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Topic: focus & concentration

Three simple tips for the night before your math exam

Saturday, June 8th, 2013

Do you find yourself tired, hungry, and rushed the morning of your math tests? Do you wish you could feel more prepared and confident, not only in your mind, but also in your body? Here are three simple tips you can use the night before any math test so you can feel relaxed and secure.

Pack a proteiny snack for exam day.
To give your brain some extra fuel, pack a snack with lots of protein, like nuts, cheese and apple slices, or yogurt. This way you can be sure you won’t be crazed by hunger when it’s time to take your exam.

Get a good night’s sleep, no matter what.
Staying up late to study the night before is not the best way to be prepared, because your fatigue will make it harder to concentrate and recall the material you DO know when you’re actually taking your exam. Plus, if you don’t have time to get much sleep between the late-night study session and your test, your brain won’t have a chance to organize and store the material that you were learning, so it will be hard to remember what you tried to learn during the late-night study session. Plan and pace your study time so you don’t have a big rush to cram the night before a test.

If it’s a routine test, take the time to do some practice problems and review anything you need to have memorized the night before, but wrap up your studying with plenty of time to get to bed and feel relaxed about getting a good night’s sleep. If it’s a really big test, like an end-of-year exam or state standards test, the best thing to do the night before is just to rest and relax after doing a little light review just to reassure yourself that you’ve got it down.

Plan ahead to make sure you get a good breakfast.
Make sure your breakfast has a lot of protein – like eggs, meat, yogurt, or fish – to fuel your brain for the long run. Check your fridge or ask your parents to take you to the grocery store in advance to make sure you have exactly what you need. Avoid toast, cereal, juice, or pop tarts, which will make your blood sugar spike, leaving you spacey and disoriented when it’s time to concentrate on your test.

It is amazing how much of a difference good sleep and good food can make – especially when combined with being knowing the material inside and out!

If you’d like to go beyond these basics to feel way more confident walking into your next math test, 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 here for you, and I’m so glad we’re connected!

Sending you love,

Topic: focus & concentration

Mind Meld is Real!

Monday, August 23rd, 2010


Back in February, Curtis Silver joked about “doing the math homework mind meld with your geeklet” in his Wired/Geekdad write-up of a post I’d written about how to help your kids with their math homework. Now it turns out that scientists have discovered that mind meld actually happens during conversations!

Here’s a summary of the science from The Week magazine:

When two people have a good conversation, they often feel that they’ve just “clicked.” A new study of that phenomenon has found that conversing can produce an almost eerie synchronization of brainwaves, so that speaker and listener experience a kind of “mind meld.”

Using a special type of MRI device, researches at Princeton University imaged the brain activity of a student as she told of two personal experiences—a troublesome encounter with a police officer after an accident, and of two boys fighting over which one would take her to the prom.

Researchers then scanned the brains of several subjects listening to the stories. Listeners who followed and enjoyed the stories quickly synchronized their brain waves to the speakers’. But if the listener didn’t like or understand what was being said, this effect disappeared, and brain patterns decoupled.

“That feeling we all have with people, that feeling of ‘clicking,’ might actually have a real neural basis,” researcher Greg Stephens tells

The effect goes beyond the parts of the brain used to process language; during a good conversation, people will unconsciously begin imitating each other, using similar sentence structures, speaking rates, and physical gestures and postures. In fact, listeners can get so tuned in that they even begin to anticipate what the speaker is about to say.

These new findings bring to mind an experience I had with a great teacher named Nick Bernardino. Not only did Nick excel at “tuning in” to his students, but he’d also teach “mad libs”-style. He’d deliberately leave out part of the sentence so that students were forced to fill it in.

When I was on the receiving end of this technique, I found myself silently filling in the blank with facts I thought I’d totally forgotten and hadn’t thought about in years. Is the brainwave synchronization discovered in this study what allows this experience to occur?

These findings also remind me of experiences I’ve had with my best teachers, as well as something I’ve noticed with many of my own students. When you spend time with someone who is confident, relaxed, and engaged with what you’re learning, you become more confident, relaxed, and engaged with what you’re learning. Even if you’re working on a subject or skill that originally was very stressful!

