General audience talk at local chapter of Cafe Scientifique.
General audience talk at local chapter of Cafe Scientifique.

My Philosophy

During my senior year of college, I spent a semester in Budapest, Hungary studying mathematics. In addition to tons of beautiful theory, I also learned the language and participated in Hungarian high school classes. Hungarian high school students consistently rank near the top of the Math Olympiad, the famous international problem solving competition; what is their secret?

Many researchers have studied international differences in math education and the corresponding effect on achievement, but Hungary appears to have a unique system. The authors in [1] studied several Hungarian classrooms and deduced two special features:

  1. Hungarians view mathematical knowledge, like literary knowledge, with cultural value.
  2. The central focus of Hungarian classrooms is problem solving.

The first point is distinct from American culture where mathematical illiteracy is almost celebrated. The number of people who proudly tell me that they hate math and are glad they didn’t take calculus in college is discouraging. Someone announcing the same incompetence in reading comprehension would be rightly embarrassed. In America, you are considered well-educated even if you loathe math while in Hungary, an appreciation for math is central to a respected education. This general cultural perspective naturally influences educational policy, funding, and the students’ attitude for math.

The central focus of Hungarian classrooms on problem solving also contrasts the American education system. We tend to focus on algorithms and curriculum whereas the Hungarians focus on general mathematical patterns of thought. Their best high school teachers are willing to spend extra time on a problem, at the expense of other chapters in the book, as long as the students find an elegant and general solution. The teacher’s goal is to teach Hungarian students the traits of mathematical thinking (logic, abstraction, estimation, etc.) rather than specific tools (volume of surfaces of revolution, the quadratic formula, etc.). Of course, like all tasks, one needs to know the basics before attacking the hard problems, but the focus is not on particular types of problems, but instead on particular types of thinking. The end results of the Hungarian perspective are students with a deep appreciation for the usefulness and aesthetic value of mathematics.

Having spent several months in Hungary, taken the famous “Conjecture and Proof” course, and dramatically increased my own Putnam exam score (famously difficult college-level math competition), I try to follow the tenets of Hungarian math instructors when tutoring. Concretely, this means that I always frame mathematical concepts in a broader perspective so that you can understand the motivations and limitations of the concept. I don’t hand out formula sheets to memorize. Second, as a liberal arts graduate with wide-ranging interests in art, music, literature, etc., I try to show you how math is just as beautiful and fascinating as say, a Bill Evan solo or Tableau I. Getting excited about a subject is one of the best ways to learn it.

Of course, I teach you how to actually do mathematics (yes, there are some tricks) and achieve your desired goal (ace the class, obtain a high score on the SAT, etc.), but I don’t want to simply teach the tools and methods of math. These rules are dry compared to the ideas behind mathematics. For example, the fascinating marriage between the infinitely small and the infinitely large in calculus, or how parabolas, hyperbolas, and circles are really the same in algebra, or how changing the rules of geometry produces bizarre other worlds. Many students are lost in the details of math (and there are a ton of details) and become discouraged. My ambition is to, as Leonardo da Vinci once said, ``turn your eyes skyward, for there you have been and there you will long to return.’’

Subjects I Tutor

Math is a convenient universal language for most of the sciences and as such, makes it easy for mathematicians to attack problems in most fields of science. At the high school level, this means I can tutor:

  • Physics
  • Earth science
  • Statistics
  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics (all levels)
  • Computer Science
  • SAT / ACT / PSAT

At the college level, I can tutor:

  • Introductory physics
  • Statistics (all levels)
  • Mathematics (all levels but specialize in analysis / partial differential equations)
  • Computer Science (all levels)
  • Introductory chemistry
  • GRE Math

If there is a subject that I have listed, drop me an email and I will probably be able to help.

Rates and Availability

I charge hourly, but my rates depend on the subject and particular arrangement. My schedule is fairly flexible, as is our meeting place. Send me an email at sams@umn.edu and we can work out the details via phone or email. I look forward to hearing from you!

  1. Andrews, P., & Hatch, G. (2001). Hungary and its characteristic pedagogical flow. Proceedings of the British Congress of Mathematics Education, 21(2). 26-40. - See more at: http://blogs.ams.org/matheducation/2015/01/10/the-hungarian-approach-and-how-it-fits-the-american-educational-landscape/#sthash.ol3FuBJY.dpuf