It matters: Help your kids plan challenging courses next semester

Parents know when Spring time is coming. The days get longer, the allergies flare up, and students start stressing out over registering for next year’s classes.

The stress may come from a number of factors: Will my friends and I get the same teacher? How many advanced classes, if any, should I sign up for? Is this schedule too challenging or too easy?

Since 2006, the number of students taking Advanced Placement classes has nearly doubled to over a million. With universities steadily becoming more competitive by the year, students must be aware of  what a course load tells college admissions reviewers. Hopefully his/her guidance counselors have emphasized this already. But just in case, here’s how to have the conversation at dinner.

Don’t make assumptions/accusations about free time

A student’s course load, over time, tells a story. Ideally, the student will choose classes that progressively become more challenging — showing that they are open to growth. However, that’s just one piece of the puzzle. Students may opt for less strenuous classes if they feel their GPA would suffer otherwise, or they’re taking on more extracurricular activities, or even a part-time job.

While we of course want our students to push the boundaries of knowledge and growth, we must be careful to not shut down communication by attacking their lifestyles. If a student wants to take it easy on certain courses next semester, try not to reply with something cutting like,

Maybe if you played less video games, you’d have time to study for Calculus.

Instead, think of ways (s)he can make more time to study for a more difficult (and rewarding!) course. It’s an opportunity to discuss restructuring their time management, and how you can help them succeed in with more challenging classes.

Speaking of stress…

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These are tough decisions.

Figure out which courses specifically add to their stress

Students who have had poor experiences with a class tend to develop long-term aversions toward the subject in general. It’s no wonder why a student who struggled with Geometry might decide their brains can’t process math well, and coast by on the lowest-level math courses the rest of high school.

Pinpoint what subjects bring up the mental barriers first. Address them, and then weigh the cost-benefit analysis of whether the student can surpass the challenge. There are plenty of digital resources to provide online tutoring whenever they need it.

Establish positive expectations

Remember that students can be their own harshest critics. It’s up to us to let them know they have support and confidence behind them.

However, it’s equally important that students know that they have complete control over their future. Encourage them to ask themselves questions about what they want. Perhaps the most important question when deciding courses is not just, what do you want to show college admissions?

In fact, the more important question is, how would YOU judge yourself looking at this course load? In the end, students need to step back and look objectively at how their classes look on paper. Does it show that they pursued their interest? If it shows they took a less rigorous schedule, can they show that they made it up elsewhere?

 

If it looks like they took the foot off the pedal, let them know that college admissions won’t be able to see their greatness unless they let it show on paper.

Good luck navigating the testy waters of class registration — it’s just one leg of the journey towards graduation and beyond!

Mom joins her daughter’s college math class, discovers the tool to success

Parents often share their kids’ math anxiety. Even if students have the same calculus we learned back in the day, it’s still stressful if we can’t offer much help when they struggle with homework.

But one mom defied mental (and physical) odds when she joined her daughter in a basic math class at Fullerton College in Orange County, California.

She hadn’t sat in a classroom in twenty years.

An article in the OC Register features Marie Anderson, a woman in her 40’s who tested out of high school to join the workforce before becoming a mother of two. She climbed the corporate ladder before she was diagnosed with an incurable autoimmune disease that took her job and home.

Still, she eventually gained her strength back, and had a new desire to join her daughter in summer classes. Math was still tough:

Daughter often tutored mother outside of class, explaining equations, rules and concepts. Anderson returned the favor when she could, with things such as fractions and word problems. The two regularly sat at the kitchen table and quizzed each other on terms written on flash cards.

Study buddies, Pimental called them.

The semester “bonded us,” she added. “I felt much closer to her knowing she was going to be there to support me.”

Ok, we know most parents don’t have the time to enroll in math class with our students. But there’s still a valuable lesson in communicating about homework:

Be as invested in their studies as you’d like them to be.

