10 Ways to Nail Your Next Classroom Presentation

Jeff Kalmes, an experienced operator and award-winning wastewater educator, shares what he’s learned after giving hundreds of classroom presentations. Use these tips to master your next school talk.
10 Ways to Nail Your Next Classroom Presentation
When giving classroom presentations, colorful graphics are your friend. Try to incorporate several elements, including posters or videos.

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Classroom presentations can require, well, a different skill set than what you normally use at your wastewater treatment job. How do you hold the attention of a room full of squirming elementary kids? How do you present age-appropriate materials? What do you do when 20 9-year-olds start asking questions and telling stories?

And let’s not forget the potential for lots of potty humor. These are elementary students, after all.

Since 1994, Jeff Kalmes, an experienced wastewater operator from Billerica, Massachusetts, has given hundreds of classroom presentations. Kalmes has been an operator for 29 years and has won the 2008 New England Water Environment Association Public Educator Award and the 2011 Water Environment Federation National Public Educator Award. Here, he shares what he’s learned along the way:

1. Pair up the classrooms.
I never teach just one classroom, but rather combine two or three for each presentation. Usually, each class has 20 to 25 students, so fitting multiple classes into one room is not a problem. You are usually out of the room in 30 to 40 minutes, so teachers don’t mind the change in routine.

2. Stick to your time frame. 
Plan for 30 minutes for first-, second- and third-graders, and 45 to 60 minutes for fourth- and fifth-graders. I always talk with the teachers first to make sure I know what time I need to be done by. Sometimes, the teachers will jokingly say, “The rest of the day!” meaning they are all yours.

3. Use colorful poster boards.
I can’t tell you how many kids ask me if I drew the pictures on the poster boards. At least I know they are following the presentation.

4. Use good, short videos that are on target.
Over the years, I’ve found that it works best to introduce myself and then go right into the video. Most of my videos are seven to 15 minutes long. I do have a 35-minute National Geographic video that is awesome for the water cycle.

5. Remember, you are the teacher!
You are the one who is the expert in this subject. The teacher invited you in to present this subject that you love and work in daily. Knowing this is a confidence builder. Just because you’re speaking to children doesn’t mean it’s easy to get up and talk in front of them. 

6. Have a good flow to your program, and be prepared.
I start out with my name and explain where I work. Then, I introduce the video and follow up with my poster boards, using a hands-on style to discuss water and wastewater.

7. Use current events.
You can use any current event in the United States that relates to your topic. Texas floods, California drought and New England snow are just a few examples you can use to help the students think and relate to the subject.

8. Be entertaining.
Have fun with your program! Students love this stuff, and you have all the info they need to start a great family dinner conversation. I can’t even imagine the stories that have been told after one of my presentations  — “You mean after I flush my toilet someone else is going to drink it?”

9. Remember questions … not stories.
It’s very easy for young students to go in many directions on this or any subject. Usually, after some silly questions, the stories will start. Remember No. 5: You are the teacher. Usually, I can stop the child and ask him if it’s a story or a question. Children know the difference, so move on to someone with a question and come back to your storyteller if he raises his hand again.

10. Use shock and awe.
I usually save this for the classrooms that are coming on a tour. I bring in samples from the plant and use the flow diagram to show how the water becomes cleaner at each stage. After the water is clean, I use a sludge sample to discuss what happens to that. I tell the students that operators use all of their senses — except taste — which is how they know sludge cake is not something you eat!

About the author
Jeff Kalmes is a Grade 7 Operator and Plant Supervisor at the Town of Billerica wastewater treatment plant. He has won the 2008 NEWEA Public Educator Award and the 2011 WEF National Public Educator Award. He has been in the wastewater industry for 29 years and has been doing classroom presentations for 22 years. He visits 100 classrooms in April and May. The Billerica plant gives tours to elementary, middle and high schools and works with local colleges. You can reach Jeff at jkalmes@town.billerica.ma.us.


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