Monday, July 22, 2013

Kumon Versus AntiKumon

As I mentioned a year or more ago, I have a carefully crafted approach to math that is dramatically different than Kumon.   A few friends at work a few years ago described Kumon to me, and my general reaction was shock and horror.   As my my children reached the age of math, they were enrolled in AntiKumon.

What Is Kumon?
Kumon is a successful, proven method to improve your child's math grades.   From what I can tell, it also gives them confidence not only in math, but other subjects as well.    This is a Japanese program and it is obsessed with perfection and mastery.  The kid does a lot of worksheets, starting about 2 years behind grade level, and must meet time and accuracy requirements to pass to the next level.  [Note - the school math program in Japan is better than the U.S. and from what I'm told doesn't look at all like Kumon.]  The main benefit of Kumon is that once the child has thoroughly memorized math facts, they make less mistakes, and it's easier to get through more complicated math problems.

What is AnitKumon?
AntiKumon, is a successful but relatively unknown way to improve your child's math grades to the point where you need to start thinking seriously about Cal Tech or MIT.  The child does about 1 to 6 problems a day, starting about 2 years ahead of grade level, has no clue what they are doing, takes 20 to 30 minutes to get it right, after about 4 or 5 tries.  The end result is a child who is accustomed to thinking their way through really challenging material, having patience until they get it, and checking whether they got the right answer because they're never sure the first time.  The main benefit of AntiKumon is that the child becomes a solid thinker with the grit to overcome obstacles in any advanced subject. The side benefit is that they have a tendency to not make mistakes on key tests.

After a year or more of either approach, you're going to end up with success.  The question is success in what.

Choosing A Starting Point
Since Kumon requires mastery, the new student will most likely not pass grade level pre-tests, and end up working on material 2 or 3 years back.  Even if the child has a working skill, he may not have memorization and speed to pass the section on the adding numbers 1 through 10.  I can't imagine doing this to a child, but whatever, they have their reasons and its consistent with their approach.

In AntiKumon, the starting point where ever the kid is now plus 2 years.  This means backtracking as needed to a workbook for grade level + 1 when the child comes across a math concept that they skipped.

Kumon starts 1 or more years back because success is considered memorization and mastery of the material at hand.  AntiKumon chooses 2 years ahead because success is considered stumbling through completely unfamiliar material, figuring it out, and learning how to concentrate for a long period of time.

As an example, here is the Pre-K lineup for Kumon.  The other years looks similar, with levels and specific math concepts.
  • Level 2A: Adding up to 10
  • Level 3A: Numbers up to 120, Adding up to 3
  • Level 4A: Reciting and writing numbers up to 50
  • Level 5A: Line drawing, number puzzles to 50
  • Level 6A: Counting to 30
  • Level 7A: Counting to 10
Here's the lineup for AntiKumon year by year.  I'll note with an asterisk* what you need to do if you jump in at a later grade for the first time.   The first year of AntiKumon is the longest because you really have to do 2 years at once.  That's the year of magic because you pick up all of the core skills on top of math, the skills that really count.

