Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Perfect Day

I'm haunted by the tripart equation for giftedness:  cognitive skills, interest, will.   As a mathematician, I'm very comfortable with exploring, measuring and improving cognitive skills.   At some point (it's 4th grade), the child has to fly free along the dimensions of interest and will, and all the cognitive skills in the world won't save him from drowning if he doesn't care.

I have one rule to deal with this issue.  Rule #1:  If the child devises an interest or project, drop all preassigned At Home Academic Material from the schedule to make room.  We've ended up with goofy stuff over the years because of this rule, including lots of crafts.   I feel like I need a rule #2 or #3, but I am still a parent of young children, so I haven't invented these missing rules.  For now, it is clear to me that the projects or interests that are self-devised are the ones that produce interest and will, or from the standpoint of a different theory, grit and success.

Today was the perfect example of what I'm talking about.   With the older one away at camp, the younger one has been thinking about what he could do for camp.  Why don't you have your own camp?  I suggested.  Great idea.  There was lots of signage and planning and other preparation.  Fortunately, the "campers" were his peers at school, and we ended up with a slightly unorganized reluctant counselor and 8 Type A Leadership-type campers.  This pilot only included kids from his school who lived nearby to avert disaster for me.   Worked really well today, and when we do it again I'm going to expand the program.

Here he is checking the schedule.  We made T shirts as well.

This concept is based on something quite extraordinary that happened down the street from us a few years a go.  A group of 7th grade girls started a 1 week day camp for little kids.  I think they ended up with 30 kids each week for a few weeks.   It was an extraordinary camp and became competitive to get a slot.  It was known as "Camp Norwood".   Our kids attended.   The girls went on to college, graduated, did something service oriented in Kenya, and generally exemplified what I consider a Job Well Done for their parents.  I'm still in awe of all of the effort and results.

Therefore, as the inventor of UnOriginality in Parenting, I stole the idea, downgraded it to age 6, and went for it.   I'm not sure what my child got out of the whole program, but I could see the beginnings of something really good for a few of the other kids,  I think this endeavor was win-win-win-win...   My kid got to make posters and lists, and a few real leaders emerged from among his friends.  

One final note from my experience today as the helper and cook.   Girls and Boys are so different in every way that they might as well be from other planets. I've got a friend who teaches high school math, and this type of thinking causes her endless headaches.  She says "They are 'People'", and I know what she means; girls tend to get the short end of the stick in stereotyping as far as math is concerned, which is totally unfair because they are perfectly cut out for real math in the eventuality that the US school system will ever get around to teaching real math.   But these people are really from different planets.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Struggling Through Test Prep

A reader commented recently that her child was struggling with a some math/vocabulary question:  "Struggling with summer math.  My little one is not getting this 'more than' and 'fewer than' question, A has 7 coins, B has 4 fewer than A, how many coins A and B had altogether?  Concluded today's homework by screaming for an hour".

This situation seems very normal to me, and I lived through it, and my reply is to give the kid a snack and expect to spend 1 to 3 weeks on this question.

A few days later I started having flashbacks to all of the crying, and the high error rate, especially with the word "fewer".   My child took months to get the word "fewer".  It used to drive me nuts.

The process of learning vocabulary for little kids is a mirror of the cognitive skills test.  Parents are tossing out big new words left and right in long, multi-clausal sentences from birth (the good parents are) and the child has to use context, inference, similarities and differences, classification, analogy, and a host of very sophisticated mental skills to figure out what the words mean just to survive in his own house.

"Fewer" works at even a higher level, because it challenges the child's world view.  "More" is much simpler. More means "give me more".   It means better, and it means me.   "Fewer", on the other hand, introduces injustice, fairness, trade offs, and the fact that if I get more than someone else will get less.   Once you start using the word "fewer" with a little kid, you've introduced philosophy, and it takes a while for the child to digest it.

Learning vocabulary is Extreme Test Prep for a 2 or 3 year old.

I've been reading the works of this guy named "Robert Thorndike" who said essentially the same thing about reading some 80 years ago.  Reading early is Extreme Test Prep for 3 and 4 year olds, and it is the test in a nutshell on a daily basis in the same way I outlined above for vocabulary.   Way back then, the psychology industrial megaplex was on the verge of figuring out how to make kids smarter until then they discovered all of the money to be made from assessment tests. The only country that escaped this trap was Finland.  When a child is born in Finland, an agency worker delivers 2 books to the bedside, one for the child, and one for the mother.

I read an interview from 2006 from the author of the COGAT, David Lohman.  In the article, Lohman laments that practicing for a cognitive skills test can increase scores 5 to 10%, and even more if coaching is involved.  I have found in my own work that consistent parent coaching can raise scores by more than 50%.  Lohman complains that this effect has undesirable consequences.   Personally, I have found desirable consequences, including a brighter child who is more apt to do well in and enjoy school, a child who demonstrates insight and sympathy, a child who has good judgement and who I can trust.

