Trello for Tutoring (2017)

In this post I’m going to share how I have used Trello as a great tool for tutoring students one on one. Last year I tutored several students, and to keep everything that they were doing straight I decided to start to store things in Trello. In doing so, I found out that it worked as a wonderful back and forth tool for us to communicate, share work and ask questions.

Each student interacted a little bit differently with it, and that is one thing that I found really fun and interesting. If you are a tutor, I think that you’ll find Trello really helpful for managing things. This post will share the things that I found most useful. I hope that you find it helpful.

Stumbling Upon Trello

One day I was listening to a podcast where the interviewer was talking with Dana Malstaff, founder of Boss Mom. I don’t remember the podcast title, but I do remember that she was sharing her love for Trello. At the time I was the PTO President for my son’s middle school and the concept of different boards to organize things sounded really appealing. I was running while listening so I made a mental note to come home and check it out. She described Trello as the offspring of Pinterest and Evernote. My husband loves Evernote and we have a lot stored in it. He spends a lot of time telling me I should use it more but I’m somewhat resistant. On Trello, however, I was hooked instantly.

So hooked that I set up a PTO board and a board for the race that I was also managing at the time, The May Day 5&5. I introduced it to PTO officers and then to the members. To say everyone was not as excited as I was would be an understatement. I have a tendency to overwhelm people with my enthusiasm for things, making them feel they must love it instantly. I am starting to learn that it freaks people out how I jump with 2 feet into things and then expect everyone else to jump right in with me so I’m working on that.

One member fell in love as much as I did though. She came over for Halloween with her kids and as the kids headed out to Trick or Treat she said, “can we talk Trello just a bit?” with the same energy I had about it. A half hour later both of our partners were looking at us like we’d gone insane!! I remember saying, “You have the reaction I thought EVERYONE would have.” She had organized our Zombie Night at school. I have included a screen shot here of what her list looked like after the event. She saved all the files, the debrief etc. This way when she steps down, someone new can just pick right up where she leaves off, even if she doesn’t have time to meet and get up to speed on things.

Trello for Tutoring

I don’t remember what made me think to try a Trello board for tutoring, but I’m very glad that I did. I’ll share a few screen shots here to show you how it can be used. *Note names have been removed from Board titles for this post except for my son’s name on his board.

We started a list for Homework where I would post things when we were working together. We’d come across a topic that my student was struggling with and immediately select work that she could practice when she was at home. The platform works like any other social media platform with the @mention. So, when she was working she could @mention my handle and I’d get a notification. Then I could reply with help for her, send her a link to something or scan in my work for a problem to show her. There were times during the year that I would assign something and ask her to take a picture with her phone or use Scannable and upload the files so I could “grade” things before the next time we met.

Each Common Core Module had its own list and we also included supplementary materials. Of all of my students this year, this student and I used Trello the most effectively, which is to say we had a lot of mid-week interaction on it and I felt its use enhanced her learning.

Kicking things up a notch!

This summer my son asked me if I could pre-teach him Algebra so he’d feel more confident when school started. “Sure, why not,” I said. He wanted to take an Algebra Regents exam to see what he knew already before the class. When he nearly scored a passing result (with the curve) on his baseline test he suddenly said, “what if we just do the class this summer?” Now I could go on and on about how ridiculous I think it is that you can get a 32% pre-curve and pass this test, but I’ll save that for another time. Before we jumped into Algebra we had to see if it would even be worth doing at home. Could he get the required 85% to skip ahead and get credit? It was a tall order for a summer session. I had tried to tutor another student though it the summer before and he got an 84%. Close, but not good enough for the requirement. By the time you hit the mid-80s the curve is not the 30+ point benefit that it is down low. And, Xander and I talked and decided that we were really shooting for 89 or 90+ if we tried this. We met with the HS guidance counselor and she said he could try it with approval from the Math Department Head. He’d have to score 85 or higher and do a final project.

