Frenship math teachers’ summer break spent on tutorials

Teachers often spend summer break teaching summer school, building on their own education and perhaps even relaxing after a grueling year of teaching.

But a dozen of Frenship’s teachers have spent many hours this summer enclosed in a hot studio at the Frenship Casey Administration Building, delivering math lessons to a video camera instead of to young faces.

When they first heard that Frenship Independent School District was going to be recording math tutorials to be put online, two Frenship math teachers said they were excited to take part in the program.

“I thought, this is just another example of Frenship trying to stay on top of technology,” Susanne Wampler, a third-grade math teacher at Westwind Elementary School, said.

Misty Laxson, an algebra II and pre-calculus teacher, said she was excited because she knows her high school students are already Googling math problems when they get confused.

But she would rather they learn the concepts from her, so she knows they are learning the right vocabulary and the methods they will need to build on with future lessons.

“The high school kids will use this. They will,” Laxson said. “This way, it’s the vocabulary I want them to use, a certain way I want them to do it for now, and then, later on, they can Google it to review.”

Wampler said she would rather her students be looking at math tutorials in their free time than some of the other wacky things she says they tell her they watch online.

“What better thing for them to be looking at than math, if they’re just home, learning to do something?” Wampler said.

“Amen!” interjected Cassandra Slayton, Frenship ISD’s math coordinator.

Laxson said she isn’t sure students will be watching her videos in advance to prepare for classes, but that is a possible use that students at all grade levels will have available.

“This project has so many potential avenues that it can serve teachers, students, parents … the entire district,” Slayton said.

For the youngest students, the tutorials will provide a way for parents and students to work on building up basic math concepts.

Laxson may teach high school math, but she said as a parent, she was stumped when her own elementary school child needed help with basics. She just doesn’t know how to teach the beginning concepts, she said.

Students of all ages need help after missing a class due to illness or school activities.

“For me, with high school kids, we have kids absent all the time for basketball games or baseball games, or they’re gone with DECA,” Laxson said. But most of those kids have smart phones or computers at home, and they know how to get online and catch up.

When teachers miss a day, substitute teachers will be able to show the tutorials in class when filling in for teachers, Slayton said. But other teachers who are new or who just have students who aren’t getting a particular concept can also view the tutorials for ideas on how to teach.

Wampler said she taught kindergarten for years, but when she moved to third-grade, she would have loved to have the video tutorials as a resource for lessons like long division.

“I would have loved that. That’s why I think teachers will use it also. I think that it will be a good thing for everybody,” Wampler said.

In the future, students may be able to review last year’s lessons from algebra before heading into pre-calculus classes. While the second semester of those algebra lessons may not be available by the beginning of this year, students coming back from the winter break will be able to review what they learned in fall with the tutorials.

Wampler said students may need review of what they learned earlier in the day, but they can also review what they learned a few weeks back through the tutorials.

“They might understand it in class, but two or three weeks later, they might have forgotten,” she said.

Even students who transfer into the district can use the tutorials to catch up or to review how Frenship students have learned to do certain math steps, Slayton said.

Teachers and interventionists may also use the tutorials as a resource for students who are having problems in certain areas. Slayton said sometimes hearing the lesson from a different teacher with a different style can reach a student.

Teachers can also use the tutorials in class.

Laxson said she intends to use the tutorials to start some classes when students may need a quick review of an older concept before starting on a new step.

Both Wampler and Laxson said they are including instructions within the tutorial for students having problems. They have suggestions for which review may be needed if a student isn’t getting one lesson.

Wampler said her lessons, designed for third-grade curriculum, use several props and manipulatives and are interactive. While she said students may not have the same sort of crackers she uses in certain tutorials, they probably have some sort of snack items around the house that they can use to go through the math problems.

She also laughed as she recounted how a lesson on fractions using Hershey bars quickly devolved when it began melting in the warmth of the studio this summer.

Both teachers said they aren’t expecting to get offers from local television stations to take over as anchors after their performances, but they said they got better after doing the first six weeks’ of lessons. They also both jokingly said they may go back and re-do some of those initial videos, and because FISD owns the video equipment in the studio, they probably could do so.

Wampler said she tends to record whole sections of lessons at once, since they usually build upon each other and have to be planned together.

Slayton said the teachers filming the tutorials should have the first semester done by August, so she can have a list for all teachers showing what videos are available. It can then be part of the syllabus that teachers send home with students, she said.

“I want to get that menu out to teachers,” she said.

Lessons at the elementary school level range from 45 seconds to five minutes, Wampler said, while high school concepts generally take 3-8 minutes to impart, Laxson said.

“I am highly impressed with the technology in the studio. It is very slick,” Wampler said.

Laxson said she was impressed with the help from Frenship’s technology department, who came up at night and even on a Sunday afternoon to help her get started.

Slayton said she isn’t sure why math was chosen as the first subject to film tutorials, but she knows the other subject areas will also be filmed eventually, as well.

Laxson said other subjects, such as science, really build upon math concepts.

“We knew the math teachers were ready for the challenge,” Slayton said. “I put these math teachers up against anybody. They are incredible.”

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