Conquer Disorganization and Homework Angst This Year [009]

Conquer Disorganization and Homework Angst This Year [009]

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All I want to do is climb back into bed and veg. It has been a great summer, but I am wiped out. My stomach feels like a pretzel as I worry about my two oldest boys going to middle school.

Tightening Twists of Worry

Tightening Twists of Worry

Most of my worries are centered on my oldest son.  In years past we dealt with disorganization and homework issues all too often.

Worries That Make My Stomach Twist:

  • Will this year be a repeat of the last two?
  • Will he stay on top of his work?
  • Will he ever put that phone down?
  • Will we battle more than I care to?
  • Did I prepare him enough?

Before I share how we prepared, I want to travel back in time and share with you the last two years have been like for our family.

Time Travel!

Time Travel!

Smart but Scattered

My son is super smart and homework doesn’t reflect what he knows as he performs well on all of his tests.

There would be times I didn’t worry or check in on his grades as he would come home and happily report he got an A on his math test.

But then I’d be so frustrated because I’d log in to check on his grades only to see a bunch of zeros and 100% on tests. Keeping my botox brow intact at moments like that was impossible.

Disorganization and Homework…just…SUCKS!

One could argue that homework is a waste of this kid’s mental capacity (science is backing me up on this). He absorbs a lot of information by listening and seeing, which means he doesn’t need a lot of time for practice.

This combination of strengths though leaves him vulnerable in the traditional school system where grades are based on homework and tests. Instead of viewing a test score as a reflection of his ability, my son looks at his overall grades and thinks he isn’t smart–even though all his testing says otherwise.

It’s frustrating that my kid is punished because of poor habits. When he doesn’t turn in homework it reflects in his grades even though we all know he is smart, but scattered.

We use a lot of humor to deal with difficult situations. As I pondered our problem this school year, I thought of Steve Martin’s El Guapo speech in Three Amigos!

Each of Us Has an El Guapo to Face! Ours is Time Management & Organization

Our Plan to Overthrow El Guapo:

Over the past two years, I’ve noticed some patterns:

Problem: Binders

My son doesn’t like traditional binders. For some reason, if it requires two hands to get the paper put away it won’t happen. His binder was a mess. Right before the end of the year, I went through all of the papers and organized them according to the subject. I saw duplicates and partially completed homework. He had no clue what was in his binder!

Solution: Accordion File Folder

This year he opted for a folder system with an in/out section for each class period with the exception of PE and Lunch. The ability to drop in a slot and go appealed to him.

In the front of the folder, he has his schedule, monthly planner, and some lined paper for notes. I worry that he won’t take the time to really pay attention to what piece of paper goes where and he will shove them all in as he gathers his stuff to head to the next class.

But the goal is for him to put all papers he receives during that period in the IN section. When he gets home, pulls out this pile for each class and goes through to do homework, get papers signed and such. When an assignment is complete, he’ll put it in the out folder so that all he has to do is grab it to turn it in.

Problem: No-Name Papers

Another big culprit last year was writing his name on papers. As I was sorting, I also saw that he struggled to write his name on everything. In an effort to avoid summer school, I wrote his name on all papers.

Solution: Name Stamper

We opted to get a name stamper so he could just quickly stamp all the papers that come to his desk so he doesn’t have to overthink it. I like the idea as it has a ritual and sensory input too, but I am not sure this teenage boy will be able to not be obnoxious with this stamper. I’m envisioning he will be tempted to stamp his friends or his arm a bunch of times. Stuff like that means he is going to get it taken away. Hopefully, he will just be chill about it.

Keep the Name Stamper Simple

Staples Name Stamp (click to buy)

Problem: Backpack Clutter

Last year, his backpack had things molding at the bottom, a fine dust that I couldn’t identify, and crumpled papers in every pocket.

Solution: Backpack with Fewer Pockets

By having fewer places to put things, it will be less likely items will get lost and hopefully cleaned out more often. We almost chose a simple sling backpack, but ultimately chose not to as the bottom wasn’t strong enough to handle textbooks. I knew we would be replacing it too often during the year.

Classic Addidas Backpack

Classic Addidas Backpack (click to buy)

Problem: Tracking Assignments

Even though he had a planner last year, he didn’t write much down and his teachers were not good at keeping their website up to date with assignments.

Solution: Simplified Planner

Instead of buying the school planner, we bought a leather-bound monthly academic planner. This way he only has to worry about the information on a two-page spread instead of keeping track of items by the week.

