Visit sCoolWork Now!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Does automation help or harm to the learning process?

Since I started development of my school paper writing application, sCoolWork, the question I ask myself time after time was: “Does automation help or harm to the learning process?”
The answer isn’t straight forward.

In my opinion, automation can help a lot when used in a smart way.
First of all, automation can cut many time-consuming repetitive tasks. Once you’ve done something, redoing it dozens of times has no learning benefit.
The whole formatting standards (MLA/APA) issue is another positive aspect for automation. Is it really important for the history essay to keep in mind what exactly should be italicized in each bibliography entry? Isn’t it much more important to let the student focus on his/her ideas?
And maybe the most important benefit of automation is conducting a proper workflow. Even after being instructed many times, students still start their work with writing the introduction and, naturally, stop at the second sentence of an almost blank document. Imagine something that can guide them into researching their points first, outlining their paper second, and only then writing content accordingly - what can be better than this best practice?
However, there is no doubt that automation can be harmful if we forget what it shouldn’t do.
Any automation which tries to “think” instead of the student is an enemy of education. Reading and understanding the material, developing and formulation ideas, writing the self-conceived content - all of these tasks must be done solely by the student. As a parent, I can’t accept any kind of "cheating" which might let my child get good grades, without enriching and developing his knowledge.
My conclusion is simple. I support any kind of automation which can help students to focus on proper researching and writing, and I vote against any kind of automation which turns our children into button pressing monkeys.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


Yes, sCoolWork started a crowdfunding campaign.

A month of preparations, discussions, tweaks, to do's. Pressing that "Publish" button was much harder than expected. What if we've done anything wrong?
We've just started. We don't know what to expect. We are really hoping this will give us a good boost.

Would you believe today we actually SOLD the first sCoolWork subscription?
A definite milestone.

Here's hoping for a successful campaign, and a better logo than this one...


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Google Images and Internet Tools In General

In one of our water cooler conversations at sCoolWork I was giving high praises to Google Images. Yes, the place where you type a keyword and get lots of graphics.
It might seem strange to younger readers, but up until a few years back, when it came to planting pictures and graphics into a document, Image Banks ruled. These were special repositories of tons of graphics, images, even audio clips and animation. Most of us used (an maybe still using?) MSOffice's Gallery (whether in-program or on-line), but many of us actually bought CDs over CDs filled with graphics! Imagine working with a very finite image collection, wherein if you wanted a "tree", you'd get to choose from 5-10 different graphics, spanned over 7 CDs or so (if you want tree #4, please insert CD #6 etc.).
Those of us who are truly ancient, even remember the world renowned PrintMaster from Broderbund. Back in the 80's, armed with a dot-matrix printer, if you wanted to create the coolest banners, posters and signs - PrintMaster was the way to go. You'd get to choose a font (from about 8 sets), some graphics and a template, and the result would look like this:

It's nice to reminisce, but can we even compare the 5-10 trees we had @ PrintMaster and the CD collections to this?? At the time this was written, "tree" produced some 2.6 BILLION results. Not bad compared to 10.
I'm not gonna repeat how the cloud had made us better etc., but I would like to make a very relevant point. When it comes to educational aids, there is so much free stuff out there, it is flabbergasting. Time consuming tasks such as planting an image, searching for material, formatting bibliography, finding a creative angle - it's all there. It might not be marketed or labeled as a homework aid, but it sure is good for our uses.
Over the next few months, we intend to incorporate such free tools in sCoolWork. All in the effort to save students' time and improve grades. Stay tuned to what's coming and I think you'd  be pleasantly surprised... :)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Good Grades: 5 Easy Study Habits to Boost Your Grades Up

It amazes me every time to see that students never think about study habits and think good grades come just from studying ‎hard. That is: if you sit down and spend a lot of time doing homework and prepping - you'll ‎get good grades.‎
The truth is that it might work for some of us - a small percentage, in fact - but not for all or ‎even most of us. For most of us social people, it is changing the WAY WE LEARN, or our Study Habits, rather ‎than HOW MUCH we learn, which will bring our grades up.‎
My story for finding these study tips is simple. I used to be a straight A (or straight "smiley ‎face") student back in 1st and 2nd grade, all the way up to 6th. At 7th grade I "got a life" :) , ‎stopped listening in class and doing my homework and my grades immediately went down. ‎I struggled for two years, in a new school, in the lower performing half of my class, doing ‎homework here and there and generally underperforming. At 9th grade, one of my ‎teachers did me a HUGE favor and transferred me to the front row. I had no choice but to ‎listen to the class, and lo and behold: my grades in that class went up! I move to first row in ‎the rest of my classes, and started behaving as I describe below in my first two tips. Tips ‎‎#3&4 came a little bit later, when I wanted to get rid of homework as soon as possible, and ‎got another boost. Tip #5 came at high school, when I needed to choose my classes. It ‎worked so well, I was having real trouble to choose from so many classes, which all seemed ‎suddenly so relevant! I ended up doing almost TWICE the amount of classes needed to get ‎a high school diploma, and I would have done more if I could.‎
Several years later, when I became a university student, I immediately applied all those ‎rules. I ended up with a 9.4 average.‎

