Vol.#11: Instructional Smackdown

Back in July, I read a wonderful post by Edutopia titled “Ten Ideas for Teaching Teachers :Technology“. In early August, I forwarded it to my colleague Luke Miles who is widely heralded as our school’s resident techie guru. I stated, “I bet we can get Drew to agree to #4.”

Specifically, this idea the author Ms. Flickinger states she’ll bring back to her district:

4) Save five minutes at the end of each staff meeting to have a teacher tech smackdown!

Teachers have 45 seconds to share their favorite app or web 2.0 tool with their colleagues in a fast-paced, engaging way. Make sure your moderator keeps everyone’s time limit the same. Anyone who wants to learn more can always meet up with the presenters after everybody has shared.

This appealed to us for several reasons. First, not to brag, but our faculty is pretty amazing. However, it’s also huge, and because we are on a multi-track year-round schedule, we aren’t all even teaching in the building at the same time. We thought this would be a great way to share some of the amazing things going on in our colleagues’ classrooms.  Also, seeing innovative teaching ideas would simply result in a fun and uplifting way to end a staff meeting. Finally, it’d create some much-needed built-in technology differentiation. Staff that are more tech-savvy could go to a website or other provided resource and learn more independently. People who need support but are interested in using the tool can choose to follow-up with that presenter for more information. No one is forced to sit through a training session on a resource that s/he may either:

  • A.) already know and use  -OR-
  • B.) have no interest in at this time for whatever reason.

Luke’s suggestion of an “Instructional Smackdown” was to cast a wider net of topics and include more staff participation, with the understanding that he & I would be focusing on  tech tools each month. I advocated for 60 seconds for our purposes instead of 45. Armed with these ideas, we worked up a presentation for our principal. He agreed under the single stipulation that it had to have a jingle to play to introduce the segment.

Requested jingle ready, we concluded our September Staff Meeting last week with our first “Instructional Smackdown”. We’d hoped to have at least three or four presenters. We had twelve. It was a smashing success, and our principal concluded the meeting saying he planned to end every faculty meeting this way.

One of the many wonderful side effects has been the conversation this has cultivated among our staff. I have been sought out by a half-dozen staff members ask me more about flubaroo, the tool I presented using this prezi.  Personally, I followed up with Chrissy Myers about her grading practices she’d shared as we waited for the Elementary school bus for our own children. (I fully expect this conversation to change some fundamental practices in my own classroom.) Three people already have mentioned to me what they’d like to present next time, including our principal. I look forward to his grading practices Smackdown in October, when I anticipate letting my colleagues know about lastpass.com.

After my principal and I had a discussed the “Instructional Smackdown’s” reverberation within our school’s halls, I realized two truths. First, using our amazing colleagues as resources made the ideas accessible. It’s not ivory-tower: it’s what someone you know is already doingSecondly, the brevity and choice seems to house power in shifting thinking and practices.  By allowing people to choose the tools they explore and conversations they seek, a short 60 seconds reaches much farther than a long training session chosen by another. This has created a rippling effect throughout our school bigger than the initial droplet.

In what ways do you share best practices at your school?

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7 thoughts on “Vol.#11: Instructional Smackdown”

  1. Link to the Prezi is missing. I was interested to see if you’ve figured out how to actually use the tool for good, as opposed to evil (swapping Death by PowerPoint for Death by Prezi).

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    1. Hi Ed,

      Thanks for the heads up about the wonky link! I think I’ve got it working now.

      My goal using Prezi was to have something to provide visuals for the audience as I was talking, as well as to keep me on target with the points I needed to hit in such a very short time. Hopefully, they weren’t able to be bored to death in 60 seconds; that was part of the advantage of this format. Also, because it’s online and not saved somewhere on my computer, anyone on my staff who wants to review the information again or needs more time to follow up on a concept can access it.

      Your point is a valid one, though. Of the dozen presentations we had, mine was the only Prezi. Some showed a website as they talked, a couple had short PowerPoints, a few showed examples of student work, and still others talked unaided. When presenting information, whether to students or adults, what factors should one consider when choosing a medium to assist them?

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      1. Ideally we’d use presentation forms that magnify or enhance the presentation — geography presentations sometimes would be a lot better with highway maps than with PowerPoint or Keynote and great music, for example. Most often we don’t even get time to weigh that kind of stuff.

        I first encountered Prezi at a program to get up to speed on computer-based classroom projects. It was a very good presentation, with the idea of drilling down into details of student projects. But after a day at that course I realized we’d spent more time learning Prezi than we had working on the software to use in course design, information presentation testing and grading.

        Pragmatically, I can put together a PowerPoint in much less time, with a lot more depth of information; now saying that, we run into Pascal’s Dilemma (‘sorry this letter is so long; I didn’t have time to make it short’). From years of copy editing, speech writing and campaign organizing I can make a PowerPoint much less wordy and more punchy, more quickly than a Prezi.

        In the end I fear that all of these tools become simply more ways to present dull and badly-thought-out information strings to uninterested eyes and ears.

        Your presentation has an interesting sub-theme, with the shot of the sea and stars giving way to even greater depth of sight into the stars, but that’s a theme that maybe could have covered seven or eight slides with greater effect (a photo showing the Moon over the ocean, for example, fading to photos of the Moon in greater detail, including perhaps a manned landing, then photos of the outer planets, then stars, then the Hubble photo you end up with).

        Short and concise are good, usually — but not always (and how do we decide when to go long?). Graphics are a great idea, especially when they really add to understanding (can we make a decision on when to rely on a chart — and when was they last time you saw anyone use a chart in any projected presentation, that the chart was actually legible and easily readable to the people in the back of the room?).

        I found Prezi a problem because our internet links in classrooms were goofy at best. Depending on an internet link would mean at least one of the six sections would have to rely on Plan B.

        On the rest of my thoughts about Prezi and presentations, it’s probably easiest to shorthand with Garr Reynolds — are you familiar with his work at Presentation Zen? Here’s a post I did on a presentation by Lawrence Lessig at TEDS, a presentation that I found stunning for its simplicity, and which demonstrated much of what Reynolds advocates. You might also want to look at this post where I at least mention Edward Tufte. Gee, I haven’t really written about this as much as I worry about it.

        Thanks for the links, thanks for the presentation, good luck.

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  2. As an instructional technology specialist I have struggled on how to present technology ideas to the faculty during faculty meetings. I do not want to present on a topic that half the folks are not interested in. I like this idea and have proposed it to my principal for our faculty meeting next week. I agree that it gives validity to what is being shared when the people sharing the ideas are fellow teachers who are actually using the tools. I love the jingle and will be working on one for us – I think it helps set the mood as being fun and gets the attention of those in the room. Thank you for the ideas!

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  3. I enjoy prezi, and don’t find it to be too hard or require any more words than PowerPoint. I think it’s much more interactive than PP also. We have used it with 5th and 6th graders extensively this year for presentations and they seem to pick it up quickly and just run with it. No problems here. I also want to say that edmodo is a great site! I have enjoyed using it this year with 6th graders. They have turned in almost all papers – journals or research papers, works cited for presentations, notes, links to prezis, and even quizzes. I have really enjoyed the flexibility it gives me as a teacher. I don’t have to haul folders full of quizzes home to grade or print out reams of rough drafts. I can grade anywhere and edit papers quickly so the students get the feedback and can make their corrections. It is a wonderful tool for our classroom!

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