Do Screencasts Have a Place in the Math Classroom?

Last November, I wrote a short blog post titled, Screencasts of Student Math Thinking. In this post, I also included a link to a glog I created containing four screencasts that were created by grade 6 students explaining their group’s multiplication strategies after an initial multiplication lesson. Since that post, there has been a lot of attention around the world on Kahn Academy where students learn from concepts and strategies from videos (screencasts).

I love the idea of screencasting and I think what Kahn Academy is attempting to do is pretty cool. However, I love screencasts even more when they are created by students. When students create math screencasts it enhances their metacognition. It forces them to think about their math thinking not once but multiple times since they can play back their video, watch and listen to themselves explain their strategy or solution. They can edit and record multiple times until they feel that their screencast is appropriate for their classmates to view. The rest of the class can also benefit from screencasts because they can be exposed to different solutions and strategies to the same problem. In addition, the screencasts are more engaging by virtue of them being created by students and using student language. Also, with websites like Screencast.com screencasts are not limited to the hard drive of a single classroom computer but can be accessed via web link from any computer with an internet connection. This would allow students and their parents/guardians to view them from home.

I truly believe in the benefits of screencasting for students in the math classroom. For the past year, I have been religiously promoting it in my school board as a great tool to enhance student metacognition and math communication. Many teachers seem to like the idea of it but I haven’t really seen it fully implemented in classroom. I’ve mainly seen teachers create their own screencasts similar to Kahn Academy and no disrespect to Khan Academy or to teachers but I don’t find teacher/adult generated screencasts very interesting or engaging. I would argue that students prefer to create the screencasts themselves and watch other student created screencasts. So I ask the question Why? Why isn’t screencasting being implemented in the math classroom? Is it too difficult? Too time-consuming?

I’ve embedded the glog that I created mentioned earlier of student created screencasts of their multiplication strategies below.

I would love to know your thoughts on screencasting and how you would implement it in your classroom.

School Improvement Plans: What’s Good For Students is Good For Teachers

For my previous module of my course, we were asked to reflect on School Improvement Plans (SIP) and make connections to student learning. I began to reflect on my district school board’s strategic directions (Achievement Matters, Engagement Matters, Equity Matters). Student engagement, achievement, and equity should always be at the heart of of every SIP and it should be linked to the Ontario School Effectiveness Framework since its main purpose is to “function as a tool for schools to identify areas of strength and areas requiring improvement in order to reach all students and improve student achievement”.
However, as I continued to reflect on the implementation and continuation of school improvement planning I began to realize that in order for school administrators and staff to achieve the goals of any SIP, they must take a closer look at their classrooms’ best practices that increase student achievement, engagement, and equity and apply it at the professional level. In other words, I realized that what’s good for the students is also good for the teachers. For instance, we know that learning in the classroom must be authentic and that students are more likely to be engaged if they are active participants in their own learning. This same thinking can be applied to the development of a SIP which must also be authentic to staff and parents in order to be a living document. It cannot be perceived to be a top-down initiative or a model replicated from another school. Additionally, if we know from research and teaching experience that differentiated instruction which focuses on student readiness, interest, and learning profile allows more students to be successful, then staff (who are at different levels of professional learning) would also benefit from differentiated professional learning opportunities related to the SIP as well.
I strongly believe that the importance of student voice, collaboration and making student thinking visible is equally as important to teachers with respect to school improvement planning. Teachers can feel very isolated in their classroom (especially if they`re in a portable!) and they need to be provided with opportunities to network and collaborate with each other in both physical and virtual environments. Teaching practice needs to be deprivatized and teacher thinking needs to be visible and shared with their colleagues. Often, it is through teacher dialogue and discussion that great ideas come to fruition. SIPs are rarely set in stone and require tweaks along the way and in order for SIPs progress and evolve. Therefore, reflective practice must be a habitual behaviour with staff and administrators. I often see large percentages of release time devoted to planning which is definitely important for any positive change to occur. However, I think that an equal amount of attention should be focused on reflective practice where teacher reflection and moderation can occur as well. Every school improvement plan should find ways to create the conditions for teacher reflection and sharing of best practice that occurs in their classrooms, grade levels, or divisions.
The goal of every school improvement plan should be to reach every student. In order to accomplish this, school administrators and staff must focus on student learning and the best practices that they wish to see in their classrooms and implement these best practices at the professional level.

