Wednesday, February 12, 2014

ShowMe the Math

I was absent from school today, chaperoning students on the Yeshiva University National Model UN, and, as such, could not check or review my math students' completed homework. I therefore emailed the students a small assignment: they were to produce and send me the solution for one of the two hardest problems from our most recent homework as a narrated, step-by-step solution using the ShowMe app on their iPads. I listed a few guidelines (duration of the video, that it was due in my inbox at 10PM, that they needed to show the "check", etc.) and then watched as the videos trickled in. The results were rather amazing.

  • Preparation for Video: It was very evident how little or how much time a student spent prior to the final recording. A number of students erred slightly as they solved the problem, and immediately corrected and erased the error, but others had a perfect run-through. In response to the email in which I gave comments and the score (100%) for her video, a student wrote to me "I really liked this, although I had to record it many times!" [Still others prepared well, but struggled with the technical aspect (their iPad wasn't at home, they didn't check their email to see the assignment, the sound did not record, etc.) and how students dealt with these issues was eye-opening, as well.]

  • Student Voice: Students who normally tend to shy away from voluntarily producing their solutions on the board or even asking clarifying questions had a voice that exemplified a confident, poised mathematical thinker. When the clock wasn't ticking a 40-minute countdown, when the pressure of peer approval/disapproval was not a factor, when they had practiced and checked the problem and were simply reciting what they knew was correct, these students had a voice that was clear and strong.

  • Mathematical Language: The purpose of me asking them to produce a ShowMe rather than send me a picture of their worked-out solution was so that I could hear them narrate through the process. "Math is not a spectator sport", yet it is a subject that is taught best by example. This exercise had the student do the showing, and I was able to see not only their mastery of the concept (all solved the problem correctly) but also their command of the mathematical language. Some said they were "doing this" while others specified that they were "multiplying the binomials". Some students said that they will "bring it down to the next step" while others said they were "simplifying". Descriptions like "substituting" instead of "plugging in" showed that students had caught on to the language with which I converse with them, and were able to speak with it, too.

I find that Algebra I is a fast-paced curriculum. That, combined with time constraints, class size, and other factors, can sometimes rob teachers of the opportunity to pause and listen to their students. Analyzing their errors that they have made on the test is helpful only to a certain extent, especially for score-minded students who know that test grades do not change even if they can detect their errors ex post facto. Asking my students to produce a ShowMe was a way of telling them, "I trust you; I want to listen to you; and I care to know how you are doing what you're doing." To hand the talking stick to a student, give her your undivided attention for just 2.5 minutes, and analyze her proficiency in a concept while she is trying to master it is empowering and eye-opening. I anticipate that this act of narrating a problem and emphasizing the "check" will further encourage my students to find their true "math voice", even when I don't ask that they ShowMe.

By Mrs. Shira Teichman, Math Teacher