Wednesday, April 01, 2015

FaceTime + Stoodle + Desmos = Virtual Algebra Help

Nothing earth-shattering in this post, but I thought I'd share in case it might give someone an idea.

A friend of ours is a 15-year-old freshman at a nearby high school. Unfortunately, she's been dealing with some serious medical issues that have kept her home-bound almost all of this school year. She has a home-bound tutor provided by the school district and is doing her best to try to keep up, but it's tough. Her medical condition causes her to be in pain and often extremely fatigued, so it's very difficult for her.

For the last couple of months I've been trying to go over on the weekends to help her with Algebra, which allows her to concentrate on her other subjects with her district-provided tutor. Because of her fatigue, however, she often has to cancel or cut short our sessions. In an effort to provide more of an "on-demand" option for her, so that I can help her on short notice when she does have some energy (and cutting out the drive time to get to her house and back), I cobbled together a technology solution that, so far, seems to work reasonably well.

Our district is using Agile Mind as the textbook for Algebra, so the text is online. The teacher emails her all the worksheets from both the in-class work and the homework, as well as which parts of Agile Mind they go with when applicable. (I'm not a particularly huge fan of Agile Mind or worksheets but, as worksheets go, these are better than average, with lots of material based on the work of the Charles Dana Center.) She tries to figure out the concepts on her own (she's a talented math student), but it's tough without being in class, so I end up doing a lot of questioning to help with teaching/explaining, as well as just overseeing her procedural work.

This is what we have set up for the virtual option.
  • She FaceTime's me from her iPad to my Mac. She rests her iPad on a stack of books and uses the rear-facing camera to stream video of the worksheet she's working on as she's working on it. I see a reasonably large version on my Mac, and we can talk back and forth. (She can also see me if she wants/needs to.)
  • Since I'm mostly questioning, she does most of the writing, but at times I want her to be able to see something I'm writing (either working out an example, drawing a picture, creating a table, etc.). Since I'm using the Mac's camera for FaceTime, it's not particularly convenient to use paper and then hold it up in front of the iSight camera. So for my writing we use Stoodle. It gives us a simple, shared online whiteboard in real time. (She can write on the Stoodle as well and I can see it, but I didn't want her to then have to copy it to the worksheets that she has to turn in.) I use my wife's or my daughter's iPad to make the writing/drawing easier, and she has the Stoodle open on her Macbook.
  • Since this is Algebra, Desmos is very helpful as well. We've used it a lot in our face-to-face sessions, and now we can use it virtually as well by sharing a link or copying and pasting into the Stoodle. (The Desmos link is not "live" to both of us simultaneously, but still works pretty well).
I think face-to-face is still better and more productive but, given the unpredictability of when and how long we can work together, this has worked really well to make the most of the times when she does have energy.

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