Death by PowerPoint. The concept brings a chill to the heart of anyone who has ever sat through a boring slideshow. As a language immersion teacher, I’ve sat through too many to count—all presented by nervous fourth graders. Teachers want to give students the opportunity to share their learning, but PowerPoints provide little in the way of creativity and interest. Fortunately, the web is packed with online tools that offer alternatives for students of all ages to showcase their work. They are as diverse and interactive as the learners who use them. Here are four free picks from the 2014 AASL Best Websites list that are sure to please (www.ala.org/aasl/standards-guidelines/best-websites/2014).
Haiku Deck creates breathtaking slides with very little effort. The idea behind this tool is “less is more” when creating presentations. The amount of text that can be included on each slide is very limited, so students must tell most of their story through the picture. Originally an iPad app, now also a web-based site, the tool is appropriate for even the youngest users. Text is resized to fit the space as it is typed, and it automatically creates search terms based on the words typed. Once a search term is selected, a library of over 35 million images is accessed which allows students to find the perfect one. Images are licensed under Creative Commons and automatically cited on the bottom of slides. Once the “deck” is complete, it can be embedded on a blog or website, e-mailed, shared on social networks, exported into a PowerPoint, or printed as a PDF. Decks can be kept private or made public on the site.
Because of its simplicity, students can’t add sound or video clips. However, imagine the uses in lower elementary classrooms! Students could each create a slide to present information learned about a topic, such as animals or landmarks, and the teacher could combine those slides into one deck. Or students could search Haiku Deck for an image that appeals to them and create a short poem inspired by the image. Decks could be embedded on the school or library site, shared at parent night, or printed and added to the class library. If you are searching for something eye-catching that is even easier than PowerPoint, Haiku Deck is a great choice!
Perhaps you have students in your school who are interested in creating a product that encourages the audience to engage with the presentation. Thinglink allows students to create an interactive canvas by uploading an image and embedding links. Images can be uploaded from Facebook, a hard-drive, a URL, or from a public Flickr account. YouTube videos can be uploaded and tagged as well. Links can include “pop-up” video clips, audio clips, images, or text. When a viewer hovers over a link, the embedded content appears. Thinglink does not automatically cite images as Haiku Deck does, so it may be best suited for students in grades three and up. Teachers can register students, so no student e-mail is needed. A basic Thinglink account is limited to 50 images, but a teacher account allows for 500 images. Once the Thinglink is created, it can be shared through social media, e-mail, or by embedding it onto a website. Thinglinks may remain private or, if shared, can be remixed and commented on by other users.
This tool would work well if the teacher wanted to create a jigsaw learning experience. Small groups could research a topic, such as battles of the Revolutionary War, and create a Thinglink that includes multimedia clips. The teacher could embed the Thinglinks onto her website or simply bookmark the URLs for students to access and learn about each group’s topic. It is the perfect platform for students who enjoy using interactive elements in their presentations.
What if your students want to go beyond linking video clips and create their own? PowToon is a fantastic tool for that! Using this tool, students can create a PowToon animated movie clip that is up to five minutes long, for free. The range of options includes a cast of characters, interesting transitions, images, text effects, music, and narration. Nine free template options with names such as Picto, Paper Cut, Panda Haluha are available, as well as two that are designed especially for infographics. The site includes a special section just for teachers and students, but designs will not be private and can’t be downloaded and saved onto a computer. However, they can be shared on YouTube, social media, through a URL, or embedded on a website or blog. Music options are limited for the free version, but students may upload their own images and sound, including voice narration or music. Students can publish their creations in movie mode or presentation mode, where animation can be paused for speaking.
The timing takes a bit of practice, but there are many short video tutorials to help learners along the way. Because it does take time to learn how to use this tool, it is best suited for upper elementary students. Overall, this tool is one of the most interesting and engaging tools I’ve seen. It would be a very visual way for a student to create a demonstration that explains the steps in a process, such as for a science fair project. Rather than creating a poster board with pictures displaying the scientific process, students could produce a digital display and actually tell the story of their experiments. It is just right for the budding movie producer in your school!
The final tool, Meograph, would be an outstanding option for an older student interested in creating a multidimensional project. It is touted as a 4D presentation tool that integrates maps, dates, links, and multimedia-like clips, images, music, and narration. It presents a digital story to the audience by way of a timeline, which makes it the perfect tool in a social studies classroom. The tool uses layers, with Google Earth being the bottom layer, an image or video clip on top, text at the top of the screen, and a timeline at the bottom of the screen. Music and narration can be included while the presentation moves. When the narration plays, the music automatically quiets so viewers can hear. If a link is included and clicked by the viewer, the presentation automatically pauses while a new window opens to show the site that was linked. The map, timeline, and/or links may be left out, and if maps are not activated, the presentation shows with a full-screen image or video clip. Meograph does not include a music or image library, so students must upload their own. Video clips must come from YouTube—no other source. Video clips can easily be cropped, and image displays can be lengthened for up to a fifteen-second display. When the presentation is complete, it can be embedded on a blog or webpage, e-mailed, or shared on social media. To save a Meograph, users must sign up with an e-mail or password.
The site does take practice, so it would be best suited to middle grade students and up. Like the other tools, Meograph is free, but a license must be purchased if it is used by students younger than thirteen, and everyone under the age of eighteen must have parental permission to use the site. However, the Lite version for up to forty students is available for $19.99 per year. For $10 more, students can share Meographs they create privately and a class management system for teachers is included. Meograph is the only one of these tools that can be tried out as a guest user without having to sign up, which would make it an ideal tool for teachers to explore during a staff development session.
Besides being visually appealing, these tools engage students and teach skills that can be carried beyond the four walls of the school. They offer choice and a chance for students to showcase their unique talents as they seek to share their learning. So, the next time a teacher in your school is searching for a tool that will encourage creativity and save her from the dreaded death by PowerPoint, let her know you have just the tool for her!