PowerPoint templates for students

June 18, 2007

I really don’t like assignments to “do a PowerPoint presentation” for kids who are not expert at all on their subjects — there is too much room for too much unintentional mischief when people who know little about a topic are to use a tool designed for people who know too much about a topic.

Among other things, kids who have never had to do a five-page report, nor an outline of a report, do not have the experience to stick to five bullets of less than five words per slide. And don’t get me going on “fireworks” animation of letters to explain things like the death of Medgar Evers, or the evils of child labor.

But if you want some ideas, the Paducah, Kentucky, school system offers some templates for student reports, and a few presentations teachers could use as foundations, here at “Connecting Teachers and Students.” There is advice, too. *

Use these as starting points, please. If you can’t improve on them, you’re not trying (no offense, Paducah — I hope).

A good exercise for you would be to spend an hour reading suggestions from Presentation Zen, and then edit a couple of those presentations from Paducah to make them more, um, zen reflective.

Remember, “template” is just a part of “contemplate.”

(I hope I don’t regret having pointed out that Paducah site to you.)

Update, November 24, 2007: Take a look at the video included in this post to see an effective use of a presentation tool like PowerPoint – though this one was done with Apple’s Keynote. Check the links in the post, too.
Update March 8, 2008:  Paducah’s school district archived the PowerPoint stuff.  I have changed the links above to link to the archive sites.  I replaced “www” with “old” in the URL.

For-profit Educate, Inc., goes private (Sylvan Learning, Hooked-on-Phonics)

June 15, 2007

Educate, Inc., the parent company of Sylvan Learning Centers, traded for the last time on the NASDAQ exchange yesterday.

No, the company didn’t go out of business. It was taken private by its management, after being a public company for three years. From the Baltimore Sun morning e-mail:

Educate becomes a private company

Educate Inc. has completed its transition into a private company, ending its three-year run on public markets.

Best known for its Sylvan tutoring centers, the Baltimore company, which was purchased in a management-led buyout, traded for the last time on the Nasdaq yesterday.

The investor group that purchased the company is led by chief executive officer R. Christopher Hoehn-Saric, other executives and affiliates of Sterling Capital Partners and Citigroup Private Equity. They paid $8 a share for the company in the deal valued at $535 million.

The company announced this week that more than 75 percent of shareholders approved the deal, which came as the firm has struggled with poor product sales.

Internal reorganization was swift.  The company’s website carried this note this morning:

On June 13, 2007, through a merger transaction, Edge Acquisition, LLC became the owner of Educate, Inc. In a related series of simultaneous transactions, the companies which were part of Educate, Inc. have been split into the following independent companies:

  • Educate Services, which includes Sylvan Learning, Catapult Learning, and Schulerhilfe;
  • Hooked on Phonics, Inc., which includes Hooked on Phonics, Reading Rainbow, and GPN;
  • Educate Online, Inc., which includes Catapult Online and eSylvan;
  • Progressus, Inc.; and
  • Educate Corporate Centers Holdings, Inc., which is a franchisee of various Sylvan Learning and owner of Sylvan Learning Centers.

The companies are now operating independently to better serve students, families and schools across the country. To learn more about the merger and related transactions, click here.

Making a profit delivering education is rare.  Milton Friedman notwithstanding, free market rules do not apply to educational enterprises in the same way they do to other services.  This is one more example, or set of examples, that should give pause to any rational person considering making public schools “compete” for money to improve education for any child, especially any group of children.  Sylvan Learning Centers are considered to be the top of the heap in their niche; Hooked-on-Phonics is a cliché success story.  And they “struggle with poor product sales.”

I hope the company finds the education answers, the magic bullets, and can retail them at affordable prices.

The answer, by the way, probably is not 42.

“Mister! Let’s watch a movie!”

June 13, 2007

Especially near the end of the school year, every teacher gets requests to “show a movie.” My collection of videos on specific history events is not what they have in mind. Short subjects related to the course don’t qualify, either.

The kids want an escape from classwork. I just can’t justify it.

