Recent Tutoring Session Reviews
"Today we covered materials that the student was struggling with. The majority of the time was spent explaining how to build phylogenetic trees. The student was struggling to understand how to create trees and also how the groupings on the trees related to each other. We went over an example she had from class as well as built trees from scratch with conceptual species."
"We have been covering how to break down his textbook into brief, well-constructed notes, ideally using a PDF to allow for quickly switching back and forth from his notes to his book. We condensed about 100 lines of textbook material into about 40 lines fully containing all of the same information in less than 15% of the words that the textbook authors used to describe it (each line of notes was, on average, about a third the length of a line of textbook material). I explained that this process of clearly condensing the facts within the fluff is critical to learning material quickly and well. I also described the strategy of parallel organization, in which the same sentence structure is used to describe highly similar events. This allows us to do less work interpreting the meaning of our notes when we review them, which implies that we can more quickly refresh our memories on the relationship between the novel symbols to which we have recently been exposed. We practiced the habit of enriching textbook information through external research when the authors address a concept, event, or person too briefly for us to have any idea what it means, as well as the habit of taking note of all people by their full names. We also practiced investigating the correct pronunciation of names in order to aid our memory by giving more vitality to the people we research. I suggested the student actually think of these scientists and other historical figures in terms of their first name sometimes, and to remember that they were people like us who had to work ridiculously hard to pass down these little fun facts to us. It helps sometimes to laugh to ourselves about Pasteur and say, "Oh, Louis, settin' up those glasses and breakin' 'em apart to see when life would grow." It humanizes the scientist and helps us relate to them by realizing that they, too, realized the absurdity of their small actions, but performed them anyway because they felt it was what they had to do. Some people think of scientists as somehow removed from humanity and unrealistically committed to knowledge for the sake of knowledge, but they are more often relatively normal human beings with particular areas of expertise in which they are uniquely able to do good research, in large part by the nature of their environmental circumstances. Remembering that scientists are normal people makes them feel closer to our sense of self, and memories are always stronger when they relate back to our sense of self. Remembering scientists as superheroes does a disservice to them and ourselves. The student definitely understood what we were supposed to be doing. I was not as particular as I could have been with his language because I did not want to be too discouraging, and I gave him a lot of suggestions to serve as templates for his own efforts. Again, I think the student would be able to more effectively condense notes if he spent more time reading (not with the intention of taking notes for school, but with the intention of expanding his mind), and motivating him to want to do that remains a supremely important goal in my mind, in my opinion to be achieved (in the long-term) by positively reinforcing positive habits -- and, always remember, that's not redundant language, it's precise language. Not only must the habits we reinforce be positive, but the means by which they are reinforced must also be positive."
"We covered the cell and the organelles and transport. He said he would study up on tonicity and transport before our next lesson. We will continue to prepare for his midterm by going over mitosis and meiosis."