When it comes to math, 13-year-old Hannah Bruegger does pretty well. But she sometimes gets stumped when she's doing homework and can't remember the concepts taught in class.
Fortunately, her math teacher is accessible 24/7. With a couple clicks of the mouse, Hannah can hear teacher Theresa Carter's direction and watch the step-by-step math lessons on a tutorial video created for Carter's students at Seven Springs Middle School.
The videos, which Carter started making during the last school year, have been a boon for those who need a little help with something that didn't compute in class or want to review lessons for an up coming test or perhaps get a look at what's coming up next.
"I really like them," Hannah said. "If I have homework I don't understand I can watch one of Mrs. Carter's videos."
"They explain everything we learn in class," said Kendra Schlatterer, 13. "I usually watch them before we have a quiz to help me study."
"They're very helpful — they actually help you work out the problems on your own," said Henry Faber, 14. "I've never been good at math. But this year my average is 100 (percent)."
It's modern-day homework help using technology that Carter is happy to embrace and explore.
"Kids literally have the world at their fingertips and I think that can be a positive thing in the classroom, " she said. "The Internet isn't just Facebook or whatever game people are playing."
Throughout her six years of teaching, Carter has always had an open-door policy for students needing extra help before and after school. But she wanted something that was easy to access when the kids were at home or for those shy about asking.
"The videos were really just a happy accident," she said.
Carter was searching for free applications to use with her Apple iPad when she stumbled upon ShowMe Interactive Whiteboard, a user-friendly application with a few bells and whistles that makes it a cinch to create tutorial videos geared to a specific audience. Students can access the tutorials on the ShowMe learning community website, or on Edmodo, a social learning program used by Pasco County schools.
"I was wondering what I could do to reinforce what I am teaching here (in school)," Carter said. "This is perfect."
Her videos center on math lessons that tend to trip kids up. Her first video showed how to convert the customary measurements used in the United States to the more universal metric system.
"It was 20 minutes long and it took me forever (to make)," she said. "I wanted it to be perfect, just so. I'd be working on it, then the phone would ring or one of my kids would be calling for me and I would start all over."
After getting feedback from students, Carter shortened her tutorials to about six minutes and learned to live with life's interruptions.
"The kids were brutally honest and that's good because this is an evolving process," she said. "They told me, 'I just can't listen to you for 20 minutes.' But they also told me that they love it because it's someone that they know — not like the textbook videos with someone they don't know talking in a bland voice."
The personalization is an especially important factor in reaching students, said district media specialist Andy Dunn, who created a video himself on Carter's specialized homework help that is posted on the Pasco County schools' YouTube channel. "There are tons of videos out there, but it's more real when it's your own teacher talking to you."
These days it takes Carter about half an hour to crank out a four to six minute video.
And while she tries to anticipate the concepts students might have trouble with, she also takes requests.
"If they ask me to make a video, I will," she said. "Kids have bad days when it just doesn't click for them. They have sick days or days they miss class because they have to leave early. This way they can watch a video to see what they missed."
Or maybe get a step ahead.
Michele Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.