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Archive for the ‘Learning Activities’ Category

Summer School Activities – Ninth Grade

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Good VRead new words.ocabulary Skills are Essential

Learning and using new vocabulary is an area of the curriculum that is often neglected by high school students using online learning programs such as eTutor.    Sometimes students and parents are not sure of how to use new vocabulary words or words they are not familiar with.  Practicing vocabulary and word usage skills  will  help students go far beyond the particular subject or topic they are working on.

Vocabulary is essential to comprehension.  Students need to apply strategies before, during and after reading to understand the written word.  New words should be reviewed and used in a variety of ways.   Students might use the following ideas to build and extend their vocabulary skills:

  • Use definitions of words to create word riddles.

    New words are important to learning.

  • Group words based on similarities and/or differences.
  • Draw pictures that illustrate the vocabulary word.
  • Play a variation of the card game, Go Fish.  Prepare a deck of word cards with five or more sets of four related words in each set.  Duplicate the cards so that at least each student has a deck for the game.   Try to build sets of like words, ie, antonyms, synonyms,  nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.
  • Go beyond definitions in the dictionary.  Explore ways to describe the associations that cluster around the word.
  • Choose a vocabulary word and then answer the following questions:  How would a scientist describe this word?  How would a judge describe this word?  How would a poet describe this word?  How would you describe this word?
  • Make new words.

    Organize a collection of words:

    • Reference Book:   Create vocabulary pages for a three-ring binder.
    • Word Wall: Display collected words and definitions on a bulletin board.
    • Word File: Record words, definitions, and context-rich sentences on index cards.  Place them in a recipe box that organizes the words alphabetically.

Students should not skip this important skill work.   Learning new vocabulary is essential to learning.

Theory + Practice = Magic

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Last weekend I was reminded exactly how powerful the combination of learning theory and applying it in a hands-on way can be.  I flew to Ann Arbor to see my brother Sean graduate from the University of Michigan and got a long overdue tour of the campus. What I saw there blew me away.

Sean graduated from the U of M College of Engineering, having pursued his interest in cars. He’s had his fair share of adolescent teen posters of Italian supercars and such, but unlike most teens, his interest runs far deeper. He’s a throwback to gear heads that tuned muscle cars decades ago, happily tearing apart his car in the driveway to our parents dismay. If it’s got a motor in it, he’ll find a way to make it go faster.

After the graduation ceremony itself (a very proud but otherwise dull event for us all), Sean showed us the usual sites: his apartment, a walking tour of the central campus, and the main drag through town to grab a bite to eat.  Afterwards we headed to North Campus to get a closer look at the College of Engineering, where Sean gave us a peak into where he’s spent almost every waking hour for the past four years.  Having been an engineering undergraduate myself, I was blown away by how many ways U of M engineering students get their hands dirty.  There were diesel and gas engine testbeds, machine shops, research facilities, and more.  And we hadn’t even gotten to the really good stuff yet.

Around the corner from the classrooms is the Wilson Student Project Center, home to a handful of student run teams.  My favorites are the Human Powered Submarine, Concrete Canoe, and my brother’s passion, Formula SAE (see the teams in action via live streaming).  The Formula SAE team designs and builds a race car for international competition each year.  From the ground up.  We saw how students create carbon fiber body panels from custom molds, hand weld body frames, and machine hundreds of other bits and pieces in the shop.  Students also manage relationships with sponsors, faculty, and each other.  It’s mind blowing stuff.

Fomula SAE Testing

The complexity, quality, and creativity that the Formula SAE team displays is nothing short of amazing.  The cars have all of the features that you’d expect from a full-size race car: adjustable suspension components, racing slick tires, turbochargers, and a slew of other components with one goal in mind – to go really fast.  Sean had the chance to compete in Germany last year against dozens of teams from around the world.  Talk about getting out of the classroom.

My brother’s college education stands in stark contrast to my undergraduate engineering experience, which consisted almost entirely of theoretical learning in the classroom.  Getting hands on provided Sean with two incredibly valuable advantages: connecting theory with practice in a very intimate way, and sparking creativity that textbooks just can’t provide on their own.

Though it was a short trip, it left a big impression on me.  It was a reminder of how important approaching learning from different angles really is.  Layering real world application on top of a solid foundation in theory is far more than the sum of its parts.  It’s something that we at e-Tutor take to heart, and work hard to instill in our students.

Socialization through Volunteerism

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

One of the long standing arguments against online education is that students cannot possible be as socially well adjusted as their public school counterparts.  Breaking news: I am living proof that even traditional public school graduates can grow up to be socially awkward.  My experience has been that volunteering in the community over the past two years has been much richer in terms of socialization than 20 years of public (K-12) and private (undergraduate and graduate) school ever was.

It may be odd talking about socialization in the context of an adult, but some of the lessons I have recently learned I wish I had known about years ago.  Perhaps one or two e-Tutor students and parents could use the information now.

All of us at e-Tutor believe that there are learning opportunities everywhere, socialization among them.  Examples include summer camps, community sports teams, church groups, and the like.  Personally, volunteering in the Boulder community has offered the best social contexts in my first 36 years of life.

Though I moved to Colorado almost 10 years ago, my introverted personality is still a reflection of growing up in New England.  Smiling doesn’t come naturally, and making eye contact requires concentration.  With that said, it’s something I work to overcome, and have found volunteering to be the best situation to do it in.

Volunteering has been ideal for me because it’s a setting in which:

  • Even wallflowers like me can jump right in, regardless of experience or skill level, because what is valued more than anything is willingness to participate.
  • I can pursue my passions along with others who share similar interests, because we are all by definition there voluntarily.
  • I am able to develop skills that I may not have a chance to develop elsewhere.
  • I can get to know people by working with them, which creates stronger connections for me than by just meeting them in another setting.

Growing Gardens VolunteerismI started volunteering in the Boulder tech community to feed my interest in startups, and have participated in quite a few groups along the way: Ignite Boulder, TEDxBoulder, SnapImpact, and more.  Here are two experiences that I’d like to share with e-Tutor students and parents:

  • Spending an afternoon with Growing Gardens: Last week the company my wife works for organized a trip to a non-profit in Boulder that manages several community gardens and runs  programs for children, at risk youth, and more.  My daughter and I met my wife there and spent 3 hours taking a tour, planting seeds, and chatting with my wife’s co-workers and their families.  Having spent time learning about gardening together at home, this was more great family time, but in a social setting; more than 70 volunteers took part.
  • Writing regularly for, a blog run by a few volunteers to support the Boulder tech community and those thinking about moving here: has connected me with a variety of local startup founders and gave me a chance to start writing posts for a blog other than my own, which have been great confidence builders.  These days I am working with three other volunteers to help steer as we figure out how we can best serve the community.

The time I spent at Growing Gardens is a great example of a volunteer opportunity that can fit into just about any schedule: there’s no long-term commitment (just a few hours in the sunshine); you just show up, be helpful, and go on with the rest of your day.

Staying involved with, on the other hand, is a great example of a volunteer opportunity that takes a fair amount of time, but gives back a huge feeling of accomplishment. Screen ShotThere are so many volunteer opportunities out there that chances are you’ll be able to find something that is a perfect fit for you.  Go to to search for volunteer opportunities in your area.  If you’ve got any tips on fun ways to volunteer, let us hear about them in the comments.  Now get involved!