Presentation Approaches 2.0

Just as I am starting this blog, yet another way for students (and teachers) to present information outside of the PowerPoint box was released by Evernote.

For those not in tuned with Evernote, first go to of you who already use it, skip and ahead and examine the video:

Or, one can read through the new concept via their recent blog post to examine this powerful tool for organizing materials and research, saving web pages, recording audio, highlighting and annotating text, and as of this week, has a presentation mode, complete with pointer.

I have not had time to practice the options it affords as yet, but with this and many more options out there, it is a fun time to be creative and use presentations in the classroom.

Today’s software makes it fun, easy, and clear to produce project based instruction to our students, and also give them the opportunity to do the same.

Yet after watching my students do presentations earlier this week with the standard PowerPoint, it is clear that the dependency on it is something akin to “breaking bad”.

One presentation, however, did stand out:history of the congo

One of my students (Kelly) is an active user of infographics for her projects. She created the following infographic  (shown here with permission) for use for a presentation on the history behind Poisonwood Bible. The other two groups used standard power point fare, and they pretty much violated all the no-nos listed on this visual communications site:

Kelli’s presentation constructed with Inkscape and open source photo editing software (GIMP) had more power, as she also used the colors of the Congolese flag and photos to make a brief, but powerful looking information page based on the information compiled by her classmates. In addition, the students read from the screen 50 percent less than my students who had thrown up the PowerPoint.

This might have worked in a paper, but these types of presentations allow a variety of learners to pick up important information, and also have an option to review this before attacking another piece of an assignment.

Infographics may not be for everyone in terms of construction. There is a bit of a learning curve, but the ability to do them has improved considerably in the last year as software developers have added tools and made it easier to construct them. However, I made my first one two months ago for a teacher training (via Piktochart) and was pleased with the result:

Need a place to start: Here is a good source for learning the use of infographics:

Other tools can be found here:   Some are free or with subscription one can get advanced features. Others do have a charge, or, by using Adobe Fireworks, one can develop their own, but at $20 a month (academic cost as of October, 2013).


Instructional Software and high school English

One major area that falls into potential weakness, in light of Common Core standards, increased use (or suggested use) of problem-based learning, and also a movement to reduce homework, is vocabulary development and grammar.

As discussed in the Roblyer and Doering text, instructional software needs flow around three steps, analysis of learning and teaching needs, planning for integration, and post-instruction analysis and revisions. The first two steps are interesting at the high school level.

The AP Composition exam this year showed a “significant increase in low performing students” with “much smaller % of 4s” and “higher % of 1s” ( One particular problem with teaching at the higher end is that the level of education has high vocabulary demands as well as analysis of syntax and diction that requires at least basic grammar skills.

Schools could purchase software, but there tends to be problems with native applications that may work on cross platforms (Mac, Windows, tablets or PC’s), or may not simply because of an outdated operating system.

They could go to Schoology, an online learning management system, which offers teachers a chance to integrate instructional software into a course, first with software that is already available (at cost) to students such as Go Animate and All About Words. However, they also have increased third-party solutions so that schools who have availability to some software can tie it into the system.

But it does require the $5,000 Enterprise subscription per year for the advanced third-party solutions and tech support needed, and no guarantees the third party offering will work well.

Yet Dr. Robbie Melton, associate chancellor of Mobilization and Emerging Technology for the Tennessee Board of Regents, sees no reason to fear thanks to web-based improvements and has emphasized this feeling during a Webinar this month (September 2013) entitled “Education On-Demand, In Your Hands”.

She said that web based browser apps need to be the focus, so much so that her state recommends web based apps across all devices, instead of worrying about whether the software works on a Mac, PC, laptop or tablet (Melton 2013).

Since what language arts students need at the high school level is some drill and practice and tutorial for basic grammar and vocabulary skills that are rarely addressed past ninth or tenth grade, online options that can be easily integrated into the classroom (and free open-source approaches such as Schoology’s free version, Edmodo, and Canvas).

