Monday, July 14, 2008

Teaching Math on YouTube - Larry Perez

Photo by Michael O'Meara.

Back in 2002, math professor Larry Perez puzzled over why so many of his students were failing his pre-algebra class. One fact was clear: the typical Calculus student was a world apart from a student laboring over remedial math. What could he do to reach those students who had a shaky grasp of basic math skills but were afraid to ask for help?

After surveying his students at Saddleback College, talking to other math instructors, and reading widely on the subject, Perez came up with a unique style of math video that has become so popular that his videos have had more than 110,000 views on YouTube and TeacherTube in two years. And many of those “hits” have been from internet users who are not enrolled in his math classes.

At first, Perez said, he had no intention of using anything digital to help his failing pre-algebra students. “I had little faith in the digital media that existed at that time. My goal was simply to listen to what the students were saying in an attempt to define their needs.”

His project focuses on students who choose not to take an online class because they prefer a person in a classroom speaking to them. He wanted to bring the advantages of online materials to students who were not taking online classes. So he created these resources as supplements to his regular lectured classes. “These students need to have that human element that both challenges and engages them.” Students watch the videos at home to supplement lessons learned in class or to review concepts before a test.

Math videos have been around for a long time, and instructional CDs frequently are included with new math textbooks. However, most students said they didn’t watch the videos because they were just too boring, Perez said.

In most math videos, the instructor speaks directly to the viewer, while presentations are displayed on a board behind the presenter. Perez said he has learned from years of teaching that asking questions of students in the classroom creates anxiety. He decided to change this dynamic in his videos by having a colorful student character named Charlie; and that student would be …. him. Playing the role of teacher and student allows him to inject humor into the lesson, as well as see the lesson from the perspective of the student.

In addition to the videos, Perez provides worksheets and specially developed lecture notes as supplements for the class.

Perez, who had never taken a film production class, sought filmmaking advice from Charlie Myers, Communication Arts instructor, and got tips on equipment from Agustin Espinoza, network systems technician for Saddleback’s ITC.

“I helped him in the beginning when he was first starting. I gave him some advice on the software and hardware,” Espinoza said. “He put a lot of money in this, on his own. I am impressed with how much work he has put in on the project. He is so dedicated to his classroom and his subject.”

Espinoza’s daughter, a junior at San Clemente High School, needed help with her math homework last year. “It has been so long since I worked with those concepts. So I thought of the videos and said, ‘Let’s watch them.’ She really liked the videos – it helped.”

Perez, who was born and raised in Pico Rivera, said he was inspired by his junior high math teacher, Mr. Johnson. “No one would dare fool around in his classroom. He would sometimes talk about an imaginary student character named Charlie, especially when we did not get our homework done. Mr. Johnson would say, ‘I don’t want to hear that you left your homework in Charlie’s locker.’ “

After attending college for one year, unmotivated, Perez left and enlisted in the Navy. After serving six years aboard the USS Memphis, a Los Angeles class fast attack submarine, Perez came back to college, CSU Fullerton, majoring in electrical engineering.

At CSUF, his calculus instructor, Dr. Harriet Edwards, asked him to work in her Academic Excellence Program, emphasizing group work on challenging problems for calculus and pre-calc students. Although he had never wanted to be a teacher, working in that setting soon changed his mind. He attributes his success as a community college instructor and his current innovative methods to his years of experience working for Dr. Edwards.

In August, Perez and his team will unveil his newly revamped website, using not only his Prof. Perez and Charlie characters, but also pictures of current students. The site will be interactive, allowing students take online quizzes, showing them what topics they need to review. Students will have quick access to lecture notes, videos and video worksheets, as well.

Project coordinator is Perez; web design is by Patrick Quigley, math adjunct faculty; and Candice Jhu, adjunct faculty, who worked on lecture notes, video production and pedagogy development.

Click here to go to MuchoMath on YouTube
Click here to go to Algebra2Go