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(Right) brain sides and tutoring Math/Science (specifically Chemistry)

  1. Mar 24, 2010 #1
    Hello! I have been tutoring a friend of mine in high school Chemistry. This person goes to a public school in America, and the class seems to be stereotypically bad. Unfortunately, my friend is just barely not failing the class despite putting in the work that an "A" student would put into it (though I don't know my friend's average..)--even to the point of staying late, late after school to go over things with the Chemistry teacher. I know it is not a matter of intelligence either. I can tell that my friend is brilliant from discussions we've had, yet, as said, my friend is still doing terribly in the class.

    Now, I asked my friend if there was anything else I could do to help (e.g., attend one of the Chemistry classes, talk to the teacher to figure out what was wrong, etc.), and the answer was "no" because my friend and my friend's teacher already knew what was wrong: my friend thinks in such a way that it takes my friend a much longer time to grasp the concepts of Chemistry than other students. By the time my friend gets the concepts, it is too late and bad grades have already been given.

    Naturally, this got me thinking about the whole right/left brain dominancy theory. I do not know how this theory currently stands in modern science, but if it is true, it is apparent that my friend is a "right brainer" while the teacher and class (and possibly the public school in general) are geared for "left brainers." So, this brings up two questions. I tend to be a "left brainer," yet I do well using my "right brain" too since I do well in "right brain" courses though they cost me a bit more effort. I also find it hard to believe that unless you're a "left brainer" that you can't be a "straight A" student (unless the public schools are just that bad...). So my first question would be how can one train the "weaker" side of the brain--more specifically to do well in math and science--and more specifically still, to do well and understand Chemistry concepts more quickly?

    The other question has to do with tutoring Chemistry in a "right brain" manner. Especially if training the weaker side doesn't work or at least doesn't work quickly enough, how do you suggest I tutor my friend in Chemistry? Should I gather more information first by giving a practice test, by looking at my friend's old tests, or by reading through my friend's Chem text? Or are there some techniques already out there?

    My main goal is to see if I can help my friend boost that grade a smidgen upwards while there is still time. My personal preference would be to teach my friend to think as a "left brainer" during Chem class so that my friend won't be lost in future lectures from the Chemistry teacher or other science teachers, but whatever works in this case will have to do. Perhaps a combination of both would do well? If so, what do you suggest?

    I wasn't completely sure where to post this, so hopefully this was the right place. Thanks!
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2010
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 29, 2010 #2
    I'm not sure what you mean by concepts... As far as I remember, chemistry is mostly memorization. Tell your friend to type some of his chemistry notes, maybe that will help him remember things. You could also suggest that he uses flash cards.
  4. Mar 29, 2010 #3
    By "concepts" I probably mean something closer to "techniques" or "applied memory" or better still the "meaning behind the memory." There's a difference between memorizing how to balance a chemical equation and understanding what the point of balancing it is.

    Thanks for the advice though. I'll definitely consider trying that! Any other suggestions from anyone?
  5. Mar 29, 2010 #4


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    Maybe your friend has a difficulty to see analogies. A difficulty to see "the whole chessboard" ; he would concentrate too much on the subject part by part without linking them out. And when all clicks it's too late.
    Maybe try to see if you have a lot of analogies that could help him. What do you think?
  6. Mar 29, 2010 #5
    It's ultimately practice because the more we are introduced to a pattern, the better we are able to recognize and understand it.

    Flash cards may take some time to make, but if you use them 2-3 days before a test, they work great. Also, there are a lot of internet resources, especially for lower division college courses and high school courses.
  7. Mar 30, 2010 #6
    Well, I hadn't thought of emphasizing analogies before, but it does seem promising. You are correct in that when it all clicks it is too late; that sounds almost exactly like how my friend described it to me. So I'll definitely give it a try.

    I'll be sure to mention those flash cards. I know where I can go for some internet resources, but do you have any specific site(s) in mind?
  8. Jun 11, 2010 #7


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    On the topic of flash cards, I don't think that USING flash cards is really all that helpful for most students. Rather, it's the process of creating their own flash cards that helps them learn. Writing down a term and definition, or a reaction and product, etc., forces them into active learning. Students who create their own flash cards really do well and swear by flash cards, but those who buy them discover they aren't all that helpful afterall.
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