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MathCuts: Bite-Sized Videos with Out-Sized Reach

August 20, 2021|By Michael Greenlee

Inspiration came to me one evening at home, doing what many of us do when we have a free moment: browsing Facebook. 

I came across a simple order of operations math problem in my news feed and noticed it had more than a hundred comments. My curiosity piqued, I opened the comments thread. 

To my surprise, most people couldn’t figure out the problem! Debates on how to solve it rippled throughout the comments thread, and I was happy to see teachers offering solid approaches for accurately solving the problem. This thread stopped me in my idly clicking tracks. 

Teachers were taking time out of their busy schedules to engage in an open debate about math. 

I’m a former classroom teacher and current professional learning facilitator. I hear educators talk all the time about how—though they want to engage in meaningful professional learning experiences—they’re too busy to commit the time. 

But in that comment thread, teachers were engaging in mathematical discourse and professional learning, just in a different way. 

Finding Success in Bite-Sized Chunks

Still thinking about the discourse on math strategies in that Facebook post, I came across another type of post I’d regularly see in my feed: a recipe video. I loved watching videos that demonstrated how to whip up a dish in just a minute or two, without narration.

I wondered: Could I teach a simple classroom math strategy in a bite-sized video? Could I encourage mathematical discourse and share classroom math strategies in a short video, without narration?

Putting on my professional learning facilitator hat, I got to work setting up some design principles for bite-sized videos.

  • Quick: Teachers don’t have endless time. They must be able to engage in a learning experience that fits into their already busy schedules.
  • Engaging: The video needs to catch their attention as they scroll through a newsfeed or visit a website.
  • Digestible: It should appear simple enough to invite engagement, but be rich enough to reward that engagement with new learning. If the concept being covered is too dense or complex—for example, if it hasn’t been broken down to a small enough element of the larger idea—the learner will likely disengage and move on to the next post. This is not to say that you can’t cover complex topics—you just need to do so in short, easily manageable chunks over time.
  • Applicable: The topic should be immediately applicable and viewed as something that can be implemented right away.
  • One strategy: It’s surprisingly difficult to present just one strategy, but it’s easier for the learner. As much as I wanted to ground each strategy in all the concepts that came before, attempting to add this context made each video far too confusing.
  • Several examples: Each video features at least three examples of the same strategy in action—starting with the most basic application and moving through increasingly challenging contexts. This scaffolding approach helps illuminate how the strategy works, rather than what “answer” it generates.

MathCuts: Professional Learning Goes Viral

In 2018, the Dana Center launched resources on Facebook called “MathCuts.” Our videos of bite-sized math strategies have been viewed over two million times! 

Now with a permanent home on Inside Mathematics, MathCuts joins the rich professional learning resources on the site, including video lessons, nonroutine math problems, and standards-aligned assessments. 

Supported through a gift from the Microsoft Foundation, new MathCuts resources and videos are being created to give teachers more tools for their teaching practice. We’re excited to expand from producing elementary videos to also filming middle school math strategies, which will come out this year.

I’m proud of the nationwide reach of MathCuts videos. I’ve heard from teachers about the ways they’ve used these videos to gain inspiration for their classrooms. From new ways to use different manipulatives, to strategies on progression of learning, to sharing links with parents to help them understand the strategies better, teachers have found these bite-sized videos to be useful. 

And that’s all I could have asked for. To think, it all came from lounging on the couch and scrolling Facebook!

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Categories: Blog, K-12 Education

About the Author

Michael Greenlee

I come from a family of teachers and have always had a passion for learning. That passion has moved me in my career from an elementary classroom teacher, to a district math coach, to here at the Dana Center where I work with teachers and leaders. I enjoy my work helping teachers think deeply about how their students learn and about how they can grow as professionals.

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