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Life by Power Point…?

Intro: The Before

PowerPoint presentations can be excruciating!

From COETAIL’s reading this week, there were several resources on crafting meaningful, engaging, and memorable presentations. Some were non-examples, while others gave an audience-centered approach.

One resource that stood out to me, was a TEDx talk by David JP Phillips. According to him, there are 5 key principles to a good presentation. I’m not sure why he was so memorable out of all of the resources I viewed. Perhaps it was his humor, use of repetition, or simplicity. So for this post, I would like to focus on his principles as well as student feedback to examine how I might update a presentation I gave to my students.

To kick things off, here is the “before” presentation that I gave to the students.

Click on the image to view the entire presentation.

Let’s start with Mr. Phillip’s ideas. I have them summarized and listed below.

5 principles of Slides according to David JP Phillips:

  1. One message: keep the message focused to keep the audience on track with why they are there.
  2. Working memory: if you have sentences on your slide and you proceed to speak during the presentation, the audience will remember nothing. Instead, use powerpoint for images and keywords.
  3. Size: we remember moving objects, signaling colors like orange/red/yellow, contrast-rich objects, and big objects. The most important thing should be the biggest. Is the title often the most important?
  4. Contrast: contrast can be used to control the focus of the audience. Low contrast keeps the audience’s attention where it needs to be: on the speaker, for he or she is the presentation, the presentation is merely a visual aid. We should strive to have a dark background to keep the attention on the speaker.
  5. Objects: The cognitive process of counting takes more mental resources than just seeing. The speaker recommends that people try to stick to 6 or fewer objects per slide. When people are trying to understand a powerpoint, they have to work hard to understand the content.

Student Feedback

To gather feedback from students, I was inspired by a thinking routine called Graffiti Wall. In my version of the thinking routine, I started by showing the students the video of Mr. Phillips that I mentioned above on how to make a good presentation. After watching the video, I asked them to evaluate my presentation and hold it to the video’s criteria.

I asked the students to evaluate it by placing large A3 print outs of each slide around the room on the walls and giving the kids writing utensils. I asked them to make blue check marks next to parts of the presentation that they felt met one of the criteria. Then I asked them to use sharpie pens to take notes about parts that did not follow the criteria. After the students did a full circle, I helped consolidate what I noticed.

Some points of feedback about my presentation were:

  • “Sometimes there are too many instructions” (e.g. over-explaining?)
  • “Make sure the word are always big enough to read clearly”
  • “The steps weren’t clear how they connected with the Design Cycle”

Slides Redesign

Based on what I learned from Mr. Phillips and my students’ feedback, I made this new presentation. What do you think?

Click the image above to see the redesigned version of the mini-challenge.

I changed the following points to enhance its design and to aid in the students’ understanding.


  • I removed the “day 1, 2, 3…” slide. I made that originally because I was going out to be out on a PD and I wanted the students to have a summary of what they needed to do while I was gone. In the end, I think it ended up looking like over-explanation. I also removed several of the other slides that similarly “broke it down”. After attending a session with Catheryn Berger-Kaye, I realized the power of “under directing’.
  • I changed several slides that had small font to make it easier to read on the screen or on their laptops.
  • I combined the instructions with the Design Cycle so that the students could see which of the criteria I was looking for and how it fits into the overall cycle. The image of the Design Cycle (slide 8) also helps with a visual. Before all the steps were just text and were actually quite confusing when I think about it from a student’s perspective.


Looking back at this learning experience, I think I focused on the ISTE Standard for Teachers (6d) models and nurture creativity to communicate ideas, knowledge or connections. This standard has been focused on in Course 3 as we look at how to communicate ideas best. But I think that I have also been looking at this course from another perspective in that I believe instructional material should aid in our understanding of something. That is to say, graphic design and layout design should help us to understand the information that is being shared. I think that’s a part of the words “communicate ideas” above.

I think that technology is perfectly fine, but the power that came into play here was being able to print out my slides and have people pour over them on paper. Looking at the layout on paper is very different from looking at it on a computer screen. When we look on paper, there are so many things that we suddenly notice that we might not have otherwise. I bring this up as a technologist because I think it is essential that we recognize when technology is best and when it is not. When we are planning, ideating, or proofing, I think using paper is best. David Kelly of IDEO taught me that in one of his books.

Finally, there was a second ISTE Standard for Teachers embedded within this activity: (4b) collaborates and co-learns with students to discover and use new digital resources and diagnose and troubleshoot technology issues. I think that I was able to co-learn with students when I was able to look with them as an editor after the mini-challenge was over. Zooming out and taking a look at the guiding presentation that I gave to the students with them was a powerful experience. One of the best parts of doing this with students was showing them that I was open to their critiques and that I valued their perspectives. Hearing and validating their thoughts on my work was a meaningful gesture to show them that I value their voices. Furthermore, as we looked at the piece together and critiqued it, I was able to learn what good design should be by having them evaluate my work. That is, I improved my design and layout skills through their critiques while they had the opportunity to learn and practice the elements of an excellent presentation.

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