Rebecca Zook - Math Tutoring Online

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Posts Tagged as "customization"

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

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would you like your daughter or son to go from feeling like math is a foreign language to experiencing math as genuinely enjoyable, meaningful, and fascinating?

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

Once your application is received, we’ll set up a special complimentary phone call to get clear if it would be a fit for me to support your child with math. I can’t wait to connect!

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

Posts Tagged as "customization"

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,

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

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

Posts Tagged as "customization"

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

Thursday, September 1st, 2016

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Are you ready to invest in high-level support?

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

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

I can’t wait to hear from you!

Sending you love,

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

Posts Tagged as "customization"

How to learn math when you’re in the car

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

Do you find that your son or daughter is rocking out with their math facts and formulas – and then at the end of the summer, it’s like they’ve never heard of the nines times table? Or are you worried that your kid’s been trying to learn their math facts all year long, and it’s just not clicking?

A great way to learn or review math facts and formulas over the summer is to use math songs!

No worksheets. No flash cards. No silence.

What?? Yes. I do this myself frequently with my students to help them memorize and recall essential material easily, while having fun.

Whether you’re just listening, singing along with the recording, or belting them at the top of your lungs while you’re unloading the groceries (realizing you’ve unwittingly memorized them), math songs are a great way to move these key concepts deep into your long-term memory.

You can download them on your mp3 player and listen to them in the car while driving to the pool, going to ballet class or hockey camp, and even while you’re on a big family road trip.

I’ve listened to a lot of math songs on a quest to find ones that don’t suck and don’t insult my musical intelligence (or my students’ musical intelligence). Here are my three current favorite math song sources:

Rockin’ the standards. A school teacher created short, awesome, totally rockin’ songs for the times tables, concepts like mean, median, and mode, and shapes like quadrilaterals and triangles. Totally worth the price of the download (here) – or you can listen to them for free on youtube.

Multiplication hip-hop for kids.
If you’re more into rap than rock, these hip hop songs offer a great way to memorize the times tables up through the 12s. (“We don’t cry – we multiply!”)

An awesome music video about pi. This beautiful video has a super catchy song that helps students easily remember the first six digits of pi, with verses that explain where pi comes from and what it means. It is also really fun to do the chorus call and response with your kid!

This video also tends to be a great conversation starter for students who are new to the concept of pi. And it’s a big confidence booster to know not just the first three digits—which most kids learn—but the first six digits—which most people never learn!

Do you really want your kid not just to be singing their math facts loud and proud, but also using their math facts and formulas in ways that are meaningful and intuitive to them?

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 really clear about what’s going on with your kid’s math situation and explore whether or not it would be a fit for us to work together.

Related posts:
Surface area of a cylinder song
What does pi sound like?
What a Balinese dancing queen taught me about praise and encouragement

Posts Tagged as "customization"

The secret ingredients of true math mastery

Tuesday, February 10th, 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
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.


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?

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 explore whether my magical one-on-one math tutoring programs are a fit for you and your family!

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

Posts Tagged as "customization"

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?

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

Once your application is received, we’ll set up a special phone call to explore whether or not my magical math tutoring programs would be a fit for your family! I’m excited to connect with you!

Posts Tagged as "customization"

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

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some of the ways we created this transformation:

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

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

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

Would you like your creative, unique, passionate child to have this same experience of being completely supported in experiencing math mastery?

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

Once your application is received, we’ll set up a special phone call to explore whether or not my magical math tutoring programs would be a fit for your family! I’m excited to connect with you!

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

Posts Tagged as "customization"

What changes when someone believes in you?

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

Math Butterfly

(Here’s a “math butterfly” one of my students and I created during a recent tutoring session!)

What changes when someone believes in you?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

I just had a huge performance breakthrough on my cello with my acting coach, and I’m getting ready for my quarterly business retreat with my business mentor. I’m going to be spending over a week surrounded by people who love me and believe in my highest potential and biggest vision.

In both of these situations, I feel so safe and accepted to really go for it, and I cannot believe how much better my music and my business and teaching gets as a result.

It completely changes my concept of what I’m capable of. It makes me believe that my dreams really can come true, because I can see it already happening.

