Using Prezi: A review

In my previous post I had a lot of detailed information that I wanted to communicate and only so much post-length in which to communicate it. In fact, the post and my message were inundated with this detail, threatening the viability and practicality of the post.



So I had to find a way to deemphasize the detail while not losing any of it.

I started out with plain HTML coding. That ended quickly. It was easy to tag and write, but the product was pages long. So, I then tried animated GIFs. This was a little better, at least as far as coding and explaining were concerned, but the product was still long. So then I tried a PowerPoint, or rather an Impress, since I use OpenOffice instead of Microsoft Office. (Why would anyone pay $400 to $500 for something they could get, at equal or better quality, for free?) The impress was 43 slides long after pruning, giving you an idea on how long the first HTML posts actually were. It worked nicely, but like most slideshows it was static and blocky, almost institutional.

So I took the leap and tried Prezi. And I am very glad I did!

First impressions



My first impression of Prezi came from several prezis educators created, some embedded in blog posts and all advertised on Twitter. These prezis were, as far as I was concerned, of high quality. I was intrigued enough to list Prezi as a tool I would like to try one day when a topic suited it. So it waited until my last post.

Prezi has simple navigation. When you open it you have five options, a Sign In button, an introductory video tour and three prominent tabs: Your Prezi, Learn and Explore.

  • Your Prezi leads to your account, which you activate after you Sign In. In here are your bar-setting creations.
  • Explore categorizes and presents feature prezis made by Prezi staff and end users. There are also Prezis We Like on the home page.
  • Learn has four short, simple videos, explaining how to use the application, plus a Learn box containing links to Community and Support. In Support is a manual, which is actually a table of contents to a Prezi knowledge base. Search is also available on all pages.

With these six resources (I never selected Community), one can navigate the site.

The application is also fairly easy to use, once one familiarizes him or herself with the application navigation, which is compacted into a rotary bubble that sits out of the way in the upper left corner of the work screen.

I did however have initial trouble selecting objects and several false starts because of that after I exited then reentered Write/Select mode. I am not sure if this was a glitch in the application or a fault in my use of it. I had a similar problem near the end of my creation, when selecting objects did not isolate dragging to that object but resulted instead in dragging the whole content of the work screen. These were minor distractions though and I was quick to overcome them with persistence.



Designing and making my prezi

How to start

It is possible to make a prezi from scratch, with a little planning. Though I created a slideshow to begin with, and the fourth Learn video explains how to convert slideshows into a format Prezi can use, one doesn’t need to. In fact, Prezi explains how to create a prezi from intial main points and nesting and grouping ever more detailed points after that.



There is an advantage to creating an initial slideshow though.

Prezis contain two components: the content and the layout/navigation. With a slideshow already created, one can transfer the content onto the work screen and then concentrate on designing the prezi layout and navigation, rather than dividing one’s attention between simultaneously creating the content and creating its presentation.

So long as one can create a PDF of one’s content so that separate points are on separate pages, Prezi can use it.

Tips and tricks



Which brings us to some tips and tricks on getting the most out of Prezi.

  1. Prezi works on units or points of information, whether these are text, images or videos, which it can zoom in on so these units are the only thing on the user’s screen. Slideshows and PDFs need to be designed so that each slide only displays what the user wants Prezi to zoom in on alone. My initial slideshow increased from 43 slides to 86 slides so that individual points could be focussed on separately. The only slide that retained multiple focus points on it, for reasons of aesthetics and message, was the thirty third one (the vertical-polynomial-multiplication summary slide) in the original impress.
  2. Because of the number of slides a broken slideshow can have, I suggest you print off thumbs or titles in order to plan the order of their presentation. Additionally, group related concepts/slides and start considering screen placement and size of slides. I planned a large title and subtitle around which I positioned various clusters of nested slides (main points were larger than and centered between associated minor points). I designed the scale and grouping of the slides, the order (or path) of their presentation and only weakly considered placement. I avoided linearity and haphazardness and decided to wind the slide clusters clockwise through the title.
  3. An early problem I came across in Prezi was that I had no reference scale with which to determine the viewing size of my prezi. Prezi does have upper and lower limits to zooming in and out, but I did not know whether the maximum limit was one viewer screen, more, or less in size. Prezi did not offer help in this respect and I had to figure it out through trial and error on my own. Trick: Prezi will zoom to maximize your prezi on a viewing screen, regardless of your prezi’s size. (On the zoom slider along the right edge of your screen is a home button. This fits your prezi to fill your viewing screen.) Size your prezi at some mid-zoom level when you create it, so you have some room to zoom up and down several levels as you add units or items.
  4. Crop your slides (right click and select crop) so that the necessary information fills the slide. Slideshow slides often have wide margins and “white” space. You don’t need these in a prezi. Cropping allows you to nudge items close to each other without having to continuously bring these items forward so you can later select them.
  5. There is a size limit to Select. At a given zoom level, if an item is too small, it can not be selected in order to prevent accidental editing of these items. Zoom in. UPDATE: This problem is also true for items that are too large. This might explain my troubles with selecting and dragging some objects as described in the First Impressions section. To solve, try zooming out.
  6. You can toggle between Show mode and Edit mode by pressing the space bar.
  7. Both PowerPoint and Impress do not retain borders on tables when converting them into PDFs and prezis. Screen capture (an Insert option) can bring these tables properly bordered into the prezi.
  8. It is also possible to type directly into the prezi, which I did for my signature and URL items.
  9. Edit, redo and play with your prezi and its components. Just last night, I modified the path of three items in order to smooth out their presentation. Try different arrangements and designs until you create a prezi you like. You can always edit.

