Celebrating 112 Shows! Math Might Reflections

May 27, 2021

Wow, it’s hard to believe that we have recorded, produced, edited, and sent off to be hosted on the PBS Michigan Learning Channel, our 112th Math Might Show. 

As we tie a bow on this season, and on this school year, I thought it would be fun to look back at how this opportunity went from idea to reality, and what the past five months (or 12 months, really!) have been like at SIS4Teachers as we developed something like this!

Much of the consultant work we were doing during COVID was through Zoom, and we weren’t really able to interact with teachers as much as we are now. However, with some of the new schools that we’ve added on, I’ve actually been able to get out and present in person! Masked and in small groups, of course, but it’s amazing to get back to what I’ve always loved to do. As I’ve introduced myself these past few months, and given the background of the things we’ve created and accomplished at SIS, It’s almost surreal.

#SIS4Students – Virtual Math Series

One of the first things that we accomplished the minute that COVID hit was our virtual math series, #sis4students. I remember going to bed that Thursday night, not sure if I was going to send my own kids to school the next day, and thinking We have to do something! We knew education was on the brink of a drastic, potentially disastrous change, especially in the schools we’ve worked with to raise their student achievement in math. As I thought about the uncertainty of what was to come, one thing I decided to start doing was recording videos. It’s something I had always wanted to do. Presenting to a group of teachers is one thing, but to be able to expand the reach of your instruction with an on-demand video is quite another, and has the potential to reach so many more educators. Even when I was teaching in the classroom, I’d think about how I could help my own students in my own building in my own district, but as a presenter, how much more of an impact could I have on multiple school districts. So I began to think about how I could create that video content that people could go back and use over and over again.

When COVID hit, I was thinking of my primary audience as teachers, but I also thought about parents who suddenly found themselves being teachers. Whether they were stay-at-home moms or dads, or engineers, or hygienists – they probably never expected to be teaching their children as well. So, we launched #sis4students as quickly as we could to provide support to anyone responsible for educating a child during the early weeks of quarantine.

I definitely laugh looking back at my technology journey as we started producing videos. Early on, I hung an iPad above my kitchen table. With teaching math, you can’t just have a web cam and a PowerPoint, you need to have that aerial view so you can show hands-on problem solving. I did lots of trial runs with different software that would let me write with my mouse, but it never looked right. I tried using a document camera, but my document camera always lagged.

 I even tried using a pen on an iPad to see if I could solve problems and explain my thinking. Screencastify ended up being a great early solution.

My first stage of creating videos was, let’s just say, not the best. I had to have the iPad high enough to be able to show something like a dry erase board, and I still have a dent in my kitchen table from when my very high iPad contraption that I came up with wasn’t as secure as I needed it. But, I knew that I could create good content that I could get out to people who could use it right away. So, I partnered up with some friends of mine in Ohio to create a really great video series. We ended up with five weeks of content, each with a different theme (numeracy, math tasks, etc.), that you can still access on our website.

M³: Molding Math Mindsets Membership

After the success of #sis4students, and as the year progressed, my husband kept talking about how we could expand the video creation portion of SIS, and maybe even build a studio in our house. My husband has a big TV background as a producer for Good Morning America for 16 years in New York. As encouraging as he was though, I couldn’t imagine having the time to record anything! I was travelling all over the country to different schools presenting and coaching almost every day, and in some schools, committing to work intimately with them for three or four years at a time. That is definitely a passion that I probably won’t ever give up, as I’ve been able to record myself and my content on video, I’ve really seen how that can create a larger bandwidth. 

Once I finally agreed, my husband told me we were going to create a sling studio that could be portable. We could take it back and forth from our house to our cottage, and I could use my kids as models to help me with playing different games. The goal? To create a membership website.

The Molding Math Mindsets (M³) Membership website was something I always wanted to do, but never could really envision what it would look like. So, I thought I’d just start recording content. It started with video tutorials for our Deck o’ Dots games, then fractions, progression of multiplication, progression of division, until we had a whole menu of content that we could present to teachers in a user-friendly way where they could access what they needed with just a few clicks. I thought, maybe if there was a new teacher in the building that missed my training on numeracy talks at the beginning of the year, they could go in and download all the information they needed to get up to speed. Of course, with COVID, this idea grew to encompass creating content for teachers who were teaching virtually or were just simply overwhelmed with everything and needed lessons already done for them. 

