Saturday, July 30, 2011

Gov. Brown Signs California DREAM Act

This week, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that will expand opportunities for undocumented college students to seek financial aid from private institutions. The measure is a step towards more rights for undocumented students who immigrated to the US as children and are saddled with the lifetime legal consequences of a decision they did not make for themselves.

The California law is a modified version of a decades-old federal bill known as the DREAM Act, or the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act. The DREAM Act would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented youth who immigrated before the age of 16, graduated from US high schools, and are studying at US universities or serving in the military.

Advocates argue that among other long-term benefits of the bill, passing the DREAM Act would encourage more undocumented students to stay in school—current high school dropout rates are higher for immigrant students, partly because of the barriers students know lie between them and higher education. However, an inspiring number of undocumented students do graduate from high school and go on to study at top universities, excelling despite the special financial and legal difficulties they face.

Hearing the stories of DREAM Act students and how hard they have worked to achieve their education reminds us that opportunities for academic success should never be taken for granted.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What Have you Ever Wanted to Learn?

Hey students, Tutorpedia's Viral Video Contest has extended its deadline to August 1, 2011-- this means you still have until the end of the month to submit a short video that could win you a free iPod Touch! Cool, no?

It's fun and easy! Here's how to enter: create a 30-60 sec. video answering the question, "What have you ever wanted to learn?" and submit said video to YouTube with "Tutorpedia" and "" in the description. Also remember to e-mail the video to our Director, Seth Linden, at with VIRAL VIDEO in the subject line.

The winner of this creative contest will receive a - that's right! - free iPod Touch. The second-place winner will receive two hours of 1-1 tutoring from Tutorpedia, to be used in any area of focus. We will pick the winner by recording the number of YouTube views each submitted video receives.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Teachers use Khan's online Academy to "flip" the classroom

This article from Wired magazine describes how some teachers have been using the internet as a device to “flip” the classroom: students receive instructional content in lecture form outside of school through online videos, leaving teachers free to devote individual attention to students during school hours.

Salman Khan developed Khan Academy when he started creating home videos explaining math problems and posting them to YouTube. He realized that his videos could be used by educators to supplement their lessons, and by students anywhere who wanted to “learn almost anything--for free.” So he developed a website including games and quizzes, a dashboard for teachers to track their students’ progress, and thousands of instructional videos. He’s received grants to continue his work, including from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, and provides all of the services free of cost to users.

Though the Khan Academy’s approach certainly has its critics, the creator views it as a way to democratize learning and provide accessible one-on-one explanations that students can view as many times as they want, progressing at their own pace and in the privacy of their own homes.

Some have pointed out the limitations of his videos-- they are still basically in lecture format, with no opportunity for students to ask questions (it’s a video after all!), and the digital divide prevents some students from taking advantage of the service. Also, the mastery-based learning style of the drills lends itself well to math and science, but what about other subjects like English and history that may have more than one answer for any given question?

In 1984 Benjamin Bloom showed the huge difference that individual attention makes for students, finding a leap of two standard deviations in the progress of students who received 1-1 instruction. Despite some shortcomings, Khan Academy has great potential to make individualized instruction available to more students.

In terms of holistic learning, however, we still think nothing beats a real live tutor! Especially when it comes to adjusting to student learning styles, answering questions, developing study skills, and the interpersonal and mentoring aspect of tutoring, a student’s real relationship with a tutor makes greater success possible.

If you want to make free/affordable tutoring available to more students who need it, why not donate to the Tutorpedia Foundation? $35 will provide a full hour of free 1-1 academic help and mentoring from excellent tutors for students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it.

(photo by John Watson)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Testing 1, 2, 3, 4-year-olds

Our education system is broken.

This statement seems to be more or less accepted as fact by most educators, policy makers, and community leaders throughout the country, but when it comes to how to fix it, or even how to diagnose the problem, we have some differences of opinion (to put it politely).

For the last several years, the accepted wisdom of educational policy seems to have been that we can test, test, test our way to educational success, to the point that the Department of Education is gearing up to start testing four-year-olds in high-stakes testing. Really?

Yes, four-year-olds!

Can we please take a step back and ask, what is the purpose of the unprecedented and frankly insane extent of standardized testing we have gotten ourselves into?
Most proponents of the testing trend cite accountability as its great advantage. But is simply putting students and teachers through hours of standardized tests really going to help schools take responsibility for the failures of the system? And who exactly does hold that responsibility? Who are we trying to hold accountable? Sometimes it seems like we are punishing struggling schools and students simply because they exist in a larger dysfunctional system over which they may have no control.

The second main thrust of testing, of course, is to create standards. And the question of standards is a very complex one, especially in a country with such a richly varied student body as ours. However, we can certainly agree that we would like to hold all students to high, but achievable standards, and not allow some students to slip through the cracks. Our goal is not to subject some students to that American-dream-crushing injustice of a sub-standard education.
But does the current system of testing really help us move toward that goal?

Maybe there are multiple paths to a good education. Maybe not everyone is a square peg that will fit properly in the holes provided. Maybe we have different life situations, skills, and needs, but we all have the capacity to reach our own higher standards. Maybe what we need is a more personalized approach... Class of One, anyone?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

New Take on 1-1 Tutoring is Win-Win for Calavera Hills Students

An innovative program at Calavera Hills Middle School in Carlsbad, CA underlines the importance of educational relationships and community-building in a remarkable way. As New America Media reports, the school’s Coyote Crossroads program, now in its third year, pairs academically struggling students with their autistic peers as tutors and mentors.

Not only do the autistic students benefit from the support and friendship of their peer tutors, but the tutors also find meaning in their school experience, showing a marked improvement in their grades and motivation in their own classes. The school has also shown a significant improvement in its truancy numbers—down from 55.76% in 2007-2008 to 37.54% in 2009-2010.

One peer mentor reports that her relationships with her autistic classmates give her a reason to get out of bed when that alarm rings in the morning, and she also finds inspiration in her autistic friends. If they can handle teasing and bullying from other students, then she can too. From struggling to make it to school, she now aspires to become a teacher like Ms. Lupu, one of the program’s mentors.

Three cheers for Calavera Hills Middle School for harnessing the power of students to improve their own school community! Fresh ideas like this can help us revitalize our education system and change students’ lives in the process.

Coyote Crossroads from New America Media on Vimeo.