The age old line is that story problems are often boring, tedious, and mind-numbingly complex to solve. I never really prescribed to any of those thoughts as I was a math nut (until I took Calculus). Many teachers have found creative and efficient ways for students to tackle story problems, and thus relieve some anxiety involved with being introduced to numbers within a body of text, as opposed to the more didactic numeric expression. Which of course is pretty puzzling, considering that the real problems our learners are going to experience with math in the real world are not going to be written neatly in proper notation and expressions; they’re going to be embedded in real life problems, trips to the super market, on the job tasks, and complicated recipes.
So it struck me last night, why not turn story problems into video problems? Using video taps into our innate curiosity when it comes to telling and listening to stories (we are a storytelling species), it plays upon our ever growing visual culture, and engages learners by putting a more personal touch to the story problem itself…or at least, that’s my very rudimentary theory. Thus, my “Goldfish Video Problem” was created:
I’m not sure if this video makes the problem itself any better, and for the record, I didn’t actually feed my child 20 baby goldfish crackers (although we both had plenty during the video shoot), but to me at least it’s more engaging, more relevant, and ultimately, less structured and thus less anxiety inducing. My students always appreciate when I have short video clips to illustrate a point, or make a difficult concept easier to grasp, and I’d like to think that most teachers would feel comfortable recording video problems like this for their students.
Which of course, leads to the whole, “I don’t have time to do fancy things like this, Ben!” To which I answer, “hog wash!” If you have a newer laptop, either Mac or PC, you have a webcam to record with, and a piece of software to easily capture it with. I used Photobooth on my Mac, and it took my literally as long as the video clip above to record. Yes, I spent some extra time with editing by putting in the title, music, and text overlays, but that was for your benefit, and really didn’t take me any longer than 5 minutes to put together.
If I was going to do this on a regular basis in my classroom, I’d probably just record the video and be done with it. You could even have students create their own story problems, record them during an independent work time, or better yet, have them record at home using a digital camera, their own laptop (if they have one), or even a cellphone camera. Crowd-sourcing the work means that the students are getting practice crafting and working with story-problems, gives them an authentic audience (the rest of their class), and encourages them to be creative and search for math problems in their daily lives, adding the all important real world application that can often be absent from most formative mathematics experiences. The inclusion of a young child doesn’t hurt either
Have a great idea for a video story problem? Send it to my way and I’ll include it in the post, or put a link to it in the comments below.