Saturday, May 19, 2018

100% GAT Guaranteed

There is a 100% guaranteed chance that your child will meet their GAT goals if you just follow the secret formula.

Last week, I surveyed the last few years of education & cognitive psych research.  Most of this is funded by the NIH and NSF and a few new government acronyms.  I did not find a single paper with a research topic that is pertinent to learning, early education, or what it takes to succeed academically.  There were a few papers about how to learn cognitive skills by researchers who obviously have never met a child before.  An actual parent learns more in 10 minutes of trying to teach their child how to read CAT than any 3 papers on learning.

So when I say there's 100% chance your child can become GAT, it's simply due to the depressing situation that the United States is against teaching pre-school kids any useful skills.

If you take any paper title, and add 'because we don't teach our 4 year old's to read' you will have an accurate picture of education in the United States.  I downloaded the papers from research.gov and found things like 'Comparing a practice based curriculum to an experiential curriculum ... because we don't teach our children to read', or 'Evaluating training methods for teachers...because we don't teach our children how to read.'  There quite a few reform minded engineering education papers that should end with  '...because we spend too much time spoon feeding math instead of teaching problem solving skills'.

When is the United States going to wake up and realize that spending $300 million each year trying to figure out how teachers can make up for lack of reading at home is a waste of money?

Jim Trelease, the author of The Read Aloud Handbook and hero to many GAT parents, bemoaned the fact that he went to Washington and was drummed out of town for being an advocate of reading in school.

You know that the secret formula for GAT is simply to start acting like a GAT family, make your child read, learning problem solving skills, do some advanced math on a routine basis, and have completely different attitude about the whole endeavor which you can find in my articles.  Many parents blow it by confusing lots of work with making progress, when in fact the more classes you go to and the more workbooks you do, the less skills your child will end up with.  The irony.

I should probably mention this distinction instead of assume it.  Non-GAT children score really high on tests and get A's in school because they have memorized and practiced their way to a high level of academic achievement.  GAT children score really high on tests and get A's in school because they've learned the skills to figure out things on the spot with no prior work.  Think of GAT children as lazy underperformers who know how to cheat without help.  I don't know any kids in a GAT program who are simply hard workers, but I know a lot of kids trying to get into GAT programs who spend a lot of time sitting in classes and doing worksheets.

This is an important distinction because GAT children, who will invent things and solve unsolved problems need to know where all of the Non-GAT children are so they can hire them to actually do the work.

Speaking of GAT, yesterday I found out that my 7th grader is more prepared for college than 63% of high school juniors and seniors in the US.  If you've been following my articles recently, you know why I know this and also why I'm reluctant to discuss it.   My second thought was 'I need to publish what we did because it was really cool' and my third thought was 'but I can't right now because the little brother wants to go to Stanford'.

My first thought was - Oh my gosh, his reading score is higher than his math score.  That on it's own is the single biggest determiner of success.  I'm really proud.  I think I had tears in my eyes.  We spent a lot of time working on that over the last 2 years and it's really hard.  I wasn't even going to try, but I keep getting emails from someone who is doing EDM Grade 2 with her little one, and it's a constant reminder of why, how, and yeah you can do it.  It always pays off.  Next year we're going to spend 100% of our time on writing - no math at all.

This weekend, we have to fill in some gaps in math, but getting a high score in math is not hard.  We have a permanent advantage here, practically cheating.  Thanks to Test Prep Math in 2nd, 3rd, and a bit of fourth grade, we spent all of our time at this age on thinking skills and zero time on decimals and long division.  There's no question this is behind the reading score as well.  This means that I've got a child with the skills to learn 3 or 4 new maths in about 5 days.  I know we covered this stuff before, but we don't really practice it.  It's more just fun looking at and figuring out confusing things, which is what GAT is all about.

We went through each missed question, and here's how the conversation went:

What is the answer to this question you missed.

It's B.

Why did you mark A?

Because my brain was fried by the half way point.

Ok, that's fair.  Why did you miss this one?

Because I don't know what f(0, 3) means.

I don't either.  (If any readers know what this is, please leave a comment.  I have no idea.  Is it supposed to be a multivariate question?  How is a 7th grader taking the SAT supposed to know that?)

What about this question?

How am I supposed to do that?

We've got 5 days to figure it out.

Most of the questions on the math section we're very tricky in a strictly verbal way, as in spending a lot of time reading the question, even for me, and keeping 3 distinct concepts in working memory and coordinated.  There was very little in the way of advanced math.

