Algebra Technology

I’ve Joined the Flipping Revolution

Two weeks into teaching Algebra 2 for the first time in a long time, and things are going great so far, but time to start one of the more potetnially tedius chapters in Algebra 2: Rational Expressions and Equations.  Taught “by the book” this can become a 2-week journey of nasty-looking expressions, scary worksheets and those dreaded “shared work” problems.  A perfect time for me to take my first real dive into “flipping” my classroom.  Here’s what I have done so far:

VIDEOS: I used Doceri to create videos for each of the sections in the chapter.  While I love Doceri (since I can do videos from my couch AND they upload easily to YouTube), using it for this chapter has not been ideal, since the problems get nasty and long quite quickly, and you can’t scroll the screen.  May use SMART Notebook for some down the road.  And a few “takes” were made, as it’s easy to screw up making a video when you have Jeopardy on mute in your living room.  Even my final version of the first video below has, for me, a “cringeworthy” error in vocabulary.  Here are my first two unit videos:

HOMEWORK:  Students have been given notesheets, with the problems in the videos provided.  Their job is to watch the video, take notes, and then complete just a handful of problems related to the idea.  My intent with these problems is not to provide anything tricky: just enough to demonstrate some mastery of the material.  We’ll save challenging problems for class.  All of this material is posted on Edmodo for my students, so they can go back if they need.

Just a few days in, and the reaction of the students has been quite positive.  They appreciate that they will not be given homework designed to keep them up for hours, and that the communication during class time is more whole-class, rather than lecture.  Some more classroom observations:

  • Homework is no longer an ending of a lesson, it’s the beginning of a journey.  Students come into class ready to apply what they experienced.  I have the ability to raise the difficulty of problems based on what I am sensing from the class.  I don’t need to wait until the day after a night of homework struggle to measure my students’ progress.
  • I am not spending a dis-proportionate amount of time at the beginning of class dealing with homework issues.  In earlier years, I assigned homework in the same manner I suspect many teachers do: give an assortment of problems..enough for students to feel successful, but with a few to provide challenge to those students who need it.  The next day, this approach often yielded well-intended, yet essentially wasteful, conversations where I went over problems in front of the class.  From my eyes, this seemed like “help” to the class, when from a wider view it is easy to see these discussions are only absorbed by small pockets of students.  And since the daily “let’s go over the tricky HW problems” portion of the day has been removed….
  • I am planning more investigative experiences into my routine.  Today, for the last 30 minutes of class, students borrowed netbooks from down the hall, and used Desmos to explore possible dimensions of rectangles with fixed area…a set-up for graphs of rational functions in a few days.  Part of this exploration turned into “play with Desmos, and do some stuff”.  Good!  Tomorrow, we will check out a shared-work video, and start making some connections.
  • Students are accountable for their learning.  They are welcome to view the videos multiple times, pause, or skip if they desire.  But, full disclosure….I am doing this now with an honors class.  Looking forward to trying his with my academic algebra 2 in the spring, and reporting out.
  • While I am using class time to tackle the most difficult problems, that is not to say my students to not have rigorous assignments.  Besides the “flipped” homework, I am also assigning more complex tasks, with a two-week window for students to choose, write-up, and turn in problems.  More on this in a later post.
  • I am also “flipping” lectures in AP Stats, through videos my colleague produced last year.  For these, I have created short Google Form quizzes which assess the main points of the video.  The data from these forms have been helpful in clearing up misconceptions during class meetings.
  • I will ALWAYS produce my own videos, or rely on those of my colleague for stats.  My students rely on me to be their guide, and I will always meet that expectation.  I will not let an anonymous guide be the primary source for my class.

Would appraicte your constructive feedback, suggestions, and classroom stories!  Now back to the iPad.


Dive Into Screencasting

Looking forward to an afterschool session tomorrow on screencasting.  I have done a number of screencasts, using different (mostly free) products, for many educational purposes.  Sometimes, I use screencasts to explain class problems, so students can review procedures.  Other times, I have made screecasts to demonstrate ideas for colleagues, like Flubaroo, Google Drive and Sketchpad.  Here are some resources for both my district colleagues, and my blog friends.


Screencast-O-Matic:  Free sign-up, requires java, and can upload directly to YouTube.  15-minute screencast limit.

Jing:  Free download and sign-up.  5 minute screencast limit.  Share to twitter and Facebook.

SMART Notebook:  I’m always surprised when colleagues don’t realize a recorder comes with this software.  Create wmv files, which upload to YouTube.

doceriDoceri:  Free for the iPad.  I love sitting on my couch on a Sunday morning and crafting a lesson at the touch of a finger.  Program “stops” into your playback, and record your voice over the playback.  Uploads to YouTube.


Making a video which will be useful to the viewer can take practice and patience.  Here are a few tips I have for somebody new to the screencasting game:

  1. Keep it short and snappy.  Think about your message, and deliver it succinctly.  I have not run across many people looking to rewind and replay my mad ramblings.  Try not to improvise or go off-message…which brings me to…
  2. Write a script, or at least an outline.  Think about the bullet points you want to cover in your screencast, jot them down, and stick to the script.
  3. Rehearse the script.  For me, this means simply going through my bullet points.  What are you going to say, in what order, using what resources?
  4. Rehearse the timings.  When I first got started making screencasts, this was something I often did not think out enough, and now obsess over.  What do you plan to show on your screen?  What pictures, website, programs or applets should be open?  Don’t wait to hit record before opening a program, which you know will choose that moment to act up.  Have everything minimized and ready to go, and do a run-through.
  5. Be prepared to start over.  I need to start making a director’s cut version of my mistakes in screencasts.  Quality matters.  Fortunately, with a screencast, you can start over and make it better.

Here are some sites and articles which are also helpful to the new screencaster:

Teacher Training Videos: a wealth of videos which walk teachers through the basics of many tech tools.  Find screen capture tools near the bottom of the page, on the left.

Educause – Why do screencasts?  Mike Ruffini promotes the benefits of creating screencasts, along with strategies for implementation and evaluation.

Turn To Your Neighbor blog – a quick-start guide to getting started with screencasting.  Includes a pdf of the quick-start guide.  Great suggestions for the new user.

TeachThought – How to Screencast Like the Khan Academy.  Has overviews of products for the advanced user (read: not-free).  More insights into the benefits of screencasts.

STEM Fizz: The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation.  Not necessarily dedicated to screencating, but good ideas for flipping the classroom and the rationale behind this practice.

When you have recorded your first video, and you start populating the YouTube channel, let’s embed those videos in blogs and webpages to share with the world.  Here is one on the plug-in for Google Drive, called Flubaroo, which has proven popular as an easy tool for educators.  I like to think I have gotten better since this video, one of my first.  And I have also learned the value of a quality microphone.