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.

12 Surprising Study and Test Skills for Middle and High Schoolers [006]

12 Surprising Study and Test Skills for Middle and High Schoolers [006]

Ugh….Study skills and test prep.  I know it’s important to teach my son.  Often I neglect to think about the long term effect of not teaching this life skill.  To motivate me more, I like to think of the contrasting stories of Les and his twin sister Natalie on License to Drive.

Natalie was prepared for her driving test. Les reminds me of my own son: messy backpack and a wing-it attitude.  As we all know, he failed the written part of the test.  The contrast between these twins is stark.  I don’t want my son to be uptight, but I also know that I don’t want him rationalizing bad decisions like Les or relying solely on his street smarts.

Study skills and test prep tips for middle and high schoolers.

That nagging feeling that you should’ve studied.

Study Skills and Test Prep = Life Skills

Studying helps your teen be a better manager of their own life.  This is the perfect time to learn valuable skills like taking notes, preparing in advance, and getting adequate sleep as we know these skills easily translate into the adult world.

When I am in a meeting now, I have to take notes.  I listen for the main idea and create a checklist of items that need attention.  I also know that if I have a deadline for a project, I can’t start it the night before and expect it to be any good.  If I’m sleep deprived, I can’t recall important information or even make sense when I speak.  No one enjoys that!

There are two ways to use this post.

  1. Listen to the podcast.  This was recorded for you and is packed with more information than we provided below.
  2.  Let your teen read this.  I address the student below as studying is your child’s responsibility.

Onto the tips!

1.  Organize Classwork and Notes

Open your binder, spread all your classwork and notes out.  Decide which pieces of paper are relevant to this upcoming test.  DON’T throw anything away just yet.  Put other classwork in a different folder or binder to hang onto it just in case your teacher loses a grade or an assignment is more important than you think.

2.  Rewrite Notes

Ugh.  I know, that one sounds like torture but actually can help you commit more of what you learned in class to memory.  This involves the senses.

The goal while working on rewriting notes is to be able to put them into your own words.  If you can’t do that, this should be a signal to you for help.  Ask your teacher, parent, tutor, or educational therapist for clarification until you can write it in your own words.

Back up…Taking Notes?

That moment when you realize you suck at taking notes. Study skills at

That moment when you realize you suck at taking notes.


It’s almost as if I could sense your mouse clicking away just then because….you. don’t. take. notes.

It’s never too late to learn how to take notes!  We have several posts here on Math for Middles to help you to take those first steps to better note taking today.  You can read them here and here.  Reach out to your parent for help in learning how to take better notes.  They may have some tips from their days back in school that are surprising helpful.

3.  Vocabulary Matters

Look on your worksheets for text that is in bold or defined math vocabulary in your notes.  These are important pieces that further your understanding.  If you read the directions for a problem and you don’t understand the vocabulary, it may hinder your ability to do the problem correctly and to completion.

4.  Go Over Quizzes

Get feedback from your teachers? Don't understand a mark they made, ask for clarification.

Get feedback from your teacher if you don’t understand their notes.

After you’ve organized all the work, you’ll need to look at quizzes closely.  Your teacher doesn’t have infinite amounts of time to make problems for tests.  Most likely, they’ll just reuse the same kind of problem but change out the numbers.  You can do the same to practice for that upcoming test.

Look over any feedback the teacher may have given you on your quiz.  If you don’t understand it, make sure to ask!  I once had a student that saw little blue circles on her quiz that made her think they were zeros.  This wasn’t what her teacher was trying to communicate at all.  Instead, her teacher wanted her to realized she had missed a negative sign in front of a number.  But the teacher didn’t convey that in her writing.

5.  Sleep

Pulling an all nighter is not going to help you do better on a test.  Start preparing for tests more than one day in advance.  This requires you to make time in your schedule.  Add it to the calendar, ask for help to stick to your schedule from a parent or friend.

Get at least 7 hours of sleep the night before a big test.

6.  Study Group

Just like rewriting your notes and putting them into your own words, you also can take advantage of a study group with the same goal.  Take different parts of the previous chapter of math and divide it into sections.  Assign one to each person and have them prepare it well enough to teach it to someone else.

Beware.  Groups might not work for everyone.

If working in a group causes you to goof around Snapchatting a friend your Bambi face, you’ll be better off studying on your own.

7.  Sacred Study Space

Seth Perler teaches teen students to create a special space in their home where nothing but studying happens there.  This space should have everything you need in it to be successful.  Don’t forget to keep yourself as distraction free as possible.  Turn your phone on airplane mode while you work so that social media updates don’t get the best of you.

