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

Topic: tips for parents

Does having a math tutor make you a “loser”?

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

DSCN7627 (745x1024)
Playing my cello… in Central Park!!!!!!!!!!!!!

So in April and May I was taking a special acting class in New York.

Towards the end, my acting teacher encouraged me to start playing my cello on the street in New York City to help me become WAY more comfortable with playing in front of other people.

And part of me was like…WHAT??? This sounds

a) insane

and

b) terrifying!!!!!!!!!!

And then this weekend, I decided to try it. I put on an awesome outfit with crowns and feathers in my hair and took the subway to a super special spot in Central Park with great acoustics and beautiful mosaics, and I played from my heart.

And people stopped and listened … and it was so much fun!!! And I think this is just the beginning…

DSCN7629 (762x1024)
Victoriously holding my cello over my head after performing in the beautiful tunnel!

I can tell you right now, this NEVER would have happened without having my acting teacher mentor. The idea never would have even crossed my mind. I would still be thinking that playing out on the street was insane and terrifying, instead of having the experience of going to a beautiful place and then an audience just shows up and we have fun together!

So does having a mentor, a teacher, or a tutor, mean that you’re a loser?

This is something I’ve really been thinking about a lot.

I hear this all the time. Parents will tell me, “I don’t want to take my kid to a tutoring center because they’re worried someone will see them and then they’ll feel embarrassed/ashamed/humiliated…” Or even, “My kid isn’t allowed to have a tutor if they’re taking an honors class…”

And I’m like, WHAT?????????????

It’s like…every single athlete playing in the world cup… did they get there just by showing up to soccer practice? No frikkin’ way!! They had personal trainers, massage therapists, sports kinesiologists, and it wasn’t because they were “losers” or “not talented” or “just not a football/soccer person”… because they were committed to their own growth and their own vision and they knew they would get there way faster with support.

For some reason in our culture, we understand that if you get support with sports, it’s because you are committed to becoming stronger, faster, more flexible. We see that kid with a personal trainer or a private quarterback coach and think, wow, they are REALLY into it! But somehow there’s this like unspoken assumption that if someone has a tutor in academics, it’s because they are “not smart” or “a bad student” or even “a loser.”

WHY do we think like this?

The first time I ever heard of someone having a professional tutor, I was in high school. One of my classmates in my (notoriously challenging and amazing) high school history class mentioned that our teacher had encouraged him to get a professional tutor to help him with his essays for her class.

And by the way, his tutor spoke five languages and thought in Chinese (even though it wasn’t his first language).

I thought, wow, that sounds really cool!!!!!! My classmate got to hang out with a super interesting and unique adult who was mentoring him so he could master the skill of writing history essays.

It was just about receiving support from someone farther along the path in developing a very specific and valuable skill that happened to be challenging for him at that particular point in his journey.

I was almost jealous, and definitely intrigued!

I was not like, “OH, this kid is a LOSER!”

So why do people think that if they have a tutor, it will make them a loser?

I think it all comes down to three subconscious misunderstandings about how true mastery works:

Subconscious misunderstanding one:

“You either have it or you don’t.”
(This is also known as “fixed mindset” – however much intelligence or ability you’ve got, that’s how much you have, and it’s never going to change.) In this case, for example, being tutored means that you “don’t have it”.

Subconscious misunderstanding two:

“Support doesn’t create true mastery.” This can also look like, tutoring is just about getting by, getting through it, scraping by, and surviving by the seat of your pants.

Subconscious misunderstanding three:

“You get to the top on your own.” So if you’re getting support, then you’re not one of those ‘special people’ who ‘got to the top’ working in isolation.

Fortunately, these are all actually just misunderstandings, and they are not true. (Phew!)

Here is the truth.

1. If you “don’t have it” with math, you can acquire it with persistent, incremental effort.

2. True support does create true mastery. A good math tutor will help you achieve complete security with what you’re working on so it becomes part of who you are and you can truly thrive.

3. Everyone who “gets to the top” or “makes it” gets there with support.
It’s not black or white – it’s about a continual upward spiral, continual course correction, continually stretching out of your comfort zone into the growth zone.

So here are three easy ways to help your kids understand that having a tutor does not mean that you are a loser:

1. Model and nurture a growth mindset. There is no such thing as a “math person” or a “non-math person” – we are all absolutely capable of learning math. If you’re confused about something, it’s just because you need to practice it more, or hear it explained in a way that makes more sense to you, or both. It doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with you. You can literally grow the part of your brain that understands math.

