shown to improve learning, and over time develop some well designed visuals that support your important points.

HaikuDeck and the Future of Presenting

I haven't been this excited about a presentation app for years. I've never liked PowerPoint, but do love Keynote, and have been pleased with other apps like SlideRocket or Prezi. But never have I been this head over heels enamored and downright giddy as I am now. What is this crush?

It's HaikuDeck, and it is beautiful.

HaikuDeck was released just a few months ago as an iPad app. I discovered it and started playing with it just days after it's launch. It's a simple solution to a great big problem: Presentations are just awful these days, and some of the blame goes to the complexity of the software.

HaikuDeck solves this problem by drastic measures: it greatly reduces the amount of control you have over the slide design. But with this constraint comes awesome opportunity. Rather than fiddling with text boxes, bullet-points, and animations, you are forced to simply focus on the content. It helps you follow the mantra of one idea per slide.

HaikuDeck does have one feature that you won't find anywhere else, though. When you enter your single idea onto a slide, the app automatically helps you find relevant images on the web that are free and legal to use (i.e. Creative Commons licensed). For example, if your slide says, "That place is the core of the sun," you will, of course, be presented with the key words "core," "sun," and "place." Tap on one, and you will instantly see a gallery of beautiful pictures that have that keyword. Simply tap the image you like, and it will become the background of your slide, with the text formatted on top. It couldn't be easier.

Here's a deck I threw together to test out the app. It's based on a blog post by The Bad Astronomer.

The future?

In my opinion, HaikuDeck could be the future of presenting. I have in my mind a vision of elementary and middle school classrooms where students are given iPads and told to create book reports and presentations with HaikuDeck. They focus on the story they want to tell and spend most of their time finding striking visuals to accompany that story. They aren't distracted by bullet-points and formatting or led astray with slide transitions and templates. I am confident that if students learn how to create presentations with HaikuDeck, they will grow up avoiding the tendencies of our generation. If Death by PowerPoint is the disease, consider HaikuDeck the inoculation. The future looks bright without PowerPoint leading the way! Head over to the HaikuDeck Gallery to view some featured decks.

Get it now!

The best part about HaikuDeck? It's free! The app comes with a handful of built-in themes. You can purchase new themes within the app for $1.99 each, or buy a theme pack for $14.99. Download the app now and start creating beautiful presentations.

Prezi in Education

New technologies are always developing that can be useful in the classroom. Over the past couple of years, Prezi started as a small start-up with a unique idea and has developed into a very usable alternative to PowerPoint and Keynote for creating presentations.

Prezi is very different in that, rather than a collection of slides presented in linear fashion, the presenter prepares a canvas that contains all of the material – text, images, even online content – that can be browsed, zoomed, spun, and more. You may be familiar with the idea of mindmapping – starting with a core concept and connecting related ideas in a web-like diagram. Prezi builds on this idea and adds an interactive level.


Where Prezi really shines in the classroom is the ability to show the big picture as well as the finer details.

Recently, the team at Prezi launched a resource called Prezi Explore, a collection of presentations licensed for reuse and adaptation. This is an excellent resource for teachers who can grab a prebuilt presentation on a difficult concept and use it to give a new perspective to their students.

One of the Prezi presentations included in this section explains how Prezi can be used as a teaching tool. Browse through it and see some really great examples of how the tool can be used in the classroom to help students have a better understanding of the topic.

If you like what you see, go ahead and sign up for Prezi – it's free for the public, plus they offer free upgraded accounts to individuals with a .edu e-mail address.

Companion Term for Slideument

Last week I shared my thoughts on Kashi's confusing use of slides to present what was essentially a document. In retrospect, I might have been a bit incorrect using the term 'slideument' which more accurately applies to a set of slides that read like a document.

Two great examples of slideuments are 8 Keys to Effective Lecture by Terry Doyle at Ferris State University, or How Do I Use PowerPoint to Teach by Patrick Crispen (links are direct downloads to the PowerPoint files).

While the content in both of these presentations is valuable, presenting it in slide form does not make sense, since they were dense with text, did not use many visuals, and flowed much more like an essay.

On the other hand, Kashi's Yearbook celebrating 25 years was designed as a document but presented as slides... docuslides?? With this practice becoming common with online services such as SlideRocket and Slideshare, maybe it's time to coin a new term to use in conjunction with slideument.

Docuslides. I like it.

What do you think?

Possibilities with the iPad

Yesterday, Apple released the iPad, "A Magical and Revolutionary Product at an Unbelievable Price." It was an instant hit, selling an estimated 600,000 - 700,000 in the first day.

