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Desktop Learning Spaces

Desktop learning spaces are areas created on the computer's desktop to facilitate learning. Over the past decade, computer operating systems such as Mac, Windows, and Linux have provided increasingly learner-friendly spaces for file management and information organization. For example, default, customizable storage spaces are now provided for storing documents, pictures, sounds, videos, and website materials.

In addition to the organizational tools provided in computer operating systems, software packages are also incorporating tools to assist users in planning and production of materials. For example, many productivity tools now provide templates for creating particular types of documents along with color designs and clipart.


PowerPoint Sidekicks

Adapt software you already have on your computers to create focused, standards-based project starters for learners. Once you get beyond the bullet points and low-level slide shows, PowerPoint can be a powerful tool for learning in every content area. Turn PowerPoint into a dynamic tool for addressing standards across grade levels and subject areas. Whether introducing new concepts, practicing essential skills, or transferring knowledge to new situations, technology-based starters provide an effective, efficient, and appealing learning space where students can share their understandings through writing, illustration, and sound communications.

Once you’ve created projects starters, you’re ready to dive into the advanced features of PowerPoint and design projects that promote inquiry, higher-order thinking, and deep understandings. Learn to adapt starters for different types of learning, create electronic portfolios, and integrate multimedia and interactivity. Bring your curriculum ideas and leave with engaging, technology-rich learning materials.

try itComplete the online workshop PowerPoint Sidekicks.

try itRead PowerPoint Literacies through PowerPoint Learning Spaces (PDF) by Annette Lamb. Then, use the PowerPoint Learning Spaces (PDF) by Annette Lamb to create your own learning spaces. You might also want the directions for Multiple Slide Masters (PDF).

Use the following PowerPoint files (PPT) as you work your way through the activities.

If you want to adapt the following files, you need to download them to your computer. DO NOT just click on them. Instead, right-click and choose Save as Target (or Save Link As). Then, choose Save. Open the files within PowerPoint.

PowerPoint Sidekicks Examples

Some technologies don't look like Microsoft Word and PowerPoint don't look like educational superheroes. You may need to be creative to see their use in teaching and learning. Ineffective use of technology gives superheroes a bad name. Not all technologies are appropriate for all children. Find ways to make the most of your tools. Superheroes of technology are able to apply tools and resources in meaningful ways.

Think of technology as a useful sidekick that can provide tools and tutorials to help students learn. Although many of the tools we use in schools were developed for adults, they can be adapted for use by young people. The writing spaces below can be used to create great starter activities across topic areas.

PowerPoint Sidekick: Information Formats

Students need to be able to compare and use different formats of information. Think about the many ways that pictures, words, and sounds convey meaning. How is a photograph different from a piece of clipart? How do visuals convey information? How do visuals have different meaning depending on the way they show ideas? How are people, places, and things portrayed? What about realism and historical accuracy? Are serious or humorous resources needed for particular situations?

Design an activity that uses photographs, clipart, and line art of the same concept. Combine a social studies and communication arts standard. Consider writing a class book with one story in clipart and another story with photographs. Also, think about on and off computer activities such as word cards.

Let's use a review of state symbols as an example. Notice that the project includes clipart, photographs, audio, and a place to write. Clipart of the Pennsylvania state insect often doesn't look like the actual firefly, so it's important to also provide photographs. Students also need to distinguish the firefly from other insects. In this case, students are asked to delete the insects that aren’t fireflies. They can tell they made the right choice when they see the smile under the firefly. To keep the assignments short, consider creating each symbol as its own PowerPoint document. You may also wish to save the document as a template. Now, create your own.

Help students see that information comes in different forms such as words, pictures, and sounds. Also, show different ways to represent ideas visually such as photographs, clipart, and line art (see the Washington example). Also use artwork (see the example below of fields). These activities will help students transfer learning to new situations. For example, the economics activity provides students with both clipart and photos. Students are asked: What are goods and services? Look at each picture. Does it show the use of goods or services? Move the picture to see what it says underneath. Choose one picture that shows goods and one that shows a service. Write about each.

PowerPoint Sidekick: Information Evaluation

Students need to be able to compare different sources of information. Adapt the evaluation form and activity by editing the Master slide (Pull down the View menu, choose Master, select Master Slide). Or, use my form and adapt the assignment. It works best to provide students with specific titles and website addresses. Make a class folder (virtual or paper) containing student-reviewed websites. For example, each student might review one website related to the social studies unit.

If you're looking for a fake website for young people, use Facts About Idiotica. Also provide a good website for comparison or book resources. Use Wikipedia and Wikipedia Jr. to help students understand how websites can be constructed collaboratively.

Consider adapting this project to evaluate other media such as books or videos. For example, you might add a book cover and change the evaluation questions to topics related to character, plot, setting, etc.

Provide students with 4 websites to explore. Compare what you learn from each source. Who is the author of each website? Be sure to include websites with different perspectives, media (i.e., audio, video, graphics), interactivity, and reading level. Ask students to rate the sites and describe which provided the best source of information and why. Use smile faces for evaluation in the younger grades. With older students, consider a YES/NO or numeric rating system.

Create a student assignment asking learners to write five questions related to their topic on the five slides. Then use at least two resources to answer the questions and compare their findings. The resources can be websites, books, videos, or other materials.

