Did You Know Bullet Ants?

Good times: Scott McLeod and Karl Fisch are updating Did You Know?, their primer on technology’s exponential growth, in conjunction with design firm XPLANE.

The success of DYK? has confounded me for a long time. Its message is aggressive, fascinating, and a little scary so I shouldn’t have been surprised that it went viral, racking up hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. But I was.

Its form — the visual experience, that is — is flat. Unless I’m mistaken, it’s simply a video export of a PowerPoint presentation. The audio track — something from Last of the Mohicans — is ponderous and magisterial, neither of which adjectives befits a presentation on technology’s rapid acceleration.

That the video has been trafficked and forwarded so widely testifies to its powerful content. But every plodding slide of the presentation begs the questions: how does this work any better in a YouTube video than as an e-mail forward? What distinguishes DYK? from a brochure with the same content?

Naturally, several hundred thousand brochures would have been infinitely more expensive than a free YouTube upload, but DYK? squanders the medium’s other advantages over print.

I’m kind of a freak for all this graphic design and video stuff so forgive me: we must always earn the medium.

I’m excited to see professional graphic designers like XPLANE massage a message I approve, created by people I respect, but this post is only a little bit about Did You Know?

Our mandate to earn the medium applies principally to the growing ranks of teachers with digital projectors in their classrooms, each firing up PowerPoint to strikingly unstriking results: hoary templates, tiny text, pictures brusquely tacked to the edge of a slide, Comic Sans.The mandate applies equally to the growing ranks of podcasters. I have less facility for audio recording than graphic design, but it’s clear from my limited foray that much of the medium is under-utilized. This deserves a better-researched post than what I’m prepared to offer right now.

What we’re talking about:

This slide begs the question: what does any of this have over a printed handout with the same content? That dorky blue pill?

Bottom line: it is your professional obligation to pursue the best examples of every slice of your field. If, at the point you discover truly great technique, you shrug and say, “There isn’t enough time in the day to be great at everything.” then I’ll shake your hand and agree wholeheartedly. You aren’t paid enough.

But at least then drab slides like that one above, or overbearing class management like you find in some classes, or poor time management like you find in some classes, won’t slip past your quality control simply because you weren’t aware of the alternatives. Obliviousness is a lousy excuse for anything.

My chosen alternatives, for the record:

Guess which set of slides — the top one or the bottom two — elicited a thoroughly grossed-out “ewww!” from my classes.

Neither a b&w handout nor a blurry color overhead transparency would’ve carried with it quite the same terror as does this one-two punch. And you can’t even see how nicely the first photo zooms into the second. This is how I earn my medium.

This process doesn’t even have to be difficult. As long as I make the act of recognizing and assimilating greatness as natural and instinctive as possible, the mandate isn’t a chore. In fact, my worst, most tired, unhappy moments this year were when I knowingly shortcut this process, helping myself to an extra fifteen minutes of sleep at the expense of what I knew to be great teaching.

See, from my vantage point this year, that prickly fella up there with the huge stinger, he’s my joy. My pursuit of greater technique in this job has consistently kept me at a 60-hour week, but if my body could handle it, I’d go for 80. The mandate isn’t a chore. Most days it’s my best reason for staying.


  1. … and the other thing [Re my trivial pursuits.]
  2. Google Master Plan and What Barry Says. [Examples of the manifesto-style filmmaking Did You Know? oughtta be.]
  3. Presentation Zen. [If you’re looking to pursue the best in PowerPoint presentations, this is your RSS feed.]
  4. dy/teaching. [Re the other slices of our field.]
I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. And that’s kind of why I shudder when teachers assign PowerPoint projects to kids–because so often they’re the teachers who don’t realize that PowerPoint isn’t MEANT to be used to make bulleted lists that the “presenter” reads off to everyone, including the literate members of the audience.

    ‘Course, when you’re in a school where it’s a major production to get a PowerPoint presentation set up (reserve the lab! make sure nobody’s stolen the projector! put signs on the door telling everyone where you’re meeting!) it’s sort of a moot point.

  2. Dan — Without apology (an understatement of the year), continue pushing on this point. Do not abandon it. Do not make it a ‘niche’ conversation.

    You are — perhaps — the ONLY public school teacher out here (today?) in the blogosphere who has the potential of dramatically improving how so many well-intentioned instructors integrate ‘presentation’ techniques that are so often thrown-under-the-bus in traditional bullet point style. Granted, many others are rushing towards the podcasting and other 2.0 waterfalls, but there is something still magical about understanding the power of a single image, esp. given the reality that PPt may still be the only digital tool that most teachers can really integrate tomorrow morning at 8am.

    You, of course, possess instinct, training, skill, and vision in terms of graphic design (and much more) that will NOT transfer to the average teacher. But, reinforcing the power of ‘images’ as being catalysts for ‘stories’ or ‘stats’ or ‘facts’ or ‘questions’ that the presenter/teacher wishes to share his her/his audience/students is something you can uniquely impart.

    Small potatoes, I know. But if you can inspire well-intentioned teachers to use images as sparks in inverse proportion to the letting-go of bullet points, I would be the first to buy a ticket to your future end-of-career celebration banquet.

    Good stuff (in other words). Keep it up. It’s appreciated on many fronts.