Let me tell you, though, it hasn’t always been like this! At ALL.

Just as an example, not so long ago, when I was in graduate school for cello performance, I went to audition for two different summer chamber music festivals.

At the first audition, the person I was auditioning for radiated skepticism about me and my abilities. I didn’t feel very comfortable – I could tell she thought I had something to prove. She asked pointedly, “Do you have anything fast you could play for me?” I don’t even remember how I responded to that, but I remember thinking that if she accepted me into her festival, she would think she was doing me a favor, and I would feel seriously inferior.

The very next day, I went to audition for an amazing violinist, and took the commuter rail all the way out to New Jersey to meet her at the festival location. Her demeanor was so warm and welcoming and enthusiastic. I felt so comfortable!

I had fun playing for her, and when I was finished, she said very firmly, “You DEFINITELY have what it takes to be accepted to this festival!”

So guess which festival I ended up attending?

Yes, the one with the enthusiastic and welcoming teacher!

This experience was a real turning point for me. At this festival, I played the Cello 2 part in the Mendelssohn String Octet, which is both one of my most favorite-est pieces of music in the WORLD, and has an unbelievably hairy and notorious cello solo at the beginning of the last movement – that I had to learn!

This amazing violinist teacher went completely out of her way to set me up to really rock it. She even demonstrated how to play this solo holding a GRAPEFRUIT instead of using her fingers! And her musical partner and husband, also an incredible teacher, gave me a great fingering. I learned how to do it!

When we performed, I just went for it. And the audience response was so phenomenal. We were playing in a church, and the audience members stood up and BANGED on the pews, they were so excited! We were riveting!

This experience gave me the rock-solid conviction that classical music can be just as electrifying as anything else – and can truly bring an audience to its feet with RAUCOUS joy, not just polite or intellectual appreciation!

Looking back on this experience, it is so funny to me that that first person I auditioned for was skeptical that I could play fast. Because the second person, the amazing violinist, trusted me and helped me learn a SUPER FAST cello solo that I completely rocked (if I do say so myself)!

So what changes when someone believes in you?

I think it’s really simple.

1. When someone believes in you, they automatically ask you to do more.

2. Ideally, they also give you the TOOLS to actually DO it.

3. You have the opportunity and the tools to go beyond what you thought you were capable of.

4. You experience mastery! Breakthroughs happen! People respond with incredible enthusiasm! You are so excited and happy!

5. You believe in yourself, and you keep going. You begin to inhabit a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT REALITY.

Amazing, right? But – let’s look at the shadow side.

What happens when the teacher or mentor you trust DOESN’T believe in you?

1. They don’t trust you, so they don’t ask you to do more.

2. They usually don’t give you the tools to do more because they actually don’t know how to really help you, or they don’t even think you would “get it.” (A lot of times this is subconscious or unconscious on the teacher’s part, I’ve found.)

3. You don’t go beyond what you thought you were capable of. Your idea of what you can do starts to shrink.

4. Super important: you subconsciously pick up that they don’t believe in you and you start to entrain with that. You start to believe in yourself less, and you don’t do as well.

5. Or you start pouring an enormous amount of mental, emotional, and spiritual energy into defending yourself in your own mind. But inside you really just feel like you suck.

6. Downward spiral continues until you shift the pattern or reincarnate and start over!

Trust me, I know, because I’VE BEEN THERE! I have wasted so much time and energy with people who did not believe in me… constantly feeling insecure and defending myself in my mind. And I did not bloom. If I improved, it was so slow and painful. And I did not shine at my fullest light. This was not helpful for me or anyone else!

Two caveats:

1. Caveat #1: It doesn’t work if your teacher or mentor wants it for you more than you want it for yourself. You have to want it as much as your teacher or mentor, or even more.

2. Caveat #2: Don’t get me wrong. I know that there are times in life where we are going to encounter people who don’t believe in us. I’m not saying that we can only talk to or work with people who are constantly cheerleading us and telling us we’re awesome. (In fact, that’s not really what this awesome teacher did – she challenged me and gave me the tools I needed, which is so different from empty praise.)

