Meet George Wienekus, a seventh grade math teacher and researcher from South Africa. In addition to teaching math, he was also the Head of the Math Department at St. Andrew’s Prep School up until his recent relocation to the UK.
Digital whiteboard with screencasting feature
George discovered Explain Everything digital whiteboard about three years ago while he was searching for screencast tools which he could use with his students. He found it to be the most user-friendly in helping him get his math lessons across.
At first, George used the whiteboard app mainly as a tool for marking work, and sending digitized memos to students to help explain a difficult assignment or provide feedback. When the pandemic started, George also found Explain Everything Whiteboard to be very useful in conducting online instruction for his students.
Challenges of teaching algebra
St. Andrew’s Prep School, welcomes students from all over South Africa and even from outside of the country. As math tends to be taught differently and at varying levels depending on where one goes to school, teachers were having trouble consolidating the knowledge that the students were bringing to the classroom.
During his time at the school George taught early algebra. It was his classroom experience that led him to conduct research on using Explain Everything online whiteboard for math lessons.
What George observed was that many of his students seemed to be struggling to grasp the basic concept of algebra.
The combination of letters and numbers becomes a bit more abstract as a concept. Students forget that they have seen something similar when they were in the foundation phase adding an empty box to 5 to give you a solution. All that’s happened is that you’re substituting an empty box with a letter.
Researching to find better ways to teach math
The general struggle with teaching math became an area of interest for George and he decided to study this problem to get to the bottom of it. He wanted to find out why a large number of his students seemed to be having problems with understanding abstract concepts while in other areas of math they seemed to be doing just fine. George decided to make this research part of his master’s degree project. At the time, his supervisor was putting together a book on using visualizations in mathematics and George’s area of research proved to be a good fit.
This is an example of visualization in mathematics in the form of a short video lesson created by George:
Recording short math lessons for research
George carried out his study in the form of a, so-called, “screencast intervention”. He chose a group of students who wished to be part of the study. His candidates varied in skill from were top level to middle or low-end achievers. George asked them to take one algebra test.
The test consisted of 16 questions. After they had taken the test, George graded each one but didn’t inform his students what grade they had received. He analyzed the test results, searching for patterns in the students’ answers. Based on his findings, he used Explain Everything whiteboard app to create sixteen videos that varied in length from 3-5 minutes. He shared these short math lessons with his students using Google Classroom. He would share 2 or 3 videos with his students once every couple of days to allow them the time to watch and process the material. The key thing was that George didn’t provide any additional instruction to the videos, he simply asked his students to watch them.
This is an example of George’s videos for teaching math:
After sharing all 16 math lesson videos with the students, George retested them with the exact same test in order to determine whether they picked up on the concept. Once again, he analyzed each of the 16 questions, categorizing them into 8 groups with each group containing 2 questions.
Findings – whiteboard videos improve algebra understanding
George observed a positive correlation between teaching math with videos and improved test results. The pretest had been quite daunting to the boys who had no understanding of algebra. Aside from two cases, where results did not improve, George observed a significant improvement in all students, regardless of their math level.
Part of his research was also interviewing all of the participants after the retest. Two of the participants admitted to not having watched all of the explainer videos and it was in these two cases where there hadn’t been any improvement. The remaining participants reported that they had “latched on” to particular elements of the math videos. For example, in all of the 16 screencasts George had used an image of an animated scale balancing the left and right side, which helped the participants grasp the concept that numbers and letters can have the same value or application.
It was like a light that went on:
Although George’s main focus was early algebra, he says he also threw one or two more complicated questions into the mix to see how students would tackle them.
I focused specifically on early algebra, which wasn’t massively abstract, but I really wanted to try to throw in one or two curveballs at that level. And it was awesome to see how they were able to refer back to the screencasts so for me, that was the most obvious observation and one which I was very happy about.
George said his students were happy to take part in the study and he plans on conducting further research to explore the impact of visualization in math.
Start recording your own teaching videos
Find out how to start recording video lessons with a digital whiteboard with this tutorial:
George Wienekus was interviewed by Isabelle Procner-Michelin, the Explain Everything Partner Relations Manager. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to share your story.