Peer Tutoring Like Never Before

Posted on October 6, 2010. Filed under: Mathematics, Middle School |

by Tim Cushman

There is a large body of educational research on the value of peer tutoring.  See The Access Center’s research on peer tutoring for math and other research on best practices here.  Why don’t teachers us the approach more often?  There are many answers to that question but I think that both sides would agree that one of the challenges is getting the right pairing of students for effective peer tutoring on a consistent basis.  One teacher in California looked beyond his classroom walls and to the Internet to address this issue. is the work of Eric Marcos and the students of Lincoln Middle School in Santa Monica, California.  The students use screen capture software to create tutorials about what they are learning.  The videos are then reviewed, and if needed, edited by a math teacher.  Since the videos are social by design, their is an incentive for the student instructor to do their best since they are creating for and receiving comments from an audience of fellow middle schoolers worldwide.

Your students can create their own tutorials and submit them to Mathtrain.  Need screencasting software?  Jing from Techsmith, CamStudio (open source software), and the screen recording tools native to both Promethean and SMART software are all no cost options.

Mr. Marcos is to be applauded for this venture.  He has created a means for getting his students to reflect on their learning in a way that a math journal never can.  He is also making a contribution to the greater educational community in the process that we all benefit from. 

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The Final Frontiers Get a Little More Accessible

Posted on September 24, 2010. Filed under: Mathematics, Science |

by Tim Cushman

Jules Verne would have liked Robert Ballard.  Verne wrote about the mysteries of the seas while Ballard actually explored them.  Dr. Ballard is best described as an underwater archaeologist; the man who led explorations that uncovered sunken vessels including the Titanic, the Bismarck, and John F. Kennedy’s PT-109.  Robert Ballard has had a long and successful career fueled by curiosity and an interest in using technology to transform how we explore the world around us.  We need more of today’s students to become tomorrow’s  Robert Ballards.  Creating interest in science and technology careers is the purpose of STEM, the Obama administration’s “Educate to Innovate” initiative.  Two tools that bring the depths of the ocean and the expanse of the universe a little closer are Nautilus Live and Worldwide Telescope.

Thanks to the Internet, access to the real-time exploration efforts of scientists like Robert Ballard is now a possibility.  Ballard’s new website, Nautilus Live, provides 24 hour live video and audio streaming from twenty different cameras on board multiple ships and exploration craft.  Engineers will be exploring the Black and Aegean Seas as well as the Pacific in the pursuit of discovering ancient wrecks and learning more about aquatic life.

Microsoft has teamed with NASA to bring the cosmos to life with their Worldwide Telescope project.  The beauty of the Worldwide Telescope is that the vast amount of data and images has been blended together to create a rich visual experience for the user.  Information that has been traditionally limited to scientists working in observatories is now available for free.  The Worldwide Telescope can be download at and includes various tours and tools for engaging astronomers of all ages.

Do you find either of these useful and how has it made learning science, math or technology more relevant?

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You Say Potatoe…

Posted on September 23, 2009. Filed under: Elementary School, English/Language Arts, Foreign Language, General, High School, Mathematics, Middle School, Science, Social Studies/History |

by Tim Van Heule
Distance Learning Coordinator

Education always has some great buzzwords… developmentally appropriate, instructional time, differentiated instruction, etc. But what about virtual field trip?

As the economy continues its downward spiral, virtual field trip is a buzzword that continues to gain popularity. If you can’t take your students to a location, take them via a virtual field trip! But are all virtual field trips created equal? Are there different versions of the virtual field trip, maybe an e-field trip? Are they the same thing, or if there are differences, what are they?

The difference between the two is more a difference in the language. Both allow teachers to take there students to destinations outside of the classroom; however, one is highly interactive while the other is not. What I term as the virtual field trip involves the use of videoconference, incorporating live audio and video communication. This type of virtual field trip is highly engaging, allowing students to speak and interact with content experts (content providers). Does this mean that what I term is the e-field trip is a lesser activity? Absolutely not, both of these activities provide students with valuable  opportunities that enhance the curriculum.

This link (please note this video plays best in Internet Explorer) is an example of a virtual field trip that one of our schools participated in during the 2008-2009 school year. WYFF, our local NBC affiliate, produced this video as they highlighted how teachers are becoming more creative to provide opportunities in the classroom in light of a poor economy. The students connected with the Discovery Center of Springfield as they learned more about magnets during a program titled, Magnet Mania! While I agree that teachers are finding ways to be more creative in light of the current economic situation, I don’t agree that the use of a virtual field trip such as this is only due to economics. Through virtual field trips such as these, our students are able to connect with an expert in the field who reinforces the standards being taught in the classroom.

Unfortunately, not everyone has access to this equipment that allows these connections to occur. You have to ask yourself, “What can I do with my students if we do not have videoconferencing equipment in my school and/or district?” This is where the e-field trip comes in. I’ve always been impressed with eFieldTrips. I think they do a great job of producing interactive web-based content. There programs contain great visuals, appropriate use of audio clips, and the content is appropriate in length. While doing a little research for this post, I also found the Utah Education Network and their Virtual Field Trips.  One thing I really like about this site is that you can tour anything in any of the content areas, and if the content you are searching for is not available, there are links and tutorials for you to create your own virtual field trip that you can share with others. This is a great project that students would find meaningful.

Again, this is just a difference in the meaning of the terminology. I don’t consider one to be more correct than the other. The important thing is that they both provide opportunities to enhance the curriculum while providing engaging opportunities for the students.

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    The School District of Greenville County – Instructional Technology Department


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