Close the Distance: 3 Tips for Learning Math Online

1. Remove all distractions from the learning space.

The cute cat, the dancing dog, the food, the beverage, the cell phone, and little brother watching cartoons in the next room–they all have to go!  Whether class has started or kids are doing homework, create a genuine learning space. Doing math requires a quiet environment, free of distractions. Lay the foundation for your kids’ success.

2. Break for 30 minutes between end of classes and start of homework.

Experts say a short break helps. This is an ideal time for snacks and drinks. Most students struggle with math more than other subjects, so do math homework first.  By moving math tutoring sessions from 6pm to 3pm, I found that students had a better attitude about math and completed homework more quickly and more accurately.

 3. Ask kids for evidence of completed & uploaded assignments

From the start, let your kids know you need evidence of completed homework. Ask for an image or print screen saying the assignment was successfully uploaded and ask to see the original homework assignment so you can verify all exercises were done. Use Fridays to double check with math teachers (or dashboards) that there are no missing assignments.  Missing math assignments should be completed on weekends.

Monica Johnston has tutored since she was a teenager and has successfully tutored hundreds of students around the Bay Area for the last 30 years. Contact her at

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Do I Really Need to Watch my Child Upload an Assignment?

Yes. Whether my students are in grade 8 or 12, I have to watch them submit their assignment or give evidence that it was submitted. Three years ago, I worked with students in Marin County who submitted 75% of their assignments via Google Classroom. Here are reasons for their missing assignments: (1) they did the assignment but forgot to submit it, (2) they did the assignment but couldn’t find it, (3) they started the assignment but didn’t finish, (4) they didn’t start the assignment, and (5) they didn’t realize they were required to submit it.  Sound familiar? Consider checking that work was submitted. Otherwise, take the chance that you’ll get a progress report in mid-October listing 5-20 incomplete assignments that your kid must complete before the end of the semester while also doing current assignments.

MNT recommends that every night, K-8 students and one of their parents (or other adult, tutor, etc.) sit side-by-side and double check that all items on the to-do list have been uploaded  This approach might also be necessary for 9th graders who haven’t transitioned well to high school, students with learning challenges, students who lack focus, self-discipline, or motivation, students who have been absent from school due to illness or sports, etc.  By 10th grade, most students should not need such monitoring.

If you have child with overdue assignments, it is important to get assistance in October. Please contact us for advice or help.

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Online Math Education During a Crisis

Whether the crisis is an earthquake, fire, flood, or COVID-19, online education is a way for students to move forward with their education. This article describes who is a good fit for online math education and what you can do otherwise.

Online math education is not for everyone.  In my experience of working with hundreds of students, online math education tends to work well for students who get A’s and B’s and students who have ADD/ADHD.  Typically, students who get A’s and B’s have a system for learning and once they figure out the online system, they are good to go.  Students with ADD/ADHD will complete more assignments and lose fewer completed assignments (i.e., fewer “missing” assignments), but they may still need study skills support.

However, online math education may not work as well for students in grades 1-5 who have less practice staying focused, students who learn more slowly or overthink problems, student who struggle with change, students who use a strategy of random guessing over learning, students who find particular topics difficult, or students who are visual learners; such students may take longer to complete exercises and they make not retain the material as well compared to learning in a traditional setting. Additionally, online math education may not be accessible for families with lower incomes due to the lack of quality computers or Wi-Fi. Depending on the software, online education might not be accessible to those with visual or other impairments.

Do a summertime assessment to help gauge whether your child is likely to be successful with online learning. Give your child three 30-minute tasks (math, reading, and science) for the day.  Assess your child’s ability to complete each lesson in 30 minutes, submit it for scoring, know their score, and provide notes about what they learned and where they need to improve (study). If your child completes assignments on time, as instructed, then your child will likely be able to manage online learning. Otherwise, assess where the bottleneck is; not understanding instructions or content, and doing the work but just not submitting it for scoring are popular barriers.

Contact MNT for a free consult and guidance on creating a summertime assessment.

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Resource: Helping Kids Process the News

My Neighborhood Tutor Program is committed to being an education resource for the community.  Please watch Helping Kids Process the News on Tuesday, June 2, 2020 at 3pm.

