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Students just don't understand math sometimes. They don't know how to solve the problem. They don't grasp the concept. Ultimately, they don't know what language the teacher is speaking.
They need a way to picture how to divide fractions, find the prime factorization of a number or round a decimal to the thousandths place. And that's where the other kids in a class can come in handy. If their peers understand how to divide fractions, they can share what they know with the rest of the students by creating and sharing screencasts.
These screencasts, which are digital recordings of a computer screen that include narration, allow kids to teach each other a concept in words they understand, in images they can see and in ways that make sense to them.
At Lincoln Middle School in Santa Monica, Calif., sixth grade math teacher Eric Marcos lets students use his tablet PC and screen recording software to create these screencasts, which he calls "mathcasts."
“Because we remember how we learned it, it’s also easier to teach that way,” said former student Tiana Kadkhoda.
Screencasts also help her learn. Sometimes Tiana doesn't understand a concept before she starts working on a screencast.
"But by the end of the process, I fully understand the whole concept,” said Tiana, who used the alias "Paul" when creating screencasts to protect her identity. In fact, all the students in Marcos' class used aliases because they post screencasts online. But teachers who want to start a project like this don't have to post them online, or if they do, they don't have to upload every screencast.
The students also share what they learn with the world in other ways. At education conferences such as International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and Building Learning Communities, former students lead a session with Marcos about empowering kids through screencasts. And from MathtrainTV, anyone can access their screencasts. The most popular screencast has more than 8,000 views, and it's only 46 seconds long.
When Marcos decided to introduce screencasts in the classroom, he hadn't ever created one himself. Out of his budget, he bought a tablet PC and Camtasia Studio. And guess what? He learned how to use them right alongside the kids.
He says the first step is not to be afraid to start using screencasts — and to let kids touch the computer. Students in his school have never broken his computer (but teachers have).
“Kids will do some amazing things once you give them a little bit of freedom to actually touch the computers.”
Here's what teachers need to start a student screencast project.
At Lincoln Middle School, students have the option to create screencasts after school, and kids outside of his class ask to work on them too.
One of the kids he tutored, for example, didn't earn the best grades in math. But once she started creating screencasts, both her grades and her confidence increased.
"Sometimes we just pick a problem that we know is a problem for some students,” said Camilla "Bob" Spielman, who created the first screencast. "Sometimes it’s a problem that students have trouble understanding, and then sometimes it’s just problems that we could be working on or we were working on for that night’s homework.”
When the students start creating screencasts, they must consider their audience, she said. When teaching other kids, they have to use words that those other kids will understand. Some kids understand math concepts better with the mathcasts because the student creators use the same terms they do.
The screencast creator also has to step into the audience's shoes, said Aleya "Billy Billy" Spielman, Camilla's sister and Marcos' former teacher assistant. “When I did my first screencast, it was hard to look from an outsider’s point of view in how to describe the problem as if I was someone learning that topic, because I knew the topic, and I knew in my head that it sounded easy," she said. "But I have to put myself in somebody else’s shoes and say what they’re thinking: ‘Oh, I have no idea what I’m doing.’ So then I would explain everything in detail as if I was a teacher.”
In one screencast, Aleya showed students how to remember and solve metric conversions with a sentence she learned in science class:
Large Green Mountains
(liter, gram, meter)
Marcos had never heard this technique before, but now he uses the technique and the screencast to teach his students about metric conversions. The same goes for another phrase that Camilla and Tiana repeat in their screencast on rounding decimals: "5 or above, give it a shove. 4 below, keep it down low."
Over the past few years, he's mixed more screencasts into his instruction. This year, Marcos will ask students to watch screencasts at home and use class time to work on problems.
Aleya is a junior in high school now, and she still uses the skills she learned in Marcos' class. In May, when one of Aleya's friends asked her for help with a chemistry concept, Aleya explained the concept to her over the phone — but her friend wanted a visual. On her home computer, Aleya spent 10 minutes creating a screencast with Jing and AppleWorks.
“I just quickly made her a chemcast and then I sent it to her via e-mail," Aleya said. "She got it and then she understood the topic.”
The girls have a lot of fun making the screencasts, and back in middle school, they would spend hours creating pictures to make them look cool. The mathcasts give students an outlet to express themselves and a way to teach other students, Marcos said.
“The kids are taking ownership of their own learning, they’re actually involved, and they’re having fun.”
Now it's your turn. How do students in your class help others learn with tech tools? Let us know in the comments.
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