So what's my secret? These study tips, which I happily share with you.‎

Study Tip #1: Sit in the first two rows
This simple enough rule is enough to make the best effect in the least effort. The idea here ‎is to force yourself into the best position possible to learn. Sitting close to the teacher, ‎you'll hear what he/she has to say loud and clear. You won't be distracted with playing your ‎mobile or any other non-learning activity simply because you cannot hide.‎If you think the above is bad for you; you want to hide from the teacher and you want your ‎space to play - maybe you should think again if you want to improve your grades at all!‎Let me give you the #1 reason why I think you SHOULD pay attention in class: you're ‎spending the time there ANYWAY. Whether you'll devote your entire time to‎ Facebook ‎, or play Mobile games, or sit and listen - you'll be spending the same amount of time. So, if ‎your grades are important to you (and they should be!) - you might as well take this time to ‎actually LEARN and improve your grades.‎

Study Tip #2:‎ Get acquainted with your teacher, if possible
I think this tip was the most influential in improving MY grades. The basic misconception ‎lots of students have is that grading is done in a neutral way. i.e. if you score high on your ‎tests and papers - you'll get the average (or weighted average) score for your class. Wrong. ‎Scoring is done by HUMAN BEINGS, and there is almost always room for grade ‎‎"adjustments". Along such factors as "class participation", many teachers in fact do modify ‎the students' scores based on their personal experience with them in class. I encountered ‎very few cases where the grade actually went down because of bad behavior, but I know ‎of A LOT of cases, where a dedicated student got a bump up. So what's my advice? Get ‎your teacher to notice you (and in a good way, yeah?); participate in class, ask questions, ‎show real interest in the material. Do this earlier rather than later; show your presence ‎right from the first or second week of class (why? read "‎ Halo Effect ‎"). If you're the talkative, social charismatic type, this will come natural to you, but even if ‎you're a little shy, don't worry. You don't have to be a lead actor or actress. Just asking ‎some questions and showing genuine interest is enough. Don't worry; you're teacher will ‎almost always get that this is a real effort on your behalf; he or she will notice that despite ‎the fact that you're a little shy (yes, they will see that you're shy; experienced teachers ‎read us like open books :) ), you are making an effort and this won't be forgotten come ‎grading day.

Study Tip #3:‎ Do your homework the moment you receive them
This tip will save you a lot of time. The basic idea is that after class you remember the fresh ‎material, and in each passing day you remember less and less. Doing homework late means ‎that you're going to spend a lot of time rehearsing what you've learned in class, often ‎trying to remember what exactly the teacher meant. Doing homework the same day you ‎got them will focus your efforts on going beyond what was learned in class, rather than ‎trying to remember it. I assume it won't be a shock to you when I tell you that in doing your ‎homework early, you'll, on top of saving time, actually do a better job, so if you're being ‎graded on homework this is an added bonus.

Study Tip #4:‎ ...and read them before next class‎
This takes one minute of your time, but can be a world of difference. It's basically the same ‎effect as my previous tip. If you review, very quickly, the notes from last lesson, or your ‎homework, you won't need to remember previous material in real time, but rather focus ‎on absorbing the new material. This is especially important in math and science classes, ‎where the material builds upwards from one lesson to the next, and later material is based ‎on understanding the early lessons.‎

