An Insider’s Guide to Thinkster Math (formerly Tabtor)


2 years ago Thinkster Math contacted me on my Maths Insider email, asking if I’d like to review their new iPad based math program. After testing it with 2 of my kids and exploring it using my 20-years-of-math-teacher-experience, I wrote the blog post Is Thinkster Math a Real Alternative to Kumon?

After publishing the post, Thinkster Math, who are based in the US, offered me a position to work with the families from Europe, Asia and Australia who had signed up for the program, many after reading my review. Over the past 2 years I’ve had the pleasure of working with amazing families from around the world who are using the Thinkster Math program to guide their kids to math success.

Other programs and resources are definitely available and I’ve written about a whole heap of them here on Maths Insider, but in this post I’m going to offer an Insider’s guide to the Thinkster Math program and tell you how you can use even just the Thinkster Math 1 week free trial to kick start your child’s math learning.

How to get the best from Thinkster Math’s 1 week trial

Many families are attracted to Thinkster Math because of the chance to try the program without paying(tuition centres like Kumon don’t have free trials). Make sure you make full use of the Thinkster Math trial by following the tips below:

Use the Thinkster Math trial straight away

My big tip for Thinkster Math’s trial is to sign up when you have at least a few nonhectic days. Your free 7 day trial will begin straight away once you’ve signed up and your child will have the chance to try a sample worksheet, take a diagnostic test, try some worksheets based on the questions they got wrong on the test and even speak to their instructor. Those families who get straight on with the Sample and Diagnostic test, worksheets and conference with the instructor will have a real insight into their child’s math learning gaps as well as into the Thinkster Math program and will be in a great position to decide whether Thinkster Math will work for their families.

Ask for the trial to be extended

Some families sign up and don’t get around to completing the Sample or Skills Assessment or they complete those but don’t get around to trying the worksheets or speaking to the instructor. In that case, it is possible to get your trial extended for a few more days by contacting the Thinkster Math support team.

Use the insights the Thinkster Math program gives you

Even if you decide to not subscribe to the Thinkster Math program, if your child has completed the Skills Assessment, you’ll be able to see exactly which math topics your child has weaknesses in through the progress report chart built into the Thinkster program (see below).

Inside the Thinkster Math instructor app

Thinkster Math instructors have an app,  which we use to provide us with insights into each student’s math learning and to share our insights with students and their families.

As a Thinkster Math instructor, I can give written feedback and step-by-step solutions for each question, by either writing in the worked solution or providing corrections to the student’s working out. The picture below shows the instructors writing in red.

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As a Thinkster Math instructor, I can see at a glance which topics each student is struggling with (those in red), which topics each student is confident with (those in green) and which topics each student understands, but is still making errors on (yellow topics). These insights help me to decide what work to assign to my students. Parents and students can also see the progress report on their Thinkster Math account.

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As a Thinkster Math instructor, I grade and send feedback on each of my students’ worksheets. This is a screenshot from the Thinkster Math program. Students and parents can easily see the instructor’s feedback.

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As a Thinkster Math instructor, I can see my students’ working out, how long they’ve spent writing, thinking and erasing. I can even “playback” their work. This shows me how the student has approached answering each question.

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My favorite part of my work as a Thinkster Math instructor are one-on-one coaching calls I have with my Thinkster Math students. During these calls, we review how their work has been going and preview upcoming work. I also teach strategies for any tricky work they’ve met or are about to meet and we discuss and sort out any problems related to the math they have been working on at school.

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The Thinkster Math Parent Insights app

This week Thinkster Math released a new Parents Insights iPhone app to help parents easily keep track of their child’s Thinkster Math work and activity. The video below gives an overview of the Thinkster Math Parents Insights App which uses intelligent technology to provide further insights into your child’s learning:


I hope this post has given you a great insight into “behind the scenes” at Thinkster Math . For your 1 week trial click below:

How Can I Help You Help Your Child With Math?


It’s been over 2 years since I blogged here on Maths Insider! So the first thing I’ll say is I’m sorry! I’ve still been connecting with Maths Insider readers through my Maths Insider Facebook page but have neglected those of you who have been coming over here for advice on helping your child with math.

So what has Maths Insider been up to for the past 2 years?

1) Working with Thinkster Math (formerly Tabtor)

For the past 2 years,I’ve been Thinkster Math‘s instructor for International students looking after families everywhere from the UK to Europe to Asia and lots and lots of Thinkster Math families in Australia and a few in New Zealand. Thinkster Math approached me after I reviewed the Thinkster Math program here on Maths Insider. As a Thinkster Math Instructor, I’ve been helping families guide their children to math success using Thinkster Math’s iPad based system.