2. Mastery orientation. Focus on truly supporting the process of mastery. Don’t settle for tutoring that’s just about getting by, getting the homework done, or getting the grades. Focus on supporting your kid in deeply understanding the concepts until they become part of who they are and even a form of self-expression.

3. Normalize support. Explain that everyone who achieves greatness – even if their path is extremely unique – gets there by working with those who are farther along the path. Bill Gates uses an executive coach. Soccer stars, musicians, actors, artists – they all get mentored. Having a mentor is just a sign that you are deeply committed to your own growth and bringing your own gifts and vision and passion into the world. And it happens a LOT faster when you have help.

Would you like your passionate, visionary kid to experience the kind of accelerated math transformation that can happen with true math mentoring?

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.

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

Related posts:
Dealing with overwhelm (2)
What I learned on the streets of Paris, and in a Dutch grocery store
What a Balinese dancing queen taught me about praise and encouragement
How to use the summer to catch up or get ahead in math without burning out or going crazy

Topic: tips for parents

What to do when your kid makes a math mistake

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

In my work with my students, it’s really essential to me to also create a relaxed, playful environment. 

And a big part of this is how I handle it when students make mistakes.  I create a growth-oriented environment by asking very specific questions which support their mastery process.

Here are four simple ways that you can also respond to your kid’s mistakes in a positive way that will really support their long-term mastery. 

1.  Don’t be afraid to let your kid know that they did something wrong when you’re working through math together.   When we’re learning, it’s super important to get feedback as to whether or not we’re on the right track or off the rails!

Keep it lighthearted and matter-of-fact.  It’s no big deal.  There is no sense of failure or punishment.  You’re just giving them feedback – it is just information.

A lot of times I will say, “Actually, no” if a student makes a mistake, or just say, “No,” with a smile.

You can also use a question to direct them to re-do a step.  Like if you see them write out “7+7=15,” you can say, “What is 7+7?”  I probably use this one the most of all.

2.  If they don’t know they made a mistake, or you’re not sure if they know there was a mistake, ask them to find the mistake.  Invite them to locate it.

I prefer to use the specific wording, “Where’s the mistake?”  Or, “OK, where’s the mistake?” as opposed to “Can you find the mistake?”  (I wouldn’t be asking them if I didn’t believe they could.)  

3.  If they know they made a mistake, ask them, “What’s the mistake?” to invite them to tell you exactly what it was.   Invite them to analyze it.

Routinely analyzing one’s mistakes helps you raise your awareness and increase your odds of not making the same mistake next time.

A lot of times a kid will exclaim, “Oh, I understand what I did wrong!!” once you’ve started to re-do a problem that they originally did incorrectly, and this question is a great way to invite them to really break down exactly what happened.

4.  Don’t be afraid to talk about your kid’s mistakes on tests and quizzes.

Research has shown that if we don’t talk to kids about their mistakes and failures, kids internalize the message that they have done something so shameful it can’t even be spoken about.  (Even though this usually is just an unintentional byproduct of adults not knowing what to say, or not wanting to “make the kid feel bad.”)

If the student hasn’t already been asked to do this for school, you can invite them to analyze their errors by making a log where they identify the error, analyze why it happened, and correct it.  Just like analyzing it verbally, this really gives the student the opportunity to reflect, increase their awareness, and not make the same mistake next time.

One of my students, who loved doing this, and gave this process the playful name “Mistakes Log Blog.” 

And just be sure to keep it lighthearted – it’s not a chore or a punishment, it’s just an opportunity for further insight and growth.

If talking to your kid about their math mistakes seems overwhelming, just start using one of these steps to begin.  As long as you’re lighthearted and matter-of-fact, you’ll be helping your kid develop their capacity to reflect and analyze and think critically about their own work, with is a major life meta-skill that goes way beyond math!

Are you afraid that your kid’s math mistakes are going to close doors for them down the line and prevent them from living their dreams?  Are you tired of trying to handle this alone?  Are you ready to receive high-level one-on-one support? 

Then I invite you to apply for my one-on-one math tutoring programs. To begin your application, just click here.

Once your application is received, we’ll set up a special, complimentary appointment to talk about what’s going on in your kid’s math situation, and explore whether or not the way I work would make sense for your family! 

I’m excited to hear from you!

Sending you love,
REBECCA

Related posts:
Tip of the day: what to do when your kid makes a math mistake
Case Study: a 5th grader emerges as an enthusiastic student and confident mathematician
Tips for a happy math year: normalize error
How to help kids be okay with things being hard

Topic: tips for parents

How to know when it’s time to stop tutoring your own kid

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

2014-01-16 09.32.28
You want math to feel like a fun adventure through a magical forest… not like you’re lost in the wilderness without a trail!

