Posted in Teaching & Learning, Tips for Students

The Feynman Technique

The Feynman Technique

This old standby is a favorite of students everywhere: “I understand it, I just can’t explain it…”

Those of us with experience learning and teaching know, of course, that this is a contradiction in terms. If you can’t explain something, you don’t understand it!

The contrapositive of this gives rise to the Feynman Technique for mastering any material:

1. Study the material you want to learn until you feel you have some grasp of it

2. Re-communicate it in some form to someone who doesn’t already understand it, making it as simple yet as complete and accurate as you can; you can do this by writing as if you were explaining it to someone, or by actually explaining it to someone.

3. If you don’t understand a particular point or detail well enough to explain it in simple, clear terms to someone who doesn’t understand it, return and review the material until you can.

4. Repeat as necessary/desired.

Where the real magic of this technique comes in is that in the process of explaining the ideas you want to learn about, you will be organizing and contextualizing your thoughts as you articulate them, so the process of communication itself generates comprehension!

There are many ways to put this principle into practice in your own learning process. Of course you can just write about what you are learning on a piece of paper and keep it to yourself, but this is likely to seem dry and lifeless. An even better approach is to engage others in your learning process, by actually explaining what you are learning to interested friends and relatives, or other students in the same class. You can write articles and blog posts, answer questions and provide homework help online, or even tutor other students.

Whatever you do to put yourself into a situation where you are re-communicating what you are learning for someone else’s benefit, making it as simple and clear as possible, will cement your own comprehension. Just remember, you can’t say you understand something until you can explain it!

Posted in Online Tutoring

My Secret Strategy For Making A 32 On The ACT – Without Test Prep!

In this blog post I will reveal the secret strategy that I used to make a 32 on the ACT and go to college for free, without any test prep. Are you ready? Here it is:

Learn what is taught in school as you go along.

Let me explain. Students and their parents spend hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars on test prep materials, services, and software each year, but the ACT (as well as the SAT) is designed to measure academic achievement in high school. This means that there’s nothing on the test that is not covered by the standard curriculum that all students are required to take. Test prep is only a review, and can’t prepare a student to perform well starting from scratch. The time to begin preparing for the ACT is not a month or even six months before taking the test, but the first day of freshman year, by having a passion for learning, a personal motivation for what you are doing, and by getting help along the way. Learning is fueled by relevance, and without having a sense of purpose and drive, cramming facts and figures is like trying to fill a bottomless bucket.

As an online tutor and academic coach, I help students not only learn the most effective ways to use their talents, but also get in touch with their own sense of passion, motivation, and burning sense of curiosity. If you build a house with a strong foundation, you won’t need to do last-minute repairs. Contact me today to find out how I can help your son or daughter unleash their inner academic rock star.

Posted in Online Tutoring

Why Tutoring Is Important For Smart Kids

One of the reasons many people don’t hire a tutor until the last minute is because of the social stigma, similar to that associated with psychological therapy or counseling, that if you need help you must be “weak” or “stupid”. However, this stigma is both wrong and incorrect.

It is wrong because there should be no shame associated with getting help if you need it; this doesn’t make you less of a person or less worthy in any way. It is incorrect because kids don’t struggle in school because they are “stupid”, they struggle because school doesn’t work for them.

A tutor is a specialist, either in a particular academic area, or in providing one-on-one instruction, or both. One-size-fits-all public education is calibrated for the masses, designed to be workable for the “average student”. The problem is, average students don’t exist! Just like the average height of people in a room can be 5’6”, even though nobody in that room is actually 5’6” tall, the average student is an abstraction. Each student is an individual and benefits best from individual attention. It is no secret that any student can benefit from individual attention, this is just something that public education is inherently unable to provide.

Furthermore, the more gifted or talented a student is, the more they are able to benefit from working with a specialist. A student with a particularly strong aptitude or passion for a given subject will benefit most from the help of a specialist to help them fully reach their true potential, something an “average” education will never provide.

A cafeteria-style education fills minds the way a cafeteria fills bellies, but it can’t meet the needs of exceptional students to follow their passions and unlock their full potential. That’s why, in a public education setting, the smartest kids are really the ones that need help the most.

Posted in Tips for Students

Your Own Reasons And Your Own Ways

My teaching philosophy is based on my observation that you can only enjoy success for your own reasons and in your own ways. This goes for all types of success, big or small, from learning math to enjoying a sense of happiness, fulfillment, and accomplishment in life.

