My math-teacher-friends get mad at me when I say things like, “I’m just not a math person.” I certainly understand their reactions because I get mad at myself — and my fixed math mindset! Although I had a number of really memorable math teachers from elementary school all the way to Calculus at UVA, I still remember the days of four digit subtraction problems (with borrowing) that sent me to doctor with a case of hives that took a couple of days to go away.
@kplomgren is good friend, a former classmate, a cheerleading and gymnastics coach, and a JuniorHighMathTeacherExtraordinaire at The Westminster Schools. Formerly an accountant with a Big Five (at the time) Accounting Firm, @kplomgren’s is a natural in the classroom. Her approach to learning (first), teaching kids (second), and teaching junior high students math (third), is truly remarkable. Although I’ve never taken the opportunity to sit in her class, I am so impressed with her approach to math instruction and realize that I need to overcome my fear of hives and multi-digit subtraction and pay @kplomgren a visit. The reason? She’s aware of what’s happening in the world of math instruction (think: Khan Academy) and is breaking away from traditional instruction to meet the needs of her students in an authentic, thoughtful way.
I asked her to share her reflection below…
I initially started recording myself going through various concepts for a student-athlete in my class who misses quite a bit of instructional time due to training. Although no video can replace live classroom instruction, my videos would at least allow this student to keep up with the notes being taken in class, and in turn, complete the homework. Particularly with second semester, the material we are covering is no longer simply a review of what my students previously learned in elementary school. When I covered converting repeating decimals to fractions, I knew I would have to re-teach the lesson to this student in Office Hours when she returned. Since I teach 62 students, my Office Hours is often packed. Students come for help on homework, for me to clarify concepts, and for any other general questions. I am not afforded the luxury of spending 10 solid, uninterrupted minutes with a single student to re-teach a concept. In fact, if you divide my Office Hours time equally amongst my students, each one would receive approximately 45 seconds of my time per day.
So, when I had a few minutes of free time during the day, I would put on a set of headphones and record myself going through the notes. This is not repeating the entire 55 minute class period; however, it is me going through some of the main examples I did in class.
And I realized, if I am doing this for a particular student to keep up when she misses class for training, why don’t I post this on my website (Moodle) as well? Couldn’t other students benefit from hearing me go through the examples again?
So often, I realize that I teach things too quickly. I think I am constantly trying to manage a balance in my 6th grade math class. Since we don’t differentiate our 6th graders in terms of classes (Honors Pre-Algebra vs. Pre-Algebra) until the 7th grade, I have a diverse group of learners in my classroom. I have some kids who wish I would move faster and give them harder, more advanced problems; however, I also have the other end of the spectrum, students who think I speak so rapidly that they have a hard time following what I am saying and doing. For those latter students, having the benefit of recorded notes, that they can listen to, stop, and replay at their leisure is invaluable.
I will say, recording notes isn’t always the easiest thing. Today, I made a 14 minute recording walking through commission and profit. I was really proud of my work. I thought I explained it clearly and articulately; however, at the very end of the recording, I made a simple mistake. Yes, even math teachers make simple arithmetic mistakes! When calculating the final costs in a profit problem, I said that $7,500 less $1,500 was $5,000. That was the last step of the problem, I hit “STOP” on my smartboard recorder, and the file was complete. OOPS!! It was supposed to be $6,000. I don’t have the technology wherewithal to know how to edit the video; how could I change the last part, yet save the other 13:45 of “good” video? Despite my perfectionist tendencies, I just left the video. I will explain to my students in class my mistake (maybe they can learn from it?!), and if I can find another 15 minutes in the next few days, I might consider re-recording the lesson. So that is a frustrating aspect. In an article I read this weekend called “Shifting from Writing to Videography,” I relate to what the author said, “If I say three bone-headed statements in a single video, I cancel those and start again.”
Also, as a personal challenge, I have become more self-aware of my math “vocabulary” that I use.
I didn’t go to school necessarily to be a math teacher, and sometimes I am self-conscious that I don’t always use the appropriate math terminology. However, learning and growing with my colleagues in the PLC has taught me a tremendous amount about this. For example, I made a short video on how to find a fraction in between two fractions (think: name a fraction between 5/7 and 6/7). One option is to multiply both the numerator and denominator by 10 (so you end up with 50/70 and 60/70). When I initially recorded it, I said, “just move the decimal one place,” when in fact, what I really meant to say was to multiply the numerator and denominator both by 10. A small tweak, but a pretty big difference in terms of number sense and terminology.
Despite my reservations, I do believe that posting recordings has been invaluable.
My principal recently reported that a student spent her free time watching math videos instead of having story time with her parents. I was out for two days chaperoning my 8th grade girls on a retreat; instead of depending on a sub to cover what I hoped they were capable of covering, I made a quick video of myself and had her play it in my absence.
I can now spend 10 or 15 minutes recording certain lessons and when a student, who missed class, comes to Office Hours, I can refer them to Moodle. In fact, today, I had two students miss my first period class. Because I knew I would have to explain the concepts to both of them (and the chances I could knock it out at the same time was wishful thinking!), I recorded myself quickly going through the notes and posted it on Moodle. Then, when one came to Office Hours at 2:50, I could refer her to Moodle; and when the other one showed up at 3:15, I could also refer her to Moodle, all the meanwhile, continuing to help other students on homework and later supplement their understanding.
As far as I see it, it is my responsibility to help these students know and understand the material, regardless if they are in class or not.
Having the concepts recorded on video helps to reinforce the concepts for students who are in class, yet get those students who miss class up to speed. It is really a win-win for all, including myself.
Here are a few examples of @kplomgren’s videos…