Rebecca Zook - Math Tutoring Online

Get your free copy of 5 Tips You Must Know to Stop Freaking Out About Math!

Call me free of charge to discuss your situation, and we'll see if I can help.

617-888-0160

Triangle Suitcase: Rebecca Zook's Blog About Learning rssfeed

The secret ingredients of true math mastery

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

When I tell people that I have two parallel, seemingly unrelated careers – one as a math mastery mentor/joyful learning expert, and the other as a bad-ass cello diva and pioneering performer – it’s not uncommon for their eyes to light up and for them to exclaim, “OF COURSE! Math and music are SO connected! That makes so much sense. It’s normal if you’re good at one to be good at the other!”

But… to be totally honest… the ways I experience math and music, they’re so, so different from each other. And I spent a LOT of my life in environments where I didn’t think I was “good at” either of them.

So it took me a while to realize the connection between the two.

The way I LEARN music and the way I LEARN math? It’s the exact same process.

And it’s the exact same process I guide my students through.

And this mastery process is REALLY different from almost all of my formal math education and musical training, which involved a lot of:

bludgeoning yourself with the material until your eyes glaze over
overloading your brain
cramming
incredible frustration
constantly overworking
hating yourself
trying to be perfect
relying exclusively on analysis, verbalization, and intellectualization
trying to meet someone else’s pace
stumbling through it even though you didn’t really get it
not even realizing how disconnected you were from the material because you were just superficially “learning” everything
feeling fundamentally flawed and ashamed
worrying that “I don’t have what it takes”

Suffice it to say, this approach did not work for me!!! And I’ve found it doesn’t work for my students either.

However, I have discovered a process that actually DOES work for me – and for my math students.

And it’s sooooo different from what I just described.

It’s like a completely different mindset.

It’s so different that I actually named it.

THE MASTERY MINDSET.

Here are the elements of a MASTERY MINDSET:

First. Adopt a growth mindset. Believe (or, if that seems impossible, you can just start with being willing to consider the possibility) that what you’re trying to do is not about talent. Whether it’s math or music, it can be mastered with incremental, deliberate, and persistent effort.

Second. Have a FLOW orientation.
What I mean by this is, you want to stay in the “sweet spot” between being bored (it’s too easy) and being overwhelmed (it’s too hard). If you’re bored or anxious, nothing’s wrong with you – you just need to adjust what you’re doing so it’s harder or easier, as necessary.

Third. Incrementalization. Just take a sweet little morsel of material at a time. Just one little piece. Practice it until it becomes internalized, automatic. Until it becomes part of your body, part of your being. Then add a little chunk onto that. Continue this slow and steady process and you will find you are extremely prepared.

As an example, the way I used to learn music, I’d sit for hours in front of a music stand playing a piece from the printed music. Trying to figure out the tricky parts with my mind. So much mental effort, so much time, but it didn’t result in true security or true mastery. Covering the score in instructions and sticky notes. I listen to recordings from that period in my life and I can literally hear myself worrying.

Now, I don’t use a music stand or try to learn a big chunk at a time. I put the music on the floor, and I’ll lean over and play just a measure or two. Then I’ll practice just that, only looking at the music when I need to, until it’s automatic.

Then, when I’m away from the music and my instrument, I visualize the physical motions of playing that little chunk. The next day, when I’m back at my instrument, I check that that little bit is still internalized, and then I’ll add a little bit on.

If there’s a tricky part, I let my body find a solution with its own experiments. If a solution doesn’t come right away, I don’t freak out about it or try to force anything. I just trust that over time a way to do it beautifully will emerge from continuing to engage.

While it might seem “slower,” it results in deep, unshakeable preparation, and performances full of power and conviction. And, in the end, I’ve found I learn the material WAY faster.

Fourth. Let it be pleasurable. This might sound crazy, but there’s an additional piece I think is necessary to a mastery mindset: deciding to let it be pleasurable.

For one thing, the first three things – having a growth mindset, a flow orientation, and incrementalizing all create an intrinsically enjoyable learning experience.

And, additionally, I have found that deciding to do things in a way that is deliberately pleasurable creates deeper learning and also gently feeds your own enthusiasm.

This is great way to keep yourself from reverting to old “non-mastery” conditioning of overloading yourself, overworking, or trying to match someone else’s pace.

If you find yourself start to go into that, stop. Ask yourself, how can I do this in a way that is pleasurable?

Deciding to let my learning be pleasurable has completely supercharged my musical ability and my performances, and completely changed my experience of learning math. Like, I no longer allow myself to do the old things that didn’t work, because “this is not pleasurable” is a giant red flag that I am reverting to old patterns.

All of the energy that was going into the stuff that doesn’t work (slaving, bludgeoning yourself, hating on yourself, feeling like you don’t have what it takes) can be released. When it doesn’t suck anymore, all of that energy you spent on resisting doing it because it sucked is now freed up for you to actually learn, and enjoy what you’re learning.

Fifth. You become a mastery-seeking person. Once you experience true mastery, you no longer want to settle for “just getting through it” or going through the motions or having something finished to turn in. Now that you’ve tasted what it’s like to really, deeply internalize something, you start to seek that in all of your learning experiences.

Would you like your passionate, creative kid to be mentored in developing their own mastery mindset with math and with life? Send me an email at rebecca@zooktutoring.com, and we’ll get you started with my very special application process to explore whether my magical one-on-one math tutoring programs are a fit for you and your family!

Related posts:
Don’t back down
What changes when someone believes in you?
I just can’t keep this a secret any longer
Do you wish your kid could feel like Albert Einstein?

What to do when your kid’s math terrifies you

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

“This is terrifying,” my student’s mom confided in me as we discussed my student’s taking one of the most advanced math classes you can take in high school. “What my daughter is doing is way beyond any math I’ve ever attempted.”

Does this sound familiar? Your kid is doing math that, if you needed to explain it to them, you would have a panic attack? mental meltdown? total and complete incomprehension?

This is a situation that I face all the time. Sometimes a kid’s math will cross the “parental capability threshold” in elementary school. Sometimes it’s middle school. Sometimes, high school, or even college. But unless you, the parent, are actually a math professional or math educator, it’s very normal for there to come a point where you absolutely can no longer help your kid with math, no matter how much you WANT to help them with it, unless you take it upon yourself to teach yourself from scratch how to do it (and sometimes, not even then).

If this is what’s happening to you, here’s what to keep in mind:

Just because you are terrified doesn’t necessarily mean that your kid is terrified. Don’t assume you and your kid feel the same way about the math they’re being asked to do. Your kid is surrounded by other kids who are also doing terrifying math, and it might even feel normal to them. Maybe they feel proud or excited to be doing it! It is possible that they also feel terrified like you do. But just remember that it’s possible that you won’t be having the same emotional experience about it.

Don’t underestimate your kid. (Especially based on your own math experience). Maybe you tried to do this level of math and failed. Or maybe even considering doing this level of math was so terrifying that you opted out, during your own education. Maybe you never had an opportunity to even TRY to learn this level of math. No judgement!

However, keep in mind, your past math performance does not predict your kid’s future performance. Even though a lot of people in our culture talk about math ability like it’s a genetic trait, truly, truly, TRULY EVERYONE can learn to do math if it’s explained to them in a way that they can understand. Math is not a talent. It’s a skill that can be acquired with practice and persistent effort. Please remember this if you start to feel terrified about what your kid has taken on.

You don’t have to be able to do the terrifying math yourself in order to be a good parent. It is normal as a parent to passionately want to give your own kid every possible opportunity to thrive. You want to teach them everything they need to know to succeed in the world on their own. How can you do this once the math they’re doing surpasses what you yourself have learned?

Do not fear. You do not have to teach them terrifying math yourself! Sometimes the best thing you can do as a parent is make sure that someone else is helping your kid with the terrifying math for you, and just step back and focus on being a mom or dad, not on having to be a math teacher after you come home from a full day’s work.

Are you ready to invest in having someone else – who is caring, empathic, adventurous, and super experienced – help your passionate, creative kid with the terrifying math, so you can just focus on being a parent? Send me an email at rebecca@zooktutoring.com and we’ll get you started with my special application process to explore whether or not my magical math tutoring programs would be a fit for you and your family!

Related posts:
How to know when it’s time to stop tutoring your own kid
Afraid your math teacher will judge you?
Math student’s bill of rights
Face your fears, get a higher grade

What to do when you get spaced out about math [study tip]

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

Here’s a super powerful and easy study tip that you can use anytime.

I’ve been using this study tip since I was in college, and continue to do this to this day.

Are you studying … practicing your math … and you start to get spaced out?

You feel like your brain is full?

You’re having trouble concentrating?

Maybe even getting a little frustrated?

It’s time… for a solo dance party!

Yes!

It’s time to DANCE!

I’ve found that even just taking a break to dance to ONE song can be enough to get me refocused. Sometimes I need like a three-song-long dance party.

Taking a break to have a solo dance party can:

-make you feel happy

-help you feel energized

-refresh your focus

-give your mind a chance to integrate what you’ve been working on while you’re focusing on something else (dancing)

-actually help you get your math homework done faster because you return refreshed and renewed.

Also, just FYI, professional mathematicians will deliberately take breaks in order to give their subconscious mind a chance to find unexpected connections and solutions.

I just had a solo dance party myself before I wrote this, and I highly encourage you to do the same!

Would you like your creative, passionate kid to sing and dance about math? Send me an email at rebecca@zooktutoring.com and we’ll get you started with my super special application process to explore whether my magical one-on-one math tutoring programs would be a good fit for you and your family! I look forward to connecting!

Related posts:
Need to remember something important? Breaking news!
What I learned on the streets of Paris, and in a Dutch grocery store
Three simple tips for the night before your math exam
The secret to getting straight As in math (it’s not what you think)

How I got my full tuition scholarship

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

I haven’t shared this story before with many people.

But I recently shared it with one of my clients, and it had such a big impact on her that I realized it’s time for me to share it with you, too.

It’s the story of how I got my full tuition scholarship.

Ironically, it starts with a traumatic experience!

The summer before my senior year, I went to a summer program (Virginia Governor’s School), which I attended as a cellist. And while I was there, I decided I wanted to go to college for music.

So when I got back home and went to see my cello teacher for the first time that fall, I told her that I wanted to go to a conservatory, and that I wanted her to help me prepare for my auditions.

Her reaction was something like, “You can’t go to conservatory. You have too many interests.”

I felt completely, totally, absolutely crushed. This was a teacher I had been studying with for years. I trusted her so much. Why didn’t she believe in me?

I went out to my mom’s minivan, sat behind the wheel, and cried.

Then I drove myself home and told my parents that I needed to get a new cello teacher.

So, thinking about college, I knew I needed to go to a school that didn’t just have one cello teacher, because if things blew up with them, then I would be really stuck.

I also intuitively knew that I really, really wanted to go to college in a city.

And my parents had diligently saved enough for me to go to state school in Virginia. And Virginia has awesome state schools. But they were all in places that were definitely not cities. Places like Charlottesville or Williamsburg. I knew that wasn’t what I wanted.

And I also had an inkling that I was going to need to do some sort of self-designed major, and that I wanted to have a lot of freedom and access to a lot of different kinds of resources.

So I was clear that I wanted a college that:
-was in a city
-had lots of cello teachers
-had some kind of self-designed major with lots of freedom and resources
-AND I knew that I needed SERIOUS merit-based aid if I was going to make it work.

I have a vivid memory of sitting with my high school principal going through a printout of statistics for different colleges, looking for schools that had large numbers of cello teachers.

And also, him pulling out an application for a full-tuition scholarship to Boston University, and recommending that I apply for it. I think it was like the day before the application was due. And it was a Saturday. Yes, my high school principal was so committed that he actually came in and helped me on a Saturday.

So I wrote my application essay, I sent it in, and months later I found out that I was chosen. I had gotten a full-tuition scholarship to Boston University. OMG!!!!!

So the money my parents had saved turned out to be plenty enough to cover what was left – the room and board. And I actually got other scholarships too, so they only had to pay PART of the room and board.

Somehow it all worked out.

That year was really quite scary in a lot of ways, because before I found out that I had gotten that scholarship, I didn’t know if I would find a way to have what I knew, deep down, I needed.

But underneath it all, I know it wasn’t just random luck that led me to receive that awesome scholarship.

What was the method behind the insanity???

First. OK. I believed it was possible to have what I wanted. This might sound irrelevant or silly, but nothing would have happened if I hadn’t believed it was possible. I wasn’t always SURE, and sometimes I felt pretty hopeless, and there were definitely times where I felt overwhelmed. But deep inside, I did believe it was possible.

Second. I believed in myself. I believed I was deserving. I believed I had something really unique to offer and that I was a good candidate. Again, nothing else would have happened without this piece in the energetic under-layer.

Third. I knew what I wanted. I was super clear with myself. Freedom and resources. Massive merit-based aid. In a city. Lots of cello teachers. Probably some kind of self-designed major.

Fourth. I communicated what I wanted to everyone around me. My parents. My teachers. My high school principal. The secretaries who worked in the front office who gave me applications for the two additional scholarships I actually received. I totally alerted my environment so my allies could come to my aid.

Fifth. I knew who I was and I didn’t back down about it. I had spent my entire life up to that point working hard at the things I loved. Doing things I really believed in. The things that fueled me, that lifted me up, that nourished me.

I knew who I was and I didn’t try to present a false front to anyone. In all my essays and applications I was clear about what I believed, and who I was, even if I thought it wasn’t what the committees were necessarily “looking for.” And I knew that the core of myself would find the right home somehow. I didn’t need to court anyone’s approval. I was just me.

Six. I kept trying. I did not give up. I did not give up when my parents told me they only could afford to send me to college in-state. I did not give up when my cello teacher told me I couldn’t go to music school. I was determined and I kept looking for ways to make it work, even when it seemed like the odds were totally against me.

Seven. I surrounded myself with adults who believed in me and encouraged me.
My advisor didn’t get overwhelmed when I kept coming to him with MORE ideas of colleges to apply for. My parents budgeted so I could apply to 11 different schools to maximize the chance of getting merit aid at one of them. Not to mention all the college visits my dad took me on! This made everything so much easier, so much more possible.

These steps might seem basic, obvious. Even silly. But I know they helped me get what I needed and keep moving forward. They helped me keep unfolding my deepest, truest dreams until they started to become true.

And these same skills helped me when I got to college and I had to customize it even more than I had thought was possible. These same skills helped me start my own business. And these same skills helped me blaze my own trail as an entrepreneur and a performing artist.

Do you want your creative, passionate kid to be supported in knowing who they are and what they want? And to have a powerful, trailblazing mentor in their life to help them develop these secret super-power meta-skills to bring their vision into reality? Send me an email at rebecca@zooktkutoring.com and I’ll get you started with my super special application process to explore if my magical one-on-one math mentoring programs would be a good fit for you and your family!

Related posts:
Does having a math tutor make you a ‘loser’?
What a Balinese dancing queen taught me about praise and encouragement
Can math be a sanctuary?
Case study: an ADHD student raises her math grade from a D to an A

How much do math grades really matter?

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Photo on 9-5-14 at 8.56 PM #2
“Practicing” wearing a sparkly new outfit!

So you may have gathered… I’m like, all about practice.

And I just can’t stop thinking about the student I told you about last week… the one who was focused on getting straight As.

What do you do when your unique, visionary kid is SUPER FOCUSED on grades?

Is this a practice to encourage, or something to fear?

Especially with kids who are usually very intrinsically motivated – who have their own plans, ideas, and passions – a sudden focus on grades can actually be a red flag that they are terrified of falling behind, not measuring up to their peers, or being excluded from the “smart kids group.”

When this happens, it’s really important to redirect the focus back to where it belongs – on the mastery process.

Grades CAN work like a thermometer. They have the potential show you what you’ve learned, and what you haven’t learned yet. In this way, they can give very helpful information.

But grades in and of themselves don’t give you the full picture.

Did you get an A because you really understood the material, down to your core, so much that it’s part of you? (True mastery?)

Or did you get an A because you turned in your homework, showed up in class, and raised your hand even when you knew you didn’t know the answer? (Being rewarded for appropriate behavior, even if you have no clue about the math?)

Did you get a D because you made a silly mistake, but you get the concept and you can figure out exactly what went wrong once you look over your work?

Or did you get a D because you have no friggin’ clue and you just wrote something down so you wouldn’t leave it blank?

Did you “complete” the worksheet by passively watching the teacher review a problem, thinking that this means you “get it” because you “got it done”?

Or did you complete the worksheet by truly understanding what is going on and practicing it until it’s automatic for you?

Did you get the GPA to be accepted to your dream college by flagellating yourself every night and focusing on fulfilling other people’s expectations, miserable, sleep-deprived, and constantly anxious that you won’t measure up?

Or did you get that GPA and receive that acceptance letter by pursuing your passions, taking care of yourself, and being intellectually nourished?

On the surface, it looks the same, but underneath, it’s much more complex.

This is why I find it’s so important for creative, unique, trailblazing kids to be focused on the true process of mastery, instead of just grades.

Just getting straight As alone doesn’t mean that you actually understand what’s happening.

It doesn’t mean that your dream college will accept you.

It doesn’t mean that you know yourself.

It doesn’t mean that you are prepared for life – especially if you are blazing your own trail.

Focusing on perfection (like getting straight As) can be extremely debilitating and discouraging.

It can make it harder to grow and learn and even suck all of the joy out of life.

But focusing on mastery, regardless of what’s happening with grades, is energizing.

You feel the thrill of understanding something new.

You focus on learning from your mistakes and understand that mistakes are just part of the process.

By constantly engaging with the process of learning – asking yourself, what makes sense to me here? what do I not understand yet? – you develop deep self-awareness.

You come to know who you are – not just how to “get through it” or “churn it out” for a teacher or requirement.

You are resilient in the face of challenges, because you are in the practice of joyfully engaging with challenge just as part of your routine.

You trust yourself.

You understand how you do your best work.

And paradoxically, by focusing on the immediate, incremental process of mastery, the great grades, with time, will just naturally happen.

Just to share, from my own personal experience, in college I had to take French in order to fulfill a requirement, and I had to maintain a certain GPA or I would lose my full tuition scholarship.

I got through it, and I learned French, but the process wasn’t that meaningful to me.

I remember feeling so frustrated that I was expected to speak French perfectly and it made me afraid to open my mouth. This wasn’t how fluent speakers mastered the language! It was so artificial and hollow to me.

In contrast, when I was 23, I studied Indonesian language (in Madison, Wisconsin, of all places) in a total immersion environment. Four hours, every day, all Indonesian, no English. We HAD to make mistakes in order to learn. The focus was just on communicating and being playful…on the process of mastery, rather than on being perfect.

It was the most incredible language learning experience I’ve ever had. I felt so confident and secure!

And when I went to Indonesia the following summer, I was completely prepared to speak Indonesian with the musicians and dancers who I truly wanted to study with – who happened to not speak English at all.

And the Indonesians I met on the street thought I had been living in their country for years because of how comfortable I was with the language – when I had only studied it for 8 weeks.

This astonished me. And it was all because of focusing on the process rather than on perfection.

So if you find your creative, unique, trailblazing kid is coming to you with goals like “I want to make straight As,” shift the focus back to the ongoing process of mastering math.

Do you want your passionate, visionary-of-the-future kid to receive totally aligned support with the process of true math mastery? (And to experience the awesome confidence and great grades that happen as a result?)

Then I invite you to begin the application process for my individual math tutoring programs. This application process has been meticulously designed to help us both get clear about whether the special, magical way I work is a match for you.

Send me an email at rebecca@zooktutoring.com, and we’ll get you started on your application!

DSCN04331

Dancing with my Indonesian dance teacher (who only spoke Indonesian to me)-
this is what can happen when you focus on the mastery process
instead of on “being perfect”!

Related posts:
What a Balinese dancing queen taught me about praise and encouragement
What I learned in the streets of Paris, and in a Dutch grocery store
It’s eraser time! (And other math mantras)
Is your kid a creative, passionate, unique visionary of the future?

Afraid your math teacher will judge you?

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

10425374_767320963315223_6572653159629973572_n

Me (on the left) attending a workshop with Sandra Yancey (right), one of the most powerful female entrepreneurs in the world. I love the Carol Dweck quote in the background… “Becoming is better than being.”

This past week I got to attend an entire day-long workshop with Sandra Yancey, one of the most powerful female entrepreneurs in the world. This woman grew a huge national network and multi-million-dollar business from a handful of business cards. She is a powerhouse!

Out of the entire day, one of the things she said that struck me the most was, “We cannot thrive unless we have a place where we can be real.”

This is completely true for me personally – and why it’s essential for me to have my own mentor and my own colleagues and friends that I can be truly real with.

And I know it’s also so true for my students.

For example, I was recently in a session with one of my students, talking about whether or not she would ask her math teacher a particular question.

She stopped and said, “I’m afraid he’ll judge me.”

Wow! That is EXACTLY how I felt so many times when *I* was struggling with math growing up!

I had just never articulated it to myself before.

Even with math teachers who were really nice to me, sometimes even the niceness felt like a form of judgement. I’m highly sensitive, so I could FEEL it when someone was internally exasperated, but trying to act patient when I asked a question about something I “should have” already had down.

Is this something that you’re struggling with? Are you afraid that if you ask questions in class, your teacher will judge you?

(This can be especially difficult if you are a great student in every other subject. You’re used to doing your best and SHINING in the classroom when you participate, but with math, instead of shining, you fear that if you ask your questions, you’ll be judged or even feel ASHAMED that you don’t already know the answer.)

If this is what you’re facing, here’s what I recommend:

1. First, let yourself acknowledge this feeling. Don’t ignore it. Pay attention to it.

Why? If you ignore it, you will just subconsciously shut down on some level. You’ll stop seeking help, and on some level, you might even stop believing that anyone CAN help you, and that you’re doomed to feel this way forever.

It’s OK to recognize that asking for help in a particular situation, or asking for help from a particular person, might not be the best way to master the material.

2. Second, don’t judge yourself. When there’s a disconnection between your learning and how things are being taught in the classroom, it can be easy to start to despair or even start telling yourself things like “I’ll never get this… I must just not be a ‘math person’… maybe my brain is just not made for math… What is wrong with me, I am so good at every other subject… How can I be trying so hard and still be so confused…”

Emotions have a huge impact on learning, especially when we’re being challenged like never before. Be compassionate with yourself. Remember, math is a skill that you can acquire with persistent effort. There’s just some kind of disconnect happening between how you’re being taught and what you need to truly master the material. Nothing is wrong with you. Just be gentle and kind with yourself. ESPECIALLY if you are afraid others won’t be gentle and kind with you.

3. Third, be SUPER CLEAR with yourself exactly what it is that you have a question about. When you start to feel overwhelmed about math, it’s easy to look at something and just completely give up because your eyeballs don’t recognize it right away. It’s a completely natural human response – and, it’s also a very knee-jerk, superficial way of engaging with the material.

Take a deep breath. Take a break. Then come back to the material and look at it so, so slowly. Try to take it apart. Ask yourself questions. Why are they doing this specific step here? Does it remind you of something you already know how to do? Let yourself read the math book and do the problem at like one mile per hour.

Try to refine your question from something super general like “I have no idea what’s happening here and I just want to burst into tears and throw this book out the window” to “OK, why did they substitute ‘u’ in for ‘x’? How did they get from step 2 to step 3? Where can I see another example?”

Paradoxically, getting super clear with yourself about EXACTLY WHAT YOU’RE CONFUSED ABOUT is a way to… un-confuse yourself. I promise!

4. Finally, find a place to ask your math questions where you aren’t afraid of being judged. A place where it is safe to be real. Your math classroom and math textbook are not the only source of math knowledge. Try your friends, your peers, teachers you’ve had in the past that you understood better, a different textbook, an online video.

Or, if you’d like to explore whether my magical one-on-one math tutoring programs would be a fit for you and your family, send me an email at rebecca@zooktutoring.com and we’ll get you started with my special application! I’m excited to connect with you!

Related posts:
Face your fears, get a higher grade
Math student’s bill of rights
I just can’t keep this a secret any longer
Case study: confused by math instruction in a foreign language

Can math be a sanctuary?

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

I went on an adventure this week. I did my first recording session with my cello.

Me and one of my best friends went to my “power place,” this magical, beautiful tunnel in Central Park covered in beautiful mosaics that has amazing acoustics. We purposefully went late at night so it would be quiet.

Walking through the park, I saw that a film shoot was set up next to the tunnel, with this huge floating dirigible light and all this film equipment. And I was afraid that they would kick us out or tell us to not make any noise.

I thought, OK, well, the worst thing they can do is tell us to stop. So we went down into the tunnel, and I said out loud to my friend that my intention was for both us and the film shoot people to peacefully do what we needed to do without disturbing each other.

I had brought some special gluten free pastries, and before we started recording, we sat and ate our dulce de leche eclairs. My friend observed that she felt like a queen in a beautiful palace, and I had to agree. I felt like we were queens, too.

After our little pastry feast she set up the recording equipment and I started playing. My intention was to record my own original material, and then two covers of me singing with my cello, which is scary and new for me.

It was totally magical. My friend took care of all the recording details, and she even did this amazing spontaneous backup harmonies. Which really made me feel like a badass, to have backing vocals!!

Somehow, the movie people right outside the tunnel were utterly silent, and didn’t bother us at all.

They even shone a spotlight down into the tunnel, which looked and felt amazing to be illuminated like that.

At the very end, for the last song, I was like, what the heck.

I turned to my friend and I said, “Please promise me you’ll still be my friend no matter what you think about what I’m about to do. This is hot off the press and I feel really vulnerable sharing it.”

Then I played what I know is the next level for me – the most exciting, and the most scary thing of all – which is to sing my own original material.

Afterwards, my friend said, “That was gorgeous! Who wrote that??” And I was so excited and gratified that I jumped up and down.

I told her, “I wrote that. This is the first time I’ve ever sung a song I created myself in front of another human being. And I’m so glad I got to sing it in front of you.”

Can I tell you a secret? Recording myself used to be one of the things I dreaded most in the entire world. Listening to recordings of myself playing would rip my belief in myself to shreds. It was so completely stressful for me – a lot like how math used to be completely stressful for me.

How the heck did I get from that place, to where I am now? How do you get from a place where you’re completely struggling, ashamed, in tears, stressed out of your mind, to feeling confident, spacious, and like a queen in your own beautiful palace?

I am still in the process of figuring this out, but here’s what I think it’s about.

Stake out your own territory. If you’re in a really agonizing classroom or math learning experience, you have to stake out your own territory, outside of the awfulness of what you’re currently experiencing. You can’t keep dwelling exclusively inside the “meltdown/panic” zone of what’s currently being offered to you. You have to create a new space for yourself outside that experience, because that meltdown/panic experience isn’t going to give you what you need to move forward.

For me with my music, this meant exploring territory completely outside the classical world, learning how to play by ear, traveling to Cuba and Bali, even taking acting classes. For me with math, this meant learning how to take things apart, go slow, find my own way of understanding. With my clients, in our tutoring time, we very purposefully create a new math zone where math is comfortable, enjoyable, and meaningful, no matter what’s going on in the classroom.

Do it your way. If the way you’re being taught or trained doesn’t work for you, it’s not the only way. So much of the way I was taught and trained in the classical music model made me feel so awful about myself and didn’t help me create good work. “My way” happens to be performing in a beautiful mosaic-ed tunnel next to a fountain with an angel on top.

Same thing with math. You can do it your own way, relying on your own strengths, your own fascination and creativity. With my clients, we find ways that really work for each individual so they can start to experience math as a source of joy and strength, even a way to express themselves creatively.

Surround yourself with true companions. That evening of recording in the tunnel was so magical. And at the end I told my friend, wow, it felt so effortless. But I know so much of it had to do with the fact that I picked my recording engineer – my friend who came with me to record – so very carefully. Not only is she one of my closest friends and an amazing musician, but I had also sang to her as an audience member in the tunnel over the summer, and I already knew I felt so comfortable and safe with her, and encouraged, even when I was doing the most vulnerable thing musically that I’ve ever done.

Having her there with me completely transformed the experience and made me feel so strong and safe. And this also happens in my work with my math tutoring students – finally having a true companion, a truly matched math mastery mentor, allows them to completely transform their relationship with math, and even with life.

Are you ready to have a true math companion who will support you in transforming your relationship with math from agonizing to euphoric? Send me an email at rebecca@zooktutoring.com and we’ll get you started with my special application to explore whether or not my magical math tutoring programs would be a fit for your family!

Case Study: An 8th grader goes from “math meltdown” to “math touchdown!”

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

When this student first came to me as a 7th grader, she and her mom were experiencing math as a horrible struggle week to week. On her tests, she would initially get 40s, 50s, and 60s, and then spend a lot of time redoing the work over and over to pull up her grades, even more often than not staying in from lunch and recess to redo her work. So she was ending up with Bs and low As after all the do-overs, but as the result of agonizing effort.

On many nights they would spend hours on her math homework, only to have the student end up in tears. And even this massive effort wasn’t resulting in confidence or mastery.

On top of that, the student’s experience of one-on-one help from her mom had become highly fraught and the stress was affecting the dynamic of their mother/daughter relationship.

The mom was really concerned that this student’s math struggles were going to keep her back from other academic and creative opportunities. This student is highly creative, unique, and passionate – she loves to draw, plays the violin, has her own sense of style, is a gamer, and even has been on multiple botball robotics teams. And the mom was worried that doors would be closed to her if math continued to be a struggle.

This frustrating experience felt like a roller coaster, where the otherwise academically-successful student was starting to feel like an impostor after the erosion of confidence that happened from week to week of working so hard and not experiencing confidence, mastery, or good grades.

Fast forward to now! After steadily working together throughout the spring and summer, this student is now getting grades like a 96% on her first quiz of the year and a high B on her progress report. She shared that she was explaining math to her peers who were confused. The best part of all was seeing her experience what she described as “The BOOM,” which she defined as “where everything just comes together and flows through my mind like a glass of water.”

Most of all, she is now enthusiastic and inquisitive and happy about doing math and will routinely exclaim things like, “Touchdown! I could help the ‘yesterday’ me understand this!” or “Doing stuff with fractions is my favorite math to do.”

Here are some of the ways we created this transformation:

We created a safe environment of total trust and camaraderie. We operated in a space that was a “no-judgement zone” where this student could go over whatever questions she had, however she needed to go over them, and with as much practice or examples as necessary. We also kept the emotional tone lighthearted and fun, even though the material was very challenging.

We found the gaps and filled them in. By the time this student came to me, she had been struggling with math through 4th, 5th, 6th, and most of 7th grade – almost four years, with different gaps from each year. While working on whatever she needed to learn that day or that week, we excavated the layers of underlying math foundation until we found the initial source of misunderstanding. Then we would master that concept and gradually build back up layer by layer to the current material. This created a pattern of understanding, confidence, and success.

We let the student set the pace. We really focused on mastery of one skill, one concept, one problem type at a time, letting the student’s needs set the pace. Truly internalizing math in this way had a much bigger impact on her long-term understanding and achievement than rushing in a superficial way through large amounts of material to “get it covered.”

Would you like your creative, unique, passionate child to have this same experience of being completely supported in experiencing math mastery? Send me an email at rebecca@zooktutoring.com, and we’ll get you started with my special application process to explore whether or not my magical one-on-one math tutoring programs would be a fit for you and your family!

Related posts:
Case Study: A 5th grader goes from believing “math doesn’t like me” to singing and dancing about math while wearing a purple tutu
Case Study: a 7th grader goes from “I don’t get it” to getting 100 percents!
Case Study: An ADHD student raises her grade from a D to an A
Case Study: Math goes from a source of unbelievable stress and anxiety to a source of joy and strength

Don’t back down

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

So I recently flew to LA for a workshop with my super special acting teacher.

It’s my fifth time taking a class with him in about 18 months. Every time it’s amazing and every time it’s totally different. (Which is why I keep going!!)

At the very end of the workshop, we did this special exercise to access an “inner superhero” we could call upon in the future.

Usually I jump up in front of the group, eager for my turn. But for some reason this time I was dreading going up there.

Sitting and waiting was so intense. Like every cell in my body was going crazy.

The longer I waited the more intense it was. And I waited until no one else was left.

When I got up there to embody my inner superhero, I didn’t know what to expect.

What happened was it felt like I was channeling something huge, something so powerful. I found myself giving the audience loving advice, telling them, “DON’T BACK DOWN.”

I singled out one classmate who was a “struggling actor” and told him the truth, that I saw him as a leading man and he couldn’t stay in his cave.

I felt so connected to the people in the audience. I felt so strong, so direct, so clear. I felt way different than I normally feel.

Afterwards it felt like whatever I had just channeled was still happening in my body.

And where my mind started to go was, “How could I possibly be strong enough to be this big, this clear, this direct, all of the time?”

And also, “What if that was the peak of my entire life? What if I never experience that again, and that’s as good as it gets?”

I brought this up in front of the group and asked these questions to my teacher, and he told me that this was always accessible to me, that what I had just channeled was me, and was always inside me.

And the doubt was still there. How do I stay connected to this huge amazing breakthrough? How do I go forward from here?

Let me tell you, it does NOT always feel good to be called to the next level of growth.

It does NOT always feel comfortable, even when you are having an incredible breakthrough.

It doesn’t always feel safe. It doesn’t always feel like you know what to do next.

So…. flash forward. I’m back from LA. Someone who saw me playing my cello in Central Park this summer is emailing me asking me to play my cello for a private party after his dad gets knighted (??!!) and was wondering if I could send him some video clips.

I’m going through videos of my cello performances… one from the very beginning of the summer, right after another huge breakthrough, but before I started performing regularly in the magical Central Park tunnel. Another clip from my last performance of the summer, after I’d clocked dozens of hours in front of people.

When I was performing in the first clip, I remember it felt like a major peak. A big deal. But watching it now, I could see how uncomfortable I was, still, even after my breakthrough.

Performing in the second clip from the end of the summer, I remember feeling tired and pissed off. It didn’t feel like my best performance ever. I didn’t feel like anyone was connecting to what I was sharing.

But that’s not what it looked like on video.

On the video I was shining, beautiful, playing from my heart.

What the heck happened?

Integration.

Back right after my huge breakthrough in May, that performance felt like the best I’d ever played.

But instead of staying at that level, or retreating out of fear that I’d never “hit that level” again, I kept going. I played every weekend. I played for hours. I played for strangers.

And the things that had felt like a huge breakthrough in May became second nature. They became automated. They became integrated.

And now I’m being called to go through the whole cycle AGAIN!!

And it’s scary AGAIN!!

What I’m here to do is create transformation – in my own self, in my performances, for my audiences, and for my students’ relationships with math, mastery, and themselves.

But people don’t always talk about what to do after the breakthrough.

Here’s what I see needs to happen….

After the breakthrough…

1. …keep going. Just keep going.

2. Remember that there is always another loop on the upward spiral of growth. This is part of what it means to be a trailblazer. It’s OK if it feels scary and uncomfortable.

3. Stay connected to community. Stay connected to people who are also committed to their own transformation. Let them reflect your growth back to you. Let them celebrate where you’ve come from and lovingly remind you what it was like before. Let them hold the vision of where you’re going and travel through the next steps together.

4. Stay connected to your mentors who are farther along the upward cycle of growth, and who can help you through what they’ve already been through. Being guided by aligned people who have walked their own path with heart is an incredible transformation accelerator.

Do you want your trailblazing, outside-the-box, creative, passionate kid to be mentored in creating math mastery breakthroughs by a fellow trailblazer? Send me an email at rebecca@zooktutoring.com and we’ll get you started with my special application to explore whether or not my magical math tutoring programs would be a fit for your family!

And here’s the video I was talking about…

Related Posts:
What changes when someone believes in you?
Does having a math tutor make you a “loser”?
Failure is not the enemy
Is your kid a creative, passionate, unique visionary of the future?

Case study: a 10th grader goes from feeling like math is a foreign language to being the most-called upon student in her class

Monday, October 6th, 2014

When this student first came to me just before the summer between her freshman and sophomore years, her mom told me that the tutor they’d just worked with had told the family that to this student, math was like a foreign language where she only spoke five words.

Somehow she’d made it to the end of 9th grade with Bs in math, but none of it actually made any sense to her. It was like she just knew enough to “get around” – like how to ask where the bathroom was and order a hamburger – but not enough to really understand what was going on around her, or communicate herself.

Once we started working together the summer before she headed into pre-calculus, this student’s mastery, confidence, and grades began to steadily improve. By mid-sophomore year, my student’s teacher mentioned to her that he had to be careful to call on other students because my student always gave the correct answer!

The “piece de resistance” was when my student had to take an oral final for her math class at the end of her 10th grade year. Her teacher gave them five very sophisticated problems that synthesized everything they’d ever learned in new ways they hadn’t seen before. They had unlimited time to prepare, and then each student was asked to explain one of the five problems, picked at random on the spot, in front of the entire class. My student did such a good job that she got an A, and she told me later that she walked out of that class feeling like, “I can do anything!”

When it came time for this student to decide what math class to take after pre-calculus, instead of taking the statistics class that many students take as a way to avoid math, my student opted to enroll in AP AB Calculus. Because math had become beautiful, fascinated, and intrinsically rewarding to her, she wanted to keep exploring and growing.

Here’s how this student and I worked together to completely transform her experience of math from a source of unbelievable stress and anxiety into a source of joy and strength:

1. We worked in an atmosphere of total camaraderie and trust. Our tutoring sessions were totally a lighthearted, safe zone where there was absolutely no judgement. This student was free to ask as many questions as she wanted, go over as many examples as she desired, or go over the same example as many times as she required, without any fear of being embarrassed.

2. We focused on filling in the gaps, while also addressing whatever she needed to learn that week or that day. When we would go over her current material and encounter a gap, we’d keep excavating backwards through the layers of prerequisite knowledge until we found the original misunderstanding. Then we’d fill that in, then the idea on top of that, then the idea on top of that, until we’d build back up through the layers to what she was responsible for learning today. This way she was able to repair gaps in her foundational knowledge, while also staying on top of her weekly curriculum and being prepared for tests and quizzes.

3. We really focused on approaching the material in a way that worked for HER. This particular student craves conceptual understanding, so we would approach the material from different angles until she understood WHY it worked that way. She also loves learning math visually, so we would frequently approach concepts and procedures in a visual way – like FOILing using a box instead of just parentheses – that made the concepts more intuitive for her, and easier to internalize.

During moments like this, she would share observations like, “I don’t know how I lived through math without completely understanding this, because it’s so much easier than I thought it was. My whole childhood with math has been completely relearned.”

As my student’s mastery naturally led to greater confidence and grades, her enthusiasm for math grew more and more. She recently shared with me, “This is actually so cool – when actually I understand it, it’s so much fun!”

Would you like your daughter or son to go from feeling like math is a foreign language to experiencing math as genuinely enjoyable, meaningful, and fascinating? Send me an email at rebecca@zooktutoring.com, and we can set up a special complimentary 90-minute interview to explore whether or not it would be a fit for us to work together. I can’t wait to connect!

Related posts:
Case study: a 5th grader goes from believing “math doesn’t like me” to singing and dancing about math while wearing a purple tutu
Case study: a rising 8th grader masters her summer math packet
How to multiply binomials using a box (alternative to FOILing)
An easy way to remember how logarithmic notation works