Teaching math with technology

This conversation with Eric digs into the concept of screencasting on Chromebooks.

Eric teaches in Santa Monica, California and also runs mathtrain.tv where you can find all of his videos.

# How do you make math interesting for a middle school student?

Let’s be honest, there are a lot of students who don’t enjoy math.

It’s hard and takes lots of concentration and practice. Eric starts by sharing how he makes math interesting for his middle school students by connecting it to people and places in the present and the past.

“The history of mathematics is something I’ve become really excited about. No one talks about famous mathematicians. I love talking about John Venn (creator of the Venn diagram), Archimedes, and Thales.”

Teaching math with technology can be challenging as well. Access to technology has changed how Eric teaches math. He began with the overhead projector and a pile of Vis-a-Vis pens and moved on to phones tablets and other forms of technology.

# Math Tutorials by kids for kids

Eric’s combination of math and technology started accidently when his school gave him one of the first tablet PCs in 2006.

“My students were literally falling out of their seat they were so excited to try out my tablet computer when I first showed it to them!.”

The whole idea behind screencasting math skills started when Eric created a math tutorial for a student who was struggling with a concept. Rather than staying after school with the student, Eric created a personal video for the student, explaining the steps to solve the problem.

ALL of the students began begging Eric to make a video for them. Some of the videos made their way to YouTube where other teachers and students began watching them.

Things took an unexpected turn when “Bob” asked Eric if she could make a math video for the class.

As Eric observed his students using his computer to create math videos for other students he realized that powerful, deep learning was taking place.

“I saw the student thinking in their head- “How am I going to explain why you flip this number or or why you put that number there…Why do you subtract by 2?” And sometimes students will hit pause and ask me, “Wait a minute, why are we adding 2 to each side of the equation?” Or they will stop and go home to review the problem and come back next day to do it again and make it better…”

It was at this point that Eric realized that having his students create these instructional videos was more powerful than creating them himself.

# Let me introduce you to “Bob”

Camilla Spielman (a.k.a. Bob) created the first student math video in Eric’s classroom. As a 7th grade student Bob became a math celebrity in and outside of Eric’s classroom and went on to create many math videos that are still watched on Mathtrain.tv.

Camilla was kind enough to join Eric and I and recount her memories of being a student in Eric’s classroom and share how being a creator of content impacted her education.

Eric, Camilla, and I spent some time talking about the importance of providing students an authentic audience for their work rather than arbitrary assignments that no one, other than the teacher, sees.

For Camilla, knowing that other students would be watching her video pushed her to learn the concepts needed to create a great video.

“Having a class watch your video is Very motivating and makes you want to make a good video. And in order to do that. You have to learn the concept well.”

This observation is not isolated to a math classroom. Every teacher should seek out opportunities to provide an authentic audience for students.

Stumbling on the idea to have students create videos for other students transformed Eric’s classroom and helped him develop a life-long relationship with many of his students, like Camilla.

Eric created MathTrain.tv as a home for his student-created videos. This website has been viewed millions of times. The videos created by “Bob” continue to live on and help middle school students figure out how to work with decimals, fractions, and other math concepts.

I hope my conversation with Eric and Camilla has inspired you to challenge your students to go beyond memorization and give them an opportunity to create and share their learning with the world.