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The Brains Behind BrightSparkz

“Purpose is the reason you journey. Passion is the fire that lights your way.” 

It’s been 10 years since the humble beginnings of a few flyer handouts and informal tutor recruitment. As we celebrate our decade milestone, the brains behind BrightSparkz get personal – sharing some insights into running a business, their various challenges and achievements, as well as a snippet of what we can expect from BrightSparkz in the future. 


Amy Stockwell (Johannesburg)
“I completed a BSc. Physiotherapy degree before moving from Cape Town to Johannesburg at the end of 2006 to do my year of community service, while also planning the expansion of our Cape Town tutoring business to Gauteng. In 2009 I completed a Post Graduate Diploma in Business Management through the Wits Business School, and quickly realised that business was my passion. In 2011, I stopped practicing physiotherapy, got married and started dedicating all my time to BrightSparkz Tutors. Our family grew in May 2015 when we were blessed with our baby boy, so my time is currently best spent on being a mom and supportive wife to my husband, who is a competitive cyclist and mountain biker. When I get time of my own, I enjoy running 10km and 21km races.”


Dominique Oebell (Cape Town)
“I completed a BSc. Physiotherapy at UCT in 2006, and worked part-time as a physiotherapist while we were establishing BrightSparkz Tutors. In 2013, I obtained a Post-Graduate Diploma in Business Administration at the UCT Graduate School of Business, and while it was initially Physiotherapy that developed a lot of empathy in me and a passion to make a difference, I believe that its entrepreneurship and education that can really improve people’s lives. In my free time I love spending time at the beach, walking my dogs, and reading books that inspire me to be a better person. My faith life is also really important to me, and that keeps me centered when things get stressful!”


Q1: Where did you get the idea from to start a tutoring company and what took it from an idea to an actual business? (What was your greatest motivation to get started?)

I started tutoring in primary school and continued into my university years. In third year I was unable to take on more learners, but still tried to help to find suitable tutors for parents who contacted me. This is where the idea was born. After some research, we realised that there wasn’t much out there in terms of home based one-on-one tutoring, and that parents really needed this type of service.  AS

Q2: What would you say to people who aren’t fired up about what they’re doing or studying?

I would advise them to not settle on that career (although sometimes it is wise to learn what you can from a field and to use it to your advantage in a transition period), and to keep exposing themselves to different job environments or fields, to discover what makes them tick. Once they have discovered this, to start meeting people and growing their network of individuals who operate in these fields or environments. This is a great way to learn more about a field, but also to be made aware of new job or business opportunities that arise within those fields.  DO

Q3: What advice would you give people who have or are thinking about starting a business?

Starting a business is the easy part. Maintaining it and “finishing” well is the hard part! Knowing why you want to start a business is key. Many experts in a field assume the logical next step is to start their own company but what they don’t realise is that the skills that make them a great employee are not the same skills that will make them a great entrepreneur. They start with great enthusiasm, with ideas of being their own boss and having their own time, only to realise that often the initial investment of time and energy (and money) can be much greater than expected.

Knowing what your customers needs are, as well as how many players are already in the market, is also critical. It doesn’t matter how well you bake bread – if no one is needing home-baked bread, or there are already 5 people baking bread in your community, your business will fail (unless you can provide something that no one else is, that your customers are needing, of course!).  DO

Q4: The world has changed a lot in the last 10 years, particularly in the area of technology. What is BS doing to leverage the technology we have available to us to better serve and educate learners?

It definitely has! BrightSparkz started using a very manual system until we knew exactly what our needs were, and had our first custom system built in 2011. This is something we are in the process of upgrading, and have also been developing a mobile responsive system that we are currently rolling out with our tutors, and will extend to clients later in the year.

We also introduced BrightSparkz Mobile Maths and Science in 2014, which is a platform that allows learners to access user friendly resources via their PC, tablet, or smartphone. The program caters for both CAPS and IEB learners, by dividing the Maths, Physical Science, and Natural Sciences curricula into comprehensive sections. It’s a great tool to help children and their tutor work through and consolidate the Maths and / or Science syllabus for the year, especially in preparation for tests and exams.

One of our missions is to automate as much as we can without taking away the personal touch from our service, as this is something that is still extremely important to us.  AS

Q5: Do you think the gradual move to online education and self-education is a positive one? Is BS responding to this transition is any way?

There are pro’s and con’s to every change in society, but we have never before had access to so much information as we do in the digital era, and that opens up opportunities for learning to many more people. One can learn anything without traditional limitations of space, time, and money. That said, there is still incredible value in face-to-face time with a tutor/teacher/facilitator, and there seems to be a higher level of accountability in face-to-face or blending learning environments. I think the challenge for online education service providers still lies in how to motivate individuals effectively, specifically children and teenagers. 

We are currently positioning ourselves in such a way that we are able to grow with the changes that are changing the landscape of extra-curricular educational services. Online tutoring via Skype is something we already offer, as well as additional tools such as online whiteboards and learning platforms are just a few of our tech plans for future. However, we believe strongly in a blended learning approach, and will always incorporate the human element into our service offerings regardless of how the tech landscape changes, as we believe this is still what our customers are wanting.  DO

Q6: What have been some of the greatest challenges, and greatest achievements over the past 10 years?

