April 2007


Below is the list of topics for our lesson plan presentations for May 12th.

Midori

How do integrate technology into my lesson plans?

Mike

How can technology make me a better teacher?

Sarah

How do I get educational software?
How can I get free software for my classroom?

Charlie

How could video or audio podcasting help my students?

Eli

How do I create presentations to help my students learn?

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Read Andrew Leggett’s post on Classroom Management. It underscores the need to chose your words carefully.  Words can either imprison you or set you free. Excellent post.

Communicating with Others

 

Time: 3 Hour

 

The Big Idea

Students will learn that clear and accurate communication, especially written communication, is important. Through discussion and a messy activity, they learn about “technical writing” — a type of writing they will become familiar with as they learn to troubleshoot and fix computers.

 

Objectives

Students will develop their written communication skills and sequential thinking by researching and composing a definition for technical writing and writing a set of instructions.

  • Students will be able to write more precise step-by-step instructions
  • Students will be able to better understand the need for planning and precise thinking when they write
  • Students will understand that technical writing is a special type of writing that will be useful when they do tech support

Motivation

Step by step instructions are important. Without exact language and specific details, how would we be able to follow directions or learn something new?

There are three reasons we start this course with an activity on technical writing.

1. Technical writing is clear, factual, and helpful writing. Part of successful tech support is the ability to clearly communicate problems and solutions to others. Everyone has horror stories about technicians who can’t communicate. Our goal is to create tech support agents who are solutions, not problems.

2. Technical writing is similar to programming. Some of your students will be interested in pursuing programming as the course goes on. To program, you must learn the language of the computer, and these languages must be used carefully and precisely. it’s not hard to do, but starting this course with the same emphasis on care and precision in ALL written communication means the student who wants to will be that much closer to understanding programming.

3. Writing is an academic task that helps make this course more than just an internship. For this course to succeed as an academic course, the reflective process that writing requires is mandatory.

Starting with technical writing also allows the teacher to start evaluating and working on improvements from day one. Have the students use the blog on the Generation TECH site, and require good writing practice. The project tool is another opportunity for good writing and assessment.

Teacher Preparation

  • Read some of the online resources for descriptions of technical writing.
  • Decide how rigorous you will be in requiring citations when students are blogging their Internet research results. If your school does not have citation style guidelines, you can find different citation guidelines at: Online! Citation Styles. (Note that online citation formats are still being decided, you will find conflicting information.)
  • Be sure to address the very common confusion between a web “site” and how you “cite” a source. “Site” means a place, as in “job site”. “Cite” means to refer to, and is most often used in research and journalism where you “cite” a source of information by writing down exactly where you found it. These two homonyms are often mixed up.
  • Find out your school’s Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) regarding students doing Internet research, downloading material, and copying.

This activity makes a mess (and it’s better if you do!) Lay down wax paper where you will be working. You may need to spread peanut butter on the desk or something as crazy if the instructions are incomplete.

  • Wax paper
  • Simple cleaning supplies
  • Peanut Butter (skip peanut butter if allergies are an issue)
  • Jelly
  • Bread
  • Butter Knife

Presentation

Most of the students will be familiar with technical manuals (sometimes called documentation) from some kind of consumer electronics like a camera. The start of this activity is a class discussion about the nature of these manuals. Before starting the activities, talk to the students about manuals. Use questions to help them find their own answers.

  • What is a good manual?
  • What kinds of things do manuals have in them that other writing doesn’t (novels, textbooks, or a newspaper)?
  • Why do we or should we care about technical or any other writing?

The conclusions the students come to should revolve around things like, “making things work”, “making things easy to understand.” Proper syntax and language use helps eliminate misinterpretation. Sometimes the word choice we use in our everyday conversation can cause more confusion than clarity in meaning. The concept of “process”, meaning a series of tasks leading to a goal, is important, as is “sequence”, meaning the order of those tasks. Technical writing usually describes a “process” in “sequential” order.

Finally writing gives us the opportunity to make it better. How many times have you had to say to some one, ‘that was not what I meant’ or ‘this is what I meant to say’, but it’s too late, the damage is done. When we write, we get the chance to do it over again and perfect it, something that isn’t always easy with conversation!

Another goal for this activity is to start the students using the blog as a tool for everyday classroom activity. The blog is a convenient way to go right from online research to writing, but you will need to be careful about plagiarism and copyright issues. If you feel your students need to review these subjects, check the online resources for some suggestions of good websites to review as part of this activity.

Communication is not an exact science but we can take steps to improve our chances for understanding. Word choice, proper syntax, and revision help improve our chances. As the old saying states; ‘practice, practice, practice’.

 

Activity

HOUR 1: Students, working in groups of three, will use the Internet to research the definition of technical writing and find three examples of good technical writing. Each individual student will write their own definition of technical writing as well as the three examples, properly cited, in their blog.

HOUR 2: Each individual student will compose detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The teacher will read the instructions and execute the instructions literally. For example, if the instructions state to “spread peanut butter” but the instructions do not stipulate on the bread, the teacher may spread it anywhere. Students will publish their instructions to their blog.

HOUR 3: The teacher will attempt to execute the student scripts. Some revision will be needed by most. If time allows students can rework their scripts and the teacher can try again.