But there have been times that I wondered whether a movie wouldn’t be appropriate to explain some part of history or economics. For example, in one economics class, the entire group was stumped by the concept of a “run on the bank,” of the sort that prompted President Franklin Roosevelt to declare the “bank holiday” in March 1933. I wished at that moment that I had a copy of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” to show both the economic conditions that prevailed in much of America at the time, and to show what a run on a bank looks like.

Then I started wondering about all the other stuff that movie could illustrate.

I’ve never used it.

But I stumbled on this site, Teach with Movies, which features a set of lesson plans and other material to use with “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The site claims to have lesson plans for 270 movies. There is a membership charge, but it’s a charge clearly aimed at encouraging teachers to buy: $11.99.

I had a principal who complained about showing videos — which struck me as very odd — and his complaints escalated until he passed out copies of copyright rules. In discussion, it finally became clear to me that he was opposed to running Hollywood, entertainment movies in classes. He didn’t bother to distinguish between my showing of the life of Theodore Roosevelt from PBS from “Beverly Hills Cop” — but he’s gone. I find I share his general revulsion for just slapping in a Hollywood movie to keep the kids quiet.

In the last year I’ve been asked to step in to show “Hitch” in a business communication class, and “The Money Pit” in a Spanish class. “Iron Monkey” could be related to world geography. These exercises generally are wastes of time, and of course, money.

But I also was asked to monitor a showing of “Charley” for a psychology class, and “Napoleon” for a world history class. The psychology class had several questions to pursue closely related to the course; the kids were generally lulled to sleep by Napoleon.

But why not, with careful groundwork, show “It’s a Wonderful Life” in economics, as supplement to the units on banking, the depression, the creation of the Fed, and general history?

Teach with Movies? Great idea. Have you used this site? Anybody know how well it works?

Stranger maps: Flights of fancy

June 12, 2007

How could you use these maps in your classroom?

Aaron Kobin maps documentation

Image and film from Aaron Koblin Design|Media Arts, UCLA; “Flightpatterns”

Remember the old World Book maps of states that featured oil drilling derricks and cows in Texas, and shocks of wheat in Kansas? This is just that kind of map, updated for commerce connected with air travel, showing commerce density and direction hour by hour.

I’m thinking, one quiz would be to name the sites of most action. Another would be to calculate how many people are in the air at any given time (notice the count of the number of airplanes; you’ll have to assume about 100 people per aircraft, or more if you can find figures; notice there are no fewer than 4,000 aircraft in the air at any time over the U.S. — ponder that figure for a while, considering an average cost of more than $10 million per aircraft, the miles covered, and compare it to the maps showing the voyages of European explorers to America . . .)

What other maps can your kids make? Water flows of rivers? Train commerce? Highway commerce? Food transportation?

Geography should be an awfully fun topic to teach, and even more fun topic to learn, no?

Check out Koblin’s other work — see the crystals dissolve, science teachers?

Tip of the old scrub brush to Stranger Fruit, via Pharyngula.

Classroom musical – “Hey, Teach!”

June 6, 2007


Have you ever wondered whether your misbehaving students were setting you up, perhaps with their cell-phone video cameras running?

Hope they have the grace, wit and production values of this group: Prangstgrüp (click on “Lecture Musical”)

Tip of the old scrub brush to neurocontrarian.

[Couldn't get this video to embed -- sorry.]

What’s the difference between school and prison?

June 5, 2007

Give up?

Yeah, often the students give up, too. If you don’t know the answer, your school may resemble a prison.

Gary Stager’s post with jarring comparisons is here, at District Administration’s Pulse! blog.

When the elder Fillmore’s Bathtub son attended intermediate school, he complained of the discipline. So did a lot of other good kids. We got a call from a parent asking if we’d join in a meeting with the new principal, and hoping to learn things were really hunky dory and offer assurances to our son, we went. Read the rest of this entry »

How it’s done right

June 1, 2007

If I need a lift, I go here. It’s how school should be — probably all the way through.

I don’t know the details of how or why this class is set up the way it is, but day after day they do things that other people use as textbook examples of what a good classroom ought to be doing, sometimes. And they do it day, after day, after day.

