Why? Because I Said So!

Want to know the best question a student can ask in Maths? Or, anywhere, in my humble opinion. A single word, that opens up a world of potential. A word that inspires curiosity, arguably the most important trait in any budding Mathematician or Scientist.


It is the very definition of curiosity. It shows interest, sparks excitement and fascination, and usually leads to a much deeper understanding on whatever they happening to be studying.

Unfortunately, this wonderful question can often be met with some truly horrible answers.

“Because that’s the way it is”

“Because I said so”

“That doesn’t really matter”

I hear it far too often. In school, in sport, even in art, and especially the workplace. And every single time, I cringe.

For quite a few reasons.

It means the instructor doesn’t really understand

If someone can’t explain why a process is in place, they probably don’t truly understand the process in the first place. Which, in itself is not a crime. We are all learning something at some point.

The real issue is that, when someone is in a position to teach, it can be easy to fall into the trap of believing they should know everything. Rather than accepting gaps in their own knowledge and striving to fill them. Students love seeing that their teachers (or tutors, or coaches, or managers) are human too. We are all learning. But by refusing to admit that you don’t know something, you’re doing a disservice to yourself AND your student.

It discourages curiosity

If students don’t get satisfying answers to questions, eventually they’ll just stop asking. Which is worse. Much worse. It ends up perpetuating the vicious cycle that we all moan about.

It’s a big trend at the moment to complain about how the education system is broken. Which it kind of is. But I firmly believe that nurturing curiosity can save it.

It’s all well and good to talk about personalised learning experience, multi faceted learning, and all the other fads. And while they’re brilliant ideas, they’re not sustainable in the world we live in – there aren’t enough teachers in classrooms, and they aren’t paid enough to be able to foster that kind of environment permanently.

The thing that IS killing the system is situations in which students are afraid or otherwise discouraged from discovering things for themselves. Asking questions, adventuring, and being curious.

It gives knowledge without wisdom

We all know the saying.

Knowledge is knowing the tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

Knowledge is knowing how to add two numbers together. Wisdom is knowing when to add two numbers together.

One without the other creates very human looking calculators, and not a whole lot more.

If a student asks why, either answer the question, or find someone who can.


How To Spot A Troublesome Teacher…

How to Spot a Troublesome Teacher

Unfortunately, the frustrating truth of the school system is that not all teachers are fantastic.

Don’t get me wrong, many teachers are outstanding. They are both passionate and patient, taking the time for each and every one of their students.

But for every teacher who loves their job, there is another who doesn’t.

A troublesome teacher who, for whatever reason, is frustrating to work with for both students and parents. These teachers can cause endless headaches, anxiety and all around discomfort for students. And there can be some pretty daunting flow-on effects from this too.

Here’s some of the most common signs I’ve noticed about teachers who might not be doing the best job they could….

Relying solely on a textbook to teach

The textbook in any subject is quite often the backbone of a curriculum.

But they are also convoluted, and frequently present information in baffling ways.

It is the role of a teacher to take the content there and translate it into a language that makes sense to his students. Which means that simply regurgitating the content without further explanation or insight isn’t really the best use of a teacher’s skills…

Refusing to answer questions

Questions are what make the difference between a classroom and a lecture. They allow students to grow and develop their own thoughts, processes and analyses.

However, I hear more and more reports of troublesome teachers who simply don’t acknowledge questions. Students who want to learn are being ignored, or even punished, for being curious.

This is most commonly seen in situations where perhaps teachers may not actually know the answer to a question. This in itself is not particularly problematic. The issue is when a teacher refuses to admit that they don’t know, prefering to avoid the question rather than explain that they may need to do some research or refreshing themself.

Being more interested in showing what they know, rather than teaching

This actually shines through more commonly than you might think.

Teachers are often incredibly knowledgeable about their specialty, and they are rightly proud of that fact.

However, this shouldn’t be an invitation for a teacher to show off at every opportunity. Most of those more complex explanations end up confusing and intimidating students, rather than teaching them.

Unfortunately, teachers like this are part of the reason that tutors like myself are so busy…

A common reason for students to get a tutor is due to the fact that they don’t feel comfortable with relying solely on their teacher. Sometimes, this is simply due to time constraints or the difficulty of the content.

More commonly, however, is the fact that students don’t respond well to the teacher and how they run the class.

If you do find yourself in this position, organising a private tutor or other third-party help is always a great step in the right direction. They can help to solidify your understanding as well as your own confidence in the subject, and give you a “safety net” to rely on.

Teachers do such an important job in our world, and so very many of them are outstanding role-models and invaluable assets to students lives. Making sure that we hold them to a high standard is critical to ensuring that students across the country (and realistically, the world) receive the absolute best education they can.

Problem-solving questions are useless unless students know this…

Problem-solving questions are useless unless you know this...

Every educator knows the value of problem-solving questions for their students.

Unfortunately, most students have no such concept as to why the questions are so useful. It’s not your fault. It’s ours.

The reality is, that most teachers and tutors give their students problem-solving questions in the hope of building skills and processes far beyond simple Maths (or anything else).

And, to an extent, that’s exactly what those questions are for. There’s only one issue.

We always forget to teach our students WHY problem solving questions are so valuable.

Which usually strips this practice of all value.

Which (I’m pretty sure) is why all you students hate these questions: because you can’t see the point.

Am I right or am I right?

Problem-solving questions are all about… well… problems

I don’t mean tricky Calculus or challenging Chemistry equations.

I mean the act of breaking down an issue into manageable parts, organising them, and creating a series of processes to manage what could otherwise be an overwhelming scenario.