2) Homeschooling!

The other thing I’ve been doing is I’ve started homeschooling one of my four kids. I’ve been homeschooling my 8 year old son for the past year and am pleased to announce that we’ve both survived our first year of homeschooling! The math has been straight forward thanks to Thinkster Math and another cool math resource that I’ll talk more about later, but finding out how to guide my child to homeschool success in English, History, Geography etc has put me in the position of being an anxious parent searching Google, blogs and Facebook pages to find that secret sauce. All this searching has made me realise that a blog such as Maths Insider is still a valuable resource which I need to keep adding to.

The Maths Insider legacy still continued

During my blogging hiatus:

Teachers and parents have still been downloading the 21 Seriously Cool Careers that Need Math resource to give kids math inspiration.

Families have read my eBook – The Ultimate Kumon Review and have been able to find out if the Kumon programme is right for their child.

I’ve also had people joining the 31 Days to Faster Times Tables membership site and using the worksheets, audio and video guides to get their kids over the Times Tables hurdle.

About Kumon

And I’m back!

Over the next month I’m going to give you a behind the scenes look at the Thinkster Math program, so you can see what tools I’ve been using there to help kids improve their math. I’ll also show you exactly how to use Thinkster Math’s 1 week free trial to identify your child’s math strengths and weaknesses.

I’ve got a blog post in my drafts box about Girls and Math Under-Confidence. It’s based on academic research and also on my daughter’s personal experience, as well as on my experience as an math educator for the past 20 years.

I’m bursting to write a review post about Life of Fred Math because it really is quite the most quirky, wonderful and inspirational series of math textbooks I’ve ever come across.

I’m also toying with the idea of writing about my experience as a Kumon franchisee. I get lots of queries from people who are interested in running a Kumon center, so an in-depth and honest post  on the topic seems to be needed.

Over to you!

When I grow up I'm gonna invent a machine that eliminates all math homework

Apart from these ideas, I’d love to hear what questions you have about guiding your child to math success!

You can add your question here, in the comments, below this post or email me directly at

Looking forward to hearing from you!

How to Make Friends with the Times Tables


I’m Lawrence Ball, I’m a veteran maths tutor in London, and I’d like to show you a really effective way to learn times tables, that I’ve used for over 30 years with my students. It’s a way to make them easy to remember, but also to help you learn to relax whilst concentrating, and for that to develop further in all situations.

Here we go. Lets use the 2 times table as an example.
There are 2 phases to this: “Sequences” and “Jumbles”.

Numbers...Getting friendly with times tables sequences

  • Write down all the numbers from 1 to 12 in a column
  • Next to each of these write down the result of multiplying that number by 2
  • If you get stuck you can always add 2 to the previous number, but as you practice this repeatedly, you’ll find that the need to count disappears, memory works like the magic bubbles it works best as.
  • Practice this often, until it becomes really easy.

In my book, ease is most important, followed by pace and accuracy next, although they are all important.
I find that students can get the time down (yes, do time yourself) from often as high as 90 seconds to 15 or even 10 seconds.

When the sequences have become easy, fast and accurate, move on to jumbles.

Getting friendly with times tables jumbles

  • Write down the numbers from 1 to 12 in a column, but this time write them mixed up, so as to ensure no number comes below its predecessor. (eg in this order 2 7 4 9 10 1 6 5 12 8 3 11).
  • You can make your pen dance up and down as you write 1,2,3,4, &c (“boing, boing, boing”).
  • Beside each number write the result of multiplying by 2.
  • This is more difficult, as it forces you to rely purely on memory, so its tougher at first, but if you got to finding the sequence easy, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.

By the way, do cover up the previous tables as you go along (I call the paper that covers the previous tables a “tablecloth” ? ) to avoid “cheating”.

Making the times tables friendship firm

Timing the times tables is also a good idea. You can see how much quicker you’re getting, you can measure your brain muscle, so as to speak. The jumbles also will start slower (probably!) but my students can get times down to 15 and often 10 seconds as with sequences.

Master each times table before you move on, starting with the lower tables (or wherever you aren’t absolutely sharp), and the 5s could be learned before, say 3 and 4… its not critical, but it can be encouraging to learn the easiest first. Some folk find that 5, because it divides into the base for our number system (10), is good to do after the 2’s.

This is a flavour, a feeling for what you need to do. It may help to write templates for sequences and for jumbles, and print them out, saving you a lot of time. Maybe get your parents or computer to make them, or you could hand write one sheet and have many photocopies?

