Quote your students, Value them

Earlier this school year, I wrote about Educanon, an application you can use to add questions and pause points to videos. A new quarter recently started, and I used the same Video Bulb with the fresh group, but this time around, I took their best extended responses and put them into a slideshow.

The day after the vidoe viewing, I showed the presentation and we talked about each student’s insight. Kids were clearly proud and pleased (sitting up straighter, smiling widely, checking out their friends reactions, etc.) to see their brilliant quotes up on the big screen.  Making the presentation by re-reading their answers and copy/pasting the best of them took only about 15 minutes, and was so worth their positive response. You could use this idea in any class. It reviews your content and shows your students that you value their voices.

One tech issue I ran into was the text pasting into the slides with original (ugly) formatting from Educanon. Like this:

bad copy paste

But, if you use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Shift+V, it pastes without formatting, and will automatically take on the style of the slide! It looks much better.

good copy paste

A Carnival of beautiful Slides

Not everyone is artistic. That’s fine. Jimena Catalina will help you! This generous visual designer has created SlidesCarnival to provide the world with beautiful slide templates. On this page on her site, she says:

Working in design for more than 15 years I’ve learnt that, when you try to communicate a message, good design may be as important as the content. Many times I’ve seen how people get frustrated trying to arrange a visually stunning presentation without design knowledge. So I decided to create SlidesCarnival to help people create meaningful content without worrying about the appearance of their slides.

I must admit that there is also a selfish reason behind all this: I suffer a lot when I see poorly designed presentations 😉

I feel a kinship with this woman whom I’ve just learned–or learnt 🙂 –about today, during my exploration of the resources from the WVIZ Tech and Learning Conference. We both believe that pretty presentations are better-received by the viewers than their plain counterparts. I tried out a couple of her templates on the Symbaloo Apps Warehouse, and finally landed on the one below. 

If your slides are a bit boring, start using SlidesCarnival tonight. It’s incredibly simple to start a brand new slideshow, and just a couple more steps to get the designs onto pre-existing slides. It also works with PowerPoint…in case you’re into that sort of thing.

To start a new slideshow

To apply a design to pre-existing slides

Symbaloo to the Rescue!

Rememer that WVIZ Tech and Learning Conference post I wrote a couple weeks ago? (It was as much/more for myself than it was for you. Every conference I go to, there are way too many things that grab my attention than I can actually deal with in a day!) One of the new-to-me apps has already proven useful. Woo-hoo!

Our district tech committee decided that we wanted to provide an “Apps Warehouse” and training on how to find and evaluate apps. I started it off by creating a document that had apps we were using. Although the document had district specific information, and was organized by UDL categories (Engagement, Representation, Action and Expression), it was simply unappealing–ugly and not user-friendly. Plus, it was taking a lot of time to compile. We knew we needed to change course. We needed something that would be eye-catching, applicable to everyone, and easier to make. I had a vague idea that one of the websites I heard about at WVIZ might work…Symbaloo to the rescue!

Symbaloo allows users to create and share collections of bookmarks in a visually appealing way. Here’s their official Welcome To Symbaloo video.

I went on Symbaloo and found a whole bunch of webmixes, screenshot them, and made this slideshow with links to each.

It looks better and has way more content. It will be easier for teachers to navigate than the document.

In a recent survey at Cardinal Middle School, teachers cited Time as their biggest barrier to using new technology. A majority (77%) said they would use an “Apps Warehouse” to find new apps, and just over half said they would like a rubric or checklist to use when evaluating. So, we are planning on giving them time at an upcoming staff meeting or early release day, a rubric and the slides. I hope that everyone (including you!) finds at least one app that will help their students.

Symbaloo seems like a pretty sweet way to organize your own bookmarks. I haven’t done it yet, but I bet it’s simple. If, like me, you just want to find what other people have already spent time collecting, here’s a video (from Symbaloo) on how to do that.

WVIZ Tech and Learning Conference

Today I attended and presented (on Google Classroom) at WVIZ’s Tech and Learning conference. Usually after conferences, I feel like there are so many things I want to look in to, but then, I only ever get around to one or two. I thought it might help if I immediately made a list that I could return to later. Also, in case you couldn’t go, I could help you find something useful! Since I don’t know much about these things, they will just be links and maybe a sentence description.


How Video Killed the Red Pen: Using YouTube to Explain Complex Concepts.


Draw My Life

One Minute, One Take

Orthodox Teaching Disrupted by Innovation

As seen on Twitter with #wvized


Note: I love using Twitter at conferences. (You can follow me @gorland2) I wish the hashtag would have been promoted better though! The picture at the top came from @AmyRoediger


Beauty Standards

I like looking at pretty things, and so do you.

Whether it’s fair or not, being good-looking is advantageous. Loveliness garners longer-lasting and more positive attention than the less lovely. To be clear, I’m not talking about people, though sadly the same principles apply. I’m talking about beautifully presented information. I’m talking about design.

Although I am a certified “techie” (I actually got called that in an email today 🙂 ), I am also an artist. I enjoy learning how to make things look and feel “right”, and I think that part of my job as a teacher is to help students improve their digital design literacy. Now, and in the future, it’s not just the content that counts. The packaging of the content is an important component of how well the information will be received.

Canva provides free, cloud-based design tools. Personally, I’ve been using it for about a year, though I’ve just brought it into my classroom in the past week. Here are some things I’ve designed. Note: Wedding Invitation is very much a work in-progress.

My Canva Designs

My 8th grade students worked in Canva’s Design School tutorials for a few days. I had them focus on Choosing the Right Font, Font Pairing Basics, The Art of Alignment, and Working with White Space, along with a brief video on color choices. The tutorials are great because they show and explain an example on the left, and have them apply the principle on the right. My students used screenshots to show their tutorial progress so I could make sure they were getting it.

