Saturday, June 22, 2019

A note on GAT Parenting

Many people have stated that Augustine, a 4th century theologian, was the most brilliant person of the first millennium. While I'm not overwhelmed by his work, there is a case to be made that he is the genius of this time. However, it's his mother that I find a much more fascinating and useful story.

He had a mother named Monica who was a very devote religious person. As Augustine grew up, left the house, and began his career, he became the opposite of a very devote religious person. Therefore Monica prayed. Time passed, no results. So she continued to pray for many many years. Finally, when she was old, Augustine became super religious and Monica was declared a saint for her efforts. Many people consider Monica the official saint of 'not giving up and continuing to pray until her prayers were answered'.

Unfortunately, these people are wrong. Monica is a saint of a much more important lesson to GAT parenting. I'm a little bit disappointed that current theologians have missed the whole point of Monica's life and the importance of the backstory here.

Monica was an awful person. Augustine was married to a woman he loved and had a child he adored, but Monica did not approve of the wife because Augustine's wife did not her share religion. Augustine's wife was more into paganism and atheism. Therefore, Monica broke up the marriage and drove the wife and child off, never to be seen again. This isn't a good example to set for any religion. Monica's evil efforts were performed right in the middle of Monica trying to convert Augustine and in the midst of her prayers that he become a 'good' person.

The real lesson of Monica's sainthood and the importance to us is that her long trial was not so much not giving up in prayer, but changing her prayer from "please give Augustine 'my' religion", which was as awful as she was, to "give Augustine a real religion worth having". Her long life of prayer was really a long life of converting herself from a bad person, an example not worthy of following, to a good person who everyone would like to emulate. In other words, the real conversion was hers, and this was a necessary condition for converting her son.

Back to GAT

In the event that this is not obvious to you, I'm going to spell it out in detail and then share my story which is similar if not identical to Monica's.

A short but useful definition of a GAT child is one who knows how to learn, using this skill to teach himself and ending up way ahead of peers who don't have this skill. Children are all born GAT, but their ability to learn is usually beaten out of them by parents who want to do the work for the child, risk-adverse hovering parents who think GAT means knowing stuff and being better on a standardized test because they know more stuff than their peers, impatient parents who want to skip the mess of learning and just tell stuff to kids and make kids practice it. If you want a car for your child, you have to buy it. If you want your child to be a strong learner, the child has to buy it with their own efforts. There are no shortcuts, no endowments, no advantage to being rich, unless you happen to be rich because you're a strong learner, well educated, and know to mentor your employees, in which case being a GAT parent is a forgone conclusion.

If a parent-child GAT team is frustrated - frustrate for whatever reason this parent 'thinks' is the cause of their frustration, the actual cause is that the parent has killed learning and now their child is not meeting expectations as a strong learner. Go read the Monica story again, which is true, by the way, and it's exactly the same thing.


Here's my story. When I started down this road with a 5 year old, we decided to tackle math and reading. I had a vague notion of what GAT was and a lot of math in my background to help me overcome my ineptitude as a math mentor. For reading, I handed him a 60 page book and asked him to read it to me, figuring out he would learn to read as he went along. For math, we just jumped right into 2nd grade math. In Kindergarten. Before we actually did any other math other than count to 5.

My heart was in the right place, but my parenting skill set lacked even the merest shred of competency. My choice of methods was ill informed - I decided to do it because 99% of other people were not doing it. There was a lot of yelling and crying, much frustration, and little progress. If things weren't going as planned, I just got more worksheets and tried different material. It turns out that the only correct expectation that I had at the time was that this would work. All of my methods sucked, and not just deficient and counter productive, more like way off the mark.

The change

At this time, I decided to solve the Prime Number Theory. I'll spare you the details, but after 5 years I ended up with a sieve that performed faster on the PC than other sieves, and I found a few special properties that a researcher in Australia missed in his paper on sieves (which he probably spent a few weeks writing).

I also gave up on my approach - which was not making anyone happy, and developed the zero expectation, do a few problems slowly, make the kid do all the work, and never check the answers approach that I've mentioned repeatedly. This is the opposite of school curriculum, and that's why I wrote Test Prep Math, what with it's convoluted questions designed to force the child to read the question more carefully. The errors in the solutions to the first few editions directly stem from my attitude toward rewarding a child's hard work by telling them that they got the problem wrong, which is a foregone conclusion because I would never give a child a question they could get right. There's no learning in that.

In other words, I created a learning environment, which I totally needed, not to mention the child. You can learn a lot if you do a few math problems or one unsolvable number theory. You can't learn anything trying to perfect division so that your child is better than other children on division problems.


