Tie And Jeans

Homework Beta – Narrated Problems

This was an experiment  that I ran in a math classroom a while back.  I took a handful of kids – all bright, but with varying levels of academic success – and set them up as a group of beta testers for new ways to do homework.  We’d meet on Monday to discuss a new idea, then try it out for a week.  On the following week, we’d just meet once to debrief the experience.

I should have kept much better notes through the process.  It was a rough semester, and I cop to devising many of the homework schemes on Sunday afternoons without as much thought as they deserved.  But by choosing my beta testers – kids who thrived on the newness, and were bright enough to do the math and analytic enough to talk about what makes homework successful – I wound up with some good new projects.

One was Narrated Problems, which is really just “do the problem on the board” given a coat of tech paint.  But, at a very basic level, Ed Tech should enhance the classroom experience by minimizing the dull stuff and giving more time to what makes a class vibrant and exciting.  Doing problems on the board is a good experience for a class – an individual student gets to present their work to an audience, the class gets to see work done in a manner other than the teacher’s, and. . . yeah.  But there are plenty of logistic and social downsides too.

All you need is some way of getting student writing into the machine and a video screen cap utility.  Narrated Problems used an old Wacom tablet and headset I had lying in a closet, although I had a student do some on his personal TabletPC and I’m sure you could do the same thing with a SmartBoard.  My software of choice was Cam Studio because I’m a nerd and cheap.  At the Laptop Institute a few years back I heard many people sing the praises of Camtasia, but I never had the budget to try it out.  Camtasia offers a push-button option of encoding the videos as flv, which is great for web posting, but not strictly necessary for classroom use.

Instead of a full set of HW, the student has one or two NP.  They need to do full solutions with a clearly spoken audio commentary, synced to the recording.  Instead of being due in class, they’re due in my mailbox by 7am.  That gives me a chance to watch all of them before the day starts, scanning for any glaring or teachable mistakes.  By having these ready on the projector, I lose all of the classroom logistics and downtime associated with problems on the board, but still keep the student work and public display.  I generally had the student stand when their problem was shown and take any questions, just to keep some measure of real time social interaction, before the class clapped their thanks.

Then, when it’s all done, I had this great resource.  I could pull those problems out later, just as you would with SmartBoard slides, for review.  If you have a good class Moodle or web presence (I didn’t, alas), you could post them all as part of the class record.

I’m not chomping at the bit to get back into the math classroom, but I am really excited about trying to standardize a workflow for these types of “simple media” projects (Simple meaning that they require less than 2x the time as the corresponding “dead tree” version), and working to adapt them for other curricular areas.


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