When I begin working with a new student, my first question is always “Why do you want to learn this?” Motivation is the key to learning, and that is why this is the most important question to ask. You have to have your own reasons for learning, and the tutoring process always starts with getting the student in touch with theirs. “Because I should” or “because I have to” is an ineffective basis for generating the intellectual curiosity that learning requires.

Furthermore, I pay attention to the student’s cognitive process of perceiving, processing, and communicating about the subject. We all have our own ways of understanding, processing, and recalling, and I make the effort to communicate in a way that is compatible with the student’s way of thinking. My goal is not for the student to nod their head and say they understand; my goal is for the student to have an internal model detailed enough that they could impart their understanding to someone else. The aim is not for me to explain things to the student, the aim is for them to explain things to me.

However you are seeking success, seek it for your own reasons and in your own ways, because this is the only way you can find it. And if you’d like the help of an experienced guide to mastering math and excelling at academics, get in touch with me.

Posted in Tips for Parents

Can Parents Tutor Their Own Kids?

This question recently came up in correspondence with a parent, and I answered it as follows:

“Hi Dane,

I want to ask your opinion. I have a twelve year old son who is taking seventh grade algebra. He’s doing alright (he has a B), and like any kid goes through periods of understanding and then not quite understanding certain chapters. Often when we work together he understands better. But one thing I don’t understand is that sometimes he gets frustrated, and when I try harder to explain he gets defensive and shuts down. I hate those moments, and feel like I should back off when it happens, but then I also realize that he does need help to guide him through the lesson. So I try to push, which only makes things more difficult, and he just quits trying. I think he would benefit from having a tutor who could meet with him once every week or so to guide him and to help maintain his level of confidence. I want him to love and enjoy math in general and I think he wants that also. Please let me know what you think.

Regards,

Jerry”

“Hi Jerry,

It is good to hear from you, and I appreciate you asking for my opinion. I honor and respect the fact that you are making the effort to help your son understand and appreciate math, not just by encouraging him but by actually getting your hands messy and working alongside him. This is something that not many parents have the desire, let alone the ability, to do.

I feel this may seem rather blunt, but the sincerity of your question calls for nothing less than a completely authentic response. In my experience it is very difficult for most parents to be a tutor for their kids, even if they are willing and able. The reason is that virtually all parent-child relationships build up a significant amount of emotional charge over the years that gets in the way of effective learning. It is almost inevitable that the tutoring experience becomes just another battleground in the ongoing power struggle between parent and child, and devolves into a battle of wills. I do not believe that this is an innate and unavoidable aspect of parent-child relationships, but it is virtually universal within the cultural milieu which we inhabit. I have witnessed this not only in tutoring but also in martial arts (another of my passions) and in other areas where well-intentioned parents try to take on the role of a mentor for their child.

So the experience you describe in trying to tutor your son is understandable to me. Children want to establish their autonomy from their parents, and often resist being cast into roles where they feel inferior, regardless of their actual level of competence. At the same time parents can’t help but come from a place of authority, regardless of the benevolence of their intentions. The good news is that hiring a tutor can resolve this stalemate by satisfying both the parent’s need for reassurance and the child’s need for guidance, allowing both of you to focus on the areas of your relationship that are mutually rewarding.

I invite you to take a look at my website to learn more about my services. I have written many articles on my blog, and I think this one in particular might interest you: ‘When Should You Hire A Tutor?’ If you’d like to work with me then please get in touch and I will be happy to help your son.

Regards

Dane”

Posted in Inspiration, Online Tutoring, Tips for Parents

Request From An Ideal Tutoring Client

I recently received the following request, and I wanted to share it because it demonstrates the qualities of an ideal client, and it was also a great opportunity to share the benefits of my tutoring service.  A few things to note:

  • She and her daughter are both motivated and proactive.  The request came at the very beginning of the school year, so they are looking to play keep-up rather than catch-up.  They are thinking long-term about how to maximize the daughter’s educational opportunities and prevent problems from developing, rather than operating in damage-control mode.
  • She is discriminating and willing to invest in her daughter’s education.  She knows what she is and isn’t looking for, and is shopping based on quality instead of price.  Rather than seeking bargain-basement alternatives, she is looking for the solution that delivers the maximum value.