That’s it. It can be very relaxing and effective, the idea is to create and promote ease within yourself. One thing schools don’t emphasise enough is that learning should be easy. (Maybe they’re worried that you might slacken off if you pursue ease?) But its much better for you to enjoy the process (and why not I say) and to learn to be happy and joyful while using your mind in a focussed way.

For more clarity watch my vimeo video “Making Friends With Times Tables”

Times Tables learning made super-friendly from Lawrence Ball on Vimeo.

Lawrence Ball is a long-term maths and dyscalculia tutor in London ( (but also composer and musician), with a history of helping with motivation and difficulty, as well as with maths material. He has tutored privately including extended royal family, and all 4 children of Lady Helene Hayman, and has had big success in helping pupils with Dyscalculia
He has developed ways to teach basic arithmetic which are innovative, and that promote relaxed concentration. He lives in North London.

Is Thinkster Math a Real Alternative to Kumon?


Each month thousands of people come to the Maths Insider blog looking for unbiased information about Kumon. When it comes to math tuition, Kumon have cornered the market for center based tuition, but if the high cost and the mixed reviews from parents and teachers alike have you searching for an effective alternative, then Thinkster Math could be exactly what you’re looking for.

About Thinkster Math

Thinkster Math is an online program which, like Kumon, offers an individualized K -Grade 8 math program, except using digital worksheets and video tutorials. One of the major added benefits of Thinkster Math is that a real life math tutor not only checks over your child’s work, but provides feedback to you weekly about their progress. The Thinkster Math content is aligned to the Common Core which all states in the USA use in their math programs. It’s also based on the Singapore Math program which is one of the world’s most respected math program. There are also worksheets tailored for the UK and  Australian curricula.

Tutor feedback tight shot

I tested the Thinkster Math program for 2 weeks with my 6 and 12 years olds. Initially I was cynical, as to how Thinkster Math would be any different from the thousands of math apps available, but my kids are used to being guinea pigs for testing out new math programs, and the fact that they could do their work on an iPad while slouching around the house really appealed to them.

How Thinkster Math worked out

After signing up and my kids doing their diagnostic tests, a welcome email from my kids Thinkster Math tutor landed in my inbox giving me some insightful feedback on their tests and inviting me to connect on Skype to discuss my kids study plans. Cool! Throughout the trial any questions I had about Thinkster Math and my kids work were answered quickly and efficiently. It was obvious that my kids Thinkster Math tutor was personally overseeing their work and making adjustments to their study plan when needed. [edit: The Thinkster Math program now also offers one-to one coaching sessions with experienced math coaches]


Being a busy mom, I didn’t read all the detailed instructions on how to use Thinkster Math, but the simple interface on the iPad made it easy for my kids to work it out for themselves. I was worried that the lack of game play and avatars that many online math programs and apps have, would be a turn-off for my kids, but there are a few unexpectedly simple things that my kids liked about Thinkster Math: 

  • they seemed satisfied with the simple audio and big tick that announced a correct answer,

  • they loved the second chance they got if they got the answer wrong first time and the chance to go back and try questions they’d missed out.

  • they appreciated the immediate feedback that the app gave at the end of the worksheet,

  • they liked the personal feedback from the tutor the next day after she’d reviewed the work,

  • my 6 year old also loved the detailed breakdown of how long it took to answer each question, looking to see his fastest time! 

My kids didn’t use this, but there’s the ability to “flag” a question so that they can get more detailed feedback and help on that particular question.


Other things we liked about Thinkster Math

Our Thinkster Math tutor spotted that although he’d got all the questions correct, my older son had used an over-long method, and suggested he watched the video tutorial before the next worksheet. Also she could see that my younger one did know his number sequences, even though he got the last few wrong, because he wanted to go out to play and just typed random numbers to get the worksheet finished! The things that make Thinkster Math a good alternative the Kumon are:

  • No marking your kids work, the system does it

  • The clear video tutorials that your child can watch if they want

  • It’s half the price of Kumon

  • No traveling to a center (Yay!)

  • Thinkster Math covers the whole math curriculum including problem solving. Math is more than just arithmetic and algebra

  • The flexibility to discuss and change the study plan

  • A real math tutor to guide your child through the program, way cheaper than the $30+ per hour for a private tutor and $80 per hour at a specialized learning center

  • A system that tracks the speed of work to show your child’s confidence level for every question, just as teacher observes students in class

  • The individualized but flexible study plan based on your child’s actual work as well as on their results



Thinkster Math free trial

Thinkster Math offers a 1 week trial, which is definitely worth checking out if you have a 5 – 14 year old. Over that 1 week period you’d get a pretty good idea whether Thinkster Math would suit your child’s learning style. After the free trial Thinkster Math plans start from $60. To grab your free trial click here 


Disclosure: After writing this Thinkster Math review, I was invited to join the Thinkster Math team as a part time instructor. (I might even be your child’s Thinkster Math instructor if you sign up from Europe) After seeing behind the scenes of the Thinkster Math system I’m even more impressed, but I’ll still be continuing to share plenty of other cool math ideas and resources here on Maths Insider!  

