I am a graduate student for a highly ranked (top 20 in the US) program for chemistry, where I taught undergraduate courses for over ten semesters. I am experienced in working both in large lecture-style environments and reviews, as well as one-on-one problem solving with students. My background is in chemistry, but I can also tutor subjects up to first and second year college math and physical sciences. I try to incorporate strategies that would use the existing strengths and skills of the student when dealing with difficult problems, and I recognize the importance of motivation in succeeding in learning and education.
Education & Certification
Undergraduate Degree: Rutgers University-New Brunswick - Bachelor in Arts, Chemistry
Graduate Degree: Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus - PHD, Chemistry
Knitting, baking, Pets and Cats, photography
Q & A
What might you do in a typical first session with a student?
After introducing myself and my credentials and getting to know the student's general background and troubles, we would dive right into solving the example problem they have. This helps me learn where I can make improvements to how they are learning or approaching the problem. We would repeat this a few times, each time solving a problem so that the student achieves both problem-specific learning and addresses improvements to the way they learn the material.
How can you help a student become an independent learner?
An example of what I like to do is to have a student read the question out loud, then ask what kinds of information they can pick out based on just the question. Frequently, this step alone can greatly improve both the student's understanding and outlook. It becomes less about getting a single problem right, and focuses more on the attitude towards problem solving in general. I frequently use problems I encounter in research, which often have no clear solution. Other times, I will point out that methodically going through the available formulas and starting at the beginning from the first concepts will clarify what information is missing and can be solved for.
How would you help a student stay motivated?
I frequently describe what a research position is like and use my experiences working in a lab to highlight just how ambiguous true problem solving can get. I tell them that a lot of scientists also get stuck on very simple problems, for the main fact that the "very simple" problems can be quite complicated. I would also mention that it is worth building a concrete set of skills that can be referred to and strengthened through frequent use, and that frustration is often part of the formula to developing good problem solving skills.
If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?
I would first ask the student to go as far back as necessary until we reach material they are comfortable with--sometimes, this goes as far back as the simple definition of "mass," or a similarly basic term. From there, I would use their lecture or teaching material to slowly get them to remember what they heard. Usually, the student would volunteer that they heard something in lecture or in a problem set then begin to share with me where exactly the disconnect happens--Once I find that area, it is a matter of explaining the same concept a few different ways, drawing from algebra, math, common daily-life examples, "common sense" examples, etc.--until they can connect the concept to the question. Afterwards, I encourage them to practice and eventually memorize (and understand) the relationship described until it becomes second-nature.
How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?
Since exam questions by nature tend to vary in format in an attempt to avoid rote memorization and foster true understanding, there can be issues in determining 1) what is given and 2) what is being asked for. To deal with this, I would simply use my approach of seeing how much they already understand, and slowly pick out with the student every piece of information that can be determined from the question. Generally, this problem is most effectively solved by sheer exposure to as many types of problems as possible.
What strategies have you found to be most successful when you start to work with a student?
Students can sometimes be frustrated and unhappy with their performance in a subject, or by their instructor's performance in teaching the material. As a tutor, I feel that it's my job to get to know the student and to know where their limits are. It's also important to diagnose the actual problem--sometimes, the problem isn't chemistry, but rather a weakness in algebra. In that scenario, reviewing chemistry for hours and hours would do much less than 2 intensive hours reviewing natural log or understanding direct and inverse relationships. Other times, it truly is a matter of motivation, and the issue can be resolved by having the student memorize a series of facts. Sometimes it can also be just an adjustment in how students study that will make an enormous difference in how effective they are in their time, and the benefits of their efforts are compounded by that simple change in study style.
How would you help a student get excited/engaged with a subject that they are struggling in?
Sometimes, when a student comes to me and I can see they are clearly disheartened by the subject matter, I ask them what made them take an interest in that subject to begin with. I've had students say they fell in love with the subject at a lower level, but they are now struggling. It's my job to figure out what the source of the struggle is-- whether it is technical, a lack of practice, or even a misconception of what they thought the subject focused on. Other times, students tell me they are only interested in the subject to get past it and do their real dream subject--I tell them that it is also possible to work past these difficulties and then ask them more about their strengths so that I can present the material to them in a way that uses them. (For instance, I found that biology students are excellent in categorizing material, so I would divide their learning material by chapter or subsection to make their learning less dependent on broad fundamentals. This is in contrast to students with a stronger math background, where I would always connect everything to the most basic definitions available and draw on their strengths for engineering relationships between concepts.)
What techniques would you use to be sure that a student understands the material?
Upon solving a problem with a student, I would select a similar problem and ask them to solve it. I would consider it a success if they are already progressing farther into correctly solving the problem, even if they get stuck at a different place. When the student is able to independently explain different facets of the problem, or rewrite the problem to me in a different way, or ask a tangential question that goes even deeper than the problem originally does, that is something I would consider a complete success.
How do you build a student's confidence in a subject?
I find that simply explaining that the difficulties they are having are completely normal. I try to get the student to focus less on the value or the score and more on how much they are learning. This is advice I would give myself today as well--it's important that I convey that what I say isn't just platitudes, but it's real advice for people who are trying to build a skill set they can take with them elsewhere. Also, I try to convey to them that diagnosing the problems they are having is my job, and they don't have to worry so much about being weak in a subject (or why they are weaker than other students, only that they are working on it). It is advice that my peers and I use to this day, as working scientists, and I'm not shy or embarrassed when I get stumped on their problems too--in fact, I think it's healthy for them to see me do the problem solving in front of them, using the full array of tools (Internet, texts, notes, other instructor materials--whatever it takes) to solve the problem.
How do you evaluate a student's needs?
There are a few ways to determine a student's needs--the first is to simply ask them and get their opinion on what they feel they are struggling with. The second way is to simply observe them and have them speak their thought process out loud to me, and I can see if I can find any weaknesses they themselves are unaware of.
How do you adapt your tutoring to the student's needs?
After understanding where the source of a student's difficulty may originate from, I first make sure they are aware of it. I never insist that I am right, and I try to keep them as involved in the learning process as possible--maybe they can tell me more about where they have other weaknesses. The second metric I would use is simply to see if my suggestions are helping or not. I would ask them, "Do you feel that what we talked about was clear or not? Where are you confused? Do you understand this part?" And I would simply go back in material and start from where they did understand it. The rest depends on how well and in how many different ways I can present a concept before I reach a way that they are able to understand it. In the worst case scenario, I would resort to summarizing it down to a point where they can memorize a few "If this, then that" methods. I find this to be the most difficult and least intuitive way for a student to learn because it involves a lot of memorizing and less connections made, but depending on the student, it can also be the way that works best for them.
What types of materials do you typically use during a tutoring session?
My materials of choice are pencil and paper--I feel that hand drawn diagrams and notes are the best because they are generated by me in real-time while solving a problem. A lot of the time, there is disbelief by the student that it is actually possible to answer a large number of questions correctly during a timed exam when there is no text and notes available. However, during the learning process, I would use every tool available to me--the Internet, the students' own lecture notes, homework problems, and even questions from outside the class if I feel that it would help facilitate them in understanding the concepts.
What is your teaching philosophy?
I believe that it is the job of the educator to not only teach the material through simple demonstration that the tutor can solve the problems but to heavily involve the student in their own education and teach them skills for approaching unsolvable problems.