Mastering PowerPoint

circuit boardThere are some who would say that PowerPoint® is a teacher’s best friend. After all, here is this simple little (ok, not so little …) program capable of displaying any media you choose, and all you need to do is drag and drop! If you’re giving a linear presentation, and chances are you are, then this is all you need to know.

However, there are other times when a linear presentation just won’t do. Perhaps you need to go to a certain slide during a question and answer session. Better yet, what if you want to create a quiz? What to have some mathematical computations going on in the background to make the whole presentation more interactive? Sure, go ahead!
Oh, wait … they didn’t cover that in the faculty in-service, did they? Oh well, what do you expect from fifteen minutes of instruction and a half hour of “play around with the program” time. Lucky for you, there are enough people out there who have not only figured this stuff out, but are willing to share. Among them are the good people who maintain the Internet For Classrooms website, which happens to have quite a few tutorials on it.
Scrolling down to the “Advanced” section of the tutorial list, the instructions on how to create invisible buttons caught my eye. Wait, invisible? What good is that? Bear with me here, I’ll get to that.

First of all, the tutorial is written totally in html code – although at the end a link is provided to a sample PowerPoint. The text includes many, many pictures that show in detail exactly what needs to be done. These pictures are simply wonderful – in fact I think that I wouldn’t even need to read the tutorial so long as I could look at the pictures. These pictures are obviously screen captures from an older Windows operating system, but I won’t hold that against them. They were just planning to help the largest percentage of PowerPoint® users possible. The Macintosh version is still similar enough to make this tutorial useful to me.

So what could I use this for? Well, it’s rather convenient that you asked. Something I routinely do as an Art teacher is show artwork to my students. Normally this requires that I be there to point and talk. With this setup, however, I could section off different parts of an artwork to be buttons and have each button link to a different slide. When students see a section that interests them, they can click on it to learn more about it. If I’m lazy and don’t want to make multiple slides, I could have the buttons play audio files where I talk about that section of the artwork rather than force them to read.

I could put a bunch of artworks like this together to make whole chapters of informative multimedia books, then go take a break while the students all use my PowerPoint® presentations and become so enthralled that they fail to notice my absence … or rather, maybe I should stay in the room in case anyone has any questions for me. Yeah, that’s what I meant.

Oh clip art, where art thou?

I’ll admit I myself have an aversion to clip art, but then I make my own stuff all the time and not everyone does that. As a result, I present to you several alternatives to making everything from scratch. I assure you that I’ve never seen a principal act in the way portrayed below – I just wrote that to add some humor.

Your mission: Replace the school’s old web site with a web site that looks nice. “Looks nice,” so far as your principal is concerned, means graphics on every page.
The problem: You’ve hardly any time to finish it (your principal is already planning to show it off this Friday during an in-service) and your school hasn’t bought new computers since 1996. You’d use your home computer, but a recent accident involving a cat, pet allergies, and a double tall mocha latte has rendered your home computer temporarily inoperable. What do you do?

Wait, before you start revising your resume (there’s plenty of time for that this weekend) there is hope. A good color scheme and table layout can make a web site aesthetically pleasing, and the information you can’t reuse from the old site can easily be updated to be current, assuming you’re on good terms with the school secretary.

95% of your work is done – now all you have to worry about is your principal’s hair brained … that is, visionary idea of including graphics on every page. Making decent graphics on a school computer is out of the question. Not because they don’t have graphic design software that can run on the school computers, but because you don’t have graphic design software that will run on those computers.

Fortunately for you, there’s plenty of clip art out there. The nice thing about clip art is that it’s free, but the downside is that you often get what you pay for. Sifting through the pixels, you come across a site called FlamingText has clip art you can use, but its most noticeable feature is its free header image creator. Less than five minutes after finding the site you have a title image with the school’s name ready to display on the school site. A weaker teacher would have cringed at the pop-up ads, but you toughed it out.

But one title does not a happy principal make. With more exploration you come across a site called Classroom Clipart. This site does have a place for you to sign in and another to sign up for it’s newsletter, but it’s still free so long as it’s used for educational use (K-12 only) and you don’t get rid of the watermarks. The clip art is all organized by category, and offers a variety of pictures from low resolution computer generated images to some rather nice looking photos. You grab a few images that relate to the different subject areas and move on.

Your final stop in search of graphics takes you to Web Clip Art, brought to you by the good people from This free site has it’s own clip art (including some background images), as well as tips, tutorials, and links to other good clip art sites. Perhaps you should have come here first? No matter, you now have all the graphics you need and you still have time to go to lunch and complain about working too hard to your coworkers in the faculty lounge – and all you had to do was have your morning classes watch movies instead of doing any real work!


Browser Window pixGolly gee whiz, I’ve got more content!

When I created this blog I wanted to use it not only to to provide useful information to others, but to also show the blend between art, tech, and education. (Insert venn diagram … here.) As such, I always get a kick when I see other web sites that blend some or all of these things.

