Inspiring Pages with Adobe Spark


I’ve always thought it was important for teacher’s to have a web presence in a society that is saturated with technology. It always made sense to me that if I can order a pizza on my computer, my students and parents should be able to find out of their education on a computer.

Now there are great learning management systems like Google Classroom, Canvas and Schoology that let teachers share and receive information immediately with students. Everything is just a click away. Miss class? “Check Google Classroom” How can I turn this in to you? “Check Google Classroom”. There are even parent/”shadow” options on these so parents can see every educational transaction as it’s happening too. Plus almost every district has online grade books where parents can check grades and contact teachers through email.

I had a pretty good website. It didn’t require a lot of updating throughout the year, gave an extensive amount of information and looked not too shabby. But it wasn’t a high traffic area. Not often visited by anyone. Why was that? I deduced that it generally was not needed. My lesson plans were easy to find elsewhere. People who wanted to contact me already knew how to do that. Anyone that had questions about policies and procedures would rather just email and ask than click and read.

I maintain, however, that it is important for a teacher to have a web presence.  So I went small-scale and created a one page “hello” website about my Spanish class. Gives info, biography and has links to syllabi but otherwise it’s just some showcase photos.

I love Adobe Spark. Like, love it. It’s incredibly easy to put together a beautiful “web” presentation. I’ve used it only once before with my students but would really like to make the effort to use it more often. Just have to find the right inspiration.

I recommend you play around with Adobe Spark and think about how you can incorporate it into your world. It took me about 1 1/2 to create my new web presence with Adobe Spark and I think it’ll do the trick for a 2017 tech-saavy educational world.

Mrs. Huff's Spanish

(link)

Also check out my TPT store between June 28-Jul 1 2017 for a 20% off everything sale. I’m working on adding new resources and welcome feedback and suggestions.

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Redesigned Syllabus for 2017-2018


Each year I tinker and improve the class syllabus I give to my Spanish students. I’ve gone extremely detailed and very visual. This year I’ve really focused on: What is the information I need to make sure my students and parents know?

During the last school year I made a change to standards based grading on a 4 point scale. I communicated expectations and explained that to everyone last year but felt that same information was worth clarifying in this year’s syllabus as well.

This year’s version of my syllabus was created on Canva. I like the way that it looks and the practicality of being able to download it as a PDF. Makes it easy to send and easy to print if need be. It’s not as flashy or interactive as my Thinglink syllabus of 2015 but I’m ok with that. After the first day, I’m quite certain no one went back to those Thinglink links anyway.

The key to creating any syllabus is being very clear about your course and your expectations. Does anyone else love redesigning syllabi as much as me?

 

 

 

Cantaninja


There is a great episode of The Office where manager Michael Scott stops all activity in the office for a designated period of time on Monday for a mental break where the staff watches a movie. His boss questions him on this later:

Jan: How would a movie increase productivity, Michael? How on earth would it do that?
Michael: People work faster after.
Jan: Magically.
Michael: No, they have to, to make up for the time they lost, watching the movie

It’s a popular belief that taking a break to do something frivolous cannot lead to increased productivity. I experimented with something called Cantaninja in my Spanish 2 classes during the 4th Quarter of school and I think Michael Scott would approve.

Cantaninja is an idea I came across reading a (wonderfully helpful and insightful) blog by Martina Bex. She describes a class incentive program and an earned privilege where the students can stop time and demand a Spanish song be played.

To begin, I created a playlist of Spanish songs that I thought my students would be intrigued by. My Cantaninja playlist is ever evolving–I’m constantly adding and subtracting songs based on what I find, what seems appropriate, what the students are “in to” and what units we are studying.

I taught three sections of Spanish 2 during the Spring. I selected one student from each section to be that class period’s designated Cantaninja. These names were posted in the front of the room–underneath a ninja mask. This designated student could attack class at any time by yelling out “CANTANINJA!”. At that moment, all activity in the class must stop and the class must watch a music video of the Cantaninja’s choosing (from the playlist).

