PowerPoint: Do No Harm

Session Description

The difference between the best and worst classroom PowerPoint is vast, greater than any other classroom tool I’ve used. The teacher who uses it well will enjoy easier classroom management, more satisfied visual learners, richer classroom conversation, and will be, herself, a more satisfied teacher. The teacher who uses it poorly (which is to say, typically) will leave her students no better than when she found them and, in many cases, they’ll be a lot duller.

In other words, PowerPoint is rarely value-neutral. Let’s make it great.

Media Smorgasbord!

  • Quicktime [slidedeck narrated by yrs trly; iPod ready; 23 min; 40.2 MB]
  • Flickr Slidedeck [with notes]
  • PDF Slidedeck [with notes]
  • Session Handouts [pdf]
  • Keynote Slidedeck [remix, reuse, recycle]
  • Slideshare [ufa mess; Slideshare & Keynote continue their blood feud; whack colors substituted for transparency; plus slide transitions are somewhat essential support for the thesis that no one should ever use slide transitions; tried to sync up audio but the process is painful; minimum slide length is, like, nine seconds, so Lessigophiles beware.]
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. Very cool. (I watched the quicktime).

    I like your tip about leaving notes to self in powerpoint.

    What was most interesting to me, however, was that your movie is essentially a film version of many of the lessons you’ve presented on the blog over the past few months. I understood and appreciated the lessons better seeing them on film than just reading them here which, of course, supports your thesis.

  2. I am going to use your presentation as fodder for my technology seminars with teachers. Invaluable. It made me rethink the way I will prepare for future BOE presentations.

  3. Dan,

    Great presentation! Kept me engaged!

    Would love to hear your students’ perspectives as well now that they have had you for this school year. What would they say about the difference between your presentations (instructional methods) and their other teachers’ presentations?

    Has it had an impact on their engagement, participation and learning? We would think so but what would they say? It is valuable to hear student voices.

  4. And BTW, I share your frustration with Slideshare not playing nice with Keynote. All my subtle opacities got blown away when I posted my one and only slide deck up there. Now, though, I’m thinking I could have done a .mov and posted it to Vimeo instead…

    Oh well. Live and learn.

  5. Hi Dan,

    To piggyback off Karen’s questions:
    Do you know how well your students do in their next math class? Next year, how will they fare compared to the students who didn’t have you? And how do your students perform comparatively on any state exams?


  6. Sigh, they don’t know what they were missing. I looked at the flickr slideshow first and almost spit my coffee out when I saw the slide using “Clouds” template (which I’ve BANNED for students use in my lab)
    My preso went well (http://mercertraining.edublogs.org/2008/04/06/etln-presentation/), but the video stream was sucky (need to work on that in the future). Thanks for letting me “pimp”.

    I’m in the process of having different grade levels doing multimedia projects, so I will be looking to this as part of that mix.

    One use of PowerPoint in elementary that I didn’t see you discuss (but was alluded to) was the use of it as a chart. There are lots chant charts used in language arts instruction which can be done on a white board (but then I have to re-write it each time), paper (good for that one year, or else I have to store it and at one-three charts a week, that’s a lot of paper), O/H transparency (I never kept up cleaning them, and was always behind filing them, and the kids just can’t get the hang of filing them well), or PowerPoint (permanent, ready for next year, and you can store it on a jump drive). Is your argument that it dulls the “palate” for using slideshows well (with photos/images) by using it this way?

  7. @Frank: I’m not sure I know where to start with a longitudinal study – my students this year versus the next; my students this year versus those of other teachers’ – but even then, I’d be hesitant to attribute the difference – good or bad – to slide software.

    PowerPoint won’t make a weak teacher great. This thing isn’t a revolutionary approach to [x]. It’s nothing without a good teacher behind it, setting up the slides.

    But it enriches the status quo in enough small ways – better classroom management in the same class, more visuals attached to the same curriculum, a happier teacher at the same school – to account for a large difference in classroom disposition, if not engagement also, if not achievement itself.

    @Karen: I surveyed my classes at the end of last year and PowerPoint was in the top list of things they thought I should keep for future generations. I mean, it didn’t beat out “donut parties.”

    That’s where the hard data ends and the anecdotal stuff starts, though.

    I was back to the status quo last year for a period when a bulb blew out. I wrote down a few notes at the board. The students waited for me to finish and then copied the notes themselves. No one – least of all me – was very happy.

    This thing has given me a greater appreciation for visuals and I find I issue fewer notes and, instead, we talk around pictures. They write what they think is necessary. For example, they describe the difference between two solids and explain what to do about it.

    These conversations and this kind of engagement never happened in my classes before I found a method for putting visuals up on the board quickly and cheaply.

    @Alice: No problem with charts/tables except that you can’t fit a lot of information on it before it becomes unreadable. You have an image projected on your board that’s maybe five feet by six feet. Imagine how many words you can reasonably write (in overhead or whiteboard marker) in that space. Like, not a lot. And yet people consistently empty the entire book, the entire quarterly chart, the entire stock prospectus into that same space using PowerPoint.

  8. Hard to read with four kids (all under 3)…can you make a math lesson out of that?

    Anyhow, I’m sending your pdf version (notes included) to our color printer.

    This is a ‘please, please, read’ for my staff.


  9. Hi Dan! I just found your blog last night and have spent more hours than I care to admit looking through your archives. What you do is truly remarkable, and you’re living up to your blog’s subtitle…it looks so effortless, yet I can tell how much work goes into it. I only wish I had found your blog last year before starting my first year of teaching.

    I did want to ask your opinion of the differences between PowerPoint and Keynote. Clearly you’re a Keynote user. I’ve only ever used PPT, but I’ve been frustrated enough by it to consider shelling out the $70 or so to buy the iWork suite. Your opinion would be welcome.

  10. Stacy, PowerPoint is looking stronger in its newest release but Keynote still runs laps around it. If you plan on creating a few slides now and then, go with whatever its pre-installed on your computer. If you intend to make a habit of it, you want something that stays out of the way of your creative process. Which is Keynote. Good luck and thanks for dropping by!