Sunday, September 9, 2018

Tiny Clients

A few years ago, babies began moving into our neighborhood. They brought their parents. Occasionally, maybe at a block party, I'll run into one of their parents and ask how things are going?

'How are things going?', I'll ask.

Things are fine, the parent replies.

'What is your plan for your child's academic future?', I'll ask next.

Who are you?, the parent asks.

Test prep season is now beginning and these babies are in the 3 to 4 year old range. Between now and February, kids in Chicago are preparing for a GAT test, and I know the secret - so do you if you've read any of this website. My track record is 100%. I just got all of my books back last month, and now they are going out the door again.

The pitch

Chicago has some of the top elementary schools in the country. Kids need to pass a test to get in, and by 'pass' I mean score somewhere in the 99% range on a test that evaluates cognitive skills. These skills are great predictors of academic success. If you take your child's academic future seriously, at some point you'll want to cultivate this skill set. If you are overly concerned about elementary school, you'll want to do this as soon as possible, ideally before kindergarten.

Our GAT program is at a school that has some slots available in what they call 'the neighborhood program'. Personally, I'm impressed with the neighborhood program. The little sister of my child's classmates is going to the neighborhood program. I'm on the case. There's no reason why any child can't get into the gifted program.

What's happening in New York?

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza recently lamented the fact that certain ethnic groups that represent 70% of the city only represent 10% percent of the seats at the best programs in New York. We have the same problem in Chicago. This is a big problem in a democracy where people vote. Why would 70% of the voters be interested in spending money on 1 or 2% that already seem to have a lot going for them?* It's a problem that needs to be fixed.

Carranza is taking some steps that Chicago did, like a proposal to set aside 20% of the seats for underrepresented minorities. He's also increasing test coverage.

I'm still waiting for both Chicago and New York to ask a more obvious question. Why are the underrepresented groups not taking education as seriously as the parents of kids in GAT programs, and what can we do about it? The leaders in Chicago have a view that things are unfair. Those in GAT programs tend to have money, and those who are left out tend to have a lot less of it. That must be the problem.

Money is not the problem. Money is highly correlated with education, and educated parents are highly correlated with educated children. A child can get into a GAT program with a spend of less than $100, but with a time spend of about 10 to 15 hours per week per child, mainly reading to the child or yelling at the child because they just missed a problem for the 5th time and is now laying under the table crying. There are large under-represented groups who either don't have 10 to 15 hours a week, don't think it's important, don't know about it, or can't do it without some help. I help parents with less than 1 hour per month, but these tend to be highly educated parents. When I help the parents in underprivileged groups, it takes more like 5 to 10 hours a week. I volunteer to help any underprivileged minority family with whatever it takes.

I'm simply waiting for a leader in Chicago or New York to ask 'what can we do to step up?'. This is a different question than 'what is unfair about the system?' or 'how can we provide a top notch education to a child who isn't ready for it?'. Increasing GAT screening coverage and setting aside seats are two great ideas, but the problem is not going to be solved until we ask how we can pass on our education values and know how to the parents who are not at the table.

*To answer my question above - why spend money on the best and the brightest? The answer is that the best and the brightest are going to lead this country in the next generation and we need to get them ready. Cutting their funding is not going to solve our problems. I'm counting on this group to solve our problems.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Cognitively Charged Classical Education

In this article, I'm going to explain how I supercharged the classical method by interjecting cognitive skills training. In short, I introduced a few new stages, created a new R, and changed the approach to the other R's.

The timing and approach varies for each child. There are only so many parents per child in each family, it takes parents a while to get up to speed, and most of us didn't start early enough. None of this matters. The child will catch up.

A short summary of the classical education

Stage 1 Pack as much information as you can into your child's brain. Doing this will of course expand the brain as fast as you pack it in, so it's a losing battle. This is usually ages 4 to 9.

Stage 2 Teach your child how to think so that they can disagree and dispute everything during dinner conversation. This stage takes up the rest of grade school.

Stage 3 The child becomes a teenager and formulates their own opinions. But you would never know this unless you stay up late because they do not talk before 10 p.m. This age is when real writing begins.

