By Maureen Mancini Amaturo
Rebecca Zook, musician and fairy godmother of math who works with kids all over the world, will be at The Rye Free Reading Room November 9 from 6:30-8:00 p.m. She’ll present, “Making Math Magical: How to End the Math Freakout and Raise a Math-Confident Daughter,” a program that is just as effective for boys. Her mission: to conquer math anxiety. Because of her unusual way of guiding all those who say, “I’m not a math person,” there are a lot more people out there adding to their potential.
“I work with girls and boys, but the majority of my students are girls. There is lots of research on girls and math. From my own experience, I find that the reason is not that our intellect is an obstacle. It’s emotion. There is a larger shift in our culture now of women coming more and more into positions of leadership and in fields not traditionally slated for them. There is greater awareness of where women are underrepresented and a lot of positive energy going into changing that.”
Rebecca is a musician, really, with a self-designed interdisciplinary degree in Music and the Humanities, and she performs around the globe. “I find that because I am a creative, artistic person, I understand what creative, artistic people need to feel comfortable with math. This helps me connect with kids having a hard time.”
When Rebecca heads out to tutor math-phobics, she arrives with her cello. Memories of struggling with math as a young girl motivated her to find a way to help others avoid that stress and discover the skills they <think> they don’t have. “A big part of my work is hearing, ‘I wish I worked with you when I was growing up.’ I say I wish I had worked with myself!”
Her students have shown incredible growth. “Many think once you have a hard time with math it’s game over. You work hard, and it’s not clicking. You think something is wrong with you. Over time, you disengage and give up. I am amazed at how much transformation is possible.” Rebecca has perfected a process to subtract the anxiety and add confidence. “I work with students to eliminate the negative emotion — the nervous feeling, anxiety, fear, and help them slow down.”
So, what’s the key to unlocking math phobia? “There are three fundamental pieces,” she says. “One: have a growth mindset about math which means to understand that math ability is something you can cultivate and grow with comfort, and it’s not something you either have or not. It’s such a toxic mindset to think that you’re either a math-science person or humanities-language person. I’m living proof you can be both.
“Two: Stay in the sweet spot where it’s not so hard you are overwhelmed and not so low you get bored. Break it down into pieces that are small enough for you to handle.
“Three: Take a mastery orientation approach with math. We have an understanding in our culture with athletics and art that you practice, and it’s enjoyable. With math, we think if we just do what we are told, that’s enough. Mostly, the curriculum doesn’t identify that, and kids give up and opt out. Practicing math in a way that is pleasurable and customized is crucial.”
Rebecca is the magician that dispels the fallacy that if you are working with a tutor, you’re bad at math. “If you want to bring your dreams and vision to the world, you have to support that desire. All winners have coaches, trainers, guides, mentors, and teachers. Support is not about dependency. It’s about facing new challenges and growing.”