Let's back up a little and you can see why I'm not really all that worried about the math section:

  1. Son some how gets into GAT program even though his score is 10 points behind cutoff.  I'm not kidding.  The school was desperate to fill the seat a month after school started.  We were dumb enough to accept.
  2. Parent decides it would be nice if other child could go there to cut down on driving each day.  Plus parent frantic about other son surviving his program which turned out to be accelerated by 2 years.  What a cataclysmic disaster that could have been.
  3. Parent reads papers from author of COGAT, notes that working memory and reading are really important.
  4. Parent reads 5,000 pages of other research on problem solving and determines that heavy doses of confusion also play a role, not to mention core problem solving skills.
  5. Parent notes that all math books are spoon-feeding and devoid of problem solving skills and working memory.
  6. Parent writes 4 math books that are all confusion and problem solving.  More verbal than math.  4th math book is a phonics book.  Now you know.
  7. Parent's totally unprepared 7th grader does well on college entrance exam, well enough to go to college, just not Harvard.
  8. Parent looks at test and answers (they do that nowadays) and finds a 100% correlation between early training and current test.  I've explained in past articles why this is the case - advanced math is not a good predictor of college success, overcoming trickery is.
  9. Parent hides good advice on bottom of blog articles and does no marketing at all on books.
  10. Younger brother who gets all of the benefits of older brother's experiments is going to send his 7th grade test scores to Stanford.
Then I'll go public.

The 7th grader last night asked if he could take AP calculus in high school.  

He meant freshman year.

It broke my heart to tell him 'No, probably not until sophomore or junior year without summer school, but when you take it I don't expect it to be hard.'  He's just too darn slow at math to skip high school trig.

  














Sunday, May 6, 2018

Competitive Parent Magazine Issue #1

Competitive Parent Magazine
Sunday, May 6 2018
Issue #1

So little time, so many topics. I've referenced Competitive Parent Magazine in the past because it has an annual award called The Pettie that I usually win after careful consideration by the panel of judge, who is me. This year is probably going to be different, because there are parents out there fighting battles that leave me in awe. But we just sat for the SAT.   For fun.  Anyway, I've taken this week's articles and added them all to the inaugural issue of Competitive Parent Magazine.

In this issue
  • Teaching Half Matrices to 4 Year Olds
  • Start Your Rigorous Summer GAT Program Now
  • Putting the Skittles and the PS4 In The Closet
  • Northwestern & Duke Summer Programs
  • Trig at Age 9 - A Bookend
  • Developing a Writer
Teaching Half Matrices to 4 Year Olds
A Power Mom asked me this question:  Are 4 year olds expected to 'get it' with the halving and doubling in Shape Size Color Count?  My 4 year old isn't getting it.

I've been delaying answering in the hopes that he gets it.  I've worked with this boy before and he's extremely bright.  The answer is of course no and yes, and it is a very good example of what it takes to develop cognitive skills at any age. 

For starters, let's jump ahead in Shape Size Color Count to lesson 85.  The premise behind half matrices is simple:

  • They're on the COGAT.  We needed a score of 99.8 to get into a GAT program.
  • My 3.92 year old didn't get it the whole multi-step matrice problem, not even the counting.
  • The COGAT loves ambiguity, and a numeric transformation of 2 could in fact be a numeric transformation of double, but you won't know until you check the answer set.
  • Doubling is good for 90%.  A higher score needs to delve into tripling and quadrupling.  Not that quadrupling is on the COGAT, but that level of thinking is.
Here's what I'm talking about.   I had double up on the quant questions because the color printing costs are so high, and it's worth it.


By this time, the child knows what -2 and thirds mean, as well as what a blob fish is. The problem is getting there. Here are some ground rules:
  • A single problem like this for a 4 year old might be a 20 minute affair, but could also take multiple days.
  • We practiced halving and doubling in our spare time with pennies, fingers, stuffed animals.
  • As soon as a 4 year old really gets it, he will crush you tomorrow by totally forgetting it.
  • Something is going on in that brain and none of us know what.
  • I've never worked with a child who struggled as much as my child did, but if you want to see the outcome, read the article about Trig below.
Cognitive skills don't increase unless the work taxes the skills. Work that taxes cognitive skills results in floundering, forgetting, wrong answers, and multiple attempts.

This is hard on most parents. It's much more gratifying to watch your child blow through 20 easy Kumon problems. Most parents won't get their kids past the 98% cuttoff to get into a GAT program because they take the easy route.  I think this book took us 2 passes and will take at least 3 months.  Maybe 6.  It depends on how early you start and how far along your child is counting on her fingers.

Like all material, eventually the child gets there, and when he gets there, he has a formidable skill set. In this case, we ended up with a Visual Number sense, which I didn't even know was possible. Ideally, SSCC graduates will do arithmetic on sight. This will create a foundation more more advanced skills that is super powerful.

For the first half of the book, we really struggled. After that, we really struggled to get through a single question in 15 minutes. There was lots of discussion and taking breaks to review halving and doubling. If you are looking for an easy repetitive book that magically puts your child above 97% on the COGAT, keep looking. Until then, if your child is in the early months of age 4, this is it:


Start Your Rigorous Summer GAT Program Now
Summer is a good time to start your GAT training program.

Get a stack of material, including:

  • Rigorous, challenging cognitive skills building thinking material
  • Some age-inappropriate math to struggle through, like something your child will see in school in a few years
  • Some easier workbooks for backtracking, a bad day, or for doing alone because you're busy.
Create some ground rules and goals.  In this house, the ground rules are 'No math, no computer', where math can be anything.  I've added chores to the daily regimen because kids who do chores have a better attitude toward academic work.  (Someone explain to me the relationship between vacuuming and problem solving.)  My goals are simply 15 to 25 minutes of hard core thinking each day on something.

