Rebecca Zook - Math Tutoring Online

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Posts Tagged as "brain"

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 "brain"

How handwriting helps us learn (or, why I use handwriting instead of typing)

Monday, February 21st, 2011

When I decided to start tutoring my students online, I wanted it to be as intuitive as possible. It was really important to me that my students be able to write their math out by hand, just like they would on their homework or tests.

Now, a recent Wall Street Journal article by Gwendolyn Bounds explores a new crop of research into how handwriting helps us learn.

Among the studies Bounds writes about, the one I find most interesting is one by educational psychology professor Virginia Berninger, who found that children in second, fourth, and sixth grade “wrote more words, faster, and expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand versus with a keyboard.

Berninger also “says pictures of the brain have illustrated that sequential finger movements activated massive regions involved in thinking, language, and working memory.”

The same article discusses a study at Indiana University which found that “in children who had practiced writing by hand, … [MRI] scans showed heightened brain activity in a key area…indicating learning took place.”

And Bounds also covers a study, published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, which found that adults benefit from writing by hand when learning mathematical (or other) symbol systems: “for those writing by hand, there was stronger and longer-lasting recognition of the characters’ proper orientation, suggesting that the specific movements memorized when learning how to write aided the visual identification of the graphic shapes.”

Another article by Heather Horn in the Atlantic Wire points out that “scientists are finally beginning to explore what writers have long suspected,” and then goes on to quote a 1985 Paris Review interview with novelist Robert Stone, who, when asked if he mostly types, responds:

“Yes, until something becomes elusive. Then I write in longhand in order to be precise. On a typewriter or a word processor you can rush something that shouldn’t be rushed—you can lose nuance, richness, lucidity. The pen compels lucidity.

While most of these studies examine the process of writing words as opposed to mathematical symbols, they seem to reinforce another study which found that solving algebra problems by hand as opposed to typing them out allowed students to solve problems twice as quickly and seemed to be a more efficient learning modality.

While I wasn’t aware of this research when I decided to use technology that lets students write their math by hand, it’s gratifying to learn more about how writing by hand can make learning faster, deeper, and more effective.

Thanks to Laura Grace Weldon of Free Range Learning for bringing this research to my attention!

Related Links:
My online tutoring technology (4): why I use handwriting instead of typing
Is multi-sensory learning hardwired into our humanity?
Mind meld is real!
Why sleep is awesome #3