Sunday, April 30, 2017

Born Gifted or Just Plain Gifted

One of the premier gifted websites is  This is a great web site.  While I've always felt that Hoagies website is more interesting than mine, has better content and more participation, the most important difference between Hoagies' and my site is that readers of Hoagies' site think their child is truly gifted, and I find that concept absurd.

This page lists comments from anonymous parents about how gifted their children are. The page is titled "You Know You're The Parent of a Gifted Child When..."  I enjoyed reading it.

While some of these scenarios are probably manufactured, and some are trivial, many jibe well with reality.  When I come across a child who exhibits extraordinary talents, the child immediately becomes part of my research project entitled "How do I get my kids to be like that."  When I come across a parent who thinks their child is gifted, I generally worry about the child's future.  Nothing produces a snowflake like a parent who thinks their child is gifted. Snowflakes melt when it gets hot.

Recently I asked my 6th grader who the performers were in math class.  We have been doing math together on the weekends since he was 5 and I need a benchmark to gauge return on investment.  He explained that there are no smart kids in any subject, and the reason is this:  If a child tries to act smart or special, there are 29 other kids in the class who are very capable, and the 29 kids will gang up on Mr. Special and crush the special out of him.  I asked if anyone in class has any idea of where he's at or what he's capable.  No, they don't.  Hmmm.  I don't know what to make of this, but it's not a bad thing.

Today's Chicago Tribune has a 5 page article on the gang problems in an hispanic neighborhood in the west.  Small progress.  Things are much worse in the African American community.   I'm gearing up for Phase 2 of the Chicago Project.  I don't think anyone but insiders can solve Chicago's violence, but I have a plan to create some.

In Phase 1, I went to the schools seeking Pre-K teachers.   I was surprised to meet some really awesome teachers.  Picture being in graduate school and having to go to your teacher's office and your teacher is Einstein.  That's what it was like when I introduced myself and started asking questions.  It was very humbling.

When I found schools that fit my target, I was greeted like I was planning to steal the best and brightest, which in some ways is exactly what I plan to do.  I visited schools because it was 30 degrees out and I had 4 months to wait until I will have access to kids outside of school.  What I saw at some of these schools fascinated me.  Our schools have so much potential in need of a really high bar.

Lately I've been working with kids on the higher end of the spectrum, and I'll need a few more kids to 'help' with this research in a few months.  I can't wait to work on the opposite side of the spectrum.   The fact that I have to act like a spy behind the iron curtain is even more appealing to me.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

How To Teach N+2 to N

I was recently asked by a high school teacher (the anonymous one from the prior article) what my kids will do in math in high school.  They are way ahead.   Will they take algebra as freshmen, and sit there bored each day, or will they take AP Trig as freshmen, and struggle each day to keep up?

I never considered either possibility.  I don't even care if they study math in high school.  We started 2nd grade math in K not because math has any value on it's own, but because working with material 2 years ahead is a great way to learn how to learn.  We since done this in other subjects and at different ages, but by far the easiest way to prepare your children for a life of learning is to go ahead in math. It's easier on the parent who's just getting started with coaching skills.

The key to the whole endeavor is to do it the correct way.  Keep in mind that math achievement is a pointless exercise unless your child is 1 in a million and actually likes math. Math is absolutely essential for thinking and problems solving and general academic skills.  I've done the exact same thing with writing and reading with great results.  I've dabbled with science and it works there too.  It doesn't have to be math.  I really like this exercise with Chemistry.  But before 4th grade, I can't see doing this with Chemistry because math skills (the thinking kind, not the calculating kind) are prerequisites.  I'm going to talk about a 5 year old, but I like this exercise at any age.  In fact, I like this exercise at exactly every other age until high school, with rotating subjects.

I could already see the core skills emerging during the first time we tackled 2nd grade math starting Christmas of Kindergarten.  It took me a few years to name the skills and refine my approach.  When these skills are learned, nothing is impossible.

Here is an explanation of why working ahead 2 years with a child who is barely adept at grade level works magic.

The obvious starting point is material that is incomprehensible.  The child might read a question and know 2 of 10 words.  Work slows to a crawl while new terms are dealt with.   The poor child is trying to fill in the gaps one new concept or vocabulary word at a time.  On top of this, there are skills and concepts that were supposed to be learned in the prior year, but you skipped the prior year and maybe the 2nd half of the current year.