Persevering with this business has probably been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life! There have been so many times when I’ve wanted to throw in the towel and trade it in for a job! But after a good cry and a pep-talk from my family, I determine what needs to change and I keep at it. Being able to celebrate our 10-year anniversary is a huge milestone for us! We have learnt many lessons and have experienced many setbacks, yet I’m proud of the excellent service standards we maintain and of our current team of staff who work really hard to attain this. We’ve had many challenges in the areas of staffing, navigating company restructuring, and in getting our business processes up to speed with competitors who use more sophisticated technology. In some areas, we’ve had to work really hard to catch up and although we have not yet “arrived”, our hard work is paying off and we’ve been able to secure contracts with larger educational institutions, publishers and even film production companies.  DO

Q7: How is BS trying to intentionally deal with the challenges faced by South African learners?

One of our primary goals is to eventually make tutoring accessible to as many South African learners as possible, regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds. Part of our planning this year is to officially launch our corporate sponsorship program, in order to extend our reach in this regard. We have previously worked with numerous foundations who assist in identifying learners showing potential and who would otherwise not be able to afford assistance. This is something we are extremely excited and passionate about, and look forward to partnering with organizations who value education as the key to the future, as much as we do.  AS

 

“No one can be sure of what changes, big or small, lie ahead. One thing is certain, our journey is not over.”

 

Interested in one-on-one tutoring in the comfort of your own home? We can make that happen for you! Feel free to get in touch with us here.

 

Written By: Ashleigh de Jager, BrightSparkz Blog Writer

Managing the New School Term

“What I learn today doesn’t make yesterday wrong, it makes tomorrow better”.

Just as the stress of the exam season has subsided, the stress and anxiety that comes with a new school term starts to arise. We understand that a new school term can be daunting for both children and their parents, and while it cannot be avoided, there are those unnecessary stresses that can be combated.

 

How to combat unnecessary stress and make the most of the home-stretch:

  1. Keep a routine

Keeping a routine is one of the most promoted yet underestimated and underused pieces of advice. Having a routine makes many of the things in our lives that would otherwise be unpredictable, completely predictable – which then puts them in our control and minimizes the stress potentially attached to them. We also often underestimate how much time we waste during a day that can quite easily be spent on a productive and beneficial activity, had we had a thought out schedule and anticipated it. For example, packing a book and reading in the car in early morning traffic or on the way home is a great time to get your reading done when you would otherwise be doing nothing anyway. This also frees up the time you would have spent reading, and can now be spent on other things – allowing you to achieve a lot more, in less time. Where are you wasting time that could possibly be better spent if you had a schedule and planned for it?

  1. Set goals and daily tasks

How would you like to finish this year? What would you like your report to look like when you hand it to your parents? If you aren’t proud of where you are academically, then it’s time to start deciding where you would like to be, and what you need to do in order to get there. Set some long-term goals for yourself, and then determine what steps need to be taken each day that will get you closer towards your long-terms goals. This requires discipline, and sometimes saying no to other activities that a probably way more fun, but I can promise that you won’t regret it when you receive that report card at the end of the term.

  1. Prepare in advance

If you are anything like I was at school, you probably wait until the very last minute to do everything: to get out of bed in the morning, to do your homework, to start assignments. And as I’m sure you’ve already discovered, this inevitably always ends in a last minute rush that sends your stress levels through the roof! Let’s try getting out of procrastination station this term and start preparing for what will be coming, and keep coming, whether we prepare for it or not. Something as simple as packing your bag the night before can do wonders for a good start to the day, and will even help you to sleep better.

  1. Don’t fall behind

Having to catch-up a day or two’s work may sound like no big deal, but what happens when a day or two rolls over into a week or two? We understand that getting home after a full day of school to sit down and spend more hours on homework can be exhausting, and quite frankly, entirely unnecessary. But homework is here to stay whether we like it or not, and fortunately, has not killed anyone yet. The best way to avoid homework stress is to get it out of the way as soon as possible. After you’ve arrived home from school and had something to eat, dedicate the next hour or two (depending on your Grade and workload), to complete that day’s homework. If you’re able to, you can even move ahead with certain tasks or exercises if you know there will be some days where you might have less time to do homework due to sports etc. This leaves the evening free to do things that you enjoy, without having the guilt and anxiety of what’s still waiting for you in your school bag hanging over your head.

  1. Go over your work each day

One of the best ways to ensure that you’re able to keep up with your workload is by spending some time each day (+- 30 minutes) becoming familiar with what is new. This allows everything you learnt during the day to be processed and reinforced in your brain, which not only increases your ability to recall the information (memory), but also helps you to identify parts of your work you don’t fully understand. You can then spend some time making sense of the work you don’t understand, or make a note to have your teacher or tutor explain it to you. Making sure you understand your work daily also helps ensure that you don’t fall behind as previously mentioned.

  1. Still make time for the things you enjoys most

Have you ever heard that saying: “Too much of anything is a bad thing”? You may assume that cutting out sports and any other extra curricular activities will give you more time for academics, and therefore improve your marks, but truthfully, it’s going to end up costing you far more than is necessary. Creating a balance in your life is very important and cutting out the things you enjoy most will most likely result in resenting what’s left – school and homework. While academics are incredibly important, so is your health and fitness, and it has actually been proven that keeping active and making time for the things you enjoy will positively impact other areas of your life as you develop increased energy and better concentration. But remember, in order to make time for the things you enjoy, you’ll have to have a routine to determine what amount of free time you do and don’t have.

 

How BrightSparkz can help:

  • Private tutoring

BrightSparkz Tutors offers one-on-one, subject specific tutoring that takes place in the comfort of your own home or a venue of your choice. Tutors aim to identify the gaps in knowledge, while simultaneously facilitating learning through lots of practice, revision of theory, and interactive discussion of the subject matter.