The classical education traditionally includes subjects like Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric.

The Cognitively Charged Classical Education

To start, we can throw out logic and grammar as subjects because these concepts will permeate all instruction. Similarly, test prep is logic overkill. The CCCE subjects are now Reading & Vocabulary, Math & COGAT Test Prep, and Everything Else like Science and Video Game History. Music and craft projects are ancillary activities that your child does to get out of doing math or COGAT test prep.

Stage 0 Starting Early

My neighbor just returned a stack of books I let him borrow so he could put is 2nd child into our GAT program. At the top of the stack was Pre-K Phonics and Conceptual Vocabulary. What a great book. It's patterned after the early phonics courses from the 1970's. But it contains 400% of the phonics and 10 times the vocabulary. I noticed that one of the Amazon reviewers hated the book. Maybe they didn't read the introduction. We started this book on the 4th birthday (turned out to be a less than fun birthday activity - this is a no-nonsense book and you have to provide your own fun) and 6 months later my child was plowing through books and asking questions like 'what does disconcerting mean?'

Starting at age 3, you get a stack of books and read nonstop. By the end of age 4, there's still a stack of books but you do less and less of the reading.

During reading you don't have to worry about challenging your child to think. I'm not recommending that you crush the wonder out of books by explaining everything; maybe you ask a few questions and count to 20 before crushing the wonder out of books by explaining everything. But you use lots of vocabulary; talk like an adult. You've never met a sentence that couldn't be improved by the addition of a few subjective clauses. Pack the brain.

Get a vocabulary workbook. Post words on the word board. And when you see a word on the word board, add 10 more that are related. (Think like an GAT test analogy question.)

I remember my child staring at the word board when there were 100 words on it. He might get one or two each day, but 5 more would go up. One day it was empty. Two and 1/2 years later words never went up there because they were memorized on sight. The word board discussion and the discussion during reading is more than enough grammar.

Stage 1 COGAT Test Prep & Math

This stage ideally begins at age 5, and begins with a math book your child won't see for 2 more years in school.

During reading time, I was not reluctant to share any thoughts, ideas, topics, and information that came to mind. I explained everything. When we got to Math and COGAT, I explained zero. Zero. Cognitive skills are not about what your child knows, but what they can figure out on their own ('their' is the grammatically accepted way of representing 'his' or 'her'). If it takes them a week to figure out the 1st problem on page 1, then that's where they are. Their learning process will accelerate, but only if it's 'their' learning process. There are plenty of ways to help the learning process which I explain the the Test Prep Math series, but none of these ways involve you telling your child something, like how to do addition.

Some days (I call these bad days) I had to jump in their and share the work, or even do the whole workbook page just to stop the tears. But most days, I just asked questions and helped him backtrack. If there was a 5 step problem with 20 mini-sub-steps, and he only got 1/3 of one of the mini-steps, that was what he got. We would plod on another day.

I also lump music into this bucket. I'm a fan of 'here's an instrument and some books, teach yourself.' I should write more about 'teach yourself' because we're a bit over the top there as well. It's amazing what a child can accomplish on their own if a parent is patient enough to let them.

Until the end of 1st grade, we would alternate cognitive skills training (4 or 5 months) with math.

By the end of this stage, you're out of the explaining and teaching business in all subjects until you teach trig in 4th grade.

Stage 2 Science, History, and Everything Else

Between 2nd and 4th grade, we have a mini-stage while topics drop off. By 2nd grade, reading and vocab are already overcharaged. Math goes on autopilot until the end of 4th or 5th grade when we get serious again. There's no reason why your child has to know how to do long division with decimal fractions at this age - or ever - because it's boring and a useless skill. Stage 2 is what we do waiting for Stage 3.

Science has always been present in reading and projects. Science is wonderful at age 6 and 7 because it's all baking soda, wiki, and molecular white boarding. Magic School Bus is great. Looking up the earth's core to prove your textbook wrong is fun. Taking a few minutes to find out the who and when for each science topic is fun, at least for me, and if it's fun for me, we keep doing it. Try to teach your child molecular biology in one sitting, then do some historical research to determine that this 30 minute topic which is incomprehensible took many brilliant minds 3,500 years to figure out. This is true of algebra and calculus.

