My Algebra II Video Project

So did I mention the “big” Algebra II project I did this year? I suspect that I said something in passing, and then flew on, waiting until the day that I could do a final analysis of whether it was a success or not (it was a low to moderate success) and how I’m envisioning it for next year now that I’ve had one crack at it.

For those who want to jump right to the finished product:

Details, documents, and analysis are after the fold.

The Basic Overview of the Project

What: I asked my 10th and 11th graders to create “tutorial” videos of some skills and concepts we’ve learned in the first semester of my Algebra II / Trigonometry class.

When: We started this at the beginning of the second semester. We had learned a good amount of material by then and we were safely in our routine.

Why: The purpose of the project was initially envisioned to be fourfold:

  • 1.   The project would be a good way to really master a topic from the first semester [teaching is the best way to test if you have really learned something]
  • 2.   The project would give the class ownership over their own learning
  • 3.   The project would teach students how to present math clearly
  • 4.   The project would provide a student-generated help guide when studying for the final exam (when all first semester topics would be long forgotten).

But to be perfectly frank, I just thought the idea was cool and wanted to try it out. Me and the other teacher organized in less than a week — because we thought that lolligagging and overthinking would lead us to never actually get the project off the ground. We’re action oriented.

The Context for the Project

There isn’t too much context for the project minus the obvious. My school is a laptop school. Each student is issued a laptop. Each classroom is outfitted with a SmartBoard. I use the SmartBoard in my class every day. I post their homework online,  as well as our class notes from each class (my smartboard lessons with our class writing on them). My students, in other words, are familiar with basic computer and SmartBoard technology.

The Context of the Students

I have a really differentiated classroom. One of my classes has over 50% of students with some sort of learning difference — many of them have slow processing. The other is near 50%.

I struggle with scaffolding (as I cry out in this post). It’s hard. This project, by it’s nature, is scaffolded, because I’m letting kids pick their own topic (as long as another student hasn’t already chosen it). I put approximate rankings of the topics (* ** *** **** ***** to show easy to hard). Students could choose a topic they feel they already get, or choose a topic they struggle with so they are forced to master it.

Documentation & Supplies

For anyone who wants to try this out, here are the four documents I used:

They’ll be changed for next year, probably.

The supplies included: laptop, microphones/headsets, SmartBoard, SmartBoard software on laptop, ACA Capture Pro (the video recording program).

The Video Project Itself

Visit the site here and browse some videos. You’ll see some really great ones, some really terrible ones, and a bunch in-between.

I was surprised at how so many of my weaker students excelled — had very lucid explanations, while some of my stronger students just flopped. A whole contingent of them, I saw, can think math, but they can’t communicate it for the life of them.

My students, especially the tenth graders, are still at a stage where they are learning to work independently. In ninth grade at my school, teachers still handhold. Tenth grade is when they are slowly getting weened off of that. I have very clear documents spelling everything out, I had one “check in” (where students showed me what they were going to do in their video), and then I gave them a very detailed “checklist.”

Of all my students, there were 3 that failed to do the video project at all — by a very extended deadline.

Post Analysis Review of the Project

Frankly, this is a great project that didn’t materialize as ideally as I wanted it to this year. The one unexpected result was me getting to see how my students think about these concepts and problems as they go through trying to explain them.

Were my students successful this year? Yes and no.

I think they really did get to know their own topics well. Some of the explanations are absolutely stellar, so I know those kids got more than “how to solve the problem” but “why you use a particular method to solve a problem.” The project also provided a much needed confidence boost for some students struggling in the class.

One problem was that some students made mathematical errors. That was supposed to be avoided with the “check in” but that didn’t quite catch them all — because some students hadn’t written out all their steps. Or they misspoke (saying “leading coefficient” for example, instead of “degree”). Small and large things. The reason that this is so disastrous is because other students are (in theory) using these videos to study. So a video with errors isn’t a great study guide.

Another problem was that students simply don’t know how to teach. Two students even told me after they finished how hard being a teacher was. Yup. Agreed. It’s tough to teach math clearly.

