Homework is one of those crazy things that I’m completely for and completely against. (While that may sound a little nuts (or a lot nuts), I cling to this quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald: The sign of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.) On the one hand, I believe that students practicing their skills is helpful to their learning of Algebra. And, given the limited time I meet with my students, there’s the practical matter of fitting it all in. (As I noted in a comment on the assessment post, I’m estimating I’ll see my students for only about sixty periods – five of them shortened – in the fall semester.)
But on the other hand, I think homework is very problematic. I think the research is very mixed in terms of its effectiveness, and in my own experience I saw similar results. For a traditional homework assignment like I gave in my previous incarnation as a math teacher (perhaps 1-31 odd, or even a more thoughtfully picked selection of problems), I would typically see the following results:
A certain proportion of my class would be able to do all the homework with little or no problem. These were students that probably didn’t need the practice.So one of the basic problems with homework (at least how I implemented it), was that the students too often weren’t reinforcing skills they already had, they were struggling with skills they had yet to master (at least for those last two groups). What they needed was to be able to work on those problems when I was available to help, or when others were available to help, but not on their own where if they were confused they just ended up frustrated or, worse, cementing incorrect procedures in their brains. (Note: I do think it’s a good thing for students to wrestle with complex problems, but I don’t feel like that was what was happening in my homework assignments.)
A second segment of my students wouldn’t even attempt the homework, for reasons ranging from they just didn’t want to, to not enough time, to not enough understanding. Some of these students still did well, others did miserably.
And the final group of my students in the middle would attempt the homework, but become very frustrated either because they couldn’t do it, or because they did it but did it incorrectly, so they effectively reinforced doing it wrong.
So my current thinking is to approach homework differently. I’m going to borrow an idea from a science teacher in my building, Brian Hatak (who, in turn, borrowed it from Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams). My plan is to deliver the traditional lecture portion of an Algebra class as the homework, thus freeing up class time to explore the mathematics and pursue some interesting problems, as well as provide time for guided practice and collaborative work.
Since Algebra is very much skill based, my hope is to provide short (less than 10 minutes), targeted instructional videos that students can watch (and rewatch if necessary) that focus solely on the skills, one skill at a time. Now I want to be clear that these videos typically will come after inquiry and exploration in class. I want my students to, as much as possible, play with the mathematics and formulate their own approaches before seeing the formal procedure. (There will be times when I’m sure I won’t accomplish this inquiry first/video second plan, either due to time constraints or creativity constraints on my part, but I’m hopeful I’ll get better at this over time.) But if I’m going to provide the class time to do all that, then I still need them to have the opportunity to focus on the procedure and master the skill as well, which is where I’m hopeful the video will come in.
So, part of the feedback I’m asking for on this post is simply about that strategy. Is it a good one? Terribly flawed? Are there ways to improve it? But there’s a second reason for this post and it’s what I’m struggling the most with right now. Do I create these videos myself, or try to use resources that have already been created and are freely available online?
My initial thought (as you’ll see in a minute) was to create my own videos. That way I could make sure they were short - many of the resources online are much too long and teach more than one concept in a video, and part of my pitch to my students is going to be “give me 10 minutes.” My videos would also be targeted to the specific concepts that I want/need to convey at the time I want/need to convey them, and would fit in nicely with the rest of my course design. But as I discover more and more resources online, some of which have much higher production values than mine would, I wonder if it makes sense to make my own. (Especially when you figure in the considerable time investment necessary on my part – it takes much less time to build a set of links than to create my own videos, upload, and link.)
So, embedded below is a “proof of concept” video I created for solving two-step equations (view it full screen and HD, particularly if you’re close to my age or older). And here is a link to a video from the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education on essentially the same concept. (I haven’t looked carefully yet, but my guess is that they will have all or almost all of the concepts that I would create videos for as part of this series.) Should I create my own, or tap into theirs?
Before you watch my proof of concept video, let me briefly describe some of the thought process as I was creating it:
- A reminder that this comes after exploration/inquiry in class and is intended to solidify the Algebra procedure. Students will also have ample opportunity in class to practice, with help from me and other students (more on that in a future post). By shifting the "lecture" to outside of class, it allows me to maximize the effectiveness of the time I'm face-to-face with students.
- I was going for an “I do, we do, you do” approach in the video. That leaves off one step that I think is very important, “we do together,” but my hope is that is what will be happening in class.
- My goal was to make the video no longer than necessary, yet still have it be absolutely clear (which, of course, allows me to be my naturally overly wordy self). I wanted to keep it under 10 minutes, both because that’s the YouTube limit and because I think any longer and I’m likely to lose them (or the concept is too complex to convey in a video like this).
- I toyed with the idea of doing some post-recording enhancements in Camtasia (arrows, highlights, callouts, key words, etc.), but, at the moment, have decided against that both because it would add tremendously to my production time and because I’m not sure the enhancements wouldn’t end up being distracting instead of helpful. I also toyed with the idea of trying to make it more interactive, but eventually decided to keep it simple. It’s meant to be a resource, not the entire instructional plan.
- On average, students will have about two videos per week, although that will vary. On nights when they don't have a video they will likely have something else to do, but it will not be a big 'ole long problem set like I used to give. Perhaps some reflection or other writing assignment, or a few targeted problems or inquiry, or simply study/work time for retakes of the assessments.
Let me anticipate three tech-related questions before they arise.
- What if students don’t have net access at home? I’m in a school where almost all students do have access, and most of them broadband. I did a non-scientific, but presumably still reasonably valid survey of 332 students about a year ago, and 83% had broadband, 1% had dialup, 14% didn’t know the speed (so I’m thinking probably broadband or they would know), and 2% didn’t have Internet access at home. Even so, my plan is to call all of my students in June (once they’ve been scheduled into my class) and touch base with the parents to make sure they have access. If they do not, then we’ll change their schedule (plenty of other Algebra sections for them to be in without adversely affecting the rest of their schedule) and then move another student into my class (who I would then call and ask about access).
- Isn’t YouTube blocked at your school? While I anticipate most students accessing this from home, I do want them to be able to access it at school during their unscheduled hours or before or after school. I picked YouTube because students are familiar with it and there are no upload or bandwidth limits, but it is problematic because YouTube is blocked at my school (although staff can override that block). Thankfully, my crackerjack IT staff at the district found a way to whitelist a specific channel on YouTube. While there are still some kinks to work out, students will be able to view these videos as long as I link to them within the channel. If they try to go directly to the video URL outside of the channel, they would be blocked (although they could get a staff member to override that if necessary).
- What’s with the gold background? Our school colors are black and gold.