Learning Lessons in Math and Life in the ECFS Math Center

11 Dec 2018
BySydney B. '19

I have always loved helping friends solve problems or understand ideas. So when, at the beginning of the second semester of my sophomore year, my math teacher asked our class who wanted to be a tutor in the Math Center, I knew immediately that it was something I wanted to do.

During the years that I have worked in the Math Center, I have helped many people — but not without some difficulties. Every time someone comes to me for help, I worry that I will not be able to help them. I worry that I will not know the material they are learning (or not remember it), and I worry that I might get the concept or problem wrong. Luckily, so far, I have been able to help everyone who has come to me. But, there was one time that I was almost unable to.

Sydney B. ’19 has tutored in the Math Center since her sophomore year.

Last year, someone came to the Math Center for help on her Algebra II homework. She was learning a new topic and she was not quite grasping it. The problem was, I had never done the material that she was learning (or, at least, I do not remember ever having done it). I could not stop thinking that I might have to tell her, “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you because I do not know how to do this.” But then, I recognized that the general, overarching topics that the material centered on were ones I was familiar with. I knew how to set up systems of equations and how to solve them; it was just the way the information was presented in the questions, and the intricacies of what the problems were asking for, that I was unfamiliar with.

For me, math is less about memorizing formulas and simply getting the right answer, and more about critical thinking and problem solving.

I asked to see her notes from class. I thought that, maybe, after reading her notes, I would understand the material better and be able to teach her strategies for approaching these types of problems. I was able to do just that. I think that is one of the great things about the Math Center. For me, math is less about memorizing formulas and simply getting the right answer, and more about critical thinking and problem solving. That's the delicate balance we tutors try to strike: help people solve the problems, but also make sure they can do the work on their own.

Sydney helping a fellow student in the Math Center

The point of the Math Center is not to do people’s homework for them, but to teach them strategies and help them understand the material, so that they’re able to solve similar problems in class and on tests — and really, throughout life.