PowerPoint Sidekick: Sequencing - Callouts

Use “callout” bubbles in PowerPoint to create comic strips, show conversations, provide directions, and many other activities

PowerPoint Sidekick: Sequencing - Timelines

Besides comic strips, another way for student to tell stories is through timelines. These are particularly useful in history, but also in other areas of the curriculum where sequencing is important.

PowerPoint Sidekick: Sound

Sound is a great way to address the diverse learning needs of your students. Sounds can be inserted into most software tools. Begin by incorporating audio into existing projects. For example, you might record audio directions or information in Spanish. Add questions and answer audio buttons to projects. Next, try audio on single slide projects.


PowerPoint Sidekick: History and the Things They Carried

Primary sources can be exciting resources for learning when students are able to make personal connections to the contents of these materials. The key is building meaningful applications. Seek out photographs and other materials that contain the experiences of children.

try itThink about all the ways you can bring history alive through primary source documents. Students need to be able to analyze historical documents. Start with Explore and adapt the analysis worksheets from NARA (NARA Worksheets (PDF files): Artifact, Cartoon, Document, Map, Photograph, Poster, Sound). Create an Analysis Worksheet for your grade level. Then, create your own PowerPoint-based tool. If you need ideas, use the web evaluation project for inspiration.

try itThink about ways that learners could use bubbles for identifying parts of primary documents. Search the National Archives for particular treaties, papers, and other well-known documents. Also, search Thinkfinity for a particular document and you'll find lesson ideas and links to primary sources.

PowerPoint Sidekick: Sharing Understandings

From electronic portfolios to world walls, there are many ways to use PowerPoint tools for storing and sharing work.

Create your own "TV station" with a continuous running presentation before/after school, during lunch, or at special events such as parent nights or book fairs. Use a class mascot as the narrator.

Create your own classroom programming where the students are the stars. Preview new ideas with the teachers as the talent or ask students to be the stars as they review key concepts producing new examples to promote retention and transfer of learning.

You don't necessarily need video for an effective project. Consider combining still photos with audio clips. You and your students can produce great interviews using PowerPoint.

From safety tips to health eating habits, there are many ways your students can express their understandings of important issues through the use of public service announcements and advertisements.

PowerPoint Sidekick: Inquiry Guides

Let's put it all together. Designing effective, efficient and appealing PowerPoint Learning Spaces involves more than just building a PowerPoint Sidekick. The most effective learning spaces combines authentic assignments and hands-on learning with technology tools to create synergy in the classroom. Consider activities that involve students in asking questions, solving problems, and conducting inquiries.

As students are learning about the inquiry process and specific information skills, it's helpful to provide Inquiry Guides that help students through a specific task.

try itPlan an inquiry-based project based on the idea that much of science involves processes, procedures, and cycles. Or, plan a mystery based on an objects.

Explore and compare different cycles. For example, you might explore An Organic Egg Farm. Do other farming operations follow a similar procedure? How do foods go from farm to dinner table? Focus on meaningful questions, tools for organizing information and thoughts, and broadening perspectives.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

* Farm to Table
* Animal/Plant to Fossil
* Photosynthesis
* Mitosis
* Life cycle
* Rock cycle
* Lunar cycle
* Water cycle
* Cicada cycle
* Growing cycle
* Star cycle
* Boomtown to Ghosttown
* Migration

Do a Thinkfinity search for your topic of interest or the world "cycle".

PowerPoint Project Ideas

When using starter projects in the classroom, it’s a good idea to create three versions: (1) empty version that can be modified for use with different content, (2) a version with content ready for students to use, (3) an exemplary, completed project that can serve as a sample. You may also wish to create a tutorial version that contains ideas, explanations, definitions, and elaboration. In other words, create a tutorial that introduces or reviews the key concepts within the context of an example.

Speakernotes Uses. Copy and paste quotes from websites or other sources. Be sure to cite the source. Then, use this information in a “bubble project” in the body of the slide. For example, “I am the wildflower of Virginia. I was selected because… “

Bubbles. Use the cross section books for ideas. Use the digital camera to photograph individual pages.

Manipulating Objects
Many activities involve students moving objects (wordart, pictures, sounds) on the PowerPoint slide.

Choosing Objects. Provide students with lots of objects to select or delete for their projects. Consider all kinds of visuals such as clip art, photographs, line drawings, charts, graphics, etc. To delete objects, simply select the object and press the delete or backspace key.

Organizing Objects. Provide students with objects and ask them to categorize such as beginning sounds, types of rocks, types of transportation, etc.

Matching Objects. Provide students with lots of words and visuals. Then, ask them to organize and match the items. They can delete any items that don’t apply.

Sequencing Objects. Students can sequence pictures and Wordart. For example, students might place items in order from first to last or oldest to newest. Consider building a timeline and asking students to place objects in the correct location. You can also use their approach for cycles.

try itHow could you adapt the PowerPoint Sidekick ideas for older students or adults? Or create starters for other technology environments such as Word, Excel, or other desktop software? Here are some ideas:


Whether creating PowerPoint Sidekicks or presentations, it's helpful to have sources for visuals and sounds. Some are provided below:



Links to the materials in this section can be found in the navigation bar on the left side of this page. Continue to the arrow means an internal linkDigital Learning Spaces: Electronic Whiteboards page.

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