A middle school math teacher's quest to teach each lesson at least a little bit better than the lesson before.

Posts tagged ‘Differentiation’

Helping students catch up using video tutorials created with Doceri

This week’s Middle School Math Sunday Funday prompt is helping students that are behind in math.


It’s always a challenge to find ways to get students caught up when they’ve fallen behind, and for me this year has been more challenging than ever.  I’m teaching at two schools — two classes at one school in the morning and two classes at the other school in the afternoon.  This means that I’m only available to give extra help before school in one location and after school in the other, which often doesn’t match up with my students’ availability outside of school.

I teach in a 1:1 laptop school district, so since my students all have their laptops outside of school hours, I’ve looked for ways to use technology to help them get caught up. My favorite method right now is to make video tutorials using the Doceri app on my iPad, and then upload the video to my class resources in our district’s online learning management system. Although my in-class lessons typically involve hands-on activities, rich tasks, and in-depth discussions, I’ve had to let go of the idea that I can always provide those kind of experiences for students who need to get caught up. This causes a great deal of anxiety for me, but I’ve come to realize that sometimes we just need to fill the gaps however we can, and filling a gap in a less-than-ideal way is better than not filling it at all.

There are so many video tutorials (for just about any math concept) available online, but when I preview them, they almost never cover exactly what I’d like for them to cover, or use exactly the vocabulary I’d use, or show exactly the examples I would have chosen.  (Okay, confession here: I’m a bit of a perfectionist.) And maybe the “perfect” video tutorials exist out there somewhere, but in less than the time it would take you to find it, you can make your own! 

Doceri is easy to use.  It records your voice and your writing on the screen, but it doesn’t record a video of you. (Bonus points for being able to make tutorial videos in your pajamas!) You can change the background patterns (there are some great ones for math, like various sizes of graph squares and isometric graphs). You can import files as a background. You can set up “pages” ahead of time so that you don’t have to write it all out as you’re recording.  I’m sure Doceri can do a lot more than what I’ve discovered so far, but it certainly does what I need it to do! I made a quick video to explain some of the things I like about Doceri.

Check out Doceri!

And on a related side note: I’ve also created Doceri videos to use on days when I’ve had to be out of the classroom.  I’m not a lecture-then-practice sort of teacher, but it’s hard to find substitutes who are able to teach 6th grade math and I really hate wasting a day giving my students busywork to do while I’m out.  So having video tutorials for my students to watch before practicing a new skill (or reviewing an old one) at least keeps those days from being a total waste!

Differentiating homework with rich tasks

Differentiation is an ongoing challenge for me.  I teach math to gifted 6th graders, but with our district’s broad definition of “gifted,”  the range of my students’ mathematical knowledge and general aptitude is pretty wide.  I have to be honest and admit that I don’t do the best job at differentiating assignments and lessons for my students.  It is so is hard!  I’m happy to  have a success story to share from this week, though.  Just in time for Julie Reulbach’s #msSunFun assignment to blog about differentiating homework!


Using rich tasks is a method of differentiation that really works for me.  If you give students a meaty problem with multiple access points, lower-performing students can still get into the problem while high-achieving students can really dig into the problem and take it to the next level!  One of my favorite resources for rich problems is nrich.maths.org, which is where I found the problems I used this week.  (I professed my love for nrich at the #GlobalMath meeting last Tuesday, February 5th, so if you missed it, check out my own Favorite — plus favorites from other teachers — by watching the recorded session at Global Math Department at BigMarker.com).

Back to the problems and how I differentiated for homework.  We’ve been working on mean, median, mode, and range, but I didn’t want to just hand my students sets of numbers and ask them to find the mean, median, mode, and range of each set.  Enter nrich’s problem “M, M, and M“:

There are several sets of five positive whole numbers with the following properties:

  • Mean = 4
  • Median = 3
  • Mode = 3
Can you find all the different sets of five positive whole numbers that satisfy these conditions?
Can you convince us you have found them all?

If I also tell you that the range is 10, can you identify my numbers?

I assigned this problem for homework, knowing that I wanted to spend class time the next day discussing the idea of how you’d know that you have found all possible sets.  I wanted every student to come to the next class being able to participate in the discussion and having something to contribute. But for some of my students, just finding a few sets of numbers that satisfied the mean, median, and mode requirements was enough to challenge them significantly.  On the other end of the spectrum, I expected that a handful of students would be able to tackle the full problem and identify EVERY possible set.  So for homework I gave a minimum number of sets that students had to find (5), but I challenged them to find more than that, and I told them I’d really love it if they found all possible sets.  Of course they all wanted to know how many sets were possible, and of course I wouldn’t tell them! (We’re over halfway into the school year and some students still think I’d answer a question like that?!)

The next day they came into class BEGGING to know how many sets were possible. I had some students come in with the required 5 sets, many come in with more than that, and a few come in with every possible set.  I was able to quickly pull out the students who’d found all (or most, or in a couple of cases, too many) sets so that they could work together and not spoil the solution for the other students.  Students then worked in groups of 3 or 4 students to come up with a list of all of the sets possible, and nearly every group came up with all correct sets in the end!  For the groups that started with most, or all, of the correct solutions, I asked them to spend their time working to prove that their lists were complete.

For the next night’s homework, students tackled the Final Challenge that goes with the M, M, and M problem.  It really was a challenge, and even after our “how do you know if you’ve gotten all of the possibilities” discussion, many students had trouble wrapping their minds around what the challenge question was even asking.  I asked students to find at least 3 sets of numbers that would work.  Just like before, many of them found more than that, and a few found all of them

How many sets of five positive whole numbers are there with the following property?

Mean = Median = Mode = Range = a single digit number

When I give one of these “Do at least this much, but I’d love it if you did more” homework assignments, it’s always interesting to see who will try to go beyond the minimum requirement.  Of course I have the usual bunch of high-achievers, but every once in a while one of the other students will really surprise me with the effort that they’ve put into a non-required assignment.  Those are the ones who really make my day!