Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Mother of All GAT Skills

The very first insane thing I ever did as a parent was to hand my 5 year old the Every Day Math workbook #1 and ask him to do every problem on every page.  This was his introduction to math. Once I found out about the concept of "test prep", I raised the bar further with ridiculously complicated problems that take an hour to figure out what the question is asking.

Since then, he's done a steady stream of impossible tasks that take many months to complete, and at the end, he sees the results and I remind him of all the hard work he put into it.

I've subsequently refined the approach for his little brother.   For example, I now know that Every Day Math Level 2 should be preceded by Sylvan Kindergarten math.  And I know that phonics is really important at a young age and can be done at an insane level (and you can see the results of this on Amazon in about 2 or 3 weeks.  I finally fixed my logo and came up with a diagram that doesn't involve army rangers at training camp.  Although the logo "Test Crusher" and army ranger training is exactly what I have in mind, I'm afraid it puts off too many people.)

In past articles, I've outlined most of the parenting skills that are required to pull this off, and now I'm ready to talk about the biggest skill of all, which is to expect really big things of your child that take many months.   I could stop here, but you and I are probably wondering what is the long term outcome of this approach?  What is going to happen to your child if you exercise the Mother of All GAT skills?  What happens if your child doesn't attend a GAT program and you do this anyway?

Last weekend, I compared a 6th grade child in a GAT program and who is currently being subject to 9th grade insanity at home, to a 7th grader who is working at grade level and does nothing special but go to swimming practice 3 times a week.  I did this because lately I've been researching how the skill bar changes over time so when this friend came over to play video games, I announced that they needed to do math first.  And then run 2 miles.

First, let's take the GAT kid.  In Chicago, 7th grade is an important year, where grades and test scores determine high school enrollment.  At the end of 5th grade, we started stepping through the 7th grade math curriculum, which is an 8th grade book.  I think we're going to finish.  For the last month, I've asked him to write down every thing relevant to linear, exponential, inverse, and polynomial functions, which will take him about 6 weeks.  Last weekend, I bought the 7th grade Chemistry book, which is a 9th grade textbook, and we're going to memorize all of the vocabulary and concepts in the next 6th months.  Given his training in doing ridiculously impossible tasks, not to mention the years at the Word Board, I think this is doable.

I'm even more pleased with his ability to perform on non-academic exercises.   If you've seen Test Prep math, you might wonder where the characters Jeffrey Sincomhoff and Sumi Von Gusa came from.  My son wrote many of the questions, and I added the math.  Most of the main characters are his classmates, including the hapless Yani and his evil nemesis Mallory.  Mallory sat on the student counsel with my son in the second grade.  In case Mallory should happen across this blog, let me state for the record that she is not evil, even if she has all of the qualifications of a nemesis, including turning in her assignments on time, which is a skill that my son lacks out of sheer lack of caring, which is why I bought the 9th grade Chemistry book.

Now take the 7th grader.   I announced that the 7th grade non-GAT grade level friend would learn about linear functions in 30 minutes or less (which took 75 minutes).   I showed him y = mx + b, and to be on the safe side, y = 3x + 2.  He had no idea what "y" was supposed to mean, let alone the rest of it.

He wasn't lacking any of the core skills.  Didn't care a bit that he was totally baffled and happily redid his graphs when I pointed out discontinuity in his line.  I was really disappointed.   I asked my 8 year old to come over and show this kid how these functions worked.  My 8 year old happily obliged, because he thinks he knows everything and is fearless, and proceeded to get things mostly wrong as well.  The 7th grader was not the slightest bit annoyed.  I was hoping for tears.  I need more time to prepare.  I told him to come back next week and I won't be as easy.  I'm going to give my 8 year old all of the answers first, and I'll jump right into exponents in the middle of the lesson for no reason.

A few days later, my 6th grader and I walked to this friend's house.   His parents told me that their child was so excited about our session that he called his parents on the way home to tell them that he had so much fun and is now doing math at Mr. Norwood's house on Saturdays.

I know exactly what is going to happen in the next few years.   It's been happening in our neighborhood for the last 15 years.   This is an odd chummy neighborhood, with about 2,000 close knit families.  I haven't exactly been charting outcomes, but I could go up and down the blocks listing off who went where and why.   This has always been central to my research; parents are more than happy to talk at length about their children, and I'm more than happy to ask.

The 7th grade swimmer will get into a good high school, probably with little effort, although I'm raising the bar dramatically after last weekend.   My son will get into a good high school with a lot of effort, because his classes are ten times as hard and his classmates are all brainiacs.  My personal goal is to get him into the 50th percentile of his class, which will be good enough.   Then in high school, all of the GAT kids will be a year or more ahead.  Some of the non-GAT kids will take summer school in a few classes like math and catch up with a little effort.  They will go to similar colleges based on their own goals, and do great things that may or may not be academic in nature.

I could list off young college graduates and their accomplishments, and ask you which ones attended a grade school GAT program and which didn't.  You would answer incorrectly most of the time.

Then there is child #2 who isn't part of my "how to be an effective parent" research program but simply takes advantage of the results which I've been publishing here for the last 5 years.   Last weekend, he found the instructions to a lego Star Wars set that we haven't seen in 18 months.  He glanced at the materials list and tossed the book aside.  I sat their in stunned silence while he picked all of the the correct parts our of our bins of 70,000 legos, built the thing from memory, and then changed it to make it bigger and better.  The story isn't written yet for this case.  He'll be doing powers and linear functions today as well.