Math Skills! Ooh Ha Ha!

, , , , , , , | Learning | August 3, 2020

I am a private tutor. To make math more fun for my students, I often play a modified version of a Pompeii-themed boardgame with them during our lessons. For every question they answer correctly, they get a certain number of moves — depending on the question’s difficulty — to help their pawns escape the city, which gets increasingly consumed by lava as the rounds continue. For every wrong answer, they forfeit their turn and I get to move my pawns instead. The person with the most escaped pawns by the end of the game is the “winner”.

To try to instill a habit of always checking their work, I’ve also created a rule that if they don’t read over their steps or at least double-check the question again when they get to their answer, I get to just take one of their pawns and pop it straight into the volcano in the corner of the board. I am brutal with this and it has worked tremendously well; I don’t usually have to punt a pawn into a volcano more than once or twice before double-checking their work becomes an automatic process. 

I am playing this game with one of my fourth-graders — age nine. After giving him a two-digit multiplication question, I look over and check his answer once he’s finished — and double-checked!

Me: “You missed something in your addition there. Check that last column again.”

Student: “What do you mean?”

Me: “That shouldn’t be a zero. Check it again.”

Student: “No, that’s a nine!”

I take the whiteboard back from him, at which point I can see that he indeed wrote a nine, not a zero; I missed the “tail” of the nine from the angle I was viewing it from and the fact that he’d written the answer right on the edge of the board. But he got the right answer, fair and square.

Me: “Whoops, you’re right. It is a nine. Sorry, I thought that was a zero. My bad.”

Without skipping a beat, the student wordlessly takes one of my pawns off the board, and, without breaking eye contact, puts it straight into the volcano.

Me: “…”

Student: *Deadpan* “You didn’t double-check.”

Okay, kiddo. You win this round!


This story is part of our Best Of August 2020 roundup!

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Thinking Outside The Box

, , , , , , | Learning | July 19, 2020

I am a private tutor. I’ve given one of my students, a fifth-grader, an exercise which I call “reverse word problems”. The student gets a list of equations, and for each equation, they have to come up with a word problem that could fit the given equation. I am reading the answers he’s written.

Me: “You’re a scientist with four-fifth of a dead cow. You’re in a duplication room and you duplicate two-fifths of it. How much of a cow do you have?”

The equation for this one was “4/5 x 2/5.”

Me: *Laughing* “A… a scientist with a dead cow? Really, kid?”

Student: *Giggles* “Well, obviously. It has to be a dead cow. If you have four-fifths of a cow, how can it possibly still be alive?”

Me: *Pause* “You got me there.”

I keep reading.

Me: “You have one dollar and six friends, and you decide to split the dollar evenly between your six friends. How much of a dollar does each friend get?” *Pause* “Wait a minute; this doesn’t work.”

Student: “Yes, it does.”

Me: “No, think about it. Can a dollar divide into six equal parts?”

Student: *Indignantly* “Yes, it can!”

Me: “Okay, how?”

Student: “You take a pair of scissors and cut the bill into six equal parts!”

Me: “I— Well. That’s…”

The student laughs.

Me: “…genius. Forget I said anything.” 

This kid is going places.

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Boys Will Be Boys, Right?

, , , , , | Learning | June 30, 2020

I work as a tutor at an “academy” whose programme was specifically created to help kids learn English through reading. It’s important to note that the programme was created in South Korea and is licensed out to business owners who are mostly also native Korean speakers. This mostly isn’t a problem, but sometimes…

One of my students is a particularly bright ten-year-old whose English is excellent and who reads at quite a high level. He tends to be assigned longer books as a result.

Me: “Hey, buddy, how’s it going? What did you read this week?” 

Student: *Looking worried* “Uh… Lord of the Flies.”

Me: “I’m sorry? Did you say Lord of the Flies?”

Student: “Yes.”

I know that some literary classics are published in abridged and expurgated versions to make them more accessible for younger audiences. I wouldn’t think this treatment would work for “Lord of the Flies,” but maybe?

Me: “Can I take a look at your copy of the book?”

He produces the book. Nope, it’s exactly the same edition I read in high school when I was seventeen.

Student: “You know, um, I don’t think this book is for kids. It was really scary.”

Me: “You’re definitely right about that.”

After his session was over, I went to my boss and suggested that this particular book not be assigned to kids younger than about fifteen. She seemed baffled at the idea that a literary classic that’s ABOUT children might not be FOR children — “It’s on the programme list!” — but I eventually persuaded her not to assign it to any more preteens.


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Why DID They Have Belly Buttons?

, , , , | Learning | May 23, 2020

I’m a private English tutor in Spain, and from time to time I help my students with other subjects they are also being taught in English.

During an intense lesson in science and the reproductive system:

Me: “So, do you remember what we said about Adam and Eve, and why they have a belly button?”

Student: “Yes, I do. I also asked about it in religion class.”

Me: “Oh, really? And what did they say?”

Student: “The nun kicked me out!”

I high-fived him. Hard not to laugh! Question authority, little man!

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You Think YOU Hate Math?

, , , , , , | Learning | May 8, 2020

I work as a private tutor to help pay for college. I usually tutor math, but sometimes I’ll also tutor the more math-heavy sciences. Most of my students are regulars who have weekly or monthly appointments, but at exam time, I get a lot of new and often one-time students. They — or their parents — want someone to help them study for their exams.

When I get a three-hour booking for Algebra 2, I know it’s going to be one of those cram sessions. However, once I arrive, the mother asks me to also tutor her other two children in AP Physics and AP Chemistry after I’m done with the three-hour session. She makes it sound like they only need a little help with the math, so I agree on the condition that she pays a slightly higher rate for the last-minute change and understands that I haven’t had time to review any of the material for the second two subjects.

It turns out that all three of her children need an intense cram session to learn an entire semester’s worth of material in a single day. The first kid keeps to the three-hour time frame, but the other two need even longer. It’s not just the math they need help with, either.

I arrive at 9:00 am, and I’m there until 9:00 pm.

They provide me with two meals, since I wasn’t expecting to be there so long. However, there’s an ingredient mixed into the sauce at dinner that I’m allergic to. The allergy is mild, so I don’t even notice until after I’ve finished eating and don’t need medical attention. It does make my throat sore, though. For the last three hours or so, I’m progressively losing my voice, between the allergic reaction and the fact that I’ve been talking almost nonstop for hours.

By the end of it, I’m mentally exhausted. The mother states an amount of money and asks if it’s right while counting out bills — most other clients pay electronically or by check. I’ve never even seen that much money at once, so I just nod without thinking about it. It’s not until I get to the car that I realize the total doesn’t cover the number of hours I worked, even at my base rate. If it was just a few dollars, I might not bother going back, but it’s short by about $100.

I go back and knock on the door, feeling a little ridiculous to have not caught the mistake right away. I explain what happened, and the mother, of course, asks why I got the math wrong if I’m a math tutor.

The father is standing nearby and hears my explanation of the situation. Before I can answer, he comes up behind his wife and says, “Probably because you just had her work a twelve-hour shift of mentally taxing work when she was expecting a few hours, tops, and then nearly poisoned her. Just pay her, honey.”

The wife still seems reluctant, so the husband gives me two hundred-dollar bills from his wallet and tells me to keep the change. It was probably the most money I’ve ever made in a single day, but I decided I was never doing it again. This is why I now have a blanket policy of no unexpected extra students or school subjects.


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