Our district sponsors a great 2 day institute for teachers, the Dublin Leadership Academy. It is one that is run by teaches and is a great way to move from summer mode to school mode. This year's Leadership Academy was held last week and over 400 district teachers attended. I loved getting together with colleagues talking through our visions for the year. (The 2 days is set up with keynotes, small sessions, time to work with building colleagues, and time to work with others in the district who have similar roles-a great balance!).
One of my roles was to do a 55 minute session on 21st Century Literacies. I have been thinking about this and sharing my work over the summer so I had a PowerPoint Presentation created on the topic. But I kept hearing about Prezi, had seen it used, had played with it for a few minutes and was intrigued by the idea. So, I thought I'd give it a try. On the Monday before the academy, 8 days before my presentation, I made a decision to use Prezi instead of PowerPoint for the next week. I thought I'd share some things I learned that might shed some light on how to make this all work in the classroom.
For those people who know me well, you will all agree that I am not a linear person. My thinking follows its own pattern that only my good friends seem to understand. So, for the last few years, as I've been using PowerPoint for presentations, it has been a bit of a struggle. I loved the product, but in the midst of a presentation, I might decide to go a different direction based on feedback from the group and I had trouble doing that.
When I saw Prezi, it seemed to be the answer for me. In the time of overheads and transparencies, my workshop planning looked like this: spread everything over the entire kitchen table and organize it into little piles of pieces that work together to tell a story. Then I would figure out how those pieces went together and organize it in that way. I am pretty sure that the Prezi developer worked in the same way. Find "piles" of information that go together and pull them together in a way that works. No template, no parameters, just a blank table for your thinking.
I have to say that I loved the process immediately. I think from an audience perspective, the presentation is similar. You see slides go up and change and you follow along. But for me, the power was in the way I thought through my talk--how I was going to organize it. The tool forced me to think about what I wanted to say in a different way--the visual component had to be first where that wasn't the case with other programs. I had to think through big pieces first rather than the order I would move. And I also had to think about how the whole thing went together.The concept worked for me.
I was also able to teach myself (give or take a few phone calls and frantic emails to friends who were more proficient with Prezi..). But I was amazed that the video tutorials and help book really gave me all I needed to create a decent presentation. I also appreciated the samples to see how others made it work. I realized that our kids are used to this--sitting down and having the tools they need to teach themselves something new. So much different from those first "computer workshops" we had years ago where we would all sit and wait for instructions to "do" the next thing.
I played with Prezi for 8 hours that Monday. I had a day to myself and had planned on doing things around the house. But, I sat down at around 8 am and didn't break away from Prezi until around 4 pm. I was having a blast. (Anyone who read my posts on Twitter that day followed my short-term obsession with this great new tool!) I loved having the time to play and could have gone longer had I had more time.
When I made the decision to jump in and create a Prezi for the district leadership academy, I knew I was putting a bit of pressure on myself. I had a PowerPoint ready but instead of making that one work and changing the pieces, I decided to start from scratch. As crazy as that sounded, I gave myself a pretty short term deadline--a time that I actually had to have a presentation ready to go. I was happy with the presentation that I shared, but there were definitely several things that weren't quite right--things I had to let go because I couldn't figure out how to fix them. I had to be okay with that.
So, my learning helped me think about my work with students. Thinking about my own learning, here is what I am wondering/thinking about:
Do we give kids the time they need to "play" with something new before we expect something? Do they have the luxury of playing for long periods of time?
Do we offer students lots of choices based on the way they think and create? Prezi offers a different process than other options and I want to make sure I have options for my kids and am not always assigning the tool that kids need to use.
Do I avoid using tools with my students that I don't know COMPLETELY? If I had waited until I knew everything there was to know about Prezi, I would not have used it for a workshop until 2010. Do we allow our kids to use the tool before they can create something perfect?
Do I give kids pretty doable work with short deadlines? Or do I drag these projects out forever? I could have worked on this for weeks--probably will go back to it and revise it over and over again. But I learned the basics, shared my info and created something that worked in just a week. What does that mean for our kids?