You want to help your kid so badly! You are willing to move heaven and earth to help your son or daughter understand math better.

But you’re struggling to help your kid with math by yourself. It’s painful.

Sometimes it might just be a question of working with your kid when you’re not so tired, getting materials that feel like a better fit, or adjusting your approach. But sometimes it’s more than that.

How do you know when you’re not the right person to be helping your own kid?

I haven’t seen anyone else write about this yet, but it’s been coming up a lot recently in the families that I work with, so it’s clear to me that it’s time to share…. how to know when someone else should be doing the tutoring – even if you have been willing to do it yourself.

1. Tutoring your own kid has become toxic to your parent/child relationship. This can go both ways. For example, when one family that now works with me first approached me, the 5th-grade student refused to work on her math homework at all…. unless she was sitting next to her mom. The student believed her mom’s presence was calming, but she was still so anxious that it totally stressed her mom out to have this arrangement! This was negatively impacting their entire mother/daughter relationship.

2. No matter how hard you try, you can’t explain it to your kid in a way they can understand. This can take many different forms. Sometimes even if you are a professional mathematician, you won’t be able to explain it in a way that your kid can connect with. Or maybe you have a method that is crystal-clear to you, but that leaves your kid completely fuzzy or frustrated. Maybe you vividly remember how you learned it growing up, but there seems to be no connection with the way your kid is being taught the material now.

Sometimes this can also look like “Your kid resists your help” or “Your kid won’t listen to you about math” (because they might just not understand how you explain it–even though they still love you!!)

3. Helping your kid with math is taking over your entire life. Sometimes your kid will understand the way you approach it, but helping them becomes a huge project that eclipses everything else. You might find yourself spending hours every single day working on math with them, just wishing that you had time for a normal evening where you could cook dinner and enjoy it as a family without worrying about math.

4. Your help is not creating fluency.
Sometimes a parent will be able to help their kid “get through it” by being persistent, working backwards, and guessing and checking, but you can sense that even though your kid is “getting it done,” you know they’re not really getting it. It’s like they’re limping through Barcelona using a phrase book instead of actually learning how to speak Spanish fluently, and if they come up against something a little out of the ordinary, they only know how to ask where the bathroom is or how to get to the train station. You know this level of understanding is not going to get them where they need to go even if on the surface things look “OK.”

5. You can absolutely do it, but it’s not how you want to spend your time. You can explain it. Your kids get it when you help them. But when you come home from work, you just want to be a parent. You don’t want to have to be their teacher and tutor. You just want to have time to relax and hang out with your kids during the few precious last years you have together under the same roof.

6. What you’re doing isn’t helping. This is the absolute bottom line. Sometimes a parent and a kid will be working together for hours every day, and the kid is still struggling. The parent’s first impulse might be to work together with the kid EVEN MORE, but don’t more of what isn’t working is not going to make the situation better.

Do these scenarios sound familiar?

Are you ready to invest in high-level one-on-one support so you can just be a mom or dad, trusting that your kid’s math mastery is completely being taken care of?

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.

Sending you love,
REBECCA

Related posts:
Tips on how to help your kid with their math homework
Three simple steps to tell if your kid actually understands what’s going on in math
How to find a good tutor
The rhyme and reason of making mistakes

Topic: tips for parents

How to get your kid talking about math

Thursday, January 9th, 2014
A lock growing out of a tree?

A lock growing out of a tree?

That’s what I found on the trunk of a holly tree in my neighborhood!!

Who did this and what does it mean? It is completely intriguing to me – a door lock that looks like it’s been grafted onto (or growing out of) this beautiful tree!

A lot of times, kids can feel that talking about math is like a door they just can’t open all the way.

Maybe they know some of the words, but really expressing what they understand or asking about what they don’t understand – that might feel like just a tiny sliver, like they can only open that door a crack.

I want to share a powerful question I use all the time to get kids to open up about talking about math.

This is especially helpful when you want your kid to explain something back to you to really check that they understand.

After spending some time working through problems together, I will ask, “How would you explain this to your best friend?”

A lot of the time that is all it takes to get them talking. Instead of worrying about not using the right “math words” or making a mistake, they’re able to connect to the feeling of just helping their best friend.

Occasionally, a student will be totally tongue-tied even with this question – and that’s OK. That usually just means they need to spend more time doing the concept together before trying to explain it to someone else.

Also, kids can even use this technique if they are completely by themselves. This can actually be a bridge towards encouraging students to talk themselves through problems more, like we talked about in my recent post about talking math out when you’re in doubt!

Do you want your kid to experience math as an intriguing, fun puzzle, instead of a monster in the closet?

