Magnets Floating in Thin Air Demonstration

Science has some pretty awesome and cool things. Some of them you really have to see to believe! Recently I started a Facebook page for my tuition services. As many of my friends, clients and students know, I am a huge fan of video with my music. And recently Facebook live allows me to livestream gigs to friends across the world. So I took that idea to heart and livestreamed a Physics lesson for about 3 minutes.

In this very simple lesson, I show a very cool demonstration of a magnet floating, or levitating in air. I explain why in the video. Please do comment if you that has got you thinking.

Independent Tutors Drinks – 21 Jan 2017 London

Being an independent tutor can often be lonely business, but there’s so much potential from many of us professional tutors to meet and learn from each other. So come out and meet some new work colleagues, exchange stories, tutoring tips, teaching resources and even pass on referrals. I have got some work through referrals from other tutors by meeting them in person or online. There’s a small community of us that like to meet, socialise and discuss this special type of private teaching!

  • Date : Saturday 21 January 2017
  • Venue : The Larrik Pub32 Crawford Place, Marylebone London W1H 5NN
  • Time : 6:00pm onwards
London Private Tutors Meet up

Tutors meet-up in London.

This is an event open to all tutors, whether or not you are with an agency or registered with any other membership bodies. For those who stay on later, there’s excellent food at The Larrik Pub, which is a spacious gastro pub will a great relaxed atmosphere. The Larrik pub is easily accessible via public transport and is close to Edgware Road, Paddington, Baker Street and Marble Arch stations.

Looking forward to meeting you and feel free to contact me if you want to let me know you are coming 🙂

Growth of Human Population Through Time

Did you know that the world population took all of evolutionary time to reach the 1 billion mark at around the year 1800 and then between 1999 and 2011, we added another billion in just the space of 12 years? 12 years Vs all the time since the beginning of time, my head just hurts trying to even think about this! The world’s population has done some staggering things over the last 200 years, and it is hard to comprehend this with just looking at the raw numbers. A new video by the AMNH however clarifies this very well.

This latest video by The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH)  is directly relevant at GCSE Biology (AQA B3 module “Humans and their environment”) and Geography. Besides that it is a superb demonstration in maths about linear Vs exponential growth. But even more than that the implications of populations growth are directly relevant to each and every one of us.

I can think of three very critical times that represent a major shift in the way humanity has changed.

  1. Spreading out of Africa 100,000 years ago and spreading across the rest of the world as hunter gatherers. Modern humans are believed to have evolved in Africa 200,000 years ago. After that it is believed that a very small number of hunter gatherers were able to start migrating out of the African continent. While there are different theories about the exact nature of this migration, there is very little scientific doubt left that all of humanity originates from Africa.
  2. Discovery of farming 10,000 BC approx. The discovery of agriculture is more recent in the big scheme of things. It is hard to imagine a world without agriculture now, or that we weren’t actually evolved to live in an agricultural society. Yet many of our social ideas have come about from agrarian societies, including the idea of currency and money. In his book Cialdini explains that reciprocity and exchange are evolutionary built in us. That idea of reciprocity when extended out in the context of land ownership in an agricultural society with grains as everlasting currency gave birth to the more tangible idea of wealth and money. Eventually being abstracted in the form of coins and bank notes.
  3. The Industrial Revolution mid 1700s. This totally changed everything again, and to date the population explosion can be explained by modern medicine, urbanisation and the industrial age. The start of the 1900s saw the start of the current population explosion. The discovery of antibiotics in 1928 well and truly added to this population growth. We beat the bugs, and there has been no stopping in our population growth since. But with antibiotic resistance on the rise we risk being taken back in time.

These numbers and facts are what current evidence by Science tell us. The good news is that fertility rates across the world are now decreasing and even now, the rate of population increase is going down. This means that the population won’t keep increasing forever and it will level off in 2100. An average estimate brings this figure to 11 billion in the year 2100. But there’s slight variation in this possible as projections cannot be 100% accurate.

The beautifully captioned video shows a simple graph of the population of the world increasing with time, and all the major historical events to go along the timeline to give us a point of reference. The music is what makes it though and is truly captivating. So enjoy the ride this video takes you on.

What are your thoughts on the population growth and what questions does this get you thinking of? Let me know below through comments.

