Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Math Homework Guidelines

It is amazing the things we just assume that everyone knows how to do, like riding a bike or going for a swim or even brushing your teeth. But the only reason we can do these things is because we were shown and taught how to do them properly. Not many people see a bike for the first time then hop up on it and start doing wheelie’s, why then do we assume that kids know how to do their math homework when in reality they have never probably been shown how to do it right.
First we start off with the common sense basics that everyone should know
1)      You need a quiet distraction free place to do your homework. Music and TV don’t mix well with homework.
2)      Don’t leave your homework until the last minute like just before bedtime or while eating breakfast. Do your homework shortly after you get back from school so it’s not hanging over you.
3)      Focus and don’t get bogged down in the detail. If you are spending way too much time on a piece of homework, just try your best and move on. Homework shouldn’t take all night.
Those were the easy ones but the most important. Do the simple things right and homework becomes’ much easier. If you get into the habit of doing your homework straight after school you will really find that you do a better and quicker job.
Now that we’ve shown you how and when you should attempt your homework how do you ensure you do a good job?
First off I’d say is tackle the homework you least enjoy first. If you put this off and leave it until last you will inevitably do a tired and rushed job on it. If you love English, I’ll bet if you leave it until last you’ll still put in the time and effort it needs.
For the more complex subjects like math it really helps to have a study guide or some reference material that covers the math topics you learnt in class. Of course you have your textbook but this can be a struggle to follow and how often do you come home ‘knowing’ how to do your math because you got it in class then open the textbook and get confused? I would recommend if you have access to an internet connection to try an online tutor service. For math, these can be exactly what you need to reinforce the concepts you learnt in class, ensuring you have the knowledge for life. Studies have shown that if you revise a math topic a couple of hours after first learning it, the knowledge is much more likely to stick. Modern innovative online math tutors offer videos explaining the concepts in your textbook and are now as cheap as $25 a year.
So remember that math homework doesn’t have to be a struggle.
1)      Setup a routine of doing your homework early in a quiet distraction free place.
2)      Focus and do the difficult parts first.
3)      Get an online Math Resource to help revise.
Then get out and enjoy yourself, don’t let homework ruin your day it really doesn’t have to be that hard.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Technology can help with Math Benchmark Testing

Even the mention of benchmark testing will bring some math teachers out in a rash, but with the holiday season upon us then benchmark testing is not far behind. Benchmark testing for those who don’t know is a test run about two thirds way through the year and the idea is to benchmark the students to see the standard that has been achieved so far by the school. These benchmark results then go towards grant allocations and school ratings.
The real problem with benchmark testing for parents is that the school needs them to be organised, run and corrected by the teachers but there is no extra funding available for this so pressure is put on the teachers to achieve this for free, in their spare time.
Traditionally benchmark testing is a long and arduous process involving the teacher creating the exam, organising the students to sit the exam, correcting the results and then correlating all the results to give overall benchmark results for the school. There really must be a better way and now thanks to the web and online math helper websites there is. This year the benchmark testing in many schools will be very different. The teachers will have many different options to make the whole process so much easier with the help of online math tutor websites they will get the benchmarking done and get to keep their free time.
These online solutions are also not only for the technophiles too because there will be very simple solutions too that will aid any teacher. I’ll go through each of the possible ways an online resource might speed up the whole process
  • Downloadable Exams - The most basic is to access these sites and download a printable benchmark test which is matched to the textbook you use in class. This can be distributed to the class and the results easily matched against an online answer sheet. This helps the teacher by having the exam already designed and ready for use but the teacher still needs to correct and correlate the results.
  • Download Exam and Upload Results – This is where the teacher can download a printable exam then for each student upload the answers and the websites will correct and collate the answers. An improvement on the last one but still the extra work of uploading the exam answers is a burden the teacher could do without.
  • Online Benchmark Testing – This is the ideal where a teacher picks the benchmark test and allocates it to their class. The class then logon to the website and do the exam. This has huge advantages in that with minimal effort the teacher has accurate collated results but of course this assumes the school has a full computer lab.
In reality I think the move towards a fully online exam is still a little way off but it’s the direction we will inevitably move. Pioneers are trying to achieve this now and new online services are sprouting up which will offer these and even more innovative solutions to the problems of benchmark testing. Let’s hope for all our sakes it just isn’t toofar off.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Can Videos Help you with your Math Homework?