History is also great at this age. Thanks to Star Wars and Disney, movies are no longer plot and characters, they are part of an historical stream of directors, writers, cannon, and a 9 part series. Take advantage of it. This is true of video games as well which have been building off each other since Pong. I like to see 2 hours of research, discussion, arguing and more wiki'ing about screen topics for every hour of screen time.

If you are all 'telling' during reading, and no telling at all with math, Science and History and Art are somewhere in the middle. You can have fun delving in, exploring, doing your own thing, but - and this is a really important but - DO NOT ENCOURAGE your child in any way. As soon as you try to 'help' by signing your child up for a science camp or getting a stack of books or having your child talk to the neighbor who does physics at Fermilab, you will permanently destroy your child's interest in that subject.

For this reason, I leave At Home formal writing and science for 8th grade. I'll have to explain this in my other blog. For now, I'll just end with a Stage 4 story. That also leaves Stage 3 out of this article. The Cognitive Skills addition to the classical education ended around 3rd grade which is why I only cover stages 0 through 2 above.

Epilogue

My 6 year old showed a strong understanding of how advertising manipulates people. I publicly declared him the writing guy and told him to admit defeat in math and science. It turns out that he's really good in math. Who knew? But advertising is exciting and he can be very successful making people buy things that they don't need.

Last night at dinner the 13 year old version of himself announced this about his intended profession. 'I still say that I'm interested in advertising, because it's goes over well in conversation, but what I plan to do is to study astrophysics so I can write a computer program to find the galaxy that looks like Yoda.' Yes, there is a galaxy that looks like Yoda. He saw it on a trip to the Planetarium.

One day, he'll be studying math in college and find out that there is a Yoda in advertising as well, and it will take a math program to find it. I'm not going to say this but it will happen.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Appeal

I've spent all week pondering a question for a Power Mom who just entered the GAT Hall of Fame. I've gotten the same question at least 20 times in the last five years.

What do you do when your child is a few points shy of the cutoff and your school district has an appeal process?

Let's spend a little bit of time - like most of it- studying the question before answering it.

The appeal process will consist of you convincing the teacher and possibly a gifted administrator that your child belongs in that gifted class despite the deficient scores.  You are either a) a laid back parent or b) a pushy high stress competitive parent or c) somewhere in between.

Meanwhile, the teacher has had 100 of these meetings with a variety of parents across the spectrum.  Most of the kids, 95 to be exact, are not in the top 5%.  The average parent has no idea what a gifted kid looks like, no metric or way to compare, is totally enamored with his perfect son, and demands a seat in the gifted program because he is a lawyer. 

Then you walk in and the teacher is already in a bad mode.  If you watch America's Got Talent, or even better, the music themed precursors where Simon Cowell was a cynical jerk with little patience for untalented contestants, you know the mood of the teacher.

I've seen 6 year olds explain advanced physics or talk with a high school vocabulary.  Let's hope one of these kids wasn't in the room for the last appeal.

Step 1: Prepare

Across all subjects, what makes your child top 5%?  Prepare concrete examples of maturity, interest, effort, going deeper, exploring, asking questions, teaching herself things across school subjects, art and projects.

Reading and vocabulary are essential.  However, if your child reads 6 hours a day, only admit 3 hours a day, and make the last hour something with talking, drawing or acting.  GAT teachers hate kids who read 6 hours a day, because it disrupts class participation and group activities when a child is willing to sit silently because she's smarter than everyone else by about 5 years. Most GAT kids are gregarious, making the reader look less intelligent, when in fact a strong reader should probably just skip grade school.

Does your child show an interest in science or history?  If not, make it happen ASAP and then write it down.  In other words, cover your bases.  Get 20 Magic School Bus books, make your child read them all in 1 day, and then say 'She read 20 Magic School Bus books in one day!'

Step 2: Be Nice

You are walking into the presence of an expert.  He may be short and green and have big ears and a funny way of talking, but he's 926 years old and can lift space ships using the force.  Plus he's in a bad mood and is skeptical that this parent will be different.