Once you've got that together, you're ready for the next step.  Summer is a good time to start your program, but immediately is even better.  I'd like to do a study on GAT outcomes for children of parents who start immediately, as in open the box from Amazon assign the first page. The control groups would be parents who start the 1st day of summer school.  I already know what the conclusion of this study will look like. 


Putting the Skittles and the PS4 In The Closet
The approach to academic work varies between age 4 and graduate school only in the amount of quality concentration and thinking that the child is capable of.  A 4 year old is good for 15 minutes a day, maybe 3 or 4 days a week.  A 4 year old has a lot of bad days where thinking is thwarted by hunger, sickness, exhaustion, and the parent accidentally yelling at the child for curling up in a ball under the table.  A 3rd grade child is good for daily work, maybe 20 or 25 minutes a day.

The approach and methodology for problem solving does not change between age 4 and graduate school.  I announced this definitively a few years ago based on working with a 4 year old and a 7 year old.  It was a bold assertion.

Here is the logic underneath my assertion.  My cognitive skills research started with problem solving with IT engineers, graduate school work, and worked backward through high school geometry proofs (thanks Poyla) and down to age 3.9.   It was all the same:  be baffled, make mistakes, ignore the solutions (it's about thinking, not finding out the answer), trying again.

Here I am thousands of hours and hundreds of kids later, with kids covering the age range, and two of my own that are 5 years older, and I can announce with much more confidence that in fact there is no difference at all.   Older children are only good for 25 minutes of really hard core top notch thinking.  But the material needs 90 minutes of start up time and more routine work.  They only appear to work for 2 solid hours, but when they've gotten through the 25 minutes of really challenging problem solving, they are worthlesss.

This week, the PS4 went into the closet.  I discovered that I have a 13 year old who follows me around - brace yourself for this - talking to me.

Northwestern and Duke Summer Programs
I wish I had a picture of the 14 grade school kids who took the SAT last week, but security escorted me out of the building.  I think 13 of these were there to qualify for the programs at Duke and Northwestern.

Duke has an online program now.   If you ask me if you should enroll your child in this program (assuming you pass the rigorous qualification) my answer is definitively yes.

The reason we're not personally interested in these programs is because our GAT program is rigorous enough.  I think it's the top program in the country.  I personally know many graduates who are breezing through one of the top 10 high school programs in the country without really trying.  The other reason is that my kids would rather shoot arrows at camp during the summer and I'm more interested in a path to graduate school than advanced chemistry at Northwestern, which we're doing on the side anyway as needed.

If you ask me how you get your child past the entrance criteria and into the program, you're asking how do you hone your child's cognitive skills to a very high level.

Trig at Age 9 - A Bookend
Let's revisit the very first graduate of Shape Size Color Count and both Test Prep Math Level 2 and Test Prep Math Level 3 because he's bothering me while I'm trying to type.  I hate having to go to amazon to get these links because of that 1 star rating from a plumber (I'm not kidding) on TPM who said that the solutions were wrong.  You're not going to get to 99% on the MAP test for the rest of your life with solutions that are obvious in a book that spends 6 pages explaining why each problem is designed for mistakes and repeated attempts.  Either he needs to do the problem again or the author does.  That's the nature of cognitive skills building

In order to keep my 9 year old out of my hair, I drew a few triangles, introduced him (once again) to the sine/cosine unit circle do-it-yourself-with the Pythagorean theorem-calculator, and asked him to tell me everything that is missing.  When I say 'calculator' I mean 'without a calculator'.

You'd think he'd remember this from 6 weeks ago when we did the exact same thing.  It's like age 4 all over again.

I like trig.  You can teach it in a single 1 hour session.

Draw a unit circle on graph paper and draw a line anywhere you want.   sin(a) is the y and cos(a) is the x.  You can use A2 + B2  = C2 to calculate common values, like 30o, 45o, 60o, 135o etc.  It helps at this age to always use capitals for line lengths and always use lowercase for angles.  A is opposite a, B is opposite B.  A calculator could help with 25o, but we don't use calculators and just guess on SAT type questions where they deviate from common angle values.

Then I ask for the Law of Sines and the Law of Cosines.  If you forgot, here they are respectively:

  • A/sin(a) = B/sin(b) = C/sin(c)
  • A2 + B2 - 2ABcos(c) = C2
For kids in middle school or near middle school, you can find triangle stacks on the web to practice these equations.  For age 9, we discuss cos(90) = 0, and stick with the Pythagorean version of the Law of Cosines.