Music is more distracting than helpful.

8.  Chew Gum

Use gum for focus, not entertainment.

When tension is running high, gum can help with the senses to calm and focus the mind.  Just don’t blow bubbles in your friend’s face. 

9.  Power Up with Protein

Choosing mostly carbs the day of a test can leave you hungry and distracted.  Instead, opt for more protein in the morning or try eating a Snickers or yummy protein snacks like these.

Power Balls…delish and teen approved!


10.  Avoid Chatting with Friends About Nervousness

Before a test, it may be tempting to talk to friends about how you feel like you are going to bomb a test.  Avoid this at all cost!  Wait until after you’ve finished complaining about the test.

It’s simple, talking about how poorly you feel like you will do raises your anxiety level and thus makes it more likely it will happen because you are leaning into the fear monger instead of your knowledge.

11.  Get Physical!

Jump out the jitters…or power pump it out?

As a human, you have in your DNA the response to fight or flight upon a stressful situation.  Back when we were scavenging and hunting for food, this was a helpful response.  Today, it can get in the way of our performance on a test as we feel this urge to run from a test.

Doing a little bit of exercise before your test will help to focus your mind.  Try doing a lap around the school building or jumping jacks in the bathroom at school, whatever you can to get rid of this primal instinct.

12.  Talk It Out

I know that I mentioned don’t talk about how nervous you are to a friend about the upcoming test, but talking to your parent, teacher, or tutor about how you feel about upcoming tests can really help.

Learning to change your thinking takes time, but is worthwhile work as you learn how to frame your mind each time you approach a test. Use this free guide with a trusted adult today to help you start the conversation.

Related Resource:  Whole Brain Child Connection.  How to Help Your Teen Be Successful

What To Do When Studying Doesn’t Seem to Help

We realize that sometimes you feel like you are spinning your wheels in a topic.  There are so many options you have when you feel stuck.

Go to Class with One Goal:  The Main Idea

During each class, try to think big picture.  What was the main idea of this lesson?  If you can’t seem to figure that out, approach your teacher after the lesson is over and ask for help.  Resist the urge to start with, “I don’t get it.”  Instead, start with, “What was the main idea of our lesson today?”

Compare it to what you heard during class.  If they don’t match up, this is a sign to ask for more help.

Get Comfy with Questions

Approaching a teacher (especially a grouchy one) can be the worst!  But remember that teaching is their job.  Questions also help a teacher evaluate where they can improve.  If questions never get asked, they can’t adjust their delivery of the content to help you.

Come to your teacher with a list of questions if talking to them makes you nervous.

If even the thought of that makes you break out in a sweat, take it one step back.  Send questions via email.  Teachers love email because they can answer questions when it is convenient for them.

Ask for More Examples

If you are stuck, ask your teacher to explain a concept in a different way.  But give them a hint of how you learn best.  If you grab information in a hands-on way, tell them that!  Ask for a YouTube video of a real life example.

No teacher will be annoyed that you are asking questions. The perception of you will be one of a student that CARES about their results in class.

Focus on Getting Help with Executive Function

The front part of your brain is under construction.  This is where all the functions to carry out one main goal, like taking a test can be troublesome for some students.  Getting help with executive functioning can help you for a life time, not just in your geometry class.  Hiring executive function professionals like Seth or Marydee may just do the trick.

Get a Tutor or Educational Therapist

Sometimes you just need a different approach all together!  Let a parent know that you are ready for some outside help.  You can definitely use our services here on Math for Middles or ask for referrals from your teacher.

Related Parent Resource:  Living with Learning Difficulties

These years during middle and high school are a gift as you learn how to manage topics and expectations.  Remember to keep it all in perspective.  Just because you feel like you can’t pass the written part of a test like Les, doesn’t mean there won’t be an application to the real world.  These are skills for adulting.

Parents, ready to cut homework drama in half?  Enroll in our free course to learn how.


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.
Prevent the ‘New Normal’: How to Keep Your Teen from Living in Your Basement Forever [005]

Prevent the ‘New Normal’: How to Keep Your Teen from Living in Your Basement Forever [005]

| This post contains affiliate links |

Over the decades, we’ve laughed at Wayne and Garth living in the basement, giggled at Tripp failing to launch out of his childhood room, and almost wet our pants laughing at Matt Foley living in a van down by the river.

These fictitious basement dwellers are a reality for many parents of adult children today.