In the basement of our house, we created a studio with different lighting (not just from my kitchen lights!). It wasn’t the most high tech thing, but it was a sling studio that we could sling from, at that time just with the PowerPoint and on the overhead, but not a camera yet. I actually wasn’t even interested in going on camera. But both our web designer and my husband were always encouraging me to get my face on camera, which is not something I was really comfortable with, even though I present in front of hundreds of people. 

We developed a ton of different videos through those months that showed how to play different math games, but it was really just PowerPoint to overhead, and PowerPoint to overhead, trying to give as much information as I could and create a resource that was as useful as possible. I started creating different things like accountability sheets and game boards and things that would help teachers have everything they needed to be successful. If you wanted the instruction part that I created for the video, you could download the PowerPoint. You could even edit the PowerPoint that I created and put in your own numbers! 

We came out with some really awesome series! One of my favorites is the place value series, where I taught teachers how to use place value strips to start teaching place value basics, then adding more or less, and how to do rounding and estimating. Another series that I had a really great time doing was our Visual Models for Word Problems series, which has everything teachers need, at their fingertips, to help students with different genres, if you will, of word problems. 

We’ve created, and continue adding to, a really great membership website. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that we’ve produced over 150 videos that are included in the membership site, on top of the 112 videos for the Math Mights Show! You can get all the details about becoming a member below! 

Meanwhile, with COVID changing everything, I was thinking about how my job would look different. Instead of doing coaching and presenting, could I do Zoom trainings? More video coaching? And out of this, we started conversations with PBS and Detroit Public Television, about launching something called the Michigan Learning Channel. The Michigan Learning Channel was going to be a special channel that we wanted to host in the state of Michigan, not necessarily just to address the COVID slide and to help parents with kids at home, but more as a sustainable channel that can provide educational content for the next five years. They were looking for a math show for Kindergarten, first, second and third grade that would be great for parents, teachers and students alike, where there would be a downloadable activity for each episode. It would be one of the first original programs that the Michigan Learning Channel was looking at bringing on. 

Honestly, in the back of my mind, I thought Well, yes I’ve graduated from my iPad suspended above my table and now I have a little studio, but wow, a TV show…? I don’t think I know the first thing about doing that!

So, like any person would, I went ahead and put my hat in the ring. Between my talents and my husband’s talents, I thought, let’s see what we could come up with!

Lo and behold, we got a call in early December and began to get things rolling. We decided to call the show The Math Mights, after the strategies that I developed in the Math Might characters. I felt the strategies had made such a huge difference in teachers’ and students’ lives, and now I was going to be able to make those math strategies come alive! 

I suddenly now had to get the animated pieces for an intro in the show. I had to figure out which teachers to host the shows for Kindergarten, first, second and third grade. I knew I really wanted to be one of the teachers, and I picked second grade because there’s a lot of Math Might development in that grade and that was something I was passionate about. Fortunately, I’ve worked with some rockstar teachers in our various project schools, so I asked Alicia Gray to host Kindergarten, Tiffany Markavich for first grade, and then Rhonda Askew as our third grade teacher.

As we worked on getting some of the logistics in place, I started to think about what content we were going to use. Where are we going to get content for four grade levels? We were able to get permission to use the beta version of Illustrative Math as some of the backbone of the shows. Illustrative Math is a program that is coming out in July (read more about it here!) and the content goes right along with some of SIS signature things, such as the Math Mights strategies, number talks, numeracy talks, visual models with our friend Professor Barble and more. 

I was adamant that I did not want the Math Mights Show to be something that kids had seen for the last year – a Zoom call with their teacher in a little box and math content on the screen. I wanted this to be more interactive. I wanted kids to be able to see a teacher on camera, but then to go to PowerPoint, and then go to activities on the overhead, and to be, well – engaged!! It’s a 16-minute TV spot…how hard could that be, right?

The idea sounded…not terrible. But we had to think practical. What would a TV-show-producing studio look like? Our little sling studio wasn’t going to cut it. My husband had to figure out which cameras and which lighting and how we would go about constructing it. 