We ripped out pages he didn’t need and then marked days off from school and other vacations we had planned for this year.

Finally, I taught him some shorthand for writing assignments.

The Genius Behind these Changes

All of these suggestions we are taking directly from Seth Perler, executive function coach. I met with Seth at the end of last year because my son was on the verge again of failing his classes which meant summer school. None of us wanted to do summer school.

His ideas and suggestions for avoiding summer school totally worked! My son even earned “Most Improved” in his English Language Arts class which embarrassed him big time.

Seth also gave us an attack plan for this next school year so we can start strong and avoid the dip this year. (Watch Seth’s video about the dip.)

Providing Support and Feedback to Defeat Our El Guapo

You may be wondering how we’re going to support our son in doing this? I’ve set some alarms on my phone to help me mentally check-in and give feedback. All of my time of support will be spent inside of his homework area.

A Dedicated Study Space

Seth recommends creating a dedicated study space. We bought him a desk with no drawers (just like a backpack, it gets unruly) and a chair that swivels so he can move while working. Above his desk is a large monthly view calendar to help him see at a glance bigger items like appointments, projects, tests, and sports.

Even on his desktop, we chose to keep it simple with a jar for his pens/pencils with a lamp as well.

First few weeks of school:

  • Check folders each night
  • Go over planner
  • Clean out backpack each Saturday
  • Check assignments against grade book on Saturdays
  • Move graded papers to each child’s done box

My plan is to stick with this pattern for the first three months of school as it takes usually 66 days for a new habit to form.

Then slowly remove me from constant support. In the first few weeks, I’ll be right there by his side but over time I plan to be in the room so it gets done and he stays on task.

While my stomach is still in knots as I finish writing this, I know that we’re gonna make it.

Yep. I think we're gonna make it.

Yep. I think we’re gonna make it.


Kick Homework Drama to the Curb!

Enroll in our free course for parents.  All you need to do is create a login and then the course opens to you!  Click the button to start learning now.

Adrianne Meldrum

Adrianne Meldrum

Owner of Math for Middles

I’m the owner and creator of the math videos here at Math for Middles.  I’ve tutored students for over ten years.  When I am not creating here, you’ll find me down by the river with my family.  You can read more about me here and how I once was a middle schooler too.

Math is Real Life:  Orthodontist Math

Math is Real Life: Orthodontist Math

Sunlight danced across my son’s shaking foot resting on the dental chair. He was nervous about his visit to the orthodontist. Dr. Mongillo was hunched over my son’s mouth with a Boley gauge in one hand. Under his breath, I could hear numbers being said with pauses afterward.

Inching closer to hear the whispers, I peer down into my son’s mouth. Startled by me standing so close by, Dr. Mongillo pushed back his chair to glance up at me with a smile. I had his attention! My question escaped before I could stop my nerdy self.

“Dr. Mongillo, is that math you’re doing?”

His eyebrows went up with surprise. Most parents ask questions about time and cost of braces, not about the technical work! Dr. Mongillo relaxed and responded cheerfully, “Why yes I am!”

“I’d love to hear more about the math you are doing right now.”

Taken back by my request, he inserted the Boley gauge again in my son’s mouth. I noticed the little jaws of the gauge opening and closing in around the width of the tooth.

“See, I am measuring his teeth and then doing some calculations to estimate the size of his adult teeth. This helps me to know how much room to make for his adult teeth.”

After some swift calculations, Dr. Mongillo shared with me that my son has large adult teeth coming and he needs to make some room. Estimation using an equation allows him to make a treatment plan so he can prepare his mouth for these teeth.

The plan starts with rubber band spacers, then moves to a metal appliance. Following these items, my son will have baby teeth pulled out to make room for his large teeth. I was crazy excited about this conversation for two reasons:

  1. My son is will have a big happy smile like his daddy (one reason I fell in love with him).
  2. I saw math being done out in the real world!

As a math tutor, I am always looking for opportunities to use math in real life. Dr. Mongillo shared the equation he uses to help him do calculations with me. Today, I am sharing a worksheet for real life practice with the kind of work an orthodontist does every day.

Download Your Free Worksheet 

Read about how orthodontists estimate the room needed for adult teeth and practice with 3 case studies of your own.  Take it a step further and use actual Boley gauges to measure teeth to see how your teeth measure up to the formula.