Here's the unit circle on the left, and the problem on the right in case you want to try it


Here's the view of the daily math that bought me 60 minutes of free time, minus the 25 minutes I had to backtrack and re-explain the unit circle and help with mistakes (help as in 'Wrong.  Do it again')


You'll note the Dorito bag.  At age 4, this was a bag of skittles.   I found that snacks are a useful inducement for ridiculously hard age-inappropriate work, especially if your child is crying because you are a mean parent by making them do all of the work.  It is important to remember that 20 skittles are no more motivating than 5 skittles, and you can stop giving snacks at any time.  Or you can walk 3 miles a day with your child on what I like to call 'Math Talk Walks', but privately I think of these as 'Don't End Up Being A Chubby Videogamer Walks'.

We do a trig problem about every 6 weeks. This gives my children 5 weeks to forget what they learned so that trig becomes an exercise in thinking and not an exercise in applying memorized formulas without thinking. That is why I refer to my approach as Anit-Kumon.  I don't want a child who get's a 1600 on the SAT because they've trained to get a 1600 on the SAT and then doesn't get into Stanford.  Stanford has a method to weed out these kids that I haven't reverse engineered (yet).  Instead, I want a child who get's 1600 on the SAT because they can figure out trig on the spot - because they've learned the cognitive tools to do so.  Presumably they'll use this toolset for something else during high school and Stanford will notice.

Developing a Writer
I've been asked often how to develop a writer.  I've got a child who will be some kind of a writer, possible a director or advertising media creator who spends his time researching astrophysics websites looking for the galaxy shaped like Yoda.  The other one, who we refer to in this house as The Math Guy, also writes a lot, as in songs, books, and posters to sell stuff.

The starting point for writing is art, crafts, and projects.  The number one skill writers have is that they dream up something that has multiple pieces and which takes a long time to finish.  Art is important because it has setbacks.  You have to do it a few time to get it right, whatever it is.  You want a writer?  Sign her up for an art class.  Chores are important because they are boring and repetitive.  Chores make writing seem like fun.

This stage of writing continues from age 7 to 12 while they develop grammar, vocabulary, and articulation skills.

At some point around age 11 and 12, you can start (slowly) two activities: The first activity is daily writing, like a journal, and the second activity, at least at the GAT level, is a 4 hour marathon of pain that I like to call 'Crafting Sentences'.   We sit down with some school work and take each sentence at a time and fix it.  What are you trying to say here?  Is 'fix it' good enough, or do you mean 'recraft the dependent clause', 'elaborate on a undescriptive pronoun', 'match the syntax of the sentence to the logic we are trying to convey', or what?  During this process, the child says what they are trying to say, and I explain why I'm not clear what they are trying to say and that inadequate sentence that they only spent 2 minutes on sure as heck isn't saying it anyway.

I refer back to Test Prep Math, which was as much convoluted logic and vague words as math, and the main reason they do well on the reading comprehension section of the MAP, and think of each sentence as a math problem on its own, as in a 10 to 20 minute exercise of work, mistakes, and trying again.

So here we are back to foundational cognitive skills.  The little writer slowly realizes that it wasn't about math at all back then.  It was about being confused, making mistakes, and trying again.  I have mentioned this to both my kids numerous times.  Someday they'll leave math in the past; it might be after winning a Fields medal or a millennium prize form the Clay Institute, but some day they'll have to write.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Little Test

Today was a practice test. 

Practice tests are an important part of a test prep regimen.  In the past, we've sat for GAT practice tests, staged GAT practice tests (when none were available), staged standardized tests. 

Normally, our prep pace is just a few ridiculously hard questions a day.  This maximizes learning.  But a real test has lots of questions that are easy and a few that are hard (the ones that count if you're trying to meet a cutoff score are the hard ones).  A real test is a different dynamic, and one more thing to practice.

My favorite practice test was a 2nd grade ITBS where I read the questions and the answer choices to my 4 year old and he pointed.

In most cases, the practice test is the real thing, like it was today, with a score that doesn't count.

Like always, I grilled my son on the test.  What was it like?  Who was there?  What was on the test?  Did the calculator I gave you that only does arithmetic prevent you from getting a trig question correct?  How many people were there?  This is what I learned:

  • I don't remember anything from the test.  I only remember one question from my K GAT test.  Which rhymes with boon?  Moon, spoon, monkey, something else.
  • All the 7th and 8th graders had to sit in a room together.  There were only 14 kids in this room and they were all nerds.
  • There were 4 sections, no essay (for kids not in high school) and a mystery section.
  • We had 3 breaks.
He then went on to explain the breaks in detail.  I asked what was on the mystery section:
  • It was like a GAT entrance exam, sort of.  I don't remember any of the questions.
Now you know everything I know about the taking the SAT in 7th grade.  I'm interested in this mystery section.  Is it because the SAT is used to qualify kids for the Northwestern and Duke summer programs?  I wonder if we'll see our scores on that section.

I asked one last question.  How did you do?
  • I ran out of steam on the last section and didn't finish it, but on the rest I think I did OK.
  • I felt like I was prepared, like I have been preparing for 3 years.
Which he has.  Of course, we prepare in a completely different fashion than everyone else, and I expect results from our innovative and rigorous approach.

