Colin's Sandbox

Adding a bit of structure to my online tutoring

by on Jun.09, 2013, under Uncategorized

I’ll expand more in this posting about the online tutoring that I will be engaging in hopefully beginning this week, along with some of my thoughts on dangers to students in Cyberspace.


I’ll refer to the student here as “Roberta”.  I had a chance to talk with another teacher about Roberta’s past experiences with online tutoring, aptitudes, and interests.  I haven’t yet seen the results from her previous HSGQE attempt, so I don’t yet know how to frame the essential questions which we’ll be building the course material around yet, so this is limiting my progress in this endeavor to this point.  I can however talk at some length about what the course structure will look like, at least initially.

I plan on using a blended learning approach in this unit since I have the luxury of being a part of a team of people assisting in this educational effort: her parents, a certified teacher, and myself.  As I understand it, the teacher will be available for a few hours each week for face to face interaction with Roberta, while I plan on taking part in weekly Skype sessions whose duration I will keep to about an hour.  Each session will go through roughly these steps:

  1. Going over previous week’s worth of work, identifying areas of strength and weakness
  2. Guided practice over  new practice material
  3. Presenting a new tool for exploration
  4. Presenting the new task for the week

The weekly task: a former teacher gave me some insight as to motivational strategies that have worked for her.  Two things stood out for me from that conversation: a love of art (photography in particular), and a love of exploring new computer-based tools to express her art and have fun in the process.  I am thinking that every week I try to come up with an example of algebra in visual form and have Roberta come up with her own example through photography and digital manipulation.  For instance, showing a picture of a steep mountain side with a cartesian coordinate system overlaid upon it  showing the calculation of the slope (y=mx+b).  According to what the former teacher told me, Roberta has difficulty retaining math concepts from one session to the next, so I’m hoping that the more ways that I can use to demonstrate algebraic concepts the higher the likelyhood that they’ll stick.

I hope to demonstrate a new tool every week as well, as sort of a carrot to keep her motivated (and me as well – I’m willing to bet she knows more than I about the current state of tools of this sort).  Outside of the Skype session I will be emailing with the teacher and parents as well, assigning practice problems that mirror the HSGQE very closely.  Since this is only a single student I think the overhead of a larger environment like Moodle or Edmodo, etc., isn’t warranted.


I enjoyed this week’s webinar with Frederick Lane discussing threats to students in the online sphere.  I must admit I typically pooh-pooh the danger here to students; I view technology as an add-on to my social life, not as the primary vehicle through which I connect to others.  I am still very old-fashioned in this regard: phone calls, emails (operated almost as an extension to regular mail in a sense), face-to-face interaction.  I have been pretty diligent about turning off the electronic devices at a certain point in the day.  Many children in our culture however look at things differently, and have a much harder time turning off the devices.  I’m still of the mindset though that the benefits of technology far outweigh the negatives, and that we’re in this transition period where culture is playing catchup to what is technologically possible.  I believe in this context that the more that we can model responsible behavior and communication with these devices in the classroom the better off the children are going to be in the long run.  Banning mobile devices from the classroom doesn’t solve the problem in my view, it would only serve to defer the problem until after school, or when students are between classes texting anyhow.  With over half of students in the country using smartphones (Lane), I think the mantra “Can’t beat ’em, might as well join ’em” applies here.

The big take-away for me was that a concerted professional development effort should be made with educators at all levels to present the real challenges in this field and how to identify when a problem may be occurring, interfering with a student’s ability to learn.  Training should be done yearly and attempt to demonstrate how we can overcome the Fear of using mobile devices and utilize them responsibly.

2 Comments for this entry

  • Kajal Sengupta

    Colin, Your planning is excellent. It takes care of all aspects. I am also an online teacher so these inputs will be very helpful. I use the virtual classroom of WizIQ and find their tools are very user friendly and easy to use. Have you ever tried them?

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