Saturday, December 17, 2016

Giftedness The Hard Way Part 3

The biggest challenge in raising a gifted ear of corn from a corn kernel is managing your own feelings of impatience and frustration.   It is challenging for a parent because the only way to train giftedness is to hand your child something they have never seen before that they have to figure out for themselves.  This isn't the entire definition of giftedness, but it's almost the entire definition of the part of giftedness that you can teach.

I really need to put this in How To Raise A Gifted Child material in book form because you have to dig through 4 other articles and take snippets from each to figure out why I just said that bolded part.   Just take my word for it now or this article is going to be a stream of consciousness.  Not to mention the ear of corn cob theory of giftedness that I haven't written about yet.  So read the bolded text above and plod on.

I spent 4 hours yesterday coaching kids in math.  At  the end of the day, I had a great discussion with a parent who teaches  at a local university.  She has complained to me in the past that university students now need a very long and detailed rubric for assignments and projects.  In the old days, it would be "do this project" and the student would have to provide the vision and motivation.  Now, it's "just tell me exactly what I need to do on every step to get an A."

A Brazilian professor (Paulo Freire) defined the banking theory of education, one way communication between the teacher and the student, where the teacher makes deposits of knowledge into the child's knowledge bank.  This is the easiest and least frustrating way to teach your child and results in very little gain.  I call this Telling.   My friend's goal as a professor is to make this a 2 way conversation where the student is engaged challenging and contributing to the discussion while the student works out the final knowledge product, hopefully complete with some independent thinking skills.

When I explained my approach to giftedness training to this parent, I realized that I have invented something new. I'll call it the Zero Interest approach to education, where the student (The Bank) gives you an interest free credit card for 6 minutes and then steals all of your money with fees and penalties.   It's one way, but from the student to the teacher.   This is a worse analogy than the corncob, but I subjected her child to 2 hours of this approach, so I thought I should provide an explanation.

The way it works is that I provide convoluted, incomplete problems that appear wrong, ideally with new topics, definitions, and concepts that the child hasn't seen before, and the student has to figure out everything for themselves.  All the teacher does is refuse to pay their credit card bill on time by answering questions with questions.  The end result is a very rich student.  I call this Learning.

If you're trying to figure out what this has to do with the credit card industry, then you know what the student is going through trying to understand one of my problems.

In the Test Prep Math series, everything in the problem can be worked out by the student with plenty of time.  I don't think grades 2-4 is the appropriate time to introduce accelerated math topics, but it's the best time to introduce thinking.  If the student can master the core skills, they can then take on competitive math if they want to after they finish these books.

In reality, these problems I create are extremely precise and technical.  If there is a vague word, I put it there on purpose, and the child has to take one or more steps to work out the definition, or if there are 3 alternatives, work out 3 solutions and pick the best one in context.

For 2 of these hours yesterday, the kids were a 6th and 7th grader.   It was supposed to take 45 minutes.   Even when I warned them up front, they still didn't spend enough time with the question, didn't check their solution, and made the same mistakes they make every time.   This is understandable because I raise the bar each time to put them in the same position of bafflement.  If they are prepared, and can answer a 5 minute question in 5 minutes, they didn't learn anything.

The challenge as a parent is do endure the same mistakes and the same arguments from age 5 to 12. It's crying at age 4, whining at age 5, stalling at age 7, and arguments about why they have to endure my stupid questions at age 12.   Yesterday, I had an 8 year old tell me that he doesn't know what the terms "volume" and "radical form" mean, but these were central to the questions.   I don't know what "radical form" means  either, although I could guess, so we looked it up.

When we were preparing for the COGAT, the Zero Interest method was at work, and as we went through the practice problems, my students missed at least half of the problems.   This is not just frustrating for a parent, but terrifying because the test date is approaching and the score is not approaching the cutoff.   It never does with children who are level 1 to level 3 gifted.   It doesn't have to.   They are learning to think, and the thinking skills will probably be there by test time.  If they are zooming through easy problems and getting them correct (much easier on a parent) then the parent should be terrified that they will not do well on the test.