I'm not 100% sure what 'after' holds. We're right in the beginning of after, and I created a whole new website to help me figure it out, but it appears to be going well. We study for big tests five problems at a time, a few days a week, and usually get them wrong. A lot of learning takes place during that 45 minutes. I expect 2 things - nothing from the child, and to spend an hour counting the number of correct answers above the 99% level when I see the results. By court order, I'm required to call out a bunch of great teachers who actually taught my children 'stuff', but I encouraged them not to do their homework, which they did anyway. It's a balance.

In terms of stress level my kids aren't afraid of the consequence of falling short - because is this house, there are none. I've got one child who is always stressed out late at night trying to finish a big project, because he expands the scope by a factor of 10 and shoots for 'way beyond'. I blame myself for this. The other kid

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Post Test Part 2

Researchers are finding baffling trends in gifted education. If they bothered to ask gifted parents, they wouldn't be baffled.

I had to come out of retirement a week later to address the ongoing gap of education research between reading statistics and meeting actual children. In this article, I'm going to answer the leading questions in gifted and talented research and help you understand how critical a parent's role is.

4 Studies

This article from Education Week is notable in that it does not condemn gifted education. How refreshing to find on my news feed. It also brings up 4 issues that the researchers can't solve but a parent can. They are big issues. I think we should stop labeling children 'gifted and talented' and start labeling parents 'gifted and talented parents'. Granted, the child has to do all the work, including growth in skills, but it's the parent that needs to find the right pasture and whack the sheep with your staff occasionally when he's playing video games and should be reading.

Slow Growth

Gifted students during 3 to 5th grade grow academically during the summer, but slowly during the school year relative to their peers. Why is that?

The first reason is that math curriculum during this period, as I have pointed out 100 times in this website, is the most lame and useless of all curriculum at any time and in any subject. During the summer, we study interesting and important topics like algebra and functions, and then during the school year my poor student has to slog through pre-algebra and other boring topics that I don't remember because we skipped them. I had a teacher conference in 5th grade so that my son's math teacher could show me 75 homework assignments that had a single answer to the first question and a line drawn through the rest of the blank page. She asked me what I was going to do about it, because he was getting a D. I told her we would study math at home that didn't suck. It was her first year of teaching. The next year, we started in on the SAT and she transferred out of the gifted program. Even worse, we both live 4 miles from this school but 3 blocks away and see each other weekly. Too bad. She's one of my favorite teachers and the gifted program really needs her. My son pointed out that he lost 7 teachers in his 8 years of GAT. I blame him but he likes to share credit to his classmates.

I know what you're thinking so stop it. I generally support our teachers or don't talk to them at all.

Another reason for this slow growth is that we can tackle a huge amount of math in the summer but don't have time during the school year. When homework starts, we usually scale way back on math because there's no reason to be more than 2 years ahead until middle school.

The last reason is this fear that I have always had. There is no such thing as gifted at all and if there were, we wouldn't be gifted. So my dummies catch up during the summer and get passed by during the school year. One year, I think 6th grade, the student's learned how to share their assignments online. One day I walked into my son's room and there on his computer were hundreds of science and reading papers and projects. Of course I read them. In awe. At the extraordinary work. My son is busy counting words and sentences on his paper so he can do the minimum to get a B. Yet he's reading adult level books and has an encyclopedic knowledge of many topics not taught in school. Many discussions followed.

There is a group of kids who take a leap at age 15 in academic scores. This group comprises 16% of all children in the US, and probably 75% of kids who go on to crush college. It's a well documented and well researched topic, but you'd really have to dig to find these studies. The authors of this paper didn't think about any of this. Maybe they don't have children. I'd rather have a kid in this group than a kid getting all A's in 5th grade, because one counts and the other doesn't count.

Better Identification

We could save hundreds of millions of dollars and lots of angst and hang ringing with my simple solution to gifted education. For selection, just ask the parents these questions:

Do you want your child to be in gifted education? Are you willing to spend many hours every day for about 18 months catching up? Will you place academics in top place in your house, read all the time, possibly pick up music and other geek activities that your child's peers do? Will you change the behavior and culture in the home to align with top academic performance? Is this worth the hours of parenting effort? Is your child willing to get a whole new set of friends, possible none if that's what it takes?