Our tutors are unique individuals, who are selected carefully based on their specific strengths in their chosen subjects.  They not only have excellent knowledge of the subjects they tutor, but also a passion for tutoring and helping learners reach their potential.

  • Online Platforms

BrightSparkz Online is an award-winning online Mobile Maths and Science app tailored to South African learners from Grade 8 – 12. It covers all content for Maths, Natural Science, Physical Science and Chemistry, and is suitable for both CAPS and IEB learners. The app provides top quality resources, breaks up these curricula into manageable sections, and is an excellent way to supplement your child’s one-on-one lessons. Register for a free trial here

  • Study Skills Crash Course

BrightSparkz Tutors has partnered with an outstanding Educational Psychologist who offers a fantastic Study Skills Crash Course, designed to benefit Grades 8 – 12 in particular, in order to help your child make the most of their education and tutoring. Find out more or book a Study Skills Crash Course here

 

It’s never too late for your child to start combating stressful habits and taking control of their education. But neither you nor your child have to do it alone – BrightSparkz Tutors are ready to help. Just click here, provide us with your details, and we’ll get right onto looking for the most suitable tutor for your learner’s needs.

 

Written By: Ashleigh de Jager, BrightSparkz Blog Writer

Holiday Tutoring Benefits

Helping your child rest, without regressing

School holidays are on the horizon, and there is no doubt that children’s minds are already filled with the many fun activities they’re planning to spend all their free time on – one of which we can be sure, is not extra tutoring. Though it may appear to parents as if their children are like sponges and can soak up any amount of extra information over the break, the reality is that the holidays are there for a reason. They are intended to give their young minds a rest. However, the operative word here is rest – not a complete brain shutdown.

Studies have shown that learners, particularly young children, actually display a dip in their academic abilities after extended periods of relaxation, such as long holidays. Upon returning to school, learners are expected to continue on the same, if not a higher level, however, teachers speak of a noticeable backslide in all subjects, as well as in reading and handwriting levels – all being at an even poorer level than prior to the break.

This is due to the fact that young minds need to be continuously stimulated. Children will find something to do with their holidays, but the question is: are these activities actually going to benefit them, or simply allow for academic regress?

How holiday tutoring helps to avoid the regression and make progress:

  1. It keeps a general structure

Most people, although we sometimes resent it, need structure in their lives, and children even more so. Without it, a certain level of anxiety can begin to set in – nothing is as it usually is and there is a level of unpredictability that a large percentage of learners (as well as their parents) don’t deal with well. Learners go from a strict and organized schedule of classes, tests, and homework, to weeks of PlayStation games, sleeping in, and countless hours to fill.

Holiday tutoring allows both parent and child to feel as though the academic realm of life is still under control. This also then allows for the other 70% of the holiday time to actually be enjoyed as resting time, as opposed to subconscious stressing time – knowing that the break will at some point end and that they are not at all ready for the new workload that awaits them.

Having your child sit down with a tutor at regular intervals throughout the holiday (even for as little as 1 lesson per week) will provide just enough structure to help your child keep their focus on academics, as well as ease the transition back into the new term.

  1. It allows time to go back to the basics

All subjects, particularly Maths and Science have their basic building blocks, and as I can recall from my own Maths struggles at school, as soon as you’ve missed a set of basics, it is near impossible to make sense of anything that comes after that. Whether your child has missed a few too many days at school, or has just had absolutely no understanding up to this point, the holiday is a great time to use to catch up on concepts missed, and fill the understanding gaps. Once learners start the new term, there will be even more new work to get to grips with.

  1. It gives learners the time they actually need

Without the pressure of class tests and assignments constantly creeping up on them, the break allows learners to feel as though they actually have the time to spend fully grasping various concepts. Additionally, because children are generally more relaxed in the holidays, they are able to retain more information and are afforded the time to actually process it before too quickly moving right onto something new, as is most often the case at school.

  1. It allows you to pick the best time, not just what is left of the time

Extra lessons by nature are forced to take place after school hours when very often a learner is already so drained that all they want to do is something mindless such as kicking a ball outside or staring into a television screen. Yet, after a full academic day, parents and tutors expect them to take in an extra load of information – a lot of which is often entirely lost. Of course, there is not much that can be done about this, but that’s what makes the holidays such an ideal time for tutoring. Learners can have lessons in the morning when their minds are still fresh and are able to process and retain information, particularly new information, more effectively.

  1. It helps to alleviate test and exam anxiety

Most people have some degree of test anxiety, which is most often due to the fact that they never feel completely ready for what they’re about to be tested on. Tests make up a large part of a learner’s grade and it is therefore essential that they are able to perform in this area. A holiday tutor can use the time to not only help your child better prepare for future tests and exams, but also improve on study skills as whole – teaching a learner how to more effectively study and prepare throughout the year, even when not accompanied by a tutor.

  1. It lightens a parent’s load

While children seem to spend more time on holiday than they do at school, parents most often still need to be at work. So when their child is sent home with holiday homework and assignments, it can be a challenge finding time to help them get these done. Thank goodness for tutors, who can not only be the ones making sure that the holiday work is completed, but also that your child actually understands the content of the work and is still learning from it.

