Next Door Innovator is a Turn to Your Neighbor (TTYN) series on educational innovation inspired by Deborah Solomon’s New York Times column, Questions For. We engage in short conversations with educators, students, and others doing clever work to gain their insights about relevant topics. In this post, we feature TTYN reader and math teacher, Geoffrey Slack.
Mr. Slack teaches high school math in Portland, Maine. Slack came up with an innovative way to engage his own students in the art of problem solving. He creates math worksheets based on existing, high quality video solutions. If he cant find a good existing video, he makes up his own. The compelling thing about Slack is that he did not stop with his own classroom. Through his website, slackmath.com he has created a mechanism for helping math students and their teachers on a much larger scale.
Slack’s free math worksheets span subjects from Algebra to Pre-Calculus. Each worksheet covers a topic, such as “Order of Operations” and links to accompanying video previews and solutions (some from Slack, some from other math folks). The site is well organized, and even tags worksheets with Common Core State Standards domains and clusters. Students can use the worksheets to study on their own and get immediate feedback through the video solutions and teachers can use the worksheets in any number of ways, including to flip their class or prepare students for Peer Instruction.
Don’t teach math? Think about following Slack’s model and create worksheets based on video solutions for your own subject.
Geoffrey Slack: slackmath.com provides free math worksheets that link via QR codes (and hyperlinks) to video solutions on youtube. The main purpose of slackmath is to be a resource for teachers to use in their #flipclass to help facilitate practice, exploration and individualized learning for all students in the classroom.
How many visitors do you get on slackmath.com on a weekly basis?
What is your favorite user story?
I got a chance to a design a unit in precalculus (sequences, series, etc.) for a teacher located in Texas that I met via slackmath. We got a chance to converse via email and she is using the worksheets with her students. I am from Maine and Texas is a long way away 🙂
What is one of the most innovative uses of slackmath.com have you observed?
I got this idea one from my students. A student was clicking on the video solutions before they actually worked on my worksheet problems — just to preview methods of solution. This prompted me to make “quick review?” QR video codes students can follow at the tops of my worksheets. These codes link to short preview video lessons to help engage students in pre-learning before they complete their worksheet.
Why do you offer a worksheet with QR video solutions, why not just offer the video solutions?
I utilize the huge variety and high quality of video instruction already available on youtube (although some of the videos I link to are mine). So, I work on finding good videos and writing the worksheets to match. My students gain skills when they work on their own, but oftentimes need affirmation of their solution process — this is where the video solutions come in.
Backlash against the flipped classroom includes commentary that lectures online are no different than lectures in person. Even more, some critics suggest that chunked, online lectures boil content down to abstractions that don’t help students develop deep content knowledge. Is that what your videos do, boil math down to abstractions?
I believe that a variety of methods of instruction and learning are necessary to reach all learners. Sometimes reading from a traditional textbook works, sometimes it is watching a short video that works for students. To rely on any one method is probably not the way to go; to discount any one method of instruction for all learners is probably not the way to go either. It is up to the classroom teacher to provide connections for students – slackmath is a tool and cannot replace the thoughtful teacher and well-planned lesson.
Are you improving education with SlackMath.com or just offering something trendy and different?
I am harnessing the power of youtube (and all of the excellent teachers posting great videos) and technology that is in students hands (smartphones & tablets). I believe (because I have seen it up close and in person) that the resources of slackmath.com bring greater understanding of a wide variety of math concepts to a wide variety of students.
When thinking about your students, what keeps you up at night?
How do you learn? What are your motivations for learning? What are the roadblocks to learning? How do we (teachers/schools) facilitate the learning process so that it works for you (students)?
What are you working on right now that you are excited about?
I am adding those “quick review?” segments to the top of my worksheets so that students can watch quick lessons on a topic before they start working.