I think some would - they would be like 'I didn't think about any of this or know it existed, but yes I'll do it.' But most wouldn't. They'd rather blame the test or culture or invent conspiracies. It's not that it's so much easier to blame society than blame the one person who can do anything about it. I've found that most people are offended if you think you know something or have a better way. When did that become part of our culture? My wife pointed out that the main problem is that I am offensive. In retrospect, I've only had success when I work with children first and parents second. I'll have to think about this more. Perhaps if we make the case to the kids first, which they could totally do if they want but will be a lot of work and pain, but make it mandatory that the children get their parents to sign up, it might work better.

If it sounds like I'm problem solving out loud, I am. Gifted programs are for the 5% of kids who are serious about academics. Most families are more serious about sports or other things. My kid is never going to be able to pitch in little league because we're too busy doing math or a project to practice pitching. The coaches judgement isn't the problem, it's us. But my child really wants to pitch - for a total of 20 minutes a week - then we go back to our non-pitching highly charged academic lifestyle. The only way he's ever going to pitch is that if he works out a deal with a pitching coach behind my back and then talks me into it, and then I get a parent-pitching coach to keep me from f-ing up the whole deal and we'd have lots of arguments because I suck in this regard. I've sat in below poverty homes in Chicago (it's worse than you think) wondering how to pull this off on a more massive scale when the leadership in Chicago is inept and corrupt and doing everything to keep things as bad as they are. I'm not saying non-white leaders are any more criminal than white leaders - what I'm saying is that this corruption makes my taxes higher than they should be, which I'm not happy about, but destroys the lives of minorities.

Gifted programs don't have gifted curriculum

It is possible to have a successful gifted curriculum for 30 kids under the following conditions: A tenured teacher with 20+ years experience who ignores mandatory testing and is insane.

Otherwise, you have 2 choices. You can complain about the teacher or the program or fill in the gaps with At Home Schooling. I know many parents who send their children to science camp in the summer. This is the hardest subject to fill in at home for us non-scientists. Reading and math are not hard to accomplish at home. I would say our gifted program is easily the best in the entire history of the universe, possibly the multi-verse, but losing 7 teachers took its tole on education. I had a lot of work to do until 7th grade.

Ultimate end goal giftedness

There is a achievement formula that is well known: cognitive skills + will + interest = success outcome. One of my favorite researchers has complained on occasion that research tends to ignore important concepts like this one that have been known for over 100 years. The article and the paper behind it probably mention it somewhere (haven't found it yet but I'm still looking). Instead, it should be the first sentence in both the article and the papers behind it.

Cognitive skills training is fun and important and should keep you busy as a parent until 4th grade or so. Will and interest are far more important after that and should keep you up at night with anxiousness and fear for the next 12 years. My post-4th-grade blog talks a lot about academic skills, or will after I get it going, but every time I write an article about some interesting method I'm experimenting with, I'm thinking 'Is this activity going to develop will and interest, or will it kill it and ruin my child's academic future?' I noted that some of my early childhood education experiments were a failure on this topic, but you can take a year off at anytime and reset the child at zero. You can't do that at age 16.

My general rule is this. A book or an inspiring teacher or a topic or hobby could explode your child's interest. A parent can only ruin it.

I don't have a rule yet on will. It's probably similar.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

What to Worry About Post Test

Test results have recently been sent out in the bigger districts. They've been sent out for the last 6 months across the country. It's time for the parent to worry about next steps.

My research has now moved to 6th grade through high school. I'm sorry to say that this will be the last post on this blog. I'm moving to to continue my quest to be an adequate parent with over the top research and competitive strategies that leave others in the dust. I chose my url carefully to stay under the radar until me and my 15 readers make some headway. In this article, I'm closing the chapter on GAT programs.

Test results

It can take a few attempts for kids who are behind to catch up. It can take a few attempts for especially bright children to pass the GAT test and get into a gifted and talented program. If your test results fell short, try harder next time. That was the situation we were in for my second child. My first child was fortunate to end up in the best program in our city despite having test scores that were a full 10 points short. We had lots of catching up to do those first rough years.

All gifted kids face an odd challenge - there are only a few years when academic capability and school grades correlate perfectly - 7th grade and Junior year in high school; the rest of the time the brightest kids aren't necessarily the ones with the best grades. Once your test scores say your child is gifted, you have this problem.

If your child is accepted into a gifted and talented program, the challenge is just beginning. Assuming your child passed, and your child is between age 6 and 9, here are your priorities, in priority order, with the most important priorities first:

  • This is the golden age of reading.
  • The internet is full and library is full of wonderful science experiments.
  • Between 1st and 3rd grade, you can develop memorization skills at the 99.99999999% with minimal effort.
  • You can continue normal math studies, ala Kumon IXL Khan Academy, in order to stay ahead, or you can look to the next major academic event, most likely 5th grade or middle school, and start planning for something extra-ordinary.