Determining the Speed of Light – 340 Years Ago

The Google doodle today shows a massive landmark in Science, the day we found the speed of light. This was done by Danish astronomer Ole Rømer in 1676. More recently Freddie Mercury would sing about travelling at the speed of light in the Queen song, Don’t Stop Me Now. He did have Brian May in the band who has a PhD in Astrophysics.

Going back to the serious business of light having a speed..How can light even have a speed? It is impossible to “see” light having a speed directly. Light just seems to instantaneously “be” everywhere as soon as the sun rises or a light switch is flicked on.

340 years ago, which is a long time ago now in the context of modern Physics, the Danish astronomer did work this out. His genius laid in the fact that he worked out a peculiar quirk in exactly when Jupiter’s moon Io popped into view through his telescope. It appeared to pop into view at different times at different times of the year. It shouldn’t have because celestial mechanics are very stable and steady indeed. He questioned the very assumption that light itself must be taking shorter or longer to get to the earth from Io. This is what the Google doodle shows today. Doing calculations with the speed of light are fairly standard at A Level Physics, but they also come up occasionally at GCSE Physics as well.

Professor Brian Cox explains this much better in his short video that I have linked below. So click away and learn about this big part of Scientific history.

10 Years of Private Tutoring

I had a little smile when I read that quote from the tutoring agency handout, it was the very last thing on that handout and a conclusion to what tutoring had done for the founders of that agency. It read:

[The agency] has grown by developing goodwill with parents and pupils, and have a wide ranging network of parents and clients who cross the economic and political spectrum. And as such, tutoring can be remarkably useful for all sorts of serendipitous reasons. Tutoring has opened many a path to greater things which was hitherto closed.

For me the journey began on 9 November 2006 when I had my first ever 1-on-1 academic tuition student, marking my 10 year anniversary of being a tutor this year. I want to recall the story of my first student and also reflect on some of the amazing things that have happened in the last 10 years of tuition.

The Summer of 2006, a real tough one for me and my family. The unexpected death of my father in Nov 2005 was life changing and bought upon me big responsibilities. I had finished my PhD for over a year now, and was in debt. I was looking for Engineering jobs and anything else I could do with my academic background. That year I was a Specialist Graduate marker for the Edexcel board spending hours marking a couple of thousand GCSE exam scripts. It turns out that this experience was to come in invaluable as a tutor. But that job ended and I was soon in debt again. Around April 2006 I had applied to a tutoring agency that a friend of mine had recommended. Apparently one of my friend’s friend was making decent money from it. I had already done some 1-on-1 guitar tuition at university so somehow tutoring did appeal to me. I did an interview with the agency around June 2006 and never heard from them again. I was absolutely terrible with job applications anyway, and not hearing from employers was the norm for me. I never sold myself well enough or was confident at interviews for Engineering jobs or even part time work.

Yorkshire Dales

My favourite walk in the Yorkshire Dales.

After almost six months the agency phoned me up and asked if I could tutor AS Level maths to a student who had just started it. I took the job on, and of course the agency knew at that point that I had not tutored before. I phoned up the mother and explained that I hadn’t tutored before but I had previous bits of teaching experience and that I would look up the syllabus and prepare myself in detail.  For a 1 hour tuition session, I must have prepared for about 3 hours.

Tutoring at a small village in Hampshire and gone for a walk.

Tutoring at a small village in Hampshire and gone for a walk.

The first session was a breeze, I went to someone’s home for the first time to tutor which felt really nice, as I was a guest at someone’s home. The session went down well and my student was so stuck at the starting level that none of the hard stuff I looked up needed to be covered. I cleared up the basics with ease, and set a few questions as homework to consolidate learning. We only needed another 3 or 4 sessions after that, my student had cracked the topic and felt confident at tackling everything else on her own. I didn’t feel like there was any point continuing as I realised that the goal of tuition is to make yourself redundant as a tutor, and to make the student independent. Given that I was desperate for money at that time, this was a brave move. But the right move. The agency trusted me and by then I had 3 students already. I was beginning to earn enough money to pay my rent now. The previous 12 months were of family tragedies and debt, so my life was really on the upward finally. £25/hr was the highest hourly rate I had ever earned in my life and this gave me a real sense of confidence. Plus I had the unbelievable satisfaction that I was making a difference to young people’s lives.

Enjoying the snow in Yorkshire with snow drifts and all. A tutoring trip with snow adventure!

Enjoying the snow in Yorkshire with snow drifts and all. A tutoring trip with snow adventure!

