Neil has abdicated his first place finish, leaving a first place tie between Ethan Bodnar and Paul Williams with Jeffrey Pierce coming in third place.

Neil bumped into a soft spot in our guidelines, using one of Keynote’s prefabricated templates to assist his design. After some deliberation – and on the recommendation of Neil, himself – we decided this wasn’t in the spirit of the competition.

This means:

  1. Neil’s a real swell guy for bringing this to our attention.
  2. Keynote comes stocked with some amazing prefab templates.
  3. Ethan and Paul are entitled to the gift baskets described in the original first place announcement.
  4. Among other recommendations, Jeffrey had the most unique visual hook of the remaining contestants.

This doesn’t mean:

  1. Neil’s photography or writing is any less superb than we originally thought.

Thanks, apologies, it’s still been great.


  1. The Contest Announcement
  2. The Final Entries
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. I think that Neil did an amazing job – even with Keynote, I don’t think I could have come up with such a great slideshow.

    Doesn’t this point up one of the problems with such a requirement for college or grad school admission, though: students who can afford to buy software, or even hire designers, would have a huge advantage over those without such resources. Maybe uploading pictures and composing a four-slide presentation should be part of the SATs!

  2. Diane: Compelling question re: equity. Here is my 2cents worth off-the-cuff.

    Once free/mandatory ‘public’ education (K-12) comes to an end, there is NO requirement for any college or university to ensure that every applicant has ‘equal’ footing in terms of what they produce. Market forces compel them to make the barriers-to-entry as low as possible (requirements, language, fees, notice/timing, etc.)…but there is no and should be no ‘ceiling’ on what an applicant does the challenge/req’s.

    This is especially true for an MBA admissions program.

    If anything, applicants to a major B-school MUST use any resources they can lay their hands (or Rolodex) upon to demonstrate that they can “get the job done” at a high corporate level. I don’t think Goldman Sachs or Time-Warner or Google is going to penalize a job applicant for buying a really nice power-broker suit for an interview, even if someone else is barely able to afford the $99 option at TJMaxx.

    As a past admissions professional, there is a difference between ‘kids’ applying to K-12 schools who are obviously using money/tutors to help frame their applications. While there is no way to prevent a kid from hiring a tutor to help them prep an admissions essay (or for going to a really choice summer academic program that gives them a potential advantage), any admissions professional worth their paycheck will be able to sift through applications based on ‘legitimate quality’ and ‘over-the-top affluence’ in terms of what was submitted.

    Often — as the slides that won indicate — simple and effective wins over gloss, affluence, and cleverness (for the sake of cleverness).


    Because an admissions team’s sole responsibility in this day and age is to put together a ‘dream team’ of students to fill out their class…and they have plenty of scholarship/grant money (esp. at the grad school level) to appropriately ‘level’ the playing field as long as ‘quality’ is the reason they opt for one applicant over another.

    Remember: ANYONE with access to ANYTHING that gives them an advantage — whether it be a parent who can help them re-read their application for grammatical imperfections or a past teammate that is a world-class graphic designer — will have an advantage IF and only if QUALITY lies at the heart of the application. To worry about making the world objectively ‘equal’ for all graduate school applications — especially for a top-notch MBA program — runs well afield of any admissions team’s responsibility.

    I do, however, think that at the K-12 level — when admissions or above-and-beyond school projects come into play — is an area where your questions have great merit and are worth wrestling with.

    Cheers to you for taking the “Retraction” concept in a new direction.


  3. Thank you everyone for the very kind comments! I was humbled and honoured to have been considered the winner, even if it was short lived… but my I think I’ve made the right decision.

    I’ve just posted my thoughts on what happened and why on my blog, and have taken the opportunity to give some of my thoughts on the decisions I made when choosing the photos.

    I’m convinced this is a great idea, and will be trying it with some of my classes this year, but in the meantime, I’d just like to say a very warm well done to Ethan, Paul and Jeffrey. Their designs rock!

  4. allo all,

    i was “chuffed” (to quote paul) on tuesday morning to see that i had moved from the abyss to third place, as i had spent the previous day bawling my eyes out when i didn’t place.

    no, but seriously, i admit my reaction (after the chuffedness) was a bit puzzled. i can see how neil is a great fellow for saying he used a template, and thus in the narrow confines of this little contest didn’t follow the letter of the law.

    but the bottom line is, his design kicked butt. mine is clever, i am pleased i was able to embed a twist at the end, and i did a decent job of capturing in images about what i’d want to highlight in my resume. but when you look at it after seeing neil’s (or paul’s or ethan’s), it’s as if i did my design by mashing my fingers on the keyboard. just no finesse compared to his.

    christian – it’s taken me a bit of time to think through your comments, and now i think i have some idea of what you are trying to say. but i’m still puzzled – what would you add to an admission profile along with Quality? For example, say you want Dedicated students. How do you wean out those whose parents are involved and nightly check on their children’s work? Would that count as an unfair advantage when trying to assess Dedication?


  5. Jeffrey — Again, congratulations. Let me make sure that is said before I answer your final question(s) re: the “quality” issue.

    My comment (above) has to do with the graduate or undergraduate school applicant, rather than a K-12 student submitting a class assignment. Thus, I am intentionally not taking into consideration the “parent” issue.

    Fair/Unfair is not the point — in my book — when it comes to the work my K-12 students are expected to do in my classes. Instead, it is a matter of integrity in terms of the student’s name being at the top of the paper. If she/he did the work — regardless of parental counsel/conversation — we must accept them at their word. If a parent, however, ‘does’ the work for them, we’re in an entirely different ocean…and must deal with the residuals of that good/bad/different.

    As for the larger, societal issues: any kid who has any parent engaging them at home about their school work has an advantage over any kid who lacks that interaction. Fair or unfair goes well beyond me as an educator…and frankly is not the moral or literal responsibility of a teacher to regulate or consider in terms of down-grading the student with such a resource. On the other hand, have I given additional service to a kid who lacks a vital resource at home (and in life) in order to help them survive and thrive in school? Yes…and I’ll continue to do so until I retire.

    Not sure if that answers your question(s), Jeffrey, but that’s what comes to mind.

    Cheers to you again on your clever response to the 4-slide contest.

    And BTW, I don’t think anyone questions Neil’s instincts in terms of using the tools and ideas he had at his disposal, but ultimately the spirit/rules of the venture made the final decision healthiest for all. Had the next project in line — which turned out to be yours — not demonstrated ‘quality’, I doubt we would have shoe-horned in a 3rd place winner just for the heck of it. Luckily, your slides were strong on their own merit…and we were in a good position to adjust the final standings.


  6. gotcha christian. definitely agree with you that fair/unfair are not questions an educator is really poised to answer…think that was what i was hoping to say…and also i agree that if you know a kid can’t get the help at home, and the student wants it, spend the extra time with them.