Embedding my prezi

I use WordPress (WP) as my blog host. It has a knack of refusing any scripting and most embedding into it. Usually, I get around this using VodPod. But VodPod does not recognize Prezi, so I published my post originally with a link to my prezi rather than an embed.

You might notice, if you visit my previous post, that I now have embedded my prezi.

There are ways of doing this. You can:

  • type the URL, without an anchor tag and href attribute, into visual editting in WP, preview this and see if WP embeds the prezi, (I edit in HTML, so didn’t try this.)
  • use WP’s shortcodes and follow WP’s directions, (There is no shortcode for Prezi.)
  • or try the [gigya …] shortcode Panos recommends in The gigya shortcode 1 – inserting videos. (This worked for me. I learned about it through Twitter. The necessary advice is in the comments.)

My embed looks like this. (I got the information — width, height and flashvars — from Prezi’s embed button.)

[gigya src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowfullscreen="true" allowscriptaccess="always" width="500" height="364" bgcolor="#ffffff" flashvars="prezi_id=vndrhmrgdnxc&lock_to_path=0&color=ffffff &autoplay=no&autohide_ctrls=0"]

And WP did this.

<iframe frameborder="0" width="508" height="372" src=" &height=364&bgcolor=#ffffff&flashvars=prezi_id=vndrhmrgdnxc
&_tag=gigya&_hash=a988d67c8847e82e2fc93078359cfeb4" id="a988d67c8847e82e2fc93078359cfeb4"></iframe>

I spill



Prezi is a great online tool. It is easy to use and its products are practically limited only by your creativity. It has a few glitches, which I mentioned above, but hopefully this post and practice will iron these out. I highly recommend this tool for a novel and interesting way to present your detailed information or slideshows. I have yet to figure out if an overall audio can be added to a prezi.

Update to Prezi

Last night Prezi announced improvements to its application.

Its select zebra, which allows the user to select, edit, rotate, resize and drag items on the work screen, now looks more intuitive, while retaining most of its functionality. Some of its editing options are no longer associated with the zebra.

Also Insert Shapes allows one to insert an arrow or line, then, once one returns to Write/Select, to double click the arrow or line to create a middle holder with which he or she can curve the line or arrow.


Foil the Fool: The Vertical on Polynomial Multiplication

What we are teaching

Last night I had a great “nightowl #mathchat” — to quote @mathheadinc — with @davidwees, @malynmawby, @mathheadinc and @reflectivemaths about how to teach math. From the tweets I have since received, others have continued this conversation. Its unresolved gist is that we teach a curriculum full of insular skills (little–m math) at the expense of teaching, and even exploring, overarching problem solving schema and Math processes and patterns (big–M Math) often presented in cover stories authentic to students and their cultures. (I talk about little–m and big–M in the Math Labs section of my Teaching Resources website and in another post.)



Though until recently I never owned the terminology to describe the difference, since I first entered junior high I realized the distinction between solving and solution, and proving and proof. It seems obvious that the solution and the proof are the cleaned-up, teacher-readied products of solving and proving processes.

The solution and the proof are what we teach to precision and grade our students on. They are obviously what we value. Just ask your students. And why not? After all, if you can not communicate mathematically, what is the point?

Yet the solving and the proving are where the Math lives! It is through these that problems are solved. You can follow formulae and instructions to produce solutions and proofs, but someone has to create those formulae and instructions, and program those calculators and computers. Someone has to learn and work with the Math and realize its underlying ideas. The whole point of the changing curriculum is to produce leaders and creators, thinkers, not followers.

It is in the rough work where the interesting Math lurks — the messy scribbles, the barely geometric doodles, the scratches and cross-outs and circles and AHAs! It is in the inked or graphite sweat scrawled in lines and blocks and columns on toss-away paper. It is in the work, in what the teacher and the consumer do not see, where Math guides and learning grows. It is (in) this that we should assess. For it is in this that problem solving and true demonstration of problem solving reside.



The solution and the proof summarize the Math. They are not the Math, just our way of communicating its product. If we want to teach Math, we need to change how we teach, value and grade math.