Here are the rules of Cantaninja:

  1. Cantaninja cannot be used during the last 5 minutes of class
  2. No activity can be done during Cantaninja time (no work, no computer, no talking, etc)
  3. Only one Cantaninja per class per day
  4. Cantaninja cannot be used to skip a planned activity (if we’re supposed to have a quiz, we’re still having the quiz)

Cantaninja is something I need to keep in my classroom next year. The short little breaks actually did increase productivity–both for me and my students. I had to be more mindful of how I planned and structured my class because I never knew when (or if) a Cantaninja attack was coming. I had to be very organized so I wasn’t left standing there at the end of the hour with things left undone. Preparing for the possibility of a Cantaninja attack helped me be more mindful of the lessons I had planned–what was critical to do, what could we do without, what I can do if I need more time because there was no Cantaninja attack.

The productivity effect on my students was also interesting. There were some days when there was no Cantaninja attack because the Cantaninja felt it was more important just to keep to the regularly scheduled lesson. When there was a Cantaninja attack, students accepted that this was there time to take a break and then when work time rolled around, they were more apt to work then rather than find ways to waste time and mentally check out. Normally, as the teacher, I had 100% control over the agenda of the day. With Cantaninja, I relinquished control to the class through one individual. This individual had the power to adjust our class agenda for the day.

I liked noting when students would initiate Cantaninja. There was one particular time this Spring where all three sections called out for Cantaninja during the same point in my lesson (and the class cheered with relief). This was a cue to me that this particular activity  was not enjoyable.

Sometimes students would confer with one another. “When should I yell Cantaninja?” “Do we want to do one today?” Watching them discuss and reason when and why and if they should take a break was fascinating. Some designated Cantaninjas listened to the class, some didn’t. Some rarely called for an attack, some jumped at the opportunity within the first minute of class. The variety added an exciting variable to the class that I think helped make it more engaging.

Let’s not forget that this is a language classroom and the goal is to, you know, learn the Spanish language! While on it’s face Cantaninja is just a nice brain break, it was also a way for me to expose my students to popular artists and Spanish music. At first, students would bombard me with questions about what everything meant. After awhile, the questions stopped and I think they just started appreciating the music–realizing that learning a language isn’t all about translating everything word for word. But they did pick up words and phrases from the songs (Thanks J.Lo and Prince Royce). After one class watched Tengo Tu Love I had two students mocking how “basic” that song was. I questioned what they meant and one said, “I’m pretty sure a beginning Spanish 1 student could understand those lyrics. They obviously didn’t try hard to write a good song”. They continued to pick on the song and I just returned to my seat proudly thinking “Wow, they recognized the simplicity of the lyrics! They understood what it meant!”.

12050897333_be52220d42_zOther reflections:

  • A favorite song was definitely “La Camisa Negra”. A few have it downloaded and listen to it regularly now.
  • Students recognized that “this Wisin guy” collaborates in a lot of different videos. “He must be really good”.
  • I’ve loved Enrique Iglesias for quite some time so I liked the ability to bring his music to the class. But Cantaninja also gave me the opportunity to introduce these kids to Ricky Martin. Although “Livin la Vida Loca” is mostly in English, I maintain it has important cultural significance. It wasn’t that long ago that Latin music exploded into the pop chart (Holla 1998!) but that was still before some of these kids were born. Imagine being born in a world that doesn’t know Ricky Martin? I cannot live with that. Cantaninja has selfishly been a way for me to revisit my high school music self.

Re-Branding: Meaningful Ed


My school year ended yesterday. I’m celebrating my first day of summer vacation by returning to this blog. It’s been awhile.

I used to blog to share ideas. Then I wrote to reflect on what I was doing. In my blogging hiatus, I’ve done a lot of professional growing. I reached that magical milestone of 10 years of experience, looked around my classroom and thought “am I doing what I need to be doing”? I finally feel smart enough to realize that in order to be better teacher, I need to be asking better questions about my teaching. This blog seems like a fitting platform to ask those questions and continue this journey.

The new name for the blog is “Meaningful Ed”. I need my students to be engaged in the content inside and outside the classroom. Content and delivery must be meaningful to them if it’s going to stand a chance up against basketball games, teen dramas and Snapchat. My goal and my focus is to make education meaningful. Hopefully this blog shares that focus.

The name has a slight personal twist to it as well. My son is almost two and is at that stage where he is learning so much every day right in front of my eyes. It’s so amazing to watch that much learning happening so obviously and joyously. He is helping me realize how incredible learning is. And his name is Edward, or Eddie. Or Meaningful Ed.

