I tutored my cousin today. It was pretty fun to explain some of the math that I’ve been learning these last couple months. Explaining math always makes me wonder if becoming an actuary is really for me, or if my heart is really in teaching.

I like teaching a lot. Getting to know my students and seeing them progress is very rewarding. When I taught a couple calculus classes in graduate school, I often spent more time preparing for teaching my class than I spent working on my own research. I’m pretty good at teaching too; my students gave me flattering evaluations.

After I finished my masters, I starting thinking about what’s most practical rather than what’s perhaps most fulfilling. Becoming an actuary is the most financially rewarding way to utilize my advanced math training (besides cheating at gambling or something). While teaching is great, I would make half the money that an actuary makes, probably less. If I want a chance at being financially secure and be able to provide for my eventual child (and maybe my parents in their old age), shouldn’t I choose a profession that will help me achieve those goals?

The actuary field is interesting too. Learning about how to use the math behind insurance and risk management has been really fun. Unfortunately, the road to becoming an actuary is very difficult and insanely competitive. This first exam for which I’m preparing is already pretty tough, but the rest of the exams are just as difficult, if not more so. I don’t know if I have what it takes to make it.

As I get older, I’m starting to think more like an adult. That is, I’m starting to consider long-term goals and thinking about what I need over what I want. It’s weird, realizing I’m not a kid anymore. Are being practical and being happy mutually exclusive?

No matter what, I have to just give it my all and study for my upcoming actuarial exam. After the exam, I can decide whether becoming an actuary is right for me. If I think too much about it now, I will screw up my chances of passing the exam and the decision will be made for me.

Oh, and speaking about my cousin, I tried not to say too much when she mentioned that Dumbledore is gay. It seemed like she didn’t think it made a big difference (which it really doesn’t). I wonder if she would think the same way if she knew I’m gay. Even if she would, I still won’t tell her for a while anyway, knowing how gossip spreads in my family.

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November 29, 2007 at 9:53 pm

Hi!

This is the first time I’ve seen your blog. I saw “tutoring math” and thought I’d send some notes I wrote for somebody who was having trouble w/ this. Hope there’s something helpful.

No matter how complicated an equation seems, solving a problem that has an equation is always a matter of using a few simple math tools, like knowing what to do with a squared number when you move it from the bottom of a fraction. As a student, I found that some of these tools took what seemed to be a lot of time to learn, but spending hours to learn just one would be time well spent. You could probably save a lot of time by going to the tutoring center and asking how to use one of these little tools.

In many courses, your mind will go back-and-forth between paying close attention to the lecture and not paying close attention, either to rest or to think about what the teacher has said. But you have to pay close attention to the math lecture from the start of the hour to the end and attend every lecture. If you miss a lecture, you will want to borrow notes from someone. One reason for taking detailed, easy-to-read notes is that it’s easy to trade notes with someone that way.

Young children are taught math by showing them real things, like one ball and two balls making three balls. Later, the schools stop referring to real things. I don’t know why. When I was in high school, it never occurred to me that the quadratic equation could be used for something. I didn’t find out how it’s used until many years later. I’m sure that if somebody had shown me one or two real-life examples of how the quadratic equation is used, I would have found it much easier to understand. So, another way you could use the tutoring center would be to ask how some equation can be used in a real life. Having pictures in your mind that go with the equations can be very helpful. You can also draw pictures, of course.

You might find one or two other books to go with your textbook, maybe in the library, although I have found that popular books like those of the “For Dummies” series are more helpful. I’d suggest comparing different books carefully to see which would be the most helpful. (If you haven’t already, see my posts in “It makes me crazy!”.)

Remembering how to solve a type of problem is like remembering the other things you study. It’s a matter of repetition. To solve a type of problem, practice solving a variety of different problems. It’s good to have a book or two that gives different examples of how to solve a type of problem, showing clearly how to do it.

You will probably have problems consisting of words. Many students are bothered by these problems, but I don’t think they are worse than equations. The most important thing to remember about word problems is that whenever you are able to find any new information you have basically solved the problem. The teacher can’t hide much information in a problem, and when you find any new information you either see the answer before you or it’s just something like changing meters-per-second to meters-per-hour. First, translate the words in the problem into math values, like “traveling at a speed of” to “velocity.” If a method of solving the problem does not occur to you, just experiment with this information, play with it, until you find out something new. You can bet that what you find is the answer.

Best wishes,

Exsptherapist

November 29, 2007 at 10:21 pm

Thanks for the tips, Exptherapist, though I wasn’t actually looking for help learning or tutoring math. This post was about my indecision in choosing a career. My students seem to think I’m a good teacher. More perspectives on how to tutor/teach math are always good though, so I appreciate it.

Oh, and “traveling at a speed of” isn’t the same as “velocity.” Velocity has a magnitude (how fast) and a direction (usually positive or negative). Speed is actually the absolute value of velocity…