So when teach42‘s Stephen Dembo podcasted about Edugadget, I was quite pleased indeed. Edugadget (not to be confused with Engadget, another nice tech site) has a plethora of posts on software, websites, and ideas on how to use technology to improve the quality of education. If you’re a teacher who’s interested in technology, then you should check this site out – or better yet, subscribe to their RSS feed.

Edit: Just found out I wasn’t linking to teach42 as much as I was linking to Edugadget again. The problem should be fixed now. Thanks to Stephen Dembo for pointing it out. And no, I don’t think you’re egocentric. :)

Drawing / Sketching

brushesInterested in improving your drawing skills? Well you can always take more Art classes, buy drawing books, and join local art clubs – all of these are helpful in encouraging you to push your skills to the limit. However, you can also try visiting online “how-to-draw” sites for advice and information. They’re often not as detailed as other methods, but they’re a lot cheaper.

One of my favorites is a site entitled Drawing / Sketching. This is actually part of the network, which I love because it’s more than just a search engine. Each section is maintained and regularly updated by someone currently in that particular industry (or if there is no industry for that category, someone who at least has a lot of experience).

Drawing / Sketching is no different, as it’s maintained by an Art teacher named Helen South. On her site, she does a good job of updating frequently and providing pertinent information, advice, and links. I must admit, I’ve used some of her tutorials when making take-home lesson plans for high school students. If you’re an Art teacher or Art student, you should really check out this great resource. and

brushesLet’s say you’re teaching a web design or digital photography lesson. You’ve made all your plans, you’re ready to go, but you have one problem – you didn’t sign up early enough to use the computer lab that has Adobe Photoshop installed on the computers. There’s still a lab available, but those computers are so old that they won’t even run a current version of Photoshop.

So what do you do? Well you could reschedule, but do you have a plan B to be working on in the classroom? There is a plan B, and it can be used in that other computer lab. is a website that allows you to upload and image, then edit it in a variety of ways. It’s not as full featured as some of the more well known image editing programs out there, but in a pinch it’ll do the basic stuff for you.

If you have an image already uploaded to a server but want to edit it a bit, you can always head over to and use their photo service. This isn’t’s key feature (as you may guess by it’s simplicity). Rather, they have a very nice system for creating headers and banners that say whatever you want them to say – including choice of fonts, colors, and even (in some cases) animation.

So you want an art degree …

Education IconWonderful! The more education you get under your belt, the more money you have the potential to make. Now the question is, what college should you pick? Well my alma mater was quite nice, but rural Pennsylvania isn’t for everyone.

The first thing I would do is decide what art career you want once you’ve graduated. It’s quite possible to make a living with an art degree (both my sister and I have been doing it for years), depending on your skills and dedication. Of course, only the most skilled, dedicated, and lucky can make a living off of a degree in painting, ceramics, or another of the fine arts degrees. (It’s not impossible, just more difficult.) There are others, of course – architecture, communications design (advertising), and my personal favorite: Art teacher.

In any case, whatever art career you choose you’ll have to find a good college, and that’s what this update is truly about. I recommend asking your high school Art teacher, artists working in your chosen field, and of course, doing a little research online.

Google is nice, but there are other sites that give more information. If you’re serious about checking out art schools and colleges, then I recommend a site that is, coincidentally, called “Art Schools and Colleges.” More than just a categorized list, this site lists descriptions of each school so you’ll know more about it before you ever go to the college website.

Friends don’t let friends buy ugly art

Pardon me while I spend today’s update by getting up on my soapbox. The following rantings are my own opinions, and I in no way expect everyone to agree with what I have to say.

Berk Chappell recently wrote a letter to the editor criticizing the fact that the city of Corvallis didn’t like a recent installation of public sculpture. There is one quote that I think sums up a key point quite nicely:

To attack a work of art because one doesn’t understand it is forgivable only if the critic takes measures to correct the problem. It is called “education.”

This is a great quote, and when I first read it I agreed with it. Then I realized “Wait a minute. This assumes that you can’t say whether or not you like something without being trained.” Aesthetics can be understood in more detail with education, but you don’t need to take a course to know what you like or don’t like. It’s a sliding scale, not an on/off switch.

As an artist, one must always remember who the art is being created for. (You make more money that way.) Sometimes it will be for your teacher. Other times you’ll be making it for yourself, friends, boss, significant other, or any combination of the above. If you’ve been commissioned to do a public sculpture, guess what? Your audience is the public. If they don’t like it, you can’t blame them – it’s you who failed. In my opinion, some of the artists that get pretentious about the public being uneducated masses not understanding their genius are just talking about sour grapes and not willing to admit to their mistakes. This happens almost as often as some artists never liking anything they do in spite of the public raving about it. (Even Michelangelo once took a hammer to his statue of David because he thought he made a mistake.)