Click here to grab your FREE 13 page sampler of The Ultimate Kumon Review

7 Unconventional Ways to Support Your Arithmetic Phobic Child

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This is a guest post by Adrian Beckett, London-based maths tutor extraordinaire

I’m Adrian Beckett.  I specialise in Maths tuition to primary age children; preparing children for exams and supporting children with special needs in particular Dyscalculia.  I also help find families a Maths tutor in the London (U.K) area

In this blog post, I’ll be discussing Dyscalculia (a specific learning disability involving innate difficulty in learning or comprehending arithmetic. It is akin to dyslexia and includes difficulty in understanding numbers, learning how to manipulate numbers, learning maths facts, and a number of other related symptoms: Wikipedia) and what we can do as tutors/home educators/parents to support young children with difficulties with number and helping children more generally with their Mathematical learning.

Last night, I was honored to speak to Lawrence Ball.  Lawrence is an inspirational man with almost 40 years experience of tutoring Maths one-to-one.  I’ve reflected on our chat and my experience of tutoring to offer these 7 insightful ways to support children with Dyscalculia


1. Tell Jokes

Maths is a serious business.  Having a laugh can help Dyscalculic students loosen up and take themselves and their learning less seriously.


2. Don’t rely on feedback

Students tend to tell us fibs about their understanding.  Keen to please us they say they understand, when they don’t.  Lawrence uses impersonation to demonstrate to students what it looks like to him when they say they understand when really they don’t.  He finds this promotes honest feedback


3. Maintain a high level of engagement

We often consider how engaged our students are, and forget to be fully engaged ourselves as tutors.  Trying, where possible, to engage ourselves is important too.


4. Rating 1 to 5

Self and peer assessment are buzz words in schools these days.  Lawrence encourages students to do this too.  Your student’s rating on how they are feeling can help them to engage more in their learning.


5. Be Silly

Sillyness is a healthy way of saying, “yes, we are going to learn Maths” but we don’t need to be stuffy and formal about it.  Laughter, songs, stories, anecdotes can promote an air of sillynesss.

 6. Love Bombing

I read an article in the Guardian about the technique of love bombing .  The idea is that children are bombed with love for a day by their parents.  They get to choose what they do and are in complete control of the agenda.  What his experiment has shown is that instead of going out of control, instead they show restraint.  The freedom actually results in children exerting self-control.  A 5 minute burst of love in maths tutorials could help.


7. Chat

With dyscalculic students, activities sometimes involve intense bursts of concentration.  Sometimes, stopping what you are doing and having a chat can be way of relaxing before starting a new activity.  It’s a bit like love bombing too, where the student becomes the focus for a bit.

4 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Get a Maths Tutor and a Bunch For Why You Should

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This is a guest post by Adrian Beckett who runs a maths tutor service in London, UK 

Tutoring isn’t always right for everyone.

 School isn’t always right for everyone

 Sometimes, tutoring can be more helpful than school

 And occasionally, tuition is not helpful

 Why then might you ask, am I a Maths tutor?

 I’ll be exploring this in this blog post.

The Background

I’m a maths tutor and I have been happily so for three years.  I’m no maverick, but I’m learning plenty and generally my students seem happy.  It’s been quite a journey so far with over a 100 students, personalities, homes, dramas, laughs and angry dogs.

I’ll give you 4 reasons why you shouldn’t get a Maths tutor and then give you a bunch as to why you should:

1. You want to create miracles

You want your kid to ace some super difficult entrance exam.   Here in the UK, we have grammar schools.  These are government run schools that are highly academic and only accept the creme-de-la-creme of students.  Boys and girls sit an exam called the 11+ when they are 10 or 11.  I firmly believe that tuition for this exam is only right for the brightest of children.  I’m a big believer that all children can do well in Maths but what I’m resistant to, is giving children tuition for an exam they are realistically not going to pass.

2. You won’t face facts

Children simply don’t want Maths tuition.  I mean c’mon you know the feeling when you don’t want to do something you don’t like: tax returns, your weekly shopping…..It sucks, right.  Why then would you force your child to do Maths tuition when they really, really don’t want to.  Don’t get me wrong.  If your child finds Maths difficult – that’s different.  They might not want to learn because they feel they are no good at it.  Let’s say, on the other hand, they are good at it, but would rather be playing outside, then maybe it’s better to respect their decision.

