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Math Video Project Assignment

So did I mention the “big” Algebra II project I did this year? I suspect that I said something in passing, and then flew on, waiting until the day that I could do a final analysis of whether it was a success or not (it was a low to moderate success) and how I’m envisioning it for next year now that I’ve had one crack at it.

For those who want to jump right to the finished product: http://mistershah.wordpress.com

Details, documents, and analysis are after the fold.

The Basic Overview of the Project

What: I asked my 10th and 11th graders to create “tutorial” videos of some skills and concepts we’ve learned in the first semester of my Algebra II / Trigonometry class.

When: We started this at the beginning of the second semester. We had learned a good amount of material by then and we were safely in our routine.

Why: The purpose of the project was initially envisioned to be fourfold:

  • 1.   The project would be a good way to really master a topic from the first semester [teaching is the best way to test if you have really learned something]
  • 2.   The project would give the class ownership over their own learning
  • 3.   The project would teach students how to present math clearly
  • 4.   The project would provide a student-generated help guide when studying for the final exam (when all first semester topics would be long forgotten).

But to be perfectly frank, I just thought the idea was cool and wanted to try it out. Me and the other teacher organized in less than a week — because we thought that lolligagging and overthinking would lead us to never actually get the project off the ground. We’re action oriented.

The Context for the Project

There isn’t too much context for the project minus the obvious. My school is a laptop school. Each student is issued a laptop. Each classroom is outfitted with a SmartBoard. I use the SmartBoard in my class every day. I post their homework online,  as well as our class notes from each class (my smartboard lessons with our class writing on them). My students, in other words, are familiar with basic computer and SmartBoard technology.

The Context of the Students

I have a really differentiated classroom. One of my classes has over 50% of students with some sort of learning difference — many of them have slow processing. The other is near 50%.

I struggle with scaffolding (as I cry out in this post). It’s hard. This project, by it’s nature, is scaffolded, because I’m letting kids pick their own topic (as long as another student hasn’t already chosen it). I put approximate rankings of the topics (* ** *** **** ***** to show easy to hard). Students could choose a topic they feel they already get, or choose a topic they struggle with so they are forced to master it.

Documentation & Supplies

For anyone who wants to try this out, here are the four documents I used:

They’ll be changed for next year, probably.

The supplies included: laptop, microphones/headsets, SmartBoard, SmartBoard software on laptop, ACA Capture Pro (the video recording program).

The Video Project Itself

Visit the site here and browse some videos. You’ll see some really great ones, some really terrible ones, and a bunch in-between.


I was surprised at how so many of my weaker students excelled — had very lucid explanations, while some of my stronger students just flopped. A whole contingent of them, I saw, can think math, but they can’t communicate it for the life of them.

My students, especially the tenth graders, are still at a stage where they are learning to work independently. In ninth grade at my school, teachers still handhold. Tenth grade is when they are slowly getting weened off of that. I have very clear documents spelling everything out, I had one “check in” (where students showed me what they were going to do in their video), and then I gave them a very detailed “checklist.”

Of all my students, there were 3 that failed to do the video project at all — by a very extended deadline.

Post Analysis Review of the Project

Frankly, this is a great project that didn’t materialize as ideally as I wanted it to this year. The one unexpected result was me getting to see how my students think about these concepts and problems as they go through trying to explain them.

Were my students successful this year? Yes and no.

I think they really did get to know their own topics well. Some of the explanations are absolutely stellar, so I know those kids got more than “how to solve the problem” but “why you use a particular method to solve a problem.” The project also provided a much needed confidence boost for some students struggling in the class.

One problem was that some students made mathematical errors. That was supposed to be avoided with the “check in” but that didn’t quite catch them all — because some students hadn’t written out all their steps. Or they misspoke (saying “leading coefficient” for example, instead of “degree”). Small and large things. The reason that this is so disastrous is because other students are (in theory) using these videos to study. So a video with errors isn’t a great study guide.

Another problem was that students simply don’t know how to teach. Two students even told me after they finished how hard being a teacher was. Yup. Agreed. It’s tough to teach math clearly.

A last problem was the requisite technological issues. For the most part, the instructions are so detailed that there were very few students who had problems. However, for the few that did, they were disastrous problems. The main one was capturing the sound on the video. Of course, all of the disasters could have been avoided had the students started their videos earlier!

Ideas for Next Year

Will there be a next year? Yes. This project has too much potential, and too much going for it, for me to abandon ship after the first year. I’ve learned a lot from it.