  1. It is a time to re-evaluate and set new goals

Tutors are great motivators of inspiring and encouraging their learners to constantly achieve better results. Why not make the most of the accountability relationship your child develops with a tutor and allow them to spend time together in the holidays, not only for the sake of working on school material, but to help them set academic goals for the new term, allowing them to start the new term feeling inspired and driven to achieve them.

  1. It teaches learners to step-up

Holiday tutoring is not mandatory. Therefore, learners who are spending that little bit of extra academic time during the holidays are learning the value of taking charge of their situation, as opposed to being a victim of their academic struggles, or still improving on their average marks and pushing for distinctions. Holiday tutoring instills discipline and teaches the value of doing what others don’t, in order to achieve what others won’t. There is no doubt that learners will see the positive outcomes of their hard-work when returning to school with a greater confidence and understanding.

Myth Busters!

Many parents may assume that it is only necessary to make use of a tutor if their child is struggling, and some even wait until the child has already failed before it feels acceptable to seek the help of a tutor. However, tutoring can be beneficial to every kind of child – whether they are a failing student desperate to pass, or an average one chasing distinctions.

“Research suggests that 30 minutes, 3 – 5 times a week is a very effective way of helping children catch up, maintain or even excel in their academic abilities, especially if they are given one-to-one input, and is the best way to ensure they get the most out of their education”.

While an intense boot-camp style tutoring schedule will inevitably burn your child out before the new term has even begun, there are many benefits to having a tutor help your child keep up with a moderate level of academic stimulation throughout the holiday. It will set them up for the best Term 2 possible – and help them actually achieve those marks you’ve been praying about.

How BrightSparkz can help

  • Private tutoring

BrightSparkz Tutors offers one-on-one, subject specific tutoring that takes place in the comfort of your own home or a venue of your choice. Tutors aim to identify the gaps in knowledge, while simultaneously facilitating learning through lots of practice, revision of theory, and interactive discussion of the subject matter.

Our tutors are unique individuals, who are selected carefully based on their specific strengths in their chosen subjects.  They not only have excellent knowledge of the subjects they tutor, but also a passion for tutoring and helping learners reach their potential.

  • BrightSparkz App

BrightSparkz Online is an award-winning online Maths and Science App tailored to South African learners from Grade 8 – 12. It covers all content for Maths, Natural Science, Physical Science and Chemistry, and is suitable for both CAPS and IEB learners. The platform provides top quality resources, breaks up these curriculum into manageable sections, and is an excellent way to supplement your child’s one-on-one lessons.

  • Study Skills Workshops

BrightSparkz Tutors has partnered with an outstanding, specialist Educational Psychologist with a tutoring and teaching background in order to provide yet another value added service that our learners can benefit from, in order to make the most of their tutoring, and go into the exam period feeling like everything is manageable. For more information on when and where our holiday workshops will take place, please contact us on edupsych@brightsparkz.co.za.

 

If a holiday tutor sounds like just what you need, BrightSparkz Tutors are ready to help. Just click here, provide us with your details, and we’ll get right onto looking for the most suitable tutor for your learner’s needs.

 

Written by Ashleigh de Jager, BrightSparkz Blog Writer

Understanding Dyscalculia – Part 3

Our two previous blogs discuss dyscalculia in detail. Now that we know a little bit more, what can we do to help our learners?

Tutor tips (For the tutor and the parents):

  • Use concrete examples that connect math to real life. For instance, use examples that include their favourite things or shopping. This helps to strengthen your learner’s number sense.
  • Use visual aids when solving problems. Draw pictures or move around physical objects. Teachers and tutors can refer to this as “manipulatives”
  • Assign manageable amounts of work so your tutee will not feel overloaded
  • Review a recently learned skill before moving on to a new one, and explain how the skills are related
  • Supervise work and encourage your learner to talk through the problem-solving process. This can help ensure your tutee is using the right math rules and formulas
  • Break new lessons into smaller parts that help to show how different skills relate to the new concept
  • Let your tutee use graph paper to help keep numbers lined up or in columns
  • Use an extra piece of paper to cover up most of what’s on a math test so your tutee can focus on one problem at a time
  • Playing math-related games helps your learner have fun and to feel more comfortable with math
    • Answer fewer questions on a test and allocate more time for your tutee to finish a test
    • Record lessons and lectures
    • Use a calculator in class
  • Boost confidence:Identify your tutee’s strengths and use them to work on (or around) weaknesses. Activities that tap into your tutees interests and abilities can help improve self-esteem and increase your learner’s resilience. Try to pace yourself during your tutoring sessions and do not use more than one strategy at a time. This makes it easier to tell which ones are producing a good result and which are not
  • Help your learner keep track of time:Whether it is a hand on the shoulder, a few key words or an alarm; have systems in place to remind your time-challenged tutee when to start the next activity.
  • See what it feels like:Try to experience what it is like to have dyscalculia. Acknowledging that you understand what your learner is going through is another way to boost his or her confidence and to improve your own level of understanding
  • Be upbeat:Let your tutee know when you see him or her do something well. Praising effort and genuine achievement can help your learner feel loved and supported. It can also give your tutee the confidence to work harder!
  • Support, patience and understanding are key!

If you would like a tutor to assist your child or learner, contact BrightSparkz Tutors today!

Understanding Dyscalculia – Part 2

In our previous blog, an expansive amount of information was provided to help you (as a tutor or parent) to identify the symptoms of dyscalculia. Unfortunately, dyscalculia can affect other aspects of learner’s lives.