Modern teens are digital natives and super-communicators, they have grown up surrounded by digital technology to enable communication and intuitively embrace it. The latest technology holds no fear even for the youngest students, they seem to just naturally understand how it all works and use new technology with ease. How often have you seen a young one or two year-old child playing with a mobile phone and they seem to know exactly what to do with it?

If we can use these natural and accepted mediums to communicate the education services a student needs they are much more likely to connect and use these services. The old model of a classroom lesson delivered to bored students followed by a textbook aided homework assignment has failed to inspire a large number of students with many students struggling to stay focused. We need to replace this with a system that will interest them and allow kids to learn to enjoy the education they are being offered.

Show me a teenager who doesn’t watch TV? According to Nielsen watching TV among teens is actually up 6% over the past 5 years. Basically kids love to watch videos and are easily engaged by videos. From a very early age teens have accepted TV and videos as an easy way to get information and entertainment fast. Anyone who deals with teens will tell you that once you engage and interest them, they become like a sponge for information and will learn quickly and permanently.

There are a host of new young online video tutors betting that kids will accept educational services through online videos and are offering textbook linked on-demand video tutor lessons. These work by allowing a student to access a video lesson of each chapter on their textbook. The student has total control of the video and can consume it whenever or wherever suits them. This on-demand video model matches exactly how students communicate and get entertainment and will enable them to get their education quickly and easily too.

The key to making an online video tutor a success is to ensure that first off it is affordable. It needs to be at a price point that ensures price is not a barrier, with services available from $25 per year I think we are already there. Next it needs to be to the point and entertaining, a student does not want to sit through another long boring math class at home, they want a fun engaging and quick lesson that just gives them the information they need. A verbose long winded lesson littered with long technical mathematical terms will never work. Finally it has to be relevant and easy to use. The video has to very closely match the textbook based homework that has been assigned and it must be quick and intuitive in its user interface.

An online video tutor that cracks all of these will be a sure fire success and already there are some prime candidates out there already.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Power of Online Math Tution

The advances in technology and the web have made finding what you need in the world so much easier. The web has also made finding help and services a simple click away. For students this is a godsend, help with any aspect of their education is available online 24/7.

The rise of online educational websites has spawned new opportunities for providers to offer custom made math homework help services. This is really a powerful and exciting advance on how students learn Math. Compare it to even 15 years ago, if you could not understand the lesson in class and could not figure out the topic in the textbook you effectively fell behind and had to struggle to catch-up now with the web and the services available any student can search a myriad of informative website until they get the exact information they need.

Traditionally students were passively accepting the information provided by teachers and textbooks as their main source of learning math. With self service online math tutor services the students now have the control to dictate the pace of their learning and the ability to actively choose the topics and subjects they wish to learn. This makes math much more engaging and challenging for students. It also follows the principle of No Child Left Behind as all students can now control the lesson and tailor it to their needs.

The other great boon of Online Math Tutor services is their accessibility and affordability. Personal math tutors used to be the preserve of the wealthy but with online math tutors now costing as little as $25 per year cost is no longer a barrier. As to accessibility this is what the web is all about, opening up information and education to the masses. It’s like having your own personal math tutor on stand-by 24/7.

These advantages should not really come as a surprise to anybody as the banks, travel agents, ticket agents and every shop in the world has figured out people like to self serve, they like to browse and read and check out whatever they want when they want it and this is also true in math tutors.

So next time you need math homework help and the your first thought is to get a math tutor at $30 per hour, first just check out what kind of services are available online and you’ll see the true power of the Online Math Tutor.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Inviting everyone to give SecondTeacher a go for FREE!

Hi Everyone.
We want to get everyone to try SecondTeacher.com.
So until the new year SecondTeacher is FREE! All you need to do is register with the promotional code TRY4FREE. This will give you full access until the new year for free.
Why not try it out today!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Slow Progress and Motivation

We are slowing picking up customers and our user base continues to grow. Of course I wish we had more which would give us more resourses and enable us to expand our offering but in the real world where the banks are still closed for business all growth has to be self financed. This means we need the users before we can expand.
In an effort to convert more of our traffic to actual users we're hearing that Silverlight is a constraint for some people. Now I think Silverlight is a wonder of science and enables you to do so much more on the web. In my opinion in 2-3 years this will be the de-facto standard. But unfortunately we might be just a little ahead of the game "on the bleeding edge" as it's called.
We have decided to hedge our bets a bit. We are currently developing a slimmed down AJAX version of our content pages to allow people in restrictive environments view our content. Now the full experience will always be Silverlight and I'm willing to bet that in a couple of years this is an obsolete move but now we need to live with the technologies that people use, not what we think they should use.
So for all those users who would like to see what we can do but can't (or won't) use Silverlight we have a solution coming down the track...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Should I use Silverlight

