So you have mentioned two things, and one was a PowerPoint presentation. Letís hear about that. Describe it to me. Why are you doing it? What do you expect your students to learn?
One of the reasons [the students do this activity] is because the school has put an emphasis in recent years on trying to get the students acquainted with the technology thatís available and that will be expected of them [to know how to use]. Most of our students will go to post-high school [education] and will need to know how to use those things, so we thought weíd get them in it early. And I have, the last two years, used the PowerPoint project. Iíve assigned them an African country, and [they] do formal research and then create their PowerPoint [presentation] and then show them to the class.
How are they doing their research? What sort of sources [do they use]?
I have [a] mandatory [requirement of] four sources. They have to use books and the Internet.
Do you provide sites for them or do they find them on the Internet?
I have sites. I donít give them too many, but enough where they can find links and do some exploring.
What are the criteria for the PowerPoint presentation? What do they need to have it in?
Ten slides [is the minimum], usually 10 to 15. Because I usually have such large classes, over 30 in each class, we have to try and shorten the length of the presentations. I give them a list of seven topics, and they can choose four. For example, the economy, the people, the history, so it could vary from person to person what they report on.
Are you finding that the students use graphics in their presentation? And where are they getting them?
Some [students] are more advanced than others. We have a lot of students that come from professional families, and a lot are even professors at [a nearby university]. So you can really tell the kids that have been exposed to it already. They incorporate graphs; theyíll use the scanner to put pictures on. Then the kids who donít have that kind of experience or chance will have a lot of text and not a lot of pictures or anything to go with that.
Whatís becoming the norm? Or is that the norm?
I also graduated from this high school, almost 20 years ago, and it has become less white-collar and, I would say, more blue-collar. We are getting some kids because of the programs in [the city], shelter services and those kinds of things, showing up at our school. A lot more minorities also.
OK. So are you saying that you can see the impact in the classroom on students who donít have access or that donít have the technology exposure?
How do you assess their learning?
With the PowerPoint in particular or overall?
Well, with the content.
I give them a rubric, and then an assignment is given that they can follow along. And I try to give them reports from years past: "Here is an ĎAí project. This is probably a ĎC.'" And then, of course, "Here is one that doesnít cut the mustard."
And so I think they have a pretty good idea of what is expected from them before they embark on [the project].
Do you think that having them make PowerPoint presentations increases their learning of the content?
I do. I think it makes them dig a little deeper. One of my suggestions is to find some crazy or unique statistics about their country. And they give me the weird stuff, sometimes looking for the strangest thing possible. I think it has encouraged their independence of learning.
Good. And what are some observations you made about the students while they are making their presentations? Is this [project] something you do in the lab or are they doing [it] at home? I should ask that first.
We spend three days in the lab. I assign it at the very beginning of the African unit. Itís about a three-and-a-half- to four-week unit. So we spend the first three days of the unit in the lab, and then they have the rest of the three or four weeks to finish up at home or in the lab.
OK. So what are some observations of the students while they are using the computers? Do they seem to be enjoying it? And if there are difficulties, what kind of difficulties are there?
I get a lot of kids who will moan and groan when I assign it. And when they present their final product, you can see that they are very proud of it for the most part and they enjoyed it. They like watching the other kidsí PowerPoint, and itís not book learning or notes, so itís a break from that. I think that helps them stay focused and [to] enjoy it.
And what kind of difficulties?
Well, access again. Not all kids have a computer at home to use, and if they havenít ever worked with that kind of technology before or been exposed to it, then they are not confident in what I am looking for. And sometimes they are reluctant to give their presentation in class.
Do you have any strategies to help overcome those difficulties?
Like I said, I give examples before the unit begins. And they know if they have any difficulties, I am very approachable. Weíll work something out. They have to do some PowerPoint or some poster board or something. If they cannot get involved in the computer, weíll compromise and do something like poster board.
While you are in the lab, what do you find yourself doing most of the time?
Troubleshooting. Trying to find web sites. We donít have the speediest access in the world, so sometimes the kids get frustrated waiting for [a] site to pop up, so itís a lot of time troubleshooting. Helping them cut and paste or save.
How long does this activity take?
We actually spend three days researching and a good two days for the presentations, maybe even three. Almost a whole week, so youíve really got to be careful with your time.
What advice would you give another teacher who would be trying to do something like this?
I would say prepare the students as much as possible, give them your expectations, and make sure the students know what your expectations are. Stick to a timetable. Itís very easy for a student to say, "Well, my computer doesnít work at home." We have to be firm and say, "You have had three weeks to do it. You shouldnít have been putting it off."