I’m Bad At Math

Yet another answer I felt relevant for my blog. It’s questions like this that abruptly ended my pursuit of math for myself and tossed me headfirst into the sea of education to help keep others from drowning in fear of the subject that I adore so.

CaptureThere’s your answer, right there. Confidence is key!

Now, before you think I’m picking on you or doubting your assessment of yourself, please forgive the harsh opening. I want to let you know from the beginning that I believe in you and have no negative thoughts toward your intelligence whatsoever.

You yourself have said that your IQ is high, typically a great indicator of math ability especially! If I am to assume that you believe this, which I do, then the confidence you need is already a part of your personality, which is great news!

Unfortunately, I have seen time and time again students who lack the same attitude about their math skills. Fear not, you are definitely not alone. If you will allow, I would like to give you a few helpful tips in how to improve.

Confidence

No shocker there. In every initial assessment I’ve done with a student, either their parents lead with how their child doesn’t feel good at math or I will quickly discover that my new pupil is afraid to make a mistake.

That’s silly.

I made one small typo in an answer on here that had some 6,000 people read it. Was it embarassing? Perhaps a little. So what did I do with this situation? I pointed it out to every student I saw that day and online to my Facebook friends because I thought it was funny.

In all honesty, it is good that I made a mistake. Not necessarily for my ego, but for others to see that even though I literally do math more than I walk every day, I am not infallible. More than that, it wasn’t the end of the world. I still had numerous upvotes and support, so I corrected the typo and went about my day.

(And I can guarantee that I won’t make the same mistake again because now it has been cemented in my mind.)

I have no misconception about my math ability compared to others. My passion is in educating others, so there are definitely mathematicians out there and on here who are far more capable at computations, mind-boggling equations, and abstract proofs. But I continue on because I can see I’m making a difference every day in the students I teach.

You have an IQ, so the ability is there. Once you let go of the stress of making a mistake that might damage your intelligence (which it certainly won’t, or make others think less highly of your mind), I have no doubt you will begin to see improvements.

Practice

My favorite question for all of my students is this. Does knowing how to do a push-up make you stronger? No, of course not. Doing push-ups makes you stronger.

In order to get better at math, we must do it often. I said above that I do math more frequently than I walk every day. It’s true. I had some of my students in class help me do an experiment one day. The time I spent working through math problems with them and then tutoring in the evenings was almost quadruple the amount of time I spent walking.

Would you ever walk up to someone and say, “Wow, man, you are great at walking!” Probably not, because we all do it all the time. It’s more unusual when someone cannot walk well and typically has some underlying problem that prevents them from being able to do so.

Thus, when someone compliments my math abilities, I politely thank them and humbly offer that example as my reasoning. I am terrible at memorizing things, and know this about myself. So it was a lot of practice that got me to this math degree (thank you teacher who dared me to try to get one).

While I believe confidence may have the most to do with your struggles, you will still have a few years at least of practice in the wrong direction to rewire in your brain. All the time you spent thinking poorly of your math prowess set in your head to think a certain way when a problem came up. Now you will have to practice doubly hard to erase that time.

And don’t worry. In my experience, with a true attitude change, you will be surprised how quickly the fear dissolves away, and you realize just how intelligent you are.

Humility

Ask for help!

Seriously, find someone you trust and ask them to help you while you are improving. This serves two important purposes.

  1. Having someone who has an excellent understanding of mathematics there to guide you helps to feel like a team while initially overcoming your anxiety related to mathematics. They will be there to immediately help arrive at an answer when you get stuck. Over time, they should allow you to struggle more to develop independence until you feel confident enough to handle any problem on your own.
  2. They are going to see your improvements before you are. This is why you need to trust your math guru. If you believe their words and know they come from a place of genuine caring, you will know there must be something to their telling you that you are getting better!

This takes humility as asking for help can be difficult, especially for someone intelligent. I’m sure that so many subjects must come naturally for you, so to have to ask for help may be a new experience. I assure you that no real teacher or tutor will ever think less of you or degrade you for it.

Even people who struggle have an issue asking for help because no one wants to feel dumb. Let me tell you now so that no one else can ever take it away from you: Asking for help is the key to success, especially in academics. It does not make you dumb. Anyone who thinks or says differently has not yet overcome their own anxiety about asking for help in the areas they are aware of in their own lives.

Conclusion

Perhaps I’m wrong and you feel confident and are sure that the problem lies elsewhere. I do believe, however, that with these tips, any one or combination of them, can help you see improvements. Again, I believe in you and know that your future is bright in every academic area.

Thank you for letting me be a part of your math journey!

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How much do Online Tutors earn?