Get your free copy by signing up below.

This post is part of a series my friend Jamie Riggs (Miss Math Dork) has been hosting for over 4 years.  Want to find more posts about Math in Real Life?  Click the image to head over to Miss Math Dork to check them out.

Math is Real Life Ideas

More Math is Real Life Ideas

Adrianne Meldrum

Adrianne Meldrum

Owner of Math for Middles

I’m the owner and creator of the math videos here at Math for Middles.  I’ve tutored students for over ten years.  When I am not creating here, you’ll find me down by the river with my family.  You can read more about me here and how I once was a middle schooler too.
Real Life Math: Orthodontist Math |
Could Virtual Public School Be the Right Fit for Your Teen? [008]

Could Virtual Public School Be the Right Fit for Your Teen? [008]

School doesn’t always go as we had imagined for our kids. Social problems, not being challenged or the opposite, too much challenging work–many reasons to be frustrated with the traditional school experience.

Remember Never Been Kissed with Drew Barrymore?  I think that movie in the 90’s was relatable because we all know what it’s like to feel invisible or lower than everyone else.

I wonder what her life would have been like if she would have opted to attend a virtual public school instead?

Say Goodbye to Josie Grosie

Virtual Public Schools

Many parents start to get curious about the online K-12 public schools as an option to homeschooling their children in an effort to help their children find out who they are outside of what their peers think.

Often it feels overwhelming to think about taking the role of educator in addition to parenting. For many families, it has been a game changer for their children.

Could online public school be the solution to some of your issues with the traditional public school setting?

Listen in as I interview two very different mothers of teenagers as they share their journey with online public school. Plus get the scoop from a middle school student what school is like online. We’ll cover things you need to consider like:

  • Child’s Temperament
  • Parent’s Temperament
  • Socializing
  • School Curriculum
  • Dual Enrollment
  • Scheduling/Planning Online School

Both of these parents have inspired me to take a second look at virtual public schools.  It may just be the solution for some of our woes around our school experience thus far.  I can tell already that my idea of virtual public school probably won’t go like I have imagined.

What about you?  Have you considered virtual public school before?

Adrianne Meldrum

Adrianne Meldrum

Owner of Math for Middles

I’m the owner and creator of the math videos here at Math for Middles.  I’ve tutored students for over ten years.  When I am not creating here, you’ll find me down by the river with my family.  You can read more about me here and how I once was a middle schooler too.

Math Anxiety Solutions [007]

Math Anxiety Solutions [007]

|This post contains affiliate links|

Math anxiety can feel like a skipping record.  It’s frustrating because it feels like there is no way to get rid of the scratch.  The grooves are too deep.  We’re focusing on what math anxiety looks like.  How can you tell the difference between anxiety and heightened awareness?

Listen in to hear our tips about:

  • Fight or Flight Response
  • Avoidance Behaviors:  distracting others, playing, acting out, or running away
  • Brain Function that Causes Anxiety
  • When to seek professional attention

Anxiety Resources for Tweens:

Book::  What to Do When You Worry Too Much by Dawn Huebner

Anxiety Resources for Teens:

Book::  Choke  by Sian Beilock

Website::  Youth Anxiety

Wearable Worry/Fidget Devices:

Click the images to purchase these items.

Scrubbing out the grooves in a skipping record takes time.  If you need help with taking the next steps to a happier tween or teen around the topic of math, we’re here to help!  Reach out via email to get started today.

Adrianne Meldrum

Adrianne Meldrum

Owner of Math for Middles

I’m the owner and creator of the math videos here at Math for Middles.  I’ve tutored students for over ten years.  When I am not creating here, you’ll find me down by the river with my family.  You can read more about me here and how I once was a middle schooler too.
What to Do When Khan Academy is NOT Helping

What to Do When Khan Academy is NOT Helping

Most of my students have major issues with online learning in general. Especially Khan Academy. I always tell them, “For a free teacher, it is amazing! But, you get what you pay for.”

Khan Academy was really the first to empower online learning. I will tell you the positives after I explain the pitfalls of this platform:

Why Khan Academy Doesn’t Work for All Learners:

For the student who doesn’t understand why they got the question wrong (because actually, they didn’t)

Most of my students have major issues with Khan Academy because they don’t get useful feedback when doing the generated problems in the software. Teacher corrections on problems are very important plus understanding how to attempt new problems is critical.

