Asilomar #4: PowerPoint — Do No Harm

Session Title

PowerPoint: Do No Harm

Better Title

Something Provocative To Compensate For My Total Anonymity At This Conference


Dan Meyer


Nothing I haven’t already inflicted on my regular readers, though the structure here fell along the following lines:

  1. general benefits of storing curriculum digitally (easy, cheap access; portability; better classroom management)
  2. very easy ways to kill your kids with PowerPoint (lousy graphic design, cheap solutions for visual engagement)
  3. very easy ways to counteract the very easy ways to kill your kids with PowerPoint (simple, sound graphic design)
  4. lesson plans built from a single compelling image and a single compelling question (if you have paid even a little attention to our What Can You Do With This? segment, you know where this went)

The room was set for 30. I printed 54 handouts, which sounds optimistic under any circumstance and downright delusional if you’ll recall the turnout to my last presentation. Still, I passed them all out and people sat on the floor.

It was exhilarating, really. I would say something I thought was pretty insightful or smart or whatever and someone from the audience would offer something which made my thing smarter and more insightful.

I was shocked that 100% of the times I asked the audience to journal their thoughts or share them with a neighbor they obliged. This is because I teach freshmen.

I would like to deliver this presentation to other audiences, particularly to new and preservice teachers. My e-mail address, if you’re interested, is

Special Guest Star

  1. OMG Michael Serra!



I tossed the handouts from my last conference and built them from scratch, guiding my design by The Rule of Least Power. I’m happy with the result and they functioned, more or less, exactly as I intended

PowerPoint: Do No Harm – Handouts from Dan Meyer on Vimeo.


  • This may be impossible to determine but I wonder about the difference between a) how one of my session attendees experienced this content (ie. in one ninety-minute burst) and b) how one of my readers has experienced this content (ie. distributed over many posts and many months with many revisions along the way). If you have experienced the content both ways, please weigh in. Otherwise, you’re welcome to speculate.
  • One laptop in the crowd. No wireless. So much for that wiki.
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. Love your booklet / handout idea! Nice balance between all digital, online stuff and a huge packet ‘o crap.

    Will need to try that with a group of teachers next week.



  2. Dan,

    I’ve been hooked on your blog for about two years now. (At least… I’ve lost track.) I don’t comment much (at this point, I don’t know how much I have to contribute) but I read pretty much all posts and all comments, soaking it up like a sponge.

    If it’s one thing I’ve walked away with (there have been quite a few, though) as New Teacher Fresh From College, Holy Crap What Am I Doing Here In This Classroom, it’s been your Do No Harm kit. I’m in my second year and my overly bulleted PowerPoints from last year have transformed into Keynotes that look similar to a graphic design project in college. (I mean this in a good way, obviously.)

    It’s been a challenge to say the least – I teach World History, where there are bullets-a-bound! in lectures. But I’ve been proud of what I’ve done with my presentation notes. I’m almost 100% bullet free. I’ve replaced long bulleted lists with visuals, and the text that I do incorporate takes the form of a question. (Easy to do when studying ancient history – nothing but questions in that field.)

    FWIW, feedback from a reader. I wish I could show you my Keynotes, but I’m sure I’ve violated some form of copyright with graphics. I try to find copyright free images, but this isn’t always possible. Therefore, I don’t post them.

  3. Circumvented my pressing question with your last paragraph there. Do me a favor sometime and export one of your Keynotes to PDF and e-mail it to me. Really curious what ancient history can do here.

    Thanks for the feedback.

  4. Gina really just said everything I was thinking. I’m student teaching government right now and your Do No Harm presentation and posts are all I’ve been thinking about lately. I’ve forwarded them to as many of my student teaching colleagues as possible as well as my methods instructors. This is important stuff and you do a great job explaining and demonstrating it.

    Like Gina, I’ve found that adapting your principles for the social studies can be difficult (bulleted lists are so enticing when faced with a litany of cut-and-dry facts, but I’m working on it).

    Just wanted to thank you and I’d love to get feedback on some of my own presentations sometime.

  5. I had the privilege of checking out some of Gina’s before/after slides awhile ago. Y’all should definitely get in touch with one another. Or better yet, how about you both forget about copyright issues for a second and post some slides to your blogs for the rest of us to give a look. That’d be a blast.

  6. I love the booklet idea you created and used for this. It made me think of foldables that I had seen a while back but have not used. You can create a similar flip book by folding all sheets in half, cutting a slit in down that crease on one, cutting in from both sides on the crease on all others, then inserting those through the slit. Bit cheaper than what you made and could be used in the classroom.