Unexpected Role Reversal

As a tutor on the job for many years, I encounter all kinds of students. This makes for a lot of variety and the element of surprise. They come from different ethnic backgrounds and cultures, have a unique family life, and exhibit very individual tendencies. Their goals in life are across the board from law, medicine, teaching, construction, engineering, to sports, entertainment, and social work. I am pleased to see how committed they are to their futures, even when they are not excelling in school at the moment. I have a role to fulfill in preparing them for their chosen calling. Each tutoring session is a chance to find out more about the world of young people and their aspirations.

Given the reality of this cross section of students, I have to adapt my lessons to their interests. It can be challenging if they are quite different from mine. I like to tell stories and make analogies that are meaningful and convey the basic points of my instruction. If someone likes to cook, I tie mathematics back to weights and measures. If they sew, I can talk about fractions of a yard of fabric. I never know where a lesson will take me, hence it has been an extremely enjoyable activity that rivals my graduate school classes in personal value.

A was teaching a student gymnast recently and it was not difficult to ty things back to this endeavor as it is one of my favorite sports. I watch the finals and preparations for the Olympics with glee. I was happy to have her in my midst to share my passion for the horse, vault, rings, and exercise floor. We discuss the best gymnasts in history as well as the world today.  During a recent school competition, we delayed our session to accommodate our need to attend. Interestingly enough, the student gymnast specializes in the trampoline, a subject of new interest in that the device is appearing in more and more school gyms. Kids are taking their childhood obsession with bouncing up and down to a new level. Advanced “tricks” are as difficult as any other type of gymnastics and merit serious consideration. This is no mere pastime akin to miniature golf. It is a long way from a backyard mini trampoline for tots to a regulation version for professionals.

To tie my lessons to gymnastics with a focus on the trampoline, I had to do my homework and found a great web site on the topic here. There are issues of weight and height involved when determining the reliability of a unit. Physics come into play when looking at the dynamics of the jumps, flips, and somersaults. Geometry is relevant when we trace the arc of movement. Meanwhile, I have spent so much time online and talking with the student that I feel that I have perhaps learned more about her interests than she has learned about mine. The time spent preparing has been well worth it as her comprehension of the tutoring subject has grown immensely.

Magnetic Session Today

I love working with teens as each one is unique and responds in his or her own way, causing me to become more creative in my approach. Tutoring high school kids can be challenging depending upon the subject. They can tune out in a second and never return. They are off in some kind of personal fantasyland most of the time.  It is a trick to capture their attention and keep it. I sometimes wonder what is on their minds. I don’t think it is school! Hence there need for me so I am not complaining. As a grad student, they keep me in text books and supplies. I just have to wrack my brain sometimes. Recently I had to explain electromagnetic fields and the student was not getting it at all. I thought that show and tell would work better than droning on and on. I borrowed a metal detector from a friend so that she would have a visual aid of how a magnetic field works in real life. It was pretty effective if I don’t say so myself.

The science of electromagnetism can be easily explained with this device. While there are various types of metal detectors, I kept it simple and talked about the basic design: a wire coil (the transmitter) wrapped around the head. A magnetic field is created when electricity flows through it. She heard me but still hand blank eyes, especially when I explained that the metal detection process alters the movement of the tiny electrons that move around the atoms inside the metal. I could visualize it, but I had to make a drawing. I said, “picture yourself hold the device over a metal object.” I went on to talk about electric currents. In short, the detector creates electrical activity (induction) in the metal at hand. This creates magnetism as well or a “magnetic field.” The detector picks it up due to the coil of wire (receiver) and a part called a loudspeaker, a circuit to which it is connected, is triggered. Eureka! Finding something is what it is all about. People often use these gadgets just for fun such as in a park or along the sand at the beach.

I find it fascinating how electricity flows through a magnetic field. I am sure my student wasn’t that taken with it. I had hoped to pique her interest and create some curiosity about physics. I made sounds like a loudspeaker click or beep to make my point since there wasn’t any metal in the tutoring room. She did laugh at that. I told her that the closer the detector is moved to the metal object, the louder the sound. I finally got through to her and we could move on to other topics she was having trouble with. It gladdens my heart when I can make a connection to a student like the process of electricity. I want to create a flash in her brain.