One of my students had to do an online program with lots of math problems to test her understanding. She would work really hard, do everything correctly, and submit the answer. She got all of them wrong.

The problem was that she was putting the answer incorrectly into the interface. This happened with nearly every new type of problem she attempted. She then would get devastated about how she couldn’t do the math correctly.

When Khan Academy gives you the fits.

The computer just didn’t understand what she was writing. Her frustration was very detrimental to her learning and love of math!

For the student who is learning the content for the first time without background knowledge

Another student was using Khan Academy as his first way of learning the material. This usually ended disastrously for him. Because he had no understanding of the context of the new math concept, he would become frustrated at the point of the problems and the examples.

When the problems haven’t been sufficiently explained or don’t have clear processes to solve them, my student would guess and check which turned into guess and check learning.

This means that he thought that he knew the “correct method” (he was guessing) instead of using math logic and math rules. His understanding of the topic was so jumbled because the content has not been thoroughly explained and structured.

For the student who has difficulty with word problems

The wording for Khan Academy is very specific. A student can learn how to do types of problems easily on Khan Academy once they realize the word patterns. The software simply switches numbers.

But, textbooks, tests, and standardized exams like the SAT and ACT are not that formulaic!

Khan works best as a refresher for students and parents!

As a quick refresher to a type of problem or concept, Khan Academy can be a great resource. Their short videos can remind viewers how to solve problems or the way concepts are named. Now, Khan Academy has courses so a learner can see the usual sequence of concepts. This is very useful when reviewing for a test or new grade level after summer.

What to Do When Khan Academy is Not Helping

1 – Think About Mindset

If your child has had mostly negative experiences with math, it’s time to get some help with mindset. Most likely your child feels like it doesn’t matter if they try–because they will fail. Your child might be viewing failure as a bad thing, instead of an opportunity to learn.

Enroll in this free math class from Jo Boaler of Standford University.

How to Learn Math: For Students

Dr. Boaler and her undergraduate students worked together to create a class all about how the brain actually learns, strategies for pushing past the discomfort of failure, and ideas for being a better student.

The entire class is self-paced and features short lessons. Every video was built to engage with tweens and teens.

2 – Return to the Basics

Tap back into the way you learned math. I promise it’s okay to do that! Even though Common Core math has changed the order of some concepts, at this age it is the same math you were taught.

Pick up a used textbook and dig into the book to refresh your memory and read with your child how to do the problem.

Common Core Math textbook

Focus on the Hands-on Math Sections

Focus on the sections with hands-on learning. These are at the heart of Common Core Math standards with good reason! When we start at the concrete level, we build a stronger foundation for abstract thinking.

3 – Look for Multisensory Math Resources

Multisensory math is the use of sight, touch, hearing, and movement which make it easier to understand what the numbers and symbols represent.

At the heart of this type of instruction is lessons that build from with what we call the CRA approach:

Concrete (think touching objects)

Representational (drawing)

Abstract (just numbers)

Educators who know how to use this in their lessons are highly effective as they tap into the senses and use slower and precise language.




Here is a short list of our recommended resources:


4 – Multisensory Math Tutors

As a parent or student, look for a program that is going to structure your learning with easier to understand language and a pace that ensures learning. Giving students the tools to learn from the concrete to the abstract with multisensory learning make EVERYONE learn.

At Math for Middles, we understand the interplay of working memory, long-term memory, and processing speed with structured learning. For diverse learners like students with dyslexia, attentional issues, or other neural needs, this becomes very important. Working memory is paramount for taking in new information which is why we use stories to help connect an abstract idea to concrete understanding.

Long term memory needs multisensory learning to make better neural connections. Processing speed dedicated the pacing of our videos so all learners can hear and then learn new information. Our goal is to incorporate the needs of all learning styles so each child is learning!

Kara Scanlon

Kara Scanlon

Preferred Online Math Tutor

Kara Scanlon is a trained educational therapist and specialist in multisensory math.  As the owner of Scanlon Educational Therapy, she gets results when traditional tutoring hasn’t worked.  You can get to know Kara a little by reading her posts here on Math for Middles and schedule a time to tutor with Kara here.

3 Easy Ways to Help Your Teen Score Higher on a Math Test

3 Easy Ways to Help Your Teen Score Higher on a Math Test

My frustrated student tosses her math test on my desk. I sense she’s fighting back tears, but I don’t make eye contact as I know the tears will bubble over onto her cheeks. Scanning down the page, I look at the marks the teacher has left in red.