This is the golden age of reading. Time spent here will pay off big for decades to come.

The Magic Tree House series is well over 150 books at this point. In the average gifted program, there is a group of children enjoying the competition of reading every single one of these books. We started right before 1st grade with me doing a lot of the reading and within time marched through all the books. I had to supplement the reading program with readers (see my reading page). I highly recommend getting all the books from the library in which ever order you can. First, you don't want to end up with hundreds of books on your shelf that you have to throw away. More importantly, every time we went to the library we had to pick up a dozen books of all kinds, like adult level picture books, fables, random history and science books.

Once you get past Magic Tree House, there is everything written by Roald Dahl and a brand new literature of awesomeness written by young female authors. The end goal is a child who loves reading and does it really well. This is a useful skill in high school and beyond.

We came back to reading comp practice at the end of sixth grade. We used SAT practice test books and had a phenomenal showing on the reading section of the SAT at age 12. Apparently I did something right. My father-in-law taught high school English for 40 years. His advice on reading was simply to read. He also mentioned that the key to writing was to simply write, and that advice paid off in middle school.


We didn't know at the time that using the Word Board to survive our At Home vocabulary and school grammar and spelling (1st through 3rd grade) would result in kids who could memorize new vocabulary on the spot. When my oldest was facing 7th grade Chemistry, we bought a high school AP Chemistry book the summer before to knock off the vocab. I had one kid doing the Word Board for spelling and the other memorizing words I didn't know on sight. The light bulb went off. This super power is developed by practicing vocab at the right time in the development of the brain. I should write a paper on this topic.

The next step

In our case, the next major academic event was a strong sixth grade showing in preparation for 7th grade. During 7th grade, test scores and grades determine high school entry. I asked the question, "what do we have to do in 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade to prepare for this event"? Do we need high test scores and straight A's? Only if there is a 100% correlation between these activities and getting into a gifted high school. So we stayed focused on higher order cognitive skills and subskills related to our next goal, and I accepted B's, C's and even one D on the report card in areas that didn't matter.

I didn't like to see low scores in science. Science seems to put together math, reading, projects and other base skills. So we did a lot of science.


Most of the brightest students in our program saw their test scores fall to 85% on the map by 4th grade. These are the children of college math teachers or other professionals with multiple graduate degrees. I talked to a lot of worried parents. The reason for this is long division, pre algebra, multiple digit multiplication, and other math topics on the annual test that are the opposite of intelligence. We totally blew off school math during this period in order to stay focused on the skills that the child will need by middle school.

I wrote the Test Prep Math series with this in mind. While other kids were practicing their arithmetic in 2nd and 3rd grade, we were practicing thinking through convoluted, vague, open ended problems. I got a lot of negative reviews for this approach and at times felt bad taking this huge risk.

My child scored 8 questions above the 99% in math in 7th grade and ended up on the math competition team. Math competition? Waste of a spot for a kid who should be writing books. His little brother went through the full Test Prep Math program (4th edition, the one with almost no mistakes) and never scored as low as 99% in any year. Was I right? There are kids who went though 8 years of Kumon and scored higher on the SAT during 8th grade. But my kids learned trig and calculus in just a few sittings. Plus we spent 0 dollars on math and 0 dollars on test prep for high school and 0 time driving to math programs. So there.

The bottom line

My parting advice is to stay focused on the next step and not to worry about grades and test scores until they count. Every child has gaps and weaknesses, such as reluctance to read, need for exercise or social skills or music. If you're going to be at the top of the academic heap, you'll be doing a little bit of extra work every day at home. Focus this work on the next step and the gaps.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

GAT & Sports

Is it appropriate to pursue a sport, and if so, at what age? At your age, you need to be active, but what about a 6 year old? Since the release of test scores in Chicago is a few weeks away, and we're all totally stressed out, let's talk about sports.

Sports is a complicated question. At a macro level, the data aren't helpful at all. Macro data is rolled up statistics that cognitive and education researchers look at. Using macro data is why their research is so bad and should just be burned. Micro research is a single child, and generally clear. Macro-micro data is a sample size of about 1,000 data points, but behind each data point is an actual child with parents. Once education researchers get out of their office and meet actual children, we can finally fix all the problems in education, which they caused.

