Pop Quiz: Dr. Jim Zhu

Welcome back to the POP QUIZ! This is a regular, yet totally unexpected, feature where we ask students, parents, staff, our friends, and partners to answer a few questions about what they are learning, reading, and more. Today we feature Dr. Jim Zhu, Professor of Mathematics at Western Michigan University. Dr. Zhu is also a CIS volunteer who comes out to Milwood Magnet Middle School each Tuesday to tutor students as part of the new Lunchtime Homework Lab (featured in this recent blog post, “Dropping In”).

One of the students, an 8th grader who spent his lunchtime in the lab working on math said this about Dr. Zhu: “He made it easy to understand stuff. I’m coming back.”

Alright, Dr. Zhu: pencil out, eyes on your own paper. Good luck.

 

POP QUIZ

Optimization is one of your research interests. Thinking about this mathematical term from an educational standpoint, how can kids optimize their academic success when it comes to math?

Practice, practice, practice. While I’ve been into math for a long time, I see that there are many fields for which this is the case. For example, learning math is not much different than learning to play piano. What’s the most important thing in learning piano? Practice, practice, practice. You can learn all the theory you want, but it is practice you want to do, that will help you succeed. Ultimately, it’s your finger hitting the key. In math, it’s when your pencil hits the paper.

How did you get involved with CIS?

One of our faculty members at Western Michigan University, Professor Nil Mackey, sent out an email saying CIS is in need of tutors. I wanted to help.

Dr. Zhu talking math at Milwood Magnet Middle School.

For years I have seen students who are not well prepared with math knowledge. They have not had enough practice during their high school years and they didn’t have enough practice in middle school. With my own son, I have seen this. He attended the Portage schools, and like many school systems today, the emphasis is on conceptual stuff and not enough practice. Students need to be encouraged to practice math. Practice, practice. It’s as simple as that. Practice leads to doing math well.

What are you currently reading?

Reading with Patrick. It’s a touching story written by Michelle Kuo, who is a family friend and grew up in our community. This is Kuo’s personal story of helping kids in the Mississippi Delta and it inspired me to help with the tutoring.

What is something you’ve recently learned?

There are surveys indicating that two thirds of Americans are not financially literate. This adversely impacts people’s ability to manage their own financial situations as well as  understand the impact of policy changes to their own lives and to the country. The lack of basic training in math is largely responsible for this undesirable situation.

What is your favorite word right now?

It’s a Chinese word from a Buddhist tradition. It roughly translates to “Let go.” Don’t try to grasp and get hold of everything. Many things are out of your control.

What is something you love about our community?

It’s quiet and peaceful, but also vibrant. There are a lot of opportunities. My son grew up here and participated in a number of activities—tennis, piano—there are good piano teachers here! There are also opportunities to attend cultural activities. Western Michigan University often offers free concerts for faculty and the community.

Also, the community spirit. I really appreciate the community leaders here and those who have the desire to contribute. You see this with the Kalamazoo Promise.

Behind every successful person is a caring adult. Who has been your caring adult?

My grandparents. When I was a little guy my parents were quite busy. I am from a big family and my grandparents were very close to me. I have many dear memories.

Where did you grow up?

From China, Changchun, an area very close to North Korea. Many of my childhood friends were Korean.

Dr. Zhu, thank you for hanging out with us at Ask Me About My 12,000 Kids!