Students Explain Everything Using iPads
How do we better understand the ways that children think when they solve problems? Although we have been asking students to show their work for
decades, this approach provides only a partial picture of
what they might be thinking. If we only had more insight
into what is going on inside students’ heads, teachers could
more quickly recognize their misconceptions and immediately redirect their understanding.
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics encourages teachers to develop students’ sense making, as well as
diverse problem-solving approaches and explanations, and
adopt different methods of authentic, formative assessment.
One way to accomplish this is to use engaging mobile learning
devices, such as the iPad, with powerful, inexpensive apps.
ExplainEverything is a screencast app that allows learners to
“write” (with a finger or stylus) on the iPad and speak about
what they are writing. By recording the images and text displayed on the screen as well as any audio input, this app captures everything that users write, erase, highlight, and say.
Teachers can view, share, or save files for later viewing.
In our study, we found that using a screencast app, such
as ExplainEverything, allowed us to gain a greater sense
of what the students were thinking and, more important,
when they were thinking particular thoughts. Capturing students’ math thinking as they solve story problems
creates opportunities for self-assessment and gives teachers a window into students’ math processing. Although
there are multiple screencast apps, such as EduCreations,
Doodlecast, and Show Me, we chose ExplainEverything
for two reasons:
This app provides multiple tool options that students can
select to help create their screencasts. To use the ExplainEverything app, you simply touch each tool bar to:
• Add a slide
• Enable the pen (and colors)
• Insert text, graphics/shapes, and pictures
• Delete drawings or objects
• Highlight items on the screen with a laser pointer
At the bottom of the screen are arrows to navigate be-
tween slides, a simple record/play button, a timer, and
advanced functions to save the screencast and export.
Users can export the screencasts as MP4 video files, allowing them to email the files, upload them to a cloud service,
and view them on other computers. Because they export
the files as MP4, users do not need internet access to view
them. Other screencast apps allow users to upload their
completed screencasts only to the app website, which
limits accessibility for viewing.
How We Used ExplainEverything
Six girls and three boys, ages 7–10, from two cities participated in this teaching experiment. The children solved
partitive division, multiplication, and equal-sharing story
problems using ExplainEverything on iPads. After students
solved the problems, they viewed their screencasts and
were asked to make a final, improved screencast.
Prior to the interviews, we gave students a brief introductory tutorial on how the iPad worked and the basic
tools of the app, which included the pen, shapes, laser
pointer, and erasing. They read the problem aloud and
then solved it while writing, drawing pictures, and talking
it through. We often had to remind them to speak as they
solved the problem because it wasn’t something they were
used to doing.
Seeing Thinking as It Unfolds
Student-generated screencasts give educators a window
into students’ thinking as they watch and listen to how
that thinking unfolds. Take a look at “Screenshot 1” on
page 33, which is the final slide of a student’s explanation.
Numbers are written all over the screen, and an equation
is written on the bottom. This alone isn’t sufficient to make
sense of what the student was thinking or even her final
Only by viewing the entire screencast can we get enough
information to understand her thinking. Here’s what you
didn’t get from the visual: When the student began solving
the problem, she whispered to herself, “We’re going to divide it.” She then made 10 groups of 10, counted them out
and said, “That’s 10 out of 10, so that wouldn’t work, so you
have to do 5.” With this statement, we get a sense that she
knows that ten 10s equal 100, and that is not enough because the problem states there are 120 students who need
to be on 10 teams.
With the combination of the voice recording and written
work, we can see and hear how this student’s thinking unfolded, how she began solving the problem with a plan—
to divide—and where her thinking went astray.