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Topic: math anxiety

CASE STUDY: This 11th grader stopped binge eating because the math stress was gone

Monday, October 8th, 2018

Is your child consumed by math anxiety, even though they’re “doing everything right?”

These are some of my favorite students to work with, because I used to struggle with the exact same thing.

When this particular Algebra II/Trig student first came to me, she was making decent grades – Cs, Bs and low As – but at enormous psychic cost.

She would spend hours every night perfectionistically slaving over her math homework, but still feel completely unclear about the material and consumed by math anxiety.

Math felt like a collection of shards of broken glass that she was putting massive energy into “keeping together,” but they never actually fit together or added up to a cohesive whole.

How did she shift from perfectionism to mastery?

Let’s break it down!

1. When this student started working with me, one of the things that really stressed her out was her formulas sheet.

A page covered in things she hadn’t yet learned, that she would eventually have to memorize, many involving symbols or terms she’d never heard of yet, all crammed onto one scary page.

OF COURSE this freaked her out!

So we set the formulas sheet aside.

2. And instead, we built the formulas sheet from scratch – one formula at a time.

First, we started with the simplest, most basic formula, and built it from scratch using foundational concepts that this student already knew, like the Pythagorean formula.

And we’d make it super visual, drawing diagrams that explained why it worked.

Then she’d “teach it back to me” and build it from scratch and draw the diagrams herself.

Then the next session, we’d do the same thing again.

And again.

And again.

Until each formula was totally internalized, and she could build almost the entire formulas sheet from scratch, all by herself.

3. This created massive self-trust.

Not only did this student KNOW all the formulas, she knew WHY they worked, AND she could build them on her own.

Also, taking the time to do this so slowly, in the end, created massive speed.

This student became one of the fastest problem-solvers I’ve ever seen at this level …

BECAUSE she had taken the time to understand the fundamental concepts so meticulously.

The end result was that, without trying to be fast, this student breezed through the material, understanding at a deep conceptual level problems that many other students just experience as a random collection of rules or weird answers spit out by their TI-82.

Now this student experienced math as a cohesive whole, where she belonged, instead of a random collection of disconnected shards.

4. So, how did this play out in her classroom?

As a result of our work, this student’s grades hit the roof.

She was awarded the “most improved student” award by her teacher – in front of her whole school.

She was so much less stressed that she stopped binge eating…
…just because the math anxiety was gone.

And she applied for and won a prestigious internship at a European research-based skin care company in Georgetown, DC – being chosen over COLLEGE STUDENTS!!!

(This is an awesome example of how when math is no longer an obstacle, students can really bring their dreams and visions out into the world.)

Do you have a child who is struggling with this kind of math anxiety?

Maybe they’re actually getting good grades, but not really understanding how the pieces fit together.

Or maybe their grades have started to suffer.

Either way, I’d love to connect with you get clear on whether or not my work would be a fit for your child.

Just fill out this application to get started: fill out your application here

I am so excited to connect!

Sending you love,

Related Articles:
Case Study: A 5th grader goes from believing “Math Doesn’t Like Me” to singing and dancing about math while wearing a purple tutu
Afraid Your Math Teacher Will Judge You?
Case Study: A 10th grader goes from feeling like math is a foreign language to becoming the most called-upon student in her class
The Treachery of Invisible Math Anxiety

Topic: math anxiety

The treachery of invisible math anxiety

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

Getting ready for my upcoming presentation on Making Math Magical!

My brother introduced me to the term “math anxiety” while I was in high school.

When I first heard it, I felt massive relief that there was actually a term for what I was experiencing! That meant I wasn’t the only person suffering through it!

But math anxiety can mean MANY different things.

It can look like:

You’re doing everything you can, and you’re not doing well.

This is what a lot of people associate with math anxiety – despair, overwhelm, crying, puking, and most of all, failure and bad grades.


You’re doing everything you can, and you’re doing “well,” but it doesn’t actually make any sense!!

This is what I call “invisible” math anxiety.

If this keeps happening, over time…

-you become afraid that’s something’s wrong with you,

-you become afraid that you’ll never get what you need (because you aren’t getting it now and you’re already doing your best)

-and you give up on it ever feeling clear, pleasurable, meaningful, enjoyable, or a cohesive whole that actually makes sense.

You just focus on—or settle for—going through the motions.

Getting through this night’s homework.

Getting through this test.

Getting through this class.

Getting through this degree.

What’s really insidious, and tragic, about invisible math anxiety, is that it can happen very slowly and even to students who appear very successful on the outside.

Recently, over dinner, a woman shared with me how when she was growing up, she got math tutoring and made Bs, but she never really felt like math made sense to her.