Be curious; have your son or daughter explain concepts to you. Studies show that students learn more deeply about a subject if they can teach it to someone else. Have your student play the role of tutor, and you may both learn something (and it may not just be about math!)

However, even with open modes of communication, math was still challenging for Anderson. The academic stress triggered her illness, so she would make herself “sick being stressed out about school.”

Thankfully, she found a resource that saved her: an internet-based program through the college that provides tutors and online resources to improve math skills.

“Part of what we do is meet with students one-on-one to help them see that they come to college with a wealth of knowledge and experience,” said Michelle Garcia, SDSI manager. “We want them to learn how to apply that knowledge they’ve gained to college, to give themselves the opportunity to experience new ways of learning.”

Twice a week for two summer months, Anderson in 2015 worked with tutors who implored her to attack her weaknesses.

Anderson trusted the process and eventually aced her Math 129 class – which gears students for business calculus. She hopes to continue her studies onto UC Berkeley and start her own part-time business.

Props to you, Mama Anderson!

With the proven style of one-to-one tutoring, she was able to overcome the stress barriers of her math coursework. The fact is, individualized teaching can fill gaps that even family can’t replace.

Not all online tutoring services are made the same, however. For example, Yup really focuses on learning, as tutors don’t give students quick answers. We train our tutors on our pedagogy codeveloped with Stanford professors and every session focuses on 3 core dimensions.

The first dimension is student engagement.

We want to build off existing knowledge. Our sessions start by saying something like,

Hey ___ , welcome to Yup. Let’s work on your problem together. What have you done so far?

The second dimension is building confidence and creating growth mindsets.

Our tutors are trained to use language that encourages students and helps build confidence in their own abilities. We say things like, “Almost there! :)” or “Nice try!” rather than, “no thats wrong,” when a student makes a mistake. This gets session to go from 10 minutes on average to 30 minutes on average.

The last dimension is checking for conceptual understanding.

When the student and tutor finish the problem, the tutor will say something like,

Hey, great job on that one. But let’s try another problem. Instead of 4x +7, what if the problem was 9x + 3? Can you try solving that?

This lets us ensure students have mastered the concept. We evaluate every session to measure learning and hold tutors accountable to student outcomes.

Check out the app here.

Math anxiety is real – but scientifically manageable. Here’s how:

Parents often hear the same dinner table response to the question, “how was school?”

“Fine.”

Fine can mean uneventful, but for students experiencing math-induced anxiety, fine can mean many things: sweating and squirming as the teacher hands out a test; feeling like the world is coming down as she returns the graded test back. There are untold stories of breakdowns, hours of unnecessary stressing over homework, and even hiding low scores.

The worst part about anxiety in students is their difficulty in explaining it to others – even family and teachers.

But how can parents help?

Let’s first look at what students are battling with. As online math tutors, many students approach us with two common problems:

  1. I study hard during the week but on the day of the test, I freeze up on the questions.

  2. I put in the hard work studying, but my scores always fall short.

Both of these problems can get in your head and become toxic once test day arrives. But recently, scientists have shown that it’s often the student’s mindset – not necessarily the work ethic – that gets in the way:

Understanding the issue can be a kind of chicken-and-egg problem, however. Does math anxiety cause low performance, or do skill problems trigger the stress? The two probably feed on each other, Vukovic says. Indeed, she argues, if low math knowledge were the only issue, building up those skills should erase the problem. Instead, research shows, simply dealing with the anxiety can improve math performance. That suggests that anxiety alone can sabotage math performance, regardless of someone’s skills.

Various researchers found that when you pair math with anxiety, you not only experience memory loss but PHYSICAL PAIN as well. Students already have to endure Physical Education; let’s not add more pain to the syllabus.

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Math can hurt.

Behavioral researchers in one article found positive results when students participated in expressive writing (jotting down their emotions about a test for seven minutes) versus just stewing in silence over their anxiety. The same article suggested that students and their families destress by using an app that incorporates math with their bedtime stories.