The Fifth Way

I finally finished reading my book (which I loved), Spontaneous Evolution by Bruce Lipton and Steve Bhaerman after being sidetracked by so many fantastic blogs. In this book, Lipton and Bhaerman make reference to Johan Galtung, a Norwegian mathematician and sociologist and founder of TRANSCEND International, a peace development environment network. Galtung is most known for his ability to transcend conflicts and find what he refers to as the fifth way, or fivers. He recognizes that every conflict has five possible resolutions:

  1. I win. You lose.
  2. You win. I lose.
  3. The conflict is resolved by avoiding it completely.
  4. Compromise where all parties are dissatisfied.
  5. Transcendence where all parties feel like they win and resolution is above and beyond the problem.

After reflecting on this portion of my book, I believe educators need to implement the power of Galtung’s fiver approach in education and seek ways to solve issues with resolutions that are above and beyond the problems so that all parties (students included) are happy with the outcomes. Lipton and Bhaermann explain that the first step to creating a fiver solution is for opposing parties not to settle and meet each other halfway but to work together and progress forward towards an ideal resolution.

This notion can be applied directly to the classroom where conflicts often arise between teachers and students. Often, the labels “teacher” and “student” create a separation, a polarity in the classroom. It’s the teacher vs. student mentality which results in disengaged students, late assignments, students doing the bare minimum to get a “level 2” etc.

Here’s my fiver solution for the teacher vs student power struggle that exists in many classrooms. Get rid of the labels “Teacher” and “Student” and “classroom” replace them with “learners” and “community”. It shouldn’t be about the teacher as the holder and controller of all the knowledge and the student as the observer waiting to be educated. As Angela Maiers would say, It’s about a community of learners each with valuable knowledge and skills working collaboratively to achieve their full potential so they can make their contribution to the world.

“It’s About Time, Attention, and Value”

Last Friday, I happened to come across a webcast on edtechtalk.com via Twitter when @AngelaMaiers tweeted about it right before she went on. It was a very inspiring discussion that didn’t really focus on technology at all. In fact, the topic of conversation was more about “seeing” students and helping them find their gifts so that they can make their contributions to the world.

Towards the end of the webcast (45 minutes in), Angela recalled a conversation she had with a group of students and she asked them what they thought about technology integration in education. One of the student replied, “If I have to do another Glogster, I going to jump off a cliff…Seriously, I wish teachers would lay off this technology stuff because it’s painful to watch, they’re trying too hard…If they just saw me, If they could just let us talk, If they could just let us share…” She went on to say that integrating technology in education is not that complicated. It doesn’t have to be a fancy project or a unit that is infused with technology, it’s about time, attention and getting students to feel they are valued and seen by their teachers.

After listening to this inspiring webcast for a second time, I realize that it’s not just about integrating technology in the classroom. It’s about establishing a community in the classroom and letting students become active participants in their own learning. Technology just happens to be a great tool to make this happen.

What’s Your Gift?

I had the pleasure of attending the Western Regional Computer Advisory Committee (RCAC) Symposium. The day was filled with great keynote presentations by Ian Jukes and Angela Maiers and very informative breakout sessions by presented by passionate educators that fully embrace the implementation of 21st century fluencies in our education system. I truly admire these educators for their drive and passion to share their knowledge and to me are great ambassadors.

As I was riding on the bus back to Hamilton, I had time to reflect and process the “infowhelming” (thanks ian jukes) content that was offered. I kept referring back to Angela Maier’s presentation about the power of children and the fact that we were all born geniuses. She explained that young children have extraordinary imaginations, curiosity, self-awareness, perserverance, courage, and adaptability. However somewhere along the way as children get older and become more educated, they lose these genius-like qualities. Angela brought up a very thought provoking point that really resonated with me. We as educators should not be asking how we can teach 21st century skills to our students. We should be asking how we can keep them. How can we prevent our students from losing their innate genius qualities that they have when they enter our education system? Angela Maiers brought up many great ideas but what I really took away from her presentation was the fact that it should be our goal as educators to help students find their talent, their genius-like quality and guide them so that they can learn how to share their talent and contribute to society.

One month ago, my wife completed a very inspiring pediatric chiropractic course. The instructor for her last session recited a quote from an anonymous person that really stayed with me when I heard it and it came to mind as I listened to Angela’s presentation. “The purpose of life is to find your gift. The meaning of life is to share your gift with others.” It would be a great shame if our students went through their entire education without ever knowing or realizing their innate gift or talent. How great would our students be when they graduate from secondary school if they knew what their gift was at an early age?

As a proud father of two young beautiful daughters (3 year old and  an 7 8 month old), I am consistently amazed by their curiosity, perserverance and courage and I hope that these qualities will still be present when they are 16, 25, 40 and beyond. After participating in today’s conference, I come away with a changed perspective as a father and as an educator.