The tutoring was just about getting through her homework and getting through her tests.

She wanted to be a doctor, but chose not to do pre-med in college because she was afraid of the math requirements.

Then, when she worked in retail, she wanted to be a buyer—a powerful position as the person behind the scenes who chose the merchandise—but never sought that promotion because of all the math involved.

Worst of all, she ended up in an abusive relationship, because she didn’t think she could take care of herself financially on her own.

All because of math anxiety.

And this is a B student we’re talking about — who everyone else thought was doing fine!

It doesn’t have to be that way.

I’m on a mission to shift the paradigm from “just getting through it”

to “actually understanding it and mastering it and loving it”

so you can REALLY make your dreams come true,

instead of giving up on them out of math fear.

Math is a world in which we can all belong, in which we can all experience clarity and joy.

If you sense your child is struggling with any kind of math anxiety — whether it’s the classic “visible” type, or the more insidious “invisible” type, I’d love to connect and explore how I could support your child in truly loving and mastering math.

To take the first step, just fill out my super special application here.

Once your application is received, I’ll reach out to schedule a special time for us to talk on the phone about if my work would make sense for you.

Sending you love,


Related posts:
Afraid your math teacher will judge you?
What to do when your kid’s math terrifies you
Face your fears, get a higher grade

Topic: math anxiety

Afraid your math teacher will judge you?

Monday, February 15th, 2016


Me (on the left) attending a workshop with Sandra Yancey (right), one of the most powerful female entrepreneurs in the world. I love the Carol Dweck quote in the background… “Becoming is better than being.”

This past week I got to attend an entire day-long workshop with Sandra Yancey, one of the most powerful female entrepreneurs in the world. This woman grew a huge national network and multi-million-dollar business from a handful of business cards. She is a powerhouse!

Out of the entire day, one of the things she said that struck me the most was, “We cannot thrive unless we have a place where we can be real.”

This is completely true for me personally – and why it’s essential for me to have my own mentor and my own colleagues and friends that I can be truly real with.

And I know it’s also so true for my students.

For example, I was recently in a session with one of my students, talking about whether or not she would ask her math teacher a particular question.

She stopped and said, “I’m afraid he’ll judge me.”

Wow! That is EXACTLY how I felt so many times when *I* was struggling with math growing up!

I had just never articulated it to myself before.

Even with math teachers who were really nice to me, sometimes even the niceness felt like a form of judgement. I’m highly sensitive, so I could FEEL it when someone was internally exasperated, but trying to act patient when I asked a question about something I “should have” already had down.

Is this something that you’re struggling with? Are you afraid that if you ask questions in class, your teacher will judge you?

(This can be especially difficult if you are a great student in every other subject. You’re used to doing your best and SHINING in the classroom when you participate, but with math, instead of shining, you fear that if you ask your questions, you’ll be judged or even feel ASHAMED that you don’t already know the answer.)

If this is what you’re facing, here’s what I recommend:

1. First, let yourself acknowledge this feeling. Don’t ignore it. Pay attention to it.

Why? If you ignore it, you will just subconsciously shut down on some level. You’ll stop seeking help, and on some level, you might even stop believing that anyone CAN help you, and that you’re doomed to feel this way forever.

It’s OK to recognize that asking for help in a particular situation, or asking for help from a particular person, might not be the best way to master the material.

2. Second, don’t judge yourself. When there’s a disconnection between your learning and how things are being taught in the classroom, it can be easy to start to despair or even start telling yourself things like “I’ll never get this… I must just not be a ‘math person’… maybe my brain is just not made for math… What is wrong with me, I am so good at every other subject… How can I be trying so hard and still be so confused…”

Emotions have a huge impact on learning, especially when we’re being challenged like never before. Be compassionate with yourself. Remember, math is a skill that you can acquire with persistent effort. There’s just some kind of disconnect happening between how you’re being taught and what you need to truly master the material. Nothing is wrong with you. Just be gentle and kind with yourself. ESPECIALLY if you are afraid others won’t be gentle and kind with you.

3. Third, be SUPER CLEAR with yourself exactly what it is that you have a question about. When you start to feel overwhelmed about math, it’s easy to look at something and just completely give up because your eyeballs don’t recognize it right away. It’s a completely natural human response – and, it’s also a very knee-jerk, superficial way of engaging with the material.

Take a deep breath. Take a break. Then come back to the material and look at it so, so slowly. Try to take it apart. Ask yourself questions. Why are they doing this specific step here? Does it remind you of something you already know how to do? Let yourself read the math book and do the problem at like one mile per hour.

