No Flashing Clipart Here

Each year I try to do at least one intensely tech unit with each grade level. Some units over the past few years have been more successful than others. Currently, I’m doing PowerPoint with 3rd graders related to two science topics: soil and the skeleton. I realize there are many controversies about PowerPoint. Students get trapped in the world of bullets and tacky flashing clipart and can’t get out. I admit to adding to that habit with this project.

Unit Recipe
Students use the template I provide. The template has 5 slides. All the slides are completely white and only have directions in the Notes section. I enlarge the Notes section at the bottom. On slides 2, 3 and 4 I type in the slide Title I want students to use, a few sentences from a text relating to the topic, and the citation for the source I used.
Slide 1: Title and Name
Slide 2: Defining the Topic (what is soil?)
Slide 3: Subtopic (how soil helps us)
Slide 4: Subtopic (keeping dirt healthy)
Slide 5: Bibliography

Week 1: I show students how to rename their file to include a project keyword and their name. They learn about the ‘Undo’ button (THE most important icon to know when working with a class of kids). I show them the structure of PowerPoint and how to navigate between slides. Students then add the title of the project and their name. Getting them to capitalize correctly is one of my goals. If there’s time during the first lesson (we have about 25 minutes) then they add slide titles for the other four slides of the project. They learn three ways to save (File–>Save, Ctrl S, or the Save icon) and we go on our merry way.

Week 2: Students practice opening their file from their shared folder on our network. We review the work they’ve done the previous week. We get into the meat of the text during this lesson. On slide two students learn how to enter text. I explain about presenting information in a simple way for their audience; they are not allowed to use complete sentences. If I allow them to use sentences, they’ll start to copy and stop thinking about the content. Choosing keywords and phrases makes them practice differentiating between important concepts and trash words. I read the quotes in the Notes section and then model how to add the text in a bullet list (I’m so guilty!). I erase the work I do so that when they are typing on their slide, they can’t copy what I just wrote off the projector image showing. I explain that each of them might pick out different key words from the quotes and there is no right answer. They proceed to follow the same strategy for the next two slides.

Week 3: Students finish their text and then midway through our class time I model how to change colors, font styles, and backgrounds. The fun begins! They tend to gravitate to the black background with the orange fireworks. You know it I’m sure–very popular. But it doesn’t have anything to do with our science topics which are soil and the skeleton. I encourage them to choose colors that go well with their topic.

Week 4: Picture time! I show students how to import pictures from a file. They use clipart in other projects through the year with their teachers. I also can’t stand cheesy clipart (one bad habit I don’t start!). I do choose the pictures ahead of time to go with our themes and put them into a folder for them. I admit that I’m not the best copyright model in this case. I’ll do better….I need some ideas…

Week 5: We finish the project with slide 5, the Bibliography. I demonstrate how to go back to slides 2, 3 and 4 to copy and paste. Students put the title and author from each of the three main slides onto their bibliography. Then they have time to finish anything else in the project before it gets printed in handout style for their teacher to view. I use a simple scoring guide of tech skills and content coherence so teachers can use this project as a grade.

What I like about this project…
…is that it gives me an opportunity to teach the basic tech skills in a kind-of authentic framework. I have 40 minutes of classtime and students need at least 10 minutes to checkout books. Time is limited. I work on the same topic students are learning for their monthly science theme. Currently, one class is learning the skeletal system and two are doing soil. If I did the research with students, the unit would be more than 2 months long. 5 weeks is the maximum time the students and I can go without losing interest and having the whole project fizzle. Using the quotes in the Notes section allows students to focus on learning PowerPoint. They’re on a level field as far as content. If we relied on their research then some students would be behind on the tech part because they would probably be lacking content. A freak-out would ensue. Using quotes from books on our library shelves works for me. I like having the accountability piece for the sources I used included.

I would like to do a better job organizing photos for this project. I want to use real photographs and not clipart, but my students at this point in 3rd grade are not proficient at searching. It would be too time consuming considering all I want to do for their lesson. Maybe I can find a common source for the photos I am using so they would all have a similar citation? I could link to them from a wiki or livebinder so students could copy and paste or save them from the web directly. I know the way I do it now is not ideal.

Overall it’s a good project and bridges the gap between students using a more structured template in 2nd grade and creating a presentation from scratch in 4th grade. I’ve made a few changes to the unit over time to better help my students and there are still some things I can work on! Let me know if you have any ideas….

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