What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “Norris”? Most people would probably say the actor Chuck Norris. For many Mamaroneck High School juniors (and seniors), though, they might respond with the name Adam Norris.
Mr. Norris is an 11th grade American History teacher at Maryvale High School (located near Buffalo, NY). However, Norris is more than just some American History teacher from Buffalo. He is the producer of countless videos that range from chapter reviews (which he has done for multiple textbooks) to specific key concept videos for United States History. He is one of the main reasons students do not have to spend more time than they already do preparing for the class and the most vital resource they go to the night before a test or quiz. Simply put, Adam Norris is every A.P. U.S. History student’s best friend that they’ve never spoken to. Well, that almost every A.P. U.S. History student has never spoken to. That’s because Mr. Norris was nice enough to speak with The Globe’s Stephen Rothman, who conducted the following interview.
The Globe: Can you give some background information on yourself? I think you’re from Cincinnati, is that right?
Adam Norris: Originally, I grew up in Cincinnati. I moved to Buffalo when I was about ten years old, and I’ve lived in Buffalo since then. Most of my life I’ve actually been in Buffalo, I just have a sick obsession with Cincinnati and go back quite often. I went to college [at SUNY Buffalo] for history and I knew I wanted to be a teacher, but the college I went to didn’t have a teaching program for undergrads, so I got my master’s degree in Social Studies Education. I student-taught at the school that I currently work at, and this is my tenth year teaching there and sixth year teaching AP.
The Globe: What were some of your biggest influences during your childhood that made you want to become a history teacher?
Adam Norris: Growing up, my dad was an engineer and he was the first person in his family to go to college, and he always recognized that his teachers played a really big role in that. So in the back of my mind, as far as I can remember, my dad, in particular, always talked about how valuable teachers were. I always had very good teachers, going back to third grade, in particular, I really liked my teacher and then I had several others. I just really enjoyed it and really thought it was something I wanted to do, and, fortunately, I pursued it and thoroughly enjoy it myself.
The Globe: Now, transitioning to the videos: what inspired you to start making those videos?
Adam Norris: So it’s really kind of crazy. Let me go back to the 2012-2013 school year. School year started out, I had a couple students that just happened to miss school for whatever reason and I was not the only AP teacher at my school at the time – another gentleman taught with me – and we just talked about ways of getting people not to fall behind when they’re out. He knew a lot more about computers at the time than I did, and he told me about this program where you could record what’s on the screen of your computer, so I thought ‘Well, that’d be pretty sweet for a power point’ – you know – for the things that we use, so it literally just started as ‘I’m going to record a chapter a week just for kids who missed school, or if they want to review the chapter.’ So the first year, I think I had maybe 28 or 30 videos – I didn’t even finish the whole textbook until later. My kids – hit or miss – watched them as a whole; I didn’t really assign them – it was more of like ‘Hey, if you want something extra, or if you missed, you’re not going to fall too far behind.’ Then, I just fell in love with doing it, became addicting, and then I decided the next year I’m going to go all out and just record all these videos and assign them for homework, and it freed up a lot of class time to do a lot of other stuff.
The Globe: What’s the general process for recording a video? How long does it take? How many tries does it take?
Adam Norris: For about every ten minutes, it takes, on average, about two to three hours. That includes making the PowerPoint, that includes recording the video – and I mess up a lot. I stutter a lot, I say a lot of wrong things I try to catch and sometimes don’t even catch on the editing part of it. The PowerPoint is usually the most time consuming. Recording for a 10-minute video, it’s usually about 12-13 minutes of recording, then I have to re-listen to it again and cut out stuff, so that’s probably about 10-15 minutes, and then uploading it can take about 5-10 minutes to YouTube (maybe a little bit more) but during that time I’ll just walk away from my computer. The longest that it’s ever taken me to do one was in 2014 – it was my most popular video until this year – the massive final of the year review video; I had one that was 58 minutes and another that was an hour and 15 minutes, and from start to finish, because I was analyzing AP exams, I was categorizing them, I think both of those combined took about 50 hours of work, but I think it paid off, so I was pretty happy with it.
The Globe: In the beginning, it sounds like your intended audience was the kids who missed school, but now that it’s become a big thing, has your intended audience expanded, and whom would you say that is?
Adam Norris: It has, definitely. When I started, it was just for my own students, and I’ll never forget when the Chapter 13 of the American Pageant video had 328 views – I was so excited because I was teaching 45 students that year and I knew that more than just them were watching it. So I’ve always done it with my students in mind, but I have textbooks that I don’t use, like ‘America’s History, the 8th Edition’ – I don’t use that and I started this year, I didn’t finish – and Eric Foner’s ‘Give Me Liberty!’ I don’t use, but I hear from people that the textbook videos are so helpful as a way for them to stay up with the readings. I’ve started to do those for beyond just my students, but really every other video I’ve made – whether it’s any sort of content – I used in class. But I do take suggestions from people if they have an idea of something, and if it’s something I could use in the classroom then I’ll ultimately use that, as well.
The Globe: This is sort of unrelated, but what’s something people don’t know about you that you think is interesting?
Adam Norris: Something they don’t know… um… huh. I live a pretty boring life. Like on the weekends, a good time is sitting on the computer making a PowerPoint and making a video out of it. I’m pretty transparent with who I am, so I don’t really know a whole lot that people wouldn’t know, other than I just live a very simple, boring life, I guess I would say.