September 8, 2015

Learning and Leading with Technology

Batavia High School Intermediate Algebra and Calculus I teacher, Chris Ozarka, is continually creating brief videos to explain (and re-explain) key math concepts students are learning in his classroom. He uploads these videos on his YouTube Math Channel.

Mr. Ozarka says the videos are meant to only supplement the learning experience both inside and outside of his classroom. If a student is struggling with a concept that’s covered in a video, Mr. Ozarka can refer that student to it during class. “I can be at more than one place at a time with the videos,” he says.

The math videos also allow students to replay concepts and freeze frame them on their Chromebooks to show Mr. Ozarka exactly where they stopped understanding something. For students who miss a class, the videos can help introduce and reinforce math concepts at home.

Mr. Ozarka says the less-than-five-minute videos provide students with pieces of the puzzle, but won’t solve math equations for them. “You will rarely see a worked-out problem in my videos. I don’t want to teach math problems. I want students to fully understand math concepts by going through the struggle,” he explains.

This style of teaching is a shift from a traditional chalkboard lecture to a more student-centered classroom that focuses on students’ engagement in mathmatical activities and persistent problem solving.

Students in Mr. Ozarka’s class typically start class by answering five multiple-choice “Bell Ringer” questions in a Google Form on their Chromebooks. The Bell Ringer questions ask students about the previous day’s math concepts as well as new concepts. The Google Form allows Mr. Ozarka to track in real-time the percentage of students who understand and don’t understand a concept, and which concepts need to be reviewed before moving on to new lesson material. Bell Ringer answers are reviewed in class and include the percentage of students who got each one right and wrong, so students can compare their responses with the rest of the class.

Google Forms are also used in place of students raising their hand for help. When students in Mr. Ozarka’s class have a question, they enter their name into a Google Help Form, which he uses to make the rounds in an orderly fashion. First entered, first served.

The elimination of hand raising forces students to continue to work through a problem individually or with classmates until their name rotates to the top of the help list. “When students raise their hand to ask questions, they tend to lose focus and precious time in class,” explains Mr. Ozarka. “Most students answer their own question by the time I get to them.”

The Google Help Form also provides Mr. Ozarka with a quick count of who had questions on a given day, and how many. “If I have a student who is struggling, but never asks for help during class, I will know that,” he says.

While the use of technology in Mr. Ozarka’s math classes is undoubtedly creating efficiencies, it’s also creating more time for human interaction in the classroom. What used to be homework, such as assigned problems, is now done in class with the teacher offering more personalized guidance and interaction with students, and the students collaborating to solve problems together.

“The main point of my classes is to introduce new ways of thinking,” says Mr. Ozarka. “It’s not to solve problems by a given deadline.”