A New Path: Learning with Inspiration.

 profilepicI am fully vaccinated and meeting outside and inside at local coffee shops and on my outdoor covered deck west of Carrboro.  Most of my students come from Chapel Hill and East Chapel Hill High school and I am very familiar with these teachers, their materials and the state EOCs.  Last year I taught a lot of AP Calc, College Calc I/II/III, Linear Algebra, lower level algebra and precalc.  I prepped people of AP Calc, Stats, SAT and even the Oxford CS entry exam.  Homeschoolers did some exotic topics like complex analysis, group theory and elliptic functions.

NC Virtual Schools:  Some of you are familiar or will be using NC Virtual Schools.  These are courses the NC department of public instruction builds “in-house.”  There are highly inconsistent courses where the education material often lags far beyond what is expected on the testing.  Math IV (a relatively new course designed for students to take math that don’t want to continue to precalc or stats) last year had a two week statistics section and a final that required probably 2/3 of a year of AP Stats to answer correctly.  Naturally this means that traversing such a course alone is either often going to be failure or a headlong run at the booming world of online cheating.  Don’t feel bad reaching out early for such courses.  They really are so out-of-whack that most people need help. 

LEAP, AoPS and  younger students:  Many of my younger students are in AoPS and am very familiar with that curriculum and the AMC tests.  Some of just highly motivated and want more that class can give them.

UNC/NCSU: I have been working regularly with math and physics students at UNC and NCSU.  The feedback I have been getting over the last year is that some faculty have actually shown up to classes saying “I’m not here to teach you,  I’m here for research.  Message the TA if you have a problem.”  In some cases only 70% of the material was taught but 100% was tested!  I was around for the development of webassign while a grad student at NCSU and am very familiar with its quirks.  Many of my students told me I was the one person teaching them last year.  They did well while many of their class did not.  Let’s all hope the bar is higher this year.  Many of the intro classes no longer list staff so students cannot avoid the worst teachers.  If you sense that this is happening to you, reach out early so we can anticipate what will be coming at you before it lands on you. 



The war over Math Visions Projects materials (I, II, III) and common core has really heated up in Wake county.  I was 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.

“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


About me:
(more of the same.  I really need an editor here.)

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.