A last problem was the requisite technological issues. For the most part, the instructions are so detailed that there were very few students who had problems. However, for the few that did, they were disastrous problems. The main one was capturing the sound on the video. Of course, all of the disasters could have been avoided had the students started their videos earlier!

Ideas for Next Year

Will there be a next year? Yes. This project has too much potential, and too much going for it, for me to abandon ship after the first year. I’ve learned a lot from it.

The key differences will be:

  • 1.   I expected students to be able to present math clearly, without really showing them how. To rectify this next year, I will emphasize clear, mathematical communication for the entire first semester. It will be a focus of the class. I will call more students to the board, and we will have some class critiquing of my presentations and student presentations. We’ll talk about what makes a good and bad presentation, and model them, instead of just showing them a few videos of “good” and “bad” videos and giving them tips on how to make a good video. Maybe I’ll even have my students make their own set of advice.
  • 2.   I have already started doing this, but in concert with the point above, I will also integrate more written concept questions on my exams. I’ve already started doing that more in the second semester (e.g. “Why is it that you cannot multiply matrix A and B?” and “Explain what an ‘inverse function’ is in words, but you may use diagrams to illustrate”); I will have to do a lot more of this first semester.
  • 3.   I will spread out the video project for the entire year, so we have a collection of videos for the whole course. There will be a different deadline for videos depending on the chapter.
  • 4.   I will teach my students how to do simple things with SmartBoard (e.g. put in equations, put in pictures, put in a blank graph). I was surprised that none of my students had ever used SmartBoard in their other classes! Only their teachers had.
  • 5.   I will be more specific about what they need when they give me scripts for their video. Some gave me 2 page scripts while others gave me 2 sentences.
  • 6.   I will make the deadline 2 weeks before I will do their final grading. I will look at the videos initially. f there is an egregious mathematical mistake, I will tell the student they have to re-do it if they want credit. Because what good is a math video tutorial if it teaches wrong?
  • 7.   I will recommend that students make their video — if it’s long — in two or three parts. A bunch of students said they took FOREVER to record their video because every time they made a mistake, they had to record it all over again. However, if the video were broken into two or three parts, you could make mess up when recording and not have to re-record a 10 minute video, but instead, just a 3 minute part!
  • 8.   Integrate using these videos for help throughout the year. Don’t let them just sit there, unused and stagnant. Show the students that they are useful! And then how to use them. If students don’t use the videos, then much of their power (a collective repository of knowledge) is lost.

That’s about all. Hope this helps another math teacher somewhere out there.

Clearly this idea of collective knowledge can be adapted in a million different ways, without SmartBoards. I had students in my calculus class come up with their own written study guides and solutions for various topics, and I photocopied and exchanged them, before the midterm. And then they each taught a 20 minute lesson review their topics. Or you could have students make these videos for extra credit, if there aren’t a lot of laptops and SmartBoards at your school. Or whatever.



  1. Thank you for this! I wanted do something similar this year with my grade 10s, but I didn’t give them enough guidelines. Sharing your experiences will help me actually accomplish something next year!

    I like the idea of using the videos throughout the year. Are you going to use the videos from the same year? How is that going to work? I can really see it being useful to show the videos that the students made the previous year as review at the beginning of the year or whenever I start a lesson with RECALL {whatever}. I’m going to be at a very small school where I will be teaching the same students from year to year.

    Are you going to give class time to complete? What will students who are working on a different topic that hasn’t been taught yet?

    It will be a great treasure trove of resources after a few years. Thanks for sharing!

  2. You’re welcome! I figured someone out there might have wanted to do this, and could learn from my (many) mistakes.

    To answer your questions:

    (1) I might use some of the videos from this year as a model for next year’s students. I’ll have students next year actually assign a grade to them and write reasons why they gave it that grade. That way they will be forced to evaluate what make s a strong video and what makes a weak video.

    (2) I was thinking that as the year moved on, next year, I would integrate videos and reviews into our “do nows” (what we do at the beginning of class to get in the groove).

    So we watch a video made by a student in the class as a do now and then that topic will be fair game for the next assessment. That way students will learn that the video is a good place to go for help. It becomes part of their resources.

