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Is a Specialized HS Right For Me?
As an SHSAT tutor, my job is to help students get the best score they can on the specialized high school entrance exam; it's not to help them decide which school is the best fit for them. Nevertheless, parents often ask me what I think about Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and other specialized high schools. I have not done any in-depth investigations- my knowledge about these schools is limited to anecdotal feedback that I get from kids I know who attend them. But, for whatever it is worth, I have...

Homeschool Group Classes
The dominant image of homeschooling involves one child, or several siblings, studying with their mother in a socially isolated household. While those homeschoolers exist, they appear to be a definite minority, at least among New York City homeschoolers. One reason that most homeschoolers are far less isolated than many people assume is the popularity of small group classes. Group classes take many forms. Some are taught by parents, others are taught by professionals; some are highly academic...

How I Made My Peace With Math
I was always a dutiful student. I did those things kids are supposed to do: pay attention in class, complete homework assignments, study for tests, read. For the most part I did pretty well: I got into a gifted and talented public middle school program and went on to be accepted to Stuyvesant High School. I also got into both of the private schools I applied to, with 95% scholarships. Obviously, I was doing pretty well in all of my core subjects. But, despite this evidence, I never felt like I...

Conceptual Physics
Traditionally, physics has been considered the most difficult science, which should only be attempted by mature students with a strong mathematical background. There is some truth to this- being comfortable with advanced math can certainly open up some areas of physics and there are topics in a solid, college-preparatory physics class that require some pretty serious number-crunching. However, there is another side to this story and a growing feeling among educators (myself included) that even...

Suggested Non-Fiction Reading For Advanced Students
Last year, I worked with a particularly gifted student applying to Hunter College High School (she got in, by the way). She was only 11 years old, but she had a fully adult level of reading comprehension and a desire to tackle interesting, sophisticated, and challenging material. At the same time, she was still a child and books written about certain adult experiences and emotions simply held no interest for her. Working with this girl got me started thinking about books that might interest a...

Review of the Art of Problem Solving
I was recently introduced to The Art of Problem Solving, which is a series of math textbooks aimed at gifted middle and high school students, especially those who are interested in math competitions. I only looked through one of the books, Introduction to Algebra, by Richard Rusczyk , and this review will be about that text only. Other books in the series delve into topics such as geometry and probability. The Art of Problem Solving bills itself as a book for 6th to 10th grades. This...

Review of Dragon Genetics
Piles and piles of research show that students learn better when they are fully and actively engaged in what they are learning, rather than attempting to passively absorb information. That is why good teachers in all subjects and at all levels find ways to get students fully involved. In science classes, one of the most important tools to achieve this goal is hands-on lab work. Unfortunately, some topics don’t lend themselves very well to classroom experimentation. Genetics is a good example....

Review of Available SHSAT Practice Tests
The most essential tool any student needs to study for the SHSAT is high quality practice tests. There are quite a few sample SHSATs available, but they were not all created equal. Some are easier than the actual exam and a few are riddled with errors. Others are very high quality. There are four brands of SHSAT practice book readily available in most large New York City bookstores and several brands of test available online. The gold standard for practice tests are the two tests that are...

Response to “Students Get New Assignment: Pick Books You Like”
The New York Times published an article called “Students Get New Assignment: Pick Books You Like” by Motoko Rich (8/29/09) about an approach to reading instruction that reduces or even eliminates class books and replaces them with books that the students choose for themselves. In essence, this method works by allowing students class time to read each day and a relatively free rein to chose material (although teachers very well might prohibit “junk” such as “Gossip Girl”). To increase...

Reflections on a Reluctant Reader
Of all of the work I have done as a tutor, I am perhaps most proud of the work I did with Cassandra (of course, not her real name). Cassandra was in the seventh grade when we first met, and she had always scored either a one or a two on her New York State language arts tests. (A one is the lowest possible score and a four is the highest possible score; both ones and twos indicate that a student is performing poorly.) Her parents were frustrated by the lack of progress she was making in school...

Review of Brain Maths, Volume 1
Brain Maths, by Tan Thoo Liang, is a supplemental math book associated with Singapore Math. It is a two volume series, and this review is about Volume 1. It is aimed at students 8 years old and older. On the back cover, it states that “Brain Maths is a series of two volumes which have been written to help you increase your IQ score and also develop your mental flexibility.” I admit, I’m quite dubious about this book actually making a person smarter, but the problems are genuinely challenging...

Actually Understanding Physics
My scientific background is primarily in biology, with a good dollop of chemistry and a fair bit of geology thrown in. Physics was never really part of the mix for me, so when I had the opportunity to take a couple of conceptual physics classes in graduate school as part of my teacher training, I was pretty excited. One of those classes was particularly rewarding. It was primarily a study of naked-eye astronomy (i.e., the Sun and Moon). In this class, we did some just plain awesome things-...

Review of the Cryptoclub
One of the holy grails of education is making math fun, without reducing its rigor. Many people attempt this task, but few succeed. I believe that Jannet Beissinger and Vera Pless are among the rare success stories with their book The Cryptoclub, Using Mathematics to Make and Break Secret Codes. This book follows a group of fictional middle-school children who form a code-breaking club. They start out with historically ancient and rather simple codes, and work their way through progressively...

