Rebecca Zook - Math Tutoring Online

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Posts Tagged as "phone"

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 "phone"

My online tutoring technology (3): Why I use phones instead of video

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Update: At this point, I now tutor all my students using Skype video. I have found that as technology has improved and become more and more a part of young people’s daily lives, the issues I used to have with video have disappeared.

Here is a more up-to-date article on the technology I’m currently using, if you’d like to learn more about what I’m doing now: Tutoring Technology Update: What I Use Now

When I started developing my online tutoring service, I thought that using a webcam would be an integral part. But I found tutoring via webcam strangely draining and brain-fragmenting. Turns out I prefer to tutor via phone! Here’s why:

Familiarity and ease of use. Most people are already used to talking on the phone.


We’re in sync. There’s no delay in transmitting voice over the phone, so it’s easy to stay in sync. However, at this point in the development of webcam technology, there is a slight microsecond delay between transmitting and receiving video data. This delay feels disconnecting and tiring.


It’s not distracting. It is easy to handle visual input from the computer screen while getting verbal input over the phone. But having the webcam in the same screen as the online whiteboard is weirdly visually distracting.

You know where to direct your attention. It’s easy to pick up on verbal cues over the phone and visual cues from the whiteboard. But when you’re using a webcam, you look in the same direction to see both the person in the webcam and the math in the whiteboard. There’s no visual way to tell which one you’re paying attention to. This is socially confusing.

Your attention is not fragmented. Toggling between multiple windows—for example, the online whiteboard window and the webcam video window—is a classic recipe for decreased focus and degraded executive function. Talking over the phone eliminates this problem, since you are only looking at one window: the whiteboard.


It is nice to put a face with a name, so I do offer new students the chance to start our very first meeting with an introduction via webcam. But then we turn the webcam off and just use the whiteboard and the phone for the actual working-on-math part.


Related posts:
My Online Tutoring Technology (1): Why I chose the Wacom Bamboo Pen Tablet
My Online Tutoring Technology (2): Why I chose Team Srkbl