Behind-the-scenes wisdom for parents

This summer, Julia Gooding of One Sky Education interviewed me in order to introduce me to her clients.

We had a much more powerful conversation than I expected! Find it here.

In particular, there’s a lot of valuable but hard-to-find advice here for parents who want to help but don’t want to helicopter, as well as parents of AMC competitors.

(It’s 26 minutes in all, so check the top comment to skip to the part that’s most interesting to you.)

Learning vs education

Today Seth Godin posted:

Education is the hustle for a credential. It exchanges compliance for certification. An institution can educate you.

Learning can’t be done to you. It is a choice and it requires active participation, not simple adherence to metrics.

Learning is the only place to find resilience, possibility and contribution, because learning is a lifelong skill that isn’t domain dependent.

Most of the learning moments in our lives are accidental or random. A situation presents itself and if we’re lucky, we learn something from it.

I agree that learning is where it’s at, which is why we’re introducing a few new offerings in the coming weeks. If you’re on our mailing list, you’ll see those shortly. (And if not, let me know, and I’ll be happy to add you.)

But I also think that if you can rack up an educational credential as part of the learning process, it’s worth going for it. And that’s why we also continue to help students prepare for standardized tests, math competitions, and classwork.

To sum up: It’s great if you join us because you want the STEM grades and the test scores. But once you’re here, it’s the learning that’ll really blow your doors off!

So… let’s get to it.

Education in the time of COVID-19

We are all being called on to do more than we are used to.

  • Schools are suddenly closed, and they are scrambling to figure out distance learning.
  • Parents are figuring out how to juggle their own work and their kids’ education (to say nothing of their own self-care).
  • Some students are trying to keep up with the new work. Some are struggling to make meaning from the new assignments.  Almost no one yet knows how much they are learning.

For tutors, the job has always been understanding the student, and clearing away barriers to learning. It’s just that now, the barriers come in many more varieties besides just misunderstanding the material. Now students have more challenges:

  • Teachers struggling with new tools
  • Students’ need to manage their time more than they feel ready for
  • Students trouble owning their own learning in the face of reduced testing and other checkins

For all of us, the challenge is figuring things out fast, and changing things fast as we figure out what works.

That’s how tutors can step up, because: the fastest learning team is a motivated student and an expert.

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.)