Matt Olive is a Math teacher at MEK Review who serves as Assistant Coordinator for MEK Math Circles and Math Lab.
The following is an interview between him and our marketing coordinator:
Working at MEK
Interviewer: What’s your favorite part of working at MEK?
Olive: I really enjoy working for a company that is so innovative and adaptive. Just this year, with the pandemic … we have this crazy thing that happens, that really hinders education for students all across the country.
And we were able to respond quickly and create new protocols, new programs, and new platforms to really help students during these trying times. And you can see immediately the impact it has for our students. You can see how it’s working for them.
And I got to be part of that creativity and innovation. I got to have a voice and influence, and I find that really rewarding.
What’s more, while the changes that came from the coronavirus is obviously a big example, that is the culture of MEK at every level. When I teach Lab students, I’m able to adapt the curriculum, pacing, topics to the individual students’ needs and goals, and I’m given the freedom to come up with creative solutions that will better help my student understand the material.
Career at MEK
Interviewer: Well speaking of your influence at MEK, your official title is Assistant Coordinator of MEK Math Circles and Math Lab. What does that mean exactly?
Olive: As a coordinator, I assist Binal (Binal Patel, Learning Circles and Lab Coordinator) and Sarah (Sarah Kim, Director of Learning Circles and Lab) with designing curriculum, developing material, and creating protocols for our programs. For instance, this year we’ve added MLC and created new protocols for the virtual setting of our classes.
I also help oversee all student progress within these programs by communicating with our teachers, students, and parents.
MEK Learning Circles
Interviewer: How do you feel about the MLC (MEK Learning Circles) program so far?
Olive: It’s going really well.
We found out during the spring that our one-on-one Lab program didn’t work as well in a virtual setting. It works really well in an on-site setting, because the teachers meet with a student for around 30 minutes, and then the students’ independent work and grading is overseen by our staff.
However, in a virtual setting, we wanted to create a program that cut down on any confusion for our students or hassle for our parents, by giving the teachers more time with their students in the virtual classroom and giving the teachers’ more direct responsibility over students’ overall participation from following procedures to turning-in assignments.
And four weeks into summer, we can see that the students’ schedule is flowing really well, and through the protocols we put in place, we’re able to see students’ progress easily and make any adjustments to curriculum or pacing as needed.
Interview: I hear you’re kind of the “tech guy” of your department. Is that true?
Olive (laughs): I can definitely help out with common tech issues that some teachers or students face.
But overall, the teachers picked up the new technology pretty quickly, and so do most of our students. In fact, many of our students are really creative with their use of certain platforms like Kami.
Interviewer: Overall, what would be your advice to parents who have young children learning in a virtual setting?
Olive: Minimize the amount of distractions in the physical environment. That’s key. While they’re in virtual class, really encourage them to treat it like a real class, so restrict any other use of electronics and give them a quiet setting. Even make sure they eat before class, so they aren’t distracted by hunger.
Interviewer: And what advice would you give to students in general who want to succeed in math?
Olive: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. And don’t worry if you don’t understand a new concept right away. Repetition is often the key to math, so I always highly encourage my students to re-solve previous math problems, even the ones they got correct. This helps you get comfortable with the steps and processes of solving a problem.
Music & Teaching
Interviewer: In addition to math, I know that you also have a passion for music. What instruments do you play?
Olive: I play the trombone, piano, and the guitar. I actually played the classical trombone in college.
Interviewer: Is there any similarities between playing music and teaching?
Olive: Definitely. Teaching is in many ways a performance. Tony (Tony Kim, Director of Exam Prep) often talks about this aspect of teaching, where you go into a classroom knowing what you’re going to say, who you’re going to call on, even the mood you’re going to portray. And it’s all to engage your audience, which in the classroom is your students.
Also, like playing music, teaching is creative. In the same way you may approach a piece of music in different ways to create a more powerful effect, you try different pathways and approaches as a teacher to help your students better understand a topic.