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STEM in Action: Education Service District (ESD) 112

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Using Videos to Transform Teaching

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Districts need affordable and effective ways to help teachers transition to the new Common Core State Standards. Simple videos spark new insights and targeted coaching.

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Huddled around the computer screen, a group of teachers watch a video—stopping, rewinding, and re-playing until they find the exact moment they were looking for. As the teacher in the video watches himself on the screen, it hits him—the longer he talks, the more his students tune out. So now he cuts back on what he previously thought was vital information.
“It reshaped his thinking about how to engage students,” his instructional coach said, “and how they can own the learning more than him trying to do the learning for them.”
Such scenes of teaching and learning in action were captured in the Evergreen Public Schools as part of an effort to prepare teachers to implement the new Common Core State Standards for mathematics. Organized by Education Service District (ESD) 112, which provides services and programs to 30 school districts in southwest Washington, the project represents a departure from the way most teachers experience professional development.

To sharpen their instructional techniques or learn new curricula, teachers typically attend workshops delivered by outside experts—a costly approach that doesn’t always translate to better teaching, research shows. And with all 296 districts across Washington now scrambling to implement the Common Core State Standards for mathematics by 2014-2015, those old methods are no longer sufficient.
The video technique, however, is not only cost-effective but also targets the exact questions teachers have about teaching—in this case, how to foster behaviors such as perseverance and constructing viable arguments, which students need in order to meet the more rigorous Common Core State Standards for mathematics.
Heidi Rhodes, a secondary math specialist for the district, called the video a “powerful tool” for observing the impact of teaching practices on students and then identifying ways to improve instruction. “You can watch it and rewind it again and again,” she said.
As if they were football players and coaches reviewing videos of game highlights, this method of debriefing over a single, powerful moment in the classroom allows teachers and their instructional coaches to determine what is and isn’t working and what they need to do in order to get the learning outcome they need. 
The project was supported by a grant from Washington STEM as part of its work to increase opportunities for students in science, technology, engineering, and math, and it serves as a replicable model for providing teachers with on-the-job, “real-time” professional development related to the Common Core State Standards for mathematics.
"The research is very clear: to be most effective, teacher professional development should be ongoing, individualized, and happen in the classroom,” says Dr. Shawn Edmondson, Washington STEM’s director of evaluation.
At a time when districts are in need of effective training strategies, the videos—and the guidelines for how to use them—are being made available to all of the math coordinators for the other eight ESDs in the state. Transcripts are being created and additional videos from other grade levels will be added to the library.
Some teachers have even said they want to create videos of students in their own classrooms—something Rhodes says that in her years of consulting she has never heard from teachers.
By watching the videos, teachers gained insights into different ways to engage students. Some students sat up and got involved in a lesson as soon as they had a calculator in their hands—leading the teachers to consider the best times to increase the use of technology. Others took cues from their classmates, while yet a third group needed direct involvement from the teacher before they were able to get started.
“We were noticing that they had to say something personal before they were willing to dig into the math,” says Sue Bluestein, who directed the project.
William Kaden, a 9th grade algebra teacher at Mountain View High, was one of the math teachers who volunteered to have his class videotaped for the training.
“It was fun to have all those brains coming together,” he says about watching and discussing the videos with his colleagues. “We got a ton of good material that is really going to benefit everyone across the building.”

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