Suppose your child can add 5 + 7 using fingers and is starting to get 7 - 5.  Suddenly this child sees 12 + 43 and doesn't even know what 43 is supposed to mean, let alone how to add it to 12.  We've been in this exact situation.  On top of this, 2nd grade math carries a bunch of additional concepts beyond arithmetic.

It's not only the backtracking to 1st grade math that's needed.  In this case, backtracking might include finding a 1st grade workbook or teaching something like 3 x 5 on the spot to get through the next page.  What is needed is an aptitude for dealing with the 15 minutes and 12 mistakes needed for a 5 year old to get through a problem that a 2nd grade child would be able to do in about 20 seconds.

There's quite a bit that comes out of this exercise:

  • The child is stuck with 6 new concepts that he barely understands for days or weeks will each one falls into place one at a time.
  • The child (and parent) know that it will take a lot of time and a lot of thinking if the parent maintains the proper role of encouragement and avoids the disaster of doing the child's work because the parent doesn't have enough patience to let the child do it.
  • The child (and parent) learns to accept multiple attempts and lots of wrong answers.
  • The child (and parent) has to come to terms with the true meaning of 'I can't do this', which of course they can't.
Something happens during this process week after week, month after month, to the child's learning abilities.  They explode.  Regular spoon feeding step-by-baby-step curriculum at age level never get into the realm of learning abilities.  It's all about concept A is next, do you know concept A because you just had 30 concept A questions on a worksheet so we can move onto concept B?  If concept A is so important, thinks the parent, the best thing to do is to explain concept A to the child and be done with it.

With N+2, the child is thrown in to M, J, I, H, L, and T in that order.  My approach is that I don't care if you know concept M or the rest, since you are only 5, and this is 7 year old curriculum.  What is essential is that you go through all of the mental work to figure out and master concept M on your own.  Or not master it.  I don't care about M - I can about you going through the process on your own to get there.  If you don't get M without help, there's plenty more opportunities to try again.

Even more importantly, both parent and child learn the pace of true learning which is a big mountain of dirt that needs to be moved one spoonful at a time.

But most importantly of all, maybe 65% of the way through the exercise, the child learns that he just got from 'I can't do this' to 'I can do this'  They may not know how they did it, but there are emerging skills at work.

I turns out during the first 6 weeks that M is impossible, so I find something with F and G in it before we take another shot at M.   In the next 6 weeks, I help less because I've got a child who isn't crying anymore.  Maybe I see 10 minutes of real trying before I jump in.  If I can just maintain patience, after 12 weeks I'll help not at all and be rewarded with 2 correct answers out of 6 before we redo it together one question at a time.

I'm not a big fan of a 2nd or 3rd grader leaping to 4th or 5th grade math because there is also a leap in cognitive skills that involves brain development and maturity, so I created Test Prep Math as the 1st official curriculum designed to stump the child with cognitive demands just out of reach.  It doesn't involve pre-algebra, but I can't imagine a child be challenged with pre-algebra after doing Test Prep Math.  It is supposed to be N in math and N+2 or higher in core thinking skills.  It's more like N in arithmetic and N+2 preparation for higher order math.

I like 6th grade pre-algebra during the summer after 4th grade for a child who's never been through this exercise before.  TPM Section 2 sets up algebra, so we're skipping right to 8th grade math after TPM.   I like the SAT practice books after 5th grade; these books aren't that hard once you get into them so it's really N+2 or N+3 on the parts of the book that are doable..  A solid high school chemistry book has turned out to be a really interesting exercise in N+3.   For 4 months, I turned every writing exercise into N+2 grammar and sentence formation, which involves an extra few hours analyzing a writing assignment and rewriting it. I always start out vocabulary at N, but any reasonable carefree pace simply moves to N+2 on it's own before we set it aside, usually in about a year or two.

My official goal is to go N+2 in math, then do nothing.  If my child just picked up a bunch of great skills, he can go off an use them and I can rest.  However, my kids insist on screen time on the weekends, and there is no screen time without some work first.  This is why we're doing high school algebra already.  Those spoonfuls of dirt add up.