One solid one is Quizlet, which allows students to make electronic flash cards. Quizlet was popular with my eighth and ninth grade students and solves drill and practice issues. Students can also get drill and practice from sites such as, which mixes an element of instructional gaming (points) with the drilling. Students can create their own lists or browse lists (including standardized test) approaches. I am planning to add this particular course to my Schoology class pages to help with vocabulary development and open up more time for writing, analysis, and class project work.

Grammar Bytes (, yes, that’s the web address), has improved to the point that teachers and students can either refresh/reinforce/build their grammar approaches through information online, or take a deeper step and enroll in a new MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) ready and available for tutorial and support.

This is just a touch of what is out there, but it is clear that the shift is definitely to a web-based approach that does what Melton has been pushing to schools heavily this month (she has giving her webinar to several different environments in September alone).


Melton, R.  (2013, September 19). Education on Demand, In Your Hands [Webinar]. In Sevenstar Webinar Series. Retrieved from

Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. (2012). Integrating educational technology into teaching. (6th ed.). Pearson Education Inc.


AUP is more than a document

A copy of my school’s AUP Policy can be found at the end of this post. I was charged with putting this together as our school was expanding to 1:1 type environment. The AUP is a variant of one from a school in Gilbert, Arizona and revised with permission.

Acceptable Use Policy. For any school, this is such an important component. NO school should even consider having any technology on its campus without one.

An AUP might be basic, but the more a school expands its technology use, the more detailed that policy needs to be.

I consider an AUP to be akin to a legal document, which means that a school needs to have its best writers and best editors in place when constructing such a critical piece of school policy.

I say this, because I was put in charge of writing our school’s AUP last year, just three months into my new position at Life Christian School in Aloha, Oregon.

Our AUP is critical: We consider ourselves to be a progressive private school: We are not afraid of teaching so-called secular but “safe” curriculum, but there are deep fears by some parents when it comes to internet safety. Our school is a K-12 school with 430 students. These kids watch videos and other internet material from praise music to rap videos, education videos to Hulu in their lives, and their viewing habits can and have spilled over into their campus life.

Mind you, we do not allow students to watch just anything, but we also know that when access exist, access will provide temptation no matter where a student goes to school.

Thus, one of the first things we put into play is making sure students are sign an acceptable use policy before returning a syllabus.

A 17-year-old watching questionable material can indeed be a problem, but a 17-year-old watching questionable material while a 11-year-old walks by is a major problem, a PR nightmare and quite frankly, a problem with the concept of what educational technology is supposed to be about.

So many schools are concerned about technology use that in 2013, there are still plenty of schools and school districts that have tough and tight policies on the use of technology on campus, despite its clear academic advantages (the school I taught at in Gilbert, Arizona still has significant restrictions on technology use).

In a 2010 article on an AUP entitled “Acceptable Use of Technology in Schools: Risks, Policies, and Promises”, University of California Irvine researchers Meg Cramer and Gillian Hayes state:  “A safe school environment protects students from physical harm and cre­ates a space where they can focus on learning. Students concerned for their well-being or safety will unlikely make substantial academic gains. Mobile phones and social media can be av­enues for “hate speech” or other ille­gal speech that’s threatening and hurt­ful to students or faculty, undermines institutional control, and puts schools at risk for lawsuits. Consequently, administrators generally develop acceptable-use policies to protect schools from these threats” (Cramer & Hayes, 2010).

Although the article advocates technology use on campus, there are threats, and plenty of them, that have to be addressed in policy, and thus, an AUP cannot simply be a document. It has to be a way of life. Faculty and staff have to live it (meaning that simply because they are adults does not mean they can just view anything they want, even if it is “clean”).  Teachers have to be vigilant in the hallways, the parking lots, the cafeteria, as well as the classroom.

My experience has shown that students will accept boundaries on pretty much anything as long as there are boundaries in place and followed. The AUP has to be metaphorically a living document, not something that we put into place and either hope for the best or put on the mantel for display. Items left on mantels that are left unattended get dusty, forgotten, and at times get knocked over.

