Jul 23 2007

Making Movies

Students prove they're learning at this high school by making “mathcasts.”

Students prove they’re learning at this high school by making “mathcasts.”

There are four ways to describe a math problem: algebraically, verbally, graphically and numerically. Students at Woodland High School in Woodland, Wash., can accomplish all of these in one fell swoop thanks to an innovative use of technology that allows them to make “movies” as they solve math problems on an interactive whiteboard.

Lesson description: Proving that students understand complex mathematical concepts can be difficult on paper, where the focus is mostly on the correct answer. But when that same student has to solve the problem step-by-step on an interactive whiteboard, the learning — or lack of it — is obvious. This work is also captured as a digital file, allowing the teacher, parents or other students to review it at a later date. Not only do students have trouble faking their knowledge, but putting their work on display makes them tougher critics of themselves.

Subject area: While these high school students use this technology in algebra and calculus classes, it’s easy to scale the lesson all the way down to second-graders as long as the content is appropriate.

Curriculum Standards: These movies show students communicating their knowledge of mathematics both orally and in writing, and allow the teacher to get an idea of each student’s strengths and weaknesses. The lesson meets the following specific standards from the Washington State Assessment of Student Learning:

  • Use of math terminology.
  • Method of solution and justification of math problems.
  • Use of diagrams, tables and graphs. It also meets the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics standards for communicating mathematically:
  • Organize and consolidate their mathematical thinking through communication.
  • Communicate their thinking coherently and clearly to peers, teachers and others.
  • Analyze and evaluate the mathematical thinking and strategies of others.

Resources: Woodland students have interactive whiteboards, a graphics tablet and a headset with a microphone. Web sites to visit for more information include:

  • Patty O’Flynn’s teacher page, woodland.wednet.edu/departments/index.php?q=node/328
  • Tim Fahlbert’s math wiki, math247.pbwiki.com
  • Graeme MacNeil’s free math resources, teatimetales.com/#-1

Grading Rubric: These movies don’t have to be graded, but if you grade them, consider following this rubric on a scale of one to four:

  • Appropriateness of the problem (if students are allowed to choose their own).
  • Use of voice, clarity and diction.
  • Correctness of math terminology.
  • Clarity of written solution.
  • Method of solution.
  • Use of diagrams.

Teaching Tips

  • Before you can teach kids, you have to be able to use this technology yourself. I started by making tutorials for students and have since progressed to capturing live class lessons and creating interactive quizzes with the technology.
  • Try not to make the project overwhelming. When giving feedback, give students one or two areas to work on improving.
  • Don’t let your students obsess over mistakes. Tell them the work doesn’t have to be perfect, and don’t let them restart every time they make a mistake. The goal is “professional but not necessarily perfect.”
  • In the beginning, keep the focus on their work rather than their technical skills; give students time to learn the technology. Don’t let students add too many bells or whistles.

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