Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How Parents Can Use

Or...I didn't get Geometry when I took it twenty years ago. How I am I supposed to help my kid with her homework now?

School is harder now than it was when I was a teenager. A number of people agree with me that we could not get into our colleges if we were high school students applying now. With more content, more demands, and more standardized tests, kids are given too much to do. To be successful, most kids need to learn at home as well as in school. That means they either need to do extra reading in the textbook (yeah, right), get a tutor (at $50-$100 an hour), or ask mom and dad for help.

The problem is that most parents' academic mastery tops out around 10th grade - for Math it is often 8th grade.

One of the reasons I started was to help the parents. We are increasingly required to help our children with homework even though we have not seen the content in years. That means that most parents have to read the textbook before they can help with homework, which usually does not fit in their busy schedule.

The pressure is even greater for families that homeschool. Many parents feel confident teaching their children in the early grades but worry when the subjects are more advanced. I wonder how many families homeschooled through elementary and middle school but enroll their children in high school for academics, even though the social and societal pressures in high school were one of the reasons they homeschooled in the first place.

I wanted to create a place where parents could watch short lessons taught by great teachers with their students. After all, a parent should be nearby any time their child is watching something online. When the parents and students watch together, the parent can easily answer questions or check the homework when the student is finished. It is also nice for parents to be able to share some time with their kids and keep up with what they are doing in school.

It reminds me of my years in the classroom teaching 8th grade English. When I covered grammar and punctuation, one or two parents each year would say, "My writing is terrible. I wish I could sit in one your class." Now they can.

Try our most popular unit on Pre-Algebra for free.

Monday, November 16, 2009

My Teacher is on;
How do I Watch?

If you are a student of a Clickademics teacher, you can watch his or her lessons for free. Here is how:
1. Get the password from your teacher.

2. Go to and click on the "Teachers" tab.

3. Click on the button that reads "Click Here".

4. You will be asked for a password.

Enter the password that your teacher has given to you.

5. Create a User Name and enter an email address.
Be sure to let your folks know before entering personal information on any website.

6. Check your email. You will find your new log in information.
Click on the "Log In" button and enter the User Name and Password that we emailed to you.

7. You are now ready to review your teacher's lesson any time. Just click on the "Teachers" tab again to find a list of your teacher's lessons.

8. In the future when you want to watch,
click on the "Log In" button,
enter your Username and Password that was emailed to you,
click on the "Teachers" tab, and
click on the list of his or her lessons.

Monday, November 9, 2009

How Students Can Use

The problem with school is that it happens at school.

In the old days, memorization was an important part of school. Students would be given lists of terms, names, dates, and other facts which they would commit to memory before the test. Now that technology has made fact retrieval instantaneous with the phone in your pocket, it is the skills that are most important. Students don't need to know facts, they need to know what to do with the facts.

The problem is that skills are harder to learn than facts. You can memorize a list of state capitals, but to know how to write an essay for history, you need to practice. And if you get stuck, you need someone to help.

However, when school happens at school, the best person to help is at school. Your teacher is not sitting next to you at 10:00 the night before your essay is due. Help with academics skills should be as easy to find as facts are.

We created so that students could get help when they need it, not when the teacher schedules a lecture. We want to fill a number of needs:
  • With more teachers providing project-based learning, students often need to use skills that that were covered in class weeks or months earlier. Students can brush up on the basics on our site when they need it.
  • Every teacher has a teaching style, which is usually they way he or she learns best. This does not always match a student's learning style. Some students need to see a concept taught a couple of different ways before they can truly understand it. Hearing a lesson in class and following it with the same topic on our site from a different teacher can help.
  • Standardized tests are not fair. They cover years' worth or material on one day. Students are tested on math that they have not studied in two or three years. Our site is a great place for Calculus and Trigonometry students to review Algebra and Geometry concepts that could be on exit exams and college entrance exams.
  • Most people would rather watch online video than read textbooks
  • Much of the video out there is poor quality and not easy to watch.
So let our experienced teachers help when and where you need it.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Classroom Lectures are so Twentieth Century

As I have said before and will definitly say again, our school system is stuck in the past; in the 1970s at best, in the 1950s at worst.