As Depeche Mode sings in one of their songs: “Things get damaged/ Things get broken/I’d thought we manage/But words left unspoken/Left us so brittle/There was so little left to give…”

An AUP can not be left unspoken…not unless a school wants to invite unwanted public notice or worse, legal notice.

LCS Policies 2013 for Presentation
Gilbert Public Schools (Arizona) Student AUP: StuEIS_061206
GPS Employee AUP: EmpEIS_061206

Breu, F., Guggenbichler, S., & Wollmann, J. (2008). No Title. Vasa. Retrieved from

Charnitski, C., & Harvey, F. (2012). Acceptable Use Policies in Schools:  An Initial Study. In Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference (Vol. 2012, pp. 4808–4813). Retrieved from

Cramer, M., & Hayes, G. R. (2010). Acceptable Use of, 37–44.

Paper, G. F. I. W. (2011). The importance of an Acceptable Use Policy.

My Vision Statement

Ironically, I wrote this out of the blue on my Facebook page on July 10th, but it so clearly fits what I believe and how I have handled my classroom for 22 years:

I want the students I am charged with instructing to learn how to critically think, to learn how to argue appropriately, to learn how to write, to learn how to create, to learn how to appreciate, to learn how to stand for their beliefs, to learn how others stand for their beliefs, to learn what education can do for the world, and not to learn how to use it as a weapon against the weak, the poor, or those who do not agree with us.

I teach at a Christian school, but I also spent 19 years in a public school and one of the key issues people have had from any faith or “ism” is the problem of critical thinking.

James Sire, writer of the book The Universe Next Door, and also the book, Habits of the Mind, said this about the intellect: “The intellectual… has an almost religious dedication to ideas as such, which, when it is not balanced by playfulness, can quickly turn to ideological fanaticism. True intellectuals, however, have fun with ideas; they move them around, back and forth, turn them on their heads, submit them to ironic reflection, test them with their imagination and don’t get so enamored of their own brilliance that they become nothing more than sophisticated, arrogant prigs “.

Students should have fun with their ideas, they need to be able to move ideas around (something that current standardized test approaches fail to do), and students need to have imagination.

It is from this and my recent studies on problem based learning that show that students have not had fun with their ideas. Sir Ken Robinson has been quite articulate on this matter:  “We know three things about intelligence: One, it’s diverse, we think about the world in all the ways we experience it. We think visually, we think in sound, we think kinesthetically. We think in abstract terms, we think in movement. Secondly, intelligence is dynamic…And the third thing about intelligence is, it’s distinct (“Ken Robinson: How schools kill creativity | Video on,” n.d.).

To think this way means my classroom cannot be one-dimensional. If it is not diverse, not dynamic, or distinct, than it can be a weapon. I read on Twitter the other day that in 1963, poor kids fell behind children in the upper class by a year or so, but now that gap is closer to four years. I did not have time to research this deeper, but in the last twenty years of teaching I can quantify it from experience when I see Advanced Placement students way ahead of their peers in the same high school yet wearing the same cap and gown at graduation, kids who are in no means close to the academic achievement of their AP or IB peers, and they are not even labeled as special education. That’s a weapon in action, one more lethal than any gun-control commentary even if the results are significantly delayed.

This also means what these kids are learning is not diverse, dynamic, or distinct. That is not (and can not be) allowed to happen in my classroom. All my students get the same concepts as found in an AP or IB class, but differentiated to help them find success and grow.

If I am no longer able to do what this vision statement calls for, then it is time to move on to something else…and also think about what kind of person I may be becoming.


Dead-Logic: Habits of the Mind by James W. Sire. (n.d.). Retrieved September 06, 2013, from

Ken Robinson: How schools kill creativity | Video on (n.d.). Retrieved September 06, 2013, from

Sire, J. W. (2000). Habits of the mind: Intellectual life as a Christian calling. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press.


-Cary L. Tyler