Step 3:  Don't Give Up

Some of you are far too nice about the whole thing, which is good, but niceness should never cross the line to 'OK, I guess my kid doesn't belong in this program' if in fact your kid spends 2 or more hours a day working on academically related topics and is only a few points shy of the cutoff.

The Hall of Fame

The family I mentioned earlier put 3 kids in a GAT program in one year.  I got an email about the youngest who missed the cutoff by a hair.  You should be giving me advice.

I'm also inducting another family who put twins into a GAT program.  It was a reasonable academic effort, but the kids were already over the top smart when I met them.  The mom went through the most frustrating complicated bureaucracy imaginable, and no analogy will suffice to demonstrate how bad it was.  But she didn't give up, appeal after appeal.

Congratulations inductees.May your children grow up to fix our world.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Goal Effort Outcome

When I set out to be a better parent edjumacation-wize, I chose 3 goals:

  1. My children would get 98.6 or higher on the COGAT
  2. So they could succeed at the really hard program they qualified for with that score even if we cheated to get in 
  3. They would learn how to teach themselves math and thus do well in all subjects and life because I'll be darned if I'm going to teach them math.

The 3 goals are the exact same thing; not close, not related, but identical. 

Unfortunately, teaching your child how to learn is counter-intuitive and very frustrating.  89% of parents will not let their child learn how to learn enough for the child to get into the 90's on the COGAT.  94% of parents don't go far enough so that their child gets to 95.  You get the picture.

Most parents are happy when their child does slightly challenging material like math facts or fractions, practices until mastery, followed by a baby step in complexity and practices a lot until ready for the next baby step.  I get really frustrated when working with these kids.  I ask them to show me how they did the problem, and they provide polished mechanical algorithms that were invented by an adult.  Some kids understand these mechanics, some kids don't care.

When children invent their own mechanical algorithms, their innovations have breathtaking complexity and apply widely to a variety of fields.  It takes very little brain power to learn an algorithm.  It takes a lot of brain power and a long time to invent one.  Each time the child invests an algorithm, their brain increases by 15% in size. 

The worst part of letting your child learn to learn is that it doesn't appear that anything is happening.  Most of the time, it looks like they are just getting dumber.  It's horrible.  It's very hard for a parent not to yell at their child while they are learning to learn.  With the math fact step-by-step approach mentioned above, it looks like the child is getting brighter because their brain is filling with the mastery of learned math concepts.  At least they have a high ITBS score to show for it.

Yesterday, a Power Mom complained about question 15 in Test Prep Math Level 2. The author and Test Prep Kid spent three days on the question and have yet to reach an agreement.  I consider it one of those questions where learning to learn takes place.

In response, I got on Skype with the kid to discuss 3 x 31.  It took us an hour.  She's barely mastered single digit addition.

I would love to get one of these kids an mom or dad in a video to show you how this works, but it would be embarrassing for all involved.  Therefore, I'll offer a rough transcript.  I'm going to demonstrate the crutches I use to distract me from yelling at my own kids.  There are 3 categories of crutches:

  • I stay focused on learning.  Learning is a priceless skill.  Multiplying 3 x 31 is a useless skill.  If knowing 3 x 31 was important, I would just tell them it's 93.  While they struggle to make sense of what 31 is, I can see learning.  
  • I can see what is happening as we go through the process, and I have already seen the result in 1 or 2 years with kids who do this.  The pay off is huge.
  • I've replaced scaffolding with advanced problem solving techniques.  The kids never adopt these until high school.  Until then, the parent has to suggest them.  On the bright side, it gives me an alternative to frustration and yelling.  That's why I'm so chipper when I coach.

I want to start with an easier problem and then we'll work our way up from there.  Here's how it went:

First, we started with 1 x 30, 2 x 30 , 3 x 30.  This didn't go well.

Next we went to this list.

  • 2 x 3 = ?, 2 x 30 = ?
  • 3 x 3 = ?, 3 x 30 = ?
  • 3 x 4 = ?, 3 x 40 = ?
  • 3 x 5 = ?, 3 x 50 = ?