Other effects of dyscalculia

  • Social skills: Failing repeatedly in math class can cause your learner to assume failure is unavoidable in other areas too. Low self-esteem can affect your learner’s inclination to make new friends or to partake in after school activities. Some learners might also avoid playing games and sports that involve math and keeping score.
  • Sense of direction: Some learners might struggle to differentiate left from right and may have trouble getting places by reading maps or following directions. Some learners with dyscalculia cannot picture things in their minds.
  • Physical coordination: Dyscalculia can affect how the brain and eyes work together. Because of this, your learner may have problems judging distances between objects. Certain learners may seem clumsier than others the same age.
  • Money management: Dyscalculia can make it difficult to stick to a budget, to balance a checkbook, and to estimate costs. It can also make it hard to calculate a tip and count exact change.
  • Time management: Dyscalculia can affect your learner’s ability to measure quantities, including units of time. Learners may have trouble assessing how long a minute is or to keep track of how much time has passed. This can make it hard to stick to a schedule.
  • Other skills: A learner may have trouble figuring out how much of an ingredient to use in a recipe. Learners might have a hard time estimating how fast another car is moving or how far away it is.

Associated learning difficulties

  • Dyslexia, or difficulty reading
  • Attention difficulties
  • Spatial difficulties (not good at drawing, visualisation, remembering arrangements of objects, understanding time/direction)
  • Short term memory difficulties (the literature on the relation between these and dyscalculia is very controversial)
  • Poor coordination of movement (dyspraxia)

There is still so much we don’t know about dyscalculia, and no definitive cause has been found. However, there are some ideas that researchers are still studying.

Possible Causes

  • Genes and heredity: Studies show this more common in some families than others are. Researchers have found that a child with dyscalculia often has a parent or sibling with similar math issues. 
  • Brain development: Researchers are using modern brain imaging tools to study the brains of people with and without math issues. What we learn from this research will help us understand how to help learners with dyscalculia. Some studies have also found differences in the surface area, thickness and volume of parts of the brain. Those areas are linked to learning and memory, setting up and monitoring tasks and remembering math facts
  • Environment: Dyscalculia has been linked to contact with alcohol in the womb. Prematurity and low birth weight may also play a role in dyscalculia.
  • Brain injury: Some studies show that injury to certain parts of the brain can result in what researchers call “acquired dyscalculia.”

The most plausible cause for dyscalculia is due to a difference in brain function. Unfortunately, many people think that because it is in the brain, it cannot be changed but this is not true. There are many support systems and tutors available to help your leaner cope.

What Does This Mean?

The brain is a highly adaptable organ (most especially during childhood) and research has indicated that certain training programs can increase the functioning in brain areas involved with reading, and so researches are hopeful that the same is applicable for mathematics. It’s unclear how much of a child with dyscalculia’s brain differences are shaped by genetics, and how much are shaped by their experiences. Researchers are trying to learn if certain interventions for dyscalculia can “rewire” a learner’s brain to make math easier. 

What Do I Do?

If during your tutoring sessions, you suspect that your learner may be suffering from dyscalculia, it is your responsibility to keep record of your tutee’s difficulties. You then need to communicate your thoughts to your learner’s parents. The learner’s parents should discuss any concerns with the learner’s teachers who will ascribe a school therapist or specialist. The specialist will ask you, the tutor, the parents and the teachers various questions as well as chat to the learner to discern whether the learner does in fact have dyscalculia or perhaps a different learning disability.

If your learner does have dyscalculia, there are many things that you can implement and do during your tutoring sessions to help him or her with their studies and academic outlook. Our next blog will list important hints and helpful tips to use during your tutoring sessions (or as a parent)!

If you would like a tutor to assist your child or learner, contact BrightSparkz Tutors today!

Understanding Dyscalculia – Part 1

Despite the fact that Dyscalculia affects around 6% of the general population, many learners, tutors and educators are unfamiliar with the specifics. The next few blogs will cover some important aspects of dyscalculia, what is entails, the symptoms, the diagnosing of dyscalculia, various effects, and more. I hope you find this helpful!

What is Dyscalculia?

Dyscalculia is a learning disability that affects one’s ability to do mathematics and to grasp mathematical concepts. Learners with dyscalculia struggle to learn mathematics and to develop mathematical skills despite an adequate learning environment at home and at school. There are different severities of dyscalculia and learners will react or adapt to each differently. Some learners might work hard to memorise simple number facts. Other learners may know what to do but not understand the reason behind certain mathematical methods or steps. This is likely because learners with dyscalculia are not able to see the logic behind mathematics. Learners with less severe dyscalculia might understand the logic behind maths but are unsure how and when to apply their knowledge when solving mathematical problems.

Dyscalculia affects people throughout their lifespan. Children with dyscalculia tend to begin falling behind from as early as primary school. Oftentimes, learners may develop a strong dislike for mathematics as a result. Once learners reach secondary school, they usually struggle to pass maths and science subjects.