Try to refine your question from something super general like “I have no idea what’s happening here and I just want to burst into tears and throw this book out the window” to “OK, why did they substitute ‘u’ in for ‘x’? How did they get from step 2 to step 3? Where can I see another example?”

Paradoxically, getting super clear with yourself about EXACTLY WHAT YOU’RE CONFUSED ABOUT is a way to… un-confuse yourself. I promise!

4. Finally, find a place to ask your math questions where you aren’t afraid of being judged. A place where it is safe to be real. Your math classroom and math textbook are not the only source of math knowledge. Try your friends, your peers, teachers you’ve had in the past that you understood better, a different textbook, an online video.

Or, if you’d like to explore whether my magical one-on-one math tutoring programs would be a fit for you and your family,
just click here to get started with your special application. Once your application is received, we’ll set up a special phone call to get clear if my approach would be a good fit for your child. I look forward to connecting!

Related posts:
Face your fears, get a higher grade
Math student’s bill of rights
I just can’t keep this a secret any longer
Case study: confused by math instruction in a foreign language

Topic: math anxiety

Want to meet at the NCGS conference?

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

Photo on 6-23-15 at 9.11 PM #2
Practicing a full butterfly regalia hair-do in preparation for my presentation
#bathroomselfie #thisishowweroll #powerhair

Hey there! If you’re planning to be at the National Coalition of Girls Schools Conference this June in Richmond…

I just wanted to let you know that I’ll be giving a talk at the conference:

“Secrets of the Math Mastery Mindset:
How to help girls who are failing, freaking out, or secretly crying themselves to sleep about math
to rise to the top of the class and transform their relationship with math forever”

Wed, June 24, 2015
11.15 am or 11.45 am (2 back-to-back 25-minute sessions, you can attend either one)
St Catherine’s School Dining Hall
(look for the table with purple butterflies)
Richmond, VA

You are invited!

Let me know if you’ll be at the conference – I’d love to see you there!

Photo on 7-14-15 at 6.05 PM

Topic: math anxiety

What to do when your kid’s math terrifies you

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

“This is terrifying,” my student’s mom confided in me as we discussed my student’s taking one of the most advanced math classes you can take in high school. “What my daughter is doing is way beyond any math I’ve ever attempted.”

Does this sound familiar? Your kid is doing math that, if you needed to explain it to them, you would have a panic attack? mental meltdown? total and complete incomprehension?

This is a situation that I face all the time. Sometimes a kid’s math will cross the “parental capability threshold” in elementary school. Sometimes it’s middle school. Sometimes, high school, or even college. But unless you, the parent, are actually a math professional or math educator, it’s very normal for there to come a point where you absolutely can no longer help your kid with math, no matter how much you WANT to help them with it, unless you take it upon yourself to teach yourself from scratch how to do it (and sometimes, not even then).

If this is what’s happening to you, here’s what to keep in mind:

Just because you are terrified doesn’t necessarily mean that your kid is terrified. Don’t assume you and your kid feel the same way about the math they’re being asked to do. Your kid is surrounded by other kids who are also doing terrifying math, and it might even feel normal to them. Maybe they feel proud or excited to be doing it! It is possible that they also feel terrified like you do. But just remember that it’s possible that you won’t be having the same emotional experience about it.

Don’t underestimate your kid. (Especially based on your own math experience). Maybe you tried to do this level of math and failed. Or maybe even considering doing this level of math was so terrifying that you opted out, during your own education. Maybe you never had an opportunity to even TRY to learn this level of math. No judgement!

However, keep in mind, your past math performance does not predict your kid’s future performance. Even though a lot of people in our culture talk about math ability like it’s a genetic trait, truly, truly, TRULY EVERYONE can learn to do math if it’s explained to them in a way that they can understand. Math is not a talent. It’s a skill that can be acquired with practice and persistent effort. Please remember this if you start to feel terrified about what your kid has taken on.

You don’t have to be able to do the terrifying math yourself in order to be a good parent. It is normal as a parent to passionately want to give your own kid every possible opportunity to thrive. You want to teach them everything they need to know to succeed in the world on their own. How can you do this once the math they’re doing surpasses what you yourself have learned?

Do not fear. You do not have to teach them terrifying math yourself! Sometimes the best thing you can do as a parent is make sure that someone else is helping your kid with the terrifying math for you, and just step back and focus on being a mom or dad, not on having to be a math teacher after you come home from a full day’s work.

Are you ready to invest in having someone else – who is caring, empathic, adventurous, and super experienced – help your passionate, creative kid with the terrifying math, so you can just focus on being a parent?