Study Tip #5: Find YOUR connection to the learned material
This is perhaps the most important tip of all. If you manage to do this, the rest will seem ‎effortless and easy. All you have to do is ask yourself WHY is this course relevant to what I ‎am or what I do. It's easy when you're an African American learning African American ‎history, but trickier when learning Trigonometry or Literature. True; some classes are not ‎that relevant, and a lot of classes are chosen FOR you, not BY you. However, the trick is ‎that if you do identify with them, the rest comes very easily and effortlessly. It's easy if you ‎have a good teacher; good teachers know how to draw students to the material (did you ‎see "‎ Dead Poet Society ‎"?), but if you're not blessed with one, or are still not swayed by the teacher's efforts - that ‎job is yours to do. Try to go beyond the learned material, and into your life, your ‎aspirations, and your interests. Some history courses you'll feel are important because you ‎want to grow up and become a politician (what can we learn from what happened in the ‎‎1920's that can help us in solving today's problems?), some literature courses will teach you ‎tools to appreciate YOUR favorite books from another angle (is the escapism from "Catcher ‎in the rye" similar to what is shown in the "Harry Potter" books?), and there's no end to ‎what Math classes can do for your ability to translate everyday problems into easily ‎solvable mathematical presentations (you have NO IDEA what advantages this ability can ‎give you in your adult life, both personal and professional). Get the idea? You have to be ‎your own motivator. If you don't, every homework will be a chore and following the above ‎tips will be much much harder. If you're motivated, homework is fun (or, at least, as fun as ‎they can be...) and you'll have no problems gathering the willpower needed to change your study habits and do what's ‎necessary to improve your grades.‎

So there they were; my 5 study habit tips. For more study habits and tips, you might want to look at this additional Study Habits Guide , or just go back to sCoolWork.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Why you should never search if you're just making a school paper

We really feel like dinosaurs...

When we were at school, all we had were encyclopedias. Teachers would ask us, the students, to describe what happened in, for example, 1789 (The French Revolution). We would look up at the index, choose which volume of the encyclopedia we should open (not THAT kind of volume. encyclopedias came in, like, 20 books; each a "volume"), look "French Revolution, the" up, and trying to copy what it was written there, being careful not to copy word for word.I cannot begin to explain how different THAT was from what's going on today.

First of all, the sources of information are exponentially larger. You still got Wikipedia, of course (which, in itself is a heck of a lot better than the old encyclopedias), and a great help on homework, but you also have online articles, news, blog, discussions, senseless rambling (such as this text :) ), videos, images, references... you get the idea.

So, isn't a world of information better than just a couple of encyclopedia pages?
Unfortunately, in most cases, no.

With the drastic growth of information sources came the concept of "searching", that is: finding what you actually need amongst the sea of information. Let's not belittle this seemingly minor concept. It is a cornerstone in our online, and academic life. Nothing less. The ability to filter gold from garbage is what made Google what it is today, and it is the basis of most of the information companies around us.

But now even that is not enough. Sure, we all use Google search, but it seems that no matter what we do, we still have to filter the garbage ourselves...
This time consuming garbage filtering is really disruptive as it (a) takes a loooooooooooot of time and (b) just puts us off so much that if and when we actually find what we need, we don't have time to actually do a thorough job, reading, learning and integrating the material into something intelligent. Instead we "copy-paste" a lot, and modify a little so no one could blame us for copy-pasting.

This is not learning, provides little help on homework, if at all, and it is a waste of time. Wouldn't you rather spend your time actually doing something that would improve your skills, make you better, and you might learn something along the way?

Our opinion is, that if you're not an information professional, and you don't have to find adult business data or complex or very specific university-level information, YOU SHOULD SKIP SEARCHING ALTOGETHER. Don't waste your time on garbage filtering and focus on reading pre-fetched or indexed material instead.

So who would search for me and fetch the material I need for me, you ask?

Excellent question! Have you tried sCoolWork? :)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A few words to start with...

I all began when we got so frustrated when we found out that when we do our homework, 50% of the time is wasted on absolutely unnecessary stuff: forever searching for the right info and filtering a lot of irrelevant junk, struggling with formatting after copy-pasting from the web (where did that weird table come from, right?), trying to maintain accurate bibliography etc. etc. All junk and wasted time. And then we thought how great it would be if there was an app that would DO ALL THESE THINGS FOR US, and what if this app was do that so well THAT IT WOULD ACTUALLY IMPROVE OUR GRADES!

Hi, and welcome to the sCoolest blog on earth.

We are the team developing sCoolWork, an app that's going to save you a lot of time, improve your grades and generally make you a happier person (no promise on the third thing, if you're a grouch, though :)

This blog will try to capture our process of making sCoolWork; our ideas, our ideals and thoughts about homework, education and starting an internet business.

We hope you'll enjoy reading about our "ride" as much as you enjoy sCoolWork. Please feel free to use sCoolWork and let us know what you think (be easy on us, though, it's still BETA...)