Warning Signs of Dyscalculia

Dyscalculia comprises various types of mathematical difficulties. Your learner’s symptoms may not look exactly like those of another learner. Observing your learner and taking notes to share with teachers and doctors are good ways to find the most effective approaches and support for your learner. While the signs of dyscalculia look dissimilar at different ages, it does tend to become more apparent as kids get older but it can be detected as early as preschool. There is not sufficient research done on dyscalculia and so there is also no definitive list of symptoms and other than the obvious difficulty with mathematics, we know very little about what symptoms continue through to adolescence and adulthood. Because dyscalculia is best monitored and helped when spotted as early as possible, the following list has been comprised to help you identify any presently known symptoms:

Warning Signs in Preschool or Kindergarten

  • Has trouble learning to count, especially when it comes to assigning each object in a group a number
  • Has trouble recognizing number symbols, such as making the connection between “7” and the wordseven
  • Struggles to connect a number to a real-life situation, such as knowing that “3” can apply to any group that has three things in it; 3 cookies, 3 cars, 3 kids, etc.
  • Has trouble remembering numbers, skips numbers, or counts in the wrong order
  • Finds it hard to recognize patterns and to sort items by size, shape or colour
  • Avoids playing games that involve numbers, counting and other math concepts

Warning Signs in Grades 7 – 9

  • Has trouble distinguishing numbers from symbols
  • Has trouble learning and remembering basic math facts, such as 2 + 4 = 6
  • Struggles to identify mathematical signs (+-) and use them correctly
  • May continue to use fingers to count instead of using more sophisticated strategies
  • Has trouble writing numerals clearly or putting them in the correct column
  • Has trouble coming up with a plan to solve a math problem
  • Struggles to understand words related to math, such asgreater than and less than
  • Has trouble telling left from his right, and even a poor sense of direction
  • Has difficulty remembering phone numbers and game scores
  • Avoids playing games that involve number strategies
  • Has trouble telling time 

Warning Signs in High School

  • Struggles to apply math concepts to everyday life, including monetary matters such as estimating the total cost, making exact change and figuring out a tip
  • Has trouble measuring things such as ingredients in a simple recipe
  • Struggles finding his or her way around and worries about getting lost
  • Has a hard time grasping information shown on graphs or charts
  • Has trouble finding and using different approaches to the same math problem
  • Learners may lack assurance in activities that entail estimating speed and distance, such as playing sports and learning to drive

Symptoms of dyscalculia

  • Difficulty imagining a mental number line
  • Particular difficulty with subtraction
  • Difficulty using finger counting (slow, inaccurate, unable to immediately recognise finger configurations)
  • Trouble decomposing numbers (e.g. recognizing that 10 is made up of 4 and 6)
  • Difficulty understanding place value
  • Trouble learning and understanding reasoning methods and multi-step calculation procedures
  • Anxiety about or a negative attitude towards maths (caused by the dyscalculia)

Now that you are aware of the many and varied symptoms of dyscalculia, it will be easy for you as a tutor to spot any correlations or learning disabilities should your learner ever have. If, during your tutoring sessions, you notice your learner experiencing difficulty, it is important that you keep a record and then speak to his or her parents about your concerns.

The next blog will briefly list how dyscalculia is diagnosed and discuss various other effects of dyscalculia. If you have any further information or experiences, please write in and let us fellow tutors know!

If you would like a tutor to assist your child or learner, contact BrightSparkz Tutors today!

Coping with and Helping Learners with ADHD

This blog recaps one of my previous about how to help learners with ADHD. This blog includes challenges posed for tutors and teachers who might have learners with ADHD as well as tips for tutors and learners who have ADHD.

ADHD can present the following challenges for tutors and teachers

  • Learners require more attention
  • Learners have trouble following instructions, especially when presented in a list
  • Learners often forget to write down homework assignments as well as completing given work
  • Learners may have trouble with operations that require ordered steps, such as long division
    or solving equations
  • Learners usually have problems with long-term projects where there is no direct supervision

ADHD can affect learners in the following ways

  • Low grades
  • Teasing from peers
  • Low self-esteem.

So what can we do to help and aid these learners with their studies?

Patience, creativity and consistency are three of the most important aspects to take into consideration when tutoring or teaching learners with ADHD. As a tutor or teacher, our job is to evaluate each individual learner’s needs and strengths. We then need to develop our lessons and strategies in accordance with this.

Additionally, one of the most effective ways of helping learners with ADHD is maintaining a positive attitude. Make the learner your partner and say, “Let’s figure out ways together to help you get your work done.” Reassure the learner that you will be looking for good behaviour and quality work. When you see it, support it with prompt and sincere acclaim. Finally, look for ways to motivate a learner by offering rewards (such as a longer break or less homework).

Tips for the Learner

  • Sit away from windows and doors so as to minimise distractions
  • Move while you work. Constantly moving can help you focus better on the task at hand
  • Concentrate on certain words! Studies show that repeating anchor words like “focus” can block distractions

Tips for the Tutor

  • Give instructions one at a time and repeat whenever necessary
  • Signal the start of a lesson with a cue and in opening the lesson, tell the learner what he or she is going to learn and what your expectations are
  • Tell students exactly what materials they’ll need
  • Where possible, work on the most difficult material first. This can help to make the most of your session/lesson
  • Colour-code sections of material and make use of visuals!
  • Test the learner in the way he or she does best, such as orally or filling in blanks
  • Divide long-term projects into sections and assign a completion date/goal for each
  • Allow the learner to do as much work as possible on a computer
  • Make sure the learner has a system for writing down assignments and important dates and uses it!
  • Establish eye contact
  • Vary the pace and include different kinds of activities. Many students with ADD do well
    with competitive games or other activities that are rapid and intense
  • Allow for frequent (but short) breaks
  • Summarise the key points before finishing the lesson
  • Lastly, and most importantly – be patient and understanding

At BrightSparkz Tutors we provide excellent one-on-one tutoring for Maths, Science, English, Afrikaans and more… Get a tutor today!  Visit www.brightsparkz.co.za for more information.

What causes ADHD?