Doesn’t that sound like a skill that might be useful in the wide world?

Honestly, this the reason that Maths problems (in particular, but not exclusively) are actually such great practice for you the big wide world.

Not because you’ll need to find the angle in a triangle or the volume of an impossibly perfect sphere. Problem-solving questions are so useful because they teach you how to break down, plan and organise your strategy.

[bctt tweet=””Problem-solving questions teach you how to break down, plan and organise your strategy””]

We don’t care about the Maths…

Well, OK, we kind of care about the Maths. But honestly, we’re more concerned with you learning how to build up your own study skills and problem-solving methods.

Because those are the skills that will actually make a difference in your life beyond school. And ultimately, that’s the reason that teachers and tutors are so passionate about problem-solving questions, and why we won’t give you a break!

Once you understand their purpose, you get much more out of them

Just in simply having a reason to actually attempt the questions, you as a student will be better off.

So, the next time you get frustrated with tackling challenging worded problem-solving questions, try to remember this:

The whole point of these questions isn’t to mess with you; it’s to build problem-solving skills that will last you long into the future.

Why Folios and Projects Are Better Than Exams (Even For Maths)

why projects and folios are better than tests

Do you remember doing “projects” in Primary School? They were about as much fun as you could have while still being productive.

Posters, Slideshows, Dioramas…

Students (usually) put heart and soul into those projects, with many spending tens of hours on a single piece.

More importantly, those hours always paid off in the results.

It’s always easy to see which projects are given time and attention, and which ones are just rushed.

But as students move in their senior years of education, those projects are left behind in favour of tests and examinations. With the exception of certain art based subjects, most academic evaluation is done via the written test.

Primary School is better at preparing students for the real world than High School

Why? Because in the world of careers and professions, nobody sits written tests. We’re give tasks, projects, and large scale jobs to complete.

[bctt tweet=””Primary School is better at preparing students for the real world than High School”” username=”simplymaths”]

Which means that the process of completing a project is far more useful than being able to answer questions under time constraints. Think of everything that goes into a typical school project:

  • Planning
  • Research
  • Resource gathering
  • Breakdown and ordering of necessary tasks
  • Job delegation (in the case of group projects)
  • Planning of job completion dates
  • Problem solving
  • Collaboration
  • Presentation

Now think of what would be necessary if an employer asked you build a website or a booklet for a business. I’m betting that the list of jobs would be very similar.

Projects simulate real world challenges much better than tests possibly could

Primary does a great job of teaching us how to plan out and coordinate a project, but we’ve usually forgotten by the time we get to late high school.

Art and folio subjects are a great (but sometimes rude) reminder of how those projects work. And while many students moan and groan about how much work a folio subject is, it is truthfully far more beneficial than the assessments in most other subjects.

Could we really use folios and projects for all subjects?

Short answer? Yes.

[bctt tweet=””Projects and research are a far better preparation for the world than tests could ever be.”” username=”simplymaths”]

Maths subjects would move into assignments that help students investigate applications of principles and mathematical methods.

Science based subjects would move more into research and reports.

English would allow students to more fully explore essays and analytical writing, without having to stress about rushing their thoughts and scribbling the first thing that comes to mind.

The potential is there. With some exploration, school and education can be turned from a place of facts into an environment where students can learn those critical skills and understanding that will be required of them in the years ahead.

3 Warning Signs That Your Child May Need A Tutor

3 Warning Signs That Your Child May Need A Tutor

Education is changing. Fast.

As we move forward, the education system in Australia is becoming more and more competitive. Which means teachers are under ever increasing pressure to cram more into the curriculum than ever before.

As a result, more and more teachers are recommending tutors as a way to help individual students to keep up with the group. The only problem with this is that by the time a teacher recommends a tutor, students are often weeks or even months behind where they need to be.

The good news is that there are warning signs that parents can investigate in order to gauge their child’s level and proficiency in school.

1. Panic in the lead up to class or a test

If a student is confident in their ability and understanding, they rarely panic in thew lead up to a test.

Typically, stress is the first sign of difficulty in class as it shows that a student is not feeling comfortable with their level of knowledge or experience.

2. Poor relationship with teacher

Sometimes, student and teachers just clash. Personalities don’t always sit nicely, and as a result a student’s learning experience can be affected.

But in reality, teachers get along with students who are performing well.

Say what you like about the fairness of that fact, it’s fact nonetheless.

Which means that students who aren’t getting on well with the teacher will typically fall into one of two scenarios:

  1. They don’t get along well with their teacher because they are performing poorly and feeling like they aren’t keeping up with the class or
  2. They are about to fall behind due to their poor relationship with their teacher; which will typically lead to less effort on the student’s part.

Sometimes the relationship with the teacher causes the difficulty. Other times, the difficulty causes the bad relationship. But in both situations, a student will likely find themself in need of extra help soon.

3. When asked, a student doesn’t know what they are working on in class

Student’s who aren’t able to explain (no matter how briefly) what they are covering in class are highly likely to be having difficulty.

While it is possible, in some subjects, that they are able to perform the necessary analysis or calculations based solely on a question presented, the higher understanding that will become critical in later years is likely missing.

Students who perform well without really understanding what they are doing are in danger of falling behind in later years. This is an important warning sign that definitely shouldn’t be ignored.

A tutor can help rectify problems before they become problems

These warning signs are usually precursors to difficulty within the classroom. By allowing a private tutor to help a student work through these difficulties early, students grow more confident and avoid more serious issues later down the track.