Math & Physics Tutoring Attending to the entire person, not just the intellect

Focusing exclusively on intellectual understanding,
while ignoring how the learner feels in connection
with themselves and the process, is not
just a sub-optimal teaching strategy,
it is a violation of the edict
Primum non nocere "First, do no harm."

Students in chairs. Teacher at Whiteboard


I have been a Harvard Extension School part-time teaching assistant / Math Question Center tutor for over 30 years, covering algebra through calculus. The sidebar includes several quotes and endorsements in connection with that work and from other contexts.

Additionally, and related:

  • For a similar length of time, I have been building dancing artworks and educational interactive STEM / STEAM / STREAM exhibits for science museums worldwide, created within the context of my physics-art design workshop TechnoFrolics.

  • You may find of interest a video of a presentation I gave at the 2013 Innovators to Educators conference. (You can find the talk's slide deck, less additional video clips, here.)

Am I the right person for you / your child?

My Perspective, Who I am, and What I Offer

Several teaching perspectives are to me self-evident, yet, in aggregate, seem surprisingly rarely put into regular practice. My approach is based on the following beliefs:

  1. To achieve deep understanding, long term success, and fulfillment generally, how one feels during the learning process typically matters at least as much, and usually more, than one's immediate intellectual grasp of a specific concept or topic area.
  2. Given that the Internet currently provides excellent explanations of virtually every subject under the sun, a key role of a tutor is to listen deeply and:
    • Reflect the student back to themselves — help them understand who they are, how they think, what they like and care about, which ideas are clear and which are murky.
    • Help the student begin to notice their self talk — particularly if it's negative: "I'm bad at math", "girls have a harder time with science than boys", "I don't want to seem like a nerd".
    • Be sure the student has an a priori expectation that actually understanding, not just memorizing, is both reasonable and possible (for them) — and if that is not the case, work with them to develop that perspective.

    These are elements that the Internet cannot readily provide and that I offer.

  3. It is as important to understand why incorrect answers are incorrect, as it is to understand why correct answers are correct.
  1. I believe that providing the student tools for thinking generally is as, or more, important than teaching subject-matter-specific elements. I offer such conceptual frameworks whenever and wherever possible.
  2. I am someone who virtually never thinks anything is "obvious", and I thus do not have to "work" to remember that fact when interacting with someone for whom the material is new.
  3. I believe it is the student's job to clearly articulate what they do not understand. To go from "I have no idea what they are talking about or what to do." to (for example) "I do not understand the meaning of ...", "I am confused about how ... relates to ...", "I am unsure if technique ... applies here because ....". I will help the student develop that critical skill.
  4. I feel that the student-teacher relationship is as important for learning as the quality of the technical explanations themselves.
  5. I personally am significantly more engaged by art, dance, beauty, and connection, than either games or competition. I use my understanding of math, science, and engineering to that end. Should the learner have the a similar orientation, and thus perhaps not be overly drawn to the ubiquitous robot "wars/games" or the like, my orientation may prove both connective and validating.
  6. For more information about my approach to the world generally, please see my guiding principles page.)

Who I am not

I don't:

  • Focus on rote memorization of formulas and repetitive "grilling and drilling".
  • Conceptually separate the "intellect" of the learner from vast and critically-important rest of him/her, and then attend almost exclusively to the former.
  • Simply provide solutions to problems, but rather, guide the student to discovering the solution for themselves.

What you can expect for you / your child

  1. Clear technical explanations, presented in as many different ways as possible, and as needed for deep understanding.
  2. Empathy and support — both interpreted in the broadest sense.
  3. Meta explanations: In other words, providing not only an explanation of the topic itself, but also an explanation of why I am teaching about it in the manner I am.
  4. Humor and fun analogies.
  5. If resources allow, I am also delighted to make custom illustrations, videos, physical demos, and more, to assist in the learning process.
In summary, if I can feel what you / your child feels during the learning process there can be magic. If not, I can still be, and am happy to be, simply a technically competent "conventional" tutor.

Logistics and Free Evaluation

  • A 15-60 minute discussion and evaluation session is offered free of charge.
  • In general, as of this writing (it may change in the future), assume tutoring sessions are conducted remotely via a combination of Zoom, email, and phone.
  • Should you wish to discuss group vs. individual sessions, please contact me.
  • Individual rates are $40-$80 hour ($60/hr typical), depending on such factors as frequency and duration of meeting, complexity of subject, and ability to pay. Preparatory time, if/as applicable, is billed at, at most, 1/2 the live-session rate.
  • Highly flexible schedule, allowing for students from other countries with different time zones.

(For schools and similar: A printable pdf 8.5x11 version of a tutoring info postcard may be found here. And a postcard which includes tutoring info, but also delightful squirrels, and nascent blog info, may be found here. Alternatively, if you wish physical postcard(s) to be sent to you USPS, please contact me.)


Harvard Extension School Math Department

Ted Tsomides MD, PhD, Harvard Extension School Pre-Calculus Instructor with whom I worked for many years.

I wish to highlight David Durlach's unique skill set as it relates to teaching mathematics.

... David truly distinguished himself by combining unequivocal mastery of the technical knowledge with earnest concern for students' well-being and emotional experience. Every day he proved that it was not "one at the expense of the other." As an inventor he understood the math completely and could explain any of our concepts from a variety of angles.

... When teaching trigonometry applications, he brought an oscilloscope with microphone to class in order to breathe life into potentially arcane mathematical concepts: students saw and heard and touched and manipulated cosine waves for themselves.

... I know of no other math instructor more dedicated to the "whole person" while engaged in teaching. ... It is a great honor to recommend him unequivocally.

(full letter)

Arthur, Pre-Calculus
"I would like to commend [David Durlach] ... for his expert teaching of a difficult subject. ... he clearly presented mathematical concepts in a manner that made them easier to understand. ... It is commendable that Harvard Extension School employs teachers of such high caliber. Such excellence deserves comment, and it is my hope that you will pass on my appreciation for [David's] brilliant instruction and diligence."

Katie, Calculus 1
"”I just wanted to say thank you SO much for all your help during math question center hours [...] We got our exams back today and I aced it (96%)!!”"

Hannah, Calculus 2
"Thank you for all your help this semester! I really learned a lot from you and I appreciate your patience and excellent explaining! The final went very well and your help sessions had a lot to do with that. I feel prepared to take (and I am looking forward to taking) multivariable calculus when I return to my college in fall. Thanks again for all your help!"


Hands On!, Inc.
Below are excerpts from an exhibit company support letter related to my work at TechnoFrolics and indicative "in spirit" to how I approach tutoring as well.

... David's remarkable sense of the interactive potential between science and art is a perfect match with the atmosphere of discovery and inspiration that we try to convey to the museum visitor.

... What impresses us most about his work is the "social" nature of the experiences. While they are technologically and scientifically advanced, they express that sophistication with an almost childlike wonder that captivates all who encounter them.

... David Durlach is, by far, one of the most dedicated and inventive people with whom we have had the pleasure of working. His devotion to reaching people of all ages, genders and cultures through the integration of science, art and personal experience is rare and welcome indeed.