A Day in the Life of Classcraft . . . .


6:00 AM Wake-up and check email. Two students completed a Classcraft Quest for XP. Go into Classcraft and award those students XP.

7:40 AM Arrive at school. Award Prestige AP points.

*I have two students that surpassed Level 18 so they have reached “Prestige” status,

which means they earn an additional 5 AP everyday. I have to put these in manually.

9:00 AM 2nd Hour Spanish 3 class begins.

9:01 AM Generate a Random Event in Classcraft and do whatever it says.

9:02 AM Go about today’s lesson plan.

During the class period, I deduct HP when applicable (when students need to charge their computer, have their cell phone out, act disrespectfully, etc)

I also award XP when applicable (finish task early, win a game, help a student, etc.)

9:40 AM We have a test tomorrow. If students want to use any collaborative powers, they should plan accordingly.  If students have time, they go in and use collaborative powers or strategize with their tribe mates.

9:42 AM Dismiss class

1:10 PM Repeat process with 6th Hour Spanish 3 class.

3:10 PM School dismissed

8:00 PM Students continually work on additional (optional) XP Quests on their own time and I look at those when I can

Occasionally . . .

  • Once every two weeks I give some kind of in class assignment to be completed in groups. This assignment does not take the entire class period and students are encouraged to work on “craft” related things during time

Engaging Students Through Gamification


I recently wrote a reflection about implementing a gamification website into my Spanish 3 course. I recounted that after only 3 days, I thought it was a game changer and something that I was really excited about. This is a more detailed account of how I am using Classcraft in a high school Spanish 3 classroom. (For a student reflection on Classcraft, click here)

Why Gamification?

I was very happy with my standard classroom environment but always thought aspects of gamification would really boost student engagement. Meanwhile, I was dealing with two small teacher dilemmas.

  1. I have students coming to class with uncharged computers when they are supposed to have charged them overnight. I have students turning in late assignments. I have students doing small disruptive things that might not warrant a full 30 minute detention but are just annoying none-the-less.  I like the grades in my class to be an accurate reflection of student learning. If I deduct points for having to charge your computer during class, that de-validates my grading procedures. How can I address these things without impacting the student’s grade?
  2. I wish my students would want to do some extra enrichment in Spanish without having to require it from all students. But how can I encourage students to do extra learning tasks when I’m not going to reward them for it in the gradebook?

All this is in my mind and enters Classcraft.  Classcraft is a classroom gamification platform that I could customize to handle both of my concerns while also engaging students in a game type setting. Classcraft is something that I do in the classroom that is completely 100% separate from my gradebookAll students are included but can choose how involved in the process they want to be.

Main Concept

I imported my student roster into Classcraft. I assigned my students to groups of 4 or 5 and I kind of based those groups on abilities, personalities and perceived interest in “gaming”. In each group, I assigned their game characters. Each student is either a mage, a warrior or a healer. Each character has a different gaming experience. So when I introduced Classcraft to my students and they logged in for the very first time, saw their character avatar, their character statistics and their teammates.

Main_Profile

Each character starts on Level 1. They move to the next level by gaining a certain number of Experience Points (XP–explained below). In my game, students level up by earning 500 XP.

Each character also has Action Points and Health Points, all of which I will describe in the next section.

The gamification aspect of Classcraft has built in collaboration components, encouraging students on a team to help out their teammates.

Statistics

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XP: These points are what drives a student to move up to the next level. If you were to keep score, so to speak, the student with the most XP would be your “winner” (even though Classcraft doesn’t have winners or losers). I am in charge of awarding XP. I have created a few preset reasons as to why I might reward a student for doing something but I can also input any XP value I want for any reason I want. Giving out XP is a way to reward positive classroom behaviors without having to tinker with their actual academic grade.

HP: Health Points are represent a character’s life in the game. I deduct HP anytime I see behaviors that I want to punish or reprimand. I can also take away HP for any reason I want to. Once a student gets down to 0 HP, they have to roll a dice of consequence. This will give them some kind of punishment. I created the punishments and they range from having to do extra assignments to bringing me a treat.