Monday, April 17, 2017

More On School Pressure

High school is not part of my research.   My goal for high school as a parent is to start my retirement and enjoy 4 years as a casual observer.  Yesterday I ran into a friend who teaches at Chicago's preeminent pressure cooker.  I walked away from the conversation amazed at what happened to high school since I drove around in a Ford De Luxe convertible combing grease into my hair.

Like Naperville, Chicago has a few intense high schools.  These schools work for the top students who are properly prepared, students who maintain the proper attitude and practices.  There is a growing group of students who fall apart during these 4 years and end up in mental health wards. This sounds like exaggeration but it is not.

My premise as an education parent is to endow my kids with the skills of the fabled ChemE major who never opened a book until 11 pm the night before the final exam and managed straight A's all the way through graduate school.   We are proceeding in this vein year-by-year and it's going well.  I'll be writing soon on some of more interesting innovations in this area.  This skill set is probably the biggest gap in education today.   School curriculum starting in about 1st grade is designed so that children don't know this skill set exists.  For now, I think this is the biggest problem.

Modern students have a few other challenges to face.

The syllabus, class notes, and homework for 7 classes shows up on the internet.   What this means for a high school student is that 2 or 3 hours of nightly homework takes about 7 or 8 hours to complete because online means online distractions like emails, messages, face time, and random google searches.

I asked my friend if these kids are getting to bed at 11 pm.  He said that 2 am is more common.

To get started in the morning after studying until 2 am, kids are stopping by Duncan Donuts for a big cup of coffee that they carry into class.

Without looking at any more factors, the lack of sleep and coffee as part of the routine is going to spell the mental health ward by Senior year.  This type of routine is equivalent to being in a World War 1 trench for 4 years.  I've written before that lack of sleep, meaning less than 8 hours, over a 2 night period puts a child 2 years behind in IQ.  4 years of it will destroy the child.

The small cadre of parents involved in this discussion decided that we would enforce lights out when our little ones hit high school.  I announced that it would be West Point 10:00 pm lights out in our house because it sounds more dramatic.  Plus, I think homework should start at dinner some nights because at least for 30 minutes it will be done the right way, with low pressure, some taking, and no internet.  [An hour later I decided this was a bad idea.  I'll replace it with something 'offliney' starting next year.]

On the ride home, I asked my 6th grader how much of his internet homework is actual work and how much is distraction.  He replied about 50 - 50.  He also mentioned that the 50% he spends actually doing homework most days is enough and backed it up.  The skill set will fix a lot of defects in other areas.

Parents are probably the number 3 factor.  If you are counting, #1 is the missing skill set, #2 is sleep and distractions during homework.  I don't see widespread issues with parenting, but for the kids who crack under the pressure, the parent always has a preeminent role in making a bad situation worse. On day 1 of first grade, I can pick these parents out in the first 15 minutes.  These are the parents who follow their rotten child around in uninterrupted admiration despite their child's rotten behavior.  My kids see right through my facade of disciple and know that I am at the mercy of my uninterrupted admiration of them, but they also know I think they're both rotten even on the best days.

A minor issue is the 7 classes that the child takes each semester.  It's not just hard to maintain interest in 7 subjects with 7 different teachers every 4 months for 4 years.  It's impossible.   Many parents expect their child to stay focused A after A because this is the most important thing in the world.  I'll deal with this in a few years.   Regular readers might suspect that I have something up my sleeve when they recall I told my kid 4th grade was a write off year and he took me up on the offer.  I'm revising this policy for the next one who will write off 5th grade because we're doing some really interesting stuff in reading next year.

With any luck, high school parents won't discover my blog and deluge me with comments, and I'll begin to outline how at age 5 I started preparing my kids to survive 7 AP classes each semester without breaking a sweat.   It is called How To Properly Teach N+2 to N.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Antidote To The Naperville North Pressure Culture

GAT education seems to have reached the crisis point at Naperville North high school.  GAT education is formerly defined as the race to get into the right Kindergarten program (in Chicago) or early elementary school gifted and talented program (outside of Chicago).  It continues with annual testing, leading to high school AP courses, and finally culminates with college applications.   Unbeknownst to the petitioners from Naperville North, it actually continues on to graduate school applications, job applications, and tenure track publishing.  Here is the petition.

Since my blog is unique among all publications in that I think everyone should be gifted, I'm probably ground zero for pressure.  In fact, I live in a completely pressure free environment.

