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Five Tips for Using Video to Ease Chronic Math Anxiety

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Math anxiety is a persistent challenge for teachers in K-12 classrooms. Brainerd High School in Minnesota is no exception.

Three 9th-grade algebra teachers at the school—Eunice Peabody, Janelle Menzel, and Alexis Marcelo—have taken several steps to counteract that anxiety, including online assessment, personalized learning, and credit recovery.

Perhaps the core of the group's approach, though, is a daily video, between 10 and 20 minutes long, that summarizes the contents of the class session and walks students step by step through sample problems.

Education Week got the math teaching team on the phone to talk about overcoming math anxiety and using technology tools to help students achieve their potential. Here are five tips they shared:

Establish strong bonds with your colleagues. If all three teachers had to record their own lessons each day, the workload would be unbearable. Instead, the trio coordinates their lessons day by day so they're always teaching the same material at the same time. Then they take turns recording the video for the day's recap.

"The idea of recording a spiel every single day for every single homework assignment all year long, that would be a daunting task," Menzel said. "By being committed to collaboration, and being really clear with each other on what our learning targets are, the standards that we want to assess, we have cultivated a curriculum that we all have been involved in."

Students also benefit from hearing different teachers' approaches to similar material—some might connect more with one teacher's comments than the other.

Know your audience. The idea to create daily videos gained steam once the school district transitioned to a 1-to-1 computing environment a few years ago. 

Students often said they felt teachers went through material too quickly in class, or that they understood the lesson while in school but couldn't remember the process once they got home. Parents told the teachers they often couldn't help their students because they "weren't there" during the school day.

Now parents and students watch the videos together. "It allows us to almost trick the students into some additional class time because we get to explain it further," Menzel said.

The videos are also useful for students who are absent, and for students with disabilities, who get the opportunity to rewind and pause at their leisure. "Their case managers love having that resource because it allows them an opportunity to get direct instruction from the people in the math classroom," Peabody said.

Don't be afraid to change your approach at the midway point. At first, the teachers uploaded videos to YouTube and then created a QR code that would be pasted onto each homework assignment students received during class. But that meant the teachers had to finish the videos and create the QR codes before each assignment was due. "If something wasn't lining up perfectly, you couldn't print until the last second," Marcelo said.

After more research, the teachers switched to Screencastify, which allows them to record their voices while using an electronic pen over PDFs to demonstrate concepts with help from OneNote or SmartNotebook. Screencastify has a subscription service but the Brainerd teachers use the free version.

It's okay to be nervous. Marcelo in particular doesn't enjoy being on camera. That is why they opted not to use the version of the software that would require them to appear in front of students. But their voices are recorded. 

The most nerveracking aspect of the endeavor, though, is the amount of time it takes. All three teachers said they usually complete the videos after school or on the weekend—each one takes between 45 minutes and an hour— up to four times the length of the video itself.

Thankfully, "it's typically only one of these per week," Marcelo said. "That's what it averages out to, because we're sharing all the rest with each other."

Take one step at a time. For schools without much precedent for projects of this kind, Menzel recommends experimenting with it for a single unit of a course first, before committing to doing it year round. 

Peabody said the project became more rewarding once the team had standardized its assignments and assessments. They're still working towards a common curriculum that they'll reuse year after year, which will substantially reduce the number of new videos they have to produce.

"Our job is to provide as many resources as possible for students to grow," said Marcelo. "We recognize that it is helping students grow and change their outlook."


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