The big test, the one that counts, is in a few weeks.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Calm Before the Storm

Next Saturday is our big day.  The rest of Chicago has been getting scores in the mail with test results for K to 4 entry, and it totally stresses me out.  Next week I will be a wreck as usual.  It's hard enough when one of the kids or parents I coach takes the test.  Vicarious test taking is just as challenging to prepare for as actual test taking.

A while back, a Power Mom asked for a retrospective  what I did wrong.  I'm elevating this PM to PMYL, which stands for Power Mom Yoda Level.  He questions was some sort of Plato or eastern mind trick to make me reflect.  My articles are long enough when I barely have 20 minutes before work to type frantically and check for typos.  Brace yourself.

The approach I took didn't result in any mistakes of lasting impact.  Some of was intentional and most of it was not.   The approach can be split into a few categories.
  • I read the papers and presentations of cognitive skills experts and test authors and did exactly what they recommended.
  • I read the articles of intelligence researchers, education researchers, and psychologists and did exactly the opposite of what they recommended.  From this effort, I can explain exactly what's wrong with education in the US, but I didn't gain any actionable strategies for my own children.
  • I bought all books in print and tried them out.  Only a handful were useful as busy work.
  • I wrote my own test questions, attempting every permutation possible in a desperate attempt to pass the test by brute force.   Somewhere at about the 60% mark, the light bulb went off and I realized it wasn't about shapes.  It was about thinking.
Except vocabulary.  Vocabulary is about vocabulary.  My favorite researcher of all time pointed out that when a child is learning to read, all cognitive skills - math, whatever, all of them - are actively deployed by the child's brain.  He also stated that each vocabulary word doesn't just increase a child's knowledge by a single word, it spurs cognitive growth.  Red is not just the name of a color, it is a member of various classifications, has a hue and brightness and other qualities, is used to represent concepts like stop and danger, works in some situations and not in others, looks good on some people but not others and comes out of your finger when you cut yourself.  The magic happens with the cognition left over after the word red is worked, cognition that is then applied to other things, like math.

So I discarded phonics books from the last decade that look more marketing and fun than learning and thinking, and listed out every word 5 letters or less that would appear in a scrabble championship.  After a few years, the result was a Pre-K Phonics Conceptual Vocabulary and Thinking which I sometimes right as Pre-K Phonics Conceptual Thinking because that's how most people google it.
  • What's inside

    • Phonics through 2nd grade
    • Instructions for a solid reading program at the 99% level
    • Math vocabulary through 2nd grade, just in case
    • The reason my 13 year old is sitting for the SAT on Saturday
    • The reason why I use terms like incredulous, inculcate, and fallacious with my kids and they don't roll their eyes
Click here for fabulous phonics

While Math House is called Math House because I have many wasted years studying graduate math and trying to solve the Riemann hypothesis, the phonics book is the gem of the collection.  Guaranteed high math scores on advanced material is not enough to crush the reading section.  I think my kids spend 2 or 3 hours a day reading - on a good day, and we don't have nearly enough good days.  Last week was mainly band concerts, baseball games, the school play, and me working way too much.

Speaking of last week, here is a question from the SAT from last week's article.

The author uses an extended quote in lines 61-69 as part of a larger attempt to
a) convey the impact of an unexpected discovery
b) illustrate the suddenness of a decision
c) simulate a child's misconceptions
d) criticize the artificiality of the "young adult" classification
e) describe a young reader's sense of history

As I mentioned in the prior article, after a few years of research, we reduced all reading comp exercises to a simple mathematical proof.   It's almost long division now.  But there is a prerequisite that I didn't mention.  These questions are packed with vocabulary.  I should have chosen one of the harder questions but even in the question above you can see convey, misconception, artificial, sense, and not the 2nd grade definition of sense.

Somewhere in the Pre-K Phonics introduction, I might mention that opposites are not very useful, but synonyms are extremely valuable for the COGAT.  This applies to the SAT as well.

One Power Mom did Pre-K Phonics with her 4 year old and asked me do you really expect kids to know 'due' and 'dew'?  Ha. No I don't.  I expect them to figure out that there are things like dew and due lurking out their, which is a cognitive gold mind, but mainly I expect parents to read these two words in a phonics book, freak out, and raise the bar in their house.  Some words strike the imagination of one child, some strike the imagination of the other child.  You never know.  Some times we would just burst out laughing and move on.  Sometimes the word went on the Word Board for the 112 days it took to get it because I thought it was important for the COGAT.

From then on, it was 3 years of the Word Board and vocab workshop.  By 2nd grade, words just became the fabric of Math House.

By the way, I owe this Power Mom an article on how to get a four year old to internalize halving and doubling, tripling and cutting into thirds and make it part of their visual-spatial cognition.  Maybe next week.

In the mean time, for the last week, we've done zero to prepare for the SAT on May 5.  I first came up with this idea 8 years ago, when a Mentor Mom told me that her 7th grade daughter got a 700 on the SAT and Stanford sent her a letter asking her to apply in 4 years.  Since then, I've been asking the question, what if we could crush the verbal section?  Our incremental preparation could fill about 30 pages if I included all of the setbacks, 3 pages with just recounting the how to.

