PowerPoint Vs Gifted Students: Part II


Last time we looked at how PowerPoint frequently conflicts with the needs of our gifted students. Now, let’s walkthrough my recent attempt to improve a PowerPoint presentation by going beyond the default settings.

Case Study

Let’s examine some slides for a lesson on the Roman Republic’s government. The lesson’s goal is to communicate the checks, balances, and interrelations of the government’s three branches.

Original Slides


This series of slides use the default settings of Apple’s PowerPoint equivalent, Keynote. Note the heavy reliance on bullet points. It’s a sea of fragmented information. Gifted learners build understanding best when moving from whole to part. These slides simply throw facts at students.

Organize the Information


This slide was also created with Keynote, but contains the same information as the previous four slides. By going beyond the defaults and using a simple graphic organizer, this slide more clearly communicates relationships between ideas. The concept of “checks and balances” is made far more explicit.

Still Not Optimal

While colors within templates can be changed, such change takes time and is somewhat difficult to do. Furthermore, creating unique templates is more difficult than using those provided by the software, and presenters tend to be discouraged from doing so very often. Yates and Orlikowski The PowerPoint Presentation and Its Corollaries

Although clearly an improvement, this slide is still inferior to a whiteboard or overhead transparency for three reasons:

  1. Time This slide was quite a chore to create. Using a whiteboard or overhead, I could have whipped this same organizer up in a fraction of the time it took me to build this slide.
  2. Flexibility This slide must be fully prepared in advance. There is no room for student input or on-the-fly modifications. With low-tech materials, this slide could easily be created in front of students with the option to add their ideas.
  3. Space PowerPoint’s physical constraints limit the information that will fit on a slide, resulting in choppy phrasing and simplified content. Gifted learners need content that is deep and complex. PowerPoint inherently limits the amount of information teachers can display.

An Information-Rich Image


Created by Anihl

Now this image truly represents the inner-workings of the Roman Government. Imagine slowly building this on a bulletin board over the course of a unit. The combination of visual cues and detailed writing gives a deep, complex understanding of “checks and balances.” However, a PowerPoint slide could never support this much information.

So Is PowerPoint Ever The Right Medium?

An Expert In Action

Steve Jobs (CEO of Apple) is an expert presenter. In his introduction of the iPhone, he inadvertently demonstrates how presentation software can be appropriate for gifted classrooms (I also show this video to my students).

Slides Are Supplementary

Jobs is clearly the one running the presentation, not his slides. As teachers, we should be in control of our lesson.


Jobs uses titles to highlight big ideas while he communicates the details. This is an excellent strategy that capitalizes on gifted students’ whole-to-part thinking.

Details Support Big Ideas

When Jobs does display a list of details, they are clearly supporting a larger idea. For example, he doesn’t read off everything OSX can do. That isn’t the point. The point is that the iPhone is as powerful as a desktop computer. Jobs keeps the details connected to this larger idea.


Jobs uses imagery just as good teachers do. Why describe the iPhone when a picture does the job quicker and more effectively? Jobs utilizes his technology to go beyond a static picture, visually highlighting key components of the product.

Animation & Prior Knowledge

Jobs even utilizes the software’s often overused animation abilities to clearly communicate information: it is easy to update the iPhone (just drop it into the dock). He also uses animation to connect to the audience’s prior knowledge of the iPod.

Using Appropriate Technology

Later in the talk, when he demonstrates the phone’s use, Jobs switches to an actual phone rather than attempting to mock up the phone in a slide. Jobs doesn’t attempt to shoehorn his slides into a job they are not suited for.

To put it simply, Steve Jobs chooses the best method to communicate information. We should do the same when planning our use of any technology.

Next Time: Back To The Classroom

So how can we apply Jobs’ expert use of presentation software to our classroom? We’ll conclude the series next time, but I’ll leave you with this quote:

The right question is, “How can I distill my complex information into a visual form that will help me communicate more effectively?” Cliff Atkinson Bullet Points Kill (Effective Communication)