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I am an applied mathematician, specializing in probability. I used to teach at the university level, but moved into industry. After being away from teaching for some time I found that I still want to play a part-time role in education. It was my experience that one on one teaching in office hours brought the most benefit to students, so tutoring is the best way for me to take part in education.

Gregory’s Qualifications

Q & A

What is your teaching philosophy?

It is a best to transmit knowledge and skills in a way tailored to each student's unique mindset. This fact makes classroom teaching very difficult, so for many students one-on-one tutoring is an optimal method to learn.

What might you do in a typical first session with a student?

For technical subjects such as math, the material often builds upon itself. Success in calculus is largely dependent on mastery of certain algebra skills. So a first session is diagnostic. We must determine if our focus in subsequent sessions should include some review of the prerequisite material. To that end, I will work through some problems with the student. If it seems we need some review of the fundamentals, I will give a quiz on the prerequisites to determine what we should work on in the future.

How can you help a student become an independent learner?

A great tutor should try to teach themselves out of a job. As the student becomes more skilled and confident, the tutor becomes less necessary for success. Part of tutoring sessions should include directing students to available resources, instruction in how to use them independently, and how to accurately carry out self-evaluation.

How would you help a student stay motivated?

Often with technical subjects, teachers are expected to cover so much material that they only have time to show students how to solve problems. To make the ideas more relevant, I like to bring in a practical application or some historical context.

If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?

There are typically two ways that math students have difficulty with a skill or concept. The first is that the student is having a hard time with a specific sub-skill contained in the problem solving process, not the process in its entirety. In this case we isolate the difficulty and try to practice only that sub-skill for some time. Once the sub-skill is conquered, they usually find the concept much easier. The other difficulty I see is that students are trying too hard to look at the big picture, and not subdividing a concept into manageable pieces. In this case, I try to provide the student with a segmented view of the concept so that they have clear steps to solving the problem.

What strategies have you found to be most successful when you start to work with a student?

When we are first starting, I think it is important to go over some previous work to determine exactly which concepts and techniques we should focus on.

How would you help a student get excited/engaged with a subject that they are struggling in?

In math, a lot of students struggle due to lack of interest. That can be caused by the way it is so commonly taught: as a collection of techniques to solve artificial problems. I like to provide some historical context to how ideas were developed, as well as describe some modern applications.

What types of materials do you typically use during a tutoring session?

I’ve found the whiteboard and mathboard on the tutoring platform are sufficient to illustrate thoughts. Sometimes I will sketch a more detailed picture on paper and take a picture during the session.

What techniques would you use to be sure that a student understands the material?

My favorite technique to ensure students have understood the material is to have them explain the concept to me as though I were a new student. Then they have to work through an example to teach me how to do it. For students who are a bit shy about talking that much, I try to adjust this exercise to their comfort level.

How do you evaluate a student's needs?

Before my first session, I have a series of questions I ask. These include questions on topics, learning style, and a request to evaluate some previous work. That way I can go into the first session with some ideas where to go. There we work on problems so I can isolate the exact difficulties students have in their problem solving process. The first session is also important to understand the student's personality, and prepare future sessions to provide the student an ideal learning environment.

How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?

In math and other technical subjects, the main difficulty with reading comprehension is usually determining how to use math to solve a problem described by words. A technique I have found helpful is to point out to students that certain keywords in the problem description often point to a certain technique. Once they have decided a technique to attempt, they should extract only the information needed to apply the technique. Usually this will lead them to the correct answer.

How do you build a student's confidence in a subject?

We build confidence by building skill, reinforced by my assurance that they have developed skill. This reassurance is one of the great benefits to one-on-one tutoring. I try to use problems which the student can solve, then have them treat me as a new student to teach. The realization that they can teach someone new how to solve the problem illustrates very clearly that they are capable of doing math well.

How do you adapt your tutoring to the student's needs?

I try to understand the student's difficulties, motivations, and personality. My sessions are planned with those concerns in mind. The problems I choose are meant to force the student the work on the tough concepts repeatedly, until it becomes second nature. Throughout the session I try to introduce some motivation for our subject specific to my student's interests. It is also important to understand my student's personality, to make them feel comfortable during our sessions.