Macro-Micro data

There is no correlation between sports before middle school and academic success. In every program from a sub-par neighborhood elementary school to the top GAT program in the country, there are kids who do sports 30 hours a week and kids who don't do sports at all. In this range, the kids randomly fit different academic profiles and have test scores anywhere between 50% and 99%. I rarely work with kids below 50%, but it appears to be randomly distributed there as well.

For an individual child, academic success depends on art, reading, science projects, cognitive skills, and a home that values education. These are easy to correlate and make nice graphs. A 5 year old who is driven from one hockey game to the next who sits in the back seat reading Chaucer is going to do well in school. Data on sports participation is irrelevant to predicting academic success.

There are a few exceptions wherein Macro-Micro data is helpful. Parents who are totally into their children's sports, enjoy winning, send their child to sports clinics to develop 'technique', and sign up for traveling teams are going to produce a kid 2 years behind by high school with a probability of about 98%. In 2% of the cases, the child quits and hates their parents. When my children were young, the sports culture was rampant at nearby schools, so I made a concerted effort to avoid sports early on, and it was the correct decision. All I knew about GAT at the time was that it was rare, so I only did the opposite of what everyone else did until I figured it out.

It's heartbreaking to watch kids get to high school after a career of team sports. If I were in charge of public policy for the US, I would ban sports before middle school and remove all sports teams from schools at any level. Personally, I'm probably at the 97 or 98% in sports (effort and time, not skill or ability). Clubs, park districts, city sports would be great. But until schools actually succeed at academics, they have no business being distracted by sports.

Micro first principles

Let's run through the guide of parent decision making. The part of your child's brain dedicated to decision making will be completely formed at a age 25, so if you ponder letting your child make their own decisions, think again. The part of your child's brain in charge of knowing cause and effect outcomes over a 30 year period will be fully developed by the time they have grandchildren, so again, you're going to have to step up and do some life coaching.

  • Principle #1
    Academic success depends on reading, art, math, social skills, music, and being active.
    This sounds like the definition of 'well rounded', but it's really just the list of prerequisites of academic success. It's hard to concentrate for 6 straight hours on a boring science lab if you're not in fairly good shape.
  • Principle #2
    All of these activities are fun until the parent cares. Then it's just work.
    I've got a son with 2 or 3 good friends who love little league. They stink at baseball and sit on the bench a lot. They also enjoy a variety of other sports that they also stink at. But they're active, participate, win the good-attitude awards.
    In addition to making it known that I personally think baseball is a waste of time and sports are stupid, I make sure they sign up, go to the games, am totally overwhelmed with joy when my son doesn't drop the ball, and occasionally sneak into the race line to talk pre-game smack.
    If I applied my preferences, we'd train for Iron Man competition or full contact fighting. But for my child's development, I think the social skills of low calorie burning activities like baseball are more important.
  • Principle #3
    Sports is not limited to organized team sports at the park district or school. You can take 6 mile walks (which I like to announce as the day's death march) and 50 mile bike rides at an inappropriate age. This winter in Chicago, it was negative eleven degrees, so naturally we had to take a 3 mile walk on that day.
    Would you be happy if your child was at the 50% in academics? Of course not. That's the reason why your child doesn't do what everyone else does, like play video games all day. In the same way, you need to look beyond what other kids are doing in sports and think creatively.
  • Principle #4
    If your child has a slow metabolism and likes to eat your Doritos while you're trying to teach him advanced math, you need sports. This is why I invented Principle #3. Similarly, if you are falling behind on other areas of personal growth, like art, you need to step up your game there as well.
  • Principle #6
    If you overdo any activity by pushing the child too much, they will learn to hate it and likely not do it ever again once they are old enough. Don't ruin sports. Sports is something that can be important in high school, college, and especially after college so don't ruin it early.
  • Principle #7
    No, I don't see a contradiction at all between walking 4 miles a day every day and not over doing it, so stop thinking that. I'm not raising butter beans.
  • Principle #8
    Whatever activity that your child does, they are going to want to quit at some point. Wanting to quit is a characteristic of children under the age of 15. There is a brain lobe in charge of wanting to quit that is slowly replaced by the brain lobe in charge of decision making. Don't let them. But you don't need to do anything organized 12 months a year, and you don't need to do 3 sports when 1 will do, and you don't need to sign up for basketball camp in the summer just because your child plays basketball in the winter. Sign up for something else.

The final word

There is no strong correlation between sports and future academic success. But there is a strong correlation between reading or music and future academic success. There is an even stronger correlation between how many correct answers your child gets above the 99% on the MAP test and future academic success. And there are only so many hours in a week.

