Volume 1, Issue #7
Using Instructional Aids
COMO Tom Venezio, DVC-ED
When we look at our public education and member training classes, most depend on the PowerPoint
presentations supplied by National Staff as a way to share important course information. The
PowerPoint helps keep us focused and “on track”, ensuring that we cover all of the important content.
This is an important function. And those of us on staff are working to continuously improve the
quality and attractiveness of these presentations. That said, if a PowerPoint presentation is all that we
use, the presentation can become a bit monotonous. I’m sure that you have heard of, or experienced,
the cliché, “death by PowerPoint”. So, how do we avoid the monotony that can develop in a
We discussed the importance of things like student engagement and questioning techniques in previous
issues of WAYPOINTS. We haven’t discussed, however, the use of instructional aids. Instructional
aids help all students, but most especially those students with visual and tactile learning styles. These
aids clarify the content and make lessons more engaging, more memorable, and more effective for all
students. Instructional aids help clarify and demonstrate concepts that are sometimes confusing. For
example, in the aftermath of the Shuttle Challenger disaster, Nobel Prize winning physicist, Richard
Feynman used a glass of ice water and piece of O-ring to explain the failure of the O-rings. Check out
this video clip, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCLgRyKvfp0. This simple but dramatic
demonstration made it clear what happened. This was the signature clip for many news stories
covering the shuttle disaster investigation.
So what types of instructional aids are useful? Some items are very obvious such as having several
types of lifejackets available during the class on safety equipment along with a fire extinguisher, and
perhaps visual distress signals. The range of possibilities is limitless, such as
- toy or model boats to illustrate stand-on and give-way vessel situations;
- ropes for knot tying;
- an anchor & rode to discuss and demonstrate anchoring;
- models of various types of buoy;
- hand held GPS units and radios; and
- Nautical charts and other reference publications.
But how you use these instructional aids is just as important as what you use for aids. Some important
- Be sure that you are comfortable and confident in using the aids. Know how they work and
be sure to practice with them.
- Ensure that you arrive at the classroom in enough time to set-up your instructional aids and
have them easily accessible. The effectiveness of their use is diminished if you are
fumbling with them at the last minute.
- Ensure that you have a plan for displaying or demonstrating them so that everyone can see
what is happening. Again, nothing is worse than not being able to see what is being
- Consider team teaching with another instructor to handle the instructional aids. This
reduces your workload and provides an opportunity for less experienced instructors to
- If you are going to pass something around the room for students to look at more closely, be
sure that it is safe for them to handle and won’t be distracting. As an example, things like
flares may not be the safest to pass around if the students are youngsters.
Remember, planning and preparation is critical if the use of instructional aids is going to be
So here’s a challenge, what creative instructional aids do you use? Please send your ideas to me at
firstname.lastname@example.org so that I can share them in an upcoming issue of WAYPOINTS.