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Smart Start

Having worked with students in six Bay Area counties, I’ve seen a substantial variation in the priority that parents place on math education. Success in math happens when parents set clear expectations about math grades, help students maintain that “math first” attitude above all the other extracurricular activities, and give students tools they need to be successful in math. Students who come to me for tutoring often have the wrong calculator for their course. My workshop on Cool Calculating Calculators helps students smartly start their semester.

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The Calculus vs. Statistics Debate for Juniors

A common inquiry from juniors in high school is whether to take calculus or statistics as a senior. This is a challenging question when they don’t know their major and haven’t applied to colleges!  Essentially, juniors need more details about requirements for their college major when making math curriculum decisions for high school. A junior can review curricula for those majors being considered at each university being considered. Is calculus required? If so, under what conditions does calculus that is taken in high school meet this requirement? Often, even though a student meets those conditions, departments may ask the student to take another math course of equal or greater units to meet a “total college math units” requirement.   Most importantly, take math courses in succession, through high school and college, until you’re definitively done taking math because having time gaps of 12-15 months between Algebra II and precalculus or between precalculus and calculus just makes passing the course more difficult. Many statistics courses for non-math/statistics/science majors require basic arithmetic, and such courses can be taken almost anytime throughout college, regardless of math time gaps—just don’t forget how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide fractions, decimals, and percentages!

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Helping Students Memorize Math Facts

For a precalculus test, my student was required to recall 35 formulas without using notes! While most students list one formula after another and rely on rote memorization, there are more effective ways to enhance recall. The most underutilized tool for organizing formulas is the table or spreadsheet. That said, a table may not always be the best tool.

This semester, work with a tutor who has coaching skills that will help you memorize all those math facts. When interviewing tutors, ask them to specify their strategy for helping you to organize math facts for the course.

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Harvest Your Quizzes

November is the time for harvesting and, for students, that means gathering anything that has been graded and returned–tests, quizzes, homework–and correcting them. Rework the entire problem not just the part that is incorrect. Verify your solution or check your work. Then review the incorrectly worked problem and identify why you got the problem incorrect. Update your notes with key concepts that you learned by reworking the problem to help improve your skill the next time you see a problem like that (i.e., on the final).

November has two school holidays–Veterans Day and Thanksgiving week–so there is plenty of time to harvest.  Use some part of these holidays to correct your work and organize your folders; toss unneeded items and set aside corrected homework, quizzes and tests for finals preparation.  Definitely take some time to relax!

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Practical Measures for Assessing How Well Your Teen Understands Math

A parent told me that her daughter had a B in math, so tutoring was not crucial.  The teen failed the first three math tests and couldn’t do her homework without help. How is a B possible? 

For grades 6-12, a course grade may not be a good metric for mastery of math, especially given the increasing use of test corrections to boost a grade.  The ability to do a typical homework assignment without help and in 45-60 minutes is a better metric, especially for students in Algebra II/Trigonometry or lower.

Test corrections, which are a reactive form of learning, are only one form of learning and not the most desirable.  Post-test learning competes with learning the next topic. It reduces the importance of studying and test preparation. Students have said that they don’t study too hard for tests because they can “make it up” with test corrections. For my newer students, about 25% of learning occurs during our review of their graded exams. Within 6-8 weeks, I’ve helped them shift from reactive to proactive learning.

Proactive learning starts when the student reads about a math topic before the teacher lectures. Learning should happen during the lecture.  By reading the book or lecture notes, a student can learn after the lecture.  Learning takes place during homework and the next class when the teacher asks for questions.  Learning happens during test. With this much learning, who needs test corrections?

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Preparation is Key Especially for Those in Academic Transition

Get a jump on the semester:

  • Talk to a transition coach if your student is transitioning to G7, G9 or college
  • Have your student identify concrete ways to achieve academic and personal goals
  • Get books & supplies now
  • Buy the teacher-recommended calculator
  • Buy MNT dual note-taking/graphing paper for Geometry, Pre-calc and Calculus
  • Vet 1-2 tutors now and put them on standby

College freshmen:  Read Chapter 1 of each book before class starts (because professors will likely start on Chapter 2 and hold students responsible for Chapter 1 content)— you’re in college, not high school!

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