The petitioner gets pretty close to the ultimate answer near the bottom of the petition by putting forth but not answering this question: And start treating us like people, not GPAs or test scores. Start letting us choose how we we wish to be defined. Start helping us find our dreams, and give us the tools we need to achieve them. Start understanding our priorities instead of implementing yours. Start defining success as any path that leads to a happy and healthy life. Start teaching us to make our own paths, and start guiding us along the way.

The petitioners are in high school, and are more than old enough to take responsibility for their own lives, so I'm treating that as a question to be answered.  No more spoon feeding, no more hand holding.  Here's the recipe for success.  You own all of your decisions and you are the only ones who will be stuck with the outcome.

For starters, you need to put things into perspective.  Here is a little perspective I've accumulated in the years after college when I finally decided to get serious about my own education.

  1. When I was in graduate school at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, I was amazed at the diversity of the backgrounds of my fellow students, and by diversity I mean academic diversity.  The majority of them came from odd ball colleges spread throughout the country.  Some did well in college, some did not.  In my case, I took a single AP course at a fairly average high school in the state that was ranked 49th out of 50 states in education.   Only one year in college did I bother to get above a B average.  It was a good college, but not a great college.  Finding success is not a race.  If you blow it in high school and blow it in college, the race is not over, it is just beginning.
  2. I had to drive along the North Shore to get to and from my second job.  (Before this, I worked in public accounting, which, unless you really like public accounting, is a job you get because your dad expected you to get a job after graduating from college.)  As I drove to a job I actually liked, I wondered if everyone in the world but me lived in a $20 million house.   This is the fallacy of perspective, the same fallacy that makes you wonder if everyone goes to Stanford or everyone takes AP courses and likes them.  (The answer is 99% do not in both cases.)
  3. I recommend everyone read Julie Child's biography or wiki.  She was a smashing success and finally found her calling at age 40, which in the eyes of high school students, is one small step short of the grave.  This should be required reading for Naperville North.
  4. When I first realized that I actually enjoyed math, I was 23 years old, old enough to step back and realize that full time mathematicians, working together over a period of decades, created concepts and solved proofs that the AP Calculus student is given in problem #12 of their nightly homework and which she gets about 15 minutes to complete.  This is no way to study math.
  5. By the way, the part of your brain in charge of making decisions isn't going to be fully developed until you're 25 years old, and the part of your brain that is making decisions right now is also the part in charge of emotional responses, so forget about defining your self or making your own decisions right now.  Your future self (the one with the working decision brain part) will be grateful if you don't put yourself on the path to graduating from Princeton University with a job offer from McKinsey.  
Where am I on the question at hand?  It's not a race, you don't have to be stellar right now to win in the end, and AP courses are a really lousy way to get there.  Also, taking tests are the opposite of learning, which I'm not going to go into because it would take a much longer article.  Many say that grades and tests are the enemy of learning, and these people are right.  

But you want to follow your dreams and you want to be successful, so let me plod on.  The education system works really well for a minority of students.  Stanford is looking for this group now for undergraduate positions.  Stanford will be looking to fill the rest of the seats in a graduate class among students who take their time getting their acts together.  If you are under pressure in high school, you are not in the first group, you are in the second group.  What ever path you take to get to success, it is going to involve many many many hours of your own hard work.  The trick for the 2nd group is not to do it all at once, certainly not when you're sitting in AP Calculus, and to do it in such a way that it doesn't seem like drudgery.

I'll warn you right now that most people in the second group get distracted along the way by the fulfillment of being a hard working parent, the satisfaction of helping others, of being the guy at work that others can count on to solve their personal problems, or even, gasp, doing something really rewarding and valuable that doesn't pay a lot of money.  Assuming that you don't get distracted, the rest of this article is the secret to succeeding without really trying.

Secret #1:  The primary evidence that you are learning something is that you are totally confused. Being comfortable with your own confused bafflement is the key to learning.  If you are not totally confused, then you are not learning.  If you are not comfortable being in the dark, progress is going to be elusive.

