Keynote for lectures. Keymath for online textbook access, supremely useful for anywhere-planning and for projecting classwork pages on the board. KeepVid to extract YouTube videos. VLC Player to play them. Vixy for QuickTime conversion. MathType, LaTeXiT, and LaTeX Equation Editor for formatting math notation. PowerSchool for grades. Google Docs for to-do lists. Google Calendar to track and remind me of meetings. YouMail to manage voicemail. WordPress and coComments for blogging (though I’m hardly committed to any comment tracking system).
Those all make the difficult easy and the long short but by every measure they prostrate themselves in front of Keynote, which has made this year extremely labor-intensive and unpredictably satisfying.
Things Got Out of Hand
My first Keynote lesson (August 2006) took four hours to layout and little has changed since then. For every hour I spend with my class, I put in at least two behind the scenes. On at least three occasions I’ve taught a full slate and then taken from the last bell until midnight to plan the next day’s full slate.
But surely you understand that this is a one-time investment. These files, backed-up constantly, preserved forever in digital amber, aren’t just lecture notes or an outline. No, Keynote’s ordered builds, wipes, fades, and scale effects give me a precise record of instruction, one which I can tweak and tune forever, veritably altering history. These are lessons I’ll never build from scratch again but which I’ll forever improve.
Some suggest this careful control robs learning of its organic spontanaeity. They’re right.
But I’m happy to exchange hostages on this one — freewheeling, anything-is-possible education (no disrespect there) for the ability to carefully weigh instructional decisions against each other in advance of a lesson and then lock them down until class time. I teach every class in slow motion the night before and I can only recall two classes this year whose learning outcomes surprised me. This is a grind, yes, but one that is predictable, reproducible, formally assured, and occasionally astonishing.
On Time Management
Free time has been low this year, that much is regrettably true, but Keynote has helped me buy back full weeks of instructional time. This happens ten times a day:
A teacher has a monster conjecture to teach — let’s say, the Alternate Interior Angle Conjecture, which demands a picture and a paragraph at minimum.
The teacher draws the figure. She steps aside while her students sketch it down.
She states the conjecture once through, gesturing at the figure for effect. She then writes it out in full, her writing accompanied beat-for-beat by a familiar staggered monotone, “If … two … par … a … llel … lines ….”
After finishing, she steps aside and her students scribble it down for themselves. She waits.
This is a long transaction, extremely rote, and not particularly interesting. Regrettably it’s often a proxy for class management. (If the kids are writing, they aren’t causing trouble.) Don’t you get anxious reading it? I do just writing it down. Can we move on to the fun stuff yet? No? Still copying?
But with Keynote, I complete my half of the transaction the night before. I’ve nearly doubled my instructional value this year simply by halving the time I take to teach the same material. (Incidentally, this is how I meet standards while socking away class minutes for whatever else. I mean, we brought show and tell back to high school.)
I don’t know how to create these slides (all from the last few Geometry classes) using a traditional overhead projector given the same time constraints.
True, the work these required was off-off-contract but I’ve engaged my visual learners in ways that were functionally impossible a decade ago at no cost to class time. No drawing, no overhead shuffling; just the push of a button. Plus, next year, guess who won’t be trolling Google Images at 23h45 for just the right satellite image of the Pentagon? Go on, guess.
In addition to engaging math’s most neglected modality, Keynote makes my notes pretty. There are some studs out there who can keep the board accurate and tidy but, by their own whiney, relentless admission, my students prefer 20 point Tahoma to my barely-legible marker scrawl, vectorized lines and circles to my own wobbly impostors.
On Class Management
My tether to the whiteboard has grown from an arm’s length to fifty feet, so long as nothing lead-plated gets in the way. I can then question one student (snapping her side of the room to attention) while walking to the opposite side of the room (perking them up) all while advancing the slide deck up front.
I just got goosebumps a little right there.
I admit this reeks of a sales pitch but I don’t profit if you buy. It’s inescapably true that all this advance planning, building complete, reproducible learning experiences from the floorboards up, is making me a stronger, more reflective teacher. I click through slides and can’t avoid it.
I hope I’ve made this attractive. I can’t make the technology cheap but I’m about to make it easier. I’ll be posting my lesson content hereon. All of it. Notes, handouts, and especially my slidedecks. I’m a user and a pusher and the best thing I can do right now is make my product free.