Let me get to the point about PowerPoints: they should be rationed across the board

13th April 2012 at 01:00
Even I, `the science guy', can get by with only a few and let my imagination do the rest

Look, it's not a Jeep, OK? It's a Suzuki Jimny, the 4x4 that isn't driven by yummy mummies or banjo-wielding cousin marriers. Honestly, you'll be calling my Vax Mach-5 a Hoover next.

Now that I have got that off my chest, I'm going straight into hypocrisy mode, because today we're talking about what I'll refer to as PowerPoint, though other presentation packages can be used. LibreOffice Impress, as forum stalwart and occasional commentator Gnulinux might tell you, will do nicely.

This all kicked off at the Studying Scotland launch event ("Hello!" to the lovely ladies from Inverclyde who said nice things about the column to me). I was there pressing the case for science and engineering being part of Scotland's story, and was doing so by getting delegates to make a working model of the Bell Rock lighthouse out of a ginger bottle, a flashing LED, some batteries, wires and coloured card.

At the end of the event, a chap I know came up and said that poet Liz Lochhead had spoken favourably about the "science guy" not using a PowerPoint, but instead giving everyone something to do. Deciding not to be miffed at being known as "the science guy" (I remembered YOUR name, Liz), I chose to ponder this. In part, I was in hypocrisy mode again. I did show three slides, but they were prepared for me by fab Jenni, the event organiser.

You see, the poet wumman had rekindled an idea I've had for some time - PowerPoint use should be severely rationed in school, particularly among staff. I've used it myself. I still think my animated "electron-hole recombination at a p-n junction" presentation is something to be proud of. That would have involved an impracticable amount of chalking and rubbing out to do any other way.

Generally, though, the medium does not suit the way I taught, which was to build up an argument on the board using responses from pupils. In particular, I would ban it completely for periods during initial teacher education, particularly for those who have come from another career into teaching.

A friend once lamented that a mature student had taught a primary science lesson using slides that were just a series of didactic notes. "I told her that you'd been in doing a demo lesson the previous week and had told them nothing," she said.

I'm sure that it's not unique to science teaching that children should go away thinking that what they have learnt is correct because it was built on observation and a developed argument to which they contributed. Signposted and summed up, perhaps, with some nice slides and an animation or two.

Gregor Steele, Scottish Schools Education Research Centre, hates the Comic Sans font, but that's another tale of hypocrisy.

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