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Home » Green parenting

Review of BrightSpark maths tuition

Submitted by on Friday, 4 February 2011 Loading Add to favourites  5 Comments

brightspark-online-maths-tuitionI recently trialled BrightSpark as part of our home school curriculum.

Little Miss Green had a SATS assessment and is around age 7 for maths, whereas her English is around age 11. I’ve never been one who thinks children should be all-rounders, it’s evident her gifts and interests are in English, but now she is flexi schooling, maths is becoming an issue and is continually being flagged up by her school.

We went to Brightspark to see if they could help…

BrightSpark is an online 1-2-1 maths tuition service. Teaching is done via a headset and interactive whiteboard. Everything is online, so you don’t need to download anything.

After our sessions, here’s a review of the good, the bad and the ugly …

GOOD

Online resources

There is a fantastic online resource where you can access and download additional content and test your progress with automated testing and presentations. You can also practice with past papers and mark schemes.

You can review your previous sessions, which is helpful for use with revision and gives you the ability to go over anything you are unsure of. These features really help you consolidate your learning.

Price

The sessions cost £12 – £15 an hour, which for private 1-2-1 tutoring is excellent value.

Politeness

Every tutor was very polite and punctual.

Tools

Once we got it working successfully, the interactive whiteboard was a great learning tool.

Praise

On occasions, LMG was awarded smiley faces, thumbs up signs and stars – as she is a child who learns through reward this worked well to keep her motivated and enthusiastic.

Feedback from BrightSpark

I sent a feedback questionnaire to BrightSpark and within an hour I had a very positive response. I was told that more detailed feedback and assessment was on their list of improvements and I was invited to see the improvements as they come out. 10/10 for customer care on that!

BAD

Whiteboard set up

It took us ages to realise (and the tutor couldn’t help us) that we were trying to write on a whiteboard with white ink – duh! We lost 5-10 minutes of our first session figuring this simple error out. When we went for our next session, we ended up with white ink again, so this is a basic functionality problem which hasn’t been addressed.

Initial Assessment

We had to type in the key stage our child was at and select the topic we wanted to cover when booking the session. I was expecting the tutor to spend the first 10 minutes or so assessing the level my daughter was at, but they went straight in with questions that were far beyond her capability. At one stage my daughter ended up in tears because she found it so difficult 🙁
As I said, although my daughter is technically key stage 2, her ABILITY is the top end of key stage 1. Maybe I should have addressed that before the session, but it would have been good if the tutor could have picked that up.

For example, LMG is still struggling with her basic tables and one of the first multiplication questions was 324×8 which totally threw her!

Questions

I booked two sessions for multiplication as this is what LMG was learning at school. When we went for the second session I realised all the questions were the same as the last session! It would seem that there is ONE set of questions for each part of the system, but this was not pointed out to me. It was still useful because LMG had not remembered these were the same questions, but for the ‘paying parent’ I felt a bit short changed.

Criticism

Whether this is a cultural thing I don’t know – maybe us Brits are softies, but on two or three occasions, LMG got a ‘simple’ multiplication wrong and was quite chastised. I know some children respond well to this sort of approach, but LMG needs more smiley faces and stars rather than being told off for a simple mistake! She struggles enough with maths without the need for *feeling* she is doing badly by someone saying “NO!” down a headset to her.

UGLY

Feedback

The feedback was pretty unhelpful. On one session we had

xxx learned about multiplication of numbers.
Strong area: She is good in multiplication of numbers with a single digit number.
Improvement area: She solved some problems of multiplication of two digits. She need to practice more with such problems
“.

On the next session we had:

xxx has learned about multiplication and session went very well.
Strong Area: xxx has completely understood the method to mutiply single digit with three digit numbers and has solved the questions correctly.
Improvement Area: She needs to work a bit on times table. After bit practice, she would be perfect in this concept
.

Accents

Some of the tutors (all tutors are based in India) had accents which were nearly impossible to understand. I had to sit by my daughter for the entire session and virtually ‘translate’ everything they said. This was a problem for a subject which LMG struggles with anyway. The key to teaching is being able to communicate effectively and to be honest, the accents were a huge barrier to her learning and understanding.

Microphones

On two out of the three sessions, the quality of microphones the tutors were using were not up to par. It was extremely difficult to hear on occasions which made learning even more difficult.

