Parents often share their kids’ math anxiety. Even if students have the same calculus we learned back in the day, it’s still stressful if we can’t offer much help when they struggle with homework.

But one mom defied mental (and physical) odds when she joined her daughter in a basic math class at Fullerton College in Orange County, California.

She hadn’t sat in a classroom in twenty years.

An article in the OC Register features Marie Anderson, a woman in her 40’s who tested out of high school to join the workforce before becoming a mother of two. She climbed the corporate ladder before she was diagnosed with an incurable autoimmune disease that took her job and home.

Still, she eventually gained her strength back, and had a new desire to join her daughter in summer classes. Math was still tough:

Daughter often tutored mother outside of class, explaining equations, rules and concepts. Anderson returned the favor when she could, with things such as fractions and word problems. The two regularly sat at the kitchen table and quizzed each other on terms written on flash cards.

Study buddies, Pimental called them.

The semester “bonded us,” she added. “I felt much closer to her knowing she was going to be there to support me.”

Ok, we know most parents don’t have the time to enroll in math class with our students. But there’s still a valuable lesson in communicating about homework:

# Be as invested in their studies as you’d like them to be.

Be curious; have your son or daughter explain concepts to you. Studies show that students learn more deeply about a subject if they can teach it to someone else. Have your student play the role of tutor, and you may both learn something (and it may not just be about math!)

However, even with open modes of communication, math was still challenging for Anderson. The academic stress triggered her illness, so she would make herself “sick being stressed out about school.”

Thankfully, she found a resource that saved her: an internet-based program through the college that provides tutors and online resources to improve math skills.

“Part of what we do is meet with students one-on-one to help them see that they come to college with a wealth of knowledge and experience,” said Michelle Garcia, SDSI manager. “We want them to learn how to apply that knowledge they’ve gained to college, to give themselves the opportunity to experience new ways of learning.”

Twice a week for two summer months, Anderson in 2015 worked with tutors who implored her to attack her weaknesses.

Anderson trusted the process and eventually aced her Math 129 class – which gears students for business calculus. She hopes to continue her studies onto UC Berkeley and start her own part-time business.

**Props to you, Mama Anderson!**

With the proven style of one-to-one tutoring, she was able to overcome the stress barriers of her math coursework. The fact is, individualized teaching can fill gaps that even family can’t replace.

Not all online tutoring services are made the same, however. For example, Yup really focuses on learning, as tutors don’t give students quick answers. We train our tutors on our pedagogy codeveloped with Stanford professors and every session focuses on 3 core dimensions.

# The first dimension is student engagement.

We want to build off existing knowledge. Our sessions start by saying something like,

Hey ___ , welcome to Yup. Let’s work on your problem together. What have you done so far?

# The second dimension is building confidence and creating growth mindsets.

Our tutors are trained to use language that encourages students and helps build confidence in their own abilities. We say things like, “Almost there! :)” or “Nice try!” rather than, “no thats wrong,” when a student makes a mistake. This gets session to go from 10 minutes on average to 30 minutes on average.

# The last dimension is checking for conceptual understanding.

When the student and tutor finish the problem, the tutor will say something like,

Hey, great job on that one. But let’s try another problem. Instead of 4x +7, what if the problem was 9x + 3? Can you try solving that?

This lets us ensure students have mastered the concept. We evaluate every session to measure learning and hold tutors accountable to student outcomes.