Students create math videos

Move over, Salman Khan. Eric Marcos’ sixth-grade math students are making their own video tutorials to explain math to fellow students, reports KQED’s MindShift. Marcos, who teaches at Lincoln Middle School in Santa Monica, California, has posted the videos on MathTrain.TV.  There’s also a podcast and an iTunes app created by a student.

Often teaching is the best way to learn, Marcos says.

“I’ve heard kids say that when they were trying to explain how to divide fractions, they knew to flip the number over but they didn’t know why.” Because they were creating a tutorial video, “They found out that they didn’t know why” – and then, naturally, they found out why.”

. . . In the beginning, students “were just doing it to help their friends. They weren’t necessarily looking to help people out in Australia, but now they are.”

Marcos has created screencasts about how to make screencasts.

Marcos’ advice to other teachers? “Let them touch the computer,” he says. “That’s how the world changed for me, for all of us. If you give kids a little bit of trust and let them try out some stuff, they’re going to come up with fascinating things that will surprise you.”

Here’s one of the first video tutorials on calculating simple interest made by “Billy” (a girl’s pseudonym) in 2007.

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  1. Ah, I feel a surge of professional jealousy. Eric Marcos is the kind of teach I always wanted to be.

    But wait a minute. A student wrote an iPhone app? Do you know how difficult it is to write an iPhone app? The student’s website says it took him two years to write. My guess is he didn’t stay in the 6th grade for two years.

    I think I’ll work through my jealously so I can be simply inspired by Eric Marcos.

    We would have students more involved with creating for the internet if it weren’t for our district lawyers who make a living cautioning us about liability.

    I’m sure glad there are teachers like Eric Marcos.

    I bet he had to do some end runs around the powers that be to get this off the ground.

    If you get good press first, it makes it more difficult (but not impossible) to be slammed by the administration later.

    • Hi,
      You know what’s really cool about the student who wrote our iPhone App? Even as he enters high school this year, he has spent a lot of his summer vacation writing an update (version 1.1) for our 6th Grade App.

      Yeah, the liability and admins general fear of the unknown (Internet) can make things difficult. It’s amazing what it takes just to conduct a Skype call with students, even if it is only audio. I mean, isn’t that just a phone call? I have to get waivers signed and answer questions about load-in times, breakdown times and parking (seriously). Because this is new and they (school/district) do not really understand, they use the same waiver system as if I were a production company coming to film the next Harry Potter sequel on our campus! But I understand the newness can concern admins and I only hope things will continue to positively change.

      When we started, I had the students use aliases for their on-line presence. In our case, there is no video of the kid themselves – just a voice with a fake name. Luckily, the parent/guardians were supportive from the very beginning. Even with positive press and with some of our students getting “all expenses paid” invites to present across the country, our district remains somewhat unmoved. That is good and bad.

      In the good sense, it is good that we have been able to do this math project for almost five years without administration constraints. But the bad side is I have had to pay for nearly everything out of my own pocket and do nearly everything on my own time, even though our district benefits from the positive press and positive student work. I could list the expenses, but won’t bore you. The bottom line is it is worth it. It is cool to see what the students do!

      Perhaps you could use the approach of “do it and apologize later” if the lawyers come knocking? (Just promise not to quote me on that.)

      Thanks again!

  2. Yes, it’s a total coincidence that the kids are in Santa Monica and all appear to be from a particular ethnic group?

    • Hi. I’m from Mathtrain.TV. I was wondering what you meant by “all appear to be from a particular ethnic group”?

      I agree, it may seem that way. However, it might be interesting to note that things aren’t always as they appear. For example, many of the students who have created videos and have traveled to conferences with me (with their parents) are English Language Learners. On a related note, many of the students who have created tutorials, collectively speak a variety of languages (which I could attempt to list if you want). I’m not claiming to have the entire world represented, not yet at least. 🙂

      In addition, I’m excited by the high proportion of girls involved in using this screencasting technology as well. Anyway, thanks!

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    This is why we have ed schools and certification: If anybody who could teach could teach, the supply of teachers would increase and compensation decrease.

  4. Jill Bell says:

    That’s the thing, Richard…anybody CAN teach! A degree from a school of education and a teaching certificate doesn’t guarantee a teacher will know how to teach effectively, any more than holding a driver’s license will guarantee that a driver will know how to drive safely. Studies have shown that if a person who learns ANY new material can explain that material to someone else, they have mastered the material themselves. These kids are cementing these concepts in their own brains, and becoming smarter because of it. They are also helping their fellow students better understand the material. It’s a win-win situation!! 😀

  5. For example, many of the students who have created videos and have traveled to conferences with me (with their parents) are English Language Learners.

    Actually, I didn’t see Billy’s name until now. So two of them appear to be Asian and one of them appears to be Jewish? None of them are Hispanic or African American.
    If your ELL students are Hispanic, great. But in my experience, people who tout their ELL students as ELL and not Hispanic are talking about non-Hispanic ELL learners.

    There’s nothing wrong with this, of course! The videos are cute. But whenever a teacher is celebrated by eduformers, the subtext is “unlike those OTHER teachers, who don’t do this cool stuff”. And in that case, it matters that you are in Santa Monica with well off people and/or ethnic/racial groups with high levels of achievement in math.

  6. Eric,

    It’s really good to see a teacher who was successful in accomplishing a vision of innovation.

    It’s unfortunate that the powers that be are inclined to keep teachers in a box.

    Years ago, when only 1 out of 1000 people had heard of email, my students were using it to correspond with people in the Soviet Union. I could only do it because the administration had no idea what we were doing.

    After a couple of years, when they thought they knew a little bit about email and the internet, they were alarmed and threaded to fire me unless I pulled the plug. (i wasn’t even asked. I was threatened.) (“if you need to communicate, what’s wrong with mailing a letter?”)

    In subsequent years, the lawyers prevented us from doing voter registration, feeding the homeless, creating web pages, and having students design ads for the school newspaper. (“What if years from now a student sues the district for profiting off the art work?”)

    Though I’ve never defied directives from administrators, I’ve frequently been told to climb back into the box with threats of termination.

    Teaching in the public school, those who were rewarded with perks are usually the teachers who praise the current administration, adopt the latest fad vocabulary, simply teach out of the book, and beat the students to the parking lot every afternoon.

    For innovative teachers, the administration aren’t a help, they’re an absurd hinderance.

    Oh, I’ve had a couple of administrators who were supportive, but they were canned in a short period of time.

    And then there’s the jealousy of our colleagues.

    Once when I won an award, it was met by deafening silence from my colleagues.

    Later, the VP put a news article in my box about how a teacher in Florida won a “teacher of the year award.” Her colleagues reacted with the feelings, “Why doesn’t anybody every recognize the great job I’m doing!” There was no onsite recognition of her honor, just conspicuous silence, a few hateful stares, and somebody put a banana peel in her mail box.

    There is a lot of pressure to stay in the box, from all sides.

    It’s good to see you’ve been able to rise above that.

    After the last, serious attempt to have me fired, I now teach out of the book, no matter how horrible it might be. It’s sad, but I’m old and outnumbered.