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Want to meet at the NCGS conference?

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

Hey there! If you’re planning to be at the National Coalition of Girls Schools Conference this June in Richmond…

I just wanted to let you know that I’ll be giving a talk at the conference:

“Secrets of the Math Mastery Mindset:
How to help girls who are failing, freaking out, or secretly crying themselves to sleep about math
to rise to the top of the class and transform their relationship with math forever”

Wed, June 24
11.15 am or 11.45 am (2 back-to-back 25-minute sessions, you can attend either one)
St Catherine’s School Dining Hall
(look for the table with purple butterflies)
Richmond, VA

You are invited!

Let me know if you’ll be at the conference – I’d love to see you there!

Sending you a big hug!

“Now I feel connected to math” [video interview with my student Jessica]

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

I don’t normally post testimonials here on my blog – they have their own beautiful area over on my testimonials page – but I am just so excited to share this new video interview with my student, Jessica!

In the video, Jessica talks with me about what math was like before we started working together on Algebra 2 and pre-calculus – how she was really upset, didn’t like learning math, and how it was really, really bad.

And she also spoke from the heart about how now she feels inspired, connected, and genuinely LIKES math!!

Jessica is one of my favorite students of all time, and I’m just so thrilled to share her experience with all of you!

Thank you so much, Jessica, for sharing your experience with the world!

For those who’d rather read than watch, click here for the transcript:
(more…)

How to check if your kid actually understands what you just said

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

Wait. Does your kid REALLY understand what you just said?

Here is a super simple way to check if your kid understands what you’re explaining to them.

After you demonstrate a math problem, just ask them to teach it back to you like they’re the teacher and you’re the student.

This gives the student a chance to be an even more active learner. They have to take more initiative than they would if you were just explaining it to them, or even if you were doing it interactively together.

It reinforces what you just explained at a deeper level!

And it helps you get clear on whether or not they understood what you just did!

If they confidently explain it back to you, awesome! Move on to the next practice problem!

If they don’t want to explain it, can’t explain it, or try to explain it and say something incorrect, then you just got great feedback on where they’re at and you know exactly what to address.

Would you like your visionary, passionate, unique kid to receive a completely customized math tutoring experience that truly supports them in mastering and internalizing the concepts? Send me an email at rebecca@zooktutoring.com and we’ll get you started with my super special application process to get clear on whether or not the magical way I work is a match for you and your family!

Related posts:
What to do when your kid makes a math mistake
How to know when it’s time to stop tutoring your own kid
How to get your kid talking about math
How to experience math as your own unique creation

The secret ingredients of true math mastery

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

Rebecca Zook i

That’s me – playing my cello in Central Park!

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!

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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!

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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?
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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

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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!