Put these things together and the decision is obvious. You need sports for basic health and social skills that round out the last check boxes on a college application, but you don't need it right away, and you don't need a lot of it.

Does your child like soccer? Then do it. Do you like to sit at a little league game with other parents? Then do it. Is your child chubby because they spend too much time programming? Demand it. Otherwise, don't worry about it.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Taking the SAT at age 4

In this article, I'm going to link our work on the COGAT at age 4 to the work on the SAT 6 or 7 years later. It's identical.

Did I say SAT at age 4?

We've kicked off SAT practice. I'm struck at the continuum of learning between age 4 COGAT practice and age 10 SAT practice. If you consider our other insane activities like Every Day Math grade 2 in Kindergarten or accelerated vocabulary up to 2nd grade, you'll appreciate the doable-ness of the latest experiment. No, it's not age 4, but it's the exact same experience all over again. In this learning continuum, I don't really see anything new developing at the base of the skills pyramid. It's quite surprising that the subskills are the same as well, they just morph with changes in topics.

Our approach

You will find a PDF of Practice Test #1 on the college board website. On page #38, the math test begins. The reading tests can wait until a less age-inappropriate age. We started with question 1, and here we are a month later on question #15. We did questions #12 through #15 last weekend, and did them again yesterday; my son did not recognize the material from the prior week. Last night, after a few hours, I think I figured out how a child is supposed to do question #15 in a reasonable amount of time, but I'm still stuck. We tried question #15 7 times and failed 7 times.

So far, our success rate on all questions is about 25%, and we're averaging about 20 minutes per question. You don't get this experience in school, in an after school program, or with a tutor. Flying along on a worksheet of doable problems bypasses a variety of learning experiences.

The first few weeks of math or reading or COGAT test prep with most children seems like a futile exercise, especially if they are not ready, which is the best time to start. What do I hope to accomplish?

What I hope to accomplish

I've done this type of thing many times, and this will be the second time I've gone through the SAT with a child who is the wrong age. I know exactly what to expect.

  • I expect to take off time to study things that we need to know but don't. In the case of the SAT, it's pre-algebra. In the case of the COGAT, it was studying shapes and shape transformations. In the case of EDM Grade 2, it was how to subtract.
  • I expect the pace to pick up slowly between now and the end of 6th grade. We'll never get to the point where the child can do all 15 or 30 problems from one section of the SAT in the time allowed. We'll probably get up to 5 problems in on 30 to 60 minute sitting with a score of 60%, 80%, or occasionally 100%.
  • By next year, we'll be taking some time off to cover Geometry theorems or basic trigonometry.
  • During this process, my child will start to learn shortcuts. What is the objective of math, after all, but highly refined cheating? Sometimes he'll just plug in the answers and prove to me that this is the best approach. I'm more impressed when he shows me that if you look at the problem the right way, not the equationy way, the answer is obvious.
  • Finally, I expect him to sit for the actual SAT, and despite never having done more than 5 problems in one sitting, make a fairly good show. It's amusing to see a 12 year old standing in line with a bunch of high school juniors. I have mixed feelings when the same 12 year old scores in the top 3rd of college bound juniors.
Counter Intuitive Pedagogy

I have a hard time convincing the Kumon crowd that my way is better. After all, if you drill your child daily on grade level or grade level + 1 math, your child is going to do pretty well. During 2nd through 3rd grade, we took the Test Prep Math approach (see the curriculum page) and avoided routine math and worksheets at all costs. I can't argue that our 99% is better than your 99%. I can argue that spending most of our time developing cognitive skills is much more valuable than mastering math concepts, but most people don't get it. How can I promise that the best way to academic success is to avoid arithmetic in favor of confusion and mistakes?

If you are just starting out, I just gave you a glimpse of the future. If you're beyond the COGAT, join the fun on my other website The current issue is philosophy, which is a 4 year project in the works.

If you have any insight on question #15 from section 3 in practice test #1, feel free to share. We're stuck. If (ax + 2)(bx + 7) = 15x2 +cx + 14 for all values of x, and a + b = 8, what are the two possible values for c? I can see what's happening mathematically, but I can't see how a high school junior is supposed to address this quickly without the brute force approach. Otherwise, I'm going to sit this question aside on the watch list for another shot in 6 months. There are, of course, answers on the college board website, but I'm more interested in the learning process than the knowing process, so don't look there. That's cheating.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Cognitive Load Theory

Here is the COGAT in a nutshell. It is the direct application of Cognitive Load Theory under the guise that children with a learned aptitude for academic material generated the ability to handle cognitive load.