Here's an example from yesterday's work with the big kids:

Joe had a long section of fence. He wanted to know how many bags of fertilizer he should get for his new fenced in yard.  He is going to ring his yard with bushes all along the fence.  If his fence is X feet long, and the yard will be 3 times as long as it is wide, and a bush needs a yard of yard to grow in, how many bags of fertilizer will Joe need?

Stop reading right here and spend 30 minutes to solve this problem.  If you can go through the pain of solving this problem without my hints, then you know what a child has to go through to do a problem worthy of thinking, and the pain they will feel.

The goal of this exercise was to create an algebraic expression from the question.  This is the math skill at their level that we are working on, in preparation for Algebra.   I think I got 50 questionsand complaints on this exercise.  It also has a math trick built in to guarantee the wrong answer on the first try and needs a picture and a simple numeric example to understand.  Part of it is not necessary to calculate, and there are expressions that you can figure out but are misleading.   We had an argument about "yard of yard", and you'll note that it doesn't say how much fertilizer a bush needs. They settled on "F".

When you first go through this problem, you'll probably be looking for a numerical solution.  That's because you didn't spend enough time with the problem.   Then you might skip the ambiguity and some of the precise directions built into the question.  You may end up with the wrong answer, not check it, and think you're done.  We did this yesterday.

The answer is F( X- 4 ).  If you want to apply fertilizer to the grass, the grass and the bushes, or something else, feel free, but the equation will be more complicated.

I've got kids who are totally unprepared for these problems spending 2 hours on a Saturday totally in the game and learning.  When we started, I announced that they needed to give me 45 minutes and then they can play their PS4 game for the rest of the afternoon.  They wanted to play the PS 4 and not do math.  Then they were totally engaged for 2 hours.  I think I'm on to something.

When I say PS 4 the rest of the afternoon, I mean about 80 minutes  and then I'll announce it's more math if they want that additional precious 20 minutes to finish the game.

The younger child (first graduate of Test Prep Math) and I spent about an hour doing competitive math problems.   I've got no other material until he's done with 4th grade.  I was going to just take the year off, but in that case he would get no computer time ever because the only way to get computer time in this house is to do math.  Reading doesn't count, because he has to read regardless, and music practice and chores only earn the right to do math, which is required for computer time.  I love Saturdays.  This house is a productivity machine.  It took  me at least a year to get to this point, and to get to this point, I had to learn of all of the skills of a gifted parent, which you will see published here last month and earlier (Oct 2016).


  1. Replies
    1. This is my device to make kids read the question thoroughly in preparation for more advanced math, tests that with tricky questions, and their other subjects. The bushes are in the yard, which is a plot of land usually covered by grass. The bushes need a yard to grow in, which is a 3 foot by 3 foot space. A yard of yard is a 3 foot by 3 foot space in the plot of land. It took them about 8 minutes to figure this out, but the language is very exact and can mean nothing else. Then I showed them without a picture, there is no way they could ever get the correct equation to solve or the correct answer.

  2. You say Joe has a long "section of fence," yet Joe is going to "ring his yard" with bushes along the fence--as a language major and horticulturist, "ring" implies 4 of 4 sides (sections) have fence running along it. But you're using the term "section," to talk about the whole, are you not? If that's the case, the language with regards to the fence is confusing and not precise. Just sayin'--what's precise to one person is not necessarily precise to another. Especially depending on the person's background.

    1. That is exactly what I'm doing. Confusing and not precise, and I hope to everyone regardless of background. I would like to do this with math, but there's too much math that children don't know yet. This is a nice proxy that is going to lead in 2 different directions by the end of grade school, and believe it or not, the end goal looks a lot like the 2 sections of the SAT. In the meantime, the children have to uncover the math problem from confusing and imprecise language, and hopefully I'll get at least a discussion if not an argument. If this question was simplified to the geometric or algebraic problem, then there would be a list of skills not used and an opportunity missed. After doing this for 2 the two years of TPM, I've seen results beyond expectations. I'll share more in about a month.