But it IS up to us who we choose to study with and learn from. It IS up to us who we trust with our unfolding dreams. And it is so much more FUN and so much more POWERFUL and everything happens like a BAZILLION times FASTER when we choose to spend time with people who believe in us. It’s like the difference between picking crumbs off the floor of a MacDonalds and feasting on your favorite foods with people who love you!

If you or your kid is suffering in math right now because of a crisis of confidence – if you are feeling like your kid’s teacher doesn’t believe in them anymore, or you’re worried that your kid doesn’t believe in themselves, or that they feel deep down inside that “math doesn’t like me anymore” or “I’m not good at math” even though they’re busting their butt and trying their absolute best, I would love to talk to you.

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

Once your application is received, and we’ll get you all set up with a super special complimentary appointment, just me and you, to get clear on what’s going on with your kid’s math learning and whether or not it would make sense for us to work together!

Posts Tagged as "customization"

When doing your math homework just isn’t cutting it

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

What if math could make you jump for joy?

Did you ever take the Presidential fitness tests growing up? I vividly remember being asked, about once a year, to run a mile. Even though I got a lot of cardio growing up from serious ballet training, running the mile in middle school and high school pretty much always made me feel like I was going to die. Even if I actually ran the whole thing, there would always come a point midway where it literally felt like my lungs were bleeding inside.

Looking back at this experience, I was like, what the heck were the PE teachers thinking? If you only run a mile once a year of course you are going to suck at it and totally hate it!

What about actually creating a physically fit generation by nurturing students to LOVE to run… not just endure a yearly test? What about actually creating a generation of students who LOVE to do math… not just “get through it” to make the grade?

Whether you’re at the starting line of a race, or freaking out the night before a math test, whenever there’s a gap between what we’re being asked to do, and our preparation, it can create a lot of stress and fear.

And very frequently, the reason you will have trouble in math, or with your physical fitness test, is because – bottom line – the practice you’re assigned is NOT ENOUGH for you to really master the material and be prepared for the task.

Ironically, usually when you’re in that “freaking out” place, the last thing you want to do is do MORE of what is freaking you out… whether it’s running a mile or doing math problems.

It actually requires a significant shift in your mindset, away from “let me just get through this” to “how can I truly master this so I can consistently perform at the level I desire”… And working from that new place of aiming for true mastery is so much more rewarding and satisfying… you can even learn to LOVE what used to fill you with fear and despair.

I’ve seen this transformation in my own life and also in so many of my students’. What I’m talking about here is a much higher and deeper level of taking personal responsibility for your own experience. And the beautiful result of this is realizing that whether or not you “make it” is really, truly up to you, not your teacher’s agenda or assignment schedule.

So how do you DO this? Let me share some super easy to implement tips for how to customize your own “math workout” when you know that your homework alone is not enough.

Here are some great ways to create extra practice that matches what you’re already working on:

1. Super simple: if you are assigned the evens, do the odds for extra practice, or vice versa. Just be sure that you’re able to check your answers somehow so you know you’re practicing things correctly.

(extra tip: If the answers aren’t in the back of the book, you can check a lot of math problems by plugging them into and it will tell you what the solution is. Just a word to the wise: Wolfram Alpha is a very powerful tool, and it often includes a lot of extra information that might be way more than what you’re looking for or need, so don’t get overwhelmed by all the “extras” – just pay attention to the parts you need, like a solution for ‘x’, for example. Just trust that the more sophisticated stuff will make more sense later on in your math learning adventure!)

2. Look for an ‘extra practice’ section in the back of the book. Most math textbooks have extra practice in the back, but a lot of times teachers won’t mention it or assign problems from it. Again, it’s most valuable when the book also includes solutions to the problems so you can check your work.

3. Don’t wait until the end of the chapter to use the “study guide” or “chapter test” problems for extra practice. Most books have a chapter review at the end of each chapter which will include several extra problems for you to use, labeled by section. Use them for extra practice as you learn each section. You can always revisit them closer to the test if you like!

4. This is a little more advanced: make up your own problems by just changing a few of the numbers. This is best to use if you know there’s a way you can check your answers so you know you’re practicing correctly, or if you are feeling confident about checking your own work.

5. Invest in an extra math textbook for extra practice. (I am a fan of the Algebra 1 & Algebra 2 “Structure and Method: The Classic” books, which also make a good reference.) Use the table of contents and the index to find problems that are similar to the ones that you’re working on.

