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  • Writer's pictureBeatrice Pang

The Virtues of Artisanal Math Education

Updated: Feb 13

In the business world, a system design principle is to minimize waste of your most precious resource. What is the most precious resource as you design your children’s learning experience? I suggest that it’s their time, besides financial considerations.

Outside of school, your children have limited time to learn something, as they also need time for free play, sports, and other activities. Children also have short attention spans, so the time they can spend focused on learning something as mentally intensive as math is especially limited.

Therefore, in my search for the best math education for my child as a mother, his learning efficiency was at the top of my mind. My son tried many solutions in the market, and I observed each class. The key ingredients for optimizing children’s math learning experience are evident based on decades of evidence-based research and millennia of practice in many cultures. Yet, they are unavailable in most markets due to the lower profit margins and operational complexity required to offer such education.

Here are the most essential ingredients:

1) A small class size with a few students at a very similar math level: Besides the one-on-one attention, students also benefit from a faster and individually adapted lesson pace in small classes. Here’s why. Teachers have to achieve understanding by most students in their lessons. However, students will always vary in their learning speeds of different topics, so the larger a class is, the slower the lesson’s pace and the more idle time each student experiences waiting for their slower peers to catch up. Differentiated teaching is only a band-aid with limited effect, not the holy grail, as moving on to teach an entirely new concept for advanced students in the same classroom is challenging, even if it’s optimal for these students. You may ask, “What about 1:1 private tutoring?” I have two thoughts. First, learning with their peers often brings students more joy. They love the silly jokes and laughter shared in the class, and their friendships often make math learning fun and social. Secondly, students can play more math games, which are engaging learning activities. Thus, I believe a small class size of eight or fewer students is optimal for learning math. Our platinum tier, with tiny classes of 2-4 students, offers the highest quality, but even our silver tier has a class size (5-8 students) that is much smaller than most competitive offerings in the market.

2) Compassionate and well-trained instructors with solid math backgrounds who teach in an artisanal and not industrial way: Some programs in the market have high instructor-to-student ratios, but they hire instructors who aren’t great at math because they don’t hire, pay, or train well. Others hire instructors with solid math backgrounds, but they often teach rigidly programmed lesson plans following the industrial education model. However, this industrial model assumes that each teacher and student is the same as every other, essentially interchangeable. Obviously, this is far from the truth. The best learning results from deep human bonds imbued with love, care, wisdom, and creativity, and the best lesson must adapt to each student while still adhering to high-quality standards. Socrates mused about this tension between standardized and customized education thousands of years ago, “If only wisdom were a sort of thing that could flow out of the one of us who is fuller into him who is emptier, by our mere contact with each other, as water will flow through a straw from a fuller cup into an emptier one.” As one of the best teachers in human history, Socrates knew that students are not uniform empty vessels and carried out his education through a series of intimate dialogs with each of his students. Thus, "small-batch" artisanal teaching has created some of the most brilliant minds throughout history because it’s superior to the industrial model of standardized education and rigid lesson plans. Therefore, our instructor management philosophy is that of a high-performing creative organization. We hire and train the best, generously pay them at the top end of the market, and provide them with many resources from curriculums to pedagogy training to help them succeed. Meanwhile, we allow them to adapt and be creative in the classrooms, avoid constraining them to overly rigid lesson plans, and minimize administrative paperwork. Each instructor is also a partner who contributes to our pedagogy and curriculums, so we learn from each other to continually hone the noble art form of teaching math.

3) Academically rigorous and experientially rich curriculums that engage and appropriately challenge the students: What is mathematics? Conrad Wolfram summarizes it well in his TED talk “Stop teaching calculating, starting learning math.” It’s a process with the four steps below.

  1. Pose the right questions.

  2. Abstract them to computable forms.

  3. Calculate answers. → Modern computers are the best at this step.

  4. Verify and interpret the results.

While step iii is essential, today’s K-12 math education often doesn’t put enough emphasis on developing the skills for steps i, ii, and iv. As a result, many students struggle to adapt to college-level math later on. Therefore, the best math education must teach both math abstraction and calculation fluency from a young age. To illustrate, we’ve written this lesson to teach 1st and 2nd graders some logical reasoning methods. Finally, children learn best when engaged with diverse activities, including math games and puzzles beyond dry practice problems. Such rich experiences also introduce math more beautifully to foster a lifelong interest in this subject.

Truly accomplishing these goals may reduce business profits and demand additional operational complexity. That’s why such education is not widely available. However, DLC’s number one priority is neither to maximize financial profits nor to optimize for scale. Our passion lies in the quality of education delivered to each student. We believe that children deserve an artisanal education to achieve their fullest potential and are working hard to offer them, even if it takes us more work and time.

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Given our sharp focus on delivering superior quality, we invest heavily in hiring, training, and continued development for all our instructors. All DLC instructors must study our 46-page training manu


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