cahn: (Default)
C. had her physics exam today. I am DONE with tutoring for a while, possibly for a very long time while I recover from this round of it :) I *crosses fingers* seem to have succeeded in the primary (for her) goal of getting her to pass physics, while mostly failing (with some very partial success, see below) in the secondary goal of improving her fundamental math skills, and utterly failing at getting her to see physics as anything but a kind of pointless torture. Thanks a lot, California school board! Oh well.

I had an interesting conversation with my singing teacher this week that started off by her mentioning that she's been really trying to emphasize relaxing the jaw with all her students. It's a difficult thing for her to do, she said, because she naturally relaxes her jaw when she sings, and she can't remember a time when she didn't do this, and so it's hard for her to either remember to tell her students to do this or to figure out singing exercises how to help them do this.

I was interested in this because I have been having a lot of these "wow, how do I explain this?" moments with C. (*) When I told my singing teacher I was trying to teach someone with math difficulties, she mentioned that the math teacher at the school where she works emphasizes, among other things, understanding how to group numbers in different ways quickly and easily — the simple example she gave was that of seventy-five cents: immediately being able to group that as three quarters, or seven dimes and a nickel, or fifty-cents plus a quarter.

Something that's interesting about this is that it's something that all the math geeks I have ever known do naturally. No one had to invest in a fancy pedagogical system to teach us how to do this, although it's true that a lot of us had parents who did this kind of math familiarity as a matter-of-fact sort of thing. (My mom, for example, expected us to be able to compute a 15% tip by taking ten percent and then half of that, and to understand why this worked.) It was something one did, to factor one's address, etc., to understand and be interested in how numbers related to each other.

C. can't do this naturally — how much of this has to do with math not really being a thing with her mom the way it was with mine, and how much of it is her natural bent, is somewhat academic at this point — but it's clearly something that she would have benefited from learning carefully and thoroughly. (And still would, although neither of us have the time or inclination to do it at this point. If she were my kid, though, I would absolutely be investing in some careful math training. It's interesting that even the amount of number manipulation she had to do for physics has been very helpful for her. When I first took her on, she didn't know what a decimal meant, whereas now she understands that 1.5 is the same as one and a half. Yes, she did not understand this in September.)

I do think some of this must be innate ability. The reason is that I think E. can do this kind of thing pretty easily, at least with smaller numbers, without our explaining anything in detail. But other things another kid would be able to pick up without explanation she needs spelled out carefully and thoroughly; I find myself frequently giving her detailed instruction about why another child might be feeling emotion X at a particular time, or why character Y in a book behaved the way she did, or careful specific enumeration of E's potential choices in a given situation.

Anyway… it's just interesting, the kinds of things we expect kids(/people) to be able to pick up immediately and the kinds of things that require careful pedagogical explanations and/or exercises, and it's particularly interesting to me how it can vary, and how teaching can differ a lot based on that ability. (And I wish so much that they gave classes in interpersonal relationships. That is what my child needs! More than math class!)

(*) …like the time when I was trying to make sure she understood the concept of dividing both sides of an equation by the same amount, and she said, "I know how it works with numbers! I just get confused when we do it with letters," and I realized — I'd had other clues as well -- that she fundamentally does not really get the concept of a variable. Which, y'know, is a problem if you're doing physics where it's fundamentally assumed that you understand this. I don't know how to explain this! I feel like I've always understood this, and it's hard for me to figure out how to explain something like that. (I think I could do it with some research and a LOT more time than I actually did have, but I'd definitely have to put some work in it.)
cahn: (Default)
1. I have lunch with a coworker once or twice a month, and this time his wife came along. His wife was a member of the school board for many years, so I grilled talked to her about the science sequence I mentioned here. She tells me that this whole terrible physics-in-ninth-grade thing is a statewide thing, possibly galvanized by federal testing requirements. ARRRRRRGH. Her guess was that it was instituted because someone somewhere believed that kids were intimidated by physics and not taking it and not learning it… so… their solution was to have everyone take it earlier in the curriculum. WELL, GUESS WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THIS SYSTEM.

(For the record, she was also very much against this science sequence. I haven't talked to anyone who is FOR it.)

2. Our local high school has a block schedule; they take three or four classes each semester for an hour and a half each instead of six-seven classes for 45 minutes each. I have been told by coworker's wife that most people really like this system, and I believe it. I think in particular that for strong students who can easily handle that kind of information density, it's probably a great thing.

For C. it is a disaster, especially for physics, because we are barely keeping up with the flow of information. I'm struggling to keep us up with the stuff they do in class, so that I have been completely unable, except in small bits around the side which she then promptly forgets, to teach C. the things she actually needs to know to do physics (that is, math: fractions, decimals, the concept of a base ten system in general, manipulation of abstract variables *throws up hands in despair*).

2a. What can you do when you ask what two divided by four is and the pupil wildly guesses 1.3? I JUST. I think had I known what an uphill job this was going to be, I would not have taken it on. Except that this is apparently the kind of thing I can't help but want to try to help with.

3. Things I would really prefer not ever to have to do again: attempt to explain the concept of the universal gravitational law being directly proportional to mass and inversely square proportional to distance to someone who does not understand/remember fractions or the concept of abstract variables or that multiplication is the opposite of division. aaaaaarrrrgh.
cahn: (Default)
I just started tutoring this kid C. in physics.

The person or group who put together the science class sequence for our local high school, and who decided the ninth graders should take physics -- I am not sure whether this is a local thing or a California thing or what; C.'s mom seemed to think it was local school board thing, and I certainly hope it is not all of California that is suffering this way -- should be dragged out and shot forced to sit in the middle of a ninth-grade physics class and watch them all flail about. Personally I wonder if shooting might be more humane. It is painful just watching C. flail about, and she's only the one kid. I feel really, really sorry for the physics teacher and even sorrier for the kids.

Also, C.'s math education is super bothering me. Basically I'm not at all happy with American public school education this week.

Cut for the extended version of this rant. )

Also, ugh, I'm going to be learning a lot about fraction and decimal pedagogy in the next couple of weeks. I've got a lot of experience in explaining high school science, as well as having had good pedagogy examples in both my chemistry and physics teachers -- but very little on either score for explaining fractions, which I've always assumed the kid understood, and I don't even remember how I learned them! Oh well. I suppose figuring out how to explain this stuff will come in useful for E. or something.


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