And then, probably the hardest part of the whole adventure, was that DPTV wanted us to produce eight videos a week, two for every grade level K-3 each week, for a total of 112 shows. 

Once we started the project in early December, we hit the ground running. We were creating PowerPoints, making sure our content was not only engaging but high quality, trying to train teachers who are used to teaching in front of a classroom how to be on camera. Of course, I have the presenting thing down, no problem, but being on camera and being recorded is a whole different story, especially when you have to be able to articulate things in different ways. And of course, to be able to help another teacher encapsulate the ideas from the content I wrote was a challenge that I wasn’t really expecting. 

For each show, we had a PowerPoint from which we created an extension activity. Then, we had to do very detailed production notes so the teachers knew when they were going to be on camera, when they were going to be on the overhead, when they were going to be on PowerPoint. I had to script out what I wanted them to say, of course hoping they could also addlib with some of their own teacher style based on the content of the show.

The hours that went into developing a show were astounding. It certainly took a lot longer in the beginning, but as time went on, we worked like clockwork. Still, the amount of hours that my husband and I put into the show was astronomical. We spent weekends shooting in the studio, thinking maybe it would only take a teacher about an hour to shoot a 16 minute spot, where sometimes it ended up being seven or eight hours to shoot that spot. 

One thing I can tell you, looking back at the situation as stressful as it was, it is very rewarding to see what we have accomplished. We’ve created 112 shows from the ground up. We had one other editor helping us, but my husband, Scott McCartney, did a majority of the legwork. He is certainly talented in what he does as a producer, but he went above and beyond with the animations and different things he did to make the show come to life. 

The Math Mights Show has been airing on our local PBS station, but you can find all 112 episodes on the Michigan Learning Channel or our new website: https://mathmights.org

But the resources for the Math Mights show didn’t stop at the actual episode. Our web designer gave the Math Mights their own website, and on each show page, you can find and download the extension activity, but you also have a whole list of supporting virtual manipulatives and other related resources and products from the SIS4Teachers site. There are also teacher’s guides for each of the Math Mights shows, explaining a little about the concepts and problems used in the show, what strategies we used and why, and even what manipulatives we chose and why. I love being in a training and being able to say, Since you’re doing place value, check out this Math Might episode on that! It’s a great tool to be able to offer schools that can enhance the curricular pieces they’re already using.

So, looking back on this experience, it really is a blur. Typically you’d be given six to 12 months to develop the types of shows that we did, but we ended up doing it in a very short period of time. We look back at the first shows and laugh at the lighting and the different things that we did, and we certainly have had amazing bloopers where a word that I said didn’t make sense and in fact the math that I said didn’t even make sense! 

We really had a great time getting to know Tiffany, Alicia and Rhonda. We also had Laura, our amazing assistant, in the studio with us doing the timings of the shows, all the manipulative prep. It’s hard to imagine what happens behind the scenes of creating a show like this, but now, having had this experience, I’ve definitely gotten to the root of what it is like to be an educator trying to create a TV show. It’s been a really, really rewarding experience.

Looking forward, we don’t know what the future will hold for the fall. I know there’s a large interest for us to continue the Math Might Shows, doing September through December and then finishing out the year. The idea would be to have a library of shows, two per week per grade level, that you could use in different school districts – what a great resource! 

I won’t lie there were bumps in the road, but we ended up working all those things out, and were able to create something, I think, that will be incredible, and hopefully leave an imprint on education today.

It’s hard to capture everything I want to say about this, but I did a video that I want to share with you about my experience and all the people that I want to thank for this amazing opportunity.

I definitely want to thank the people at The Michigan Learning Channel for taking the chance on SIS4Teachers being their first original programming.

There are three people in particular I really want to thank for their hard work and support – Laura Dzieciolowski, Sherry McElhannon, and of course, Scott McCartney. I truly could not have done this project, with all the ins and outs and details, without you! Together we have created a masterpiece, and I’m thankful for the expertise and dedication you brought to the table to help make this vision into a reality.

Of course, I also want to thank Alicia Gray, Tiffany Markavich, and Rhonda Askew for the hours you put into taking my content and bringing it to life on screen.

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