Is the pain of your kid’s math challenges actually causing you pain as their parent?

Are you ready for high-level one-on-one 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.

Sending you love,
REBECCA

Checking out this mysterious holly tree that the lock "grew" out of

Checking out this mysterious holly tree that the lock “grew” out of

Related posts:
Is multi-sensory learning hard-wired into humanity?
When in doubt, talk it out
When a math problem just takes for-EV-ah
What to do when your kid makes a math mistake

Topic: tips for parents

How to experience math as your own unique creation

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

A great way to check if your son or daughter really understands what they’re working on is – once they’ve already spent some time practicing a particular problem type – to ask them to create their own original “designer” problem.

I frequently use the words, “Now I want to see a [student’s name] Original!” (Like if I was tutoring a student named Sally, I would say, “Now I want to see a Sally Original!”)

Why does this help?

1. First, being asked to create an original problem quickly reveals whether or not the student has truly internalized what they’re working on. If they can create and solve their own unique problem similar to what they’ve been working on, it means that they understand the material on a deeper level than just being able to DO it – they can actually CREATE it from scratch.

2. Second, it’s fun! Usually kids are really excited for the opportunity to create their own problem.

3. Third, when students do this, sometimes they’ll actually create and solve something much more complex than they have been working on. It’s like they want to take it to the next level, and they can without anyone stopping them, because they’re totally in the driver’s seat.

(Also, sometimes the opposite will happen, where a student will be reluctant to do this because they haven’t been asked to do it before, or they don’t feel ready. If this happens, you can just offer to go first or take turns, or if you really sense they’re communicating they need more practice first, do more practice problems before coming back and asking them to create their own.)

4. Fourth, it really helps them take ownership of their own learning. When you’re making and solving your own problem, it means you understand math is something you can CREATE – not just something random you’re being asked to do. This is a major confidence builder.

And it also really brings home the fact that math is a human creation, with its own beautiful idiosyncrasies!

Are you tired of not even having time to create dinner for your family because your kid’s math homework has become an overwhelming family-wide project? Do you wish that your kid could experience math creatively, as a source of fun, confidence, and security, instead of dread or incompetence? Are you ready to invest in high-level, super-customized tutoring 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.

Sending you love,
REBECCA

Related posts:
Stuck on a math problem? Call your brain on the phone!
How to incorporate a tutor into your homeschooling or unschooling environment
A Cosmic Imperative to Customize
Need to remember something important? Breaking news!

Topic: tips for parents

Tips for a Happy Math Year – #5 – Make Word Problems Routine

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

It’s time for our next tip in my special series, tips for a happy math year!!!


Make word problems routine.
The reason why our kids study math is so they can solve real world problems. Yet word problems sometimes get a bad rap. While translating English into math is a separate skill that goes above and beyond simple computation, everyone can develop this ability.

If your kid’s math book includes word problems, invite them to do one a day just for fun, even if it’s not assigned for homework. You can get free word problem worksheets at teachnology.

You can also make up your own word problems together while running errands or at mealtimes. A lot of kids like to make up their own math problems, and it helps them feel like math is something that is part of them, that they can create, instead of something arbitrary that comes from a textbook.

Practicing this can be empowering and fun at the same time.

Does your son or daughter struggle with word problems? Do you wish your kid had enough in their toolkit to be a confident, creative math problem-solver? Do you dream of your kid being inspired to see math as an ongoing source of inspiration?

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 excited to connect!

Sending you love,
REBECCA

Related posts:
Case Study: a 7th grader goes from “I don’t get it” to getting 100 percents
When in doubt, talk it out
Case Study: a 5th grader emerges as a confident student and enthusiastic mathematician

Topic: tips for parents

Tips for a Happy Math Year – #4 – Systematic Review!

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

It’s time for tip #4 from my super special series, Tips for a Happy Math Year!

Systematic review helps. Incorporating review into your kid’s math routine will really help them retain what they’ve already learned. If your book includes mixed review that’s not assigned, encourage them to do a few review problems after they finish their homework. Many books have review built into the end of every section, or every few sections, and it’s usually clearly labeled. If the book you’re using doesn’t include review problems, do a “time capsule challenge” and quiz your kid on two or three random questions from previous chapters.

From personal experience, I vividly remember that my happiest and most successful math year ever, in 9th grade Geometry, my teacher (who was awesome in many other ways), also consistently assigned us the mixed review sections. So instead of things sliding all the way into the category of “uh… have I ever done this before?” or “um, what does that symbol mean again?” it was more of a retrieval from slightly-dusty-and-not-so-far-away, and then into the category of “oh, yeah, I remember this now!”

