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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Positive Feedback

A while back, one of my co-workers caught me reading a popular physics book on my lunch break. She asked me if I would be willing to tutor her son in Physics. Evidently, he was failing miserably and she hadn't been able to find a tutor anywhere. I was a bit reluctant, since despite being embroiled in a physics related book, it has been some time since I had to actually solve kinematic equations. I figured it would all come back to me, but I felt unsure of committing myself. She convinced me that I couldn't possibly do any harm, so I decided to give it a try.

The back story on the situation is a good example of how inept administrations can really mess with a kid's education. Her son was allowed to enroll in Honors Physics as a Freshman. He is concurrently taking Algebra I. If that sounds odd to you, it should. He is missing approximately two years of math background required to understand basic physics. He has never encountered rates of change. He has not even studied trigonometry. It's no wonder he was failing! This is inexcusable.

Just before I began meeting with him, he had downgraded to CP Physics, meaning he switched classrooms and teachers. Unfortunately, this did not have an immediate effect on his grade. He had just received a 40% on the most recent test. Enter me. As i got to know him, I quickly realized that he wasn't terribly excited about the subject matter, yet he was determined to improve. Even when I pointed out that he may be in such a large hole, all of his best efforts may prove fruitless, he still insisted on pushing forward. So we went to work. I started by walking him through some problems, and then let him take over. I saw improvement quickly, and was able to give him some tips for better problem solving strategies. A lot of his problem lied in some bad habits he had picked up. These habits would have been broken with more math experience, but he wasn't given that chance. Anyway, a week later, there was another test. He earned a solid "C." I was extremely pleased, as were his parents. More tutoring, more tests, more improvement. On his most recent test he made an 89% and just got back a 95% on a quiz.

I'm not trying to prove causality here. He has a new teacher, and is in a class moving at a slower pace. He has parents that care enough to have gone to all the trouble to get help. He has been working hard, and deserves much recognition. But I have to feel like there's at least some correlation here. I must have something to do with it. At least, that's the way I feel. It makes me think I have chosen the right path for myself.

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