Well, we probably can't crush the SAT because we go so very slow on our work, both math and verbal. It's tempting to change gears and shoot for speed, but the MAP test is in June and we need 99% to get into high school.  The MAP and the SAT are not the same thing, and I don't want to negatively impact the MAP.  So the SAT has been relegated to MAP practice.  Still, it's the SAT.

Last night I was out with Power Dads on a biking brewery research tour and we were discussing how preparation is going for the MAP.  All of their kids are genuinely smarter than my kids. Officially, it was just a biking brewery tour, but I don't drink much, I ask a lot of questions, and dads talk a lot when they drink. So putting that altogether it was prime research.  One dad said his daughter was in a prep course and she recently had a grueling 4 hour MAP test prep session.   The SAT is our prep, but it's only 3 1/2 hours so I kept my mouth shut.  We might have the edge, however, in the grueling department.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Tiger Mom Revisited

Some of my readers complained that when they google Test Prep Math they get GMAT results.  This is totally offensive to me.  If a result came up with the GRE math, chemistry or physics subject, that would be OK.  After all, 99% on the MAP tests year after year in grade school is going to be a waste of time if Stanford turns down my children's graduate applications.  At the risk of looking like every other test prep website:


On To Tiger Mom
In the famous seen in her book, Amy Chua recounts a 4 hour ordeal of screaming and crying while she forces her daughter to rehearse an impossible piece for an upcoming piano recital.   Chua is presented as an overbearing evil mom with unrealistic expectations for her child and no concern for her child's long term mental health.

This scene replays itself over and over in Math House, usually on simmer instead of full boil.   There are two important difference between the Evil Overlord of Math House and Tiger Mom.  These differences are why I am not a Tiger Dad, and beyond criticism, and Chua took a lot of flack for her book, even though Chua and I think and act in nearly same way.

The first difference is that I have assumptions, not expectations.  My expectations for my kids are abysmally low.  I strive for zero expectations.  I expect that a 7 or 8 year old would rather play video games and watch TV instead of worry about his future.  I expect that a young child will cry when presented with a problem that exercises grit and cognitive skills.  Maybe he'll just complain at first, but as soon as it's clear I'm not doing his work for him (because then he won't get the benefits), he might try crying.  I expect him to not know what he's doing, to make lots of mistakes, to do far less than I've assigned, and to end up with wrong answers.  That's where the skill set is born, and that's why he's doing this work.  If I gave him something he could do, like 30 easy math fact problems, he'd look good but fall far short of the goals I have for him.

On the other hand, I have assumptions.  I assume my kids will get the work done one way or another because I'm withholding all fun activities until it is done.  I assume that I can't withhold food because his performance will suffer (tried that, it doesn't work).  I assume that he'll learn key skills that other kids don't learn and that a year from now, he'll be scoring in the top 1% on everything for the rest of his life and be 6 years ahead of other kids in key subjects, even subjects we don't do at home, all because I stayed focused on grit and cognitive skills during 2nd and 3rd grade.

I like to say 'Of course you don't want to do this.  You're 8 years old.  I'm an expert at being an 8 year old.  I was an 8 year old for an entire year'.  Seems like a good thing for a dad to say.

I expect the first 6 weeks are going to be really tough because school just spoon feeds easy work and the parent is used to helping and answering questions when the child falls short.  Scaffolding is great when you want your child to memorize and master a bunch of new concepts in a short period of time, but the child never learns the thinking and learning skills tackle learn pre-algebra on his own.

4th grade was a blur of algebra.  You can't do algebra without pre-algebra, and that means you either have to learn it on the spot or get assigned backtracking material by The Overlord before you can move on.  I threw in some functions,  a little geometry (prove everything starting with a line is an angle of 180 degrees), a little trig (everything you need to know in 30 minutes or less), and it's on to SAT test prep books.

Test Prep Math Level 4
SAT test prep is surprisingly easy compared to the real thing.  I generally assign 5 problems at a time, from the math section, with no time limit.  A few years later, we've not only completed all the math problems but learned high school math on the way, with the exception of advanced trig topics and calculus.  Again, my expectations are really low for this exercise.  I expect almost nothing.  I assume we'll get through it and come out on top.

In a few weeks, my 7th grader is sitting for the real deal, all 3 1/2 hours of it.  I gave him a few timed versions of certain sections, but our real goal is the 6 hour MAP test ( 3 hours of math on one day, and 3 hours of reading comp on another day).  I figure 3 1/2 hours of SAT brutality should be good practice for the 7th grade MAP.

After we licked math, we had a book full of reading comp questions.  The reading comp was really hard.  It didn't go well.

I traveled to the planet Dagoba to be trained by the Jedi Master Yoda of reading comp.  A high school English teacher, he coaches SAT on the side.  He told me things like "When the question asks 'which answer reflects the tone of the passage', count words in the passage, you will".  He also told us to 'figure out an answer wrong, why you got'.   His advice got us past Baffled; it gave us things to do instead of crying and yelling at each other, but ultimately it's not for 99% and its not for an 11 year old.

