Playlists, Video, and GoFormative

By Raymond Steinmetz

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for 7th graders to learn from video”

Me  (until last week)

I’ve been afraid to have my class learn from video for most of my career.  I’ve advocated for teaching in front of the class vehemently for years.  I’ve told myself – Math just isn’t like other subjects, you can’t replace whole group instruction.  Here were my reasons:

  1. I always felt like my strength as a math teacher was my ability to explain things clearly and relate them to students who may not have been successful in math in the past.  I’ve always prided myself on my ability to scaffold understanding and identify misconceptions.  I always felt that video can’t replace that.
  2. Math can be explained many different ways.  I have searched the internet high and low for videos that I feel are good enough for my students.  Pardon me for speaking out of turn here, but I don’t like Khan Academy.  God bless that guy for putting up so much content, but my students’ faces go dim as soon as that guy starts talking.
  3. If I was going to utilize video instead of whole group instruction, that seemed like a lot of work up front that I didn’t have time to do.
  4. I had tried recording my teaching in the past, and I cringe at the sound of my own voice.  Additionally, I was hyper-aware that I was being recorded and terrified of making mistakes.
  5. I fancy myself a pretty engaging and funny guy.  Why wouldn’t my students want to be subjected to my dad jokes?

Here is why I was kind of wrong:

  1. Using video in my class will never replace me. Blended Learning is exactly that – Blended.  Video will only be a piece of what I do as a whole.  It will only serve to enhance the work I am doing, not replace me.  Using video will free me up from the front of the room and allow me to see more students during a given period.  That will allow me to do more of the good work of identifying misconceptions and helping students in small groups or one-on-one.
  2. If I create my own videos, I don’t have to worry about the intricacies of how someone else is explaining the math. In the time it takes to find a good video, I could have already made one myself.
  3. After making my first set of videos, I was surprised that it really didn’t take that long.  At this point, I would much rather spend a half an hour after school making videos than repeating the same notes five times in a row during the school day, which can be exhausting.  Additionally, it shouldn’t be about what is best for me, it should be what is best for the students.
  4. I just had to get over the sound of my own voice.  After an initial “cringey” period of recording screencasts of myself doing math, I actually started to really like it.  I showed them to my wife before I showed them to my students, and she said they were pretty good!  So I guess its always a good idea to get a second opinion beyond your own.
  5. I found that I’m actually more engaging and funny when I’m not exhausted from saying the same things 5 times a day in front of a whole room of 12-13 year old kids.  Freeing myself up from the front of the room left more time for one-on-one interactions, which left plenty of time for bad dad jokes!


I’ll admit that the first time I heard about about playlists and saw them in action during an offsite school visit, I didn’t understand what was the big deal.  It just seemed like a checklist of things to do, which I already was doing with my daily agenda on Google Classroom.  I could see the value in students working through an entire topic at their own pace, but I didn’t trust them (or myself) enough to keep track of their learning for that long of a period of time.  The first playlists that I created were only meant to last one or two class periods at most.

One of my first Playlists – Google Doc

What I found was that letting students work at their own pace through more than a few activities was really hard to track and grade.  Additionally, because I was still teaching at the front of the class, I could really only assign extra practice on the topic that I had just finished teaching.  It wasn’t possible to have students move on to a completely different topic when they were ready.  The students were still reliant upon my teaching to move on.  Furthermore, I wasn’t getting consistent formative assessment data so that I could identify those students who needed to move on or those who needed the extra help.


The first time I used GoFormative, it felt like someone made the website just for me.  I can’t emphasize enough how much this has changed my teaching practice.  GoFormative allows you to take assignments that already exist on paper (PDF or Word) and creates web based assignments out of them.  The tool then allows you to get real-time data about students’ progress so that you can identify those who are struggling and/or succeeding.  If that wasn’t enough, GoFormative is extremely easy to use, allows you to embed video, and connects flawlessly to Google Classroom.


These two images are from a GoFormative I created about side and angle conditions of triangles.  I have used these worksheets many times in the past.  I was able to upload the PDFs to GoFormative and have the students answer the questions online.  I was also able to easily configure each question with a correct answer to grade automatically.

Student Results on GoFormative – Green is Correct, Red is Incorrect

Once the students started on the assignment, I was able to log in to the website and see instantaneous data as the students progressed through the problems.  Beyond just seeing point totals, individual question responses can be seen by selecting the question numbers as well.  GoFormative really does help alleviate the issue of keeping track of who is struggling and who is ready to move on – all in real time.

Enter the Video

This past weekend, I attended the Blended and Personalized Learning Conference in Providence, RI.  At this conference, I had the pleasure of attending a session by playlist and video guru, Jason Appel.  Jason teaches his high school math classes all through self guided playlists, videos that he creates himself, and GoFormative. Needless to say I had a lot of questions, which he graciously answered.  He also had some tips for making screencast videos:


The week after attending the conference, I was inspired to at least try creating my own videos.  I went to the Library Media Center at our school to check out an iPad, and lo and behold, our school had just received some new Apple Pencils!



So I HAD to create some videos now!  I ended up using two different video screen recording products:

  • Screencastify is a Google Chrome extension that allows you to record your voice while showing your computer screen and/or your webcam.  I used this to record some video of me using our textbook’s website.  Unfortunately, my handwriting with a touchpad mouse is pretty terrible, so I couldn’t use my laptop to do any math.
  • Educreations is an iPad app that allows you to do similar things as Screencastify, only on an iPad.  I was able to take a picture of the math problem that I wanted to explain, use my Apple Pencil to do the math and record my voice, and share a link to the video with my students.

Putting It All Together

In my article about the Blended and Personalized Learning Conference I attended this last weekend, I had shared an ELA Playlist Format that I really liked and wanted to translate into math.  Well, I did it!

Playlist 2
Surface Area Playlist

My first fully self-guided playlist using video and GoFormative!! Go ahead and check it out.  All of the links should be open to the public.  I’d love the feedback.  So far I couldn’t be happier about the way it is working in my class.  The kids are really engaged and working independently on something I have taught as whole class for years.  I feel invigorated by being freed up from the front of the room, and I feel like I have more time to help those who are struggling as well as meet with small groups.  I guess all I had to do was get out of my own way and give it a try!

Mr. Steinmetz