Now I’m a Windows developer but always worked behind the scenes. I never had to design any externally facing interfaces until SecondTeacher and this poses plenty of cost and problems. I discovered Silverlight about a year ago and was hooked it is built for someone like me who doesn’t want to learn all the intricacies of design on the web and just wants to build application.
The biggest problem I have with Silverlight is the user adoption rate. I worry that it will put people off using the site because of the need to load another plug-in with only between 25% - 40% depending on who you listen to already using it. That is a large chunk of people who are without. For me in the end I went with the logic that Silverlight is the future and for me to replicate the functionality I can achieve in Silverlight is going to take me an age and cost me a fortune. I know it might put a few off short-term but long-term it opens up the possibilities of what we can deliver and also makes delivering a quality experience much easier.
Just my thoughts

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Teachers Rule the World!

I have had a great experience this week in visiting classrooms and  learning how teachers teach the curriculum.
First off I think our system is not right we have students pressurized into learning lists of information and then regurgitating in an exam. The kids who can remember the best are the brightest!!??!!
When did this happen we are not preparing our kids to enter the world with a broad range of knowledge to act as a foundation to support them in the choices and decisions they will need to make.
We also have some fantastically dedicated and brilliant teachers and then we have well some who aren't. The teacher is a vital element in society and we’ve all heard “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”, but teachers are actively instilling in our kids the educational experiences that will see them through life, they are nearly as powerful.
Teaching is a hard job but it should be a vocation not a job and the best teachers love doing it, which is true in most areas of life.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

CrowdSourcing and Outsourcing - Beat the Recession

Much of SecondTeacher.com is graphics and videos and design in general. Now design paid for local is great, you get quick easy access to professionals and anything goes wrong he's just down the road...but it's also very expensive.
We at SecondTeacher.com have made use of a few different outsourcing techniques to get the best quality design at the best prices.
First we used CrowdSpring.com to get our logo done. CrowdSpring is a system where by you post a job of work (in this case design a logo) with a spec of the requirements and then specifiy a price. Then over the next 7-14 days you get submissions which are near complete logos. You comment on each one as they come in, the idea being that each new idea might spark a bit of competition in the "crowd" and you end up with in effect 100's of designers working on your logo.
CrowdSpring is great and the "crowd" designer works really well. But it is limited in what you can get done in CrowdSpring and the lowest price of around $300 is much higher then some other sites for a big design job it's a winner.
We have used Elance.com for much of our other design jobs mainly because they are small in value. Elance is more a traditional outsourcing site. You submit a job and a price range and then professionals from all over the world bid to do the job. You can see portfolios and references for each bidder and you really get the best price because of the auction like process. Sometimes though a winning bidder doesn't work out and you may have to re-submit to get a better professional but generally they are very good.
We have used Elance to get brochures, flyers, postcards, banners, videos even website coding done and most of the time it has been a success. The key to using Elance is to break the jobs up into small chunks as for the money you're paying you really can't expect someone to take a task and run with it you need to spell out exactly what it is you want done.
We've also used sites to get stock photography, stock video and stock audio to get the job done. There are now outsourcing and crowdsouring services for everytrhing and anything e.g. www.NameThis.com - Get the "Crowd" to come up with a name for something. Amazon's Mechanical Turk - An on-demand human workforce, where you can define a task and get real people to perform it.
My advice to anyone is that with a little effort and thought there is a web provider out there who will do any task you want done at a fraction of the price of a local provider and better quality too.

Monday, September 21, 2009

SEO Is a Bit of a Game

I'm new to the game that is SEO and my opinion is that it kind of makes a mockery of the standard search results. There is an industry built up trying to convince primarily google that the sites they manage are the de-facto source of the information the planet is looking for.
This is obviously nonsense.
There are millions of websites out there with no effort made to make them more "crawler" friendly and they contain great content. Many small time operators just do not know that this is how it works. They believe if they create a good website the googlebot will pick them up and rank them accordingly. Any search engine that can actually do this is an absolute winner but there are none and I doubt there ever will be because whatever algorithms the search engines use the SEO industry will warp to get their sites on top.
Now eventually a small operator may begin to break into the results after time and alot of very good content and a loyal audience but then a new young savy startup will come along spend the SEO dollars and jump to the top again with a fraction of the content and a negligable audience but because of manipulation of tags and links will be made to look like the new source of all knowledge to the googlebot.
In my opinion the search engines using link counts as an important factor is flawed. Links in blogs and forums and various directories can all be manipulated to make a site look pervasive.There should be a definate manually defined ranking system for links to grade them which I'm sure they try to do but if the SEO experts can still through slight of hand get a site well ranked then it's just not working well enough.
Who am I to preach I'm jumping on the same bandwagon, sure this blog was originally concieved as a source of potential links too.....but sure hey what can you do.