What upsets me the most is the idea that those in charge of buying this art take someone else’s word for it that they “just don’t understand” the art and “really, it’s quite good.” Please, if your goal was to have others think FOR you, then why did you ever go to school?

I remember back when I was in college, my father and I were driving down a highway and we passed a business with a large sculpture in front of their building. Without thinking, Dad blurted out “Man, that’s an ugly sculpture!”

I later found out that he then started thinking that he had said a faux pas. After all, here was his son sitting next to him – someone who was working towards a four year degree in Art Education. Was I now thinking that he was the art equivalent of a luddite?

He soon found out he had nothing to fear. Not knowing what he was internalizing, I took a good hard look at the sculpture. (Well, as much as I could – we were still driving down the road.)

“You know,” said I, “Two years ago I would have agreed with you and said that was an ugly sculpture. But now, I have two years of college under by belt. I’ve taken classes on sculpture and art criticism. Because of this, I can safely say that sculpture is ugly on so many levels!


Browser Window pixYou have a report to write on the Vietnam War. No problem, you did your work. You found your references – all six of them.

Wait … six? You thought you only needed five! Well you’d better think fast, your report’s due tomorrow morning and it’s already midnight. What do you do?

Well you could try a Google search, but even the best search engine is hit or miss sometimes. No, your best bet is to use an encyclopedia.

What, your edition of Encyclopedia Britanica was published in 1956? Never fear, Wikipedia is here!

Wikipedia is based off of two words, the combination of which is a very accurate description of the site. The first part, “wiki,” describes what can be called an “open source” web site – anyone can edit it. This is great, because if it’s missing a section, some enterprising individual is bound to add it. If information is found to be incorrect, someone else will fix it. Yes, there’s the potential for someone to really screw this up, but so far so good. (I’ll let you guess what the “-pedia” part stands for.)

So, if you want to use a free online encyclopedia that gets updated almost in real time, check out Wikipedia. You won’t be disappointed.


circuit boardFor those of you that didn’t know, a “Podcast” is halfway between a blog and a radio program. In fact, most podcasters also maintain blogs that show similar content. They are easy to record and upload, where a special RSS aggregator then downloads the recording to your computer, iPod, or any device that can play MP3 files. (It’s just called a PODcast because iPods dominate the market and it’s a derivative of “BROADcast.”)

Podcasts have two things going for them. First, because they’re saved as mp3 files you can listen to them when they’re most convenient. Don’t time to finish listening to a podcast? Just hit pause and go back to it later. It’ll wait for you.

Second, podcasts are narrowcasts. Broadcasts are usually done by companies that need to make money (even public radio needs to attract enough listeners to do well on a membership drive), so they will try to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. Ever wonder why there’s so many conservative talk show hosts? It’s because they have the most listeners so they get the most advertisers.

On the other side of the coin, podcasts are usually done just for the fun of it – like blogs. Sure, a few podcasters might ask for some donations, but since they’re self funded they don’t need to have a broad audience. As a result, they can focus on very specific topics that might not attract more than 1,000 people. (This does not mean podcasters try to avoid listeners, only that they don’t have to cater to the masses) I personally listen to podcasts on web design, technology, photography, and educational technology. Some of those topics would never make it into a radio program, but they’re important to me so I listen.

There are many good podcasters out there, but here are three good ones that teachers might want to check out:


This frequently updated blog includes many a podcast on how teachers can integrate technology into their curriculum. Far from being merely a blog about blogging, any type of technology is fair game to this guy. Next to Leo Laporte, he’s one of my favorites.


The maintainer of this site is a Supervisor of Instructional Technology and Communications, so you can be certain he knows what he’s talking about. Mr. Richardson describes himself as a “blogvangelist,” so it’s quite understandable that most of his postings are centered around how blogs can be used in the school setting. [EDIT – while Weblogg-ed is still quite active, he doesn’t podcast anymore.]


Another good site, this podcaster focusses mainly on websites that can help teachers in the various subjects. It’s important to note that this is not – that’s a different site and it’s nowhere near as informative.

Ed Emberley

brushesWhen I was a little tyke back in the ’80s, I loved checking Ed Emberley drawing books out from the library. Mr. Emberley’s style was to start each lesson with “If you can draw this: (followed by a bunch of scribbles that even a trained monkey could do) then you can draw a fish!” Substitute “fish” for “dog,” “cat,” “three ring circus,” etc., and you get the idea for most of his drawing books.

I actually credit Ed Emberley (and a few of my classmates) with instilling in me a love of Art, as my own elementary Art teacher did little to encourage me.

So imagine my surprise when I found out that not only is Mr. Emberley still making books, but he also has his own flash based web site! This gem of online design includes instructions for a variety of activities, complete with written permission to reproduce sections of his web site. I may have to work some of this stuff into an Art lesson later.