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Topic: study skills

Tips for a Happy Math Year – #4 – Systematic Review!

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

It’s time for tip #4 from my super special series, Tips for a Happy Math Year!

Systematic review helps. Incorporating review into your kid’s math routine will really help them retain what they’ve already learned. If your book includes mixed review that’s not assigned, encourage them to do a few review problems after they finish their homework. Many books have review built into the end of every section, or every few sections, and it’s usually clearly labeled. If the book you’re using doesn’t include review problems, do a “time capsule challenge” and quiz your kid on two or three random questions from previous chapters.

From personal experience, I vividly remember that my happiest and most successful math year ever, in 9th grade Geometry, my teacher (who was awesome in many other ways), also consistently assigned us the mixed review sections. So instead of things sliding all the way into the category of “uh… have I ever done this before?” or “um, what does that symbol mean again?” it was more of a retrieval from slightly-dusty-and-not-so-far-away, and then into the category of “oh, yeah, I remember this now!”

I routinely use systematic review with my own private clients, and I encourage you to do the same!

Are you finding that helping your kid with their math homework is becoming a project that is exhausting you as a parent? Do you stay up late night after night to help, but still feel uncertain that you’re actually telling your kid the right thing… and then have difficulty sleeping, because you’re still worried about your kid’s math situation? Do you wish that your kid had the tools to thrive right now in math, and the foundation they need to succeed going forward? Do you wish that someone else could do this for you?

Then we totally need to talk!

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.

Sending you love,

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Topic: study skills

Tips for a Happy Math Year – #2

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Hey there! It’s time for the second tip in my five part series of Tips for a Happy Math Year!

And here it is…

Slow can be fast. Sometimes kids need more time to digest or absorb information than is planned for in their classroom curriculum. Maybe their teacher expects them to memorize all of their times tables from 2s through the 12s by the end of the grade, and but they’re panicky and spotty about their 4s.

It’s okay. If your kid needs more time, just keep working on it together and be patient. It’s better to thoroughly learn one new multiplication fact a day than to try to cram stuff in their brain that’s not sticking because the pace is too fast.

In my experience as a tutor, it is far more powerful and paradoxically, faster, to slowly learn something really well the first time, instead of having to go back and re-learn it over and over, or deal with the repercussions of everything else that doesn’t make sense because the prerequisite concepts are shaky. It’s all about staying focused on the process and not giving up.

Do you know that your kid needs more time than they’re getting in the classroom, but feel like it’s just not possible for you to give them that one-on-one undivided customized attention yourself? Do you want to invest in your kid having a safe space to ask any question they want without feeling embarrassed, and get all the practice they need to truly get math deep in their bones? Do you dream of your kid having a huge smile on their face about math, and embodying the attitude that, “hey, nothing can stop me from choosing to go for my passion, because I know I can do math, and it will never get in my way!”?

TJust 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 connect!

Sending you love,

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Topic: study skills

Tips for a happy math year – #1

Friday, September 6th, 2013

Joost Elffers & Saxton Freymann‘s delightful Melon School Bus

Happy back to school! I wish you a magnificent return full of friendly classmates, excellent teachers, awesome games at recess and cupcakes in your lunchbox!

As we head back into the swing of things, many parents realize that they want to help their kid with math, but aren’t quite sure where to start.

To help out, I’m sharing a special series of 5 tips you can use throughout the entire coming year — no matter what you’re working on or how old your kid is.

Here we go…with our very first tip!

When your kid gets stuck, help them try something different. Math is cumulative; today’s most challenging questions are on material that eventually your kid will need to have down cold. So if they’re hitting some math turbulence, help them address the issue now instead of hoping it will just blow over. Read the book together. Go over their notes from class. Look up a YouTube tutorial. Encourage them to ask their teacher to explain it again. If what their teacher says doesn’t make sense, try explaining it to them yourself in different ways.

Experiment: does your kid effortlessly memorize song lyrics? Download Rockin’ the Standards’ math songs together or make up some new ones. Does your kid freeze up when faced with times tables flashcards, but love to build things? Try building multiplication facts using Legos or math blocks.

Do you want your kid to get a totally individualized math experience? Do you want to ensure that your son’s or daughter’s math obstacles don’t prevent them from being able to live their dreams?

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 on what’s going on in your kid’s situation, and explore whether or not it would be a match for us to work together!

If you have your own tips for a happy math year that you’d like to share, please leave a comment!

