Monday, August 24, 2009

The Evolution of the Mathcast

Two years ago my principal approached me about getting a SmartBoard for each of the math teachers in my department.  I had no idea what he was talking about.  Heck, before I came here, my daily tech decision was: Vis-a-Vis or Expo?  So when he starts talking about this board that lets you interact with the computer whose screen is projected back on the board, I think my head almost exploded.  Didn't have a clue how I'd use it.  Against my better judgement, he ordered them anyway.  They came in a couple of weeks before school started, I helped him install one on my wall and off I went.  No training, no direction.  Just me and my computer. 

I particularly appreciated the ease by which I could do the drawings and graphs which were such a drag with an overhead.  I hated to give up my vintage set of chalk board drawing tools, but it had to happen.  A guy's gotta grow up some time.  As I was toying around with some of the features, I noticed that there was what looked like a record button.  We played around with the thing and figured out how to record the annotations but had a tough time getting the sound to record.  I played with the settings and in walks a wireless lapel mic.  Got it up and running and away I went. 

At first the recordings were a train wreck (I'm still not completely pleased with the quality of some of the examples).  The default file was .avi and I would post the lessons through the school website.  The problem was a student would click the link, go make a sandwich, do the dishes and come back just in time for the recording to play.  One of our district IT guys suggested I compress the .avi in MovieMaker to allow it to open faster.  Keep in mind, I really had no idea what I was doing.  I was basically swinging at pitches in the dirt hoping to connect.  Anyway, I had my first examples online ready to view by Christmas. 

Man, we thought we were cutting edge.  Then last year, I stumbled upon Tim Fahlberg's wiki. Turns out this guy has been doing mathcasts since I was in high school.  He practically invented this stuff.  I contacted Tim and he turned me on to Camtasia Studio.  It's a bit pricey, but it allows one to render the videos in many different formats.  It's also very easy to use.  Eventually this led to a channel on as well as a podcast through iTunes.

The learning curve has been pretty steep but has started to level off a bit.  I am now passed the point of wondering how much can be done with this technology, but now I am wondering how to best use the ability to create dynamic notes for my students.  The nice thing about the channel on as well as being on iTunes is that kids can subscribe and download the examples so they can take them wherever they go.  It's amazing to think that I have kids watching these things on their iPhone's and PSP's.  But they are.  So the question is how do we best use this tool?  Chris Lehmann suggests inversions.  What say you?


Terry Kaminski said...

I am going to give Mathcasts a try this year. I like Chris Lehmann's inversion idea. Post a Mathcast, have the students watch it and hopefully learn something from it and then you as a teacher facilitate their learning as they work on a set of problems. It definitely allows me to more individualize the education of my students.

I will definitely experiment with the inversion idea and see how it works. I will ask my students how they like learning by watching a Mathcast. Please continue to blog about how you will use Mathcasts. Maybe together we can change what a math classroom looks like!!!

David Cox said...

Hi Terry
Yeah, it's definitely a work in progress. Organizing them has been difficult. I currently have them done by book section and by state standard. We aren't "following" the pacing of the book, but it makes it nice if the students are doing problem sets in a particular section. My students visit the site quite frequently and students from other classes have as well. I will keep posting and we'll see where the conversation takes us.