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Yah Win Some… Yah Lose Some….

August 14, 2007

Oh well… I was almost famous!

As you may know, I entered the 4-Slide Sales Pitch competition on dy/dan‘s site (I posted my entry HERE a couple of days ago). I was also awarded first prize… but as I read Dan’s fantastic comments on my work, I began to realise that I couldn’t in good faith accept the prize. The problem was that I’d taken the original brief too literally. When Dan said we had to:

“Design your slides. Use Keynote, PowerPoint, Photoshop, a discarded tray liner from Whitecastle, whatever. Just keep the size below 1920×1080, a constraint which will affect none but the most diehard designers.”

I saw the words “...Use Keynote…” and missed the the bit in bold type at the start of the sentence… ‘Design‘. I love Keynote. In my experience, the default themes are streets ahead of any other presentation package out there. It is easy to use, and I know it well so, having decided on my vehicle, I forgot about it and started thinking about the message I wanted to send. I considered how I was trying to convey the sense that learning is a fundamental part of the process of growing up, and as I watch Paul learn new words and try new things, I knew that he was the key to what I wanted to try and say. I started looking through the many many photos of him and started to pull together my thoughts.

The first photo I used of Paul’s footprint in the sand was chosen to illustrate ‘walking’.

Footprints in sand are a perfect symbol for the transience of our life. In this context, I wanted to convey the notion of first steps while at the same time, setting up the words I wanted to say… hence “i learned how to walk | 1963”. I’d already decided that whatever I wanted to say would have more impact if I could set up a pattern in the words and then give them a twist, but by including the date, I had a the opportunity to personalise my slides (I was born in 1962 and took my first steps in 1963) and also convey progression through time (It has just occurred to me that this also helps convey a sense of life-long learning! Gotta love that serendipity!)…Having worked out the basic format, it was then a case of giving the progression, hence “i learned to run | 1964”. Choosing the photo was easy! It’s Paul running across the sands at Kinshaldy Beach at the mouth of the River Tay (Tentsmuir Forest on wikimapia). Nikki snapped this photo and I love the carefree way Paul is so obviously running…

Having set up the progression, I had to leap to the next slide with “i learned to teach | 1990”. There’s a big chronological leap between me learning to run and qualifying as a teacher, but I felt the the similarities in the photos would bridge the gap. The adult is teaching the child to run, just as I teach pupils in class…

The final slide is one of the favourite photos I’ve taken of Paul. Actually, It’s a very close crop because he had a bit of a cold and was eating Wotsits at the time… Any further out, and you could see his snotty nose and mouth full of cheesy wheat! By getting closer, you can see the stained glass window of the church hall where the photo was taken.


For me, I love the faraway look and thoughtful expression, but I love the symbolism of the reflected light and just think it represents us looking to the future and being reflective (sorry for the punnage!). The real problem was how to change the wording, and in this respect, I tried several variations before choosing “i’m learning how to learn | 2007”. I added my blog address because I was ‘selling myself’ (remember the brief!) If you’re interested, the other hot contender for the final slides words was: “i’m teaching how to learn”.

Anyway, that’s some of my thought processes behind the slides. Once I’d made the decisions, I opened Keynote, chose my template (Modern Portfolio), put the slides together and submitted my entry.

Fast-forward to the result. I was (and still am) delighted to have been chosen given the other entries, but the minute I read Dan’s comments about “forming a tidy division between form and content then bringing them back together with a beautiful earthy color palette” I realised that he was praising the skills of the Apple designer who created the original template.

I am fortunate to have had indirect contact with Christian Long and so was able to track him down on Skype. I called him to voice my concerns and had a great 20 minute chat with him about my reservations. As a result of this, I became convinced I had to do the honourable thing and so withdrew from the contest!

As I said in my letter to Dan:

My heart tells me that, if the contest were evenly weighted between design and content then, while I may have scored highly on content, I would have to penalise myself on the basis of having used a pre-made template. (‘Modern Portfolio’ from Apple’s Keynote ’08). As Christian asked me, “What would I do had it been a something that happened in class with a pupil?”. Being honest, I would have probably tried to get the opinion of the class, or as I think of it now, have created a new category for Best presentation using an existing Template. (Apologies if this is beginning to sound like the Oscars!)