The rest is history really, the agency just kept giving me more and more jobs, and the first half of 2007 was incredible. I was making money, all on my own terms. No employer, no hassle and a great working environment, a nice friendly home. I was really beginning to enjoy my work, which never felt like work, and eventually this was to become my career. I was still after a full time job however and in October 2007, I started one. I had already started with some students earlier in the Summer so I decided to continue with them despite working full time. The agency also kept giving me new work, all in the evenings. My private client base kept growing and growing. Parents were paying me to come up to Yorkshire to tutor, and I stayed over in the stunning Yorkshire Dales. I felt more alive, valued and in control of my life when tutoring. The city job became dull, 9 hours a day crunching spreadsheets became soul crushing. 18 months later I took a pay cut and decided to tutor full time. It was June 2009 and a new and brave beginning for me. My entire livelihood now depended on tuition.

Tutoring maths by the beach :-)

Tutoring maths by the beach 🙂

Over the last 10 years I have lived in with numerous families in Yorkshire, Hampshire, and even as far as Scotland. I clocked up nearly 100 days away from home in 2012. I have tutored so many students who were either written off school or were just never predicted the right grade. All of them got the right grades and made a good life. Many of them are still in touch with me and I now visit them as a family friend.

The people I have met have really come from a huge range of social backgrounds, but irrespective of that, all of them have always had their children’s future and best interests in mind. I have learnt so much by living in with families, tutoring at schools, travelling to homes in London and now my chosen method of tutoring online tuition. I have earned more than I have ever done in my life, even when I had a full time job, and every year just gets better. I have learnt the intricacies of business, accounting, marketing, books, client relationships. I love every moment of it. The feeling of giving someone new knowledge and seeing new light in their eyes as they crack something they thought was impossible is what drives me. So here’s to another 10 years of tuition. I leave you with some of my favourite photos during the last 10 years of tuition.

Gas Tests Video Demonstrations for Chemistry

Anyone who knows me knows that two things that I really love are tutoring (with any practical element in it) and rock music. It is awesome that the two have been so flawlessly combined in this video.

Chemistry is really best experienced by doing experiments yourself. But that’s not always possible and thanks to the world of sharing videos, we now have the next best thing. To see videos of experiments. This is a lot better than reading about it. In this video a school Science teacher demonstrates the three core gas test that are relevant for GCSE and Common Entrance 13+ Chemistry. Here they are as shown on the video

  • Oxygen –  Will re-light a glowing splint.
  • Hydrogen – A squeaky pop sound is heard as the Hydrogen is lit.
  • Carbon dioxide – As Carbon dioxide gas is passed through clear limewater, it goes cloudy/milky coloured. Carbon dioxide will also put out a flame. This is why it is used in some fire extinguishers

So there you have it, a very clear and Joe Satriani type rock ‘n roll guitar soundtrack to demonstrate some of the most basic Chemistry gas tests. The tune is called “The Redshift Riders”. Satch must know his Physics as well to use that name 🙂

Independent Tutors Drinks – 19 November 2016 London

The November installment of our tutor social is here! Being an independent tutor can often be lonely business, so come out and meet some new work colleagues, exchange stories, tutoring tips, teaching resources and even pass on referrals. I have got some work through referrals from other tutors, this alone is invaluable.

  • Date : Saturday 19 November 2016
  • Venue : Tom Cribb Pub36 Panton Street, London SW1Y 4EA
  • Time : 6:00pm onwards
London Tutors Michael Dewar Atul Rana

London Tutors Meet-up

For those who stay on later, there’s excellent food at The Comedy Pub next doors. Tom Cribb pub is easily accessible via public transport and is very close to Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square tube stations in the heart of London. Looking forward to meeting you 🙂

Ratio Questions – Splitting The Total

Splitting the total when a ratio is given is a fairly basic bit of number maths. I first encounter this at middle school level, typically for an 11+ or 13+ maths ISEB entrance exam, or at GCSE maths.

I made a video three years ago on how I explain how a total is split into a given ratio.

Once you have watched the video you will notice how I use whitespace to decode the question and make the problem clearer first.

The problem is a simple one, there are 140 students at a school and the ratio of girls to boys is 3:4. How many girls and how many boys are there at the school?

I first put down the information in a very compact and clean form. Writing the ratio down, and the letter G and B above the relevant part of the ratio. I also write out the total number of students below.

