Eric Marcos: Students Use Tablets for Math Video Tutorials

by Eric Marcos

Last year a student of mine asked if she could borrow my Tablet PC for the weekend. She wanted to create some mathematics video tutorials. This was not for any school assignment or project. The student casually informed me that she wanted to record and share a few lessons because she found it fun. This student was voluntarily going to spend her own free time outside of school, over the weekend, to work on mathematics problems (which wouldn’t affect her grade directly or earn her extra credit) and she was thanking me for loaning a Tablet PC.

This was not an isolated incident of just one over-achieving student. Several other students have since borrowed the Tablet PC for the weekend, or even an entire week so they could produce video tutorials. Still, no grade or extra credit has ever been given.

For over six years, my middle school students have been creating video tutorials on a Tablet PC and sharing them as part of our “kids teaching kids” Mathtrain Project. Trusting and encouraging the students to use the classroom computers has paid off. Nearly every day after school, students drop by my classroom to create video tutorials, also called screencasts. Using screen recording software Camtasia Studio, the student’s voice and handwriting on the Tablet PC screen are simultaneously recorded and exported as a video file. The students use aliases when recording, even though their faces are not in the screencasts. Our student-created tutorials are then freely shared with their peers and with a global audience on our YouTube EDU channel, iTunes podcast and our own Mathtrain.TV Web site.

The students are motivated to voluntarily contribute tutorial lessons. They will often spend hours on just one sixty-second tutorial as they decorate their screencasts with drawings and visuals to help the viewer comprehend the lesson. The video lessons often become more of an art project as each student tends to add their own style of expression to their screencasts. Students have fun producing these tutorials and the videos have purpose. This is what drives them to care about how each tutorial is presented. The students are taking an active role in their own learning and seem naturally keen to share their knowledge with others.

In 2006, I began experimenting with creating and posting teacher-created video tutorials on our class Web site to assist my students and their families with homework and mathematics topics. But the real transformation occurred a few months later, in early 2007, when one of my sixth grade students asked if she could make a video tutorial. After school she came by and created our first student-created video tutorial. It was unscripted and set the precedent for all our future student-created screencasts.

The video had a beginning, middle and an end. She introduced herself and the problem she was going to teach, and then explained how to do the problem using multiple colors and visuals, ending by reviewing the answer and thanking the viewer for listening. We shared this video in class the next day and posted it onto our class Web site. The students loved it! Other students immediately expressed that they wanted to create their own tutorials as well and our student-created library was born.

Education technology leader Alan November helped spread our student’s Mathtrain.TV tutorials in his national and international keynotes and presentations. Today, our student-created videos are shared with students and educators around the world. They are also used as resources, authentic assessment and flipping or double flipping classrooms (including our own).

Students continue to come after school to create videos and have even collaborated on many videos. Sometimes two or even four students come by to record one video together, making it a social event. They often stay after school for hours in our middle school mathematics classroom. Instead of just being consumers of content, students become creators of content. As one student pointed out, the best way to learn something is to teach it. It is a wonderful self-learning tool. Student-created tutorials offer different perspective. One of my former students calls this a kid language, and said there is a lot of power in watching a peer teach a lesson.

With all the mobile devices, tablets and iPads that are available today, it has become easier for students to consume, create and share tutorials. For example, on the iPad, free apps such as ScreenChomp and Educreations allow students to quickly and easily produce and exchange tutorials for nearly any genre. Whether created on a Tablet PC or iPad, it is exciting to watch how students naturally develop their presentation skills.

At Mathtrain.TV, our unscripted student-created tutorials are driven by middle school students of all levels who are thirsting to take an active role in their own learning. They also help caption our videos on their own time. They understand the value and need to make the videos as accessible as possible.

My students have presented at education conferences across the country and Skype sessions with classes in New York City to California. They have also been featured in the Harvard Graduate School of Education on-line news section and in podcasts such as the EdTechCrew in Australia. Last year, EuroNews filmed a segment at our school with our Mathtrain students which aired on television in 155 countries and in 11 languages. My students know their video tutorials are being watched by real people-students, families, educators and even universities, who often e-mail us or post meaningful comments about their work. The students enjoy creating and do their best because they know their tutorials have purpose. Perhaps because these are not assignments, with no grade or extra credit offered, students often work beyond what they might perform if seeking only an A grade.

The first student video was created to help a friend with a homework problem. Today, the student videos on Mathtrain.TV may still be produced to help a friend, but the reach is deeper. With students spending after-school hours in a middle school mathematics classroom and asking to record mathematics problems over the weekend, they have become global educators.

Eric Marcos is a sixth grade mathematics teacher at Lincoln Middle School in Santa Monica, CA. Eric attended Boston College and earned his Master of Education degree in the MidCareer Math and Science Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He has taught in East Boston and San Diego public middle schools.

Eric Marcos

Eric Marcos

Eric Marcos

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