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[Nerd Thread] Knowing a Math Problem Vs. Explaining a Math Problem

Discussion in 'BBS Hangout' started by roxxfan, Aug 17, 2016.

  1. roxxfan

    roxxfan Member

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    I need some advice here. So I probably just got a job to work as a peer math tutor at my university. I've made straight A's in all the classes that I am assigned to. My only issue is that I know how to do math problems myself, but sometimes I have an issue explaining it. I think it is mostly a confidence issue. You could give me a math question and I could usually solve it no problem. But if I was put on the spot to teach or explain it, I tend to make mistakes or blank out.

    I think I just get nervous. I was recommended to do this due to my relatively solid performances as a student. Like I said, there is a confidence issue. I am super worried that I will constantly be asked questions and I will not be able to help the person asking. In my head it's nerve-wrecking because I am getting paid to know how to do the problems, and if I am unable to do so, then, crap.

    Anyone been in a similar situation? It's probably just a mental thing. I feel obligated to almost go back and review all the concepts of the courses to feel prepared.

    It's not a work-study program, it is actually hourly employment. Another reason why it makes me nervous.

    Go Rockets.
     
  2. JuanValdez

    JuanValdez Member

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    I remember being in a lecture hall and the professor (not math, something like sociology) stops in the middle of writing on the board, turns and says, "you know how hard it is to do math with 100 people watching you?"

    I can understand a confidence problem. But, being 20 years removed from college, the weightiness of the responsibility you have looks to me to be very, very small. A mess-up might be a little embarrassing, but not very damaging and easily corrected. I'd understand the job to be training to improve self-confidence and dealing with stress so you can be a useful worker later. Later in life, you'll be asked to make million-dollar decisions, so try to keep some perspective on just how much might be riding on your performance here.
     
  3. larsv8

    larsv8 Member

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    Trust me, the people who need help have way more confidence issues than you do. If you can't explain something, just say it, look, here is how I get to the answer. I don't know how or why it works, but it does. The last thing you want is some student trying to reason through some BS you fed them when sitting in front of a test.
     
  4. heypartner

    heypartner Member

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    You've probably just forgotten how you learned in the first place. Sure, show them how you get the answer to gain confidence in you. And like larsv8 says, just tell them you don't recall how you learned, but use it as a reason to work through the math book with them, which is really what you are being paid to do

    Pull out their book and say, "let's turn to the pages that explain the math principles behind solving this problem and work through the math book's explanation together."
     
  5. DudeWah

    DudeWah Member

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    I'm a math TA. I've been doing some form of tutoring for years now. It's really very easy. Don't overthink it or worry.

    The two things I'll say are this:

    1) project your voice. don't be unnecessarily quiet to the point that no one can understand you. I know people like this and I'm sure it's infuriating for their students.

    2) it's better to say too little than to say too much and possibly give a bit of misinformation.

    Other than that you'll be fine. What will you be tutoring specifically?
     
  6. London'sBurning

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    <iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/shEk8sz1oOw" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

    I like watching this Youtube channel called Numberphile for math problems. Mostly to just try and explain stuff to my niece and nephew when they need help with math stuff that I haven't done in awhile. Anyhow I pay a lot of attention to the way the professors there explain proofs and theorems and it helps me try to explain to others difficult to understand problems.

    Learn how to teach math from math professors in the field for decades already and have it down. A good math teacher changes lives. One of my best professors ever was a retired economic banker from some big bank in NYC that moved recently to Austin since his kid was going to college at UT. The teacher was enthusiastic about talking numbers and had many examples to cite their usefulness in real life application.
     
  7. Dairy Ashford

    Dairy Ashford Member

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    Treat it like an English paper or a GRE essay and write an outline.
     
  8. Juxtaposed Jolt

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    Why even apply for / accept the job offer in the first place? If you're not good at public speaking, why accept the offer to stand up in front of hundreds of people?

    All that aside, I think you'll be fine as you progress. The first few people being tutored (tutees?) might give you butterflies, but the more you're able to see problems and explain solutions will get you over that hurdle.

    I'm assuming most of the math is particular, or as close as can be, to one topic of math? Hopefully, it's not like you're not going into a calculus tutor position, only to see statistics and algebra problems most of the time.

    I think you'll be fine after your first few sessions. Then, explaining through the problems should be easy peasy.
     
  9. Jugdish

    Jugdish Member

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    Just tell them, "Variables go in, numbers come out. You can't explain that."
     
  10. roxxfan

    roxxfan Member

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    It is not really any particular single math field. It's a range. I will be answering anything from pre-algebra to Calculus (including Trig.) And I really needed a part time job to supplement my studies. I do like math and enjoy public speaking. If it was mostly public speaking I wouldn't have an issue at all to be honest. It was just the math itself I was concerned about.
     