So the results seem clear. Two of the best ways of working through math anxiety are:

1) Self-expression

2) Making math feel like a familiar part of your daily life

That’s where online tutoring apps come in. While homework is an inevitable daily staple of student life, it becomes a large contributor to math anxiety. If you had a resource on hand that could connect you with a 1-to-1 tutor whenever you need one, then you’ve taken care of both issues: a user-friendly interface with open communication.

Download the Yup app here.

Will Artificial Intelligence replace tutors in the future?

In case you haven’t noticed the trend in movies and series (see: Ex Machina and Black Mirror), the message is clear: Artificial Intelligence will soon become an inevitable part of daily life – whether we like it or not.

As part of this trend, EdTech writer Neil Jarrett recently suggested the ways AI will revolutionize the classroom as we know it. One big way is the shift in how students could use chatbots to understand school material:

Ai driven chatbots are the marketing tool of now, letting brands interact intelligently with consumers through their website or Facebook Messenger. While these bots are designed to produce a specific conversion (inbound traffic to that brand’s website, ordering a product, etc), this same technology can be used for education.

A chatbot within an edtech platform, powered by robust machine learning algorithms, could be able to give students direction and tips on specific types of problems, or connect them with the exact educational resource they need in seconds. This definitely explains why Bill Gates is pouring a fair bit of his fortune into developing education chatbots (3).

As always, Bill’s on to something here. Most of this generation has received academic instruction from a computer, and has used an electronic database for research. But what about when software can provide human-like responses and mimic teacher-student interactions?

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For example, if you run into a difficult math problem on your homework, chatbots can theoretically be a game changer. But there are many factors to consider:

Can chatbots build a rapport with students?

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AI has discrete learning capabilities, but how well can it tap into what a student already knows about their specific problem? Building trust is hard enough to do with human tutors; it’s also a key indicator as to why a student is seeking help: without a level of human interaction, what keeps a student feeling accountable to the integrity of their work?

Can chatbots give students confidence?

It may sound corny, but it’s proven that students perform better when they receive positive reinforcement during individualized tutoring sessions. It’s simple to program phrases like, “keep going, you’re almost there!” into a chatbot’s algorithm. However, AI’s conversational patterns have a ways to go before it can recognize a student’s learning process by the way he/she approaches a problem.

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Can chatbots provide mastery of learning?

How will the AI know when it’s leading you to the answer too quickly without explaining the steps to get there? How can it confirm that the student truly grasps the underlying concepts – so that he/she can apply them to similar problems in a quiz?

These questions are what we already ask of our human private tutors who operate online. As Bill Gates stated in a recent interview,

…There are online services where human tutors walk kids through their math lessons. But by using chatbots, a major area of investment for companies like Facebook and Microsoft, these robo-tutors have the potential to be free — while simultaneously reaching millions of kids.

Until chatbots start eliminating the need for human private instructors, human-operated services like Yup will use the most optimal way of one-to-one learning: world-class human tutors leveraging technology to engage as many students as possible. What a time to be alive!

 

Schools and parents are using Uber to get kids to school. What if there was a similar app for tutors?

An isolated community college in Massachusetts made national news when its president decided she had enough with students paying for Uber rides to get to class.

“Because we have such a significant number of middle-income and lower-income students, having public transportation makes the difference between coming to college or not.”

President Gentile is baffled by the idea that her students can get to the mall, but not to school, and she’s in good company.

“Students really are leaving because of seemingly non-academic reasons like transportation,” says Melinda Karp, Assistant Director of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College.

“They’re balancing work and school, they’re balancing family, and they’re commuters,” but when colleges provide the kinds of support systems that can “make life feasible,” Karp says, students are more likely to stay in school.

Most students are lucky enough to have access to numerous bus stops, carpooling, bikes. But what happens when the options fail? When there’s inclement weather? If it’s late at night or on the weekend, there’s still an Uber driver on call to get you where you need to go.

Yup is no different.

