Next Vista for Education – What can video do for your students?

Usually the conversation about “videos for instruction” get relegated to the tired conversation about whether or not students learn best from a video or their live teacher #flipclass.

This isn’t what I’m talking about. I’m talking about students producing the videos… starring in the videos… scripting the videos.

Stuff like this:

How the Unit Circle REALLY works:

How-to Complete the square:


Now as you watch those, it’s fair to ask the question, “yeah but the students are simply going to watch an instructional video for a single skill, right?” And from a student learning perspective from the side of the CONSUMER, that’s likely true. And when you go to Next Vista’s website, you’ll see that it’s fairly simple to find videos, but it’s also that there’s lots of opportunities to submit videos. That’s where this conversation turns. When you see this from the side of the CREATOR, you get a whole different view.

Rushton Hurley (the founder of Next Vista for Learning) has a line I’ve heard him use a couple of time: “When your students know their classmates and community will see their work, they want it to be good. When they know their teacher will be the only one who sees it, they want it to be good enough.” And I think that platforms like Next Vista can provide the space for students to invest their time and effort into learning math to the level needed to record videos that can help others learn the math that deeply, too.

That’s something we’ve learned as math teachers. When you don’t know what you are talking about, that becomes a problem when you are trying to instruct someone else on that topic. By exploring creative outputs for our math learner, we are operationalizing that same truth. In order to create effectively to support learning, you have to have deep knowledge of the content yourself.

And the prospect of deep math knowledge for our students is enough to get my attention.


Why “maker” seems so appealing…

In the education world, “maker” as a vocabulary word seems very trendy, but the thought behind it really isn’t new. We learn by doing. We do by creating. The ability to create within the content requires connections among a variety of different related content pieces and often testing and trouble-shooting which are themselves tasks that require pretty significant understanding.

So, it shouldn’t surprise us that creative activities seem valuable from a learning standpoint.

What is significant is how satisfying they are for our students… 0r at least the advocates would have us believe. I was able to be a learner today in an all-day session regarding maker-style learning and this quote by Mark Hatch certainly got my attention.

“Making is fundamental to what it means to be human. We must make and express ourselves to feel whole.”

A Google search of the quote revealed a second part of the quote:

“There is something unique about making physical things. The things we make are like little pieces of us and seem to embody portions of our soul.” (Quote found here.)

That’s a pretty powerful statement. There aren’t a lot of areas of education that will evoke words like “soul” and phrases like “fundamental to what it means to be human.”

And it makes sense. Let’s remember that each of our students (and each of us) were CREATED. We were literally made by a MAKER. And we are not just made, but we are made specifically in the image and likeness of that maker. We are created to be creators.

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.’ ” (Genesis 1:26) This quote, by the way, is uttered just after God the Creator had made the universe and everything in it. Our Lord, Himself a maker, created humans and said “Let Us make them in Our image…”

So, it should not at all be surprising that a day spent making is much less likely to feel like a day wasted. Perhaps our souls recognize that the time spent making is time that is bringing us closer to the image in which we were created. Time spent being who God made us to be. A chance to be our best selves.

And isn’t that our job as educators? To help our students be their best selves?

Birds at an #EdTech Conference

One thing you certainly can’t say about #TeamJXN (Made up of Kellie DeLosSantos, Alaina Sharp and Ann Smart) is that they aren’t outside-the-box thinkers.

“Outside-the-box” is certainly well on it’s way to cliche status these days, but despite that, it still has a perfectly functional and relevant meaning. And at an EdTech conference, where so much of what we are learning about is touted as “outside-the-box”, what does it actually take to live up to that?


It takes raptors at lunch.

The same set of questions

I’d like to unpack this statement a bit.

Those who know me will not at all be surprised to find out that my thoughts need more than 140 characters to explain. Particularly when it is me explaining them.

When we think of teacher accountability, explicit instruction, “non-negotiables” and the like, it can tricky to express how we are expecting all teachers to “do the same things” without making it sound like all teachers literally need to be doing the exact same teacher moves in their classrooms.

