On the first day of school, I tell my students that I don't have a seating chart in my classroom; they can sit wherever they want... UNTIL they make it necessary for me to assign them seats! If they want to sit next to their friends, that's fine, as long as they aren't distracted or distracting and NOBODY is allowed to kick anybody out of "their" seat.

This works pretty well for the first several weeks of school, then one by one, most of my classes descend into knuckleheadedness and I need to assign seats. This can lead to a lot of moaning, complaining and convenient forgetfullness. ("Oh... I was supposed to sit over HERE??? I totally forgot!!")

For me, the solution to this, as in most things, is PowerPoint.

On the morning when I assign seats, I have the students line up against the back wall of the classroom with their books, turn out the lights and show them a
Spectacular Seating Chart PowerPoint!!

Each student's picture appears on screen with some sort of amusing sound effect. The student in question blushes, while everyone else has a good-natured laugh at their expense, then the PowerPoint indicates where they should sit. After all the students have taken their new seats, I re-emphasize that assigned seats are a management tool and not personal. The students usually take it pretty well.

Interestingly enough, because our classrooms have thin walls, 8th Graders in other classrooms hear the funny sound effects and laughter from my room and when then get to my class, they usually want to see the other class' seating chart. Often, they are so amused that they ask for a seating chart of their own.

Well, that's how it's worked for me, anyway.

Here is how I build a Seating Chart PowerPoint:


(Click on any of the pictures for a more detailed view.)

 

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I generally start every PowerPoint with an Introductory slide or two. When I first started using PowerPoints, I thought it would be nifty to include a drumroll sound effect. Unfortunately, the only drumroll I had at the time was about ten seconds long, which doesn't sound all that long, but really is. Students complained so much about it that I started putting in longer and more elaborate sound effects on my introduction slides, until now it has become something of a joke with my students that each introduction is bigger and more over-the-top than the last, which they seem to like.

In this case, I've used the Theme from 2001 for Slide 1. 
I've followed this up with the theme from the Dick van Dyke Show for Slide 2.

This is all optional, of course.





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Step #1 - Selecting a Background

I don't know about you, but it really bugs me when I start a new slide in PowerPoint and the template for a title and a subtitle automatically pops up. I make a point of selecting the "Blank Slide" setting under the "Layout" menu.


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Then I pick a background color.

I do this by right-clicking the slide and choosing the "Format Background" option
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I generally pick a bland color for the background - something classy, but non-distracting. I like an dull olive-green: it feels kind-of calm and pool-table-y.

That's just a personal choice, of course.

 


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Step #2 - Making Desks

From the Shapes menu, select a rectangle and draw the basic outline of a desk.

 




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If the desks in your room aren't actually rectangular, other shapes are available.

My students actually sit at trapezoidenal tables, but for the purpose of this explanation, I'm going to use demonstrate a seating chart for a classic, 20 desk classroom.




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Click on the desk you've just drawn and choose, "Format", "Shape Fill" and "Texture". This will provide you with several options, a couple of which will more-or-less approximate the general appearance of the desks in your room.




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Resize your desk by clicking and dragging on on of the circles on the corners of the shape, then drag the desk to where its real-world counterpart is in your classroom.

 


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Now, to make your life easier, right-click your desk, select "Copy" from the menu and "Paste" in an exact duplicate.


 


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Keep doing this until you've got a row of desks. If you don't trust your ability to do this by eye, insert a line to guide you, then remove it once you've got the desks placed.


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Now, select your row of desks and do the same thing all over again:

Copy...


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... and Paste, until you have all the desks placed into a reasonable representation of your classroom.


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If the desks in your classroom are as mismatched as the ones in mine, you might want to change the textures in a few of them to reflect your actual state of affairs.


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Step #3 - Inserting Students

Now, insert a picture of a student. You've probably left enough blank space in some part of the slide to fit a good-sized photo. (You wouldn't BELIEVE how long it took me to figure THAT out!)

 




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Where To Get Student Pictures:

I generally use the students' ID pictures. I go on the school's server and find the pictures. (In a different place every year!)

It would be a pretty straight-forward process to take pictures of the kids yourself - or better yet, have them take pictures of each other. There are always students who don't like to have their pictures taken, but I've found that if I give a camera to a couple of competing "alpha-girls", they manage to get really good pictures of everyone. Almost any boy will let a cute girl take his picture and the weird, intensely complicated rules of girl politics will allow the photographer girls to shoot other girls, particularly if there are competing social cliques at play.

(Hey - I don't claim to understand it; I just try to harness it for Good instead of Evil...)

To protect my students' privacy, I'm using a picture of Marsha Brady here.


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Step #3 - Custom Animation

This next step is the closest we're going to get to anything tricky (but it's really not very tricky at all):

Go to the "Animation" menu and select "Custom Animation". This will bring up a sidebar that allows you to select different visual and sound effects.

Select your student's picture, then, on the Custom Animation menu, select "Add Effects", "Entrance" and whatever effect you want to use to bring the picture up when you show this slideshow. You could have it fly in or unfold in sections like a window shade, but my favorite effect for this sort of thing is a simple, "Fade".


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 Next, choose the "Insert" menu and select "Sound". This will allow you to have the picture of your student appear with an amusing sound effect that will make you look really cool. (Or in my case, slightly less lame...)


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I've collected quite a few soundclips over time to use for this sort of thing. They are all saved as .wav files. I try to find some sound effect that is either very much in line with a student's personality or very much NOT in line.