Why DO so many young adults live at home?

Experts cite that millennials are choosing to live at home due to rising housing costs, college tuition baggage, and no jobs.

While some of those are real concerns, I believe there is something else at play here.

Adulting is Hard

Meet Bobby. (name has been changed) An 18 year old that lived in his mother’s dark, dusty basement for close to 20 years past his high school graduation. He struggled to hold down a job and moved several times between his divorced parents’ homes.The real reason adulting makes you tired. |

Showering was not important.

Work was a pain.

People were annoying.

He vacillated between resolving to do better and lying in bed for days. In other words, adulting was hard in every aspect of his life.

Now it would be easy to label him as a lazy, unmotivated dude. As I reflect on how his life went from 18 – 34, I saw dysfunction in the brain.

Failed Launches

Bobby lacked the skills he needed to be successful. He had tried several times to launch himself out of his childhood home, but yet the dysfunction in his brain prevented him from doing so.

He didn’t become impaired at 18, rather this dysfunction got more unruly at the age of 11. This same issue is starting in your own tween and teen right now.

We know that starting around age 11, teens pre-frontal cortex is under construction which is a gift as it is the dysfunction that needs to happen so your child will want to launch from home.

Related: Why Your Smart Teen Does Stupid Things Sometimes

But why do failed launches occur?

It’s due to poor executive functioning. These skills reside in the pre-frontal cortex and continue to develop as late as 30 years of age. (Maybe that’s why Wayne and Garth got it together a little more in the sequel)

Good news?

There is plenty of time to help your teen develop the skills to live a happy life.  If you are a parent with an adult child living with you, it’s not too late. I tell my students, there is always time to learn.

Bad news?

Many teens and adults have impairments to the front part of the brain. Executive functioning issues coexist with ADHD, autism, dyslexia, sensory processing, auditory processing, anxiety, depression, and many others. This makes typical development happen at a slower rate.

I think Bobby had an undiagnosed issue that led to his poor executive function skills.

Could your teen be battling an undiagnosed issue? Keep reading and see if any of this resonates with you.

What is Executive Function and How Does It Affect My Teen?

Carrying out multiple steps can be challenging. Let’s look at the processes needed to complete a math homework assignment.

Why is homework so hard? It's complicated. Check out the executive functioning connection to homework. |

Click to enlarge

Does this help you have empathy for what your teen is trying to do with a set of skills that are not fully developed?

Each of these steps are found within the 8 Key Executive Functions.


Graphic of 8 Key Executive Functions

Click to enlarge

Now is the time to start working on these skills. But before we launch into that conversation, first let’s stop and talk about something that will 100% affect the outcome of your work on executive functioning.


Children look to you when they are forming their identity. What messages about your teen’s behavior are you sharing?

Seth Perler, an educational coach, taught that many well intentioned parents share these 3 common shame messages with their teens:

  • The Laziness Lie – Here, adults will directly or indirectly communicate to a child that he is lazy.
  • Try Harder – Here, adults tell a child that they just need to put in more effort
  • Don’t Care – Here, adults communicate to a child that they must not care about school, grades, learning, etc. “If you really cared, you’d do something about it.”

I’ve watched this unfold with my own students and myself. Last year, I was frustrated with my son because I knew he was smart, but he was struggling. He lacked the ability to be organized and I did label him as lazy and uncaring about his grades.

It wasn’t until I found Michelle Icard’s book, that I was reminded about executive functioning. Since then, I’ve worked harder to operate as my son’s assistant manager instead of sending these shame messages.

For example, today I looked at his grades. I channeled my favorite boss (Doug) and I emailed my son about his grades. I requested that he take a look at the missing assignments. Then I asked him to follow up with his teachers.

When he read the email, he came to me and reported what had happened. I ended the conversation by letting him know that I would be checking back in next week to see how he was doing. My husband saw the grades and was frustrated, but I was able to share how I handled it without getting emotional.

What Can You Do to Teach Executive Function Skills?

It takes time to develop these skills.  Remember What About Bob?  Baby steps.

Baby steps to the backpack.
Baby steps to writing in the planner.
Baby steps to turning in work.

Click on each of the key areas to explore various ideas for healthy executive function skills that you can work on starting today.

#1 Impulse Control

Do you have a teen that blurts out the first thought in his mind?  Interrupts you constantly?  He is lacking impulse control.  His brain is firing and he doesn’t pause long enough to be aware of his thought before it leaves his mouth.  This is part of metacognition.