Secret #2:  The secret to success for successful people is that they realize that there is no time limit. Confusion and bafflement simply means that they have to read something 3 times, slower, over a longer period of time, with lots of snack breaks for thin people and lots of walking breaks for us more chubby people.  You're conditioned in grade school to do things quickly with lots of memorization, but in high school, you need to think more, pondering at the single word level.  Once you have approached academic material with no time limits for 6 to 12 weeks, you'll start to pick up the skills of brilliant people, who figure out what needs to be read and what needs to be skipped.  If you try to concentrate through everything, you'll miss these tricks.  As a side note, the SAT is full of these tricks.

Secret #3:  Make mistakes to the point where you embrace your own shortcomings, incompetence and ineptitude.  In  middle school, mistakes are at the level of a 70% on a math test.  At the high school level, mistakes are at the level of a B or C in a course.  If you get upset with mistakes, learning and progress will end.  If you are OK with mistakes, you will just try harder the next time.  You will eventually look back 10 years later and realize that those who shrugged off mistakes were the ones to eventually succeed, and those who panicked every time something didn't turn out perfectly were the ones who failed.  If you don't believe me, do a quick internet search on Angela Duckworth, or make your parents read her book on Grit.  This should also be required reading for high school.

Secret #4:  Once you learn the first 3 secrets, you're ready for the ultimate secret to succeeding without really trying.   This is equivalent to cheating.   It applies to everything, but I'm just going to state it in the context of AP Calculus.  Here it is.  It get's it's own line because it's so important:

Take it twice.

Unless you have 2 extra hours every night for AP Calculus, which you don't because you have other courses, you're not going to have enough time to learn the material the first time.  It will be confusing, and you'll make mistakes.  This is a pressure causing situation.  The second time you take it, it will start to make sense and you can fill in the gaps in your learning.  The second time, you'll actually look pretty darn smart, like you belong in the course on your way to college.  Both times, you'll have a lot more time to learn and it will be a lot less pressure filled.  If there are 6 months in between the first and the second time, your subconscious brain (the other 95%) will help a lot by organizing things and doing some work on its own without you realizing it.

Now it's decision time.  I just outlined the path to success by doubling the most painful experience in high school for some of you.  Twice the work, twice the pain.   Do you want it that badly?  Or will you take a B or C and defer decisions about graduate school to catchup work after college?  Your emotional center in the brain is perfectly capable of making this decision because you will win either way, unless you get distracted at some point between here and there.

If you do choose to take AP Calculus twice, here are three further tips.  First, buy the book and do it on your own.  Don't worry about mistakes.  Don't check the solutions.  (OK, you can check occasionally, but it's not about how many you get right.  You're just reinforcing your bad attitude about mistakes.)  Second, do it way before you have to take it in school.   Like a year before. At worst your will take it the summer before you're expected to take it as a Junior or Senior.  Finally, don't tell anyone you did it on your own.  Just let them sit in awe of how bright you are.
By the way, doing work on your own ahead of time in a single class like math has 2 other benefits. Most importantly, it gives you room to breath in your other classes.  As a side benefit, by doing this you will have chosen to put education #1 on priority list and this decision will pay off down the road.

If you already suffered through a C in AP Calculus and you think this advice is too little too late, it's not.  Find a community college that teaches Calculus, take it again, and put that on your college application.  There are those in the admissions department who think like me and will appreciate it.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Teaching Algebra to 4 Year Olds

It is possible for a new freshman in high school to walk into Algebra II having nothing but a lame average US grade school math experience and get it immediately and dispense with algebra in a week before moving on to Trig.  It's totally possible, but highly unlikely. It's also possible for this kid never to read the book except before tests and get A's even though he never turns in homework.  Possible but even more unlikely.

What I've been wondering ever since having kids was this:  If it's possible to have such an easy time as described above, would it be possible for a 6th or7th grade child to master algebra in the hopes that he doesn't spend high school getting in trouble like I did and then waste college and decide what he wants to do after 7 years of grad school?

If you read through my how to teach math articles, we're leading up to high school.   This is hard to imagine for the parent of a 4 year old, but if you're child is a smashing success in high school, you win, and if not, all the GAT education in grade school didn't matter.  In fact, there are quite a few really bright kids in college and grad school who never had any GAT at all, so let's stay focused here on what's really important, which is my child being so over skilled that none of this matters.  Then in high school I can focus on will, values, morals, etc and not grades or skill.