Cookie-cutter, robotic, prescribed teachers isn’t the goal. However, there are some things that all teachers need to do. I’ve found that this seems to make the most sense as a list of questions. As my colleague Matt often says about the Positive Behavior Intervention Support framework: “It isn’t a program to be followed, but rather a list of questions that need answers.”

The implication in that statement is that each teacher has the freedom and flexibility to answer the questions however they see fit. That’s where the individuality comes in. They only thing a teacher wouldn’t have the freedom to do is NOT have an answer.

So, for example, in general for any given activity, you might envision something that looks like the picture on the left (credit: Wesley Friar) or the picture on the right (credit:Writing by Design) .


both photos used via Creative Commons licensing 

Neither cooperative learning or guided individual practice are an absolute good or bad. So, the quality of the choice to use one or the other comes in the pairing with the desired outcomes. It’s the answer to the questions.

What are you expecting the students to learn by the end of the experience?

How does your strategy best support that?

Where does that learning target fit in the bigger picture of your course?

All teachers should be able to answer those questions for every lesson.

This doesn’t mean that every lesson has to have a hard content target. It could be that the catapult activity on the right has a learning target of team-building, problem-solving, and effective collaborative creativity (as opposed to being able to model the path of the ball with a quadratic and solve math problems using the model). But then those are your learning targets and they need to be explicitly understood as such because of the next set of questions.

How are you going to verify whether or not each student reached the learning target?

What are you going to do for the students that haven’t reached the learning target by the time of the assessment?

Anything worth making a formal learning target is valuable enough to ensure success for ALL students. This generally easier yet for content goals that are easily memorizable (Depth-of-Knowledge 1, if you’re familiar with Webb’s DOK Framework.) Name all fifty capitals is pretty easy to assess.

As learning goals get more complex or individualized, they also get trickier to assess. As a result, it seems that fewer teachers are asking their students to do complex things. Or at least that is the perception. “Boss says that I need to be able to verify my student growth using data, then I better choose learning targets that are easy to track data on.” This is one of the reasons that “data-based decisions” has taken on some negative connotations particularly among teachers who have powerful non-content goals for their students.

But this sets up a false set of adversaries in the struggle for school improvement. There’s no need to examine this as “things you can take data on” vs. “things you can’t take data on.” Instead, we need to be asking ourselves HOW do we assess our activity’s effectiveness in achieving the goals we have for it?

How do you assess whether a student is growing in his/her creativity? How do you assess student’s ability to collaborate effectively? These are powerful questions. And, quite frankly, it seems like the design challenge involved in answering these questions might appeal quite nicely to the minds of the educators that are advocating for these types of learning targets.

And in all this, we need to remember who we are fighting for. We take data because we need to know if our programs are helping our students grow the way they need to. Our students are too important to allow them to learn amidst ineffective programming. As a teacher, in many cases, I could decide to increase direct instruction an additional 15-minutes per day or add a weekly stop to the school makerspace or have the students start blogging. But, the reality of those changes and updates is that they need to be done FOR something.

And while I support teachers’ abilities to make decisions about what bits best in their instructional plan, all teachers should know what the different pieces are for and should be expected to evaluate whether or not those different pieces are doing what they were designed to do for the students.

Direct Instruction vs. Inquiry: The What and the When

In my last post, I looked at the characteristics of high-quality classroom instruction and discussed why I felt like those were essential regardless of the model any given teacher used. There were some excellent comments left after I posted that, so I’d encourage you to go join the conversation.

What I didn’t discuss is the role of inquiry and the role of direct instruction. Each tool that gets wielded in a classroom is build to do a certain type of work. To maximize the effect, each tool must be used to do the job for which it was created. Direct instruction does one type of work. Inquiry does a different type of work. In order to highlight this difference, let’s consider a content standard.