Start with this quote I found in this article on the website It's a great website if you're in to that sort of thing. The quote is in a brief summary of Cognitive Load Theory (CLT). I wish I spent more time researching CLT, but researchers are really frustrating. More on that later.

Complex novel elements will overload working memory, so the complexity of a task needs to be pitched at the right level. As new information is incorporated into [long term memory] and new cognitive schemas arise, it leads to less load on cognitive resources and the level of complexity can increase.

The way cognitive skills tests measure cognitive skills, aka aptitude for academic work of all kinds, is to present never before seen novel tasks which are complicated. Complexity is defined by multiple relationships at once. The "right level" is the level way beyond the one your child can achieve with success in a reasonable amount of time. Long term memory is not in the picture in one test sitting, so it's all working memory on the COGAT.

Minor Implications

The classic way to beat the COGAT is to practice COGAT type questions, taking the 'novel' out of the equation. The classical approach is good for about a score of 85% to 90%.

The superior approach is to feed your child a steady stream of overly complicated working memory taxing exercises - regardless of the similarity to an actual COGAT question. This approach is good for 90% after just 6 weeks. Imagine what you could do with 12 weeks.

Wondering whether or not an activity or toy or game will help prepare your child for academic success? How complicated is it, how many things are happening at once, and how many skills does your child have to develop in order to finish the task? In general, the longer it takes, the closer the task is to the desirable mix of attributes. Bonus points for an activity that is fun enough to keep your child's interest while the skills are developed.

For example, is piano more desirable than the clarinet? Certainly at age 4, because the clarinet is way beyond the piano. The piano has 2 hands and two staffs. The clarinet is 2 hands, the mouth, cheeks, tongue, the tips of 10 fingers stretched in a way to create squeaks; none of these body parts are developed enough at age 4. Feel free to complain below about my bold assertion. Both of these rank below reading, which has at least 62 things going on at once. That is why reading comp is such good preparation, and why math in word problem format is 10 times as powerful as math in equation form. Is gymnastics better than soccer? It is if it's more interesting to your child. Like the clarinet, there are dozens of activities that are wonderful in later ages that parents push their children into at age 3 or 4.

The major implication

If you provide your child a steady stream of qualified activities, their working memory becomes a powerful weapon, and they will develop a host of sub-skills to deal with complicated tasks.

I accidentally discovered that the transition from working memory to long term memory starts at about 3 (mostly painful) weeks and eventually the child grows the capacity to instantly store items in long term memory that should meander close to the event horizon of their working memory. Short term memory is a brief sorting area for things that are sucked into working memory and things that are worth discarding, like the term 'trapezoid' which never seems to make it.

At some point, you reach the limit of the skill set of the child - not in their actual skill set, but in the material that is suitable to throw at the child. How many gladiators does the coliseum lion need to eat before he's bored? Not many.

In my ongoing series of diabolical experiments, none were as effective as those performed at the beginning of reading and math, where CAT took 3 weeks, as did the first page of Every Day Math . Both were Herculean tasks of brain growth.

Then I discovered fields, like trigonometry, chemistry, and philosophy. In throwing these at the child at an inappropriate age, and once they get beyond the phase of the minor implications of CLT, there is no such thing as an inappropriate age, I observed a whole new dynamic in cognitive skill develpment.

When you throw an entire field at your child in a short period of time (like one sitting), the process of understanding material and transitioning it to long term memory is too much. Instead of taking bits and pieces, which at first glance is what you think you might observe, the child lays the foundation for the next pass. I call this effect 'bucketing'. The child creates brain buckets for the material. It looks like they are not learning, but when they eventually see this material in class, it's all 'Ah ha!' instead of 'What?'.

For this reason, I'm transitioning from 'how to cheat your way into a gifted program' on this website to 'how to cheat your way through high school AP courses' on the next website.

A note on research

If you read the article linked above, you will see 'objective measures of cognitive load are difficult to obtain'. This makes me wonder, yet again, how much time these researchers spend with actual children. You just have to look. It usually occurs at the 15 minute mark with newby's and the 25 minute mark with advanced children. They heave a heavy sigh after reading a question for the 13th time, missing words like 'three' that are in plain sight. Researchers need to look for 'cognitive exhaustion' and measure performance up to that point, and they will have their proxy for cognitive load.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Principles of Competitive Parenting

I think I'm ready to write the book.

When I first started this blog in 2011, I could write a one page article that included a complete extract on the topic at hand and adequately summarized my research. Now, it would take 30 pages to bring readers up to speed on a sub-topic of reading, math, test prep or character development.