Thus, all the hilarity.



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At this point, PowerPoint will ask you if you want to start the sound effect automatically or when you click the little loudspeaker icon.

Choose "Automatically".


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I generally drag the little loudspeaker icon off to the side of the slide. That way, I always know where it is and it won't clutter up the look of the slide.

Now, select the sound effect on your Custom Animation taskbar and use the "Reorder" command to move it to the top of the list.


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Now that your sound effect is first on the list, change it so that it starts "On Click"

Next, change the properties of the picture's animation. There is a little menu arrow to the right of it on your Custom Animation menu. If you click on that arrow, a whole new menu will pop up.

Select "Timing", then "Start - With Previous". This will make sure that the sound and the picture animation will run simultaniously.

Then select your speed. You will have several options, like "Fast", "Extra Fast", "Warp Speed" - that sort of thing - but you can also type in an actual number of seconds that you want it to take for your picture to appear. If you type in the same amount of time as the length of your sound clip, they will synch perfectly.


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Step #4 - Making New Slides

If you look on the left-hand side of your screen, you will see a menu with all the slides you've made so far in this presentation. Select the slide you've just created and copy it.

You can do this by clicking it and dragging it. PowerPoint will ask if you want to move it or copy it. Select "Copy".

Depending on what version of PowerPoint you have, there may also be a command under the "Insert" menu, called "Insert Duplicate Slide". That will work well, too.


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Now, you have two identical slides.

(Which, I suppose, is sort of the point...)


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In your new slide, resize the picture of your student to fit the desk where you want her to sit, then move her there.

Now, remove her sound effect and her animation. Those effects will still be in place on the first slide, but you don't want them here.


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Now select the "Animation" menu again and choose the options, "Fade Smoothly" and "Slow".

Basically, this means that when you run the slideshow, you will start with an empty set of desks, you will advance to show your first student appearing with an amusing sound effect. (In this case, Marsha Brady appearing with a cow mooing with a Cockney accent.)

Then, when you advance again, the slide with the big picture will fade smoothly into one where Little Marsha is sitting happily (and if you ask me, a little smugly) in her seat.


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Now, add your next student to the second slide and keep doing all the same steps, over and over again.

Because you will copy each new slide in order to make the next one, all your cumulative changes will come with you and the little pictures of the students will stay in exactly the right spots.

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When you are done, you will have a full seating chart.

This is EXTRA cool, because you can print off a copy of this final slide and put it in your sub folder, so that when you are out sick or at a conference, your substitute teacher will have a visual layout of who sits where and even if the students give her fake names, she will still know where they sit.

This year, one of my classes managed to get through the whole year without a seating chart. They were a little disappointed about that, so on the last day of classes, I gave them a seating chart PowerPoint. (I seated them in the same places they'd been sitting at on their own all year.)

 
 

Toy #1

A Remote Control For Your Computer

Okay - the question is a natural one: Why?

"Isn't all this technology distancing me enough from the rest of my life already? Why would I want to get even MORE remote?"

I can answer that with two words: "Teenaged Boys".

If you've been in the classroom for any length of time, you know that it is a very bad idea to turn your back on certain students. If you have any "difficult" boys in your class (and really, isn't "difficult" the most flattering way of describing some of your boys?), you know that the idea of sitting at a computer in a dark room with your back to the students is basically courting catastrophy.

Yes, of course there are ways to contain the damage. You can pause the slideshow or movie that you are showing periodically to ask pointed questions of particular students to make sure that they are paying attention. You can spin around and give the Evil Glare of Doom to somebody each time you hear a suspicious noise. You could make one of the worst offenders your special AudioVisual Assistant.

Ultimately though, you still end up in a darkened room chained to a computer with your back turned to most of your students.

Now, imagine a remote control that allows you to walk around BEHIND your students as they watch your brilliantly dorky PowerPoint presentation. You've heard a distressing amount of whispering and giggling from one corner of the room as you've been showing pictures of Lake Titicaca or lecturing on Manhattan Schist. (Or maybe that only happens to me...) You can walk around and stand next to the Giggle Brothers and maybe even lean on the desk between them as you make your next point and effortlessly move on to the next slide.

Remote controls for your computer are reasonably inexpensive - usually under $100. (I got the one I use everyday for about $40 at Radio Shack.) They can range from the really simple to the extremely complex, from unbelievably easy to use to very, very difficult.

I've only tried a few different models - mostly because I really like my original one - a Keyspan PR-US2 Presentation Remote. I really like its simplicity; it has an almost zen-like lack of cool features. It has a left-click button (which corresponds to the left button on your mouse), a right-click button (which opens up all the magic possibilities of right-clicking), a small pad that moves a pointer, much like a mouse, and a laser-pointer.

I like it - aside from the laser-pointer, it doesn't do anything a mouse doesn't do, but it is basically idiot-proof, which is pretty much what I want it to be proof against. The downside of this particular model is that the mousepad is twitchy and takes some getting used to.

Okay, a LOT of getting used to.

The weird thing is, having put in the effort of learning how to use my twitchy little blue button (Okay - that sounds a little dirty, but it is better than the word "knob", which is the only other one that springs to mind.) I really don't feel as comfortable using the other, theoretically more user friendly models I've tried.

There are rumors though, of a new remote that is sleek, exotic, sexy and sophisticated - in other words, everything I'm not and would like to be. There have been press releases. There have been reports on technology podcasts. I covet this remote. Tragically, it doesn't seem to exist yet.