How I Work: Sub Plans

My school gives each department a monthly pull-out period for collaboration. One period.

I dig the collaboration, but calling in a sub for just one period throws off my game in a way that no one else in my department seems to mind.

Everyone else takes the loss in stride and adjusts pace to account for the lost period. Me, I tense up and pray for some freak snow flurry to close school and balance out my other periods. It’s awful. Plus I plan sub periods as strenuously as I do regular periods and wind up with with 50% more prep work the night before my department’s planning sessions.

But I think I got it right this time.

I exported the period’s Keynote slides to PNGs and recorded a voiceover track in GarageBand using my iBook’s built-in mic. Neither of those tasks required more than three clicks.

Then I pulled ’em both into Final Cut Pro …

… and lengthened each PNG to match my voice. (iMovie will do the same thing, as I recall, but I haven’t played with the newest version.) Then I burned a DVD.

Time cost: considerable. Somewhere around ninety minutes, though forty of those could be chalked under the Bumblin’ Around column, playing with formats, etc, time I’ll save next timeKeynote 4, which is to PowerPoint what an M16 is to a musket, has an “Export to iDVD” feature which is a few versions away from automating all the annoying parts of this process. At the moment the audio slips away from the video, but once Apple tightens the right belts, I won’t really have words to express my pity for PPT users. ¶ (I mean, seriously … once they get that working, I’ll strap on a wireless mic and record every lesson in real-time, exporting each day’s lesson to iPod-ready MP4 video. Why, you ask? Why not?!).

Moreover, I didn’t lose nearly as much ground as I would’ve with my usual lame sub-day regiment of handouts, book review, and a few Hail Mary’s for my sub.

Moreover, at a distance, I could …

  1. … introduce the sub. (“Listen to Katie,” I said, just guessing at the name and gender of my sub.)
  2. … set expectations. (“Hey, kids, it’s Mr. Meyer. You know I hate to miss fifth period but it couldn’t be helped. Assignments are worth triple today so don’t blow this.”)
  3. … banter a bit. (“So who can tell me which conjecture cracks this thing wide open for us? [long pause] Nobody knows this one?!”)
  4. … and freaking teach.

That last feat demanded I lighten up on my usual conviction that text rarely mixes well with PowerPoint. Ordinarily, I throw a diagram or a graph on the board and spin a conversation around it. The slides had to stand alone here, though, so I crowded ’em up more than I would’ve liked.

My sub’s only official capacity was that of Pause-Button Pusher. At various times I’d instruct “Katie” to pause the DVD so the class could work through a problem. I told the kids they could ask her to pause at any point also.

I caught the last five minutes. No one freaked out over the experiment, like, “yeah, Mr. Meyer, that was way more fun than a movie … thanks!” but the sub was keen, the kids were into the novelty of it, if nothing else, I didn’t have an educational mess to clean up the next day, and I didn’t embarrass myself by praying for snow in sunny Santa Cruz.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. dude, when do you sleep?


    you’re a madman…but i love it.

    excellent read, amazing ideas, razor-sharp wit.

    glad you won the voting na-na-nah… (i actually voted for your blog instead of mine…i may be a shameless self-promoter, but i’m a fair girl too…)

    keep up the rawk-star work, sir.


  2. Dan doesn’t sleep. No, really.

    I can’t believe you actually did this, man. When we were talking about it, I kinda assumed that you were mostly kidding. There’s a really great compliment in there somewhere, btw.

  3. Dan – Take a look at Profcast. Ed pricing around $30 after a free 15-day trial. You can “strap on a wireless mic and record every lesson in real-time, exporting each day’s lesson to iPod-ready MP4 video” today.

    And in case you’re wondering, nope, I am not affiliated with Profcast in any way. :-)

  4. Hey Dan–I did this for a sub last year too. A lot of work, but worth it to keep my classes together. I was out for a whole day, but had fifteen classes coming to the library for the same lesson, so just lesson. Guess what? I wound up using the DVD for 2 or 3 later classes when I returned, just so I could catch up. Easy! Worth the time investment, especially when its the same exact class and pres.

  5. Great idea! I’ve done something like this with my kids from time to time, but not every time I have a sub. However, I video myself teaching the lesson and then use Adobe Premiere to edit and insert PowerPoint slides or unitedstreaming videos where necessary. I teach in a computer lab, so I have the file on a secure spot on our server and then the kids just have to pull it up, put on their headphones, and watch. They are instructed to pause the video anytime they need to catch up on notetaking. Sometimes, to freak them out, I zoom in on my face, get a stern look, and say, “I told you to take notes. Where’s your pencil?” Some kids actually thought I could see them!

