quick thoughts on tutoring math

06Nov08

A friend of mine wrote me an email asking about my thoughts on teaching math. Having thought a lot about math (that’s what I did in college) and teaching, I’ve got lots of thoughts!

Below is a simple summary of my broad thoughts on tutoring math. I’m also working on making an instructable of a bunch of the math games I refer to below.

“> hey, so how did u get into teaching math to kids? i’m trying to figure out
> what the heck i should volunteer for while i’m stuck at home, and daniel
> gave me the good idea of teaching math, then i remembered that you did it.
> what are your opinions and experiences?

I did some tutoring in college. I think that tutoring is an excellent way to learn how to get used to the rhythm of explaining an idea, watching the person’s feedback, learning how to read signs of confusion, and so on.

I also think it gets boring really quickly, because usually it’s a matter of helping a student with a class they’re taking. My big thing with teaching math is that it’s got to have some inherent value for it to stick with a person, which reduces down to it either needing to be practical or beautiful. Tutoring often feels like showing a person the mechanics of a system when they’re not ready for it — they’re asking for
the information not because they need it, and not because they’re interested, but because someone else is making them.

I taught some group math classes, and those were a lot more interesting to me. It was with kids ages 6 – 8 and 9 – 12. The goal there wasn’t to teach computation/arithmetic, but to get kids excited about doing math. We did lots of puzzles and games, and the guideline for me was how interested the kids were. That was really enjoyable. I started with a big collection of puzzles my friend used, and after a few months made up my own. Making up puzzles that kids liked was a very satisfying experience.

The other good thing about doing group classes (I taught 8 kids, sometimes with an assistant) is that you can charge much less — $10 – 15 / child is much more affordable than a reasonable tutoring fee, and a lot more affordable for the family. I also think the experience is better for the child — they have other people to play and think with, and better for the adult: in a 1-on-1 scenario, the adult is
ideally giving the child a lot of time to think on their own, and in a group setting they’re not waiting idly for a single child.

Those’re my thoughts. I’d be happy to share materials/puzzles with you were you interested.

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