No one is sure what causes Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. However, many scientists believe that genes play a role. Results from copious studies suggest that the gene for ADHD runs in families. 

Some learners with ADHD carry a gene that causes thinner brain tissue in the areas associated with attention. However, this difference is not permanent. As children with this gene grow up, the brain develops to a normal level of thickness. Their symptoms also improve. Research on this gene could help scientists to one day understand what Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is on a genetic level.

In addition to genes, scientists are also researching an array of possible environmental factors that could cause ADHD. Some factors include, brain injuries, nutrition, and even one’s social environment.

Other possible causes

  • Environmental factors: Some studies suggest that certain environmental factors could add to the possibility of ADHD. For example, there seems to be a potential link between cigarette smoking and alcohol use during pregnancy that may increase the likelihood of children being born with ADHD. Lead exposure can also cause ADHD. Plumbing fixtures and paints in older buildings sometimes contain lead.
  • Brain injuries: Young children who have suffered from a brain injury have been known to exhibit behaviours similar to those of ADHD. However, it is important to note that this, like the above, is just one theory of many and only a small amount of ADHD learners have suffered from a brain injury.
  • Food additives: Recent British research shows a potential link between ingesting of certain food additives like artificial colours or preservatives, and an increase in activity. Research on the validity of this theory is under way.

Does Sugar Cause ADHD?

The idea that refined sugar causes ADHD or makes symptoms worse is popular. However, more research discounts this theory than supports it. In one study, researchers gave learners food containing either sugar or a sugar substitute every other day. The learners who received sugar showed no different behaviour or learning capabilities than those who received the sugar substitute. In another study, learners who were considered sugar-sensitive by their mothers were given the sugar substitute aspartame, also known as Nutrasweet. Although all the learners got aspartame, half their mothers were told their children were given sugar, and the other half were told their learners were given aspartame. The mothers who thought their learner had received sugar considered them more hyperactive than other learners. They were also more critical of their behaviour.

Similar results show how easy it can be to misdiagnose or over-diagnose perceived “problems” of learner behaviour. We, as parents, tutors, and educators might forget what it was like to be young and no longer be familiar with as high levels of energy. However, please note that many matters and theories related to ADHD are, just theories. 

At BrightSparkz Tutors we provide excellent one-on-one tutoring for Maths, Science, English, Afrikaans and more… Get a tutor today

Understanding ADHD

What is ADHD?

ADHD is short for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. This is one of the most prevalent learning disorders (or barriers to learning) amongst learners today. According to studies, about 5.3% of people worldwide are living with ADHD, of which almost three quarters are boys. The number of learners with ADHD is increasing each year, making this one of the most common barriers to learning. Because of the prevalence, it is important for educators, tutors, parents, and learners to be familiar with ADHD. The next few blogs will detail what ADHD actually is, the various symptoms, the different types of ADHD, tips for parents, tutors, and learners to deal with ADHD, and a discussion on whether doctors might be over diagnosing or misdiagnosing learners.

What are the symptoms of ADHD?

Children mature at different rates and have different personalities, temperaments, and energy levels. Most children get distracted, act spontaneously, and struggle to concentrate at one point or another. These normal activities can look like ADHD. ADHD symptoms usually appear early in life, often between the ages of 3 and 6, and because symptoms vary from learner to learner, it can be difficult to diagnose.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder has many symptoms that each fall under specific types of ADHD. On a basic level, symptoms commonly include a difficulty staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling certain behaviour, and hyperactivity or over-activity. The problem is that many behaviours associated with ADHD are common for young learners. Because of this, there is the question as to whether doctors, teachers, and parents might be misdiagnosing or over diagnosing the number of learners who supposedly suffer from ADHD. As such, it is important to be able to distinguish between symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and “symptoms” of normal learner behaviour.

Learners who have symptoms of inattention may:

  • Easily be distracted, miss details, forget things, and frequently switch from one activity to another
  • Have difficulty focusing on one thing
  • Become bored with a task after only a few minutes, unless they are doing something enjoyable
  • Have difficulty focusing attention on organizing and completing a task or learning something new
  • Have trouble completing or turning in homework assignments, often losing things (e.g., pencils, toys, assignments) needed to complete tasks or activities
  • Not seem to listen when spoken to
  • Daydream, become easily confused, and move slowly
  • Have difficulty processing information as quickly and accurately as others
  • Struggle to follow instructions.

Learners who have symptoms of hyperactivity may:

  • Fidget and squirm in their seats
  • Talk nonstop
  • Dash around, touching or playing with anything and everything in sight
  • Have trouble sitting still during dinner, school, and story time
  • Be constantly in motion
  • Have difficulty doing quiet tasks or activities.
  • Children who have symptoms of impulsivitymay:
  • Be very impatient
  • Blurt out inappropriate comments, show their emotions without restraint, and act without regard for consequences
  • Have difficulty waiting for things they want or waiting their turns in games
  • Often interrupt conversations or others’ activities.

Types of ADHD

As mentioned above, there are certain symptoms that fall under the different types of ADHD. These types are:

Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive

  • Most symptoms (six or more) are in the hyperactivity-impulsivity categories.
  • Fewer than six symptoms of inattention are present, although inattention may still be present to some degree.

Predominantly inattentive

  • The majority of symptoms (six or more) are in the inattention category and fewer than six symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity are present, although hyperactivity-impulsivity may still be present to some degree.
  • Children with this subtype are less likely to act out or have difficulties getting along with other children. They may sit quietly, but they are not paying attention to what they are doing. Therefore, the child may be overlooked, and parents and teachers may not notice that he or she has ADHD.

