Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Gifted Grab Bag Mega Article

I've been so busy with my latest research project so I'm just going to cram a months worth of articles on ancillary topics into one Mega Article.

I talk to a lot of parents about their kids.  The conversation includes a score and some questions.   Other times I just observe.  Over the years, some things strike me as odd.

I've seen kids who are good a puzzles.  Anything else?  "No, he just likes to do puzzles."  Is that the secret to passing the test?  Here's how it works.  You get your kids puzzles starting at age 2.  The kid can use them as chew toys.  Every birthday, Christmas or whatever include puzzles with a small number of big pieces.  Your child will toss it aside in favor of something shiny and branded and rediscover them a few months later.  By about age 4, you can find puzzles that have big pieces on one side and small ones on the other.  When a puzzle gets solve quickly, the next one will have smaller pieces in a greater number.  Ramp up slowly.  Sometimes you leave one on the dining room table and a piece at a time gets added, but someday your child will just sit down for 3 or 4 straight hours doing a singe puzzle.  At this point, you have won.  After talking to a more experienced mom about puzzles and interviewing her 4 year old, I invented this recipe.  Thanks for that, Puzzle Mom.

But kids end up doing well GAT programs who don't do puzzles.

At age 3, there are numerous craft books about cutting, pasting, folding and drawing.  These are a life saver if you are juggling a  pre-K kid, a toddler, and a baby, especially if you need quiet time.  I think my wife bought 2 or 3 thousand of these books and 3 or 4 laundry baskets full of felt, googly eyes, pipe cleaners, colored pencils and crayons of all types (there are a lot of types of crayons, especially German ones).  Our house is littered with crafts and origami characters.  Once you get past K, there are really cool books with cutout-fold-glue robots and monsters.  I'm not sure this guarantees 100% on COGAT folding questions, but it makes test prep easier to have a child who is used to sitting down and concentrating on shapes.

You'd think that sports would be counter productive but there are gifted kids who do sports morning noon and night.  What about kids who do Tai Kwon Do or ballet?  Does this give them an advantage?  There is really good research that says yes and I believe it.  But it probably wouldn't give an advantage to someone else.  Maybe it's kid specific.   So I invented fast walking while talking about math. 

We are faced with math facts again, my nemesis, this time with multiplication.  Timed math facts exercises have been banned by our school (perhaps the top school in the universe now that Aristotle and Plato are not around anymore).  But as every teach knows, a kid who hasn't learned their math facts is going to struggle on more advanced material.  Our teacher sent home a cryptic letter explaining that timed math facts tests are banned, but if you untwist the logic and read behind the lines she just announced that our class is doing them anyway.  So on our last Math Walk 2 miler, I introduced our newest exercise:  Explain to me, using parenthesis, how to do "6 x  7" using the least amount of mental energy.  Then we argued whether (3 + 3) x 7 is easier to do than (5 + 1) x 7.   The first one doubles 21 and the second one has 1 x 7 in the distribution step which has a mental energy level of zero.  We'll cover all math facts eventually this way, but we ended the walk with 1700 x 17 and there are 3 different ways that make this an easy problem to do on a walk.  Take that Math Facts.  The reason I like this exercise is that I can't get 9 year olds of any shape, size or color do comprehend parenthesis, at least in the context of a worth 9th grade problem.  But I can't get any kid who is an expert at memorizing math facts to understand pre-algebra at age 9.

I've always been really impressed with kids who spend an hour or 2 hours practicing an instrument with multiple lessons each weak from qualified musical experts.  Their accomplishments are really impressive outside of school and I suspect that they've gotten through the test and through the program with out a lot of effort.  These kids give stunning concerts.  This would never work for us.  We don't have 2 or 3 hours a day for practice what with the puzzles and math walks

So I invented Do-It-Yourself music in 20 minutes a day or less.   It works this way:  Here's the book, here's the instrument, here's the fingering chart, here's a copy of the Empire March.  Give me 20 minutes of squeaking and fumbling and complaining.  I'll check youtube to find out why we're squeaking and fumbling and fix things occasionally like finger placement.  Mostly I'm just happy that we get 20 minutes of squeaking and fumbling each day.  Once a song is played with the right tempo, we move to the next page.  I've found that as the year goes by, we actually achieve some sort of competence, not exactly the level of the competition from the last paragraph.  This still leaves plenty of time for crafts and puzzles and Minecraft programming and talking about what is canon in Star Wars and what is not and of course Math Walks.