    Plus if students know that their video might be shown in class, and that their colleagues will be assessed on that topic, it might provide a different sort of motivation than if it were a completely private assignment.

    (3) I don’t give class time to work on this. Part of this project was explicitly about learning to work independently. That’s also why I’m not turning this into a “team” project with two or three people working together.

    That being said, I might have a class devoted to teaching students how to use SmartBoard and create an effective SmartBoard to teach a topic.

    (4) As for students who are working on a topic that hasn’t been taught… This year I had students in the second semester work on first semester topics. So this wasn’t an issue.

    Next year, I’ll probably make this a year long rolling assignment. I will have students sign up to do a topic from quarter 1, quarter 2, quarter 3, OR quarter 4. And the videos will be due three weeks after the quarter ends (except for the fourth quarter, where I’ll come up with some special allowance). So say a student does a topic from quarter 2. Then s/he’ll have to turn it in three weeks into quarter 4. Make sense?

    Thanks for your comment! It is much appreciated. Seriously!

  3. Thanks for the great idea! I mentioned this project on our Dutch weblog on technology and education because I thought it would be great inspiration for every teacher (

    I have a question though: My hypotheses was that students will learn the subject they’re explaining better because a good explaination needs a more thorough insight in the matter than just plainly reproducing a calculation or listening to the teacher.

    But then one of our readers commented (and I think he has a point here) this could not be valid hypothesis because “weaker students excelled (..), while stronger students just flopped”. He said that if this was the case this project “outs” the better students as being actually not that good and vice versa.

    What do you think about this discussion? Or do you maybe have a practical explanation of why this has happened?

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Howdy Suzanne…

    Thanks for the great comment and question!

    I think that the fact that a number of the weaker students excelled while some of the stronger students flopped actually makes some sense. What caused students to succeed or flop in this project doesn’t easily boil down to students who “get it” and students who don’t.

    Some of the stronger students “get” why they’re doing what they’re doing, but they’ve never been taught how to explain it. So I would argue that they aren’t just doing a procedure without knowing why… they just haven’t been taught how to explain why. They went into the project thinking that it would be very easy, because they “get” the topic, and so they didn’t put time or effort into thinking about how they would teach it.

    The weaker students who excelled tended to choose the easier or mid-level topics, but they really tended to focus on the “teaching” part — how to make a good video. So they would come to me and we would talk about their video script and talk through what would make it really effective, what little things they might want to include (“watch out here! many students might think X, but really Y happens…”), etc. And so the students who focused on that tended to do well.

    In my opinion, success and failure in this project don’t correspond neatly to understanding their topics well. It’s a different type of project. Its comes out of something more complicated: being able to explain a topic, about mathematical communication. Of course to do this well, you need to understand the topic well conceptually (and why you’re making each step), but importantly, you have to have a whole host of other skills.

    *good smartboard technique
    *a solid “lesson plan” with a flow
    *an understanding of how the audience thinks
    *a good way to articulate mathematical ideas

    This is something I didn’t realize myself going into the project (!), and so next year, I’m going try to integrate those skills into my classes.

    Does this answer your question?

  5. Wow, that was quick.

    With learning and especially with testing the level of understanding it is always difficult to predict all the variables involved. This really answers my question. Thanks again!

  6. What a great idea for a project! If only my school had some of your smartboard technology. I’m already trying to think of ways to adapt it to my students and what we have available at our school. Great idea and very nice student examples!!

  7. Thanks!

    I’ve decided that I’m going to try it again this year, but with some of the modifications. We’ll see where that brings us…

  8. This looks like an excellent project! I would love to do something like this for my Honors Algebra II class this year. My school is a laptop school as well, although we don’t have Smartboards. I read that you were going to change the project for future years. Can you please post the links to your updated files?


  9. I’ve been doing the same thing, but on the college level (at Georgia Tech) for the past few years. For me, one main challenge is to get instructors to “buy in” to the value of this idea and incorporate it into their classrooms. Most of the videos we’ve done have been extra credit (low stakes) but I hope to soon incorporate more video assignments. Looks like you were going along great. Why did you stop? Any plans to continue?

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