This makes me wonder, could synchronizing your brain waves in one-on-one conversation with a good teacher allow students to access states of consciousness they hadn’t experienced before? Is “mind meld” helping my students to access their previously undiscovered or long-lost “happy math place”?

Related Posts:
How to help your kids with their math homework
Five fun ways to help your kids learn math this summer (online)!
Entrain Your Brain
Vibrations #2

Topic: focus & concentration

Why Sleep is Awesome #2

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Kindergarten nap2

Need to focus? Take a nap! From my favorite magazine, The Week:

The restorative power of naps

The boss might not buy it, but an early afternoon nap could indeed make you more productive, reports National Geographic News. Psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley, gave two groups of adults a learning test designed to stimulate a part of the brain critical to short-term memory. At 2 p.m., two hours after taking the test, one group was allowed to nap for 90 minutes; the other continued to work. At 6 p.m., the test was administered again, and the group that had napped scored markedly better than the one that hadn’t napped.

The results suggest that sleep “reboots” the brain, helping to clear its short-term memory and shuttle key information into longer-term storage. “It’s as though the e-mail inbox is full and, until you sleep and clear out those fact e-mails, you’re not going to receive any more mail,” says study author Matthew Walker. After napping, he says, you’re “ready to soak up new information.”

My favorite quote from the longer National Geographic News article: “When you have a problem, no one says you should ‘stay awake on it,'” he [researcher Matthew Walker] quipped.

We seem to accept that kids benefit from naps. But adult napping, especially in the workplace, is not encouraged, even though it helps adults learn better and get more stuff done.

I frequently use naps as a way to re-set and refresh my brain, and I’m glad to see this phenomenon being explored and recognized by the scientific community! Maybe this research will be a small step towards a more pro-nap culture.

(Photo courtesy of Mills Lawn School.)

Related Posts:
Why Sleep is Awesome
Meet Your Pineal Gland
The Truth About Multi-Tasking
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Topic: focus & concentration

“The Truth About Multitasking”

Monday, January 18th, 2010

From my favorite magazine, The Week:

Modern humans have embraced multitasking with all four limbs. We text while walking, chat on the phone while driving, check e-mail while writing the annual report. Psychology textbooks suggest that our brains can’t successfully process so much at once. “But if you walk around on the street, you see lots of people multitasking,” Stanford researcher Eyal Ophir tells “So we asked ourselves, ‘What is it that these multitaskers are good at that enable them to do this?’

The surprising answer is nothing. Ophir and colleagues categorized subjects into two groups, high and low multitaskers, according to the amount of electronic information they typically consumed. Then they ran them through several experiments designed to test the skills that multi¬taskers ostensibly possess. To test their ability to ignore irrelevant information, for example, subjects were shown a screen with both red rectangles and blue rectangles; when subjects saw the screen a second time, they were asked whether any of the red rectangles had been rotated.

High multitaskers consistently scored much worse; they were less able to ignore distractions, had more fallible memories, and couldn’t switch to new tasks as readily. “The shocking discovery of this research” is that high multitaskers “are lousy at everything that’s necessary for multi¬tasking,” says co-author Clifford Nass. “They’re suckers for irrelevancy. Everything distracts them.” Left unclear is why chronic multitaskers fail. Are they naturally bad at focusing, so they multitask to compensate? Or does multitasking actively degrade their ability to concentrate? Either way, the lesson is the same: If you want to get more done, try doing less.

Aich! It’s what I’ve suspected all along.

Related Posts:
Entrain Your Brain
Why Sleep Is Awesome

Topic: focus & concentration

Entrain Your Brain #2

Monday, December 28th, 2009

Here’s an article from chiropractor Dr. Ben Kim, another binaural beat user! He explains how he sets aside 30-60 minutes each day with no distractions or interruptions to practice “clean focus time.” And he uses binaural beats to focus!

Disclaimer: I haven’t used the beats that Dr. Ben Kim developed and sells on his website. (I’m not sure if they’re better than the free binaural beats on But I really wanted to share his thoughts on clean focus time and binaural beats.

Related Posts:
Entrain Your Brain #1

Topic: focus & concentration

Entrain your Brain

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Mickey Hart eloquently describes rhythmic entrainment in his book Drumming at the Edge of Magic. If you put a kid with no drumming experience in a group of people all playing at the same tempo, eventually the kid will “entrain” and start playing in rhythm with everyone else, without even thinking about it. It is inevitable—and it’s just a question of time before it happens, because as humans, we entrain to each other’s sound waves.