  6. Oh man, I just had to laugh at this one. I had to be out Monday for a class on accessing and using data (joy! joy!) so I spent about 9 hours Sunday gathering my thoughts & plans because Monday started the last 2 weeks before the winter break, the last two weeks before grades come due, and I want these days to count for some actual learning. I know, it’s crazy. I had asked for my favorite, very competent sub but just in case, left detailed USB stick, PowerPoint and web-based plans so there would be lots of options. If you teach in a lab you have to be ready in case one of the technologies fails, gets blocked by the district filter, etc. One of the web-based programs we were using to make movies has turned up blocked overnight this very week, so I promise I’m not being paranoid.

    Anyway, guess what? I got the sub-from-hell who literally either sleeps through class or just doesn’t speak to the kids at all! (I’ve tried to get this guy fired, believe me.) So, no teaching occurred and little or no learning happened. Each of my 6 classes just surfed the web. A few of them blogged in, so that was better than nothing.

    I’m laughing now–but I wasn’t on Tuesday morning. At least it was one less day of plans I had to write for this week. And we had a snow delay Tuesday, so half the kids were absent and I had to reteach everything Wednesday anyway. What was I thinking, trying to truly teach something before Christmas?!

  7. I’d suggest Profcast ($30) as well or FotoMagico ($49- I got it for much less as part of MacHeist last year).

    I think your inner designer might appreciate some of the ways you can control things in FotoMagico (probably more for presentations than typical lessons- really tight control over movement, resolutions, timing). It’s pretty free form and has some neat options that I’d like to have in Keynote. The part that would have been perfect for this project is that you can throw in a folder of images and it’ll lay them out in order on individual slides and then you can put a soundtrack in the background and drag them on the fly to align to the audio. It’s very quick and easy without quite the hassle of FinalCut.

    With your newly awarded clout you might be able to finesse some free licenses. Seriously.

  8. Dan –

    Have you played with Keynote 4’s “voiceover” feature? Me either, but allegedly you can record export to a .mov which you can slurp into iMove (or Final Cut).

    I keep meaning to find time to play with it to record my “Presentation on Presentations” and upload it so I’ll let you know.

  9. I am missing my first day of school for the year today. I didn’t have enough time, or enough voice, to make a DVD.

    I know that SmartBoard software has a recorder option. Now I need to look into that more.

    All of the software people are recommending here is Mac software. Any good PC options out there that anyone recommends?

  10. As others have said, this is brilliant. Sub days are painful because it’s impossible to ensure that things are going as you planned. And, as you said, writing sub plans takes forever.

    Having a prerecorded lesson isn’t ideal on a regular basis since it doesn’t allow for flexibility. But sub plans don’t either and this is a vast improvement on what normally happens.

  11. The very much non-School 2.0 way to deal with this is to make sure that the sub you hire for your class is the retired guy from your department who is so bored at home that he WANTS to come in and teach.

    That’s what I do, at least. Though this looks wicked cool too.

  12. I saw Asimo serving coffee on the nightly news—next step is a robotic Mr Meyers with a plug and play option for DVD. I wonder what the kids would do? Do you have a wife?

  13. Brilliant! Unlike most of your other readers, I’ve never heard of anyone making a video sub plan. (Apparently, I’ve been hiding under a rock or something.) I LOVE IT!! I’ve already started developing some ideas of my own implementing similar strategies. It occurred to me that I could do this with my “Emergency Sub Plans”. There are always topics from previous years that students would benefit from a review. For 8th graders in my school these review topics include probability, compound probability, Pythagorean Theorem, and percent change. What an excellent way to develop emergency sub plans that could be used year after year. If I make it to the end of the year without having to use the emergency plans it would make a great tool (perhaps in segments) to help prepare the students for End-of-Grade testing.
    I concur with your assessment. You got it right on this one.

  14. I love your idea and I would use it much like C. Webster as Emergency Sub Plan. There are always topics from previous years that students would benefit from a review. If you know your content, plans can be created during the summer break, used to prepare students for End of Year testing, and used year after year; however, I think I would create a podcast instead of DVD. Great Job!