AP: Each character can learn powers and take action if they have enough AP, Action Points. Students kind of use these on their own and then the points regenerate every night so I don’t really have too much to do with AP as the teacher.

GP: My students earn Gold Pieces but that’s entirely on their own and it is purely for cosmetic purposes, like adding to their avatar and having pets. I’m not using GP for anything game related.

Powers

Students need an incentive to earn more XP and be involved in the game. Each character has the ability to learn powers. Most of these powers I have written and crafted to fit what I am comfortable with in my classroom.

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At each level of the game, students get a Power Point which enables them to learn a power. The more XP, the more levels advanced, the more Power Points, the more powers a student is able to learn. Some of the powers are collaborative and help out their teammates. Some of the powers are individual. I tried to create powers that students would want and that I thought were fair in the classroom.  For example, if a student progresses far enough in Classcraft to be able to learn an advanced power such as getting to use notes on a test, then they have done enough good things in my classroom and they deserve to be rewarded.

I will probably have more reflection on power usage as the year goes one. At this stage, no student has really used a power so we’ll see how it all works out.

Random Event

Each class period with start with a Classcraft random event. It’s a “Wheel of Destiny” button that generates some kind of rule or activity for the day’s class. I customize these too and some are strictly game based (earn XP, HP, etc.), some are content based (speak only Spanish all day) and some are just silly (make your teacher sing a song). The variety and randomness of it grabs their attention and gets them ready for class immediately. Plus it’s fun!

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Additional Quests for XP

Immediately after introducing Classcraft, I had students asking for different opportunities to earn XP. I thought this would be an excellent way to introduce some enrichment Spanish activities—things that were completely separate from our day-to-day curriculum but that would enrich foreign language learning. Basically a way to make my students do things that I normally would just strongly suggest. This idea mushroomed into a few different things.

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Drill Quests: The first thing I introduced was Drill Based Quests that required students to do vocabulary or conjugation drills through two external sites that we use all of the time: Quizlet and Conjuguemos. If students showed proof that they completed these drills, they earned XP.  One of the Quizlet sets I gave them was a list of the 50 most common words in Spanish, which includes small by valuable words that students often forget. That review has been priceless and I can see the difference already with the students that have done those drills.

Project Quests: And they still wanted more Quests! I created a Google Doc with different project based Quests. There are writing, speaking, artistic, statistical and historical quests involving language and culture. All of these projects are beneficial in the foreign language classroom but might not fit into my curriculum. I love being able to encourage my students to do these things without requiring them.

Bounty Board: Then I created a board in my room where I could pin up index cards that have Quests written on them. These are one-time-only first-come-first-served Quests. For example, I have a board in my room that I need taken down and changed and I never get around to doing it. I made it a Quest and I have students clamoring to do it for me.

“Ok, but this is too much work for the teacher”

I’ve shared this evolution with a few people and I hear a variation of this comment a lot. Yes, Classcraft does look like it’s time consuming and overwhelming for the teacher. Looks awesome for the student, but I can understand how teachers looking at this might think Wow, way too much for me to handle. As with the implementation of any new procedure, there is some significant prep work to get it all ready and to make sure the back end is all set-up but after that, it’s just a matter of going with the flow. Each day I start with the daily event, keep track of what it tells me to do and go from there. As class goes on, if I need to deduct HP or award XP I make a note or do it quickly. The Classcraft website really does make it easy to do those things quickly.

The engagement I see and the enrichment possibilities associated with Classcraft have been worth any time sacrifices I’ve made. I’m also excited and happy to be able to punish small, unwanted behaviors in a way that doesn’t tinker with grades. I see a gamiification platform like this as a problem solver and content enrichment opportunity. I’m so pleased with what has happened so far and look forward to finishing the year with Classcraft!

Student Reflection on Classcraft


I had planned to update my blog this week with a more detailed picture of how we are using Classcraft in my classroom.  While I’m still working on that, I wanted to share something that one of my students recently wrote about Classcraft.  I love that it is in his own words and describes our process in a way that is easy to picture and understand.

Classcraft by definition is “a free online, educational role playing game that teachers and students play together in the classroom.” However I do not believe that the definition I just told you quite captures what Classcraft really is.

