Battledecks: It’s Not Just for Librarians!

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The Challenge 

A few weeks, IB History of the Americas teacher and one of our regular collaborative partners Dan Byrne came to us with a challenge:  he needed his students to research different nationalist movements and revolutions as well as present their findings to their peers.  The dilemma?  His students were suffering a severe case of early onset SENIORITIS.  He needed a way to challenge the students with their presentation format and skills yet avoid crafting lengthy PowerPoints that were primarily an exercise in boring regurgitation.

After some thought, my solution was a modified form of Battledecks, the legendary form of “PowerPoint Karaoke” that has been especially popular in library conference circles.   Drawing on my own experience as a participant, watching others, and some great advice from fellow librarian Andy Woodworth, I pitched the idea to Dan.   After some initial conversation, we worried a true Battledecks might be a little overwhelming for their first effort; in addition, Jen and I were worried about prepping slidedecks for three classes even though the presentations were going to be shorter than a typical Battledecks sesssion.    After a little research, I found a modified version from teacher Tom Woodward that seemed to be the perfect balance of creative thinking and enough structure to push our students but not send them over a cliff.

Processes and Procedures

Our rules were as follows:

Byrne Battledecks Instructions and Sample Slides March 2015

I decided to expand my photo pool (shared with students via Google Drive and the link was posted to Dan’s course page) to 45 images since I was worried presentations could get a little stale with a smaller photo pool for three classes.  After explaining the purpose, guidelines, and a sample slidedeck with students, they were off and running.

Because students had already distilled their research into a poster, they had a great starting point for pulling out the big ideas and details they wanted to convey through the image based slides.    We also gave our students a little more prep time with two days total for introduce the concept, to craft slides, and to do a little individual rehearsal.  On Day 2, students completed a quick reflection via Google Forms; this survey also served as a database to help me generate individualized scoresheets thanks to good old-fashioned mail merge.  Finally, we gave the students the option of using a notecard if they needed a “safety net” to help them although we had quite a few who either used no notecards or who barely glanced at them because they had done such a great job creating their presentations and remembering the details based on the images they chose.

For assessment, we borrowed from our ACRL colleagues and developed these evaluation guidelines:

  • Content and Credibility: did it make any sense, did you highlight the key events about your topic, accuracy of facts
  • Poise and Gesture
  • Flow: minimal pauses and stammering
  • Audience Response
  • Creativity: how well did you connect your talking points to your image choice? (bonus points for connections to images that clearly are not an easy connection)

We assessed students on a scale 0-5 in each of these areas and took notes as students presented.  Students were also asked to jot down a few notes or a big takeaway for each presentation; Dan provided these feedback strips to students.

Students presented over approximately 2.5 days; presentations were uploaded to the course dropbox in D2L, the district course platform, so students can download them and present easily for the most part.   We drew for names, so the presentation order was random, and each period a student assisted us as official timekeeper.  Overall, we were pleased with the work and performance of the classes as well as the atmosphere of support students gave each other. Each day we awarded a tiara and wand to the most interesting presentation from each class period.

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Student/Teacher Feedback and Next Steps

Students were generally very enthusiastic about the Battledecks presentation, and many expressed they would like to do a “true” version of it after our spring break as part of their end of review.   While some students shared they would like to do a true Battledecks individually, others thought it would be fun to do it with a partner or to even have a version where they play off each other in pairs and one participant gets eliminated.  Others shared they would not feel comfortable participating in a true Battledecks presentation but would want to help out in some way.  Most students liked the pool of images and having that pre-selected as well as a mix of abstract and unorthodox photos to work with rather than finding the images themselves.  While most students indicated they liked the larger photo pool, others felt the challenge element would have been greater with a smaller photo pool.  Overall, the student response was incredibly positive and many shared they felt it was a great creative stretch for them that was fun and meaningful.  Check out what Dan has to say about the Battledecks learning experience in the short video below:

Other teachers who have heard about this activity are now planning on using this strategy as a way of having students jigsaw and share information.  It’s a great presentation structure that is flexible and can be adapted as a formative or summative learning performance.    We are looking forward to helping Mr. Byrne and his student stage an authentic Battledecks later this spring and sharing that with you.

3 thoughts on “Battledecks: It’s Not Just for Librarians!

  1. We have an AP Gov class doing this project with the students assigned topics relating to Bill of Rights. The students worked on their presentations today, and are presenting later in the week. Their feedback has been extremely positive so far, and their teacher loves this project, too.
    We have our accreditation committee, NEASC, visiting our school this week, and one of the educators on the committee was shadowing a student in this class. She liked the project so much I helped her send information about it to her husband, who is a High School English teacher who teaches mythology, which she thought would be perfect for his classes. I’m also doing this with two other Social Studies teachers over the next few weeks.
    Thanks for not minding, Buffy, that I’m using your deck of photos. It saved me a lot of time!

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