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 or not my magical math tutoring programs would be a fit for you and your family!

Related posts:
How to know when it’s time to stop tutoring your own kid
Afraid your math teacher will judge you?
Math student’s bill of rights
Face your fears, get a higher grade

Topic: math anxiety

Face your fears, get a higher grade

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Having students write about their anxiety before a high-stakes test, for 10 minutes, can reduce or eliminate the performance loss caused by nerves, a new study finds.

College students were given a challenging math test involving a subject they hadn’t encountered before (but whose rules could be learned quickly). Then they learned they’d win $10 if they increased their score on a second test, and that their performance would also determine whether another student got $10. To add to the pressure, they’d be videotaped and their methods evaluated.

Before Test 2, the students either sat quietly for 10 minutes or wrote about what they were feeling. The nonwriters “choked,” the researchers said, with their scores dropping by 12 percentage points. But those who wrote about their anxiety raised their scores by four percentage points. Also, in field studies in real high-school biology classes, students with high text anxiety scored the equivalent of a B-plus on a final exam when they did the writing exercise, and B-minus when they didn’t. “Writing About Testing Worries Boosts Exam Performance in the Classroom,” Gerardo Ramirez and Sian L. Beilock, Science (January)–(From the Wall Street Journal (January 22-23, 2011))

The fact that it would actually help students’ grades to write about their anxiety for a full TEN minutes RIGHT BEFORE taking a test completely flies in the face of the standard advice in our culture to “think positive thoughts” and “visualize success.”

While I believe this advice is well-intentioned, what seems to happen is that people start to hate themselves for feeling afraid, or become even more nervous because they are nervous! Attempting to control your own thoughts just causes people to pathologize their own minds.

Many students believe if they hide their fear, it will go away, or at least, no one else will know. In my experience both as a tutor and as as student, this does not work at all. Openly discussing your anxiety–or even just admitting it to yourself–makes it possible to release it. (I used to get totally stressed out about math growing up, and when one of my best friends in high school shared this article with me about math anxiety, it made me so relieved. There was a name for what I struggled with! And I wasn’t alone! Phew!!!)

So this study really resonates with me. A lot of the students who come to work with me have some kind of anxiety about math–and don’t even know that it’s something that happens to other people, too. Part of our work together isn’t just mastering the material, but also openly discussing their fears and how to deal with overwhelming emotions when working on challenging material under pressure. The only way we can work on this stuff is if we talk about it together.

And now, it’s amazing to see that students can get such good results from writing about it on their own at such a crucial moment, right before taking a test.

Topic: math anxiety

Math Student’s Bill of Rights

Monday, October 26th, 2009

Student’s Math Anxiety Bill of Rights
by Sandra Davis

I have the right to learn at my own pace and not feel put down or stupid if I’m slower than someone else.
I have the right to ask whatever questions I have.
I have the right to need extra help.
I have the right to ask a teacher or tutor for help.
I have the right to say I don’t understand.
I have the right to not understand.
I have the right to feel good about myself regardless of my abilities in math.
I have the right not to base my self-worth on my math skills.
I have the right to view myself as capable of learning math.
I have the right to evaluate my math instructors and how they teach.
I have the right to relax.
I have the right to be treated as a competent person.
I have the right to dislike math.
I have the right to define success in my own terms.

One of my best friends found this in high school and shared it with me, and I remember thinking it was amazing and wishing I had known about it earlier. While these rights now seem basic to me, if I had read them in middle school or high school, I think they would have been a revelation.

I really want my students to know that they have the right to ask whatever questions they have. (I’m still shocked to hear how some teachers will tell their students that they won’t answer their questions because if a student has a question it must be because the student wasn’t “paying attention.”) If a student is discerning enough to know what they have a question about, and courageous enough to actually ask it, that should be encouraged!

I also think it’s important that students realize that they can evaluate their teachers and how they teach. For teachers, this might be the scariest aspect of the Math Bill of Rights.

I can speak from experience on this. The one time I gave a copy of the Rights to a student, I was fearful that I might not be the right person to help her. But I thought the Rights might help her, and I didn’t want to not share a resource with her just because reading it might cause her to realize that she should be working with another tutor. And I realized that my ultimate goal was to make sure that she got the help she really needed, even if it wasn’t from me.

I’m not sure if the Rights were at all responsible, but shortly after I gave them to her we had a huge breakthrough and her understanding really improved. But it was one of the scarier things I’ve done as an instructor, and I can see why teachers might not want to plaster this everywhere…

But I wish that each math student in the world could have their own personal copy emblazoned on their binder or even their math book cover.