Carnival of Education, are you paying attention?


I wager right now that these kids will be the top performers on the standardized tests for at least the next five years, in their classrooms and schools. The Living Classroom weblog is a valuable chronicle for how to provide quality education.

Somebody should step up with the money to track how these kids do, especially against their contemporaries. Alas, this is exactly the sort of information that will be lost, due to “lack of funding.” Fortunately, one of the women involved in the classroom made the chronicles, and shared them.

Side note: Looking at the photos, ask yourself, “Does our town offer these types of recreational facilities for use?” Washington has traditionally led the nation in setting aside land for public recreational use — this class has taken full advantage of being in a town that had the foresight to put up public art and public beaches, and other public parks and places. There is a lesson here for city planners, and for mayors and city councils who wonder how they might support their schools, run by other governmental entities.

Dandelion, class activitiy for The Living Classroom

Girls and technology: Girl Scouts on the ‘net

May 26, 2007

Here, try this brain teaser.

Girl Scouts of America can be found on the web; some of the stuff at this “Go Tech” site could be useful in the classroom. The design appears to encourage girls to pursue the use of technology, and to open them up to possibilities for careers where women are badly needed, but too seldom go. That becomes clear with this .pdf, 14-page guide for parents, It’s Her Future: Encourage a Girl in Math, Science and Technology.

I wish more organizations would put up sites for kids to use to learn. I’d love to see some interactive sites with great depth on several topics: Geography map skills, navigation, European explorers in the 15th through 20th centuries, market fluctuations for commodities and securities (for economics), Native Americans from 1500 through the 21st century, westward expansion of European colonists in America, time lines of history, great battles, etc., etc. etc.

We are missing the boat when it comes to using computers as tools for learning. Like unicorns and centaurs standing on the dock as Noah sailed away, education as a whole institution and educators individually are missing the boat (with a few notable exceptions — pitifully few).

Where is the Boy Scout site with games and material for the boys?

Mining the Internet Archive: Education reform

May 22, 2007

Do we use enough different media in our classrooms?

In my continuing search for sources of useful and inspiring video and audio stuff, I keep running into the Internet Archive. A few of Dorothy Fadiman’s thought-provoking films can be viewed there, including this one some of us may recall from past PBS broadcasts, which features nine schools that appear to work well: “Why Do These Kids Love School?” (1990)

Now I have two questions: First, since 1990, how have these schools fared? Second, since 1990, have we learned anything really significant about how students learn that would change our views of what goes on in these schools?

Where are your student blogs?

May 19, 2007

While you’re wondering about how to get your podcast going, have given much attention to getting your students blogging?  Student blogging is a great classroom tool, to generate interest, and to help gauge progress.  Here’s one from fifth graders, on science:  Steve Spangler.

Let me also mention this site, The Living Classroom, which shows how blogging can be integrated into a great program for very young students — kindergarten, first grade, etc.

Carnival still in town? We didn’t miss it?

May 13, 2007

History Carnival 52 was up on May 1 at Clioweb. What sort of a fog have I been in? Check out especially this post at Food History, demonstrating several uses of critical thinking tools as they might analyze the bizarre idea that most meat in Middle Ages Europe was rancid, thereby leading to a rise in the use of spices. Spices don’t make up for stomach cramps, for example. There must be some sort of critical thinking exercise in there for a world history class.

Carnival of the Liberals 38 came online earlier this week, at This Is So Queer. With fires raging in the hills around Burbank — documented with eerily beautiful photography — a fire of war in Iraq, and a fire around the Second Amendment, posts collected at the carnival offer fuel for intellectual fires on big issues.

Moton HS historical markerAnd, the venerable Carnival of Education, issue 118, was up earlier at NYC Educator, with good posts on laptops in school, parenting, administering, enduring, and everything else related to education. (Click on the photo for a larger image — it’s the historical marker at the former Robert R. Moton High School, in Prince Edward County, Virginia — where one of the most poignant of the cases against school segregation began, Davis vs. Prince Edwards County Schools — part of the Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education case decided in 1954. Photo from Virginia Commonwealth University.)

