June 10, 2023

Teaching with a Presentation — The Power of Big Pictures and Story Telling

Presentations have got a bad reputation in some parts of teaching now, and I fully understand why. The era of “the PowerPoint is the lesson” seemed to some to be an attempt to try (and fail) to turn teachers into generic class controllers who just pressed next on a keyboard and let the presentation do the teaching.

I just don’t think this is possible, and others have come to the same conclusion. The teacher is the lesson, not the resources. But the resources are still crucial, and good ones can elevate a lesson.

For as long as I can remember I’ve loved looking at big pictures or diagrams, and I think that’s pretty universal. We learn through stories (See Dr Bill Wilkinson’s excellent blog on oral narrative here https://drwilkinsonscience.wordpress.com/2019/06/06/oral-narrative-memory-an-evolutionary-story/), and pictures can support and deepen this story telling to give students a better understanding.

How I used pictures to support storytelling

I’m going to give an example of how I used pictures to support storytelling to teach a series of lessons. I used Prezi for this, which is a free online presentation application (similar to Powerpoint). You start with one huge background, which you add images, text and videos on top of, and then you create a path to move around this image. I love it for all the reasons lots of people don’t. It’s fiddly to put loads of text on a slide. It’s a pain to make things fly in. It’s awkward to put outcomes or a school logo on every page. Good. Those are all bad things that cheapen a presentation, distract kids and take up kid’s working memory. You do have to be careful to make the transitions calm — basically don’t spin things by more than about 30 degrees either way. Lots of 180 degree flips or extreme zooms make it too much.

You could easily do this style in PowerPoint too: just stick to a big picture (or a couple) per slide, with as few words as possible. The idea is to remove clutter so students can focus on what is important.

I think this technique of talking over a big picture or diagram slots perfectly alongside the tools of dual coding and SLOP booklets.

By dual coding I mean building up diagrams with your students on a whiteboard or visualiser, as shown by Adam Boxer in his researchEDhome talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16SBht2iF_k, and discussed by Pritesh Raichura here: https://bunsenblue.wordpress.com/2020/04/21/clear-teacher-explanations-2f-dual-coding-mistakes/.

By SLOP booklets I mean Shed Loads of Practice.You can find Science booklets here: https://cogscisci.wordpress.com/resources/, and an explanation of how Adam Boxer uses them here: https://achemicalorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2019/06/30/booklets-how-i-use-them/

I think my approach of having a minimalist presentation to talk over gives you some structure to the lesson, and means that you have high quality images selected and ready to go. It will add interest and depth compared to ‘just’ teacher talk, and be more slick than jumping around on Google Images to find an image to support a point. It’s totally fine if you meander around the topic, as you can just jump forwards or backwards a few slides to get to the image to support you.

How I’d use this technique

This topic is the Rock Cycle, for KS3. For me this approach of big pictures to support storytelling builds engagement and genuine knowledge far better than a practical of smooshing chocolate flakes together or breaking plaster of paris of rocks up. This presentation takes you on a tour of the world, showing what things look like and how they happened.

These are all just examples. There are countless stories you could tell and weave together, for any topic.

Show them erosion by showing it happening on a coast near to your school. In this case holiday homes at risk and a WW2 Pill Box that has fallen to the beach.

Explain that the same forces happen everywhere you see water and rocks, it’s just more visible in certain parts of the coast.

Then introduce sediment by showing rivers placing sediment in the ocean. Then show them sediment building up in other places. Then a big sea stack to show layers of sedimentary rocks.

Put up a big diagram of the rock cycle, and talk through the parts they have just seen.

They could annotate a rock cycle you give them, or they could work in booklets such as the excellent ones produced by Adam Robbins (https://reflectionsinscience.wordpress.com/2020/04/17/ks3-mastery-booklets/#more-555) or you could make up questions yourself that fit your narrative.

Then you could introduce volcanos, by showing a video, or some awesome big photos, and then carry to to explain the rest of the rock cycle in this way.

When introducing weathering show them worn sculptures or gargoyles, show them rocks cracked open in the dessert, and many other examples.

Link this to a real world application such as the story of Dashrath Manjhi reducing the journey from his village from eighty kilometres to three by using fire, water, hand tools and a lot of hard work over 22 years to carve a path through a mountain.

Then move onto the materials section by showing them the scale of mining. Start with a picture of a bucket wheel excavator, some of the largest machines on Earth, with a human or a car for scale. Then show the machine in the centre of the photo, then zoom out to show the size of the mine.

Spin a narrative about how everything we use that isn’t wood or another plant is mined. Show them some mining disasters. Show them landfill sites across the world. Then discuss recycling once you’ve set the context.

You can explore the Prezi here: https://prezi.com/musrgw8q0sos

These are mostly intended to be ideas of an approach, rather than a set of ready made resources, but if people would find it useful I can share these for more topics, including KS4 and KS5 Physics.

Next time you approach a topic, please consider thinking about showing some big images and telling a story; opening some eyes and blowing some minds. Then make them practice the knowledge you’ve given them lots.

Have fun!

Featured photo by Nong Vang on Unsplash

Chris currently works in football, but was previously a physics teacher and is still interested in physics education and helping teachers. He is particularly interested in Mechanics, using Excel instead of paper, and is also a member of CogSciSci. Chris blogs at medium.com/@chrisbakerphysics and tweets @mrbakerphysics

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *