Rebecca Zook - Math Tutoring Online

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The biggest failure of my educational career

Monday, October 24th, 2016

15.10.24STEMDuyTran (573)

This is what mastery can look like – and feel like!

The biggest failures of my educational career weren’t the times I bombed a test.  They were the times when I completely disconnected from my own intuition and joy and self-trust.

Looking up every single word in a Latin text in the dictionary, conjugating each verb in a chart, and then agonizing over how to piece together some sort of meaning.

Staying up late with my algebra homework, trying again and again to make my answer match the one in the back of the book, and erasing until I cried with frustration.

Practicing certain cello passages over and over but still being unable to play them with confidence, or even actually losing control of my body when I performed.

What makes me angry is that this was actually rewarded.

My teachers would hold up my Latin homework as an example of how diligent I was as a student.  

But there was no connection between what I was being told to do and what I actually needed to do to understand the material.

I’ve come to understand that many times, there is a massive disconnect between what we’re being assigned to do, and what we actually NEED to do to learn.

Now, I do this with each of my students: discern exactly what they need to do, step by step by step, in order to deeply internalize the material until it becomes part of them. 

Even if it looks nothing like their homework assignments.

I call this having a “MASTERY ORIENTATION.”

For example, one sixth grade student who I was working with was really overwhelmed with percents. 

Her teacher had given her 12 different percent formulas to memorize, and my student didn’t know when to use which one. 

We boiled it down to 4 essential formulas.  

We practiced until she really mastered each one.

She knew how to recognize which one to use.

She knew how to use it to solve for different variables.

Because of this mastery approach, percents really became one of this student’s strengths.  

When percents came back up a year later, this student intuitively created a completely original, totally mathematically valid way of doing percent change that I had never seen before – in over 10 years of teaching percents!

The most important thing here is that this student was able to reconnect with her own self-trust, joy, and intuition around math, because she had truly mastered the material.

If you’re wondering how to do this in with your own child, a really easy way for you to immediately start supporting them with developing a mastery orientation is to ask your child to create their own original problem about a specific concept.  

This really helps students feel their ownership of the concept, and it also makes it super clear whether or not they understand the topic.

And if you’d like to explore if it would be a fit for me to support your family through one of my high-level, one-on-one math mentoring programs, I’d love to connect! To get started, just click here to fill out your application.

Sending you love,

PS.  I’m super excited to be part of an expert panel on the future of math education at the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford on Wed 11/16 from 6-8 pm!  If you’re in the neighborhood, I would love to have you in the audience! Get your tickets here.

Related posts:
Five steps to true math mastery
Do you wish your kid could feel like Albert Einstein?
The secret to getting straight As in math
The secret ingredients of true math mastery

Come and meet me in person in Cresskill, NJ: Wed 11/2/16, 6.30 pm

Friday, October 21st, 2016

15.10.24STEMDuyTran (518)

Believe it or not…

…in 2009, an Intel survey found most parents would rather talk to their kids about drugs and sex than talk to them about math.

Math can be an enormous source of parental anxiety, where even the most math-confident parents can find themselves stuck when it comes to supporting their own child.  Make sure that math anxiety isn’t an obstacle to your child’s dreams.

This talk/workshop will provide you with groundbreaking tools to build and nurture your child’s math confidence, including:
• the difference between perfectionism and mastery
• growth mindset
• how to use “negative” emotions to achieve math success
• flow state (how to use the sweet spot between boredom and overwhelm)
• mastery orientation, and more
You will discover how to support your child to achieve true mastery, rise to the top of their class, and even come to experience math as a source of joy and a type of self-expression.  You’ll walk away with clear steps, case studies, and tools that you can use immediately at home to ensure math confidence and success. 

Date: Wednesday, November 2nd
Time: 6.30-7.30 pm
Location: Cresskill Public Library
53 Union Ave,
Cresskill, NJ 07626
Cost: Free and open to the public. No registration required.

I would love to see you there!
Sending you love,

I’m speaking about the future of math education: Wed 11/16, 6-8 pm, at the Connecticut Science Center

Friday, October 21st, 2016

15.10.24STEMDuyTran (574)

I’m very excited to announce….

I will be serving as an expert panelist on the future of math education at the Connecticut Science Center, Wed 11/16, from 6-8 pm!

I would love to have you in the audience and meet you in person!

The details:

Date: Wed 11/16
Time: 6-8 pm
Location: Connecticut Science Center,
250 Columbus Blvd. Hartford, CT
Cost: $10 for general admission, $5 for museum members

To get your tickets click here.

The other panelists and the moderator are also going to be great:

Moderator: Marjorie Wikler Senechal, Ph.D, Louise Wolff Kahn Professor Emerita in Mathematics and History of Science and Technology at Smith College
Panelist: Fabiana Cardetti, Ph.D, Graduate Director for Instructional Development, UConn Department of Mathematics
Panelist: Gladis Kersaint, Ph.D, Dean UConn Neag School of Education

Hope to see you there 🙂

Case Study: A 5th grader goes from believing “math doesn’t like me” to singing and dancing about math while wearing her purple tutu

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

When this fifth grade student first came to me, her mom told me, “My daughter is joyful about everything in her life – except for math.” This student was so anxious and uncertain about math that she refused to do her homework unless she was literally sitting next to her mom. She would tell her mom, “math doesn’t like me.”

This put a lot of pressure and stress on her mom, who was doing everything she could to try to help her daughter succeed at math, but she felt like she she was failing her daughter and being a “bad mother” because she couldn’t find a solution. The mom felt anxious picking her daughter up from school because she wasn’t sure whether or not her daughter would have a math temper tantrum. And even though when her daughter would express her feelings of math inadequacy, she was really just asking for help, it was so stressful for the mom that the mom sometimes would react with frustration just because she was so worn down from the seemingly endless math stress.


I started working with this student towards the end of her fifth grade school year. Because this student loves to dance and sing and has a great passion for musical theater, I started teaching her math songs to help her remember different concepts and formulas. We also really focused on filling in the gaps and building a strong foundation.

Midway through the summer, this student started spontaneously singing her math problems! She would make up these little operas about all the different math operations she was doing – as well as songs just about math concepts in general, with sophisticated lyrics that showed she really got the concepts. She would even come to some of her sessions wearing her purple tutu. I was overjoyed to see her expressing herself so confidently and creatively with math, even with her outfits. At the same time, her mom and I also weren’t yet sure how this would transfer to the classroom.

Her first day back at school, her first middle school math class of 6th grade, the teacher asked a question, and my student just couldn’t help herself – she shouted out, “It’s because of the commutative property!” It turned out that no one else in her class – even the students she thought of as being very strong mathematicians – had even heard of the commutative property before! This was a huge boost to my student’s confidence and enjoyment!


Since her first day back at school as a sixth grader, she has consistently made 90s or 100s on every single math test and quiz she’s taken – except for one! On this test, she got an 88%, and what is so interesting is that this absolutely didn’t defeat her.

When she talked about it with her mom, the focus was just about making sure to get the test back from the teacher, so we could go over what she didn’t understand in our tutoring sessions and learn from it. In some ways this was an even bigger victory than the tests where she scored higher, because it showed how much her mindset had shifted. We could see her resilience in how she dealt with a lower grade, and how her attitude had shifted to “I’ll get it, because I know I can get it.”

Just as important, the mom’s experience has shifted dramatically now that she isn’t the one who is helping her daughter with math. She shared with me that when she comes home from work, it’s easy for her energy to be fully engaged with her daughter because it isn’t sapped by worrying about helping her with her math homework right away. She can just decompress and regroup and be energized and be a good parent. And her daughter has become so much more independent that the mom can be reading a book in another room while her daughter is doing her homework on her own!

How did we create this totally awesome math transformation? Let me tell you all about it!


1. Positive, relaxed environment. We fostered an environment of trust and camaraderie. Our work together is committed and also relaxed; this student is totally free to make mistakes, ask questions, or go over whatever it is she needs to go over, no matter what.

2. Dealing with math feelings.
When this student is overjoyed, anxious, or heartbroken, we deal with it together head-on. There was one session very early on where she (quite understandably) cried because she was so disappointed and frustrated with a recent grade. Instead of squelching this or ending the session, we just talked it out, making a safe space for her to feel, express, and release her frustration and disappointment. Other times she was so happy with what she was learning and accomplishing that she would dance and sing with glee and pride!

3. Consciously fostering a “growth mindset” with math. This student has an awesome “growth mindset” when it comes to her work in musical theater. She will audition over and over again for the same Broadway show, and instead of getting discouraged if she hasn’t gotten a part yet, she is just really excited about the process and the experience.

At the same time, there have been periods where she has really expressed more of a “fixed mindset” about math – “you have it or you don’t,” and being worried that she wasn’t one of the ones who “had it.” We deliberately take time to talk about this together and draw parallels with her work in the theater so that she can pull that already-existing growth mindset into her math.


For example, just this week, this student expressed both concern and hope about a state-wide test she was taking the next day. She wanted to score high enough to be selected for state and national math events, and she was also worried that there would be stuff on the test that she didn’t know because she wasn’t in the “honors level class.”

We discussed at length how it’s like if she went to an audition and they asked her to play the bagpipes and do a Scottish accent, she wouldn’t beat herself up for not already knowing how to do those things – after the audition, she would just ask her teachers and coaches to help her learn, if that’s something she was interested in being able to do. Then she shared her philosophy of auditioning, which is that “it’s not just about the part, it’s about the experience, and if you’re not focused on the part, it will just naturally happen.” We drew direct parallels with what she tells herself during her auditions and what she can tell herself during her math tests.

4. Self-expression.
In the context of a supportive environment of trust where all of our work is super individualized, this student started to express herself more and more, whether it was singing the math songs she’d learned, making up her own original math songs, singing herself through the math problem she was working on, wearing her purple tutu, or decorating her problems with hot pink drawings (some of which are included in this very blog post)! Seeing her experience math as a vehicle of self-expression is absolutely encouraged, because it’s a huge sign that the student is getting way more comfortable and also really internalizing the material at a deeper level.


5. Support is normalized. Just like this student didn’t stop taking voice lessons or going to dance class once she started getting parts in musicals, math support that fosters her autonomy is now just part of her normal routine. Instead of saying, “Well, now her grades are higher, she’s done with math mentoring,” this student and her parents have recommitted to receiving support so that she can just continue to grow her math abilities and confidence more and more, and that her family can experience an even deeper experience of harmony around math.

I am so, so proud of this student, and how her persistence, vulnerability, and commitment has created such true mastery, confidence, and JOY with her math!

Are you tired of feeling like a bad parent because even though you’re doing everything you can to help your kid with math, it isn’t working?

Does it break your heart to see your own purple-tutu-wearing kid have meltdowns about math?

Are you ready to invest in high-level support?

Just click here to get started with your special application for my one-on-one math tutoring programs.

Once your application is received, we’ll set up a special phone call to get clear if my approach would be a good fit for your child.

I can’t wait to hear from you!

Sending you love,

Related Posts:
Case Study: A Rising 8th grader masters her summer math packet
Case study: A seventh grader goes from “I don’t get it” to getting 100 percents
Case Study: an ADHD student goes from a D to an A
I just can’t keep this a secret any longer

Come meet me live in Nashville, Wed 7/13/16

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

cropped butterfly invite

[special speaking engagement in ‪#‎Nashville‬]

Math anxiety: while it’s one of the main reasons girls opt out of STEM classes, majors, and careers, math anxiety is rarely, if ever, even mentioned in school. But trying to teach students math while ignoring math anxiety is like trying to build a cathedral during an earthquake.

Next Wednesday, July 13th, I’ll be speaking at a very special Think Tank sponsored by the Center for STEM Education and girls to address this very issue.

Join me for my session, “End the math freakout: how to break the cycle of math anxiety and raise a masterful, math-confident generation of girls.”

In this presentation, you will discover how to use girls’ emotions around math as a secret weapon to create deep mastery and achievement, whether you’re preventing math anxiety or supporting girls already struggling with it.

You’ll learn groundbreaking tools to build and nurture your girls’ math confidence, including:
-why perfectionism doesn’t create perfection
-growth mindset
-flow orientation
-mastery mindset, and more
so your girls can shift the paradigm, achieve true mastery, rise to the top of their class, and even come to experience math as a source of joy and a type of self-expression.

You will walk away with clear steps, case studies, and tools that you can immediately use to eliminate math anxiety and nurture a mastery approach and mastery mindset in your own classroom, school, or community.

Date: Wednesday, July 13th
Time: 3 pm (I won’t be speaking the entire day, but my presentation is part of the conference that runs from Wed 7/13-Thurs 7/14)

Location: Middle School 214 at Harpeth Hall School
3801 Hobbs Road
Nashville, TN 37215

Click here to register.

I would love to see you there!
Sending you love,

‪#‎HarpethHall‬ ‪#‎thinktank‬ ‪#‎girls‬ ‪#‎STEM‬ ‪#‎STEAM‬ ‪#‎STEMefg‬ ‪#‎CenterforSTEMEducationforGirls‬

The crucial difference between perfectionism and mastery

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

I recently asked one of my students what the most important thing was that I could share with you.

She said, “You have to tell them about the difference between perfectionism and mastery.”

This is something I’ve started sharing with my students, and I want you to know about it too!

Here’s what I’ve realized.

Perfectionism doesn’t create perfection.

It creates rigidity and stress.

True perfection comes from a willingness to take risks

and a commitment to the process of mastery.

The deepest accomplishment, the deepest achievement,

it doesn’t come when we’re looking over our shoulder,

wondering if we’re doing it right,

or we’re good enough.

It comes when we’re just really engaged with what we’re doing,

and open about what we don’t understand and what doesn’t make sense yet,

and committed to practicing until those parts that are strange or uncomfortable

become automatic and internalized and pleasurable.

Do you see your child taking a perfectionistic approach to their struggles with math… and it’s just not working?

Do you wish that there was someone you could send them to where they could be supported in actually cultivating true mastery of math, instead of just looking like they’ve got their act together?

Just click here to get started with your special application for my one-on-one math tutoring programs. Once your application is received, we’ll set up a special phone call to get clear if my approach would be a good fit for your child.

I’m here for you, and I’m so glad we’re connected!

Sending you love,

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

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

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!


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? Just click here to get started with your special application for my one-on-one math tutoring programs. Once your application is received, we’ll set up a special phone call to get clear if my approach would be a good fit for your child. 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)

Meet me in person in Ithaca-Cortland, NY, Saturday, April 9th, 2016!

Saturday, April 2nd, 2016

15.10.24STEMDuyTran (574)

Yes, this is what math can look like!

Are you (or is your daughter) freaking out, failing, or secretly crying yourself to sleep about math?
Is math becoming a major source of stress in your family?

Do you wish that math could be something you actually enjoyed TOGETHER (as a family)?

Or maybe you (or your child) are (is) confident with math, but you’re already worried about what will happen when the material gets harder?

Next Saturday, April 9th, 2016, I’ll be speaking at a very special conference, Tech Savvy Ithaca-Cortland in NY, which is one of the only conferences in the world with programming for both 6-9th grade girls AND their parents.

