Paper showing early mixed results for students


Photo provided by Jessica Spahn

BACK AND FORTH: A conversation between Jessica Spahn (12) and a physics tutor. Spahn explained that the tutor kept telling her to convert to polar coordinates although she was using the coordinates given in the problem’s description.

Sam Bull, Editor-in-Chief

Paper, the 24-hour tutoring service the district purchased mainly in response to lack of student engagement in office hours and resource periods, has been producing both positive and negative experiences for students so far this semester.  

The District 99 Board of Education approved the purchase as part of a 17-month contract for approximately $175,000 at a Dec. 14 meeting. Associate Superintendent for Student Learning Gina Ziccardi explained in a presentation at that meeting how one of the company’s key principles is using the Socratic Method of teaching instead of giving explicit answers.

“It’s chat-based and uses the Socratic Method. The Socratic Method is [asking questions] so they’re not just giving an answer. Students can’t go in and just [ask], ‘What is the answer to this problem?’ They will not give the answer,” Ziccardi said.

However, senior Jessica Spahn has found that, in her experiences, the Socratic Method doesn’t seem to be the best way to get help for some subjects.

“I heard that [the Socratic Method] is really good for subjects that are more subjective like humanities, law, and philosophy and stuff like that. But it’s not as good for math and science and things that are more objective,” Spahn said. “It’s less debatable I guess. When I don’t know what I’m doing, it’s hard [when the tutor] is like, ‘Okay, now what do you think it is?’”

Spahn tutors for Physics 300 and 400, and explained how she feels the best method for tutoring in physics is showing students how to do the problem when they don’t know exactly what to do.

“Obviously, I let the person try the next step and if they don’t know how to do it I point them in the right direction. If they still don’t know how to do it, I do the step for them, and eventually it kind of clicks into place where they’re able to finish the problem on their own. Enough of those practice problems and they’re able to do the other problems completely by themselves,” Spahn said.

Spahn explained that she used Paper for help with AP Physics two separate times but neither were worthwhile. She elaborated on what was particularly difficult the second time around.

“The second time I went on, I got reconnected with an ‘expert tutor.’ I spent, I’m not kidding, all my lunch period from start to finish75 minutesand I didn’t get a single thing done. It was just back and forth, back and forth. At the very end of the 75 minutes, she was like, ‘Okay, that’s it,’ and she didn’t really give me a direct answer,” Spahn said. “So I just took whatever we had, wrote it down on my paper, and turned it in. The next day we went over it in physics and it wasn’t even right; the answer she got that we went back and forth discussing wasn’t even remotely close to correct.”

Senior Avery Nowka has also experienced difficulties with the program, most notably with the flow of her discussion with the tutor. 

“It was kind of hard to get help and for them to explain it because it’s like texting back and forth. I also was in the middle of a question and we were working through it then my tutor said she had to transfer me because she was about to clock out so then I would have had to start all over with another tutor. But the other tutor for AP Stats didn’t start their shift for another hour so I just logged off because I didn’t want to wait,” Nowka said.

Still, with the time she did have with a tutor, Nowka found it to be helpful to be able to ask for help at any time of the day.

“Overall I think it would probably be more helpful for other classes that aren’t APs because you need an ‘expert’ in that area to get help, however, it was nice that I could get help at my own pace at 11:30 at night,” Nowka said.

Despite difficulties, other students have had beneficial experiences with the program. Freshman Will Murphy explained how it provided an excellent substitute for his teacher’s office hours, which he couldn’t make on time.

“I was struggling to learn some topics in math and I hadn’t had time to go to office hours to get help. When my teacher told me about Paper I thought it was stupid. Until I tried it out. It turned out to be very helpful. The tutors are very easy to interact with and can answer your questions very quickly and actually help you. Overall it was a very positive experience,” Murphy said.