3. There are some pants Maths tutors out there

Some Maths tutors are rubbish. Some of my families complain about previous Maths tutors they’ve employed.  Their child couldn’t ask questions, they arrived late, they….. the list goes on.  Tutoring someone is a complicated business.  It’s not simply a matter of I show you how, you practice and abracadabra your student can do it.  Sure, they might be able to do it in today’s class but let’s see in one or two weeks.  I honestly believe that this sort of approach can work with some children – very few in reality – and for the majority you need to, in fact you must, take into account the child.  Yes – the bubbling mass of energy besides you.  They’ve got likes, dislikes, jokes, stories to tell, insights you never would have thought of.  It’s the magic that goes on between two people that can be so wonderful in tuition.  Treat them like a dog and they are unlikely to fetch. Treat them as a person and they’ll probably play ball.

4. You’re skint 

You can’t really, if you’re honest, afford a good tutor.  I’m not saying all good tutors are expensive but if you think about it; to be a good tutor, you need to dedicate some time to planning, buy some good resources and pay for your transport around town.  There are two ways you can do it.  Do it in bulk and charge a low price.  Or you can charge high and dedicate time to plan classes according to your student’s interests/likes, to reflect about your student and figure out why the class did or didn’t work.

So there’s a few reasons why not to get a tutor but hey, I’m a Maths tutor and I have my own website, where I help families find great Maths tutors, so of course, I sincerely believe that tutoring can have enormous benefits and here’s why:

Some children just need to hear you say “well done”

Some children want a little of an adult’s time

Some children want to be genuinely listened to

Some children want to feel good about Maths

Some parents are too busy to help with Maths

Some children have a special need and need a special tutor

Some children need to be stretched (not literally – that would feel weird)

Some children want to laugh

Some children want to play games

Some children don’t want you to put them through difficult exams, do something against their own will, have a creepy tutor or go without a day-out with their folks.

Adrian Beckett and his band of London Maths Tutors offer maths tuition for students and workshops for maths teachers. They also blog about maths learning, those all important maths exams and dyscalculia at

8 Ways to Get the Most Out Of Your Child’s Online Math Tutor


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This is a guest post by Alice from

Today, tutors are considered important not only for students who have learning difficulties or are having issues understanding a particular topic, but for those who want their kids to do well in tough subjects like math and get better grades. Although tutoring costs, often parents don’t mind paying for the promise of a better future for their children.

With hectic schedules and transportation issues, parent’s are increasingly turning to online tutoring to get that essential help for their child. However, many parents ask if they can do something to get the most out of their child’s online tutor, especially since the relationship can often be different than if the tutor were teaching in your home. Read through the  steps outlined below to ensure that online tutoring ends up being a positive experience.

Photo by Mike Licht

1. Figure out what exactly you want your child to get out of the tutoring and select the tutor accordingly. Do you need an online tutor who has taught young children before or do you need a calculus expert? Does your child need general math support or are they preparing for a specific math test?

2. Explore a number of online tutoring sites. Check out their “About” page, click around the site to see what qualifications their tutors hold and find out how they filter their tutors (you can sometimes find valuable information by reading the information for potential tutors)

3. Keep an eye on how the tutor is teaching by sitting in on the lesson (or listening in from another room). You’ll want to avoid the situation where the online tutor actually does the student’s work instead of teaching them the underlying concepts. This will negatively affect the student’s abilities and confidence.

4. Choose a tutor to suit your child’s learning style. By opting for the right tutor, you can help your child to develop other positive traits as well. For instance, some tutors will help your child to develop a sense of order in their math work and others may encourage them to think creatively about math.

5. Choose a tutor who can communicate well with your child, and not just about math. Share the interests of your child. If your child is a fan of baseball, a tutor can use baseball examples to explain mathematical concepts.

Photo by Nick Sherman

6. Be realistic. Don’t expect overnight improvement. By all means have high expectations from the tutor, but avoid having unrealistic expectations. This will put less pressure on the tutor and will enable them to perform better. Discuss targets and expectations in advance to avoid any misunderstandings.

7. Make sure the technology works on your side. A fast internet connection is essential, but also make sure others in the house aren’t using valuable bandwidth by streaming movies during your child’s lesson. Be on hand to sort out any technical problems.

8. Get regular feedback.Some tutoring sites offer scheduled parent conferences. Attending these online conferences is a great way of judging the progress of a tutor as well as a student. At the very least ask for the tutor’s email and email questions and requests for feedback on a regular basis.

Online tutoring can be as effective as in-person tutoring. By following the steps above and supporting both your child and the tutor, you’ll soon see an increase in your child’s math ability and confidence.