Building a Scalable Website

SecondTeacher is a website which will have very definate peaks in loads that are easy to predict. This is a great advantage in building the website but it also poses some challenges.
First we want to run the site efficently and on a budget that doesn't comprimise quality and user experience. We know the site will be busiest between 3pm and 9pm when the majority of students do their homework. In planning for peak load of say 20,000 concurrent users we can evaluate how much each machine can comfortably manage, imagine it's 1,000. We will then need 20 machines load balanced to operate the site. Correct ....?
Well no, we can do alot better than that and we also have a few concerns in relation to bandwidth usage. 20,000 people watching a 500kps video concurrently will need a hell of a lot of bandwidth if our 1,000 users per machine are all watching video then we would be pushing 500mps. Most hosters will only give you a 100mps burst capable pipe at a reasonable price so suddenly at best our machine can only handle 200 users meaning we now need 100 machines to cope....this is getting expensive.
Well our solution was up in the clouds.
First off we pushed all images and video to Amazon cloudfront which allows us to put all these objects on the edge locations close to the customer and also they are served from there meaning they do now clog up our bandwidth. This means we are now only in effect serving html and the silverlight controls now bandwidth is no longer a limiting factor. Now we're back to 1,000 per machine if anyone is keeping count.
Next we implemented our servers in the Amazon EC2 cloud meaning we could using there elastic computing model expand and contract our resources as we wanted to and only pay for the resources we use. This means that at 4pm on a school day we can run 20 machines but at 2am we only need run 1 machine to keep the service available for the desperate or slow students doing they're homework at this time. Our peak hours are only 30 hours per week the rest of the time 1 machine is enough. This reduces our resource costs to an average of just over 3 machines compared to the 20 we'd need to run if we went the traditional route.
But this is not all about cost, there are big advantages too in using the the Amazon cloud 1) Amazon engineers working 24/7 to keep the cloud up 2) Multiple Redundant storage and backup built in 3) No more concerns about hardware issues, if a machine goes down just start a new one. 4) Fully scalable e.g. if all our Christmases come at once and 100,000 try to access SecondTeacher in the morning instead of a technical disaster I can just fire up another 100 instances and the user experience is the same as ever.
I'm banking on the cloud to become the way of the future and I'm not alone.
Check out Amazon webservices for yourself Amazon Web Sevices

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Adding the Standards

We're in the process here of adding all the state standards to the video content we have. This new feature will enable a user to just click on the State Standard button on any video and the applicable State Standards will popup. Great!

But it really got us thinking about the State Standards and what value they bring to the table. These standards are quite old now not having changed in years and they also give me the impression that it's all a little to presciptive in the messages and techniques that math is taught in schools.

The state standards are all well in good on there own but to have them as visual as being in every students textbook at the start of each chapter and written on the board in class implies to me that students are meant to be aided by this, I find this very hard to believe. Personally I think this is bureaucracy too far and there is no place in the classroom for state standards. Let the teacher teach and let the students try to get into math without all this red tape making it look much more complicated than it really is.

I’ll give you an example, Do you really think this Standard helps a student? It is the 6th Grade Number Sense 1.2 Standard for California

“1.2 Interpret and use ratios in different contexts (e.g., batting averages, miles per hour) to show the relative sizes of two quantities, using appropriate notations”

Now if that doesn’t make a topic sound more complicated than it really is I don’t know what does!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Welcome to SecondTeacher

Hello Everyone

Welcome to our new blog. We want to use this as a record of our efforts to make Math Homework easy too and to announce any new features or changes on SecondTeacher.

We have launched a new online service called www.SecondTeacher.com which we hope will give students a chance to get math. We have tried our best to make the service as simple and easy to use as we can. We're teachers who love to teach and we want to try to help as many students of math as possible.

Any comments and thoughts would be greatly appreciated and we look forward to try to help.


Robert Doyle