I'd like to wait for graduate school to pan out before writing the book. "How to Cheat Your Way into a GAT Program" has a nice title, but I've got something much bigger in mind.

Here are some snippets from my notes, roughly in order.

Get your child into a GAT program at all costs

If you follow my recipe of test prep, getting to 94% is doable. 99% requires a bit of extra effort. "All costs" refers to redefining the values and activities in your house so that your children walk the walk and talk the talk for the rest of their lives.

I realize that not all GAT programs in all school districts are created equally. Any GAT program is better than none. We continued our GAT program at home just in case. But in our case, the education was way beyond my expectations. One of my children is in a reading program that tackles books that I struggled with as an adult.

While no books have been written on this topic, one of the permanent articles (never finished of course) on this website provides the recipe.

Reading must dominate their time

We no longer live in an industrial society. Even if you have no intention of producing future lawyers and writers, the thinking skills bred by reading are the ones that will pave the way for the rest of education and future professional success.

There are plenty of good books on this topic which I've cited before.

Vocabulary is everything

Vocabulary is not just the driver of thinking ability and test scores, it's the driver of personality, determination, and speaking ability when you use the Word Board. Unfortunately, once they develop photographic word memories, vocabular ceases to be an area of work. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Projects are the best teacher

Projects, crafts and art are the best teacher. At age 3 or 4, these teach executive functioning skills. In grade school, the GAT programs are all projects. If there is a text book of any kind involved, the kids read it outside of class time.

I lump music in to this category.

A corollary to this principle is that one long math problem teaches more than 500 short problems.

Every child should be challenged every day

This was my very first victory as a parent. If children learn to read by daily reading at home, how do they learn to do advanced math? Every day I presented my children with some math that challenged them. They're not going to get this at school, even in a GAT program, and they will not get this from a school math book even 2 or 3 years ahead of grade level.

After about 9 months of this program, I redefined daily math to be something ridiculously insanely hard. This is why reading dominates their time: insanely hard math exhausts the brain in about 25 minutes. That leaves plenty of time for reading.

There is no book on this topic. There are great programs for competitive math that come close, but few children are qualified by the right mix of interests, disposition, and geekiness. Both of my kids are into competitive math, but only by virtue of training.

Problem solving skills are gold

Most of my research and most of my original ideas fit under this heading. When I read through education and cognitive psychology journals, I'm confident that I'm still at least 25 years ahead of other researchers.

In 1945, George Poyla synthesized 3000 years of research on how mathematicians solve problems and applied it to high school sophomores. In about 2011 or 2012, I applied this to 4 year olds, then to calculus, to the SAT, to high school chemistry, to reading, and a host of other topics, all before 7th grade. We're now working on other applications like how to ace a test for a class you didn't attend.

After 4th grade

I've dabbled in research topics for older children on this website, but recently started another blog to cover them in more detail. Assuming 5 years of At Home Academic Training goes well, and it has, we're focusing on much more important topics like chores, theater, not quitting, overloading your schedule with activities and hard classes, and not being the slightest bit stressed by anything ever.

In the early days of this website, I argued for this principle: We are not doing any activities, especially ones that involve me driving my kid to some organized program. No soccer at age 4, no outside math tutoring, nothing. Despite this - or maybe because of it - both of my kids are slowly filling their schedules with groups and clubs.

There is so much more you can do with the Power Five problem solving skills with older children.

I've read so much about kids being overwhelmed by the stress of high school, what with 4 AP courses each semester and all those extra curricular activities. Tackling this problem is one of my current interests. I made my kids watch parts of How To Succeed in Busies Without Really Trying. We all want our little kids to get to high school fully prepared for hard work. I've got something much bigger in mind.

A note on leadership

I've never written an article on leadership. I think we work on a fairly comprehensive list of qualities or skills that a leader has, but I don't yet see the step from 'has' to 'using' leadership skills.

My kids are involved in a comprehensive list of activities. They have fun, they participate, they organize, they pull their own weight. They don't really lead. Perhaps this is because adults overdo the leadership thing. Nonetheless, I don't see any hint of a drive to be the best. I see plenty of adequate. Both kids like to perform, but they have fairly low standards and adhere to the adage 'Done is better than perfect'.

I think I can leverage that, parenting wise. If you need a crack team that includes the top math person, top scientist, writer, researcher, athlete, artist, and inventory, which role is not mentioned but always required? I'm 2 years from this line of research and it will definitely be in the other blog.