As a true Apple fan, I spent a few hours playing with the iPad, on the day of its release, wondering what it could mean for the future of presentations in the classroom. Let me tell you that I am very excited.

Some people have criticized it as nothing more than a large iPod Touch. Frankly, they're not far off, and that is precisely why I am so excited. The iPhone/iPod Touch interface is very intuitive and natural to use. Because there is no mouse – you just use your finger – the learning curve is flattened out.

So why not just use an iPod Touch? There are two things that make the iPad different. First, it has more power. The iPad is more responsive and capable of running programs that require a lot of processing power. Second, the iPad has a 9" screen, and it is beautiful. It really becomes a window to another world.

Ok, so it's a fancy new gadget. So what? I'm glad you asked, because there's no point in getting excited over something new unless it has real, practical value. While I believe the iPad will make a huge impact in the education system, it probably don't have to go out and grab one just yet. Start saving your pennies, finish this semester, and put together a proposal for your school's IT department to convince them to get you one for the next school year. In the meantime, here are some things to start thinking about.


The iPad will be the perfect student companion. While the on-screen keyboard will take getting used to, third party products can turn the iPad into a very useable digital notebook. Combine the Pogo Sketch Stylus with an app such as Mental Note and a student can type, draw, sketch, or write their notes on the iPad while recording audio from the lecture.




Apple provides a free app called iBookstore for the iPad which allows you to search and download electronic books much like on Amazon's Kindle. However, instead of grayscale text, you get beautifully formatted, multimedia enhanced, full color books. Major textbook publishers have already announced plans to release their titles on the iPad. No more 20 pound backpacks for 80 pound 6th graders!


With it's iPod app for music and video, as well as the built in YouTube app, the iPad could be the single device to organize all of the multimedia content a teacher could want. Record a podcast for the kids to listen to at the beginning of class, download the most recent NOVA Science video podcast, watch a chemistry experiment blow up on YouTube, or play classical music during free reading time. Have a full screen seating chart with pictures and tap on each student that is absent. At a starting price of $499, it wouldn't be surprising to see iPads replace the full desktop in each classroom. And at 1.5 lbs, most teachers wouldn't hesitate to bring work home with them.


While I comment on all aspects of education, this site is really about creating great presentations in the classroom, and the iPad will be a fabulous tool in that regard. Beyond the multimedia options I have already mentioned, Apple has released a version of Keynote designed specifically for the iPad. In addition, you can purchase a VGA connector to use the iPad with a projector. The device will change to a presenter display and show the presentation on the screen. While Microsoft has no plans to create a version of Office for the iPad, Keynote will open PowerPoint documents that have been e-mailed to the device.


New to the touch version of Keynote are on screen presenter tools. With a simple swipe from the left of the screen you can pull up all of the slides in the presentation and jump forward or back. Watch the first minute of this video of a hands-on demo to see it in action.

(Update: As you can see in the video, the demo shows an on screen drawing feature which allows you to annotate your slides much like on a white board or as sports commentators do. This feature is not functional on release versions of the iPad.)

Creating presentations on the iPad is a breeze and a delight. You can move objects just by touching them and add smooth transitions with ease. Typing isn't too difficult, but that doesn't matter because you use very little text anyway. Photos can be imported from your iPhoto library or saved to the device via e-mail.

To learn more about iPad, visit Apple's website and watch these Guided Tours.

Do you want to see a great presentation?

It's not often that you get to see a presentation and think, "Wow." I'm not talking about the "whoa dude! That was so awesome!" kind of reaction. What I'm talking about is when you know that the message you just heard was exactly what the presenter meant for you to hear, and that the whole experience was simple and clear. I recently had this experience watching the keynote at Apple's World Wide Developer's Conference. Picture 10.png Go ahead, chuckle, snort, you can even post a snarky comment about me being an Apple fanboy. It's alright. Because it's true. I love Apple and everything they stand for. I'm not saying that they are a perfect organization or that this presentation didn't have any flaws (in fact, there were two obvious errors in this keynote). It's just that their simple, direct approach to business, product design, marketing – and presenting – make it so that little, if anything, is misunderstood.

Go ahead and watch just a little bit of it.

Notice how there is rarely any text on the screen. Picture 2.png Beautiful, high quality images are used in place of bullet points. Picture 9.png Simple, easy to read graphs. Picture 7.png Transitions are used appropriately to create emphasis. Picture 6.png Not to mention a clutter free stage, large projector screen, the use of light humor, repetition, seamless transitions between speakers, and more. Picture 12.png

Seriously, just watch a bit if you have some time.

Watch the Presentation

Watch the Presentation in HD