Alice writes for which provides live, online tutor services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Meet Rebecca Zook – Maths Tutor Extraordinaire!


Rebecca Zook is no ordinary maths tutor.

Firstly, she runs a blog called Triangle Suitcase where she publishes great articles such as How to Help Kids Be OK with Things Being Hard and Could Every School Be This Enchanting (And Sustainable)?

Secondly, she regularly contributes great advice here in the Maths Insider comments and was recently featured in my article 7 Savvy Ideas From Maths Insider Readers.

Thirdly, she’s an online maths tutor, using cool technology to share her love and in-depth knowledge of maths with students around the world.

This is a maths enthusiast you need to meet! Read my interview with Rebecca to find out more.

Meet Rebecca Zook!

Rebecca Zook




Have you always loved maths?

Actually, no!  In middle school I felt totally overwhelmed and spent many nights crying myself to sleep over my algebra homework.  So when students come to me and they’re really stressed out, I can absolutely relate.  I’ve been there, and now I know how to help students move past that place.

Apart from maths, what are you passionate about?

I’m also a musician, and I’ve spent a lot of time learning and performing the music of other cultures where the pedagogy is really different than the classical tradition in which I was trained as a cellist.  This made me a much more flexible learner, and had the unexpected benefit of making me a more flexible math instructor.

I also love going on adventures to collaborate with musicians in other countries, learning new languages, eating scrumptious food, reading, doing yoga, and riding my bicycle.

What made you become a maths tutor rather than a teacher in a school?

I really love the challenge of working with individual students to figure out how to get math into their brains.  I also really enjoy the one-on-one mentoring that happens when I get to work with an individual student over a period of time.

Who are your mentors? Where do you get your ideas from for tutoring?

When I first started teaching, I got to work with an awesome teacher trainer who taught me how to use a series of questions to walk students through problems interactively.   It’s like dancing—you’re always one step ahead of the student, but you’re pushing them to do as much of the work as possible without them really noticing.  This approach is still at the heart of my work with students.

Now that I have my own business, I get inspiration from various educators, like Doug Lemov’s book Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College, Steve Demme’s Math U See curriculum, and Danica McKellar’s series of math books for girls.  I talk shop with friends of mine who also teach, and read math bloggers like Sam J Shah and Kate Nowak.  And I love following new research on motivation, the brain, human achievement—journalists like Dan Pink, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, and researchers like Carol Dweck and Edward Deci.

How exactly does online personal maths tuition work?

When I decided to start working with students online, I wanted to make it as intuitive and personal as possible.

During tutoring, we talk over the phone or on Skype.  We write using a digital pen tablet (that I mail to the student).  When students write with the digital pen on the tablet, their handwriting shows up on the computer screen.  We see each other’s work by using the pen tablet to write on an interactive online whiteboard.  That way, I see what the student writes as they write it, and they see what I write as I write it.

It’s like sitting next to each other writing on the same piece of paper, except we don’t have to be sitting next to each other!  (Here’s a quick online math tutoring demo.)

New Online Tutoring Demo from Rebecca Zook on Vimeo.

Why do some families choose online rather than face to face maths tutoring?

Most parents come to me for online tutoring because they believe I can help their kid.  Sometimes their kid has a unique learning style and they’ve tried tutors in their area but haven’t been able to find one that’s a good fit.  Also,  parents call me because they see online tutoring as a way their kid can work with an experienced math tutor even if they’re in a rural area or living abroad.

For most students, if the trust and connection is there, whether the tutoring happens online or in person doesn’t really matter.  They’re just different ways for students to get the customized help that they need.

Give us your Top 3 pieces of advice to parents looking to support their children’s maths learning.

1) Math is a skill, not a talent.  Math is not something that you demonstrate that you “have” or “don’t have”—it’s an ability that’s developed over time with practice.  This is the most important thing you can demonstrate to your kid.  Tell them it’s okay to make mistakes.  Explain that when something feels difficult, it’s just a normal part of the learning process that everyone goes through.

2) Also, if what you’re doing isn’t working, try something different.  If a kid has been trying to learn multiplication tables with flashcards and they can’t remember 7×8 to save their life, it doesn’t mean they’ll never get it; it just means it’s time to try a different tactic, like Rockin’ the Standards’ multiplication songs, or building the facts with manipulatives.

Same thing with textbooks—if a textbook really doesn’t make any sense to your kid, try a different one, get a copy of a Danica McKellar math book, or watch some youtube tutorials together.  There’s a ton of good math information out there, and there’s no reason to suffer if you’re in a situation where your kid’s not learning.

