Susan's Super Citizen Showcase

Friday, May 22, 2009

Tutor Erin brings math down to Earth

Erin Riopel is a math tutor who is very intrigued with her subject.

“I almost feel bad charging people money because I enjoy it so much,” she says. “I like explaining things that I find interesting. I like teaching things to people, in general.”

Once a week, Erin comes to our house to tutor my eight-year-old son, who has been doing school from home since January 2009 with SelfDesign - an online independent school program funded by the B.C. Ministry of Education. Erin also tutors a Grade 9 SelfDesign student online using Skype voice chat and Scriblink, a free digital whiteboard that users can share online in real-time. (It’s “sorta like pen and paper, minus the dead trees, plastic, and the inconvenience of being at the same place at the same time,” says the Scriblink website.)

Erin says she has always liked math as a subject in school – but it wasn’t until Grade 10 that she started to see how interesting it was.

“In the early grades, I liked math because I found it really easy but I didn’t really see how it applied to real life. I found it the easiest thing to do because it’s fairly black and white and objective. You can just get the right answer and you don’t have to worry about it,” she says. “In Grade 10, I had a math teacher who told us about other things we weren’t doing yet, like imaginary numbers.”

In Grade 11, Erin gave birth to her first child – a much-loved baby girl who is now 10 years old. She completed high school while living with her parents and attending a program for young moms, sponsored by the Elizabeth Fry Society at Duchess Park Secondary in Prince George. She graduated “on time and with honours” before moving to Vancouver to study math and sciences at the University of B.C. At the end of her first year, she had a second baby – a much-loved son who recently turned 7.

The hard-working single mom continued her studies at UBC til her kids were 2 and 5 – and since then, she’s been “taking a break” from formal studies and working with her kids who are also in SelfDesign. Erin plans to finish a science degree eventually, and in the meantime, she is studying math on her own. She often buys second-hand elementary and high school texts from Value Village and checks out the various approaches to explaining math.

“I don’t like most of them,” Erin says, referring to how the text books often fail to explain simple concepts in ways that kids will understand. “You have to start with the concept and then show them examples of how it works. Most of the books don’t give any help or guidance on the concept. They just try to move straight into the formulas without any context. It took thousands of years to discover what we know about math. You can’t just give kids the problem and expect them to come up with concepts.”

Erin says she likes to explain math to her adult friends, but it doesn’t always work out…

“Some of them can’t listen, partly because of how math was taught in school. They’re convinced they don’t understand math, and as soon as I start talking about it, they just glaze over and don’t listen at all so I don’t torture them and make them listen,” she says, laughing.

Erin is accepting new students – so drop me a line if you are interested.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Charles cooks classic Commercial Drive cuisine at Cafe Deux Soleils

Charles has been cooking at Cafe Deux Soleils on Commercial Drive in East Vancouver, B.C., Canada for the past three years - ever since he moved to Vancouver. Today he did an especially good job on my favorite item because he used the perfect amount of sauce and cooked all the ingredients to the exact level of texture I like. The tofu was lightly browned the perfect amount, adding a slight crispness. Generous amount of sauce, perfect texture, excellent!

Tofu scram. It's the one thing I always order at Deux Soleils. I never get anything different. Chunks of fluffy tofu, sweet peppers, and onions marinated in a garlic-ginger sauce. I order mine with no mushrooms - but for the many people who like mushrooms, I'm sure this would be a tasty addition. Prices are very reasonable at this excellent vegetarian restaurant that has been a Commercial Drive fixture for many years.

Cafe Deux Soleils is my favorite breakfast spot on Commercial Drive. My son, now 8, likes to order a side of "marble toast" with garlic butter and a side of vegi sausages. With a lot of wide open space and a very laid-back atmosphere, it's a great place to bring kids. You order your food and pay at the counter, grab your own cutlery, find a table, and wait for the staff to bring your food. If it's busy, listen up: they may be calling out to you.

By day, toddlers and preschoolers play with kitchen toys and draw pictures on a big black board on a stage. By night, this stage is home to live music and poetry slam events. The Cafe has a licence for beer - popular at these evening events - and they have nice choices on tap. It's not uncommon to see folks enjoying a mellow, afternoon beer with friends. Line-ups can be long on the weekend and it gets really crowded, but if I get a craving for tofu scram (or feel like meeting up for breakfast with friends) I will gladly wait in line - and eavesdrop on other people's conversations. It's definitely worth the wait, so don't let the line-up scare you away.