It’s not that she can’t do the math, not at all. She’s omitting small items that lead to points lost which bring decent math test grades down.  She needs just a few math test tips to help improve her grade.

These details seem unimportant to many students, but teachers know that they are essential to learning math. Here is the standard that many teachers are using to guide marking of these errors.


Attend to precision.
Mathematically proficient students try to communicate precisely to others. They try to use clear definitions in discussion with others and in their own reasoning. They state the meaning of the symbols they choose, including using the equal sign consistently and appropriately. They are careful about specifying units of measure, and labeling axes to clarify the correspondence with quantities in a problem. They calculate accurately and efficiently, express numerical answers with a degree of precision appropriate for the problem context. In the elementary grades, students give carefully formulated explanations to each other. By the time they reach high school they have learned to examine claims and make explicit use of definitions.

And right then…I felt like I just got word vomited on.

How about you?

To help me see it, I’m going to break into a list of skills:

Communicate precisely to others

  • Can they use the language of math to defend their thinking?
  • Know why they chose the symbols
  • Do they use the equal sign correctly?

Label appropriately

  • Can use the correct units of measures?
  • Label diagrams?


  • Can they do them fast and correctly?

These skills teach the student to examine numbers or claims and decide if the conclusions others come to are indeed correct.

Sounds like a life skill that translates into other areas as well.

Consequences of Ignoring the Details

Once at a math conference, a presenter showed the implications of not being able to look at someone else’s conclusions and identify false information.

He cited an article stating most of the population was in favor of a levy. But when looking at the data and graph, it was skewed. The scale of the graph looked much more dramatic when in fact, the actual numbers were 54 in favor and 46 against. That’s hardly a majority. That’s closer to an even split!

Math teaches us to pay attention to important details. A life skill we all need.

3 Easy Math Test Skills that Increase Scores

#1 – Understanding Directions:

Many students will gloss over the directions at the top of the problem. Teach your child to read the directions and underline the task, even for a set of similar problems.

My son recently did this on a homework assignment. His teacher circled the part of the instructions that he missed. An important detail for sure!

Teach your child to watch for the details in math. Underline important parts of the directions or problem. For more test taking tips, head to

Instructions DO matter.

For word problems, I teach my students the 3 Read Approach. Let me show you how it works with this problem below.

Practice math test skills.

Step 1: Read and Get Rid of Distractions

Wow, first thing going through my head…why does this guy need 102 watermelons?  Remember the math watermelon memes?


Actual watermelon math problem that you can solve!

He exists!


Second, how in the world do I even say Javier?

Step 2: Read and Rename

I have my students change names that they can’t pronounce to names that they know. Many of them pick friends.

Then we rename words or definitions if they don’t know what they are. An example of this would be to change out maximum and capacity for most weight. Explain why and find the definitions together.

Practice math test skills.

Step 3: Read and Underline Details

Finally, we underline what we’re solving here.

  • Is there more than one question that needs to be answered?
  • What operations am I doing?

Practice math test skills.

#2 – Labeling Units:

Kara shared with me that when she catches her students forgetting details like labeling units, she will ask, “What unit is it? Monkeys squared?”

This question is brain sticky and helps a student grasp a visual reminder.  The square shape of the monkey connects area to the units.  Of course, it isn’t monkeys squared!

Practice math test skills.

Watch out for squared monkeys!

#3 – Understanding the Language of Math

Math is real life and word problems are used to help students gain understanding in applying math to everyday situations. Often students will skim over a word or feel lost because they do not know the equivalence of the word to the math operation.

Practicing looking for the operations inside of word problems helps students identify what they need to do to solve the problem.

Here is a list of keywords that you see often in problems.


  • sum
  • and
  • total
  • altogether


  • product
  • each
  • multiplied


  • less than
  • remain
  • fewer
  • how many more


  • each
  • per
  • divided
  • of


  • is
  • has

For my students, I have a math problem checklist that they can tuck into the front of a binder to help them remember the details.

I know this checklist can keep tears from even having a chance to bubble over about the next test.

You can download a copy for your teen here below.

Adrianne Meldrum

Adrianne Meldrum

Owner of Math for Middles

I’m the owner and creator of the math videos here at Math for Middles.  I’ve tutored students for over ten years.  When I am not creating here, you’ll find me down by the river with my family.  You can read more about me here and how I once was a middle schooler too.

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