Give examples of linear equations in one variable with one solution, infinitely many solutions, or no solutions. Show which of these possibilities is the case by successively transforming the given equation into simpler forms, until an equivalent equation of the form x = a, a = a, or a = b results (where a and b are different numbers).


Consider how we’d assess this standard. The students need to “give examples of”, which means they need to actively create something and explain why it’s the right kind of something. But, the explanation is predetermined. They can’t explain it anyway they want (according to the standard, at least). They need transform their example to match one of the stated forms.

So, the final assessment of that standard (if we choose to assess it to the letter, so to speak), would include three equations that the student created and then evaluated in a standardized way to support their claim that their equations had one solution, infinitely many solutions and no solutions respectively.

From my perspective, anytime the students are going to be expect to create something on the assessment, they will need some time to freely explore. You can’t assess a student on something they’ve not gotten the chance to practice. So, if you want them to create on the assessment, they need to practice creating. But we aren’t assessing their ability to create just ANYTHING. We want them to create strategically.

There’s also that standardized evaluation process they’ll use on the equations they’ve created. While there may be some value in allowing the students to explore a variety of different, homemade ways to tell what their equations are going to do, in the end, we are going to ask them all to do the same thing. They need to be taught this process.

Also, we need to make sure everyone is on the same page with the words “equation,” “solution”, and “variable.”

Hang on… I need a quote.

“[Highly-effective teachers] provided support by teaching new material in manageable amounts, modeling, guiding student practice, helping students when they made errors and providing sufficient practice and review.”

“Many of these teachers also when on to experimental hands-on activities, but they always did the experimental activities after, not before, the basic material was learned.”

– Barak Rosenshine

Based on his research, Rosenshine is saying that inquiry can work provided students possess the appropriate background knowledge.

He isn’t the only one to say stuff like this.

“[Content and creativity] drive each other. Students need a certain amount of content to be creative. Increased creativity drives deeper understanding of the content.

“Algorithms and problem-solving are related to one another. Algorithms are the product of successful problem solving and to be a successful problem solver one often must have knowledge of algorithms.”

– Dr. Jamin Carson

And also…

“Students need to be flexible problem solvers. We know that one thing that separates high-achieving students from low-achieving students in elementary school, is that the students who are successful can flexibly use numbers.”

– Dr. Jo Boaler

This idea can be found within a variety of researchers in high-quality math instruction. Students need to explore. They absolutely do. They need to freely explore and play with the math.

But in order for that to be effective as a learning tool, it really, really helps to have sufficient background knowledge. Be it the knowledge of algorithms helping to support and drive the problem-solving process, the math facts giving the elementary students flexibility, or in the case of our example 8th grade standard, a solid understanding of “variable”, “equation”, and “solution” to give the sufficient foundation on which to build their exploration.

So, for this standard, I would probably recommend a direct instruction introduction to the standard that ends with making sure that all students are clear on the three essential vocab words as well as the evaluation process.

Then, I’d move to an structured inquiry activity that led them through a chance to practice creating their own equations and evaluating them eventually leading them to make some generalizations about what equations look like when they have one solution, infinitely many solutions, or no solutions. I see the possibility for some small group discussions, reporting out… possibly a Google Sheet or some white boards and a gallery walk, etc.

And from my chair, this exercise through this standard demonstrates the bigger picture. It isn’t whether or not inquiry or direct instruction should be used in eighth grade.

It’s about what we are going to ask the students to do and which of those models supports the students best at which point during the instruction.

It’s not about which. It’s about what… and when.


Quotes taken from:

Rosenshine, Barak (2012) “Principles of Instruction”, published in American Educator, Spring 2012 edition. Quote taken from Pg 12-19, 39. Quote taken from pg 12.

Carson, Jamin (2007). “A Problem With Problem Solving: Teaching Thinking Without Teaching Knowledge.” Published in The Mathematics Educator, Vol. 17, No. 2, Pg 7-14. Quote taken from pg 11.

StanfordSCOPE interview with Professor Jo Boaler. Quotes taken from times 2:40-3:20 in the video.