Skills-based portions of the year are often a struggle for me as the vast majority of the class is spend on active problem solving. Is there a place for learning strategies and practicing “naked number” skills? Some students who have tutors or take additional math classes walk in with a strong foundation in these areas before we start and others who are a bit fearful cringe. At the moment, I believe that time does need to be given to work on skills such as simplifying expressions and solving equations as this is an expectation of students moving on. This year, I tried something different after spending some time on John Spencer’s blog. Among many great resources and ideas, the one that captured my attention was his Sketch Video Project. A few examples are included and this is a technique for students to quickly put together a video of their ideas. When the making of the a project takes substantially more time than the learning or creating of a concept, I often have trouble following through with the project. In this case, I felt that students would have lots of great conversations in how to explain expressions and equations and not spend much time pulling together their ideas for the video.
I gave a few parameters:
- explain the difference between expressions and equations
- show an understanding of key vocabulary (variable, constant, like terms)
- provide examples of and show how to use the distributive property
- solve 2-step equations
The video nature of the project lent itself to showing models and I nudged students towards including appropriate visuals. Everything else was their decision.
The project spanned three class periods. The first was a kick-off, understand the project and get-to-work kind of day and the other two were work sessions. During the two work sessions, I pulled students to individually take a formative skills assessment. By only pulling one student from each video group at a time, groups were able to continue moving projects forward while I could ask questions of students. Were they getting the big ideas? Were they able to simplify expressions and solve equations? In general, the formative data was quite positive. Many students demonstrated a positive ability and those that needed extra help were able to get some one-on-one attention. In addition, they returned to groups where other students helped talk them through scenarios.
On the day that the projects were due, we shared projects. The videos were 3-5 minutes long so groups rotated through each video station to watch and give positive feedback. This process also served as a review / reinforcement of skills. I hope the linked student video can be accessed as it is on a school server…Expressions & Equations Video
At the end, the same assessment used previously was used to gauge student skill levels. I was quite pleased to find that students did as well if not better than in the past. In addition, the level of organization and communication in student work was much higher. Was this due to spending the last few class sessions in a format where communication of ideas was at a premium?
A quick survey asked students for some feedback on the project.
In general, the feedback was quite positive and students both enjoyed the process of working together to make a video and learned the math. One student indicated that the video did not help but when I had a conversation with him he indicated that he put a “1” because he already knew all the math. Ok, point made. But, when I asked him if he learned something about making videos and explaining his ideas he quickly responded that he had.
Again, a big thanks to John Spencer for sharing his ideas. I enjoyed the process and will try to incorporate Sketch Videos another time.