6. Get the solutions manual or teacher’s manual for your regular textbook.
When they’re available, they usually include answers to EVERY problem in the book, not just selected problems.

(Note: Please understand – my intention in suggesting this is absolutely not for students to take a shortcut and skip doing the work of the problem. It’s because it’s something I personally do when I’m learning a new math concept or technique and I want to make sure I can check ALL my work.)

7. Most important: be sure to choose problems where you can check your answers as you go, whether in the back of the book, from wolframalpha, or from a trusted friend or adult. If you don’t know if your answer is correct or not, it’s like practicing the violin wearing earplugs. The only way you know you’re really learning is if you’re getting feedback that you’re on the right track.

Are you tired of watching your kid do their homework diligently night after night, and then bomb their tests and quizzes? Do you dread trying to answer your kid’s questions about math? Are you ready to invest in totally customized support so that your son or daughter can see great results from their hard work and experience math as a source of joy and strength?

If you answered yes to those questions, you’re invited to apply to 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 explore what’s going on with your kid and get clear on whether or not it would be a fit for me to support them! I can’t wait to hear from you!

Sending you love,

Related posts:
How to experience math as your own unique creation
Three simple tips for the night before your math exam
Tips for how to help your kid with their math homework
Self-made heroes: the dancers of planet b-boy

Posts Tagged as "customization"

I just can’t keep this a secret any longer

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

For a long time, I’ve been hinting at this… or feeling like it was expressed already… but it’s time for me to just come out and say it, loud and proud.

I am not a typical tutor.

What I do is not typical tutoring.

My results are not typical.

My students are not typical.

In fact, I’m coming to realize that what I do is SOO different from typical tutoring that I’ve realized it’s almost confusing when people use one word, “tutoring,” to describe typical tutoring and what I do.

So it’s time for me to really be clear about how the way I work is different, and how my students receive an experience that is completely different from typical tutoring.

Because I’ve recently heard some parents describe their other tutoring experiences, and it’s so different from how I work, I am almost flabbergasted.

Here’s what I am NOT about.

Kids have told me about working with tutors who just had them memorize and regurgitate a bunch of steps. Then the kid would just forget the steps as soon as they didn’t need to use them (like three days later), because they never actually understood what they meant. This is not how I work. I am not about “just getting you through it.”

I’ve had parents describe working with tutors who would literally say, “I managed to find the answer, but I can’t explain why.” That is not what I’m about. My intention is always to have YOU be able to get to the answer, AND clearly understand why.

I’ve heard about tutors who just made sure that the kid got their homework done. This is not how I operate. Our sessions focus on developing and retaining the skills you need to complete their homework on your own. We will work on very similar problems so you are really prepared to do your homework solo. If you only practice those problems collaboratively, you won’t feel secure and confident on your tests and quizzes when I’m not there.

I’ve heard about tutoring which is just about doing worksheet after worksheet after worksheet, in silence. I know that this approach works for some kids – but that is not how I roll. Our sessions are dynamic and totally customized to you.

I know that some tutoring is just a recapitulation of what is happening in the classroom. But if that’s already not working for you, why do more of what ISN’T working? My sessions are completely individualized to each specific student, even if the way they need to the approach the material is really different from how it’s being taught in the classroom.

And I’m also not just about grades or getting kids into an honors or AP class. I’ve seen it happen time after time that good grades are just a natural byproduct of truly understanding the material. When you focus on mastery, the grades just gradually happen on their own. And if you get a grade that is not as high as you want or expect, it’s just an indication that there was some gap in your understanding that we can address together.

I am not about ad hoc support or being a bandaid. I know that some students receive tutoring inconsistently in big lumps, like four hours the night before an exam. My experience is that this does not create lasting change, and it does create a lot of drama and stress. Math is like working out – something you need to do consistently if you want to see results.

Finally, I am absolutely NOT about tutoring as a way of encouraging dependency. Some schools have told me that they are concerned that if kids receive tutoring, they will be dependent on their tutor “getting them through it,” the kid will hold up the class because they are so confused, and then the kid will barely scrape by. That is not the way that I work. Students who work with me experience genuine mastery, make a positive contribution to their math classes at school with their confidence, preparation, and creativity, and earn grades that reflect their deep understanding and ownership of the material.

