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My kingdom for a tutor (not Tudor)! February 24, 2017

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, education, physics, science, teaching.
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I’ve been very quiet.  There’s good reason for that: prepping for new classes is a lot of work.

Specifically, I’m teaching university physics for the first time, and I have to admit that it’s very different from the other side of the (hypothetical and totally non-existent) podium.  I’m also doing it as a flipped class, which is adding an extra layer of challenge as finding good videos is a particularly large time-suck.  (No, it’s not faster than writing my own notes…but it does seem to be more effective.)  Part of the reason it’s taking so much time is that I am spending a lot of time trying to figure out exactly where my students are at.  I can definitely tell that this is a struggle for the ones who haven’t had much calc before, which is a feeling I certainly can understand as I was in the same boat when I started college.  Unfortunately, we don’t have enough tutors who can handle physics to help everyone since our enrollment is way up. Not yet, anyway.

I am loathe to assume that someone who has insufficient math is not necessarily capable of passing physics.  (After all, almost everyone I know says that you learn as much calc in physics as you do in an actual calculus class, a viewpoint which has a certain amount of merit.)  As a result, I told students who didn’t do so well on the first test that I expected them to see me for weekly appointments.  (Note: I did not *require* them to…just said I expected it.  Not sure they understood the difference, but I figured it wasn’t worth explaining as most of them showed up.)  I think they weren’t too excited about it at first, but the ones who are showing up are doing so very regularly.  Apparently word got around, though, and even students who seem to be doing fairly well have started showing up, too.  My office hours have basically turned into giant study sessions.  (I think I need to start bringing donuts.)  I had half the class show up over a two day period for the latest homework.

I personally think this is good.  I am getting a sense for the kinds of things they have difficulty with and the overall frustration level has been decreasing, at least among the students coming in for help.  In particular, getting some help with reasoning and processes is more effective when it’s coming from someone who has been doing this stuff for a long time.  I’m tickled when they come in and automatically start doing the stuff I’ve been drilling them on (‘draw your free body diagram and then sum your forces!’) without any prompting.  I also never realized how much homeschooling my kids would come in handy: when you’ve supervised all grade levels of math, you end up picking up lots of handy tricks to make life easier.  I’m now able to pass those tidbits on to my students to help remedy some of the common computational issues I’ve run into.

I did tell them, however, that they better be prepared: next year, I will be teaching more classes, so they need to sign up to tutor the incoming freshman.  A couple of them laughed.  I don’t think they realized that I’m serious.

Looking for a college: tutoring services September 11, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, teaching, Uncategorized.
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This week, I’m covering a lot general information about studying with my students.  One thing I’m going to discuss with them is tutoring services.  NDSU has a fantastic tutoring service available to all undergrads, free of charge.  It’s available most days from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.  Specific tutors keep differing schedules, however, so you do need to check when tutoring for a particular course is available.  This has been scaled up since I was a student.  Back then, it was evening sessions during certain nights of the week.

Looking at this made me sad, however, as it brought back an unfortunate memory.

When I was TAing a couple years ago, I had a student who was really struggling.  He was an older-than-average, minority student (a double whammy).  He had a fantastic personality, obviously carrying with him a real joie de vivre, but he had an emotional outburst during class one day.

He really felt like he couldn’t make it in the class.  He started getting very upset and agitated.  He stood up and told me loudly that he was just going to leave.  I talked him down and said that I was sure we could figure things out together.  Then I worked with him for a few minutes to get him over the hurdle he’d encountered.

I honestly think the real problem was self-confidence, but I can’t fix that.

We talked after class, and I suggested he come to my office hours.  His schedule and mine didn’t work well, however, so he said that he wanted to get a tutor.  I was new at the time, and I wasn’t sure what was available on campus for tutoring.  I said I would find out and get back to him.

I spoke to the instructor of the course, and he told me that he would find an undergraduate major whom the student could hire for a tutor.  I was simply appalled.  The student is paying an incredibly huge amount of money for his education, and he wasn’t being provided with tutoring services.  He was going to have to pay for it out of pocket.  It seemed unfair because this obviously put my student at a disadvantage: I’m pretty sure he had no pocket money for tutors.

Through time, I have been at a top-rated university, a couple state universities, and a California community college.  Every one of them except this place had tutoring services in one form or another.  The tutoring services were available free of charge to students…even at the top-rated place.

I guess I took for granted that those services were available everywhere.  Obviously, however, I was wrong, so I think it’s important to look into what support services are available when making a decision on where to attend college.

I’m very sad to say that my student ended up dropping the course.  I honestly think it was avoidable, and I have worried about him ever since.

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