I think the competition is a great idea, and I would hate for the waters to be muddied because I used an existing template and others did all their own design. It is a learning point for me that I will need to consider when I try a similar idea with my own classes.

In the meantime, can I assure you that it was always my intention to try and ‘sell myself’ with my slides, and I am very proud of what you have caused me to create. I should have paid more attention to the brief!

So… I’ve learned even more, and next year, I’ll be going for it big time… and I will read the brief really carefully!

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. August 15, 2007 12:51 am

    Neil, this might sound corny but your integrity has emerged as the winner on this occasion. I think you were also modelling what good teachers do which is not “reinventing the wheel” when a tool or this case, template, does what you intend anyway. The winning component was in the message and yes, the teachers at my school, really, really liked it when I showed them on Monday morning. Thanks for taking the time to drop by my blog – and as a teacher from a similar age bracket with family constraints, I know that “having a go” at a competition like this against younger, design-savvy educators meant doing the best I could with limited opportunities and no background in arts or visual design whatsoever!

    PS. The beach in your slides looks great, but honestly, we have better ones down under. You should come and check them out for yourself! 🙂

  2. August 15, 2007 1:54 am

    Graham hit it on the head, Neil: your integrity came across loud in clear in our Skype chat, your follow-up email to Dan (CC’ing Scott and me), and in this reflective blog piece that puts your project choices into context.

    At the end of the day, everyone gains here (which is rarely the end result when folks have to make tough decisions).

    Thanks for entering; thanks for showcasing a great idea and great content and great images; thanks for making the call proactively; and thanks for making a decision everyone can live with.

    Look forward to you coming on strong (as you said above) the next time such a contest switch is flipped!

    Cheers, Christian

  3. August 15, 2007 4:48 am

    There were rules and constraints?! I didn’t even get that far! You knew more going into this than me! :)) I just started designing in illustrator to see what would come out! You did a great job, template or not. It is always so interesting to learn the decision making process a person goes through to make a visual piece. Thanks for sharing!

  4. August 15, 2007 6:03 am

    These are wonderful comments to wake up to… Thanks folks!

    @Graham: We were lucky to get even a couple of great weather days this summer. We’d love to visit Australia… so much so that it hurts… but it is just a pipedream for us at the moment. Now if Midnight Oil were still playing that might be a different matter, but you seem to be keen on keeping Pete Garrett busy in Parliament!

    @Christian: Thanks my friend! I’ve already got an idea for next years competition… 😉

    @Marcie: Thanks for your kindness and comments. You’re proof that you can make great new connections through the ‘sphere! Consider yourself added to my Netvibes!

  5. August 15, 2007 7:09 am

    I’m with Graham. For me, it runs against the whole rip, mix and learn ethic we’re trying to work with the kids. Nothing on this planet is wholly original, and by the choice of your photos (especially *your* photos) and words you have achieved a better design than any template could offer. Design is more than graphics, it’s the producer’s result of pulling elements together. Still first place for me, Neil 😉

  6. August 15, 2007 10:31 am

    And I love your exposition in this post, which tells me more about you than I would ever have learned. Still a winner!
    (And yes, you can tell my leisured status by the fact that this is me just at my laptop now, at 11.30am!)

  7. August 15, 2007 6:16 pm

    @Ewan: Thank you. Your praise means a lot to me. I take it on the current tmeline, I have two years until McIntosh jnr will be in a position to challenge me! 😉

    @Chris: “…tells me more about you than I would ever have learned…” – or would wish to learn? Again, very humble thanks for your praise and comments. I’ll share them with Nikkii who took the running photos.

    Looking forward to seeing you (both?) at TeachMeet/SETT.

  8. August 16, 2007 9:58 am

    I think your collection of slides & photo’s where so fantastic, well chosen and beautifully simple, they tell a story even without the prompts below the pics.

    This is definitely a great example that I will use to illustrate good design & image choice to students in future.

    Well done!

  9. August 16, 2007 10:30 pm

    Thanks Paul! It means a lot to get so much praise.


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