The key to ratio questions is finding 1 part and then amplifying the 1 part to 3 or 4 parts later. Once you have 1 part, it is easy to find as many other parts as you want. So I work out that:

3 parts + 4 parts = 7 parts.
7 parts = 140 students
1 part = 140/7 = 20 students
3 parts = 20 students x 3 = 60 students
4 parts = 20 students x 4 = 80 students

And that’s the question done! Please let me know if you have any comments on the video or this method below.

How Big Is The Universe? – The Physics Answer

Now this is a deep deep question. And one that we all ask. In fact, do we really know if the universe is even finite at all? Fortunately the answer to this is covered at school in the context of Astronomy in Physics. Finite or infinite, according to the latest information on Physics, and the measurements we have made so far, it is possible to get a very good picture on this. But how can one put this into context, or visualise this?

This is a video I show to all my Physics students, it is a totally mindblowing visualisation of the universe, zooming out of the earth, into the solar system, how the solar system fits into the Milky Way galaxy, and where the Milky way fits in amongst many many galaxies. Produced by the American Museum of Natural History, and with a beautiful ambient trance like soundtrack this short video will take you on a very long journey away and then back from earth.

The distances are measured in how fast light travels, because in the big scheme of things light is very slow indeed. While it takes roughly 8 minutes for light to get from the Sun to the Earth, it takes millions of years to get to us from the outer reaches of the universe.

This video fascinates all my students, it will leave you stunned and in awe knowing where you fit into the big scheme of things. It is a total joy to be able to share this with my students, and I never get bored of watching it again and again, a truly great Physics resource. Hit play and enjoy the ride.

How to Unfreeze Yourself When Tackling Hard GCSE maths Questions

Below are a few tips for those students who struggle with particular questions in maths, find it frustrating, or freeze doing tests. The new 9-1 grading system has more challenging questions than we have seen previously, so these tips are more important than ever.

  • If practising for an exam, do not attempt past papers under timed conditions straight away, instead bitesize the whole process and first do the paper without any time constraints. Time pressure causes the mind to rush and freeze up and you are working at very limited mind capacity to problem solve effectively. Once confident at solving questions with unlimited time, you can gradually introduce a time limit.
  • In geometry questions, a 4 colour pen is invaluable. Are there any parallel lines involved? Then sketch the parallel lines in red. You will be surprised by how much new information is now revealed and you can “see” the problem much clearer with colour.
  • Make sure you use a rough column (on the right hand side) or rough paper to write out what you are thinking, even if it simple multiplication. The more you free your mind (working memory, a bit like computer RAM) up from irrelevant information, the more “space” there is for your mind to solve the actual problem. Think of a shopping list, it is tempting to remember it all, but once you’ve put it on paper you can focus on other things. The other benefit of writing out is that it gives the examiner important clues to your thinking. I marked thousands of GCSE exam scripts for an exam board and we were trained to pick out even the smallest hint that you are thinking along the right track. Just one number scribbled might get you extra method marks!
  • The use of white-space on paper is worthy of a chapter in itself. But in summary : Use lots of paper and space to write. When your writing gets squashed into a corner or at the side of the page, it clutters the mind as well. So use plenty of space when writing. Even if your mind feels cluttered, the use of nice open white space will clear things out in your head too.
  • Cuisenaire rods are an invaluable resource for primary school children starting off in maths, or those with Dyscalculia. Anything physical that you can touch, see and move around is invaluable. Lego cubes are superb for working out plan and elevation drawings.
  • Say it out while writing. This might seem a bit odd, but when you say out something as you write it, it really helps you process things much better. In fact this is the kingpin of my method when tutoring maths online to my students.
  • Stuck at a problem for ages? Leave it, and come back to it and start again on a clean, fresh piece of paper. Your subconscious is very powerful and may have solved (or part solved) the problem while you were having your break.
  • Ask for help: Ok, so you tried everything and nothing so far has helped. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, there are so many that can help you. Your teacher, any place where there are extra maths lessons, maybe a relative or even other students that you know. Try talking out the problem with friends and you may find that in trying to explain the question you’ve already solved it. And of course, you can always ask the help of a tutor too.

So there you have it. I use these methods when tutoring maths. Pretty much at all levels from primary, to Common Entrance 13+, to iGCSE maths exams, and during A Level maths tuition sessions online. My list is by no means complete and I am very curios to know how you get yourself unstuck, or if you are a teacher yourself please do write in the comments below and let me know what you think.