When accountability trumps Math

Which brings us to interesting mathematical (little-m) facts such as 1+2+3+…+(n-2)+(n-1)+n equals (n2/2)+(n/2). Do you know how (big-M)?



Did you know that if the longer series has an odd number of terms it simplifies to n(n+1)/2 for reasons different than why the series does so if it has an even number of terms? What insights and information, patterns and processes, lie within the differences between the oddly and evenly termed series?

Just going with my statement that the two expressions are equivalent, and without considering the Math that equates the two, you lose the following information.


  1. How each series is structured.
  2. How the first series when odd-termed compares and contrasts to itself when it is even-termed.
  3. How the two series are related, or if they even are.
  4. How the two series differ and congrue in their structure and relationship when the first series is odd, then even.


  1. How to approach the first series to simplify it into the second one, in both the even and odd cases.
  2. How to use and apply this Math to solve problems that are different from the original.


  1. How the series and their relationship can be (usability) used and are (applicability) used.
  2. How the series and their relationship can be recognized as relevant to different problems.
  3. How the series and their relationship can be tailored to suit different problems.
  4. How the series and their relationship were first discovered, by whom, and with what related, back and implication stories.

With increased need to account for skill and knowledge in a packed curriculum, math, the minimalist calculation, takes front stage over Math, the engine of engagement and problem solving. Almost all Math is lost in received wisdom, to coin Hewitt (1999).

New wisdom can not form when the Math is forgotten and ignored.

And that is my problem with FOIL.

Through FOIL illiteracy

FOIL is an acrostic mnemonic (standing for First Outside Inside Last) designed to help students apply the distributive law during the specific case of double binomial multiplication. Only it is often taught as a general method of polynomial multiplication, rather than as a learning aid specific to multiplication of a pair of binomials. This is because most curricula only require students be able to multiply binomials. In fact, foiling is used as a verb erroneously synonymous with polynomial multiplication ( 2011).

Problems involving polynomials with more than two terms in one of the factors are not often encountered in schools, so the practice of distributive multiplication beyond FOIL is uncommon. Students I have subbed rarely encounter the limitations of FOIL and the underlying Math and methods of distributive multiplication. In fact FOIL impedes the learning of this Math ensuring continued illiteracy and closing problem solving opportunities for students.

Let’s foil 12 groups of 36 and 23 groups of 456, then move on to algebraic polynomials. Let’s also multiply polynomials vertically, a method of distributive multiplication alternative to foiling that most students I teach understand and favor.



Many students have trouble understanding, and retaining learning of, algebraic polynomials. A lot of this has to do with uncertainty with algebra itself. But additionally many students who learn how to multiply polynomials using FOIL have a problem recognizing and understanding FOIL as a method of distributive multiplication. This clouds student comprehension, leading to Mathematical illiteracy.

The restrictions of FOIL, tabulated in the Prezi, further confuse students when they try to use this case-specific mnemonic to multiply general, non-binomial polynomials together, as they must in the exploratory Math Lab, Strange Dice.

Strange Dice

Strange Dice is a challenging recreational inquiry designed to engage students in the Mathematics of several aspects and levels of polynomial multiplication. The students use technology, imagination, math and Math to:

  1. find how traditional Western and Chinese dice mathematically function, and
  2. create new dice with the same probability distribution as these traditional dice, within given constraints.

Ultimately, the students explore the patterns and processes of the Mathematics underlying the math of probability and polynomial multiplication — how for instance multiplying and factoring polynomials can construct and analyze different and congruent probability distributions and what each polynomial factor contributes to dice probability distribution and die face value.

Additional polynomial multiplication exercises can be found in Polynomial Multiplication of Urban Teaching Resources.

References (2011). Foil.

Hewitt, Dave. (1999). Arbitrary and necessary part 1: A way of viewing the mathematics curriculum. For the Learning of Mathematics 19(3): 2-9.

Urban, Shawn. (2005). Math lab 5: Multiplying polynomials with strange dice. Urban Teaching Resources.

Prezi images (in order of appearance)

Dawson, Fred. (2007). Ball and Chain.

beast love. (2007). Fox Hounds.

Dunn, Natasha C.. (2009). laundry {post}.

Hanchanahal, Nagaraju. (2009). Morning Fog, Nandi Hills, Karnataka.

Wallis, Caro. (2010). Garlic Bread.

Tanaka, Hisako. (2007). Maple.

Arutemu. (2008). Rapier Guard.

Gimpert, Adam. (2006). Genius.

Frangipani Photograph. (2008). Matryoshka Doll.

Orlando, Giovanni. (2008). NEW “Hay Bale” Version.

S., Rishi. (2008). Friends.

Ballez, Romain. (2010). Stairway to Heaven.

Post inspired by

Urban, Shawn. (2005). Math lab 5: Multiplying polynomials with strange dice. Urban Teaching Resources.

Wees, David. (2011). Flipping fractions. Reflections of a Math Teacher Candidate.