I am considering on line tutoring for my child (H.S. junior). Her current math & physics teachers (public H S) are either confusing or have difficulty in expressing concepts and she is attempting to teach herself the info of these advanced classes. She has expressed that she doesn’t want to get too frustrated, do poorly, and let the grades interfere with a possible interest she has in pursuing a STEM career. She has not used any tutoring in the past. Here’s my q’s: 1) can you help tutor both areas in one session? 2) how are your services different than just a homework helpline? 3) do you also do act prep for math & sciences 4) do you follow a set curriculum?  I anticipate weekly tutoring would be most beneficial and would pay the monthly fee.

———————————-

I’m glad to hear that your daughter is taking a proactive interest in her education and her career.  It is very inspiring when young people take responsibility for their own lives, and it reflects very highly on the maturity of their parents.  So, congratulations!

To answer your questions: 

1) Yes, I can help your daughter with both math and physics!  These areas are my specialties, and I have extensive experience working with students at her grade level specifically.  You can see testimonials from several of them and their parents on my testimonial page: https://synergytutoring.wordpress.com/testimonials/
 
2) My service is unique in a number of ways.  One is that I take a personal interest in every student I work with and I care very much about seeing them succeed, not just in class or in school but in life.  When it comes to tutoring, one end of the spectrum is homework help, which is basically providing answers and explanations for specific assignments, and the other end of the spectrum is academic coaching, which focuses on the student’s overall, holistic success and satisfaction in academics, career planning, and every aspect of life.  This is the type of service that I offer.
 
3) Yes, I can help your daughter prepare for the ACT!  I am very familiar with the topics and strategies for both the ACT and the SAT, and I can help your daughter integrate the preparation for these tests into her overall study plans.  I earned a full scholarship to a prestigious liberal arts college based on my ACT score, so I know that my strategies work!  I even have a series of articles I have written covering all aspects of preparing for the ACT and SAT that I will be happy to share with her.
 
4) In your daughter’s case, since she is already following a curriculum, I would help her to master the material she is already studying.  However, because of my specialized background in math and physics, including an undergraduate degree, 3.5 years of graduate work and university teaching experience, and 10 years of tutoring experience, I can adapt my approach to specifically prepare her for the continuing work she will need to undergo in order to prepare for a STEM career.  As a future engineer or scientist, she can especially benefit from my foresight in laying the groundwork for more advanced studies and a rewarding career.  I understand the types of reasoning and study habits that are essential for success in these careers, and I can help her to establish them early on, giving her an edge in her studies from the very beginning.  Many students begin to undertake such courses of study only to drop out when the going gets tough, but with my help she will find her advanced studies to be a stimulating and rewarding challenge, not a stressful obstacle.
 
I believe that all kids are smart, and my job is to prove it to them.  I specialize in working with each student’s individual learning style to make the learning process stress-free and fun!  I understand the difficulties of being a student and the challenges that teachers, especially those in the public schools, face in trying to do the best they can for a wide range of students.  I especially like working with talented, motivated students like your daughter to help them reach their full potential in science and math, so I am sure it will be especially rewarding to work with her.  Please get in touch and let me know when you would like to start!
 
Regards
 
Dane
Posted in Inspiration, Tips for Parents, Tips for Students

Catch Up Or Keep Up?

In school and in life, are you more interested in playing catch up or keep up? Is your focus on staying ahead of the curve, or on not falling too far behind? The interesting thing is that it doesn’t actually take any more work to stay a day ahead of things than it does to stay a day behind, but there is a huge difference in terms of the stress factor. The only difference is in your comfort level. This is the difference between someone who showers every day versus every three days, between someone who keeps a messy, disorganized home versus someone who keeps a neat, clean home, between someone who earns $50,000 per year versus someone who earns $150,000 per year – regardless of circumstances, we will gravitate to the level of performance, activity, or standards where we are comfortable. This is why the difference between being a day (or a week) ahead or behind isn’t a matter getting “caught up”, it’s a matter of developing a new set of standards and the habits to support them.

Many students and parents only think to hire a tutor when there is a problem or when they have fallen behind and there is a lot of catching up to do. But proactive parents realize the value of supplementing their child’s education in the interest of raising their standards, not trying to maintain minimum ones. As a tutor and academic coach I not only help students learn challenging subjects more easily, quickly, and with less stress, but also help them instill habits of thought and productivity that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.