But did you know that the human brain also entrains when exposed to brain waves?!

Brain wave entrainment, aka “Binaural Beats,” works by playing one frequency into one ear and a slightly different frequency into the other ear. The difference between the frequencies creates a third wave—in this case, inside your skull—that you can only hear using headphones. In these tracks, the frequencies of the two waves going into each ear are calculated to produce a third sound wave that is the same frequency as a certain brain wave.

Since different states of consciousness are associated with different brain waves, you can trigger the state of consciousness you want by immersing your brain in the sound wave that matches the brain wave!

For example, you can use delta waves to trigger sleep, or beta/gamma waves to trigger focus for studying. Theta waves trigger meditative states, and alpha waves induce relaxation. You can even learn to design your own brainwave tracks! offers free downloads of binaural beats. I’ve used the delta wave track to help me sleep. I’ve also used the “study” track.

My experiences have varied—the more receptive and relaxed I’m feeling, the easier it seems to be let the tracks to shift my consciousness. Sometimes it takes a while, but sometimes, with the sleep track, the effects were so rapid I was almost scared! (“Did someone drug me?”)

Thanks again to my awesome brother for telling me about this great site! And thank you for many hours of sleep I otherwise would never have experienced!

Related Posts:
Why Sleep Is Awesome

Topic: focus & concentration

Throw Your Chair Away—Part 2

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

In an earlier post, I wrote about how some classroom teachers are replacing their students’ chairs with stability balls to help their students focus. I tried this myself with a tutoring student of mine who is a 5th grader with ADHD. Unfortunately, the ball was way too big for him—he couldn’t keep his feet flat on the floor. Also, he spent most of the time bouncing up and down on the ball, which was disappointingly nausea-inducing for me. It made it much harder for me to focus on the lesson and make eye contact with him!

Clearly, I attempted this before I had read the longer Associated Press article about Tiffany Miller, where she explains:

“You have to work hard at it all day,” Miller said. “They’re kids. You have to constantly remind them to check their posture, keep their feet flat on the floor. And every half-hour or so, we’ll just stop and I’ll say, ‘OK, stand up. Reach to the sky. Touch your toes. OK, sit back down.’ And then we’ll keep going.”

So if you decide to implement this in your own classroom or tutoring sessions, keep in mind…

Top Two Tips for Replacing Students’ Chairs with Stability Balls:

1. Give your students verbal instructions about their posture and their feet to keep them from bouncing all over the place.
2. Make sure the ball is the right size for the student. Most recommend:
under 4′10″ 16″ or 42cm
4′11″ – 5′4″ 21″ or 55cm
5′5″ – 5′11′ 25″ or 65cm
6′ and taller 29″ or 75cm

A cool tip to figure out what size ball you should order, from the blog getfitwithval:
“If you do not have access to an already inflated stability ball or you are ordering online, you can check your seating position by squatting with your back against a wall and lowering down until your knees are at a 90 degree position. Mark the wall and measure the height that you need.”

I also contacted Tiffany Miller and asked her for more specific verbal instructions to give kids so the ball actually helps them focus instead of serving as a distractor. If I hear back from her, I will definitely post her response here!

Related Posts: Throw Away Your Chair (Part 1)

Topic: focus & concentration

Throw Away Your Chair

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

…Courtesy of one of my favorite magazines, The Week!

If your child squirms …
It’s almost impossible to keep grade-school pupils from squirming in their chairs. But a growing number of school districts throughout the country have hit on a solution: They’re seating the kids on big, rubbery exercise stability balls at their desks. By balancing their posteriors on the balls, the children work out their restlessness and find they are able to concentrate better on their studies. “The whole theory with the brain is that when your body’s engaged, your brain’s engaged,” said Tiffany Miller, a fourth-grade teacher in Fort Collins, Colo. “I call it actively sitting.”
— from The Week Magazine, “It Wasn’t All Bad” section, Friday, March 20, 2009

You go, Tiffany Miller!! Wow—I love it when we find simple ways to maximize learning.