Once again, I'm stuck with an area of cognitive research that is unexplored and undocumented, so as the Foremost Expert in the Field of Real Cognitive Skills, The Kind That Actual Children Have, Not The Useless Made Up Crap That Fill Education Journals, I took on the challenge.

So I applied the learning framework outlined in Test Prep Math.  After all, the math word problems in TPM target reading comp.  This isn't obvious how a math problem prepares a child for reading comp until you see the SAT.   Here's why reading comp = math and math = reading comp.

The author uses an extended quote in lines 61-69 as part of a larger attempt to
a) convey the impact of an unexpected discovery
b) illustrate the suddenness of a decision
c) simulate a child's misconceptions
d) criticize the artificiality of the "young adult" classification
e) describe a young reader's sense of history

Step 1 - look at lines 55-60 and 70-75 for the answer.   This is more of a geometry thing that I'll cover later.

Step 2 - Notice each answer has 3 concepts.   You simply take each concept (like convey), and if the author complains, states, recounts, but does not convey, cross out the answer.  Test Prep Math hammers away at the 3 bucket limit of working memory, and here it is in action on every single question in the SAT reading section.  The iterative permutations of solving these questions are identical to Section 3 of TPM, which is why figure matrices are such good predictors of academic success.

That's it.  There are no other question types.  It is really helpful if the child can tell you about the author and the type of passage (propaganda, argument, description, memoir, what ever) because the first 2 questions are going to require this knowledge.  But all questions require the same mathematical approach.  If a question looks like its a different type, it's just disguise.

Once we got this, I went from assuming that reading comp questions are impossible to assuming that I'm going to be disappointed if my kids miss any.  'Convey' went on the Word Board.

I think somewhere in the intro to Test Prep Math I might fess up to targeting reading comp.  I should have said targeting 99% on reading comp.







Friday, April 13, 2018

Now Is The Time

Over the next few months I'm going to be unleashing some really powerful test crushing material that I've been working on diligently for the past few years.   All of this fits under the head of 'well, we did that stuff, let's see if it will work elsewhere'.  It does work elsewhere.

I've noticed that interest in GAT material drops off after the test scores are released in the spring.  I suppose this is normal.  Normal as in not the top 1%.  When I was in eighth grade, I read the biography of the world's greatest athlete.  He used to have really intense workouts after the year-end tournament was over.  Like right after.  That night.

Giftedness is going to be born in the next few months.

Have you ever heard the expression 'Fake it until you make it'?  There is a great Ted Talk on this subject from Amy Cuddy.  My idea of giftedness is similar.  My idea of giftedness is to take the skills of the gifted and use them.  It's not profoundly gifted, but with a little practice and change it's enough to get into a gifted program. 

An odd thing happened on the way to giftedness.

The difference between a gifted child and a profoundly gifted child is that the profoundly gifted child has so much practice exercising gifted skills that she does it quickly, so quickly, in fact, that neither she nor her parents can explain how she actually does it.  It's like magic.

It's not magic if you look closely.

Last week I doled out more SAT test prep to my 9 year old.  I've been working a lot and it's good for a few minutes without distraction.  Here's one of the questions I gave him.  Take a minute to solve it.


He asked me what the area of a circle was.  I thought kids learned that by this age, but whatever.  Before I could leave the room, in the space of about 15 seconds, he solved it.  That was freaky.  I asked him how he solved it, and he showed how he subtracted one half circle from the other, etc., and nailed it.

We spent 18 months learning the skills from the ground up with Test Prep Math.  There were 2 types of questions.  The first type required a long discussion and argument.  The second type required 4 or 5 attempts.  A year of weekly math later and the discussions have dissipated.

I maintain a slow pace of a few problems here and there.  I've been worrying a lot about how our slow pace in Math House is going to thwart the SAT.  The MAP test requires a slow pace, and we need a perfect score this year, so I don't want to add risk by practicing timed tests.  Last week, I wondered if we should just switch to Kumon and drill boring useless math facts.  I know that slow, careful, and lots of mistakes produces award winning mathematicians so I'm going to stick with principles.  But I gave a 55 minute practice test to older brother and he only finished 30 questions out of 38.  In 70 minutes.  He'll be lucky to break 1200.  I'm beginning to feel the same way I felt watching them being led away to the COGAT at ages 4 and 5.  It was excruciating.  How am I going to survive 3 1/2 hours of waiting while my baby takes a college entrance exam?  Older brother is only 13 and is the subject in one of my diabolical experiments yet again.

The younger feakazoid learned his visual spatial skills from Shape Size Color Count.  He does an adequate showing on reading comp within the official time limit as well.  That skill set started with Pre K Phonics and Conceptual Vocabulary & Thinking and was fully developed by the Test Prep Math Series.  Those 4 books (there are 2 Test Prep Math books) stand out for two reasons.  There is a 2 foot high stack of test prep material for K and 1st grade.  I have a four foot stack, but only recommend about 2 feet of it.  There is almost nothing for children who aren't in K or 1st grade.  Secondly, these 4 books are the only books on the market that present material at the 99%, at least by the end of the books. What is the secret to doing work at the 99% if you're not actually there yet?  It's slightly different than fake it until you make it, but in the same spirit.  Go slow, do less, and make more mistakes.  Until you make it.