The thing is, is that Classcraft is so much more than just any one thing to a person or people. Classcraft is a place where a gamer who doesn’t quite fit in can work side by side and cooperate with a varsity Quarterback on the same level and work as a team. Classcraft is a place where a disinterested student who can’t find the motivation to take time and complete his homework or listen in class can finally have a fun way to learn an otherwise “boring” subject. Classcraft is a place where two girls who maybe aren’t in the same “clique” or do not get along can work towards a common coal (and maybe even become friends in the process). Classcraft is a place where you’re not a Jock, or a nerd, or even the mean girl. It is a place where people forget about the status quo and “the norm” and see their classmates as a level 3 healer who bailed them out so they didn’t have to roll the infamous “Cursed Die” or a level 5 warrior that took a big hit to their HP for you because that’s what teammates are for. And yes, even in some cases as a level 12 mage that stays up way too late completing quests. Classcraft is a place that transforms our classroom from a boring room with a whiteboard to a battlefield where we face other teams in competitions, or a foreign land that we are exploring during a quest. Classcraft can make you or take you anything or anywhere, it really just depends on your imagination.

Classcraft for me personally has been a huge motivator. Instead of procrastinating and waiting till the night before to due homework and projects I know finish the as soon as I can because not only do I get an XP bonus if I do finish multi-day assignments early but if all my other homework is done I have more time to complete other quests that reward me with XP. I also do more quality work because I get more XP if I do. Also by doing quests such as learning Spanish and Spelling Spanish on quizlet I have learned numerous new useful Spanish words that have been a tremendous help on my more recent Spanish assignments.

Classcraft most importantly is a new and effective way to teach kids in an age that students are constantly plugged into technology with their cell phones laptops and videogames. Times are changing and education needs to change with it. We can’t expect new and different generations to learn the same way kids did 50-100 years ago, and in reality our generation is much different from what it was even 15-20 years ago. Classcraft is a proven educational tool that can teach kids in a new and exciting format. Classcraft doesn’t just improve learning it changes it, and for the better.

Thank you to Creed K. for writing this assessment of Classcraft and allowing me to share it.  He did it for the XP but I appreciate it anyway 🙂

Introducing Classcraft


We are approaching Spring Break and while it’s normally a time to kick back and relax, I always like to use it to start a new project. This year I was going to investigate Classcraft, a “free online, educational role-playing game that teachers and students play together in the classroom.” By accident, I ended up showing this to the students a week early— and they totally went for it.

Classcraft is an online world where the teacher enrolls students and gives them avatar identities like mages, warriors or healers, each with its own powers.  As the teacher, I can reinforce positive behavior by awarding XP, which students need to accumulate to get to the next level. I can also deduct Health Points for negative behaviors like missing an assignment or using their cell phone in class.  Students are motivated by different rewards in the game and have an incentive to move themselves forward in the game —promoting pro social behavior.

Next week I will do a full recap and explanation of how my Classcraft is setup for my Spanish 3 students. I’m only 3 days into this now and I can definitely say this is a game changer for my classroom. 

Here are a few thoughts after 3 days:

  • Students are also on teams so there is a collaborative element. As one student said today to his teammates “I know that doesn’t directly help you out but if you help your teammates, they end up making you stronger so it’s good for you in the long run to work together”
  • Incentives and motivation to do things like turn assignments in early, help other students and get 100% on a quiz 
  • Role playing game like feel is familiar to students and point totals are great visual representation of progress
  • Students can go as hard as they want (staying up to 2:00 AM in one case already—which is not recommended) or play leisurely or rarely. There are benefits to progressing but nothing that would penalize a student that doesn’t want to “game”
  • Something new, something fun, something to fill their downtime 
  • (Most importantly) I’ve crafted some quests to earn XP that require students to practice or drill their Spanish. That student I had that stayed up until 2:00? He said today “Seriously though those helped me so much. Like I feel like I actually learned so much Spanish by doing those quests”

Mic drop.

Check back next week for a full glimpse of Classcraft in the Spanish 3 world.

Educational Value of Kinetic Typography


I previously wrote a post about creating kinetic typography videos.  I love finding Spanish kinetic typography lyric videos because they A) are attractive and visually pleasing to watch and B) include Spanish lyrics and words so that you can match the Spanish audio with a word.  I have used these videos as supplemental content for a few years.