As I have been getting quite a kick out of answering these questions I find online, I would like to attempt to shed some light on this area. This answer, like so many others pondering a monetary value assigned to a skill, is largely dependent on a number of factors:

  • Your Credentials
  • Your Tutoring Medium
  • Your Subject Area
  • Your Demand

Let’s look at each in just a little detail so as not to make a monster wall of text but still provide some meat to dig into. (I personally tutor math, so the example numbers I use will be based on that information.)

Your Credentials

As with any job, the more capable you are, the more people are willing to pay you. As a general rule of thumb, high school students charge $15–20 per hour, college students charge up to $30, individuals with a bachelor’s degree move up to $40, and master’s degrees go to $50+ per session.

Typically, this would vary slightly due to geographic location. Large, more affluent cities will be willing to pay higher rates on average than smaller towns. Conversely, areas with less tutors in your specialty may let you set your own rates. Buuuut, the online world doesn’t care about any of that.

In my mid-sized city with one of the lowest costs of living in the United States, families couldn’t care less that some New York tutors charge up to $150/hr because they are paying $40/hr for excellent teachers. My advice, figure out what your specialty averages overall, and charge that.

Your Tutoring Medium

This could honestly be the largest deciding factor in this list. What I mean by medium is how you choose to go about offering your services. Should you choose a tutoring service such as Wyzant to simply list yourself as an in-person tutor, the values would be very similar to what I stated above.

Other sites such as tutor .com pay out somewhere in the $10-$15 range as they take their cut and have to make money as a business. The most profitable, however, are those who have their own websites and promote themselves there. Taking into account the other factors on this list, you could earn quite a good living.

Taking things a step further, you could also offer lessons coaching other tutors or hopefuls dreaming of making a fortune charging upwards of $500 for a specific online course package where you meet with clients.

Your Subject Area

Again, I personally make my supplemental income through tutoring math. The numbers I have been quoting through personal experience. Few academic subjects other than physics or specialty courses will earn you more. That said, there is oh so much more you could do other than simple academic tutoring.

I mentioned above that some internet gurus offer training to emulate their success. Perhaps you’ve heard of copywriting and it’s potential to earn you tens of thousands of dollars for a few hours of work. It isn’t a scam. It is completely possible, assuming of course you are very very well known with outstanding results. But those who are well known are happy to train you for your shot…for a high price.

Add to this skills such as playing a musical instrument or sports coaching one-on-one and you can see just how diversified tutoring can be.

Your Demand

Just how good are you? What can you offer that no one else can? You should be readily able to answer these questions in order to land clients. Perhaps you are just as good as the next mathematician but offer quick wit an humor. That can be your catch for students. Maybe you are an excellent storyteller or have a knack for empathizing to help alleviate stress before tests.

Whatever makes you you is your highest selling point because there isn’t anyone else that can do it the same. Granted, you do need to be skilled at your specialty in order to teach others. Figuring out the demand for your skill as well as your specific ability to teach it will help you determine what you are worth usually through experimenting with different prices.

Conclusion

No answer will be a one-size-fits-all here which is hopefully apparent just with the four extremely broad and over-simplified factors that I mentioned here. In the end, it is up to you to set your prices and come to a justifiable amount for your own services.

What I aim to provide through blogging about this topic is a guide to getting started on your own. Even though every case is unique, researching the successes others have seen can help you to discover your own path to achieving similar goals.

Thanks everyone!

Common Core Addition

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As a private math tutor, I am called upon for a number of reasons.  Some parents contact me out of concern that their child is falling behind.  Others reach out to me in the hopes that I can help get their kid to the top of their class or achieve the scores they need to get accepted to the prestigious school of their choice.  Lately, however, I have been approached to simply help students with their homework.  It is not necessarily that the student is behind or looking to expand their knowledge and jump ahead.  Instead, the parents see the methods being used and come to me in frustration to answer the questions that their children have.

While it is true that this is good for business, and it is nice to make a living doing what I love helping people better understand math…I would feel too guilty charging for something that I can remedy in less than an hour.  That is why I am hoping to simplify some of the “crazy stuff” that kids are bringing home these days so that parents aren’t left scratching their heads wondering what is is that a teacher is looking for.

First of all, let’s start with the basics.  If you have a kid who’s in Kindergarten through Second Grade, they are most likely working on adding and subtracting numbers to begin with.  Now many reading this might scoff and say, “Addition? Subtraction?  Why can’t they figure this stuff out?”  Well, let me show you a few things.

Let’s look at an example of a fairly basic problem:

I would hope that this looks simple to the majority of us.  Now consider this, how do you know that 4 added to 8 results in 12.  In the beginning we were given pictures; one group of 8 somethings then a group of 4 somethings and told to count them all up.  Of course, we would count 12 somethings in total.  The problem with this is that counting is slow and we would like to eventually move into memorizing this as a basic addition fact.  How then can we help a young student to internalize this idea that 8 plus 4 equals 12?