Occasionally I write about writing skills.  I applied the exact same approach to math with the core skills to writing and it works.  If I can parlay that sentence into a book, I will, or you can just send me $12.95 for saving you 18 hours of reading.

Anyway, I see 4 year old math just leading up to algebra 2 and the formula works really well until we're actually ready to study algebra.  I think my best innovation is the insanely hard questions in Section 2 of TPM that teaches abstract thinking. I'm totally crushed when other kids get to the point where they can identify F as '+ 8'.  I formally retract all of my articles that my child is the smartest child in the world just because he did all of my over the top books first.  Apparently, the word is out and other kids are going to catch up.

Now I've got to worry about competition at Stanford.  What I would like is for the Test Prep Kid to have a major with about 9 hyphens, and then stop by the math department to get an easy A in some advanced class (skipping prerequisites of course) and not have to open the book except for the test. I also want to do this efficiently as possible and compete with harding working, highly educated, well raised children.  I thought about statement this all day.  I don't think compete is the correct word.  It's more like 2 brothers on the same wrestling team.  Also, the biggest pool of highly educated and hard working comes from immigrants almost by definition.  My younger son and I counted over 50% first generation immigrants in his class.  The bar is raised.

Unfortunately, my diabolical plan behind Section 2 got pretty close but wasn't the magic bullet I expected.  After TPM, I've decided the best course of action is to go straight into 8th grade math.  I'll explain how to do this later, but it's a lot of bread baking.  Your take a loaf, like powers, add yeast, and set it in the rising box for a long time, and then you can bake it with some work sheets.  It's the bread approach to math.  It's totally effortless, takes no time at all, and isn't hard, provided your child already has the core skills.

I started my child on the y  = mx + b exercise I outlined in a prior article.  At some point, I'll detail the whole bread baking factory of which this is a key part.  Anyway, how could y or x be an issue if we've already mastered F and G, and even worse, not F and not G, where are way harder than simple x and y?  Here's how the discussion went.

TPK:  What's y?

Me:  It's a number.

TPK:  Which number?

Me:  Any number?

TPK:  Which one?

Me:  Any number.  Ok, let's say it's an integer,

TPK:  Which one?

Me:   You tell me,

TPK:  You tell me.

Me:  I'm not doing your work You tell me.

TPK:  It's 2.

Me:  What else could it be?

TPK:  I just said it was 2.

This went on and on.  He managed to graph all of the 'intereting' values of m (b = 0) and we're moving along, but he still doesn't see x is an integer.  I don't think this is a matter of abstract thinking. This a matter of system thinking, which is a skill very few of us even know exists.  Kids who have this skill win international math competitions and don't open books. I'm going to find this skill, figure out how to teach it, and then write the book.

By the way, I figured out how that ChemE major pulled off easy A's in college so many years ago. His dad was an engineer, and gave his son the books during the summer to study ahead of time.  A child may not get it at all on his own the first time, but yeast works its magic.  Look for a recent article with Bucketing in the title and you'll see my earlier thoughts that led to me solving the mystery 30 years later.

We started bucketing in K, and it's magic.

Sometimes with Bucketing, we bucket topic A, then  topics B and C magically appear.  Not with algebra.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Institute for Experimental Testing

This weekend was a typical test prep weekend for me.

Chicago is about to release test scores for grade school entrance.  Parents will share their good news and bad news on this page of  I'm going to read the comments wondering if their's anyone I can help but mainly wonder why parents think their child is going to magically end up in the 99th percentile through some mythical genetic lottery.  I'm much happier with an education system where gifted kids earn it, not to mention sticking it to people who think education is some sort of genetic class system.  I will make one or two comments to help a few people, and I will be rewarded by snide comments from the gifted caste about how wrong it is to try to improve the education lot in life for a child.  Cpsobessed is still my favorite blog.

The time to start test prep is the day after the last loss of the season.  Michael Jordan knew this, and could be found in the gym the next morning after a loss.  (I'm totally making this up but it sounds more inspiring than me making my kids study the day after the test, which is what I do.)

I'm slowly going over Test Prep Math level 2 after a reader found some mistakes in the solutions.  I'm on question 67. These are great questions, but require careful reading and concentration.   My 3rd grader is going to start Level 3 soon, which I already corrected completely (I think) and released a new edition.  I'm trying to delay using this book because one question from each section of Level 3 during the summer is an awesome math curriculum.  There is nothing in any math book more complicated until algebra proofs.    I've finally decided that my ideal curriculum is Test Prep Math followed by 8th Grade Algebra 1, with pre-algebra thrown in to make sense of some of the 8th grade math.

