I use PowerPoint in every single maths lesson I teach. If “death by PowerPoint” was an actual disease, most of my students would not make it to October half term.
In recent years, a noticeable trend in teaching has been to move away from PowerPoint in the classroom towards the software that comes with your Promethean or SMART interactive whiteboards, and no doubt the majority of the people reading this article will, at some time or other, have been subjected to in-house interactive whiteboard training. Don’t get me wrong, on the surface, it all looks very impressive. There are ready-made grid lines available for drawing graphs, if you want a circle well voila there is a circle tool, and have you seen how you can pull down those fancy blinds to hide some of the screen?
Then, of course, there is the handwriting recognition tool that seems to always be the centre piece of any such training. If you scrawl “hello”, cross your fingers and wait five minutes, there is a slight chance that the computer will be on your wave length and offer up a beautifully typed greeting. But if you want to write an equation – good luck! My 2x – 3 = 11 was interpreted as “Dexter”.
All of the above (with the exception of handwriting recognition – thankfully!), you can do on PowerPoint. Copy and paste some graph paper off the internet (or better still, use Autograph), insert a circle, and if you want to hide something, then just pop it on the next slide.
Now I know what you are thinking – all the worst presentations you have ever seen have involved PowerPoint. Indeed, there are few things more excruciating than being twenty minutes into a PowerPoint infused talk, and then the presenter accidentally hovers the cursor around the bottom left of the screen to reveal that you are on slide 3 of 42. Furthermore, some of the worst lessons I have watched involved PowerPoint.
That, of course, is because there is a right way and a wrong way to use the software in lessons. A common trait amongst some teachers I have seen is to prepare lessons so that every note, every question, every worked solution is beautifully typed out on PowerPoint, ready to bounce onto the screen using fancy animation at the click of a button. With such meticulous planning, what could possibly go wrong? Well, all it takes is for a student to ask an unanticipated question, or to offer up an alternative correct answer to the one that took an hour to create using Equation Editor, and your carefully planned lesson is off the rails.
PowerPoint works best when it improves the flow of the lesson. My presentations tend to include any notes or diagrams that I want the students to copy down as my writing is terrible. This means I can use the time to help out any individual students having difficulties, and from a behaviour management perspective I don’t have my back turned to the class. I also like to type up any questions, but then leave the rest of the screen blank so that I can use the pen tool to make a note of all the different approaches and responses my students make, or better still they can come to the front, choose their colour of electronic ink, and share their answers with the rest of the class. Similarly, I like to add a few blank slides at the end of each presentation, just in case the lesson goes down an unexpected route.
And when the lesson is finished, and I close the PowerPoint presentation, I always do the same thing – when the computer asks me if I would like to add the drawings I have made to my presentation, I say yes. That way, as well as my original file, I also have a saved record of how the lesson progressed that I can keep for the next time I teach the topic. Better still, if any students missed the lesson, or want help with their revision, I can email the PowerPoint to them, complete with lots of lovely handwritten notes.
Yes, I am a big fan of PowerPoint in maths lessons. And if Bill Gates happens to be a TES reader and wants to give me a few million pounds for promoting Microsoft products, then just drop me an email.