Trello Power Ups

And now I figured out the Power Up feature in Trello. It turns out you can have a calendar connected for Trello as a “Power-Up” and this was a game changer for Xander and me. I had been struggling with the most efficient way to communicate and track our work. Yes, we live in the same household, but my goal was to create a system that would work even if the student didn’t live under my roof. Xander and I spent 2 hours a day together in the morning and then he went off to do his assignments independently for another couple of hours. Then, we’d come together at night or in the late afternoon to look things over. The calendar would allow us to track things easily. I made his Trello Board public so that the HS math teachers could see it if they’d like to keep tabs on how he was doing. I’m including screen shots here as well.

I created a custom “sticker” that would track our hours. Each circled one represents 1 hour of work. This is the regular list view.
This is the calendar view. You can see that most things have a line through it. When Xander finished an assignment he would check done and it shows up with a single line through it.

Going down the rabbit hole

Xander and I both have the same weakness; not knowing when to quit working! Pretty soon he was doing his work for hours and scanning things to upload into Trello for me. I was spending a ton of time grading his paperwork and then sending him things back. We realized early in the summer that as fun as that was and as necessary as it could be if we didn’t live in the same house, for us it was completely ridiculous. We started connecting face to face and I’d grade the work in front of him. We also started to set time limits on Algebra.

Trello on a trip

Mid summer we went on a couple of trips. Each trip was long enough that we couldn’t skip Algebra and stay on track. We’d have to build in time for our work. Trello was AMAZING for this. I uploaded all the files and planned out the time so that all we had to do was view them when we were in our hotel or car. We spent 2 hours working on projectile motion problems as we drove to Boston!! I will never forget hitting massive traffic and realizing we had to stop. My 16 year old new driver was navigating the city traffic and Xander and I had the light on in the backseat to illuminate our word problems. As she hit some heavy lane merging, we turned out our light and enjoyed the city views.

Communicating with teachers

Another feature that I found useful with Trello cropped up when I was tutoring a student who was out of school for medical reasons. She and I met for several hours at a time and we were working through all of her subjects. As such, I was collecting work from teachers each day. I’d stop into the school to get the materials. Then, I would return the materials when she completed them. Of course I set up a Trello Board for her.

She had an end of year Biology experiment that was required for her class. I’m not the most creative when it comes to science experiments. In fact just sitting with her reminded me of my 9th grade Bio experiment: how fast will milk spoil? The terrible thing about this is that I didn’t even do the experiment but at the end I made it to the finals because I made it look like I did it and made the display gorgeous.

I texted my daughter for experiment ideas. She had nothing great to offer, so the student and I started brainstorming. Soon we settled on what sounded like a good idea to both of us. I thought, “maybe your teacher is online,” and I @mentioned him on Trello. After all, if he responded during our session we could move forward. Sure enough he was and he green-lighted her project idea. We were able to spend the rest of our session coming up with a plan!! I thought it was super slick how easy it was to communicate, but also like that we had a record that others could see too. I was able to @mention her mom so she would know what her daughter would be coming home to her with!!

Trello as a website

I’m now teaching temporarily as a long term substitute in my son’s middle school. I’m currently using Trello as part of my website. I’ve linked to the calendar view so that parents and students can see the materials and print and download things. I LOVE this as it works as an online planner for me while providing full transparency for my students.

I’m using the free version of WordPress so I can’t embed Trello directly into the site. That is frustrating, but not frustrating enough for me to pay for the feature. I feel like the link is working for now.

Have you found Trello to be useful in education? I’d love to hear your stories and any suggestions you may have for me.

And Xander? He took that Regents Exam and somehow his paper got mis-placed for over a week. Each day he got more and more worried until the High School principal finally tracked it down. His dad was picking him up from camp when he learned his score. I was busy baking for my bakery and I got a tearful phone call from him. He scored an 89%. I was super thrilled for him, but I knew how much he wanted a 90 or higher. I reminded him that all of his practice tests were from 86-91, so an 89 was right in the area he should expect. I think when he realized how excited I was he decided he was actually happy and proud of himself after all.


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