Spending time teaching your teen to be aware of his thoughts and regulation of those thoughts takes practice. For real life examples, be sure to read Melissa Taylor’s post about metacognition.

#3 Flexible Thinking

If your teen is struggling to adjust when a plan suddenly changes, he might need help with flexible thinking activities.  In math, your teen may struggle with abstract concepts and grasping various ways of solving math problems. has a great page full of games and tips on building flexible thinking.

#5 Self-Monitoring

This is your teen that is shocked at the F in the grade book or misses the most important detail in an assignment.

Journaling can be an effective way to start building self-awareness.  Provide prompts for your teen to reflect on one small part of her day.  In our family, we do this verbally at the dinner table.  We ask questions each night and I record them so we have some things documented about how each of our lives are going.

Recently, I asked each of my children to tell me about when they felt brave that day, how did they help someone, and if they had failed.  This was hard for some of my boys to reflect on but with a few minutes, all of them were able to recall each of those moments.

Reflecting on your day is a great first step to teaching self-monitoring.

Start the conversation with your teen by using this Self-Awareness Checklist.

#7 Task Initiation

If your teen feels paralyzed by overwhelm because he is not sure where to start, he may need help with task initiation.

Strategies that help with task initiation:

  • Clear distractions.  If the space is messy, clean it up.  Create a sacred study space.
  • Identify the easiest task first.  This may be writing his name on the paper!  Scan the work for a small task that takes a little bit of time.
  • Use technology.  I have a son that doesn’t like to write.  We use Google Voice inside of Google Docs.  This helps him clear his mind of his thoughts.  Then he edits his work.
  • Use timers and alarms for short bursts of work.
  • Talk about why he might be avoiding the work (metacognition)
#2 Emotional Control

Does you teen struggle with emotions more than other teens?  Does a small mishap spiral into something bigger?

Your child needs help learning how to keep their feelings in check.

Be sure to check out this helpful emotional intelligence activity guide.

#4 Working Memory

I see this frequently as a tutor.  A student of mine will have the steps for a math problem down by the end of the hour, but when I see them two days later–it’s gone.  Students with this problem are suffering from a weak working memory.

Students can benefit from:

  • Drawing notes
  • Using a template for note taking that is customized for their learning style
  • Visual and auditory tips, tricks, and tools
  • Sticky notes in books
  • Study partners
#6 Planning & Prioritizing

Goal setting is hard for teens and adults.  How do you break something that seems big into manageable pieces?

Strategies that help with planning and prioritizing:

  • Chunking assignments into bite size pieces
  • Buying a used copy of a book that your teen is reading in class and rip it into smaller chapter amounts
  • Make a plan, even when you don’t want to
  • Work with a trusted adult to identify the steps to accomplish a goal
  • Find another adult to hold you accountable for completing steps
  • Rip out pages in your school planner that do not pertain to the school year (example: June – August)
  • Use digital sticky notes to keep track of steps (I like Google Keep)


#8 Organization

I think most of us struggle with organization!  Work together to create a predictable schedule and organization to help your teen be successful.

Use Google Drive to keep track of homework assignments.  My son often forgets to print his work.  This has saved our rear so many times!  He prints from school.

  • Clean the backpack out weekly together
  • Label everything in big bright letters (front and back)
  • Consider getting rid of binders and switching to paper folders for each subject.
  • Keep a rhythm to your morning and afternoon/evening.  Try having a snack, short tv break, homework, then dinner.  Keeping it consistent helps your teen stay on top of classwork.

Other resources:

Keeping Your Teen Organized

7 Systems for Organization


Suggested Reading:  Smart But Scattered by Peg Dawson

Successful Launch

I’m happy to report that Bobby did finally launch out his parent’s house. He started finding what worked for him. Many of the ideas I shared above, he started implementing in his own life.

There is so much you can do to help your teen develop these skills so he doesn’t end up in a van down by the river.

Help with Executive Functioning

If you’d like assistance with these skills, contact Kara Scanlon. As an educational therapist, she can help your teen work on specific strategies to get better function.

Also be sure to check out Seth Perler’s Student Success Toolkit. It’s a free five day email course packed with tips for assisting your teen with organization.

You might be wondering about your own executive functioning. If you struggle with keeping track of paperwork, focus, completing projects and such — you might enjoy reading/listening to Lisa Woodruff’s comprehensive guide to How ADHD Affects Home Organization.

For more homework tips, be sure to join my FREE Cut Homework Drama in Half course.

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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