Along with every other kid in the world, my 8 year old daughter Scarlet is experiencing at home, online learning during the “Stay at Home” novel Coronavirus Pandemic. She is receiving daily assignments of online activities. As I’ve been witnessing hers and preparing my own, I am evaluating what makes the most effective distance learning tools.

Recently, Scarlet was asked to log into a math website and complete a task geared toward teaching coin-counting. This cartoon animation had her making 25 cents with nickels and dimes.

I try to let Scarlet do her online learning with as little distraction as possible, but this got to be too much for me! She was dragging coins to a spot on the screen until she accumulated 25 cents, and then it would celebrate her accomplishment with a silly jingle. I felt like my daughter was turning into a chimpanzee.

I closed the device she was using and drew a grid. “I’m going to teach you a homonym; a multiple-meaning word,” I told her. “This is a table; not the kind you eat on. You use this to make sense of numbers.”

We made a few tables with varying totals and different coins available. She made many different combinations of coins to show the same amount.

While filling in a row of varying coins totaling a dollar, Scarlet made a slight mistake. The table already had one half dollar and one quarter. She wrote “5” in the nickels column which made me happy, but then she wrote “2” in the dimes space. I knew what had happened. She equated the value of one nickel with the number to be written in the field. No biggie. As it turned out, we happened to have toy coins that I had dug out of the closet. I presented the actual coinage on the carpet. Scarlet almost didn’t let me get out all five nickels, having realized her mistake.

Eventually, I made some puzzles where I would fill in certain coin fields and have Scarlet solve the missing number. “If you are making one dollar out of pennies, nickels, and dimes, and you have 8 dimes & 3 nickels, how many pennies will you have?” Not only did Scarlet solve the problem easily, but when I asked her to describe what she had done in her head, she walked me through her *thinking*.

# Thinking.

This is what was missing from the chimpanzee-producing online practice. The software allowed Scarlet to drop coins onto a spot on the screen and either rewarded her with a jingle or delivered a negative noise. It was up to Scarlet to figure out what worked best for getting the jingle to happen: Pull the lever to get the banana.

I’ve witnessed software programs that stop a kid after a few wrong answers and reteach a concept before allowing the student to continue an activity. Another way to check for thinking is having students type or video-record their reasoning for an answer. Then the educator can interact with the thinking, praising accurate steps, guiding ideas, and correcting missteps.

The closer to simulating the tailored responses of a human teacher an online program can produce, the more thinking it will stimulate in the student. How can you make a program applicable to the most practitioners, while simultaneously being tailored to the most personalized outcomes/answers?