Asilomar #8: Making Math Movies

Session Title

Digital Story Telling With Mathematics

Better Title

I Just Came From The CUE Conference And It Was AWESOME


Brian Van Dyck, math coach, Santa Clara, Google Certified Educator


His thesis went: kids spend a million hours per day gaming, texting, blogging, e-mailing, chatting, so you should give them the opportunity to express themselves digitally in your math classes. Brian demonstrated equipment and software and played examples and gave a lot of respect to typical concerns of access (many of the utilities are free as in beer) and time (assign the projects after class for extra credit), which was all good.


How do we assess this stuff? If we believe that a video explanation of fractions is sufficient demonstration of fraction mastery, then that needs a more meaningful place in our grading schema than “token extra credit.” This is easy if you break your grades out by standard. Otherwise, how?

At what point do we care if these digital stories are any good? I really hope more teachers make this an option for their students, if only so our focus might then shift from “let’s get kids doing this” to “let’s get kids doing this well.”

Put another way: If you’re going to accept all manner of digital expression in your classroom, what is your obligation to know good expression from bad expression? I mean, I dunno, do you subscribe to any design feeds? Have you taken a class on photography? Do you know what separates good videography from lousy videography? How much should you care about issues of quality? Does your emphasis on multiple disciplines demand multidisciplinary expertise?

Eventually we need to stop framing this as a technical challenge. The challenge is creative.


The only person, to my eyes, who used Keynote. Plus QuickTime movies and a lot of screenshots. Student response systems for surveys.


Tri-fold paper with biographical info, web pages, some brief notes.


  • He told a truly fantastic story about the time his business calculus professor took him out for pizza and in two hours taught him all the math he needed from pre-K to college. Alas, he didn’t elaborate and the window for a question closed.
  • Animoto goes unmentioned and I owe my Twitter followers $10 apiece.
I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. More here.


  1. Eventually we need to stop framing this as a technical challenge. The challenge is creative. <<

    Well now, you could embroider that on a pillow and rest it in the corner of your blog. (And this is one of those comments that sounds like a compliment in my head but now looks snarky written down. All I mean is…those two sentences pretty much sum up a lot of non-issues and force ’em into a real issue.

  2. Wish I’d taken you up on your bet, but I was as convinced as you that Animoto would be the tool of choice. Ah, well…

    In terms of media quality, welcome to the world of the rest of us: a poster on the French revolution? Alright… how to mark. Fortunately, no student has ever taken me up on the offer to demonstrate mastery through interpretive dance. You just need to develop a rigorous and flexible rubric which includes media proficiency.

  3. Break your grades out by standard? Doesn’t everyone do that? We have a two-page, 11×14 behemoth of a report card in my district that breaks Language Arts and Mathematics out by key standards. Is this just an elementary thing? I’ve got a new piece on assessment, coming up that argues for portfolios, btw.

    Hey, you know Brian was at ILC, and it sounds like he did a similar presentation there which you missed. So my question, just to beat a dead horse, would that have been one of the better preso’s at ILC if you had seen it there?

  4. Concerns noted, and within the realm of reason. I’ll just say the grading is less of issue in elementary because we’re on standards based report cards

  5. Thanks for the review of my session at CMC. In response to your concern about assessment, the point that may have been overlooked is that not all assignments need to have points assigned in the grade book. Formative assessment is often underused and overlooked prior to beginning a unit of study. In my math classes, I use the digital storytelling projects as a means of formative assessment to find out about my students past experience with a given math concept. The fractions video I presented was an excellent example of how student experience can help direct instruction. Thanks again for the mention in your blog, and also for attending my session. Friendly faces in the audience are always a good thing. Sorry about lack of Animoto mention.