Monday, March 28, 2011

Is it a Teachers Job?

I was having a coffee with a friend of mine the other day (well he had decaf and that's not coffee). He is a project manager by trade but now an entrepreneur doing survey analysis and business coaching. He is thinking of starting a new coaching business to help kids prepare and manage themselves for exams effectively applying project management principles to exam and study preparation. We got to talking about math and how it is taught in school and he was telling me one of his biggest regrets is that he didn't take the time to understand the basic building blocks of the curriculum and then struggled through the rest. With shaky foundations the rest was a deck of cards waiting to topple.

I argued that the teacher should make it their job to ensure everyone has the basic building blocks solid before progressing even if it delays the curriculum a bit, he argued that the students need to take responsibility for this and the teacher can’t hand hold everyone through the basics.

Well call me old fashioned but I don’t agree. In a subject like math the basics are the foundation everything is built on. If you have foundations made of sand it is a very bad builder who starts building the walls. The teacher who doesn’t ensure everyone has a grasp of the basic in math for the next classes is only wasting their time and the students and is doing the students a grave disservice.

You can get away with flying through the basics on Geography or History because the subject is mainly regurgitating facts so there are few is any core concepts to be learned but math is one of those subjects you need to ‘get’  the basics before the rest is worth looking at.
To me it’s like trying to write a French poem without taking the time to learn the language.

Now don’t get me wrong a teacher can only lead the students to the water but can’t force them to drink. After everyone is solid on the basics and the class moves on students who fall behind despite the best efforts of the teacher might need to a reassess their subject choices. Math is not for everyone but I believe there is no-one out there who is incapable of learning the basic core concepts of math and of benefiting from them.

Unfortunately too teachers are effectively forced to move on whether everyone is aboard or not because of time and workload. I know this is true but still I believe the teacher has to try their best to get everyone up to speed with the basics, then the rest should go smoother which will enable you to make up the time.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Book Editions

It's a problem for us and for every other similiar online tutor service. We have the content that covers a book but the publisher has 10 different editions of the same book with a different cover in each state. This poses us a problems with 2 choices.

1) Duplicate the same book 10 times to have an edition for each different book cover
2) Do only 1 copy and assume your audience will relate their book with a different cover to this one.

We have tended to go with option 1 but it is far from ideal becaise we end up cluttering up the book list with a load of duplicates which can make it more difficult for a user to find their book.

Anyone got an idea of a better way to do it?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Twitter for your Math Homework

Twitter is great because of the way the conversation is open and available to all. If you have a question or query it's just so easy to tweet for the answer, but is this helping you?

At we use twitter and facebook to try and get our product seen. So maybe me saying that twitter for homework help is a bad thing is a little hypocritical. Well what I'm saying is that just getting the answers from twitter is not to be encouraged.
If you just grab the answer to your math homework from twitter then you learn nothing except that using twitter is a shortcut to getting your homework done.
You should be using twitter and the wider internet to help you understand the concepts in your homework and not just the answers.
It's like the old saying "Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and feed him for life.". There is no quick fix here but I promise once you learn the concepts the answers will come much easier and you will progress in your math knowledge, copy down the answers and all you're doing is fooling yourself and limiting your future potential.

So yes use twitter for your math homework but use it to find good resources (like ours, shameless plug) and you will succeed.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Hosting Websites without a computer

How can I host a website without a computer? Well sounds impossible but now with Amazon S3 it is not only possible but so easy.
I have hosted my wife's website this way for a while but before it was a bit of a hack now it is as easy as a bit of configuration with Amazon.

This must sound a death knell for traditional hosters when word gets out how easy and secure this static website hosting is.

The 2 main advantages of this are
1) No need to pay for a machine (or virtual machine) to host the website on And I mean NO upfront costs.
2) No need to maintain the machine it is as simple as saving the website files to an online disk, markling it as a website and viola!

It is absolutely ideal for hosting brochure and static sites as you only pay for bandwidth. So if only 50 people access your site in a month the cost should be about 1cent. It also has all the benefits of Amazons scalable infrastructure which is cool because if you suddenly get a bit of press and 10,000 people from all over the world try to access your site your golden because of the 15 edge locations Amazon have. How many times have you been watching a prime time TV show, a guy gets to say his 2 min piece about his site. You decide to have a quick look during the ad break and it's dead? Unfortunately for you and him 10,000 people had the same idea as you and killed he site because he's been running it expecting to see the usual 1 man and his dog.
If you know anyone selling website hosting the traditional way please save them a fortune and show them this so they can get out now and stop wasting their time, because as soon as this becomes common knowledge I wouldn't want to have too many shares in RackSpace

Friday, March 4, 2011

Worksheets on SecondTeacher

We just wanted to let you know what kind of functionality we're working on at SecondTeacher.
We have started to create a new downloadable section on each lesson where we can add various pieces of content that will enable the user to download Lesson Notes, Pop Quizes etc.

This is totally configurable and we can set unique content on each lesson. We are still in the process of developing the content but wanted to publish this information to enable our users to try it out.

We have added a sample lesson on lesson 1-1 Variables and Expressions in the Prentice Hall: California Pre-Algebra (2001)

To access the resources click on the "Lesson Resources" box on the lesson. Try it out!

 We are interested in finding out what kind of resources you'd like to see please let us know on the comments and we'll get to it.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

iPad 2 Just doesn't work for School

No matter how hard Apple has been trying to convince us that the iPad can replace everything in the schoolbag it just is not happening and won’t in its current guise.
Many have tried to crack this nut but still I don’t think anyone is there yet. First off the iPad as the standard replacement for books and writing pads has one big problem, the battery. What happens if when your sat in the middle of math and you're frantically taking down the details for tonight’s homework and blink the screen goes blank?
I’ve been interested in technology for 20 years and so many people look for technology solutions for perceived problems that a simple low-tech solution already solves. If you need to take notes at school a pen and paper does an admiral job and I couldn’t recommend it high enough.
Don’t get me wrong there is a place for technology in the class room, the writeboards are brilliant and a school focused e-Ink web enabled reading device will finally come along and make a fortune and we’re almost there with the likes of the Nook and the Kindle, they just need to focus on schools and student needs a bit more.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Homeschools and Technology

I never understood why technology was not pushed and used a lot more by homeschoolers.
We have direct experience of this as our main video creator Trevor Doyle is also a homeschool liason educator. He meets hundreds of homeschool kids a month and he is always amazed at the slow takeup of technology.
With the selection of courses and tutoring services available online these should be a perfect fit for homeschooling. Also online classrooms and video linkups would or should be common place in a good homeschool operation.
Should the government be helping here? As in effect homeschools help ease the burden on state run schools and should be helped and supported to make use of all the technology assets available.
But like most things in life the government are more then happy to let you pay for it yourself if you will and is always reactive and not proactive in helping improve the lot of our education so why should homeschools be any different.
As usual just my two cents.