How I Work: The Software Package

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.

On Efficiency

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.)

On Aesthetics

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.

The Pitch

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.


How I Work: The Hardware Package
How I Work: Coffee Shops

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school teacher, former graduate student, and current head of teaching at Desmos. More here.


  1. Have you had any experience with interactive white boards? This may be the compliment to your well-crafted lessons that takes the students understanding to another level.

    Hard on the budget…but perhaps another grant in the future?

  2. You’re talking about square slates, individual dry-erase markers, and erasers, right?

    If that’s what we’re talking about, I used them my student teaching year and found myself failing IR#1 in just about every way. They take five minutes to pass out, five minutes to collect. In contrast to worksheets, every student has to work at a proscribed pace. Weaker students copied stronger ones so it’s largest draw — instantaneous assessment — went lost on me.

    However I have heard of several teachers who just dominate the field with those things so there are probably solutions I haven’t been willing to find. I’d like to try them again sometime since kids just kinda go berserk over the experience.

    Do you have any solutions? Assuming we’re talking about the same thing, that is.

  3. Dan,
    I guess I left a reply and didn’t even realize it from my other post on Change.

    It seems to me that you are cutting edge in presentation. I would love to observe your class and then possibly have one of my math teachers observe you.
    Your ideas on presentation sound cutting edge and forward thinking.

    I particulary enjoy that you are not tied to the whiteboard. It is hard to use proximity when your dry erase marker can only reach 6inches.

    Question: Do you still use a white board to explain homework, problems, or have students do examples?


  4. By interactive whiteboards I think Dennis means something like:

    I have one in my classroom. It really just takes what you have in place and adds the element of being able to write on it. Students call also move stuff around on it and “interact” with your presentation or the content you have on the board (just one at a time though). I still do a lot of writing on mine, but a nice part about it is that it is easy to save and convert to a .pdf file so that students can review the content.

    Like you said in your post, a lot of work goes into it in the beginning, but once you’ve put the time in once all you have to do is make it better the next time.

    Great link to the perfect circle video & (like you said) a wireless mouse is something every teacher using a projector or IWB needs. It does make classroom management a lot better.

  5. Ah, I know ’em as “smart boards.” My department head has one and it is, by all accounts, badass. PDF output particularly. My poor man’s solution is to project directly to my dry-erase board allowing me to reclaim some of that spontanaeity. Students can come up and work problems out on blank graphs I’ve projected, etc. But, heh, I’ve found PDF output to be a little glitchy with these older dry-erase boards.

    Brian, what you’ve got there is called a trackback. Whenever you link up someone’s else blog post in one of your own, WordPress sends that little notice my way.

    I’ll be posting a dozen-or-so lesson plans this week. You can glance at the slidedecks, decide if I’m all talk, and then if you still want to put me in touch with someone from your department, that’d be fun.

  6. What an excellent set of comments. I fear that this method would work contingent upon two conditions that many starting teachers do not have:

    1) The investment up front saves time in the future. That presupposes one will teach the same classes in the future. In Ontario schools, starting teachers often spend the first five to ten years being bounced from subject to subject, and given that curriculum reviews take place every 8 to 10 years, I’m not sure that such a method would be feasible for starting teachers in this scenario.

    2) The LCD technology is of course requisite, many low-budget rural schools cannot afford this.

    I am hoping that you’ll counter these points and tell me I’m wrong, because I’d love to get on board.

  7. Yeah, you read the contingencies well.

    The second is easier to address than the first. No money, no way this happens. Frankly, though, if I ran a school, I’d run on the platform of a laptop, an LCD projector, and excellent training for every teacher. As a teacher, if either of these tools conked out, they’d form the top and the entire sum of my wishlist. They’re that essential.

    To your other concern, I teach the exact same subjects as last year and still take a couple hours of work home each night. Much less than last year, but it’s still a bother.

    I figure, though, that as I teach section after section this way, not only does the process become easier but the material is so good it can weather textbook adoptions and school changes.

    The area of a pentagon won’t change so even though I’ll have to copy and paste it to some other part o the timeline, I won’t have to scrap it entirely. This has been my experience as well as my ongoing hope.

  8. Wow….this blog is fantastic. I went through a similar transformation to technology. I went from using chalkboard/overhead with transparency to total powerpoint. I went through the same situation, up until midnight looking on google images, but it is completely worth every second.

    I bought my own projector a Dell for 650….the bulb just went out, but I joined the technology committee at our school and lobbied for a “1%” plan. It is a small rural school in upstate Ny with a budget around 15 million. Our Tech Committee put in for “1%” of the budget (150 grand) to spend on district wide technology. This went to projectors for any teacher who would use it.

  9. Thanks for stopping by, Doug. If I could recommend another post, I elaborated on the digital projector transformation in this presentation. I hope you’ll let me know what I’ve missed.

  10. An old school wonder called AppleWorks. It isn’t supported any longer by Apple and eventually my computer won’t run it. I have no contingencies. I like it too much.

  11. Hi Dan,

    Sorry, I just found your blog of the many edublogs on my reader and have been going through the archives. I just convinced my school to switch to Keynote and am loving it. I’m not a ninja at it like you but I’m starting to get it. One quick thing though, I bought one of those Wacom Bamboo tablets (definite recommended buy – $100 at best buy) and would use it to write on and annotate Powerpoints. Then I’d save the powerpoint, audio, and annotations using Snapzpro and post them (I’d have an example but my computer got wiped right after I took them down for the school year)

    So..that’s a long way of saying, do you know of any way to make this happen on Keynote? There doesn’t seem to be a Pen function I can find. Perhaps layer another program over keynote?