Combined hyperactive-impulsive and inattentive

  • Six or more symptoms of inattention and six or more symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity are present.
  • Most children have the combined type of ADHD.

ADHD Can Be Mistaken for Other Problems

Parents and teachers may fail to realise that learners with symptoms of inattention often suffer from ADHD because they are often quieter than fellow learners and are less likely to act out. Learners suffering from inattention may sit quietly as if they are working but are often not paying to attention to what they are doing or to what is happening around them. These learners may seem to get along better with their peers compared with those suffering from other subtypes of ADHD who tend to exhibit some social issues.

It is important to note that children with the inattentive type of ADHD are not the only learners who have ADHD and may be missed. Many adults may mistake the hyperactive and more impulsive type of ADHD merely as emotional or disciplinary problems. Remember, young learners are typically more (hyper) active than their older peers. Parents and tutors need to pay attention to their young one’s behavioural patterns and should anything arise, know that there is always help.

Diagnosing ADHD

ADHD can’t be diagnosed with a single test. Instead, a licensed health and/or child professional will acquire information about your learner and his or her behaviour and environment. While some paediatricians may diagnose a learner themselves, others might first refer the family to a mental health specialist who has sufficient experience with childhood mental disorders and learning barriers. The paediatrician or mental health specialist will first try to rule out other options for the symptoms. For example, certain situations, events, or health conditions may cause temporary behaviours in a child that seem like ADHD but that will pass.

The referring paediatrician and specialist will determine if a child:

  • Is experiencing undetected seizures associated with other medical conditions
  • Has a middle ear infection that is causing hearing problems
  • Has any undetected hearing or vision problems
  • Is suffering from any medical problems that affect thinking and behaviour
  • Has any learning disabilities
  • Is anxious or depressed, or has other psychiatric problems that might cause ADHD-like symptoms
  • Has been affected by a significant and sudden change, such as the death of a family member, a divorce, or parent’s job loss.

A specialist will also check school and medical records for clues, to see if the child’s home or school settings appear unusually taxing or unsettled, and acquire information from the learner’s parents and teachers.

The specialist will ask:

  • Are the behaviours extreme and long-term, and do they affect all aspects of the child’s life?
  • Do they happen more often in this child compared with the child’s peers?
  • Are the behaviours a continuous issue or a response to a passing situation?
  • Do the behaviours occur in several settings or only in one place, such as the playground, classroom, or home?

The specialist pays close attention to the learner’s behaviour at different times and during different situations. Certain situations would require the child to keep paying attention. Most children with ADHD are better able to control their behaviours in situations where they are getting individual attention and when they are free to focus on more enjoyable activities. These types of situations are less important in the assessment. A learner may also be monitored to see how he or she acts in social circumstances, and may be given tests of intellectual capability and academic accomplishment to see if he or she has a learning disability. 

At BrightSparkz Tutors we provide excellent one-on-one tutoring for Maths, Science, English, Afrikaans and more… Get a tutor today

 

Is There a Secret to Raising Smart Kids?

A recent article by Carol S. Dweck suggests there may be! Her article, “The Secret to Raising Smart Kids” outlines the difference between two mind-sets, namely, a fixed mind-set and a growth mind-set. On the basis of extensive research and studies, she argues that a growth mind-set is the secret to being smart!

What is the growth mind-set? The growth mind-set focuses on “process” and hard work rather than on talent or intelligence. The growth mind-set places greater importance on learning through effort, hard work and overcoming challenges, and not running from them.

Many people assume that superior intelligence, capability or talent is the key to success. While this definitely helps, it is not necessarily the key, or the only key, to success. Research conducted over more than three decades shows that an overemphasis on intelligence or talent alone may cause feelings of vulnerability and a fear of challenges. Such feelings may stem from the notion that intelligence and talent are innate qualities and therefore pre-determine one’s capabilities and standards for learning and achieving. This is not true.

Tutors, parents and teachers can engender a growth mind-set in learners through praise for persistence, dedication, and hard work rather than for being clever. Simply telling a learner they are smart can instil a sense of laziness (or a fixed mind-set) because learners feel they are clever enough not to have to work or put in any effort. Such learners may thrive in earlier grades under the impression that not working while still maintaining good grades, means they are smart or gifted. Unfortunately, this ease seldom extends to higher grades and these learner’s results may later plummet. Rather than telling your learner how smart they are, praise them for their effort and what they did right. Tell learners success stories that emphasise and inspire hard work and an appreciation for learning.

Further research indicates that a growth mind-set better equips learners to deal with failure or bad grades. Learners who do not maintain a growth mind-set and have coasted by thinking they are too smart to make an effort, may attribute failure or a decline in grades to a lack of ability or intelligence rather than a simple lack of effort. Learners with a growth mind-set are more inclined to see a challenge or an issue as a problem to be solved instead of an obstacle they don’t have the capability or intelligence to overcome.

Tutors, teachers and parents should encourage learners to see the brain as a learning machine. If we see the brain as a machine that is constantly learning (which it is), then we are more likely to believe that we can expand our knowledge and skill-set through hard work and effort.

We at BrightSparkz Tutors agree that the brain is a learning machine and our tutors pride themselves on helping your learners to overcome any difficulty they may be experiencing through fun, dedication and enjoyment in learning!

If you want to learn more about the growth mind-set, visit http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-secret-to-raising-smart-kids1/ to view the entire article.