*If you’re visiting from the Math Teachers at Play Carnival hosted by Caroline Mukisa at Maths Insider, welcome! Here are some other posts you might find interesting:

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Topic: study skills

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: study skills

Need to remember something important? Breaking news!

Sunday, November 28th, 2010


Do you need to remember a crucial math concept? Pretend that you’re a news anchor delivering a breaking “math story.”

I stumbled on this strategy totally by accident. I was working with a sixth grade student who told me she missed the “field trips” we used to take to my kitchen to practice unit conversion and act out word problems.

But how could we practice the algebraic order of operations in the kitchen? Looking for another way to take a “field trip,” I asked her to use my whiteboard to do a “mathcast” of what she’d just learned.

We pretended that she was the news anchor of a “mathcast” and that I was her student or producer. I made up a theme song to start the program and also signal “commercial breaks.”

While she taught the material back to me as a news broadcast, I was struck by her confidence and enthusiasm. I’d never seen her do a presentation before, and here she was gleefully holding forth about the order of operations.

It also turned out to be a really clear, fun way to evaluate what she understood. The stuff she was confident about she would declare in a loud voice, and the concepts that she wasn’t sure about she would whisper questions to me about. Sometimes when she needed to remember something, I held up her math class handout and pretended it was a teleprompter.

Once I realized what my student was confused about (because she’d whisper questions to me about it), I asked her to recite the part she didn’t understand to me over and over. She even spontaneously made up a little dance to help herself remember the material.

Without giving her a test or written assessment, I’d stumbled on a way to figure out exactly what I need to clarify and reinforce.

Why does this matter?

To quote a great NYT article by Benedict Carey, Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits:

“…cognitive scientists see testing itself—or practice tests and quizzes—as a powerful tool of learning, rather than merely assessment. The process of retrieving an idea is not like pulling a book from a shelf; it seems to fundamentally alter the way information is subsequently stored, making it far more accessible in the future.

For example, an experiment found that when college students did two study sessions back to back, they did well on a test soon afterwards but had already begun to forget the material a week later. However, students who did one initial study session and then took a practice test during the second session could remember the material a week later.

The psychologist who conducted this experiment, Dr. Henry L. Roediger III, remarks, “Testing has such a bad connotation; people think of standardized testing or teaching to the test. Maybe we need to call it something else, but this is one of the most powerful learning tools we have.

Doing mathcasts can be a way to do just that, giving students a chance to practice recalling something under pressure—while taking a field trip and sharing their knowledge.

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Topic: study skills

GeekDad on Math Homework Mind Meld

Friday, February 19th, 2010

I’m super excited!! Curtis Silver has posted his response to my homework help tips, “doing the math homework mind meld with your geeklet,” on Wired’s GeekDad blog!! Thanks, Curtis, for your thoughtful response!

Curtis’s use of the term “mind meld” made me laugh, but also brings up an important point. As a tutor, part of what I’m trying to do is to make my students more like me—to make them more persistent, better problem solvers, and more active learners.

But in order to accomplish this, I frequently make myself more like my students. Do you like visual explanations? Let’s draw it. Do you like to see an example? Let me show you five examples. Do you have a question? I will answer it 200 times until it is crystal-clear. I believe in “more of what works.”

What intrigues me is that it is such a two-way street. I expand my students’ tool kits by making them more like me, but they also expand my tool kit as a teacher and problem-solver by forcing me to consider solutions that I never would have seen without them.

The paradox of “mind meld” is that in order to “mind meld” with someone, you need to understand how your minds are different in order to become more similar. The differences are actually what unleash the potential for change and learning.

Also, I’m glad that Silver highlighted continuous interaction, which is a huge part of my tutoring philosophy. But I want to clarify something important.

Sometimes, when a kid gets in the “math zone” and is confidently solving a problem without making any mistakes, I’ve found it’s totally appropriate to say nothing at all.

You still give the kid your absolutely undivided attention and watch their every move to make sure they stay on track. But when a kid is on a roll, interrupting them for the sake of being interactive – even just to praise them – can be counterproductive.

Sometimes being involved as much as possible means giving your kid undivided attention while staying quiet until it’s time to speak up.

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Topic: study skills

Tips for How to Help Your Kid with their Math Homework

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

Back in October, GeekDad’s Curtis Silver postedabout a recent survey which found that parents would rather talk to their kids about drugs than about math and science.

