Visible Thinking with iPad Math Tutorials

How many times have teachers looked at a student’s finished math problem, seen an incorrect answer, and wondered how the learner got from point A to point B? Conversely, how many times have students solved problems correctly but still had conceptual misconceptions in their thinking along the way? The issue in both situations is that the students’ thinking is invisible.

One of the top benefits of implementing new technology in the classroom is the ease with which you can document your students’ thinking. Using tablets and screen casting apps, students can solve problems while explaining their thinking, and the entire process is recorded.

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After getting some inspiration at the EARCOS Teachers’ Conference, I recently experimented with visible thinking in math. Through our big vocabulary project, my 3rd grade students were already experts on using “Doodlecast Pro” on the iPad. If you’re unfamiliar with screen casting, this post will give you some basic information on how to do it. Through my own flipped math lessons, they were also familiar with teaching and learning through video, so there were low barriers to getting started.

We brainstormed a list of learned math concepts, and then each student chose one, grabbed an iPad, and they were off. Unlike other videos we’ve made, I asked them to create their math tutorials unscripted. When finished, we published the results to youtube:



Though difficult for the perfectionists in my class, I asked them to keep going through minor mistakes. Documenting thinking was the main purpose–the global audience was an added benefit (and there’s no need to publish the videos at all if you prefer to keep them private). Some students did a great job of stepping into the teacher role though:




My students went ahead and linked the videos to our vocabulary website, so you can see the rest of them there under the “math” tab.

Watching your students’ videos will give you great insights into how they think and what ideas they need help with. In general, I noticed right away that my students needed more instruction with mathematical vocabulary. I also was able to give individuals specific feedback on misconceptions I saw. If the project continues, we will have well-documented records of their thinking over time.

One more quick question for teachers interested in trying this: how do you get an entire class recording videos at the same time without too much commotion? It can be a logistical challenge in one classroom. Luckily, my classroom is surrounded on three sides by the outdoors, so we took advantage of the nice Spring weather in Tokyo and recorded outside. We also finished by spreading out in the cafeteria, and I encouraged them to use a loud voice and power through background noise.

Let me know if you have questions or if you’ve tried something similar in your class.

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5 Responses to Visible Thinking with iPad Math Tutorials

  1. Jeff, I am a huge fan of Visible Thinking in Math. You hit the nail on the head by saying: “Watching your students’ videos will give you great insights into how they think and what ideas they need help with.”
    I also teach Grade 3 and yes, it is a powerful tool to let the children explain or show their thinking. I have used VoiceThread before and Explain Everything also works well. I also found that recording and noise is a problem. We sometimes go outside to record. My students recently wrote a Math fiction book to show teach Grade 2 students about multiplication. That was also a very insightful exercise. I enjoyed your post.

    • Jeff Lewis says:

      Thank you for the comment, Andrea. Having your class create something to help a younger grade is a great way to motivate your students. I’m curious about the math fiction book you created. Was it a physical book or was it created digitally?

  2. Kim Cofino says:

    Love it! Visible thinking is so simple, yet so powerful. Great to see how you’ve combined the idea with a practical use of the iPads too.

  3. Anna Bradley says:

    Great stuff!

    Top Tip: to reduce noise when recording on ipad, take a box about 30cm x 30cm, fold in one side, use foam to pad the inside of the box (if you use that ridged foam it also doubles as a stand for the ipad). Place ipad inside.

    Simple but it works a treat!

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