going deeper into studies

What the Tutor Does When She’s Hungry

I’ve been asked by my boss to explain to his other tutors what I’m trying to do with my students.

What I do is go long.

When I was a kid, I loved catching a football. I loved how the prolate spheroid shape of a football caused it to spiral in the air. I loved how it tucked under my elbow as if it were designed to fit there. It drove me crazy how a loose football might bounce toward me one time or bounce in any other direction each time it hit the ground.

It turns out that someone wrote a book about the science of that football: Newton’s Football by Allen St. John and Ainissa G. Ramirez, Ph.D. Cool. I can bring that to work with me.

Some kids are like footballs and some are like soccer balls. Some kids, the soccer balls, are predictable and easy to train. They bounce in the direction you plan them to go. Others, the footballs, bounce in any direction that’s away and stare into space, wishing they could be somewhere, anywhere else, but where they are.

Some lessons are like football too. Some of the work is interesting and easy to understand. Other stuff just seems tedious. Some lessons don’t bounce at all, let alone in a chaotic direction. Lead balloons.

My job is to get the work to spiral in the air, to help the student tuck that information into the pocket and run with it.

No, that’s not it.

But right there, I searched the Internet to find out what the shape of a football is, a prolate sphere. It’s the three-dimensional shape that’s created when you spin an ellipse along its longer length, a football, a Tic Tac, a blimp.

When you spin an ellipse along its narrow length, it’s a oblate, like a flying saucer, the Earth, Skittles, or an M&M. Yes, the Earth is a very slightly squashed sphere. Did you know that?

I really did sit down here with the intent to tell you what I do with my students to make the work more interesting. Instead, I used a flabby metaphor for a football. Then, I looked up the name of the shape of a football. Then I found out that a coach and some professor wrote a book about the science of football and that chaos theory happens when no one catches it and it bounces across the field. Then, I clicked the opposite of prolate to see what oblate was and I wanted to know what that looked like, so I clicked ‘images.’ Then, I saw pictures of M&M, Skittles, and the Earth.

Mmm, M&Ms, Skittles, Tic Tacs.

And then, I realized that is exactly what I do when I work with my students, go long.

Thank you for listening, jules