With the right conditions, all the perfect scenarios of learning come into play when you introduce mobile tutoring to a student. A world-class educator can instantly be at your service – whenever you need it – without you having to leave your desk (or bed, or back seat of your car).

Mobile tutors are patient, and Yup tutors don’t just give you the answer; they find where your troubles are and break it down for you until you understand the concepts thoroughly. Right there in the chat screen.

If parents embraced this kind of learning supplement the same way they’ve taken to Uber, their kids could breeze through math homework instead of paying for long hourly tutoring expenses and hauling their kids to a central location for sessions.

When you get to college, making it to class or to a study session becomes increasingly difficult with a cozy dorm room and the fact that it’s 7 AM. Mobile 1-to-1 tutoring gives you the best kind of learning freedom: pajama freedom.

A cheesy early-2000’s one hit wonder song went like this:

A thousand miles seems pretty far
But they’ve got planes and trains and cars
I’d walk to you if I had no other way

The Plain White Tees weren’t talking about their cross-country lover Delilah. They were talking about the regular tutor they desperately needed before a final exam. Those were the flip-phone days.

Now you have the App Store. Let’s get learning.

Many kids believe their brains just can’t process math. Here’s how you can prove them wrong.

Doubt can be a dangerous enemy… and not just for students.

Take back-to-back MVP basketball player Stephen Curry for example. He didn’t make a single three-pointer in last week’s game. He could have stopped shooting the ball so often… but then he scored 13 three-pointers the next game, breaking the NBA record.

Elon Musk spent all his investors’ money failing to launch three different rockets. He could have listened to the nagging voice in his head saying, “hey man, maybe outer space isn’t your thing.”

Then he launched his fourth rocket successfully and NASA gave him over a billion dollars.

While the odds were clearly not in favor of either of these men, and their outcomes are statistical anomalies, their stories tell a universal truth for students struggling with math class: you’re only as good as you tell yourself you are.

One UCLA professor sought to find out why we tell ourselves that our brains are only geared to think a certain way. How do we rationalize the idea that we’re somehow genetically bad at math? He came up with three strategies that can help students with self-doubting tendencies:

1. Work, work, work, work…

The first, pioneered by the Stanford social psychology professor Carol Dweck … aims to change students’ mind-sets by showing them that their intelligence can grow through deliberate work.

A cohort of sixth-grade students was taught, in eight lessons, that intelligence is malleable, not fixed, and that the brain is a muscle that grows stronger with effort. Their math grades, which had been steadily declining, rose substantially, while the grades of classmates who learned only about good study habits continued to get worse.

Basically, Rihanna hit the nail on the head: “work work work… learn learn learn.”

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Most students’ frustration comes with the feeling that no matter what they do, something blocks their success: the teacher always looks down on them, their friends will laugh at them, or they feel they just don’t belong in the class.

We can help students fight these negative impulses by making sure their homework is meaningful and manageable. That the work they put in outside of the classroom will directly translate to success during examination. Pinpoint areas of struggle and make sure they aren’t just working hard but efficiently as well.

2. Speak their language

The second uses constructive critical feedback to instill trust in minority adolescents, a demonstrably powerful way to advance their social and intellectual development.

Much like the first strategy, this is why access to 1-to-1 learning is so important to a student’s developmental capacity. Specialized teaching, with patience and positive reinforcement can only happen when an instructor has time to interact and problem-solve directly with the student.

Mobile tutoring apps like Yup are the best conduit to the kind of tailored feedback students need to solve problems. Whenever they hit a wall doing homework and can’t necessarily call their teacher at night (or can’t afford a regular tutor for just small questions), world-class tutors are available to look at the problem at the push of a button. They figure out where the student needs help and works them through the concept.

3. What really matters?

The third intervention — and in some ways, the most powerful — invites students to acknowledge their self-worth, combating the corrosive effects of racial stereotypes, by having them focus on a self-affirming value.