  11. roxxfan

    roxxfan Member

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    Thank you for your input. It is a range from pre-algebra to Calculus; it is not so much of a stand in front of a group kind of thing. It is more of a going to a group of studying students and answering any particular question they may have. Guiding them with problems as they come up.
     
  12. durvasa

    durvasa Member

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    If you don't know the answer on the spot, just admit it and tell them you'll think about it and get back to them. Maybe if you take some time afterwards to think about it and collect your thoughts, you can communicate that to them by email or something.
     
  13. bobloblaw

    bobloblaw Member

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    I've tutored math from elementary to college, albeit unpaid and unsupervised. My girlfriend works for a tutoring company. It sounds like you're more than qualified you just don't know what to expect from the job. Maybe you're imagining that if you freeze up on a problem you'll embarrass yourself and lose credit as a tutor.

    I think the more time you'll spend on tutoring the more comfortable you'll get. If you have the chance, maybe observe another tutor as they help someone. You don't need to be able to answer any question on the spot. You sound plenty capable of answering any question given the time. That's all that matters.

    As a tutor you're not expected to be perfect. Students present any number of difficulties in solving problems and you're there to see where they're trying up, not be perfect yourself. Analyze where they are screwing up--from just starting the problem to whatever technicality is tripping them up. You might not be very good at doing this at first but your BBS post indicates that you care enough. You'll get comfortable eventually. The students don't start comfortable either.
     
  14. Dei

    Dei Member

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    Well, that's true, so yes, you should know the material.

    If someone asks something beyond the material, then you say it's outside the course; but you have to know what you're supposed to know. Likewise, if someone asks you something they're already supposed to know from an earlier course and is asking for a free review, smack them down and tell them they're supposed to know that.

    You are not supposed to just be able to answer problems. You have to be able to justify getting the answer and that means giving proofs. It's not that hard. A math lesson is proof, illustration, example, exercise. Try giving practice lectures to your peers.
     
  15. iconoclastic

    iconoclastic Member

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    It's OK to get fired. Once you've had the experience of being fired, you won't be afraid of being fired anymore, because you'll know it's not that bad at all.
     
  16. jchu14

    jchu14 Member

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    Rather than telling them how to do it. Tell the tutees to always bring their notes and textbook. Then ask them to flip to the page of the notes or textbook that pertains to the material they're studying.

    Let them try to explain how they think the problem should be solved to you. Even if you're a little rusty on the exact process, you should have a good enough sense when something doesn't seem right. Also in a good number of instances, the tutees will figure it out for themselves. They'll learn better this way as well.

    If they don't have the slightest clue on how to do the problem or even know what chapter they're on, then you need to tell them that you're there to assist/guide them, not be their professor/TA. You can do your best to teach them if you're not busy, but I wouldn't spend an excessive amount of time on teaching them from the ground up. That's not your job and you are robbing other students of your time. In that case, I would find the easiest/most basic problem in the homework set and tell them to try to figure out how to do it. Then have them show you once they've figured it out. They'll actually appreciate you even more for going the extra mile.

    If there is really a problem that is extremely difficult or tricky. Then you admit that you don't know it and you'll try to figure it out. If it's in a group study session situation, just ask if anyone had figured out the answer. There is usually at least a couple of people that have figured it out. Then you have them show everyone how to do it.

    If it's a problem that absolutely no one knows. Then try to work through it on the board out loud. People will jump in on how they think the problem should be solved. With group effort, 99% of the problem can be solved. If the problem is still unsolvable, there is a good chance that the problem is badly written or there is missing information. You just admit that you don't know how to do it. Get the email address of anyone that's interested in the solution, then tell them that you'll email them as soon as you figure it out. As long as you do follow up, no one will have an issue with it.
     
  17. DudeWah

    DudeWah Member

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    Yes I understand what you're saying. It's like a "tutoring lab" type of set up. Here's what I'll say. 95% of the students you encounter won't want any deeper insight into the material than simply solving the question. A lot of them will still ask you though. Even if they think they want to know, don't take their words at face value. Find out what they're doing in their specific course and try to stick with it.

    That's not to say you should always avoid giving them a few extra details, but again don't say more than is necessary.

    I'll give you an example.

    Say someone comes in for a calculus 1 problem. They're going to ask you "how" and "why" a lot. You can offer a legit explanation. Keep it simple and verbal unless they really really press you. But don't start writing down a proof you learned in real analysis as to why the squeeze theorem works. This will confuse them 100% of the time. They don't want to actually know. They just think they do.

    It's likely the case that you'll have to brush up on a few things. I'm sure the most annoying of which will be complex numbers, parameterization, polar coordinates, de moivre's theorem, etc...

    Look at these things again if you get a chance. Although likely you can re-learn them as they come up.

    Anyway seriously, you'll be fine. It's not that difficult. Just don't let anyone think you're unsure of yourself. Students can be really lame. But yeah don't worry. Good luck!
     

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