Verdict

I think this is a great concept with lots of promise which could be improved in several areas. The use of headsets and interactive whiteboards really brings learning into the 21st century and for home schooled children or for kids who are struggling (or gifted) at school, it’s a way for parents to be able to afford private tuition. However, being able to understand the tutor is the number one prerequisite of learning and there were areas where this was difficult – such as poor quality microphones and strong accents.

When setting up an account, we had to input which key stage our child was at so tutors could identify the relevant curriculum. However, I felt there was a huge part of the tutoring missing, which was finding out which level the child was at. Without this knowledge, the session cannot be geared to the child’s level. As such the session really pushed LMG – this was ok, but she did get upset and this could have been prevented. In addition, some children learn through lots of praise and the gentle reassuring approach whereas others learn through being pushed – a couple of minutes spent talking to the parent before the session or a questionnaire could address all of these issues to make the session more tailored to the individual child in order to get the most from the experience. A child who is upset is not open to learning …

The price is good value – to get a maths tutor to come to our house would cost around £25 per hour, whereas these sessions are half that cost. I must admit I did wonder if Indian tutors were used because, rather than “having a long and rich heritage in mathematics as well as a world-class higher education system” they are ‘cheap labour’ (and that would have been hard for me to endorse, ethically) but I have since discovered that they are paid three times the average local wage, so to be honest, it’s a win-win all ’round.

If your child enjoys using a computer to learn (mine doesn’t particularly) and they can get over the obstacles then I think BrightSpark has a lot to offer. One school in the UK is even using BrightSpark rather than having children in with a maths teacher which I thought was very interesting. I’m not sure it’s the perfect set up, there is something very important about the oral tradition, connecting with people physically and seeing and sensing them as a person, but for an hour a week, it worked for us.

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5 Comments »

  • Caroline says:

    Dear Mrs Green and Little Miss Green,

    Thank you so much for trialling BrightSpark and writing such a detailed review – we are really pleased that you like the concept. We will certainly be taking all of your feedback on board as we develop and improve our systems, and of course are delighted that you give us 10/10 for customer care!

    Very best wishes,

    Caroline

  • What an interesting and amazing concept. So much more feasible paying that than someone coming to the home. What a shame about the little flaws though, hopefully they will take your feedback on board and improve it. Thanks for sharing

  • Ellen says:

    It’s really interesting as nationally there is a big problem in teaching maths to girls. I used to clerk for a governing of a local lower school who had spent a lot of time and money investing in techniques to teach Maths to girls or other children who couldn’t relate to the traditional teaching technique.

    Ultimately they found that girls tend to learn in a collaborative environment rather than a competitive one and have introduced some simple measures; like every child putting their hand up when they think they’ve solved the problem rather than seeing who can shout the answer out first and a lot of group working, they told their teachers to adapt the curriculum for each learner and that each cohort will be different and approaches need to change every year (sounds bloody exhausting!).

    It might be worth seeing if LMG works better in a small study group. Your Local Authority should have a home schooling advisor who might be able to help you set up a little group of other home schooled girls for them to work through maths together (and maybe split the cost of a tutor).

    Good luck.

  • Mrs Green says:

    @Caroline: Good to see you Caroline, thanks for popping by. Interestingly, after writing this, my daughter had another session and the tutor was fantastic. He was SO encouraging, could really pick up she was struggling and doesn’t like maths and was very patient. After the session my daughter said ” He was MAGIC! I want him again, he was soooooo nice”.
    So there we are – the energy between the teacher and student is really important to success, enjoyment and learning.

    Is there the facility to book a specific tutor?

    @CherishedByMe: Thanks hon, yes, it’s a great concept that just needs a little ironing out – like most things in life!

    @Ellen: Thanks for sharing your experience Ellen. I think you’re right about the competitive element. If you put that in a subject you’re not particularly enthused at then it’s terrifying! The idea of sharing a tutor is great – I hadn’t thought of that; duh! And yes, LMG thrives in a small group, she’s not a big group person at all …

  • Caroline says:

    @Mrs Green: Thanks for the feedback, great to hear that the further session was such a success. For now, you can request a particular tutor by typing “please could we have X” into the free text box on the booking page under the topic selection. Hopefully in the future as part of the improvements I have mentioned you will be able to track and request your favourite tutors very easily.

    @CherishedByMe: Thanks for the positive comment – we are most certainly taking everything on board and will be making great improvements in the near future – watch this space!