3) Be patient and stay positive.  Don’t take what they don’t understand personally.  They might not yet have learned stuff you think is easy or basic.  If your kid doesn’t get an explanation right away, try explaining it another way.  Ask them to explain the parts they do understand to you.  Get out their notes, handouts, textbook and work through some examples together.

Likewise, even if you haven’t added fractions or done long division in decades, be patient with yourself.  Don’t be afraid to get in there and re-learn the material.  It’s okay to tell your kid that you don’t know how to do it, and then model what to do when you’re stuck.  That’s one of the most important skills you can ever demonstrate to your kid!

Which was your favourite piece of advice that Rebecca gave? Would you consider using an online maths tutor? Tell us in the comments below!

Bright Spark Education Review – Globalizing Maths Education


The world is now mathematically flat

Whether it’s the car you drive which was manufactured in Japan, or the clothes you wear which were stitched (with just a little bit of sweat) in Thailand, or yet another bright piece of plastic which clutters up your living room and originated in China, there’s no doubting that at least in an economic sense, the world is truly flat.

So it should come as no surprise that a British company, Bright Spark Education has trained Indian maths graduates to offer live, one-to-one maths tuition over the internet.

Is it any good? Watch my review of Bright Spark Education or read the transcript of the video below.

There’s a special Maths Insider offer at the of this post so be sure you scroll down to the end for the details.

Bright Spark Education review

Video Transcript

Welcome to Maths Insider, today I’m going to review Bright Spark Education.

Bright Spark Education are a company that provide one to one maths tutoring online and on demand. They cover topics from the UK National Curriculum for children ages 7-16, but having tested the programme myself, I’m sure that children from different countries using different curricula can still benefit from this program. What makes Bright Spark Education different is that all their tutors are based in India. They’re all maths graduates and have all been trained to deliver the lessons using the virtual classroom and the live interactive chat just like Skype. As a result of  their tutors being based in India, the cost of the program is rather good value starting at £12 per lesson for 5 lessons and going up to 15 per session for a block of 2 sessions.

I tested this program with my daughter who took 3 lessons with her Bright Spark tutor. One of the lessons she studied was on Pythagoras’ Theorem. We chose to use Bright Spark to introduce topics that she hadn’t studied before, in a way to extend her maths learning but Bright Spark can obviously also be used to review work that your child may find difficult. Although she’d never heard of Pythagoras’ Theorem before, by the end of the hour long lesson she could find the answer to the questions involving Pythagoras’ Theorem. She also really liked the virtual classroom, being able to write, or rather scrawl with her mouse was all quite fun for her, she quite an artist as well, and she found her teacher quite friendly and encouraging,  but she did feel that the lessons were rather long.

Bright Spark tuition sessioms can be booked 24 hours a day 365 dyas a year so whatever time of day your child wants to have their lesson there’ll be a Bright Spark tutor available. You only need to give 1 day’s notice and also a day’s notice of a cancellation of a lesson.

You can choose to upload work that your child has been doing at school or choose from the topics presented on the menu. There’s a broad range of topics available, which is great but the only problem is there’s no guidance as to which topics are suitable for children of which age, although I have fed back to Bright Spark Education about that and that’s something they’re going to look at that.

Once they’ve completed the lesson, you and your child can go back into the system and review the lesson, so that’s an excellent way of reviewing the work that they’ve done and you can see exactly how the lesson has progressed. As I said, my daughter actually managed to learn Pythagoras in the course of her hour long lesson. Another topic she studied was standard index form, which is another new topic for her. It was good to see that the one-on-one individual attention helped my her to tackle some quite difficult subjects.

There are also worksheets available which your child can look at before the lesson or after the lesson and they show the explanation of the topic and also the questions that are studied during the topic, so that’s really good for revision as well and an answer key is also available for all the questions.

There are videos on the website of parents talking about all the great features of Bright Spark and all talking about how their children have enjoyed it; and yes there are  great features. The website is very detailed, explaining how to set up your system and how to monitor your child’s progress, and of course the fact that Bright Spark are able to offer a trained maths tutor, teaching your child for a full hour at such a low price.

There are really only 2 reasons why Bright Spark may not work for your child. One of them is if your child is not good at understanding different accents. My children, we’re expats now, but even when we were living in Britain they had teachers from New Zealand, Canada, my daughter has an Indian maths teacher at school at the moment, so my children are comfortable with accents. The other thing is if your child is not used to using the Skype type system, the sound quality isn’t perfect, there are delays at times and sometimes the sound cuts out, but nothing that distracts from the work getting done in the lesson.

So my overall verdict for Bright Spark Education is 8 out of 10.

