A teacher’s rant: Why your child needs a math tutor. Especially if they’re good at math.

I strongly encourage any parent to re-examine the belief that their child is ahead in math, because they are ahead in school.

This week, a couple families told me they didn’t think their child needed a math tutor because they were ahead in math at school. They, instead, were looking for a tutor in areas they felt their child could use a little more encouragement. As deeply as I love and respect these parents, this prompted me to go on a little rant.

Here are my main points:

  • The math curriculum in K-8th grade is extremely limited.
  • The math curriculum in K-8th grade can be learned in six months, by a six year old.
  • Children learn math so much better in a one-on-one setting when they can learn at their own pace and instruction can be differentiated for their learning style.

And here is my rant:

The math we learn in school is not enough. When children learn in a group setting, they have to wait until everyone in class catches up to learn a concept, or get lost in the dust when more people understand a concept than them. It’s a subject that we learn better when we learn at our own pace.

The principle of moving ahead in any subject at your own pace, supported by robust one-on-one instruction and independent study (greatly enhanced, I might add, by a well-designed adaptive learning app or curriculum) is often referred to as Mastery Learning. A groundbreaking study by Benjamin Bloom showed that students who benefited from Mastery Learning did 98% better than their peers in a cohort who were learning in a group.

As a former tutor for over 20 years to children in a huge range of educational settings, from Title I schools to the living rooms to some of the most brilliant and accomplished parents in the world, I have seen the unfair advantage that 1–1 tutoring (whether it’s via a paid professional or caring parent) can have on a child’s education, and I will not stop until every childs has the chance to learn this way.

So back to math.

Math is a subject where one concept builds upon another concept. If we are trying to build a tower and miss a block, we can’t build the tower any higher. There is nothing to put the next block on top of in order to grow.

So if you think about waiting around for that block or putting on blocks as fast as you’re able, you can see how learning at your own pace overall accelerates learning. Occasionally it’s important to stop and pause so the block tower doesn’t fall down. Occasionally, you can just charge ahead putting one block on top of the next at lightning speed.

This year at Modulo, we worked with a group of one four year old and three six year olds. Our approach to learning math together was straightforward. The students chose an adaptive learning app aligned with school standards for learning (we liked Math Tango, Prodigy Game, Dragon Box Algebra and IXl the best.) It should also be noted we played A LOT of chess). While the students played their game, they would occasionally get stuck on a problem. In this case, they shared their screen and the teacher or another student asked them questions or gave them tips that helped them understand the concept and move ahead. We especially loved it when another kid jumped in as that reinforced their learning even further.

These students (4 and 6 year olds) all went through the entire K-8th grade math curriculum in 6 months. They are bright, but quite frankly, we discovered there isn’t A LOT there to learn. And when kids are learning it in a tutoring session with an adaptive learning app, they breeze right through it. While this is a small cohort, we’ve been using a similar method in our non-profit, masteryhour.org where students come for daily tutoring and are also seeing that are students are quickly jumping 1–2 grade levels combing one-on-instruction with adaptive learning apps. .

Many families say they don’t need a math tutor because their child is ahead in math. To these parents, I say, you are depriving your child of an extraordinary opportunity to build skills that will serve them in countless endeavors, entrepreneurship, personal money management, architecture, design, analyzing current events, — In their very understanding of the universe — and more so, enhancing the understanding that we all have of the beautiful and complex universe we live in.

Not to mention all the wonderful math concepts we don’t teach kids in school (or I should say, give kids the opportunity to learn).

We don’t teach data science in school.

We don’t teach accounting or personal financial management

We don’t teach kids how to build a financial model

Etcetera, etcetera — huge skills I needed for my life that I needed to teach myself as an adult.

So when you are satisfied your child is ahead in school, what does ahead mean to you?

Ahead according to what standards? Does this mean that they are a grade or two ahead of school math, school math that is moving extremely slowly.

What if your child could learn as fast as they’re capable and learn these concepts well?

I strongly encourage any parent to re-examine the belief that their child is ahead in math, because they are ahead in school and give them the opportunity to reach their full potential through one-on-one tutor — or using an adaptive learning app or other physical material (if that suits their learning style with your support.)

For those who can afford it, there are plenty of resources available for private tutoring. My company, Modulo, connects families with highly trained tutors online who apply our method of combining adaptive learning apps with 1–1 teaching.

And for those who can’t, our non-profit Masteryhour.org offers free tutoring from trained college student volunteers for any child who wants it.

Finally, your child’s math tutor can be you!! You absolutely don’t need to be a math whiz to help your child with math. Here are some tips on how to get started.

Whether your child is struggling with math or way ahead, a math tutor can get them to the highest level they are capable and then beyond.

And our world will have more geniuses in it because of that. Goodness knows, we need them to solve the problems our world faces today.

Manisha is the co-founder of masteryhour.org, a non-profit providing free math tutoring to K12 students & Modulo.app, a new approach to childhood education.