A New Path: Learning with Inspiration.

profilepic SPRING NEWS:   I now have had two doses of the Moderna vaccine.  Still being careful by meeting outside with masks and remotely but will be a bit more relaxed.  I know some places are going back to in-person and will be ramping up to try to make up for falling behind.   I am also pleased to announce that I have two excellent colleagues who can help meet demand from middle school up: Sid and Seraj.  The pandemic classroom has varied a great deal in what is being covered and the level of instruction so don’t fall behind!  Some of these topics are getting abbreviated or squeezed out but that won’t be the case on EOCs, SATs or in later prereq expectations! 

HS, LEAP,  younger students:  I am expanding my network to help meet this growing demand.  In case I fill up I want to make sure you still have high quality help available.  If you are thinking of homeschooling contact me for a free consultation on what you need to do now.

UNC/NCSU: We are all worried about the kind of available instruction for classes that will be alternately or entirely remote with little prep time for professors and departments.  I have extensive experience with almost all the physics (not astro) and undergrad mathematics classes taught by these departments.  Give me a little heads up for the more advanced ones to make sure I have problem sets reviewed and ready. 



Last year about half of my time was calculus I, II, III and about 20% kids in LEAP/MATHCOUNTS/AoPS type classes.  The rest is mostly common core math and precalc with some community college and UNC students doing physics (intro/quantum,EM), linear algebra, and differential equations.  I have one or two students a semester doing some advanced analysis.  This year the stats are similar but have added some prep for the Cambridge Admissions Test (CS specifically) and am teaching tutorials in linear algebra and group theory – a helpful task given that I am working hard to improve my own knowledge of algebraic geometry and invariant theory for some of my own projects.

The war over Math Visions Projects materials (I, II, III) and common core has really heated up in Wake county.  I was recently interviewed by Carolina Parent magazine for someone willing to go on record about what is happening here and in our schools.  Orange county is using the same materials and I am very familiar with them.  If you are new to the area and wonder what is going on with your kid in math I can help give you some perspective and strategy here.

I do some test prep for SAT/ACT and the achievement and AP tests in math and physics.  Usually I fold this in with the work with regular HS clients so no last minute work is needed.

For the student with the right motivation and potential, I have  some C++/python computer vision projects with RPI.

“Cliff is an expert–and compassionate–teacher and coach! He nudges his students beyond the mechanics of problem solving into the more complicated and valuable realm of problem assessing.  What am I being asked to do? What do I already know?  What connections can I make? How can I model what’s happening?”  -Jane

I have a PhD in physics from NCSU.  Over the years, I have tutored students from middle school through college in physics and mathematics. In addition, I have tutored lower-level chemistry and English. Most of my students have gone from failing grades to A’s in a matter of months.

My specialties are working with gifted students who are not challenged by the material and with capable students who have fallen behind.  American students are not lacking in any fundamental way and the culture of not being “a math person” is largely to blame for the declines we have seen (see link below).  The local school system has been in a kind of free fall for political reasons but I can help neutralize this negative aspect for most students. Our booming homeschool movement is a by product of these problems but most parents feel unable to guide their children well in math and science.  For most such kids, one or two hours a week is all it takes for them to move into high gear on their own.


I focus on watching and listening to their work and interests and tailoring problems that focus on their (usually surprisingly few) fundamental weaknesses and misunderstandings. This approach, combined with giving them confidence and comfort in what they do know usually does the trick.  I understand that trying to coach your child in addition to all the other parental roles can get to be too much.  Let me help make algebra or calculus be one less thing they are annoyed with you about.

Many people are frustrated with the common core curriculum.  I think the details of the implementation of this are part of the problem.  While we don’t control this we can seek the kind of connections with a child’s interests to make the acquisition of these skills more natural and ward off cynicism.  This is the biggest danger for many children: a feeling that what they are doing has no value or meaning.  My biggest objection to common core is that it has removed the topic based classes of high school in favor of generic “math 1”, “math 2”, etc. Math has a culture and history and is naturally grouped into topics.  It is not just a disconnected set of skills for tests.  What if American literature and European History were grouped into “Humanities 1”!!??  How compelling would that be?

Many of the children I see have actually acquired a level of trauma from their experience with a one-size-fits-all competitive math education.  One skill is weak and the rest have a poor foundation all while the child loses faith in his or her basic ability. My years of extensive counseling experience on an all night crisis hotline has given me the tools to conduct a kind of “math-therapy” by putting people at ease and showing them that with a few corrections their abilities are far beyond what they had come to believe and fear.


Gifted Children: I have been drawing a number of very advanced and talented children from 7-18 yo.  My many years of studying mathematics at the graduate level and working on physics has left me with a wide selection of wonderful oddments and brilliant results to share with these very special and driven children.  See if the pictures at the top are interesting to them.  I am sure we can find many wonderful things that express not just the motivation and culture of math but also its art. Ranging from Japanese Sangaku geometry or math olympiad problems, there is some subject that can often motivate them to excel far beyond what is expected of them.

Cliff Chafin

Here is a video on what is going with schools and Common Core and why most should seriously think about privately supplementing their children’s education.  Common Core

Checkout this video for a sense of why I tutor and how I am making my own difference for students and independent learners.  Socratic Learning

Online sessions available!  I have been doing this for an extended stretch with some kids in Silicon Valley and elsewhere and am very pleased with the results.  I encourage you to take advantage of this new more modern flexible means of getting help.  Contact me through this site if interested.

Note: for some interesting thoughts and history on common core see this article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/27/magazine/why-do-americans-stink-at-math.html

Article on the math ability of American kids: http://qz.com/139453/theres-one-key-difference-between-kids-who-excel-at-math-and-those-who-dont/

This is an article on how schools are failing our most talented kids. Homeschooling with skilled mentors is one way out.  It is very hard for the common core schools to help these kids to reach their potential.  npr-gifted.