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Posts Tagged as "6th grade"

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

Monday, January 22nd, 2018

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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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,
REBECCA

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

Posts Tagged as "6th grade"

The biggest failure of my educational career

Monday, October 24th, 2016

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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,
REBECCA

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
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Posts Tagged as "6th grade"

Stuck on a math problem? Call your brain on the phone

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Today’s tip is my first shot “in the wild” — on the streets of Times Square, NYC!! Super special thanks to my camerawoman and amazing friend, Missy Mazzoli, who made this episode possible.

A little while back, I was working with a student who got stuck on a math problem.

“Can I call my brain on the phone?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said. I didn’t know where this was going, but I wanted to see what my student meant.

She held her hand up to her ear in “fake phone” position. “Hello, brain?” she inquired. “I need some help with this problem. Okay, I need to do this… all right, and then I need to do that… Uh-huh….. Okay….All right the answer is….Thank you brain! I’ll talk to you later! Bye!”

It totally worked.

Why? It’s so silly. It’s a little crazy. Why does it work?

1. You’re talking out loud. Researchers in Spain found that students who talk through a problem out loud have a greater chance of solving the problem correctly. I’ve often wondered if part of the reason tutoring works so well is just because it forces students to talk through what they’re doing. Paradoxically, we are frequently conditioned in school to think that when we’re working on math by ourselves, it needs to be a silent solitary activity, but talking through a problem out loud can really get the math juices flowing.

2. It’s totally proactive. Instead of letting your eyes glaze over, moving on to the next problem, saying “I hate this and I’ll never get it,” or giving up completely, my student took an active approach.

3. You’re trusting yourself and relying on yourself. Even though my student was characterizing her brain as something “else,” she was really trusting herself, trusting that she had some untapped inner resources she could access if she came at the problem from a different angle.

4. You’re being yourself. When you’re really yourself when you’re doing math, you plug into all kinds of resources that you would cut yourself off from if you believe you have to behave a certain way or be a certain kind of person in order to succeed at math.

5. It’s a little bit silly. In my experience, being a little silly — doing something crazy like “calling your brain on the phone” or doing math in a silly voice — not only keeps things fun but also prevents students from shutting down or going into panic mode. And like talking things through out loud, it seems to open up more possibilities.

I’m proud to report that my student has used this same technique several times since she first introduced it to me, with great success.

So today’s tip is, when you’re stuck on a math problem, talk it out!!! Whether that means calling your brain on the phone, just talking it through out loud in a silly voice — or in a normal voice.

Have you ever called your brain on the phone? Is there a special (possibly silly) technique you like to use when you’re stuck? Leave a comment because I’d love to hear all about it!

Related posts:
How to help kids be okay with things being hard
When in doubt, talk it out
Is multi-sensory learning hardwired into our humanity?

Posts Tagged as "6th grade"

Case Study: A 5th grader emerges as a successful student and enthusiastic mathematician

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

When this student first came to me, her dad was concerned that she had lost interest in learning math. During the school year, it also emerged that the student was in danger of not passing fifth grade.

Here’s what worked for this student:

Supporting the student’s own efforts to be proactive
During one of our first math tutoring sessions, I pointed out to this student that numbers that end in zero are even. Somehow she hadn’t learned that before. To help herself remember this new fact, she spontaneously made up new lyrics to the tune of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” They went like this: “Even! Even! Numbers with a zero are even!”

The next time we met, I added to her original lyrics: “Even! Even! Numbers that end in zero are even! So are the numbers 2, 4, 6, 8. They are all even, and they’re all great! They’re even!”

She would sing the zero song whenever this topic came up. Not only did my student create a great way to remember this fact (and inspire me too), but singing also allowed her express her enthusiasm for math and let off a little steam.

Another time, she suggested we create a “Mistakes Log Blog” to help her analyze what mistakes she had made on a test that we were reviewing. I ran with this idea. When she wrote down where she’d made mistakes, the patterns became much clearer to her. In later sessions, she’d refer back to the “Mistakes Log Blog” when analyzing errors.

“Field trips”
In order to make concepts more concrete, we’d take field trips—to my living room, where we’d practice perimeter and area by measuring my rug, or to the kitchen, where we’d measure a round plate to show where the number pi comes from.

At my kitchen sink, we poured water between different containers to show the relationships between units of measurement. And we acted out word problems using food from my refrigerator. Field trips were way more engaging to her than sitting with a worksheet, so I tried to maximize this.

Multi-sensory learning
From taking all those field trips during math tutoring, I noticed my student benefited from hands-on learning. So we also used fraction overlays and math blocks from Math U See to build fractions and do “fraction of a number” problems. Using the manipulatives made abstract concepts concrete for my student, and really helped her “get” the material. Plus it was fun!

When I realized my student didn’t know her 9s times table yet, I taught her the Rockin’ the Standards song for the 9s, to the tune of the hokey pokey, so she would remember them forever. I also taught her the Place Value Rap to remember key facts about place value. Not only were these songs a great chance to stand up and play air guitar, but they were also an excellent way to internalize crucial material and build on the success of the Zero Song.

Managing focus
During the year, we met twice a week for either 60 or 90 minutes. If I noticed my student was losing focus, we’d take a break to jump up and down to rejuvenate ourselves. After a while, my student would ask to jump when she was having trouble concentrating. It might sound silly, but I was proud that my student was starting to pay attention to whether or not she was paying attention and that she knew how to refocus herself. (Thanks to Gretchen Rubin for inspiring me to try this!)

Brainology
When I realized my student was in danger of not passing fifth grade, I decided to use Carol Dweck’s Brainology curriculum, one of the most powerful motivational tools I know of to address one of the underlying cause of low achievement: low motivation. For several weeks, we would spend part of each tutoring session doing Brainology, which uses basic neuroscience to teach students that their brains are plastic and they can grow their intelligence.

My student enthusiastically embraced the Brainology program. She talked about the characters like they were her personal friends, and she responded to questions like “what is happening in your brain when you think?” with answers like, “Neurons are sending messages within a trillion connections.” She also used Brainology concepts like getting enough sleep and eating “brain food” while she was taking her end-of-year standardized tests (the CRCT).

The results

Three or four weeks after we began working together, her teachers reported a positive change in this student’s attitude. She started sitting in front, participating, and speaking up when she didn’t understand.

After about sixth or seven months of meeting twice a week, this student mastered the material, pulled up her grades, and successfully passed fifth grade. Her final math test score was so high that she was only either 10 points or 10 questions away from placing into the advanced math class in sixth grade. I am so proud of her!

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