But this year I wanted to “up the ante”.  I wanted my students to have to make a kinetic typography video of their own–using Spanish songs and Spanish lyrics.  It was a hefty creative task that required some time from the students.  I just finished grading the final products and now I can reflect on the educational value of this project.

Focus on Spanish Lyrics

This type of video is a lyric video, which means the students had to spend a great deal of time with the lyrics of the song.  I did not give them a copy of the Spanish lyrics.  I gave them other lyric video examples that they could copy from or I think some of them just Googled for the Spanish lyrics to the songs.  Regardless, this creation required students to spend a great deal of time working with the Spanish words.  Even if they didn’t know what the words meant necessarily, it was valuable to have them spend so much time immersed in the target language.  I heard a few comments throughout the last few weeks that “I have that word in my song” or referencing that they learned different Spanish words that we didn’t learn in class just because they are used a lot in their song.  This was the main benefit of the project for me: a way to force my students to spend more time absorbed in the Spanish language.

Hearing Spanish Words

In addition to just working with the lyrical text, students had to work with the Spanish audio of the song. They repeatedly had to listen to their song, making them more familiar with the way Spanish sounds.  A few students commented that they can’t hear the original English version of the song anymore without hearing the Spanish lyrics in their head.  And some commented that they listened to it so often the Spanish song got stuck in their head and they kept repeating it.  Even if they didn’t know the direct translation of the audio stuck in their head, having Spanish of any kind floating around the brain is a great learning experience.

Matching Audio to Words

The lyrical text should be matched to the audio.  When students made their videos, they had to make sure the Spanish words appeared in sync with the Spanish audio.  This requires students to do a few different mental tasks at once (always of great educational value).  Students had to listen to the Spanish audio, look at the Spanish lyrical text in their presentation and physically get them to appear together.  This process of audio and visual matching is a great learning activity for them.  It isn’t enough just to have the Spanish lyrics or just to listen to the Spanish audio.  Having to take both pieces and work them together in sync really established a unique learning experience.

Content Creation

Aside from Spanish, a project like this is rewarding just because it allows the students to be content creators: authors of their own learning.  I gave them project parameters, specific benchmarks they were to be graded on but they were allowed to choose their own path of completion.  Some students chose to work together in small groups while others worked alone.  Some created their presentation using Powerpoint and others used Prezi or just IMovie. The finished projects I saw reflected the individual students: I did not receive two identical projects. Each project reflects the individual or individuals responsible for it.  My students that were a little more tech saavy used that to their advantage to create something really innovative.  Students that were less techy produced simpler projects that still met all project guidelines.  Allowing students to be content creators gives them the freedom to publish their own path to learning.

As a teacher, I’m satisfied with that the projected learning outcomes associated with this project were met. I’m proud of the creations my students ended up with and hope they are too.

Death to PowerPoint (or PowerPointed to Death)


PowerPoint has been one of the greatest educational presentation tools since the lightbulb overhead machine.  I want to start by saying that:  PowerPoint is great.  It’s a slick, beautiful way to deliver instruction to classrooms.  It beats a laundry list of notes or outlines any day.  And it’s a great assessment tool as well.  Having students use PowerPoints to demonstrate their understanding of a concept can be much more concise that reading a standard paragraph report.  Plus there are themes, designs, transitions and bells and whistles to keep even the apathetic viewer interested.

PowerPoint is great.

But it can be overdone.

Just as with any classroom instructional practice, students and teachers can fall into a rut and fall victim to overexposure and overuse.  I’ve heard one of the downfalls of 1:1 classroom environments is that students end up attending PowerPoint University–constantly exposed to PowerPoint instruction and PowerPoint assessments.

So for a recent classroom project, I banned PowerPoint.  The students have to create a visual informational presentation of some kind, but they are not allowed to use PowerPoint.  I created the project standards for them and it is up to them to figure out how they are going to execute it and with which tool.

To help the process, I started investigating some alternatives to PowerPoint and gave them the following page of bookmarks.  These tools range from fancy animated presentation tools to simple Google Presentations (to which the students said is the same thing as a PowerPoint.  To which I said, but it isn’t A POWERPOINT).

Alternatives to PowerPoint

I’m interested to see what they come up with.  And even better, I’m interested to not see a PowerPoint.