I've found out that some kids (you know who you are) are doing the Test Prep Math problems using a pencil to write down and solve equations.   While this is totally awesome, and beats a kid who gets B's in math because he refuses to write things down, please make your kids do these problems mentally.  Each problem, especially section 2, will take longer and need more attempts, but the tests DO NOT ALLOW WRITING in the book, and you don't get scratch paper.  Someone please confirm this if your 2nd or 3rd grade child just took a test.  The main reason for building the brain capacity for solving 2 or 3 equations at once - it's called working memory - is because by 6th grade, and especially by high school, all math requires writing AND solving the equivalent of 3 equations in your brain at once.  This is called Algebra 1, and it only gets worse after that.

In between 4th grade and 6th grade, the College Board SAT Test Prep book second edition 2009 is the best test prep book of any kind on the market for any use.  The light blue and light green on the cover are really ugly, even worse than the colors I picked for TPM.  This edition is out of print, but there are plenty of unsold copies on amazon for $1 or $2.    I'm really disappointed that this edition is replaced, but having an academic coach recommend a book to 11 year olds probably motivated them to fix it.  I just bought a copy for use the summer after 5th grade.  Maybe after 4th grade.  I didn't write TPM to be the path to awesomeness in reading comprehension, but if you see any of the questions, you'll know what I think this turned out to be the best part of TPM.

Right now, our basement walls are covered with shapes and shape transformations.   I challenged my middle school team to come up with any shapes or transformations that I did not think of.  They proceeded to embarrass me by doing so.  If this were just an exercise in cheating past the COGAT figure matrix questions for kids who are visual-spacially disadvantaged, I wouldn't use their goofy ideas, but I'm thinking way beyond that. Way beyond.  My model is an 8th grade transformations book.  I'm probably 3 months way from completing this.  Maybe 6 months for people who want both great questions and correct solutions.   This time, I'm going to put this disclaimer in the solutions:  "The solutions may or may not be correct because the author thinks that once you look at the solution, learning has stopped so he never bothers to use them."

But that's not what I'm excited about.  I'm excited about our experiments with the reading comp.  I'm referring to the big kids (age 12) and a more rigorous SAT book than the one I recommended above. I challenged them to answer questions without reading the passage and defend their logic.  Then I repeated the process after I removed the solutions from the book, which is what you have to do with smarty pants kids.  I'm amazed at the amount of common sense and logic that applies to the questions.  Then I asked them, "Would you be able to apply common sense and logic to these questions if instead you had to read a very complicated passage first?"   My favorite kid responded,  "we would never do that," meaning bother to read the question.   But I think this is the key challenge.

After dinner, it occurred to me that the completed reading comp questions probably have new vocab words.  We should start doing these in a low pressure, some-at-a-time situation.   We came up with 30 words for the word board (the refrigerator), and 5 extra from my child quizzing me from I also discovered that Mr. Need-To-Know-Basis will talk your ear off after 9:00 pm.  This is good to know.  If he wants to talk after 11 pm as a high school Junior, then I'll have to stop getting up at 5am.

While I was putting 'desultory' on the board I found out that I've been misusing it for 25 years.   This is the kind of word that only appears on the GRE and SAT.  You would just confuse readers by using it. But the other words all are vital.  Each word on the board represents a thought that my child wouldn't have otherwise, and I'm not talking about good vs. bad, but words that encompass a whole page of logic and thinking.  Vocabulary Workshop helped us retire the Word Board, and the demands of next year's testing (coming soon) are going to help us put it back.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

When GAT Goes Deep

I've listened to many complaints over the years from parents of children in GAT programs.  Most of these are under the heading of what the teacher should do or what the curriculum should be.  Many complaints are related to a mismatch between the child's learning preferences and either the teacher or the curriculum.  In the 3rd to 6th grade age range, the complaints tend to be motivated by a drop in test scores or a drop in grades for a formerly perfect student.

There are three problems with the complaining and these three problems will have a negative impact on the child's learning experience.  The biggest problem with these complaints is that there is something much bigger going on that is missed, and the child will pay a much bigger the price.