The key differences will be:

  • 1.   I expected students to be able to present math clearly, without really showing them how. To rectify this next year, I will emphasize clear, mathematical communication for the entire first semester. It will be a focus of the class. I will call more students to the board, and we will have some class critiquing of my presentations and student presentations. We’ll talk about what makes a good and bad presentation, and model them, instead of just showing them a few videos of “good” and “bad” videos and giving them tips on how to make a good video. Maybe I’ll even have my students make their own set of advice.
  • 2.   I have already started doing this, but in concert with the point above, I will also integrate more written concept questions on my exams. I’ve already started doing that more in the second semester (e.g. “Why is it that you cannot multiply matrix A and B?” and “Explain what an ‘inverse function’ is in words, but you may use diagrams to illustrate”); I will have to do a lot more of this first semester.
  • 3.   I will spread out the video project for the entire year, so we have a collection of videos for the whole course. There will be a different deadline for videos depending on the chapter.
  • 4.   I will teach my students how to do simple things with SmartBoard (e.g. put in equations, put in pictures, put in a blank graph). I was surprised that none of my students had ever used SmartBoard in their other classes! Only their teachers had.
  • 5.   I will be more specific about what they need when they give me scripts for their video. Some gave me 2 page scripts while others gave me 2 sentences.
  • 6.   I will make the deadline 2 weeks before I will do their final grading. I will look at the videos initially. f there is an egregious mathematical mistake, I will tell the student they have to re-do it if they want credit. Because what good is a math video tutorial if it teaches wrong?
  • 7.   I will recommend that students make their video — if it’s long — in two or three parts. A bunch of students said they took FOREVER to record their video because every time they made a mistake, they had to record it all over again. However, if the video were broken into two or three parts, you could make mess up when recording and not have to re-record a 10 minute video, but instead, just a 3 minute part!
  • 8.   Integrate using these videos for help throughout the year. Don’t let them just sit there, unused and stagnant. Show the students that they are useful! And then how to use them. If students don’t use the videos, then much of their power (a collective repository of knowledge) is lost.

That’s about all. Hope this helps another math teacher somewhere out there.

Clearly this idea of collective knowledge can be adapted in a million different ways, without SmartBoards. I had students in my calculus class come up with their own written study guides and solutions for various topics, and I photocopied and exchanged them, before the midterm. And then they each taught a 20 minute lesson review their topics. Or you could have students make these videos for extra credit, if there aren’t a lot of laptops and SmartBoards at your school. Or whatever.

Like this:



Posted in Uncategorized and tagged Algebra II on by samjshah. 16 Comments
"If you give kids a little bit of trust and let them try out some stuff, they're going to come up with fascinating things that will surprise you."

So he turned on his newly-acquired classroom tablet PC, scribbled a few equations, pushed record, and made a screencasting video. "This was at about 7 at night. The kid sent another message right away, saying, 'Thank you! I got it now. Can you make me another one for this problem?'" Over the next few days, other students wanted to know why they didn't get a video, asking him to post it somewhere so they could all benefit.

Then one of Marcos' students asked if she could make a video, too. "It was unbelievable," he says. "I didn't give her any direction – well, because I couldn't, I didn't even really know what I was doing. But she made a little video about proportions that had a beginning, a middle, and an end, just like an English paper or a presentation." Soon enough, students weren't staying after school just to doodle on Marcos' tablet PC – they stayed to make math videos.

Marcos decided to house their growing archive of tutorials on a website using PHPMotion.com, a free YouTube clone software (YouTube is blocked in most schools). Now, in addition to a website, the class has a podcast and an app on iTunes for the iPhone and iPad so that people can share MathTrain videos on Twitter and Facebook. "Better than that we have an app, though," says Marcos, "is that it's made by a student."

Once in a while Marcos will make a video or two, but the vast majority of MathTrain.TV is populated by student-authored tutorials. "It's much better to have the students' voices. It's hard to hold off sometimes, but I made that choice."

Clearly, says Marcos, "It's fun for them. They like being behind a microphone, putting a star next to something. They put their heart and soul into it." Because they're making a video, "They'll spend over an hour on one math problem: 'Let's put this in blue. Now I'm going to try to put some pop-ups next to it.' Instead of listening to the teacher, they're taking an active role in their own learning."

And so often, he says, "the best way to learn something is to teach it. I've heard kids say that when they were trying to explain how to divide fractions, they knew to flip the number over but they didn't know why." Because they were creating a tutorial video, "They found out that they didn't know why" – and then, naturally, they found out why.

The MathTrain word is spreading now, from Marcos' own presentations at gatherings like the ISTE conference to those of ed-tech leader Alan November. "The global audience thing is amazing," Marcos says. "We have contacts from literally all over the world. And we weren't doing this for the world at the time!" In the beginning, students "were just doing it to help their friends. They weren't necessarily looking to help people out in Australia, but now they are."

For those interested in trying their hand at this, Marcos has created some screencasts about how to make screencasts that explain how his class has used tools like Windows Journal, Jing, TuxPaint, OneNote, and Camtasia Studio to do their work.

Marcos' advice to other teachers? Don't put technology behind glass. "Let them touch the computer," he says. "That's my one-liner. Let them touch the computer. That's how the world changed for me, for all of us. If you give kids a little bit of trust and let them try out some stuff, they're going to come up with fascinating things that will surprise you."

Check out this fun video explaining the phenomenon.

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