Some parents don’t feel comfortable explaining math to their kids because they don’t understand it themselves. Other parents, even if they love math, find today’s teaching methods so different from how they learned math that they don’t know how to help.

Silver observed that even parents with advanced math knowledge might not know how to relate it to their own little geek. What’s a full-grown geek to do?

Wherever you fall on the spectrum of geekdom—whether you use math daily as part of a geek job, or haven’t done long division in decades—and no matter your kid is learning the times tables or studying trigonometry—here are some tips on how to help your kid with their math homework.

First, some thoughts on attitude:

Be an explorer, not an expert. Go into your math time in the spirit of a shared exploration instead of feeling like you need to be an expert. You can help your kid a lot, even if what they’re doing is initially unfamiliar to you. Don’t be afraid to say, “Let’s figure this out together,” or “I haven’t done it this way before. Can you tell me more about it?”

Stay positive and keep trying. Getting good at math means being willing to persevere in the face of a challenge. If you don’t get it right away, that’s OK. Kids learn a lot from watching someone model what to do when they’re faced with unfamiliar material.

Follow your kid’s lead. Just because your kid is the fruit of your loins doesn’t mean that their brain works anything like yours. So share any tips or tricks that work for you, but don’t take it personally if they don’t click with your kid.

Likewise, if your kid spontaneously comes up with their own learning strategy or memory trick, run with it. It will boost your kid’s confidence in their own thought processes.

Now for some nitty-gritty step-by-step suggestions:

Before diving in, ask your kid to tell you what’s going on. They get a chance to demonstrate what they do know, and you get a chance to review the material.

Also ask your kid to tell you what they don’t understand so they can reflect on their own learning and maybe pinpoint the missing links. (If they can’t articulate which part they don’t understand, that’s OK.)

Ask questions to walk them through the problem. Even if you understand the problem perfectly, don’t give a demonstration that puts your kid in the role of a passive observer. Instead, use really simple questions (that your kid has a 95% chance of answering correctly) to walk them through the steps of solving the problem.

Instead of telling your kid, “4 times 8 equals 32,” ask them, “What is 4 times 8?” Instead of telling them, “For the next step, we need to …”, ask them what happens next.

Asking questions keeps your kid from spacing out. It breaks down the process into smaller pieces. And the questions show your kid what they should do when they’re alone.

Plus, asking questions helps you find the disconnects. If you ask your kid, “What is 4 times 9?” and they say, “twenty-five,” you know you need to review multiplication facts.

When in doubt, write it out. Encourage your kid to write out all the steps in their work. The less they have to keep track of in their head, the more accurate they’ll be. And this lets you see their thought process.

Review an example from their textbook or handouts together.
If you don’t understand how to do a problem, and you have examples of problems being worked out step by step, go over a couple together.

Once you feel confident, practice by working on similar problems. To make sure you’re on the right track, try to pick problems where you can check the answer in the back of the book.

Backtrack. You can’t build a solid foundation on shaky ground. If there’s some prerequisite knowledge that doesn’t make sense to you, go back through your kid’s materials to find where the concept or procedure was first introduced and then review it together.

Or, if your kid understands it and you don’t, ask them to explain it to you, or take time to review it on your own.

Consult different materials. If the examples from textbook or handout still don’t make sense, do not despair. Seek another explanation from an alternative source. This lets you model resourcefulness.

For an awesome basic algebra text, try Algebra: Structure and Method. More visual or tactile learners might appreciate the Math U See curriculum. Girls learning or reviewing pre-algebra might enjoy Danica Mackellar’s excellent math books for girls, Math Doesn’t Suck and Kiss My Math.

Also, Khan Academy offers great instructional math videos in an organized index. YouTube has even more math videos, but it can take some digging to find the good ones. And you can check out some instructional math videos I made here.

In conclusion: You can help your kid, no matter how remote their math homework might seem to you. These steps can help your kid hone their very own math powers.

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Topic: study skills

Math Study Skills Quiz

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Here’s a great study skills quiz! An excellent way to pick up some new study tips, but in a fun quiz format.

I love how the quiz encourages students to be advocates for their own learning. Some suggestions are very basic (“I take notes in class”, “I ask questions when I am confused”). Some of my favorite questions are the ones which are very autonomy-supportive and suggest options students might not realize they have, like scheduling their math class for a time when they’re mentally sharp, or finding a math book they like if the one they have doesn’t make sense to them.

Thanks to Dr. Carolyn Hopper for creating this quiz! And thanks to Elizabeth Stapel for making it available on