If you want a permanent showing at 99%, step out of the crowd.  Work diligently when the rest are taking a break.  Work differently (think Anti-Kumon instead of Kumon).   K and 1st are extremely competitive years but scores drop off after that because the interest drops off.   If your child hasn't reached the magic age of 4 yet, think about SSCC and phonics.  If K and 1st grade were a struggle, double the effort in 2nd and 3rd grade.  It's worth it in the long run.

In my next article, I'm going to describe how Math House crushes reading comp questions.   It's going to be a let down for my readers.  Math House built math from the ground up with foundational skills and ignoring routine practice and memoriation.  We didn't get around to worrying about reading comp until all the math parts of the practice tests in the SAT book were finished and we were looking for the next challenge.  By this point, foundational skills were used and not discussed.  We ended up with a simple reading comp formula that works.  No wisdom, cleverness, counter cultural pedagogy wars.  Just a simple formula.



Saturday, April 7, 2018

My Latest Insane Plan

Before I announce my new plan, and freak everyone out, I'm going to issue disclaimers.

Math House is very low pressure.  Our bar is pretty low.   I think a day is successful that has no video games. I have zero expectations.  I never know if the next paper I grade will be all wrong or all lucky.

Let's go through plans of the past and how they generally turned out.

  • I spent 2 years carefully crafting a phonics book that includes phonics through 2nd grade.  Every word that could possibly be relevant to a cognitive skills test and can be sounded out.  The last shred of expectation were crushed out when it took 3 weeks to get past CAT.
  • We jumped into 2nd grade math midway through K.  3 weeks again to get through the first page.
  • I've got 6 or 7 other plans that I presented on this website in the last 7 years.
Of course, a little here and a little there paid off.  Within 4 or 5 months, the little ones were zooming along adequately.   The bar raised itself.

The new plan is to take the SAT in 7th grade.  This is where you feel bad as a parent and panic because things are so competitive and you're falling behind.  

We'll, it's not about the SAT.  I read an article this week that explains why 1600 on the SAT won't help you get into Stanford.  Stanford only accepts 4% of applicants.  I couldn't help but think a) 1600 on the SAT won't help and b) 4% is a easier to achieve than the 2/10th % that we faced for 1st grade.

The SAT plan began in 2nd grade with TPM.  If you've ever seen it, and you think 'this isn't school math' your right.  It's the base of the mountain.  School math is more of a detour through the foothills.  This doesn't mean TPM is super hard (some of it is), it's just super different.  Different will get you into Stanford, according to the article.  I started experimenting with SAT books with older kids when TPM was written.

My last insane idea was to start assigning work from an SAT test prep book after 4th grade.  Here's your SAT question:  How long will it take to get through a 600 page book if you only do 4 or 5 problems a week?  The work accelerates on it's own, by magic, just like my other insane ideas.

Back to the new new bar.  On May 7, my 13 year old will spend the morning in a high school taking a 3 1/2 college entrance exam.  What fun.  I'm not sure how he's going to do, but here's what's going to follow:
  • First, we get to see the whole test and his answers.  This is a new service by the college board.  I can't wait.  I'll be able to compare our practice to the real thing and prepare little brother appropriately.
  • Then in a few years, he'll be sitting for the PSAT, the shorter easier version of the SAT.  Will he be stressed taking a test that is easier than the one he took in 7th grade?  I don't think so.
  • But even more importantly, a few weeks later he'll sit for the Test That Won't Be Named for entrance into high school.  How can you expect a child to do well without practice?  I don't consider a test prep course practice.  You don't practice sky diving jumping off the stairs onto a mattress.  You practice sky diving jumping behind enemy lines in the dark while the plane is buffeted by flak.
I gave him his first timed test today - one 55 minute math section.  I think it was section 7.   He did awful, as usual.  I let him go 90 minutes and I think he quit after 75 minutes on his own.  (He's on to my trickery.)   Awful is a normal performance going into the test, as I have pointed out to many, many parents worried about COGAT prep.

Adendum

This morning - a day after the timed math test, and the day after I published the article above - I'm assessing our situation.  I don't like timed tests and he needs to get every single answer correct no matter how long it takes for that other test.   So I'm going to do only one timed reading test and then we're going back to our normal program for that other test.  The SAT is going to an endurance exercise of concentration.   I had this idea that we will 'prepare for the test' if you know what I mean, but this doesn't really work for our plan, so instead we're just going to sit for the test and I'll find out how ready my 13 year old is for college.  In other words, he's not going to get an extra 150 points because we made a concerted effort to get an additional 150 points. 

I know kids at this age who are ready to sit for an SAT type test.  They've had the right training.  They are nearly at the peak of the mountain.  Math house is working toward a much much higher mountain and we're only at about the 40% mark right now.  It's really hard for me to be competitive and patiently hold back at the same time.