The first problem with the complaints is that a parent with no experience with curriculum, who has never taught a classroom of x graders, and has no idea what the demands are for the next few years decides that he is going to tell a teacher of 20+ years experience what and how she should be teaching.   While I realize that the ultimate answer to this type of complaint is for the parent to see how things turn out so that he knows why the demands of the classroom are designed the way they are, my patience has been worn so thin that my general internal response is "shut up you clueless moron and let the teacher do her job".  This is not a helpful response so I've been working on patience and meditation.

Years ago, I was cautioned against not agreeing with the teacher, by teachers, and this advice has paid off.  I may not walk away from parent teacher conference feeling satisfied after so much forced agreeing but at least I didn't alienate the teacher.   Instead, I did what I was told to do and grades improved.  And 6 years later, I see a room full of highly skilled geniuses even though I'm not quite sure how they learned anything with no text books and a bunch of projects.  Plus the math curriculum is weak.

When the child is Type A, and the Type B teacher uses curriculum Type C, this can be a problem.   I have a son who inherited the 'learning by not listening' gene and every year there's a teacher who tells kids stuff and expects them to hear it.   The norm is kids who expect to be told everything and are baffled when they have to figure it out on their own, so I'm not complaining.  There are two ways to approach this issue, which will come up in your child's academic career with 100% certainty.  You can demand that the teacher accommodate Type A students, in the hopes that your child will actually learning something, or your child will struggle to learn how to deal with different teaching styles. The second approach is harder but pays off in middle school and high school when teachers don't give a hoot what type of learning style your child prefers.  As parents, we've been involved in many long semesters of having to memorize stuff or redo homework or ask "did you bother to read the directions?" over and over again.  With the other child, it's been arguments over "I know that's what the directions say, but they really want you to think on your own."

I feel like the test score drop is inevitable with normal children, and I have two very normal children. 99% takes a lot of work, and frankly neither of us are going to put in this work in years where it really doesn't matter because we're usually focused on the future year when it will, and there is contention between learning and test scores.   There are kids who love this work year after year.  A few of these kids are even well rounded.  When test scores drop, there could be a lot of reasons, and without a complicated investigation that few of us are qualified to do, you can't jump to the conclusion that the teacher is doing something wrong.  Especially 5th grade teachers in an 8 year program in a city where it's popular to switch programs after 6th grade.

Anyway, aside from all of the complaining, there is a really big defect in gifted education that some parents miss.  The curriculum is really deep and either no one bothers to mention it or my child wasn't listening at the time.  I think both.

In every one of the classes, almost every year, I'll look at an assignment or a project, something on the order of an hour or two, and realize 'holy crud' this is an 8 hour ordeal with about 19 hidden layers.  Sometimes I find this out because of the helpful child who accidentally shares their homework with the whole class and I open my gmail on iPad to find my son logged in.  Sometimes I find this out by going to Amazon for teacher's notes on a book they're reading in class.  Sometimes I google 'earth's core' and find out that it appears in Canada and then have to google 'what the heck is wrong with Canada?'

I can only imagine the teacher handing out an assignment and thinking 'If you're smart and motivated, you'll do a lot, and if not, you'll do the minimum to get an A'.    It would have been nice if the teacher just explained that, but I can imagine the reaction of the parents when they realize how much work it leaves for them.

I've put the most investment into reading and writing assignments.  I consider science a technical writing exercise, which I enjoy immensely, but we let no science topic go ungoogled, and lately I've been trolling through historical documentaries on scientists.   I wish I learned that in grade school, but our state was ranked 49th in education, just ahead of the state with all of those websites full of jokes. The most trivial problem in math is 5 million miles deep, but I think the time for dealing with that is after 6th grade.   In the meantime, I've got Test Prep Math Level 3 for this summer get get my child past 4th grade.  

So behind all of the complaining lurks an even more pressing problem.   The program is going to be what the child makes of it.   After all, the program is for supposedly gifted kids.   For those of us who's kids aren't necessarily gifted after all, or for those of us who don't believe in gifted in the first place, this problem needs to be solved each year with an eye toward eventually retiring from involvement in the child's education.  My retirement date is officially set for 8th grade.  I'm told there will be no parent teacher conferences in high school, and we'll be ready.