Assessment

Students should participate in each day’s activity, completing the related material.

Closure and Lesson Extension

Technical writing is the first step to excellent tech support. Not only that, share that computer programming is a demanding process that involves writing accurate steps. Computers will only do what they are instructed to do, so we need to give them proper instructions in order to get them to produce what we want. Good technical writing is just that.

 

Resources

Vocabulary

Technical Writing
Sequential
Process
Programming
Copyright
Citation
Cite

 

How can technology make me a better teacher?
How can project-based learning help my students?
How do I create presentations to help my students learn?
How do I help my students use media appropriately?
How do I use Word Processing and Spreadsheets?
How do I help my students access and use media efficiently?
How can I make better images?
How could video or audio podcasting help my students?
How could I use virtual classroom?
How do I get educational software?
How can I help all of my students access and succeed with technolgy?
How can I use a Wiki?
How can I use Really Simple Syndication?
How can I use a Blog?
How do I engage all students with technology?
How can I create an online Photo Gallery
How am I connecting with my students?
How can I best protect students?
How do I know my students are learning?
How to I communicate instruction efficently?
How do I manage get things done effeciently?
How do I create a web page from scratch?
How do integrate technology into my lesson plans?
How do I integrate the National Technolgy Standards into my lesson planning?
How do I use digital video in the classroom?
How can I get free software for my classroom?

We have all been stuck in slide show presentations that could not have been more stale or boring. I mean, it seemed at times that they were engineered to confound the mind. Well, research seems to confirm what we felt; slide shows can interfere with learning.

Imagine a widely used and expensive prescription drug that promised to make us beautiful but didn’t. Instead the drug had frequent, serious side effects: It induced stupidity, turned everyone into bores, wasted time, and degraded the quality and credibility of communication. These side effects would rightly lead to a worldwide product recall.
Taken from WIRED; PowerPoint Is Evil. Power Corrupts. PowerPoint Corrupts Absolutely. By Edward Tufte

Ouch You’re Hurting My Brain

Let’s look at our audience. A good presenter should know their audience. Last time I noticed, I was presenting to humans. John Sweller’s Cognitive Load Theory details the limitations of the human mind to hold discrete pieces of information in short-term memory. Explore more of John Sweller’s take on PowerPoint and it’s limitations in the PresentationZen.com post, Is it finally time to ditch PowerPoint? It is a must read.

Supposedly, phone numbers are only 7 digits long because the mind can only hold seven pieces of information in short term memory, plus or minus two numbers depending on other variables according to George A. Miller . There are strategies like “Chunking“, an idea that we can more efficiently use short-term memory, but in general we are limited by what we can absorb in a short period of time. Something to consider when presenting to homo sapiens.

Limitation By Design

I know when I started working with PowerPoint I was excited to build beautiful templates and have all kinds of cool effects happen during slide transitions. Getting the ornate 3D charts and graphs to represent my data seemed like the thing to do. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out this wizardry just to find out that it actually distracts from my presentation’s message. The templates are worse for your presentation than starting with a simple plain layout.

Stand and Deliver

Forgive me, I have sinned. I used to “talk to my slides” during presentation. Reading them word for word is the ultimate way to kill your audience’s interest in your topic. How we interact with the information on the screen can either add or detract from the colors, fonts and images in the slides. Kathy Sierra details great advice and cites resources to improve presentations in her blog entry; Stop your presentation before it kills again! Something else to consider, we are emotional creatures. Use this in your presentation. Seth Godin comments in his post, Really Bad PowerPoint supports this; no emotion, no connection.

The “Do My Slides Suck” Test from Kathy Sierra

  1. Do your slides contain mostly bullet points?
  2. Do you have more than 12-15 words on a slide?
  3. Do your slides add little or no new info beyond what you can say in words?
  4. Are your slides, in fact, not memorable?
  5. Are your slides emotionally empty?
  6. Do your slides fail to encourage a deeper connection to or understanding of the topic?
  7. Do your slides distort the data? (That’s a whooooole different thing I’m not addressing now)
  8. Do your slides encourage cognitive weakness? (refer to Tufte)

Learn From The Best

Some of the best presenters are Lawrence Lessig, Guy Kawasaki, Seth Godin, and Dick Hardt. Examine their approaches.

Lawrence Lessig Method
Masayoshi Takahashi Method
Guy Kawasaki Method
Seth Godin Method

Example Presentations

Lawrence Lessig Presentation on Free Culture
Dick Hardt inspired by Lessig presented the OSCON 2005 Keynote – Identity 2.0.
Seth Godin Presentation Example

Guy Kawasaki 10 – 20 -30 Rule Presentation

The Tools

Microsoft PowerPoint
Apple Keynote
Open Office Impress

Alternatives

Convert your slide show into MindManager presentation, a completely different way to see the information based on mind mapping. Craig Pringle explains good rationale for this in his post; Ditch PowerPoint for Presentations.

Final Thoughts

Read the blog entry Marketing should be education, education should be marketing at Passionate Users. This puts teaching and the job teachers need to pull off in a better context.

RSS Feed Images from Rogers Cadenhead

What is Really Simple Syndication (RSS) and how can it change your life? Read more . . .

Classroom

This is a picture of our classroom at St. Martin’s university.