I was pleased to find that every time I asked 3 x 4 = ? the child had to think for about a minute to answer the question.  I asked 8 times.  I got 8 blank looks.   A child who does not learn their math facts is slowly building number sense.  Eventually, probably in 3rd grade, she'll know that 3 x 4 = 12, but she will really know it intuitively, and this will pay off during pre-algebra.

We were so close to taking the leap to 3 x 31 or 3 x 35, but we ran out of time.  With my kids, we repeated this exercise once a week for 3 weeks, and then 82 x 5 was totally doable.  116 x 56 in school a few years later required no mental effort or parental involvement.

What's really cool is when a child sees 48 x 4 and their eyes get wide, and they totally understand it.  I don't exactly know what they are thinking, but they can tear apart more complicated arithmetic problems with whatever they discovered, except when they get 4 x 4 = 18, which they get a lot, because I won't let them memorize math facts.

Could you as a parent sit with your child for 60 minutes working through problems in the vicinity of 3 x 31?  What happens when the child can't remember what 3 x 4 is even though you've asked the same question 8 times?  Of course you can't, no sane parent can.

We did just that, week after week, year after year.  We're still doing it.  I'm in charge of finding unsuitable problems that take at least 25 minutes of struggling each, and each child is in charge of doing something at school that may involve math but I've never seen it.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Pace of GAT

For the last few weeks, I've been mentioning the single, most important skill that gives a child a permanent, unstoppable competitive advantage. The last 4 articles presented leading concepts which distracted me defining this skill. To prepare the last article, for example, I spent 6 hours calibrating the GAT calculator to actual GAT children. It's got the most common activities that produce GAT kids and is a fairly accurate but not perfect weighing to produce the #1 skill.

In the first few years of writing and researching, I was befuddled by the simple fact that GAT tests are devoid of knowledge and learned skills. GAT tests measure the ability of a child to solve a new problem. In the last few decades, GAT tests have migrated toward a set of questions that can be figured out by a child who is good at figuring out things and hasn't been exposed to the material. This change opened GAT tests to a much broader market. When you see practice tests on Amazon, you haven't seen the actual test. On the real test, any child could unwrap the golden ticket if she has the right skill.

Here's the skill

The skill is figuring out something totally new with no help. This is the definition of a GAT test.

This is a pretty simple concept, but in working with many, many parents, I've come to the conclusion that 98% of the world is not going to get to the 99% level. It's not only counter intuitive, but downright painful to watch a child struggle with a problem that he doesn't know and can't do.

Before a child can master the #1 skill, a parent has to master not interfering with the learning process. School are almost devoid of learning, so it has to happen at home.

A child becomes good at what he spends time on. If you mitigate the 'can't do' and scaffold the 'doesn't know' you're not training your child to solve problems that he doesn't know and can't do.

A few weeks ago, I sat down with a competent little mathematician and her parents. I presented complicated, advanced math and was preparing to explain how to muddle through the mess, but she already knew from memory what to do. Her Chinese mom sent her to 'Chinese School'. Apparently, the parents got together and spoon fed formulas to their children. I was crushed. The Tiger ambush ambushed their children's learning. Look up 'group of tigers'. I was really disappointed.

Here's how to teach the skill

The best time to teach this skill is before the children hit 2nd grade. Any time is a good time, but after age 8 the family becomes busy with other activities. Like playing the piano, it's hard to master a skill without consistency from week to week.

The best material is something the child doesn't know and can't figure out without a dozen mistakes and lots of frustration. Both advanced math and GAT test prep fit this definition. I prefer obscure math topics like Roman numerals or competitive math to advance math for children under the age of 10. If I have to teach multiplication, for example, the backtracking takes weeks.

A year into this approach, you will experience something like a Buddhist transformation where time, mistakes and frustration solving a single problem are not the least disconcerting. They are normal.

The pace of GAT

I've worked with many children on Test Prep Math problems. We rarely do more than one problem in a 30 minute session. Even with a child who has memorized formulas and can get the problem correct within a few minutes, I'll ask a few simple questions about a word or concept in the problem and the discussion evolves from there.