This is where some of the Common Core strategies come into play.  Now, let me just preface this with a disclaimer.  I like the methods for helping students to learn concepts that are having trouble with more “old-school” techniques, but these are not useful for everyone.  I believe I made my stance clear on the matter in my other post here (Common Core Rant).  We good?  Ok, back to delving into some of these things.

If a child is having trouble quickly remembering that 8 and 4 make 12, then we have to come up with another way to come up with the answer that is more efficient than drawing objects and counting.  The first step would be to recognize which number is larger.  In this case, 8 is bigger than 4, so we would begin with 8 and count up by 4: 9, 10, 11, 12.  So 12 is our answer.  This is still slow, but it is slightly quicker than counting up to 12 with two groups.  The reason this step is important is for problems like this:

Though this is the same problem, initially, students don’t realize this.  Showing young children that a group of 4 and a group of 8 is the same thing as a group of 8 and a group of 4 is another building block that helps with fact families and more difficult problems later on.  For a student to realize that he or she can start with the larger number will also save time as counting up 8 from 4 will take longer than counting up 4 from 8.  This idea of addition being Commutative is a concept that we get to show students even though they may already have memorized 8+4=12, which is one reason that a teacher may spend extra time on some of these facts.

After establishing that we can count on from the bigger number, we can extend this further.  Knowing something called Ten Facts, we can help students to break problems down into easier pieces.  For instance, we know:

Since we are adding 4, we need to add two more to get to our answer 12.  Ok, there is a lot going on here.  Our number system is based on tens, so being able to recognize how to get to ten, and later to multiples of ten, can help improve students’ efficiency later on in life.  So recognizing all the tens facts,

will help with knowing how to make it to ten for the first step in addition problems involving answers over ten.  Again, notice that both 8+2 and 2+8 are listed as facts.  This is a chance to reinforce the idea that addition can be performed in any order so that with extra practice, students are more likely to internalize the concept.  The second important skill necessary here is to know that 2+2=4.  With the tens facts, a child can see how to get from the larger number up to ten, but that won’t do any good if he or she doesn’t know how much left to add.

Being able to decompose numbers into parts or groups is not only a way for children to perform the rest of this problem and others like it, it also helps to lead into subtraction later on.  Knowing doubles like 2+2=4, or being able to see facts like 1+3, 2+2, and 0+4 all equal 4 will help a student to figure out how much more must be added after figuring out the distance from 8 to ten.  All these methods are explained in school, and the student decides which is easiest or which he or she remembers the quickest to know that 2 more must still be added.

This brings us to the final step of adding 2 to 10.  Being able to add single-digit numbers to ten is useful because it is one of the more quickly learned skills (which builds confidence in students who are struggling) and can carry forward to adding to multiples of ten like 20, 30, 40, and so on.  One of my favorite ways to show students how to add numbers is to say them close together.  For example with 3 and ten, if you say them quickly, you get “threeten,” which sounds a lot like thirteen.  The same with “fourten” and others.  With 11 and 12, the sound doesn’t play out so well, but after practicing the others, the student usually pics up the pattern (and finding a pattern is the best we can hope for our students as a teacher).  Whatever the path, the student will find a way to finish up to see that 10 +2 =12.  So let’s review:

hmmm… I know:

and

so if I added 2 to 8 already, I need to add 2 more:

Phew, that’s a lot of steps, but look at all the good things we learned to get there.  In the end, memorization is the goal.  However, simply memorizing isn’t always the best.  As I stated in Common Core Rant, students who have a deeper understanding of more basic concepts are better prepared to extend that knowledge when working on more difficult problems later on.  Yes, this takes more work, but it could be the only way that your child is capable of getting to the answer if he or she just isn’t remembering the fact initially.

Ultimately, if you prefer that your child learns in a different way, that’s what tutors such as myself are around for, to supplement the education that they are receiving.  However, my goal here is to show the method to the madness and help explain away some of the confusion that many parents have come to me with.  Hopefully, next time your young student comes home with this “crazy new math,” you’ll have an idea of what is going on and what the teacher is trying to convey through these longer processes.  Again, not every student learns the same way, which is my problem with Common Core, since teachers are required to teach the entire class the same methods even though it may not be the most effective.  The techniques are useful, however, and we should appreciate the thought that has gone into helping all children better understand math.

I will continue on with some of the subtraction techniques in my next post, and from there I will go on to cover multiplication and division.  Thanks for reading, and be sure to like or subscribe as this will most likely become a series I am writing!