Carnival of Homeschooling 71 lolls, at On The Company Porch.

And, of course, if you wish to nominate a post for the next Fiesta de Tejas!, scheduled for June 2, just use this button:

Blog Carnival submission form - fiesta de tejas!

Have a good Mother’s Day — call all the mothers you know. Why be picky?

Speak we now of famous trees, and Ray Charles

May 12, 2007

You want a memorial to Ray Charles, in your yard?  Ray Charles

American Forests will sell you a live oak tree propagated from the live oak Charles knew as a youth at his school, in St. Augustine, Florida.  It’s part of their “Famous Trees” program.

We looked at a lot of famous trees, including Austin, Texas’s Treaty Oak, and the Wye Oak in Maryland, for our son’s Eagle Scout project at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery, but utlimately found nothing exactly fitting.  A school could have quite a forest of trees from Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Dwight Eisenhower, Theodore Roosevelt, and now, Ray Charles.

Most trees are about $40.00.  Will your PTA finance your planting a grove of historic trees at your school?

Wye Oak, when it was alive, prior to 2002  The Wye Oak, in its glory (prior to June 2002).  Photo from Jeff Krueger’s Historic Trees Project, accessed May 12, 2007.

Willow death

May 12, 2007

Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of trees have died in spring storms this year, from dramatically powerful wind bursts, tornadoes, or drowning or uprooting in floods. We lost only a small branch from our greatest red oak, but locally we lost hundred-year-old eastern red cedars, sizable live oaks, and dozens of hackberries (good riddance in most cases there!).

P. Z. Myers lost a massive branch from an even more massive weeping willow, up in Morris, Minnesota. In fear of the entire tree crashing down, with some sadness Myers had the tree removed. Willows are pretty trees in full health, but they are generally soft wood and a mess to have in an average yard. That the Myers willow grew so large is probably rare among willows. We should mourn such losses.

Trees are great things, providing us with shade and cooler microclimates in the summer, windbreaks, beauty in autumn and winter, sinks for our pollution, habitat for birds, etc., etc. I couldn’t help but think of Myers’ tree when I stumbled on this children’s book Regarding the Trees: A splintered saga rooted in secrets. The cover shows what must be a willow, under which a hundred people enjoy a grand party (click the image for a larger view from Amazon.com). Cover of Regarding the Trees

This book and others by the same author and illustrator, the Klises, offer fine mysteries for elementary level readers to solve. They look like fun.

Arbor Day Foundation logo with Jefferson Quote

Where is your podcast?

May 11, 2007

Kids in schools have things in their ears. Between classes it’s earphones for iPods, MP3 players, CD players, cell phones that play music an video — and of course they try to stretch it into class, too. “If I can listen to my music in class, I won’t make trouble,” they say.

To which I respond, “I don’t deal with terrorists.”

The students are telling teachers something, and most of us are missing the message: We need to get education into their iPods and MP3 players.

For example, Nora’s itec 845 blog wonders about converting podcasts to print, for hearing-impaired students. Do you even have podcasts for classroom use or augmentation? (I wager this blog is a classroom assignment — students are working in areas their teachers don’t know anything about?)

Check out the Education Podcast Network. If your students told you they were getting information from this site, would you know whether it was quality information? Would you even know how to check?

Teachers should be using podcasts to deliver lectures, deliver supplementary material, to discuss homework, and to inform parents about homework and other activities.  Are you using podcasts for any of that?

If you don’t think you’re missing the podcast boat, go here and see what some of the possibilities you’re missing really are:  Around the Corner.   Or, go there just to get ideas.

Hey, what are you waiting for?

Inherent evils of public education

May 11, 2007

Public schools have serious problems.  Regular readers here should know me as a defender of public education, especially in the Thomas Jefferson/James Madison model of a foundation stone for a free people and essential tool for good government in a democratic republic.

Can you take another view?  Here’s one that should offer serious material for thought:  How the Public School System Crushes Souls.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Pick the Brain.


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