There are ancillary benefits to the DIY music approach.  The summer before band, the little one went from zero to skipping the first year and joining the intermediate band on a new instrument.   Even more impressive is what is about to happen in Karate Recorder once his class gets their recorders.  Look it up, it's a great exercise and you should do it with a 3rd or 4th grade child.  Last weekend he found his older brother's recorder so I printed a fingering chart and the 9 songs for this program.  He started with the Black Belt song, and in about 90 minutes memorized all of them.  I should point out that gifted programs are zero competition - not even the slightest bit.  They just work together in teams.  This is both a really good thing and a really disappointing thing to a parent at the same time.  So my kid is going to walk in and trounce the other kids in Karate Recorder on the first day.  The older one warned us both that there are 29 other kids who are all super smart and they will gang up on him and crush him, which is why you don't want to do this.  Wise beyond his years.  But still, why pass up the opportunity?

I'm not taking any chances on the negative effects of sleep deprivation.  We've always had a 7 p.m. bed time because I like to get up really early and write.  Lately, we're still working on things past 9 pm, but at least we're doing it in PJ's and with teeth brushed.  Nonetheless, there are really great kids excelling who routinely get zero sleep.  But there are many more kids who don't get enough sleep and it ruins their education.

I'll have to finish my mega article in the next article.  I tried writing the two topics but they are too big to fit and too important. 


  1. My second grader took COGAT a couple of weeks ago. Now, it will take a couple of months for us to find out whether he will make it to GAT or not. What do we do in this waiting game? If we don't get in, we need to retake COGAT or try other IQ tests to override COGAT score (e.g. SB or WISC...etc.) Technically it's not a test season but I don't want be in the panic mode in a couple of months all of a sudden because of potentially bad news. What would be my strategy for the next couple of months? We stopped math and reading right before COGAT so now we're having a daily routine doing math (2 years ahead) and word board. Other than that and also school homework, I have no idea. Help!

    1. You're pretty much doing what you need to do. The problem with the WISC is that the problems are long and tedious and require iterations. I'm going to recommend the Word Problems from TPM 2 (not tedious but same amount of struggle) or TPM 3 if you kid reads at the 4th grade emotional level. If you either route, feel free to contact me because I'm sitting on a library of experimental material for backtrack and think ahead. Otherwise there are companies that specialize in the WISC but I think their material is dubious because in order to be an actual company, you need to reach the broader market, and the broader market is not anywhere near 98%.

  2. Did you have to get a letter of recommendation from anyone to put the GAT application together? It's one of the documents I have to get prepared as part of ours in our state and we're going to ask one from her piano teacher. I have no idea what needs to be included and the teacher has no clue either asking me for an advice. :) What should I tell her, I am sure she will comment on my child's music skills but anything specific they might look at? From an inexperienced mom, first time going through this.

    1. We didn't do it, but as an objective, dispassionate advice giver, let me point out that the this letter will help the powers that be decide if your child is capable of excelling in an accelerated, DIY learning environment with more projects than text books and you are probably both underestimating your child. Self starter, dedicated, sees things through the end, interested, curious, artistic, goes the extra mile, loves learning, and as a downside reads way to much. I like the music teacher idea as a solution. A teacher's recommendation probably carries more weight but less objectivity. What state is this? One of the Power Mom's on my Awesomeness committee rated her child almost average and the child is at about 99.7% so don't make the same mistake. Finally, give your piano teacher the list here, and tell her that your Academic Process Consultant is thinking of a switch to the oboe but wants to see the letter first.