For more reviews and for quick tips and practical advice to help you guide your child to maths success visit

Bright Spark Education are offering  10% off  to Maths Insider readers for their live one-to-one maths tutoring sessions. Just enter the discount code mathsinsider on the Bright Spark Education sign up page.

Will you be trying out Bright Spark Education? Tell me in the comments below!

5 Merry Maths Games for Reluctant Learners


Merry is a friend and fellow blogger at Merry Makes.  She’s also a qualified Science and EFL (English as a foreign language) teacher and is in great demand around these parts to tutor. When she told me that she had finally agreed to tutor her friend’s maths phobic son, I knew there would be an interesting guest post in the making for Maths Insider. Merry couldn’t teach a boring lesson if she tried, so read on to find out how Merry used maths games to begin to ease her student’s maths fears!

Can maths games really help to improve maths skills?

My friend had been asking me to tutor her 9 year old son for nearly a year. I was reluctant because although he was a polite enough boy, he rarely made eye contact and would barely speak to me when I would meet his family socially. I gave his mum some ideas for some maths games but she couldn’t see how her child’s maths could improve  by playing games. In the end, I agreed to have a trial sessions with him (with his mum present as well).

A maths puzzle as an ice breaker

First I showed him the marble-puzzle ‘Solitare’ in which marbles are set up in a pattern with one empty hole. Marbles are eliminated from the board when another piece jumps over it; each piece can only jump if there is an empty space just beyond the adjacent marble. the aim of the game is to have a single marble left in the central position. I have yet to complete it successfully  myself but am getting better at leaving only one or two marbles. My student tried the game out, making several mistakes but I corrected him and gave him plenty of encouragement.

A maths game with number tiles

The first number-related game I introduced was a bag of tiles (much like tiles for Scrabble) and I asked him to pick 20 at random. I did the same. To liven up the activity I handed over my mobile phone so he could use the stopwatch function to time me, whilst I arranged my tiles in ascending order, and in colour groups. Then it was his turn, and I timed him. Mum had told me that my student wouldn’t engage in verbal or audio learning methods, mostly preferring kinaesthetic approaches (very fidgety whenever mum teaches him at home), I realized that his (possibly deliberate?) slow motor-skills would be an area to focus on.

A maths game with playing cards

We moved on to adding numbers which we took turns in throwing from a deck of playing cards. Before we started I asked and confirmed with him the value of Ace, Jack, Queen and King.  As he was fairly good at adding up (sums including the King, value 13, and Jack, value 11) and he was rapidly winning cards off me, I stepped up the challenge to multiplication sums.

I soon noticed that any sum involving more than the 3-times table was a struggle for him. In fact, I saw him counting subtly on his fingers whilst rolling his eyes. After all it is a long way to count 8 x 7 on your fingers!

A spin-the-wheel maths game

I introduced a game which has some random numbers on a board, with a spinning arrow on it. The ‘Howzat’ game comes with (again, Scrabble-like) tiles and tile-stands. The aim of the game is to spin the wheel and then use the sand-timer provided to come up with sums which give that number as their answers. There are several function (+, -, x, and division) tiles as well as the equal sign. My student once again, enjoyed being the time-keeper!So I asked him to liven up the game by calling out: ‘on your marks, get set, GO’. I managed to get a syllable or two out of him. Again, what came through was his weakness in dealing with any number bigger than 20 (easy enough to count up to), although he did manage to successfully put together a couple of expressions to give the answer 50. Still, it was a lot of , encouragment to get him to make the next move! ..and a maths game with dice

The last game involved using 2 dice to produce multiplication sums. This was a lot more fun than getting my student to solve written questions. It definitely won his attention! However, once again, any sum involving more than the 3-times table was a challenge for him. After several minutes, making sure he had some moments of triumph as well (easier sums like x 2), I brought the game to an end and made some general comments of praise, pointing out how good he was at the 2 and 3 times tables.

The activities described took an hour or so. I got away with an hour long session as all activities were:

  • Diagnostic – I wanted to find out what he knew, and what he didn’t so didn’t persist if the answers were incorrect.
  • Offered up as games – Which child doesn’t like playing games?
  • Frequently changed –  Using 5 activities meant I was able to vary the pace and spend more or less time on each activity.
  • Using different resources – Although the basic aim of each activity was the same, the format changes kept him engaged.

Maths games work!

They can work for you and your child, too, just make sure you:
  • get their attention!
  • make it fun!
  • let them succeed!
  • give them praise!

All photos: Merry Makes

Merry blogs at Merry Makes where she inspires and delights readers with discoveries and tutorials spanning crafts, recipes, gardening and more!


Do you think maths games can help your child improve their maths? Tell us in the comments below!