Join me for a special session for parents on How to Raise a Math-Confident Daughter (2-2.50 pm for parents)
for girls, a Math Mastery Mastermind Workshop (one at 11 am, one at 12 noon)!

In these workshops, you will:
-discover how to support your daughter to achieve true mastery, rise to the top of their class, and even come to experience math as a source of joy and a type of self-expression.
-walk away with clear steps, case studies, and tools that you can use immediately to ensure math confidence and success.

And your daughter will:
-be nurtured in her creative, higher-level problem-solving abilities
-be encouraged to experiment in a completely supportive environment
-grow her courage and confidence as she discovers how much she can both learn from and help other girls!

Date: Saturday, April 9, 2016
Time: 8.30 am – 4.30 pm (I won’t be speaking the entire day, but my presentations are part of the day-long event)
Location: Tompkins-Cortland Community College
170 North Street
Dryden, NY 13053
Cost: $5 per person (adult or student)

Click on the link to register in advance: click here

This event will provide powerful support not only for your child but also for you as the parent, so it’s highly recommended that parents also attend!

I would love to see you there!

Sending you love,

Five Steps to True Mastery

Friday, April 1st, 2016

Have you ever taken a math test you felt completely confident about, only to find out that you bombed it and you weren’t prepared at all?

Trust me, you’re not alone. But why does this happen so frequently?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. And this is what I’ve realized.

True mastery takes more than one step. But I’ve never seen these steps discussed before like this.

And I definitely didn’t hear about this when I was in math classes growing up!

This is what I had to figure out all by myself, and now do in all of my one-on-one work with my own clients.

Let me break it down for you:

1. The first level of mastery: you can follow along passively when someone else is explaining a concept to you or demonstrating how to do a technique.

You aren’t actively participating, you’re just observing and listening, and what they’re saying makes sense.

2. The second level of mastery: you can do problems interactively with someone else.

You are actively participating as they walk you through the steps of the problem and you do it together.

3. The third level of mastery: you successfully complete a similar problem type completely independently and get the answer correct – and you understand why – without any guidance or corrections from someone else.

4. The fourth level of mastery:
you consistently get the answer right on enough similar problems that the concepts get internalized and the process becomes automated.

You have the track record that shows you that you really are prepared to go in and do this successfully on a quiz, test, or exam.

5. BONUS: The fifth level of mastery: you understand the concept and technique so well that you can easily and confidently teach someone else how to do it. When you get to this level, you know that you’ve REALLY got it!

Until you get to the point where you have at least “level four mastery” and consistently get the answer correct on problems of a similar type (and understand why), you aren’t really prepared.

For example, a student will passively understand someone else’s demonstration and think, “Great! I got it! I am ready to rock this test!” However, that is only level 1 mastery. Just because you can follow along with someone’s demonstration of how to bake muffins from scratch doesn’t mean your own muffins will taste good. Watching someone else do it is ONLY the first step.

Another place where major problems can happen is when students think, “Great! I did two of these problem types correctly and I understand them. I am ready to get an A!” That is like getting the basketball in the net twice and thinking that you’re ready to win the next game. It takes consistent training and practice to get consistent results.

Do you wish you knew exactly to do to get consistently awesome results in math?

Are you tired of doing everything you know to help your daughter or son prepare for math tests, only to experience soul-crushing defeat time after time?

Are you ready to invest in high-level, one-on-one, super-customized support that is not typical tutoring?

Then click here to get started with your special application for my one-on-one math tutoring programs. Once your application is received, we’ll set up a special phone call to explore whether or not the way I work would be a good fit for you!

I can’t wait to connect!

Related posts:
On Optimal Challenge
Need to remember something important? Breaking news!
“It’s eraser time!” (And other math mantras)
“Interesting,” not “Complicated” (Math Mantras Part 2)

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

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

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?

Just click here to get started with your special application for my one-on-one math tutoring programs.

Once your application is received, we’ll set up a special complimentary phone call to get clear if it would be a fit for me to support your child with math. 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