I routinely use systematic review with my own private clients, and I encourage you to do the same!

Are you finding that helping your kid with their math homework is becoming a project that is exhausting you as a parent? Do you stay up late night after night to help, but still feel uncertain that you’re actually telling your kid the right thing… and then have difficulty sleeping, because you’re still worried about your kid’s math situation? Do you wish that your kid had the tools to thrive right now in math, and the foundation they need to succeed going forward? Do you wish that someone else could do this for you?

Then we totally need to talk!

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.

Sending you love,
REBECCA

Related articles:
Tips for how to help your kid with their math homework
Need to remember something important? Breaking news!
Three Simple Tips for the Night Before Your Math Exam
Math Study Skills Quiz

Topic: tips for parents

Tips for a Happy Math Year – #3

Monday, October 7th, 2013

It’s time for tip #3 in my special series, Tips for a Happy Math Year!

And here it is…


Normalize error.
Getting an answer wrong is just part of the natural learning process. So is getting an answer right. Neither situation calls for high drama. If a kid makes a mistake, say, “Okay, try again,” and ask them what’s the first thing they have to do. This tip comes from Doug Lemov’s great book, Teach Like a Champion.

If you notice your son or daughter beating themselves up over their mistakes, saying things like, “I’m such a bad kid since I got that answer wrong,” “I’m really not good at this,” or “I guess I’m just not a math person,” explain that everyone makes mistakes while they’re learning.

Normalizing error is a powerful way to support your daughter or son in developing a “growth mindset” and being resilient in the face of a challenge – whether that challenge is in math, or in life!

Would you like your kid’s math experience to be less like crying themselves to sleep over their math homework, and more like twirling a sparkly parasol of confident self-expression?

Less feeling like they’re stuck in a mire from which they fear they cannot extricate themselves, and more like Indiana Jones on a great math adventure?

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.

We’ll get clear on what’s going on in your kid’s math situation and explore whether or not it would be a good fit for us to work together!

Related posts:
The rhyme and reason of making mistakes
Failure is not the enemy
I think I see a mathematician!
Algebra tears

Topic: tips for parents

Tips for a Happy Math Year – #2

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Hey there! It’s time for the second tip in my five part series of Tips for a Happy Math Year!

And here it is…

Slow can be fast. Sometimes kids need more time to digest or absorb information than is planned for in their classroom curriculum. Maybe their teacher expects them to memorize all of their times tables from 2s through the 12s by the end of the grade, and but they’re panicky and spotty about their 4s.

It’s okay. If your kid needs more time, just keep working on it together and be patient. It’s better to thoroughly learn one new multiplication fact a day than to try to cram stuff in their brain that’s not sticking because the pace is too fast.

In my experience as a tutor, it is far more powerful and paradoxically, faster, to slowly learn something really well the first time, instead of having to go back and re-learn it over and over, or deal with the repercussions of everything else that doesn’t make sense because the prerequisite concepts are shaky. It’s all about staying focused on the process and not giving up.

Do you know that your kid needs more time than they’re getting in the classroom, but feel like it’s just not possible for you to give them that one-on-one undivided customized attention yourself? Do you want to invest in your kid having a safe space to ask any question they want without feeling embarrassed, and get all the practice they need to truly get math deep in their bones? Do you dream of your kid having a huge smile on their face about math, and embodying the attitude that, “hey, nothing can stop me from choosing to go for my passion, because I know I can do math, and it will never get in my way!”?

TJust 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 excited to connect!

Sending you love,
REBECCA

Related posts:
Tips for a happy math year – #1
How to learn math when you’re in the car
How to find a good math tutor
When a math problem just takes For-EV-ah
How to help kids be okay with things being hard

Topic: tips for parents

When a math problem just takes for-EV-ah

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

What do you do when a math problem just takes, like, for-EV-ah?

In other parts of life, it’s considered normal if it takes a little while to …. complete a book report, learn how to serve a tennis ball, or bake a cake.

But a lot of times, when a math problem takes a while, many people start to feel like something is “wrong.” Why haven’t I figured it out by now? Did I take a wrong turn 15 minutes ago? Am I lost? OMG when am I EVER going to finish my math homework?!

How do you deal with these situations? Watch today’s video for specific tips!

Do you wish there was a way to actually enjoy math problems that take a long time to finish?

Then I invite you to apply for my very special one-on-one math tutoring programs!

Just click here to get started with your special application. 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 looking forward to connecting with you!

Sending you love,
REBECCA

Related posts:
Malcolm Gladwell on Math and Persistence (1)
When Persistence Isn’t Enough
Interesting, not complicated
It’s not just about math