Wisconsin, USA, club launches tutoring program using Skype
The tutoring program, which uses Skype, launched last March with a pilot involving six students and five Rotarian mentors.
When Lee Breese’s granddaughter called, asking for tutoring in pre-algebra, Breese wanted to help, but they lived 50 miles apart.
A retired middle school math teacher, Breese knew that tutoring would be a chance to connect with the seventh grader, who had just earned a D after spending the last quarter of school focusing too much on boys and too little on graphing.
Breese, a member of the Rotary Club of West Allis, Wisconsin, USA, was mulling over the situation in her home office when her sister-in-law appeared on her computer through Skype, a free video calling service.
"I'm looking at her and thinking, 'This is face to face. I'll try it,'" Breese recalls.
Making it fun
She began tutoring over Skype and, after six weeks, her granddaughter had aced a retest, earned a spot in eighth-grade algebra, and inspired Breese to use the idea in her own community.
"After the tutoring was finished, I thought, 'This was fun for me, and it was fun for her,'" Breese says. "Twice she said, 'Do we have to stop already?' That doesn't happen with girls her age and math."
Breese found support in her Rotary club, including from the superintendent of her city's school district, who is also a club member. The tutoring program launched last March with a pilot involving six students and five Rotarian mentors, ranging from the former mayor to a retired professor to a leader of a local Boy Scout troop.
Mentors and students met for a half hour, twice every week, over Skype. Each had a copy of the textbook (the mentors had a teacher’s edition), a white board, a marker, and an eraser. The students used computers available during an after-school homework club, and the mentors used their own computers at home or work.
“Some of the kids have such a skewed vision of who’s in the community,” says Becky Schneider, the school district’s gifted and talented lead teacher. “It gives them an understanding that there are people in the community who may be good people.”
A different dynamic
Tutoring through Skype rather than traditional face-to-face methods shifted the typical mentor/student dynamic. The technology helped erase the chasm between adult experts and student learners, so both sides learned from each other.
“Because this was their thing – it’s their technology, not ours – they came into it with a certain degree of confidence,” Breese says. Other students thought it looked so fun, she adds, they asked to participate too.
Another advantage was that Skype allowed mentors to sense how students felt about the material they were working on. “You can see if they are starting to get frustrated, or if they are getting bored,” Schneider says. “Sitting there, they might not necessarily be as open to you. But over Skype, you can read them a little bit more when they don’t realize you can read them.”
The project expanded to two schools for the 2012-13 school year. At one of them, students use school-issued iPads, which allows for greater flexibility in meeting times.
“The big push right now is with 24/7 learning,” Schneider says. “We’re offering that to the kids because we’re working around their needs.”