Here are your options on how to pass the test:
1.  Talk a lot at age 2
2.  Read a lot at age 3 and 4
3.  Test prep a lot thereafter

Now that I'm past the early test, awaiting the next one, I've become a lot more interested in developing really good thinking skills and a love of learning than I am with grades or the annual academic challenge called the achievement test.

The undesirable consequences that Lohman was referring to are related to the reasonable observation that academic achievement is comprised of cognitive skills, interest in the subject matter, and the will to do it.  He noted that giving a child the edge in cognitive skills who doesn't have the other two qualities can result in a more desirable candidate being left out of the program.

My problem with test prep is that building cognitive skills might jeopardize or diminish interest and/or will and in the end undermine the eventual goal.  This is weighed against the assumption that if a child doesn't have the cognitive skills and you don't teach him these skills, the likely result will be frustration and not interest in academic subject matter and the will to avoid it.

Second grade is the year I stop all at home academic work of any kind other than lots of reading.  Last time I did this, it resulted in 2 years of A's.   The problem this year is that I'm working on A Very Special Math Book and my editor is the second grader in question, so he's stuck doing these math problems.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Summer Update

I've been reading academic papers and building test questions.  Thanks for asking.   I saw a quote in one of the two papers I read tonight.   I'll have to paraphrase because I didn't write down the page number. Vocabulary and Math Problem Solving Ability are the best predictors of success on these tests!

So for anyone following my advice, you're on track.

Also, I've been mentioning reading as the #1 thing to focus on.   The psychology researchers who motivated these tests state that learning vocabulary words and reading teach a person how to think.  I'm paraphrasing, but talking and reading can basically put your kid 2 years ahead before preschool.

Also, there's this great paper by Lohman describing how researchers and practitioners start with this idea that intelligence is fixed and well defined, and little by little in their papers over their lifetime they change their opinions.

Anyway, my steady diet of math and vocabulary workbooks has been derailed by Big Activities.  Big Activities exercise grit (perseverance and resilience), which trumps Cognitive Skills as the biggest predictor of life success.  So if any child comes up with a project they want to do, I put my own agenda on hold.

One of my children likes all things people.  Older kids, younger kids, any kids.  Any class that involves teamwork and brainstorming will be a hit.  We signed him up for theater classes, which he liked because it involves working together, but not because he is committed to acting.  5 years ago, I created a summer math camp on Saturdays for 5 year olds.  It was a huge hit, and I assumed he would be great at math.  It was a huge hit because other kids were involved.  It is safe to say that this one is safe from me ruining his interests because as an introvert, I don't really understand him.

The other one is the opposite.  He doesn't hate people; he just doesn't really need them right now.   At the end of the school year, he wrote, directed, and acted in a play with his buddies in class.   It wasn't better than the plays his friends wrote, but they worked as a team and politics destroyed the effort.   The last week of school he showed up with a complete play and it won by default.

We saw Jurassic World and everyone liked it except for me (worst movie I have ever).  I explained to the kids the role of all the different players involved, from early production, script writing (worst script ever), copyrights and trademarks, marketing ("painting the pig"), and keeping actors from saying nasty things about each other on Twitter between sequels.  I'm trying to make up for all of the talking I was supposed to do but did not when he was 2 years old.

So he said that he would write a book called Dinosaur World.   In between sentence #1 and sentence #5, which is where he is now, he spent a week asking about how to get trademarks since this will be a 10 volume series with movie rights.  He spent hours trying to get past sentence #5 with little luck, since he can't type and at age 6, doesn't have much to say.

Last night his older brother had a friend over.   The little one created a sign called "Book Helpers Registration - Ages 6 to 10" and taped it to a little table we built.  He sat down with pencil and paper behind the table.   I was desperate to find out what would happen.  This was like a sitcom unfolding before my eyes. I yelled for the older boys to come up from the basement.  "What is it?" they asked.  I have no idea but please register so I can find out.  So they registered.

"Book Helpers will help me with ideas about what to put in my book Dinosaur World."  Oh my gosh.   "Really?  Are you kidding?" the older boys protested.   The friend had a better idea.  "I think what we need first is to give you ideas about your book titles.   Maybe it can be Book Title Helpers."

How I envy stereotypical Asian mom's who simply demand that their kids study for medical school.  I don't have a clue what to do with my situation.  Who are these people?  What are they evolving into?

Here are the 10 titles they came up with.

1.  Attack of the Volcano of Frogs
2.  Pink Fluffy Pickles Dancing on your Nose
3.  Attack of the Pink yellow Glasses
4.  The Zombie Nostrils That Came from Above
5.  Monkey-Colored Tissue That Lives in a Pitcher
6.  The Evil Tacos
7.  Attack of the Elephants from Outer Space
8.  The Swirly Toothpaste from Under the Couch
9.  The Bunny from Mordor
10. The Maltesian Birdy