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A Problem Shared Is A Problem Halved - How To Improve Your Powerpoint Slide Show Science Lessons
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I've written previously about the impact of presentations in Science lessons and lamented to excuse of technology for poor pedagogy. The reality is many of our teaching colleagues are using powerpoint to teach their classes, so how can we improve our use of this ubiquitous tool?

Let me say firstly that I think there are worse ways to bore students than death by a Powerpoint slide show. There just aren't very many. The key to making the best use of Powerpoint is to remember that is is a tool to enhance and support what you intend to say. If all that was needed was every note and solution on Powerpoint, we could just ask the kids to press the slide show button and nip out for a coffee and donut until the lesson was over. Let's assume we've had our quota of donuts for the week and stay for the show.

In this article I want to mention two quick pet hates and two tips for helping your presentations. So where shall we start; with the good news or the bad news. Perhaps we should get the negative out of the way first and finish on a high.

Text density. I don't know how many teacher are frustrated opthalmologists but a powerpoint slide show is NOT an eye test. There is no winner to the 'let's see how small we can get the font' game. Some slides are just so difficult to read you take one look and say "Mmm no". What could possibly be the purpose of all that text? Only one. You have written such perfect prose you want your students to take everything down verbatim. You cannot afford to deliver it slightly differently the next day, because it's perfect. "Mmm no". Allowing ourselves to explain a concept in our own words models good practice to our students. Explain a concept and it helps you wrap your head around it, make it a memory task and you will alienate 99% of your students.

The great distractor. Assuming you aren't planning to use the powerpoint for every second of the lesson, don't leave the most recent slide constantly visible. If you do wish to take up a particular point, turn off the slide show. This will focus the attention of the students away from your slide show and back on you. Now you could do this by turning the projector on and off (and paying for the subsequent replacement lamp, or you could try using the 'W' or 'B' keys on your keyboard.

I did promise a couple of tips for improving your powerpoint slide shows so here they are:

Let your slides be idea stimulators, not mini essays. Dot points, key words or phrases, a humorous quote or cartoon can add things to your lesson so easily or neatly achieved any other way. Remember, the technology is a tool and should be used for the right job. Simple animations embedded in the presentation can help you describe a process, eg polymerisation or ion formation as students see molecules linking together or electrons moving from one atom to another. This sort of movement is one of the things Powerpoint is best at doing.

During the slide show, press the 'B' key on your keyboard. This gives you a black screen. The black screen makes it look like the projector is off and students will refocus their attention on you. This means you can ask or answer questions, explain a concept in a little more detail or use the whiteboard to work through a problem. Actually, if you want do use the last, then press 'W' instead of 'B'. This gives you a white screen. Now you can use the pen tool with your mouse and solve the problem right there. Best of all, when you reactivate the show (by pressing 'W' again) the notes will remain in the file but not on the board. At the end of the slide show you will be given the choice to save your annotations or not.

The technology age has thrown up some extremely useful tools to assist in the teaching of Science. No one can know how to make the maximu use of any of these applications, they simply have too much power. But we are individuals with different interests and creativities. We all find shortcuts but not necessarily the same ones. I hope these two have been useful. Perhaps a mutual shortcut sharing society in you faculty will reveal more useful shortcuts you never knew about and together we can all make the most of our Powerpoint presentations.


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