Tutoring by video, done now and done right

COVID-19 is here, and we’re all figuring out the new normal.

For many students, one consequence looms large: schools are closing, and they’re preparing to stay closed for months. The schools and the students alike are making the shift to distance learning. And they’re doing it right now, whether they’re ready or not.

But there’s more to it than just scheduling a video chat, or training for a day or two on Google Classroom.

We’ve been teaching the majority of our students via face-to-face video for years now. And not just from across the country. In fact, some of our students live less than a mile from our office.  No kidding: the experience can be so seamless that even a five-minute walk seems wasteful.

It’s because we’ve practiced, year-round, for years. We’re happy to share our experience with you.

Here are some ideas for getting the most out of an educator who isn’t accustomed to working over video. They all come from years of trying everything, talking to everyone, and figuring it all out.  It’s our pleasure to share it with you.

If you have more questions, schedule a chat. (Yes, we really are happy to help. No fee, no obligation.)

On intuition and the quadratic equation

“Dr. Po-Shen Loh has discovered a new way to solve quadratics.”

Well, yes and no. Dr. Loh is a great coach, educator, and evangelist, and I admire and respect him. If he says he was “dumbfounded,” then there’s something there.

The thing is, though, that the press is making a big thing about the “new formula he’s discovered”.  That’s just plain incorrect: the interesting part here isn’t the formula. That formula is just shoehorning a simple idea into the language of math, and in this instance the language is almost as cumbersome as with the original, better-known formula. So, not an improvement.

No, the key idea here is in putting together two facts:

  • that the roots of a quadratic are equidistant from the centerline of its graph
  • that that allows one to systematically work out the roots of a quadratic without either guessing or an explicit formula

Taught well, this new method will relieve students of the need to memorize any formula per se.  Instead, students who understand this will follow the method intuitively, and will wonder why quadratics get so much careful attention in math texts: instead, they’ll just be obvious.

(Now that is a development worth writing about.)

Dear Wes

We wanted to share some great news. (My son) presented 3 posters at the (large conference) in (major city) last week.  One of his posters on (interesting math topic) got selected as one of the top posters and he was invited to present it formally at the Abstract session.

(My son’s) confidence in math because of you has helped him achieve these amazing milestones.

Believe me, I really would love to take this credit.

But let’s be fair here: this student has gifts you would hardly believe. The entire family is inspirational: hard-working and accomplished, appropriately demanding but also warm and witty. It has been my great privilege to work with them, and with many such families and students.  I hope to continue meeting and helping people like this far into the future.

Even so, I’m going to permit myself to let this note make my month and reinforce the importance of AMC and math competition prep. There tends to be many excellent long term outcomes with this type of preparation.

I really do appreciate the opportunity to do what I do.

As many of you may know, the AMC is right around the corner (Jan 30 2020), and success here can make a huge difference in college admissions for some students. (Here are a few short videos explaining why and how.)

You probably have a math-oriented student or two who could benefit. Please direct them to our AMC welcome site so they can get started. 

If you have any questions about the AMC and how it might help one or more of your students, I’d be delighted to talk with you about it and help you however I can. Just schedule a call with me

Let’s make those dreams come true!

I’m just venting.

It really bums me out when the New Yorker piece on someone in our industry covers someone so… ugh, where do I even start?

  • Peppermint is not “nature’s adderall,” and even if it were, the only stimulants that are good ideas here are the prescriptions you have for your actual real diagnosed condition.
  • Only working for a few hours each day is not something to brag about. It suggests that striving for excellence isn’t a priority for you, bub. (And if not for you, then why for your students? Remember: you set an example.)
  • The money you’ve been paid: again, not something to brag about. (Your students’ successes, on the other hand: go nuts, brother.)
  • “Brain balm.” Oh god, don’t get me started.

The fact is: tutoring really is an expert skill. We may not be neurosurgeons, but… we aren’t the fly-by-night hokum this guy sounds like in print either.

At our best, we’re coaches, mentors, guides, patient co-travelers…

…at our best, we’re the teachers you remember thirty years later.

Excellence in balance

My sister-in-law recently wrote this piece on modern work and its relationship to family and community. So I’m taking this opportunity to thank Adam, Aidan, Amy, Audrey, Debbie, James, John, Michael, Michael, Owen, Ollin, Rora, and Stephanie: you past-or-present teammates have all contributed materially to our shared success, and every single one of you has done it on hours that corporate America would consider unworkable.

(Goes to show you what real A-players can do.)

Thank you all for making work fit into your lives instead of the other way around, without ever compromising the quality of your work.

ACT & SAT: are they winners’ games?

I didn’t expect Farnam Street to relate so directly to college admissions, but it does, and in a way that is as important as it is deep.

According to the post linked above, the outcome of a “winner’s game” is determined mostly by the actions of the winner; the outcome of a “loser’s game” is determined mostly by the actions of the loser.

So, in a winner’s game, superior skill matters, whereas in a loser’s game, it’s consistency that matters.

Everyone acts as though the SAT and ACT are winners’ games.  And, for middle-tier scorers, they probably are.  But for high scorers, these tests are loser’s games, 100%.

In other words, you don’t get from 1400 to 1550 by becoming smarter or more knowledgeable. You get there by consistently avoiding mistakes.

You show me a 1400 scorer, and I’ll show you someone who already has the necessary knowledge, but who also experiences some combination of anxiety, hubris, wandering attention, and/or magical thinking when it comes to answering the hard questions.

Getting rid of such bad habits is really hard. That’s why so few people get perfect scores.

That’s also why high scores are so prized.