OK. Phew!!!! Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest about what I’m NOT about, let me tell you what I AM about.

Mastery. What I care about is MASTERY, and my work is about the mastery process. Like an elite tennis coach or an elite cello teacher, we focus on mastering the skills of math, increment by increment, to create permanent, transformational, holistic math fluency.

I am constantly customizing what we are doing and what I am saying to the individual student in every single nanosecond. We find ways of approaching the material that make sense with how YOU think. We keep you in the “sweet spot” where you are challenged and growing, but what we’re practicing doesn’t make you bored (it’s too easy) or anxious (it’s too hard).

Emotional Environment. We work in an atmosphere of trust and camaraderie. Our sessions are lighthearted and filled with commitment, mutual respect, and let me just come out and say it, love! Laughter is typical. Singing and dancing is encouraged!

Consistent Mentoring Relationship.
We work within the context of a long-term, consistent mentoring relationship where we both commit to your organic, aligned math transformation. Even though I am the tutor and you are the student, we come to the table with deep respect for each other and the understanding that we both have important things to contribute to our process. We work in an apprenticeship model where the student’s self-expression and intellectual contributions are nourished and valued – even if, in the current moment, they feel totally overwhelmed and helpless!

Empathy. I can feel if a student is frustrated, overwhelmed, or elated, and adjust my approach accordingly.

Emotional Reality. I explicitly address the emotional challenges of math. Even though emotions are basically NEVER addressed or even mentioned in most academic math contexts, I have found that the reason why people give up on math is because of how they FEEL. So it is essential that we address math feelings as an intrinsic part of the mastery process. If a student has a panic attack in class, breaks down and cries, or is feeling frustrated or overwhelmed, we talk about it, honor the feelings instead of suppressing or ignoring them, and develop strategies to help them become resilient no matter what emotions come up.

Individuality is encouraged.
It has been my experience that our greatest contributions and breakthroughs happen when we are being completely ourselves. All my students are encouraged to express their individuality during our work together, whether that means jumping up and down with excitement, making up original math songs, taking a quick break to jump or dance, feeling free to move around throughout the session if they are highly kinesthetic, or even just wearing their favorite purple tutu to our sessions.

It is a vehicle. At its core, what I offer is actually not really about math at all. It is actually about learning how how to overcome the seemingly insurmountable, and we just happen to use math as a vehicle to do that.

Support is normative. Since we’re all in a continuous process of refining our skills and expanding into our own personal genius, it is normal to continue to receive top-level support even after you start to excel. After Lindsey Vonn wins a skiing medal, she doesn’t stop training. Once you make CEO, you don’t stop receiving executive coaching and tell yourself, “I’ve actually got this down.” When you are a prima ballerina, you don’t stop rehearsing with your master teacher. The kinds of students I work with want to keep receiving mentoring and experiencing this one-on-one mastery process because they want to continue to do their best and keep learning, even after they start to initially do well. Because it’s about continuous growth and expansion, there is no limit to the potential of the process.

My clients have told me that working with me is like working with a life coach, or seeing a great psychologist. One family even coined a new word for their sessions with me – instead of calling it tutoring, they call it “Zookuring.”

But no matter what you call what we do, once you realize that you can go from hating math because it’s so confusing, to loving math and experiencing it as a source of joy and strength – “no one can take it away from you,” to quote a parent whose kid experienced this very transformation. And this experience of autonomy and self-efficacy in the face of a massive challenge has a huge positive impact on what students believe they are capable of, and ultimately, what they actually accomplish during their time on this earth.

Are you tired of “typical tutoring” that doesn’t address the underlying issues? Are you discouraged by support that doesn’t take into account what your kid actually needs to understand how math actually works? Are you ready to experience the kind of joyful, individualized transformation I’ve just described?

Then 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 receive your completed application!

Sending you love,

Related posts:
Failure is not the enemy
On being yourself while doing math
How to help kids be okay with things being hard
What a Balinese dancing queen taught me about praise and encouragement
What I learned on the streets of Paris…and in a Dutch grocery store