Here’s a before and after of a tutorial slide:

Canva tutorial before

Canva Tutorial Need a Hint

Every slide of every tutorial I’ve seen has this “Need a hint?”option on it. A video will pop up showing how to accomplish the task in case they’re having trouble.

Canva has preset sizes to design for lots of different types of media. There are SO many options for what you could have your students design. This is what they have out now:

Canva Design options

Once a type is chosen, you get into the editing view, which includes the following side tabs: Search, Layouts, Text, Background, and Uploads. Here’s what those side tabs look like:

Canva Search

Search gives you basic elements that you can use to build a design from scratch or add to an existing design.

Canva Layouts

The layouts they show you change depending on what type of media you have chosen to create. You can pick a free layout and just change the words, colors and pictures to your liking. This can be really helpful if you or some of your students don’t feel confident in your artistic abilities.

Canva Text

The Text tab shows you basic text at the top, and pre-designed text formatting below. I love to use the pre-designed options. You’ve probably noticed the FREE sign next to many of the elements. Everything I’ve designed has been free. You can do a lot with what’s given. The bits that cost money are clearly labeled and are usually listed after scrolling past free components.

Canva Backrounds

If all you want is a plain color or basic textural background, great! Those are all free. If you want something flashier, you’ll need to purchase it, use a pre-designed layout, or upload your own photo.

Canva Uploads

Uploads are drag and drop. You can also connect your Facebook account to use those pics.

Raise the bar on beauty standards for the products students design in your class. Or, just for yourself, take the time to make something look stunning and professional. Make Canva part of your information beautification routine.

Personal Crusade Against Pixelation

Communication is increasingly visual, so we need to teach our students about choosing high quality images to showcase and support their ideas. Avoiding pixelation is part of that process. Because my students let me know that Fun is their top priority after reading my F Words post, I am trying to incorporate more entertaining hooks to get them interested in the topics we learn about in class. (In case you’re wondering, Freedom of Choice was a close 2nd).

Buzzfeed, a guilty pleasure, and up until now an absolute time waster, had one of those silly quizzes called Can You Identify the Children’s Book From Its Pixelated Cover? Since I can’t trust that the content showing before, after, or alongside the quiz will be appropriate, I made it into a slideshow for my students. I’ll show it for fun, to introduce the concept of pixels (little blocks of color that make up digital images) and show a stark difference between poor quality and high quality images. I hope they, and you, think it’s as fun as I do!

Now I can feel slightly better about the number of hours I’ve let my brain mush on that site.

Presentations: Pro Level

Presentations in the education world are not in short supply, however, really great slideshow presentations are rare indeed. If you are trying to have your audience (students, colleagues, etc.) remember more than 10% of what you say, and avoid boring them to tears, or worse, confusing them, you’ve come to the right place.

David Phillips’ TEDx talk How to avoid Death By Powerpoint is downright entertaining while being incredibly practical about how to improve your slideshow presentations. It’s also based on cognitive science and psychology. If you want to skip a bit of intro, go to 5:38. That’s where I start it when I show it to my students. If you’d rather read than watch, scroll past to the overview and my personal additions to his list.

  • One message per slide. Slides are free! You have an unlimited supply. Squeezing a lot on there makes it more difficult for your audience to focus on the main point you are trying to make.
  • Avoid sentences. If people are reading text while you are giving a speech, they have a hard (sometimes impossible) time remembering what you said or what they read. Instead, use very brief text snippets and images to emphasize or enhance what you are saying. That said, if you want students to go back and view your presentation after the fact, including the full text of your speech can be very helpful. Just relegate that to the Slide notes, below the actual slide, so it doesn’t show during the presentation.
  • Size matters. Make the most important part of your visual aid the biggest. Even though the default on all slides makes the Title larger than the Body text, doesn’t mean you should keep it that way.
  • Contrast steers focus. You basically have a magic wand at your disposal if you learn how to use contrast to your advantage. Whatever you want people to pay attention to, make that have the most contrast, and make everything else fade away to a color almost matching the background. The difference between these two slides is that one gives a hard nudge on what to focus on, and the other lets the viewer wander aimlessly.
    • Contrast good Contrast bad
  • Dark backgrounds. Don’t try to compete with a giant, bright white screen behind you. Also, it’s kind to the eyes of your viewers.

The next few are my own opinion, not discussed in the video.

  • High quality images. Poor images look lazy. If you don’t have or can’t find a good image (i.e. one without visible pixels, watermarks, or blur) then paint that picture with the words in your speech.  Better to have a short caption on a mostly blank slide and tell a story.
  • Font choice. Serif, sans serif, I don’t think it matters much. But, do choose a font that is easily readable and fits the purpose of your overall message. Don’t send mixed messages. Serif fonts tend to look more serious. Informal, handwriting type fonts are fine if that goes along with your message.
  • Purpose. Some presentations are meant for a limited, live audience, others start out that way but then could be used as review, and still others are meant for a asynchronous audience of strangers strewn across the world. All these require a different approach. For a limited, live audience, you may choose to have no words at all, or very few in your slides, so that the audience really engages with what you are saying. For slideshows which are given live at first, but then will be posted online for later review, the full speech could be included in the slide notes, or more words may be needed on the slides themselves. Or, you can allow your students access to the slide deck as you are speaking, if they are quick on the keys and you give them time after each slide to type their own notes. If you plan on making a presentation that is only viewed, and not heard, you can safely ignore the advice about sentences on slides.

Making better slide shows can help your students retain more information, and give them opportunities for review that they may not otherwise have. Also, if you are in a position to teach students about how they can make good slideshows, please share this information with them! Let’s grow a new generation of thoughtful deck builders.