In a series of short written exercises, sixth graders wrote about values that were meaningful to them, like spending time with their family and friends. After this experience, white students did no better, but their black and Latino classmates improved so much that the achievement gap shrank by 40 percent.

Students face endless social media distractions. On Instagram and Facebook feeds, it’s easy to disconnect and escape from our personal values when looking at how someone else lives her life. Having your kids spend time articulating what truly matters to them can go a long way in helping them visualize success.

On their own, ‘studying’ and ‘homework’ don’t usually come to mind when students think of personally meaningful activities. They are important ways to achieve success, but it’s still work. The Yup app is an interesting tool to use in this exercise because when students can finish their homework more efficiently, they have more time to focus on fulfilling their personal goals. Sure, they’ll also do better on tests, but that only grows their confidence that much more.

Mobile app tutors are the missing part of the equation

Sprint just announced the launch of its 1Million Project, which will provide mobile devices (along with high speed internet connection) to one million disadvantaged high school students across the country. The program is in line with the federal government’s initiative to increase educational access to low-income households.

But will this effort effectively shorten the “homework gap” that currently hinders students without access to proper after-school help?

Millions of families currently cannot afford to keep a broadband connection at home, so introducing both the device and the data eliminates virtually all cost barriers to reaching the web.

Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure said:

…the internet is an incredibly powerful tool for learning. But it’s a huge problem in America that we have 5 million households with children that lack internet connections. Those kids have a huge disadvantage and we are failing them.

By the start of the 2017-2018 school year, one million kids will have a data-enabled smartphone, tablet or laptop in their hands. Everyone’s happy, right?

Not so fast.

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Many sociologists and education policy wonks have noted that bridging the digital divide doesn’t necessarily address the growing ‘digital inequality’ in our students.

Putting an iPhone in a student’s hand won’t empower them to study.When looking at the full context of a kid’s life circumstances, skills, support groups and intangible factors like confidence and grit, we can understand that not all beneficiaries of this program will be adequately prepared for its intended purpose.

Who’s to say a student won’t go straight to the pawn shop after receiving their phone just to buy dinner?

Only when students see the immense power education can have in changing their lives, will they foster the curiosity to use the internet for informative purposes.

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That’s where mobile tutoring apps come into play. With the daily social frustrations facing children from low-income backgrounds, academics can prove to be an even higher mountain to climb. But when you introduce a one-to-one tutoring style, the increased attention can make confidence skyrocket.

Now imagine a one-to-one tutor (from institutions like MIT and Stanford) available 24/7 on your kid’s mobile device. No car, no long-term fees. Just student and tutor, chipping away at the “impossible” homework problem in math/chemistry/physics.

Otherwise, kids are gonna get all these free phones and just look at memes all day.

 

How This College Senior Helped Hundreds of Freshmen on Facebook

As online tutors, we love stories of students using social media to enhance their educational experiences. When we heard about a UCLA student who became online-famous in his community for helping others through Facebook, we tracked him down and learned what all the hype was about.

If you check out the class page for any university, you’re likely to find thousands of freshmen asking between-the-line questions that aren’t really answered in the orientation packets they get in the mail: What’s the best chemistry class to take if you’re not in pre-med? Are local air conditioning units allowed in dorms? What Greek organization should I rush?

Students post these questions in the hope that a stranger out in cyberspace has some insight. At UCLA, one senior has taken the concept to a new level.

1f58ba3Winn Hyunh is the fourth-year chemistry student behind the “PenQuin” Facebook account, which has gained meme-like popularity in the Bruins community. He recently received the Chancellor’s Service Award, which honors graduating students who have made unique and significant contributions.

Behind the generic profile picture of a penguin, Winn has made it his mission to equip students with his experiences with financial aid, enrollment, housing, textbooks, orientation and job searching. He conducts research and responds within the hour to hundreds of incoming questions.

We chatted with Winn about the challenges behind being a first-generation college student, making friends at school, and the distracting effects of the internet.

If you could change one thing about your freshman year, what would it be?

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