The idea of students sitting in straight rows while the teacher lectures was great when school was meant to create good soldiers and factory workers. However, while soldiers now need to be quick and adaptable, and factory jobs are rapidly going oversees, the schools are late catch up.

Everyone talks about how the twenty-first century classroom needs to be more authentic, more project-based, but few have found a good way to implement it. Yes, I want students to be good at problem solving since memorizing is pointless in this age of instant information retrieval. However, sometimes teachers just need to teach, and there are basic concepts that students need to learn. And many of these skills are difficult or impossible to learn through projects, discovery, or exploration.

Since there are not enough hours in the school year to do it all, I propose putting the lectures online - on my website for instance - and save the classroom for group projects and hands-on learning. A student can learn the quadratic formula alone just as well, if not better, than in a room full of students. If the teacher is going to speak uninterrupted for half an hour anyway, you might as well put it on film. Let the students watch it on their laptops or cell phones the way they want as many times as they need. Save the classroom for question and answer and true project-based learning.

A mid-project assessment (read: quiz) will reveal any students who did not grasp the content, and the teacher can direct them back to the online lesson and to an after-school help session. Even better, the database of online videos could be so broad that the struggling students could watch a couple of other teachers explaining the same concept but in a different style that might reach the student better.

Students need spaced repetition to truly learn, but there is not enough time in the school day for all of that to take part in the classroom. Put it on the web and let a database track who is watching their lessons.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Why principals should watch Harry Potter

Ask most Elementary or Jr. High students if they would like to attend Hogwarts, and you will likely get an excited "yes". Of course, their primary reason would be to learn magic - learn invisibility so that they could spy on their friends and shoplift - but it is also because it is a good school.

I have been watching some of the early Harry Potter movies on television lately since the new film is in theaters. I have noticed that the school does not just mirror traditional British schools, but it also can be a model for change for our schools. Here are some ways how American schools should be more like Hogwarts Academy.

1. Hands-on, project-based learning. Though the teachers still lecture, it is always to prepare the students for practicing spells themselves. The classroom scenes always show the teacher explaining the task, modeling it, and providing guided practice. In this way there is a high risk/high reward environment with enough support to ensure success.
2. Learning that is applicable to real life. The skills that the students learn usually, and sometimes too conveniently, pay off later in the adventure. It is not perfect since the students still groan about essays and exams, but students are motivated by the fact that their lessons will pay off in the real world.
3. A sense of belonging. By dividing the students into the four houses, Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Slytherin, the school gives every student a place where they are on the inside. Adolescents have a need find their identity, and that is usually done by fitting in with a group. It also means that many are left on the outside. Even the way that the teachers reward and punish the house for the actions of individuals solidifies the tight knit group.
4. Uniforms
5. Rigorous but caring faculty. it is something that students do not realize until long after school; they love challenging teachers. Not just difficult teachers. Ones that push students to do their best by asking a little bit more than the student thinks he or she can do. Almost all of the teachers at Hogwarts have high expectations, eliciting love and loyalty from the students. One of the few exceptions, Professor Gilderoy Lockhart played by Kenneth Branagh, is easy yet incompetent, and the students hate him.

So maybe schools should not look down at Rowlings's books and view them as a model for their schools instead.

New Format

I have not written in this blog for a couple of months because it was simply turning into a place where I documented some of my experiences building the Clickademics site, but a blog is not the place for that. Thus, I neglected it.

However, I was reading the Occam's Razor blog of Avanash Kaushik, and he made an interesting point. A blog should be written more like a book than a diary. No one wants to read journal about work, but book written in installments would be worth reading.

