HMC Tutoring Hotline Sees Growth in Numbers

The Harvey Mudd Homework Hotline, which is now starting its seventh semester, has reported a 21 percent growth from the number of calls in spring 2012 to the number of calls in fall 2012. The program, which was launched during the spring 2010 semester, offers toll-free math and science homework assistance by Harvey Mudd College tutors to students in fourth through twelfth grades.

“When we first launched in spring 2010, we had around 650 calls. Last semester, we got about 2,400 calls,” said Gabriela Gamiz-Gomez, HMC Director of Community Engagement and the administrator in charge of overseeing the hotline. “We’re definitely witnessing a huge growth, and I think a lot of it is just by word of mouth.”

The program actively works with the Pomona Unified and Claremont Unified School Districts, but it also encourages calls from outside these areas.

“We never turn any student away, so even if we get a second grader or a community college student, we still help,” Gamiz-Gomez said. “We think it’s already such a huge step to pick up the phone and call us that we’re more than happy to help within the capacity of what we can do.”

The hotline runs from Sunday through Thursday, 6 to 9 p.m.

“We have 44 tutors who are helping us, about eight tutors per evening taking calls, and, on average, 53 to 55 calls per evening,” Gamiz-Gomez said.

The HMC hotline is based off of one at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, a similar small engineering, science, and mathematics college.

“Our president, Maria Klawe, visited Rose-Hulman in Indiana, and during her visit she saw that they had a homework hotline of their own in place and offered over-the-phone tutoring. She was very impressed, and when she came back, she started to brainstorm ideas to get one started here,” said Johnathan Chai HM ’13, who has worked at the program since its first semester.

“There’s definitely some things that you can’t teach fully over the phone or expect them to retain long-term, but the hotline is definitely effective, based off the fact that the students do understand the problems afterward, and they walk away with a better understanding of what they’re covering,” Chai said.

Matthew Kweon HM ’13 also admits to some difficulties of tutoring over the phone.

“A lot of the challenges come from geometry questions where they have a figure, and they have to explain the polygons, angles, or the little details. Once we spent twenty minutes just trying to figure out what the figure was,” Kweon said. “But it’s really rewarding at the end when they understand the problem.”

This format of tutoring, however, has also produced some benefits for the students calling in.

“Because we can't see the work that they have in front of them, what ends up happening is that they really have to explain what they did in each step so that the tutor on the other end can visualize them,” Gamiz-Gomez said. “They have to first of all slow down and then explain, using the proper vocabulary, what they are doing. That contributes to their understanding.”

Gamiz-Gomez explained the tactics that the tutors use to help the students.

“When we see the difficulties these kids are having, we need to think about what they are missing in the problem solving, how we can break the problems down step-by-step, and really take that time that each step needs,” Gamiz-Gomez said. “From what I hear from the students out in the community, one of the big things the hotline helps students with is just to slow down, help them to take things step by step, and really understand the problem.”

Gamiz-Gomez said that their work at the hotline has opened up discussions about math and science education in California.

“Our top-calling subject is Algebra I, and we see how it aligns with a lot of the reports we see from the state of California saying how difficult it is for our students to be able to pass this course,” Gamiz-Gomez said. “We notice a lot more frustration from students who are seeing that transition from the numerical kind of math to the math including variables and unknowns.”