Biology Regents Exam
The Biology Regents Exam, officially known as the Living Environment Regents Exam, is one of four science regents available to New York State students who are pursuing a regents diploma. The test itself consists of a multiple choice portion and a free-response portion. Although there isn’t a lab component, students must have completed at least 20 hours of lab work to be eligible to sit for the exam. Students normally take the Biology Regents after one year of high school biology. Not...

Number Sense
Some people are just better with numbers than other people. The people who are better with numbers have something that math teachers sometimes refer to as number sense. It’s like common sense, but for math. Your friend who can reliably estimate which brand of peanut butter is the least expensive even though they come in differently sized jars probably has good number sense. Likewise, the fifth grader who makes a calculation error on a test but then notices that the answer doesn’t look right....

Percentile Rank: A Case of Unfortunate Naming?
On a fairly regular basis, I’m faced with a parent who wants help interpreting some standardized test scores. Often, the test scores are in the form of a percentile rank. Many people know what percentile rank means, but in case you’re not entirely sure, it is a measure of how well someone has done in comparison to the rest of their group. For instance, if a child achieves a percentile rank of 60 on a certain portion of the ERB or ISEE, it means that he or she has done better than 60% of his or...

A Favorite Math Project
A number of years ago, I had a student who was assigned an algebra project called “Grid Co.” I don’t know if her teacher invented it or got it from someone else. I don’t even know the teacher’s name, so I am unfortunately unable to give proper credit. Regardless of where it comes from, it is one of my favorite math projects for students studying algebra. The premise of Grid Co. is that you (the student) are a consultant hired by Grid Co., the nation’s leading supplier of fine grids for...

Some Fun and Educational Activities For Summertime
As a tutor, I have seen time and again that the students who have the strongest skills are the students who do lots of learning outside of school, as well as inside it. That doesn’t mean that these kids are doing drills all summer and on the weekends- far from it. They are getting out and exploring the world with their families and friends (or sometimes they’re curled up at home with a good book or an interesting hobby). Here are a few ideas for fun, educational activities to try out this...

A Tutor’s Perspective on SHSAT Applications
I’ve been a tutor in New York City since 2004, and since I specialize in working with middle school age children, I have become quite familiar with the high school application process. There are many categories of high school and the application process is by no means the same for each category- because of this, the whole process can sometimes feel even more complex and draining than applying to college. This essay will be about applying to New York City Specialized Public Schools. Other essays...

Review of Physics by Inquiry
Most of us have heard of the Socratic method of teaching at one time or another- it’s the technique Socrates famously used to educate Athenian youth back in ancient Greece. This method entails the teacher asking the student a series of leading questions sequenced in such a way that the student is able to discover knowledge for him or her self. The Socratic Method is hardly new, but it can feel revolutionary when it is used well because it is difficult to do right and therefore not often used...

When is Math Tutoring the Right Choice?
Many students struggle a little bit in math class, just as many people struggle in any endeavor that requires abstract, rigorous thinking. A certain level of struggle is a normal, natural part of education and does not necessarily indicate a need for tutoring. After all, one of the most valuable things students can learn in school is how to overcome difficulty by relying on themselves. However, in certain situations, tutoring can make a tremendous positive difference in a student’s...

When Does it Make Sense to Get an English Tutor?
No one would deny that strong English language skills are a critically important tool in America and across the world. Unfortunately, many students suffer from underdeveloped reading and writing skills, weak vocabularies, and questionable mechanics (such as punctuation and spelling). There are many ways to improve English skills, some of which can be done independently and others which work best with guidance. Perhaps the simplest and best way for anybody to improve their reading, vocabulary,...

ISEE Test Preparation
The ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam) is a test used by the admissions offices of almost all independent schools in New York City. There are three levels of ISEE given, which correspond to students applying to lower schools, middle schools, and high schools. All versions of the ISEE have multiple choice math, reading comprehension, and vocabulary questions. In addition, there is an essay which is ungraded but sent to schools. The ISEE is given many times throughout the year, but a student...

Advice for the SAT Bound Student
The SAT is perhaps the most feared and misunderstood test in our culture. It’s not an IQ test, but it helps to be smart. It’s not a content test, but it helps to know your stuff. Many people with great scores never studied for it, but almost anyone can do better with practice. In some ways, it is a deeply flawed exam but it nevertheless tells colleges something useful about their applicants. More to the point, it is here to stay. As a tutor who works with many standardized admissions exams,...

Improving Biology Education
Everybody agrees that education is important. Likewise, it has become a commonplace to say that we aren’t educating the nation’s children as well as we should. Improving education is an exceptionally complex task, but one part of the problem is that we’re having trouble as a society defining what a “good education” actually is. This is a particular problem in subjects that are politically and emotionally charged. One of the most acrimonious areas of education is the one that is also nearest to...

Is Homeschooling Right For Your Family?
I’ve been a private tutor in New York City for the past five years, and in that time I have worked extensively with eight different homeschoolers and had contact with a number of others. Some of these families are providing their children with absolutely magnificent educations. Others are doing a very poor job of it. I’ve given a great deal of thought to the characteristics that set successful homeschooling families apart from unsuccessful ones, and I believe I have some useful ideas for...

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