After fourteen years of teaching, I have some definite thoughts about the education system and why it needs to change. My time would be much better spent writing about how school could be much more effective, especially if online video sites like mine are part of that.

Friday, April 24, 2009

April 24, 2009

I finally feel like I am gaining some momentum in my project.

During Spring Break, I finally filmed some other teachers. Filming my own lectures is fine, but I needed to get other teachers on board to see if this is going to work.

First, our friend Lizzie was in town an filmed a math lecture with me. She has won awards for her teaching and is really committed to helping her students. I edited her first lesson on multiplying fractions and posted it on the site. Unfortunately, I unknowingly lost a piece of a video file that threw off the beginning of the lesson. Worse still, someone else caught it, but at least I was able to fix it.

Second, a friend of a friend recommended a science teacher in Santa Barbara. I drove up on April 18th and filmed three chemistry lessons. It went really well, and I think that he would like to film more in the future.

I have a few other teachers who are busy now but say that they would like to film later, probably summer. Hopefully, I can line up a few teachers before the summer so that I can film like crazy while the teachers have time.

Now I just have to edit all of the footage. 

Thursday, March 26, 2009

March 26, 2009

Things are progressing nicely. Since the beginning of the year, I have been searching for contributing teachers, and I am finally getting some positive results.

I realized in February that the email blast to strangers was not going to work. I have emailed about 100 teachers: two have replied with no commitment, and a third says he is interested after finals.

However, approaching friends (and friends of friends) is working nicely. I have dates in the calendar for a math teacher and a chemistry teacher. I have a four English and two Math teachers who would like to contribute when they have more time.

I suspect that summer and vacations will be very busty times for me since that is when teachers can film most easily. The rest of the year will be spent on the site and on marketing.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

February 12, 2009

In my quest to make my website completely DIY, I have tried two new things this week.

First, I made my first Flash animation. I had played around with Flash a few months ago and worked through some tutorials, but this was the first animation I have completed. I used it to tell a story in my "Commas in Items in a Series" lesson ( I was really happy with the result, even if it is a little rough.

Secondly, I am going to try and write an iPhone app. I have always thought that students would like to watch my content on their mobile devices, and an iPhone app is much cooler than just a mobile wing to my website, which I will do sometime as well. I bought a couple of books and found a few video tutorial websites. My goal is to watch a video and work through a chapter each day, kind of like going to a class.

Lastly, I emailed a few more teachers today, letting them know about the site and asking if they would like to join. No replies yet, but we will see tomorrow.

Friday, January 16, 2009

January 16, 2009

Exciting times here at Clickademics.

I am ready to take the next step on my website, gathering content.

Until now, I have been filming my own lectures in my own house. I am presently hunting for teachers to contribute their lectures. Early next week, I will send out an email to 100 teachers in the area inviting them to be a part of the website. I even found a large, quiet room where I can film - for free.

I am hoping to line up a number of teachers for the next two months of Saturdays. If I can do all of my filming on Saturdays, then I can edit all week. I would be able to gather a lot of content quickly.

If I can book a number of Saturdays, I can find some friends or old students to be my assistants. That should make it a lot easier.

I cannot wait to see the responses to my email.

Monday, January 5, 2009

January 5, 2009

I have not had much to document because I took the holidays off. We had so much to do between Thanksgiving and New Years, that I did very little to my website.

However, January should be a busy time for me. The website is built, and I have a few videos finished on the site, so this new year is the time to go out and find contributors. First, I have to finalize my business plan with the help of my wife, and then I will start calling all the teachers that I can. 

My goal is to find either teachers who are excited to make big contributions to the site, or talented math and science teachers who will give me enough lectures to make a package that families will want to purchase. 

My brother-in-law had a good idea. Instead of just posting any old videos, I should approach it as problem solving. Whatever academic subject it is, I should find the ten topics that are most troublesome to students and create lectures that solve those problems. After all, students and parents will come to the site hoping to solve problems, not just to be entertained.