Mike Pearce: Using PowerPoint in School
Interviewed by: Geetesh Bajaj
Date Created: June 20th 2007
Last Updated: February 28th 2009
Mike Pearce teaches social studies at Ellison High School in the Killeen Independent School District in Texas, USA. But Mike is not just another teacher -- he uses PowerPoint presentations to deliver a successful teaching system that has shown a phenomenal improvement in the results and passing rates.
In this exclusive interview, Mike discusses his PowerPoint based system.
Geetesh: Tell us more about yourself.
Mike: I am 37 years old, born in South Kingstown, Rhode Island.
After graduating high school, I entered the US Marine Corps and served as an infantry rifleman, a special weapons security guard, and a marksmanship range coach. While in the Marine Corps, I married my high school sweetheart, Melanie Ford with whom I have six children. Upon my discharge, I attended the University of Rhode Island (URI) where I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. My wife earned a US Army Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship and a pharmacy degree. After we graduated in 1996, as a newly commissioned Army officer, my wife received orders to Fort Hood, TX.
I had dreams, prior to graduation, of becoming a legislative aide in Washington, DC but they were thwarted by Melanie’s assignment. I attended Baylor University for a short time pursuing an MPPA (Masters in Public Policy and Administration) but was forced to drop out after six weeks due to a lack of funds and more importantly, that we had two children who I was forced to put in day care for long periods of time. One day, my eldest daughter who was 3 years old at the time, looked up at me after I picked her up from daycare and said, “Daddy, you’re gone too long.” It broke my heart and I dropped out that week. I spent a good deal of time playing “Mr. Mom”, which was very depressing. I saw a commercial on television one day produced by the Education Service Center in our region asking people with a college degree to consider becoming certified teachers. I thought about it, and said, “What the heck -- I can teach for a couple of years and then move on to bigger and better things”. The very last thing I ever expected was to make a career of teaching.
After I was certified in 1997, I was placed in a 5th grade classroom at Mountain View Elementary, and then a 3rd grade classroom for the next two years. I enjoyed teaching in elementary school, but wanted a bigger challenge and the opportunity to be able to communicate with students at a higher level. Upon my request, I was transferred to Liberty Hill Middle School and assigned to teach eighth grade American History. I had finally found my niche!
When I arrived at the school, it was in its third year of existence. In its two previous years of existence, the passing rate on the state mandated social studies exam (The Texas Assessment of Academic Skills), was phenomenally low; 1999- 63%, and in 2000 a 74%. I was flabbergasted that a quarter to over a third of our students were failing the TAAS, so I set out to correct it! The use of PowerPoint presentations became the key to my success!
Over the course of the next six years, our scores rose drastically, from 92% in my first year, and culminating in 2006 with a 99% passing rate; 77% of the students earned “commended performance” (receiving an 88% or above), and 21 of my students who took the exam, earned a perfect score -- not a single question wrong! That amounted to roughly one out of every six students!
After feeling a great sense of satisfaction, I decided it was time for another challenge: High School! I was recruited by Ellison High School this past academic year to teach Geography and US Government… but was informed in November that I would be taking over Advanced Placement (AP) United States History and Advanced Placement (AP) United States Government and Politics in January. I took over the US history course mid-year… so, producing PowerPoint presentations became an immensely difficult and hurried task. AP Government was an enormous task, but less so, as it is only a semester long course and I was able to use some of what I had produced during the first semester in general education US Government. At the end of the course, students are required to take the rigorous Advanced Placement exam (for which they can earn college credit), and the scores in previous years had been horrible. The 2007 scores will not be released until late July, so we shall soon see whether PowerPoint is equally effective in AP courses, as well as high school in general.
Geetesh: How did you get started with these presentations?
Mike: In the late 1990’s, my school district, required all teachers to take a “Computers for Teachers” course which was run by a few select campus technologists. At the time, it was a basic introduction to standard Microsoft software such was Word, Excel, and PowerPoint -- remember, in the late 90s, computer use was still foreign to many. I took the course in 1998, and was intrigued when we got to the section on PowerPoint. I immediately recognized the potential benefits to using it as a teaching tool and remember asking, “Why aren’t teachers using this? It’s phenomenal!”
After my training, the gears in my head began to turn, but I was teaching elementary school and could only find a few effective uses for it. As I stated earlier, I was transferred to Middle school in 2000 and the PowerPoint door kicked wide open. I spent the first semester teaching both general education and Talented and Gifted students in the standard textbook driven fashion. In addition to my duties as a teacher, I also coached football at the time giving me less time to do my work. When Christmas break arrived in December, I decided that I was finally going to design a PowerPoint driven class and I spent the entire two weeks working on it.
When my students arrived back in January, they were very receptive. The presentations were very basic, but my eighth graders were fascinated and begged for more. Needless to say, I continued creating PowerPoints and spent the entire summer working on them. It caused an enormous strain on my family, as I never seemed to have time to leave my computer. My wife understandably became very frustrated because of my neglect of family matters, but became very supportive once she saw its benefits for students and for me as an educator. It was also clear that once I was done with the entire curriculum, life would return to normal, if not improve.
Geetesh: What made you choose PowerPoint as the medium in which you wanted to present these lessons?
Mike: An excellent question, and one that needs to be answered thoroughly!
PowerPoint provides students who have fully embraced the technological age in which they live, the opportunity to learn the way they play, communicate, etc. PowerPoint provides students not only with words, but with sound, pictures, photographs, and movie clips. They are fixated on the presentation, anxiously anticipating the contents of each slide.
The use of visual images is most crucial, as the vast majority of students are visual learners and when they can associate an event in history with a picture or photograph, it stays in the long-term, rather than the short term memory. I have had students who are now in college write me with great praise and thanks, usually accompanied by a story about how they were able answer a professor’s question because there was a PowerPoint slide about the topic tattooed in their memory!
Geetesh: What plans do you have to create and distribute more content like this in the future?
Mike: The PowerPoint presentations I’m currently marketing only take the student through the year 1877, as dictated by the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for eighth graders. As I mentioned before, when I moved to high school, I began teaching US history and government. Therefore, I hope to finish up my hastily, but still well constructed presentations for both classes and market them as well. My ultimate goal is to build my business so that it can provide teachers in every curriculum area with the opportunity to use the type of presentations I am using in my social studies classes.
Geetesh: How has the response to Perspector been - also tell us more about what new features were introduced in the new version as a direct result of user feedback.
Mike: At first glance, my presentations may take an adult viewer aback. There are no templates and I often change colors with each slide. Additionally, font styles and sizes also change, and the slides are full of very rich text -- an obvious taboo in the business world.
Why do I do this? Because most kids are not excited about what they are doing in most classrooms due to the continuation of textbook driven teaching styles. American students embrace mediocrity and they need to be convinced that their learning might be worthwhile, and yes, somewhat entertaining. PowerPoint provides that!
Slide colors change with each click because it grabs my students’ attention- they crave variety and templates will put them to sleep. The same goes for font styles and sizes; Students like to look up from slide to slide and see varied forms of writing. Yes, even that makes it more interesting to a kid. Finally, why so much text? The first reason is that it teaches the students to outline and take notes proficiently -- they learn to write down what they need to, not everything on the slide. Secondly, there are a good number of students who need to read what is on the slide because that is their learning style -- it helps them retain the information better. They need to see it all -- not just a key phrase or two. All people learn differently, and PowerPoint is an amazing educational too that helps me to adequately meet the needs of every type of learner.
Note from Geetesh: You can buy a collection of Mike's PowerPoint presentations from his site...