My name is Joe and I have spent basically my entire life learning, teaching, and tutoring math and science at all levels of education. I have taken courses ranging from kindergarten-level seed-planting from a nurturing, caring teacher in the suburbs (I failed this one the first time around, I think I over-watered), to Berkeley graduate-level quantum mechanics and nonlinear optics, from some of the most brilliant scientific minds on the planet. Like you, I have spent thousands of hours in the classroom learning from teachers and professors, young and old, new and experienced, good and bad. I remember all my teachers since I spent so much time with them and I have favorites and ones I would not want to spend another second in the classroom with. I have also spent thousands of hours teaching in the classroom and tutoring students one-on-one and in small groups and have learned and practiced the best studying, teaching, and tutoring methods. I have read hundreds of academic articles on education and distilled a staggering amount of neuroscience literature.
This blog is intended to be the best on the planet for obtaining useful information about how to study and learn, teach and tutor, and how to boost your brainpower. But why should you listen to me? Well, let me tell you a bit about myself and my experiences, then you can decide for yourself if I’m Joe Pro or Joe Blow.
Joe the Student
I have always excelled academically and I didn’t get a B in any class until my senior year in college, and that was because I decided that since I accomplished my goal of being accepted into Berkeley’s chemistry Ph.D. program the following fall that I would have fun, not study at all my last semester in college, and see how I did. I ended up with two A’s and three B+’s – in Advanced Molecular Cell Biology, Advanced Organic Chemistry, and Linear Algebra. Not bad for doing nothing but showing up to class for lectures and exams and doing the required assignments.
I was the curve-wrecker in all of my classes. My college intro physics course allowed a full 8.5″ x 11″ “cheat sheet” of paper front and back full of notes with anything you could fit on it for the final exam. Students were printing or typing notes in as tiny of font as they could read, photocopying and shrinking diagrams from the textbook, and annotating fully worked out example problems. I showed up with a sheet of paper with the formula “F=ma” written in huge letters with a big black permanent marker and set it down on my desk in front of me. My friends thought it was funny because they knew I didn’t need a cheat sheet, and the students who didn’t know me gave me looks of “you’re a complete dumb-ass for not even trying to pass the final”. The professor chuckled when I handed in my “cheat sheet” with the exam. I finished the exam before anyone else and got the highest score in the class.
I got pretty much every scholarship, award and honor during high school and college that a nerdy kid could get, from spelling bee championships, to a state speech championship to scientific research awards.
My family and friends would tell you that I was always just naturally gifted and intelligent, that things just came to me easily. And they were right, but only partly. I also worked harder than any of my classmates to be the best, and the harder I worked, the easier it was to be the best. I was also never a creature of habit when it came to learning – I always tried to learn things faster, more efficiently, and would try to do things differently than my classmates to get an edge. My nature was to be super competitive. During this trial and error process of trying to learn things faster I was able to figure out how to study more effectively and learn material faster than my classmates, and soon I could put in a fraction of the work they did and still be top of the class. I finished High School as valedictorian and college as Summa Cum Laude with a major in biochemistry and a minor in mathematics.
Joe the Teacher
Even though I was competitive, I have always helped my fellow classmates, showing them the tricks for solving problem sets and helping them prepare for exams. My first real teaching/tutoring experience was holding drop-in study sessions for biology courses for two years while in college (got an Oustanding Tutor award). Then, while I was a chemistry Ph.D. student at Berkeley I taught seven or eight chemistry lab courses, many of which were preceded by a 30-60 minute lecture and discussion period where I would teach new material, go over material from lecture, and answer any questions the students had. My students liked me because I always finished the discussion closer to 30 minutes since I could help them understand everything very quickly. Out of lab early, hurray! I also guest-lectured chemistry courses several times for my professor when he was out of town. And while in grad school I worked for one of the largest test prep companies for about two years, teaching MCAT courses to medical school hopefuls and doing in-home tutoring for high school students.
I also had 6-month stint as a teacher for two sections of AP Chemistry. A teacher at a local high school had taken a medical leave and the course was being taught by different substitute teachers – not a good thing! The parents were very upset since the kids had learned very little the first three months of school, covering only about 3 out of the 20-something chapters that needed to be covered for the exam. Then one of the parents found my tutoring company website and asked if I would step in and teach the course the remainder of the year. I said “yes” and in the next 5 months I covered all the necessary material and nearly 60% of my students scored a 5 on the AP exam (national average was 16%). What I felt even better about was that my students were now telling me that they wanted to major in chemistry, chemical engineering, biochemistry, and other related fields when they went to college. Yes!
Joe the Tutor
Four years ago I started a tutoring company, East Bay Tutoring, and have been growing it ever since. I started out just tutoring myself, then began hiring employees and training them to use the proprietary methods I’d developed for teaching students complicated math and science material very quickly. I’ve cut back on my own tutoring to a handful of sessions per week, but over the past 5 years I’ve done thousands of individual and small-group tutoring sessions. I always approached my tutoring like I did studying – constantly pushing to find ways to teach students material better, faster, and more effectively. I now have it down to an art form. I’ve helped “F” students become “A” students, and have caused students who hated a subject to love it and want to study it more in college or grad school.
Joe the Brainpower Pro
I have always been fascinated by the brain. In order to be an exceptional educator I think you have to understand how the brain works, how it absorbs information, solves problems, forms memories, and what factors can enhance or slow down these complicated processes. I have read hundreds of academic articles, reviews, and books on these topics and, using my extensive science background to translate what seems like foreign gobbledygook to most people, will distill what I have learned into simple, fun-to-read articles so you don’t have to spend 26 years of your life studying academic science to do the same. And I have experimented with what I’ve learned about these topics in my own personal life so you don’t have to be the guinea pig, I already was!
Most people think that you just have to put in the time to study and there are no shortcuts or superior study techniques. Most people think that a tutor is a tutor is a tutor. But these claims are very far from the truth. There are better ways to study and not all teachers and tutors are as effective as others. But what is it that makes the difference? The answer is not so simple, but there are key things that effective students, teachers and tutors do to make them superior. And all of these subjects are related which is why I will address them all in my blog posts. My goal is to detail the most important things as clearly as possible so you can use them for your benefit, and not to mention for free!
So that’s my story for now. I’m sure you’ll learn more about me through my posts, but more importantly, you’ll learn more about effectively studying, teaching, tutoring and boosting your brainpower. I wish you the best in your pursuits and feel free to give me feedback by posting your thoughts. Be sure to share what you find useful with others, or just be a miserly shrew with your newfound knowledge and use Joe the Tutor as your secret weapon!
Joe the Tutor