  • Pre-K Level 0:  Shape Size Color Count
  • Pre-K Level 1:  Sylvan's Kindergarten math followed by Every Day Math Volume 1 or Spectrum Math 1st Grade or both.  
  • Kindergarten Level 2:  Before Jan 1 of this year, just plod on with Level 0 and 1.  After Jan 1, get Every Day Math Student Journal Volume 1.  There are lots of reasons for the date of Jan 1 that have nothing to do with math.  Catchup*: By Jan 1, it's too late to catch up with SSCC and K math but you might want to spend a few months on 1st grade math. 
  • Kindergarten Level 3:  At some point, when you finish Volume 1, do the 1st half of Volume 2.
  • 1st Grade:  Catchup*:  If you didn't do AntiKumon before, get both volumes of EDM and continue through all of Volume 2 .  If you started AntiKumon in K, focus on reading.
  • 2nd Grade:  Level 4:  Test Prep Math Level 2.  There is no Level 1 for this material. Depending on the maturity of the child and whether you face a key test this year, you may delay until Jan 1 or push boldly forward on Sept 1.
  • 3rd Grade:  By Jan 1, start Test Prep Math Level 3.  Again, there's a reason for starting in the middle of the year.  Catchup*:  If you start AntiKumon before Jan 1, do TPM Level 2 first because TPM Level 3 is hard.  If for some insane reason you get through TPM Level 3, continue on with 4th and 5th grade competitive math worksheets while you wait.
  • 4th Grade:  Catchup:*  My older son didn't get to TPM until this grade, because they didn't yet exist.  TPM Level 3 resulted in an amazing transformation.  The rest of AntiKumon is what he's done since.  By the way, TPM Level 3 is AntiKumon Level 5.
  • Summer before 5th Grade and 5th Grade, Level 6:  Use the Kumon Pre-Algebra 6th grade workbook.  If nothing else, AntiKumon is a ruthless competitor and not afraid to use Kumon workbooks.  *Catchup:  Keep 5th a grade math workbook handy to backtrack as needed. 
  • 5th Grade Summer Level 7:  College Board SAT Test Prep book math practice tests.  The assignment for the child is "do any easy problem in the first practice test that you think you can do."
  • 6th Grade Level 8:  Find a decent 8th grade math book, like CMP math.  The CPM math series is a bit expensive (8 books, 6 of which I recommend) but there is no prerequisite for jumping in at this point.   Catchup*:  You need to keep the SAT book do it every few weeks instead of just CMP.  CMP has no prerequisites.  It will just go slower if you're AntiKumon for the first time.
  • Level 9 Plus:  I recommend doing 30-40% of each of the CMP books.  Then go back to the SAT, do all of the problems in the math section as you go and start doing all of the reading comprehension.  This is where the Test Prep Math series is going to pay off, because it builds in all of the logic and other skills that the child needs to get through this work.  
  • Summer Before 6th Grade:  AntiKumon is in the R&D department and this is the big year in Chicago for high school admissions.  I'm planning something over the top that we're working on right now.

Daily Work
My friends report that the Kumon student has worksheets to do every night, with lots of similar problems on topic, and then goes to the Kumon center for pointers, tutoring, and testing once a week. A try to answer politely but it's hard because I'm about to burst into tears.

I've tried this approach once.  It works for a while than inevitably produces a child who can't think through progressively more challenging math on his own.  Even worse, it makes math seem boring and irrelevant, which it is.

Daily work with AntiKumon is a page in a math book that might have 6 problems or a single challenging word problem.  The student learns dozens of skills in this type of environment.

Word Problems
The odd thing about Kumon is that their word problem workbooks for grades 4 and above are pretty good.  I would even recommend their word problem workbooks for a child jumping into AntiKumon for the first time who isn't quite ready for the thinking demands of TPM.  By 5th grade, Kumon Pre-Algebra books qualify as AntiKumon.

AnitKumon targets word problems by 2nd grade.  Word problems are the opposite of memorizing math facts and tie math to the rest of academic subjects.  The word problems have math, but not advanced math, and are buried under a mound of logic and thinking.  The premise is that if the child thinks at the level of a great but tiny mathematician, the math will take care of itself.

Math Concepts
Both Kumon and AnitKumon work on fundamentals and leave math concepts for later.  However, while Kumon just keeps the worksheets going to spoon feed each concept followed by ad nauseum practice until it is memorized, AntiKumon trains a child to think on their own and math concepts never become an issue.

Who Will Come Out Ahead?
Currently, my 6th grader, the one who started didn't get TPM Level 2 and did TPM Level 3 as a 4th grader is on his second SAT book.   The other child, who started AntiKumon with SSCC is only 8 years old, and today we're going to cover i, e, pi, and Euler's Formula.  That is the bottom line for Kumon versus AntiKumon. Do you want a child who can multiply quickly, or one who can spend 4 weeks coming to terms with Euler's Formula and complex numbers?  It is unlikely that either one is going to study math in graduate school.  The odd thing is that neither child is really all that "mathy" and probably won't major in math in college.  It's the generalized skill set in AntiKumon that is the real prize.  AntiKumon children develop learning abilities at a high level and early grit skills that go with having to figure out a steady stream of new and challenging concepts.

Kumon provides an endless stream of rudimentary concepts to master over and over again.  They become adept at easy, routine, mindless calculation.   The Kumon theory is that if calculation is mastered, this makes room for the child to focus on higher order thinking.   For this reason, Kumon is the exact opposite of AntiKumon.  AntiKumon focuses from day 1 on higher order thinking and learning to calculate is a byproduct of the material.

There is one other primary difference.  Kumon cost money beyond material and requires driving to a Kumon center once a week.  Otherwise, the parent just has to make sure their child does easy worksheets each night.  With AntiKumon, on the other hand, the child is going to go through a 6 week period where they adjust to having to think on their own, and the parent is going to have to learn to let the child think on their own.  It is unlikely that the child has ever had to spend 20 minutes doing a single hard problem before. This may result in 6 weeks of whining and crying.

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