Too Busy

I have too much going on right now that requires my attention so, until further notice, I am not accepting any new clients. If you are a past client and my schedule lightens up a bit I will try to fit you in.

Thank you.

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Yes, I’m Still Here.

Some things about this math and physics tutor website are obvious, including the way my blog posting schedule has ceased to be a weekly routine. That’s what happens when I get too busy with physics, calculus and life in general.

Nevertheless, I am still here and still doing the same kind of work. The only big change has been that my online delivery method has almost completely taken over my work. I still see some students in-person on Sundays, just for the sake of getting out of the house, but nearly everyone who comes to me these days prefers to work online. Mostly they just love the convenience but in many cases it’s because they prefer working in the private Scribblar whiteboard “room” that I set up for each of them.

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Math Requires Discipline. Hard Work is the Key.

Not a math tutor but still a teacher understood the value of self-disciplineMath is the most common subject that I tutor. Most of my students are between Grade 11 and first-year university so I really am talking about mathematics here, not elementary school arithmetic. Those who come to me for help differ wildly in their abilities. Some are years ahead of their classmates and simply want enrichment. At the other extreme are those who are just hoping to pass that one last required math course so that they can put the subject behind them for the rest of their lives. Most are getting ‘B’s but striving for ‘A’s.

All of this is pretty much what one might expect. What baffles me, though, is how someone can be in Pre-calculus 11 and still not know how to divide fractions. When I asked one of my most dedicated students about this she looked at me as if I deserved pity for my naïvité. “They get ‘C’s” she said, as if that explained everything. Rarely one for tact when away from teachers, she then added “That’s what happens to the ones who never do any work. They just keep on passing.”

In the grand scheme of human history, the widespread use of mathematics is a relatively recent phenomenon. We don’t just “pick it up” the way we do our native languages. It has to be studied. Math requires knowledge, skills, and thought processes that our distant ancestors had little use for.

In the 20’th century it became fashionable for educators to insist that the way to teach mathematics was to make it fun and easy. I see no harm in enjoying math and learning anything is a process of bringing ease to that which was once difficult. However, the idea seems to have been taken too far. A common attitude among students and even some parents seems to be that there is no point in learning anything if it cannot be made fun and easy.

Was cracking the Enigma code easy?
Was discovering the structure of DNA easy?
Was landing humans on the Moon easy?
Is brain surgery easy?
Will dealing with climate change be easy?

Just for fun, see how many million Google search results you get for the phrase “math fun” or “math easy”. Then see if you get more than 2,000 results for the phrase “math hard work”.

Learning Math and Learning Music

Sometimes I wonder if I expect to much of my students. At other times I wonder if my expectations are too low. Becoming adept at mathematics has a lot in common with learning music. In this Wall Street Journal article that challenges conventional wisdom, Joanne Lipman reflects upon lessons that she and others learned from an orchestra conductor.

1. A little pain is good for you.
2. Drill, baby, drill.
3. Failure is an option.
4. Strict is better than nice.
5. Creativity can be learned.
6. Grit trumps talent.
7. Praise makes you weak…
8.…while stress makes you strong.

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A Tutor as a Coding Mentor

Tutor suggests learning coding without a school

When I started working as a private tutor, I imagined spending my time helping students to understand the math and physics courses in their final years of high school so that they could get into university and thrive there. For the most part, that has certainly been the case but the deeper I get into this profession the more I learn about the diversity of education situations that people find themselves in.

One thing that I find intriguing is the number of well-educated people, with good incomes, who are questioning the wisdom of sending their highly-motivated children to university. Looking at trends and doing the math, they are wondering if there is a way for their kids to spend four years that would make them more self-sufficient than they would be with a university degree and would have them starting their careers with little or no debt.

This article lays out one author’s suggestion for how a young person might go about starting a credible technology business in the time it typically takes to get a university degree. As someone who has spent the majority of his life as a software developer, I see the plan as entirely reasonable. The advice about selecting a “stack” of technologies to focus on is particularly good because I have worked with many very clever people who were held back by their own enthusiasm for learning about every new thing to come along without mastering enough of anything to get a major task done well. The only minor complaint I have about the article is that it places so much emphasis on coding without explaining how it relates to computer programming and to computer science, but anyone following the plan would learn the distinction along the way.

Although I have taken my share of formal computer science, computer programming, and coding courses over the years, I have absolutely no doubt that I learned the most by teaching myself but I must admit that having access to an expert for an hour or two each week for some guidance and technical expertise would have made my self-study efforts much more efficient.

In the years that I have been a tutor, the fraction of my students who are homeschooled has steadily risen. I wonder how long it will be before I get asked to mentor a young independent scholar?

From the article…

The best way to participate in the internet and mobile revolution is by learning to code. The future is written in software. You can write it or be programmed by it. As a proficient software developer, you can implement your own ideas, or you can help other people implement theirs.
And the best part is that you can learn coding for free.

You just need sustained effort.

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More Requests for a Coding Tutor?

Girls learning coding in Victoria

The most common subject that I tutor online and here in Victoria is mathematics (pre-calculus, calculus, finite). After that, in order of decreasing demand, are physics, chemistry and coding. My post-secondary training in chemistry is minimal so I am glad that I only get a few requests a year to tutor that subject but it would be nice if more people asked me for help with coding. Every now and then I see indications that this may be changing.

I generally regard 1996 as the year the internet entered mainstream conversation. Most of my students were born just after that so they have never known life without it. Since they are all very comfortable with internet services like Facebook and Instagram, it is tempting to believe that they are very knowledgeable about everything to do with the internet. This is is faulty reasoning that leads to an invalid conclusion. Most of them know only what they need to know to do what they want to do, like post a comment or share a photo. I have met very few who have any clue about how computer programs work.

Some of my students have taken computer programming courses in school but, considering how heavily our lives are influenced by software written by total strangers, I am continually surprised by how few of them have done so and by the fact that it is optional.

Two or three years ago, before I started working mostly online, I tutored a student at Saint Margaret’s School so I was very pleased when this CHEK TV news story caught my attention a couple of weeks ago.

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