Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Back To A Few Problem A Day

Buried in our coat closet is about 3,000 pages of practice test questions that I amassed when I thought this was the path to success.  Occasionally I'll meet a kid who is lacking a particular visual skill that the rest of us take for granted, and I'll sift through the stacks until I find a mini-curriculum that address the problem. Mostly, it just sits there gathering dust.

I also have about the same amount of reading comprehension and 10 times as much math material.  I'm generally OK with what's available in the reading department, but math curriculum in the US is a total disaster so I've spent more of my personal time focusing on this area, not to mention the fact that I do a lot of math research on my own. I see no path between what I'm doing and the standard math curriculum taught in school beginning at age 5.

My new personal goal is that my kids never get below 99% on a test ever.  I don't mean school tests.  I'm OK with the occasional 50% on a math test at school because my child is in 4th grade, for example, and we're doing something completely different at home, and my child simply doesn't bother to finish the test at school because it's totally boring.  I need that 50% score some where before 6th grade to teach a life lesson, but after that, the bar goes back where it belongs.  If you would have been in our house a few years ago, what with me trying to figure out what to do, and the kids demonstrating their lack of skill, you might have wondered how we got to this point.

Each day, my kids do their daily math on their own, and last night it didn't go well.  Too many problems, too much stalling and complaining, not enough progress.  Today at work I'm sitting here with all electronic devices that I can put in a bag, along with the cords to the bigger devices.  

Last night, I instituted a second rule for daily math.  The first rule is 'No computer games without math'.  Subrule 1.b is 'If I have to nag you, I'm bringing devices and cords to work.' The new rule is that I want them to do any problem that they can find a trick or clever solution strategy and skip the ones that are routine application of known formulas or calculations.  They are going to be 'graded' on not only finding a clever solution strategy but also properly classifying the question types.  When the children were younger, I would to steer each child toward thinking work and away from useless repetition by choosing each problem or book.  But now I just hand them a book and go to work so it's more challenging on all of us.

When I get home, we'll sit down together and discuss the problems.  I'm looking for something interesting in the problem.  How can this problem be done by cheating instead of calculating?   What confusion or trick is the question writer applying to make you get the answer wrong?

All of this is built into Test Prep Math, but now my youngest has stepped beyond this curriculum and we are taking on real math.   It's a short step from Test Prep Math to pre-algebra, function theory, and then on to algebra.  (I don't consider multiplication, decimals, and long division to be real math.)  Right now my soon to be forth grader is plowing through an 8th grade math book and dabbling in algebra.

When Test Prep Math was being written, I was working through the next 6 years of curriculum with the older child and asking the question, 'What skills does a child need so he can tackle the next 6 years of math when he puts down Test Prep Math?'  I was hoping for the skills that would allow the child to do it on his own.

It turns out that none of these skills show up in school until much later. It's also the same approach that I devised when beating the COGAT.   Teach a child to spend a long time thinking through a single problem, and he can tackle a workbook.  Give him a lot of problems in a workbook, and you will likely end up with a calculator and not a thinker.  It's not like Test Prep Math is like taking a year off of high grades.  We got to 99% pretty quickly, maybe in the first 2 or 3 months.   But the 12 year old and I were getting bogged down on the SAT last night and I'm not seeing progress.  We need to get back to the thing that got us here in first place, which is fewer problems and more thinking.


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