I'm not interested in a child mastering a math concept. I'm interested in a child who looks a bit deeper, who gets stuck on a word or operation that might have 3 meanings. So is the COGAT. To become good a figuring things out means becoming good at spending 15 minutes on a 1 minute question, good at trying 5 times to get the correct answer, good at mistrusting this answer and checking it a few times. At the mastery level, children decompose the problem, create their own simplified version, spend a week exploring the topic, and come back ready to solve the original problem. At the mastery level, the parent doesn't help.

The short cut

I know quite a few parents who can't get past 'learning something' and steer clear of 'learning to learn'. Learning something involves practice and help. Learning something shows quick results. Learning to learn involves frustration and floundering. The only result I see from learning to learn in the first six weeks is that the average 6 year old stops crying when I ask him to solve a problem and explain his answer, and by the way, prove it. Of course I don't expect an answer, let alone a correct answer. I expect him to exercise the skill set underlying learning.

Most of the top 10% get there by lots of practice. There are a few great options for practice and training. Get in your car and drive your child to a center and you'll see results. Your child's score will be on par with the best. Everyone feels good right away. Then high school comes along and it gets hard.

The pay off

I probably went a bit overboard on the 'learning to learn'. We jumped into Every Day Math level 2 workbooks before we looked at 1st grade math. I wasn't trying to produce a 5 year old who would be good at 2nd grade math. I was trying to produce a future 10 year old who would be good at struggling with SAT problems while I vacuum. The kids accidentally became good at 2nd grade math. They intentional became good at learning.

We started with the COGAT books on the market, and ended up with the problems in Test Prep Math that are twice as complicated as the COGAT. These are quite doable with a child who is not afraid to spend as much time as a problem takes, and a child learns to take his time when faced with a few complicated problems each day. That's the pace of GAT. If a child can do a few really hard problems each day, solving 110 problems in once sitting is easy. A child who does 20 easier problems each day is not prepared for those 5 or 6 problems that spell GAT entry.

My other blog (age 10 to high school) will take this Pedagogy to it's logical conclusion. My ancillary goal is a 1400 on the SAT by 7th grade. My primary goals are much bigger.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The GAT Calculator

In the last article, I produced a list of common approaches parents take when the parent owns the education. This article formalizes the different approaches into a simple* survey that will show you where you sit on the GAT spectrum. The end result is your child's GAT percentile which you can consider the parent GAT percentile as well since these are nearly synomomous. That's why I alwasy refer to 'we' when we're taking a test or doing At Home Schooling. Standardized tests and the NNAT and WISC require a different survey. (* This isn't simple. The calculation for some activities varies by age.)

If you review the last article, you'll see that there are different ways to get there. Some ways take longer than others.

Fill out the table and see how much work you have to do with each child. Scores appear at the bottom.

If your score is very high and your test scores are low, the raw material is there but it's time to start focusing on test prep.

We had a great year that is somewhere above 3000, but lately it's been all camp and resting. Our current activities are bordering average, with the exception of theater. Today one of my sons was given two options - math or vacuuming, and the house is now very clean. I think he's taking off the summer after his make or break testing year.

Topic Max Enter Value Age Impact Score
Total Score
GAT Percentile

A Child's Education

Parents have a variety of approaches to education and these approaches will produce a variety of different children. Almost all of my readers fit into one of these categories or are trying to. Survey these approaches and rank yourself on each from 1 to 10. In the next article, I'm going to deliver the approach we all need to get to.

Outsourcers

Most parents think that education is the responsibility of the school and get upset when asked to push the wagon. When I say 'get upset', I mean 'express dismay during a parent teacher conference' when the teacher asks for help at home. Over 77% of parents fall into this category. The best outcome is average.

Sports

The next group of parents is the sports parents. One of my first articles logically stepped through an analysis of sports activities for young children. I observed this group extensively, the whole time wondering if my no sports policy between 3 and 7 was a bad idea. You become better at what you spend time on. I'm now seeing this group moving on to high school and college. I was right. 12 hours a week of T ball at age 5 doesn't produce college ready kids at 18. I love these kids and admire their parents. I would vote for them for political office. They make the world a better place. I wouldn't trust them with my health or finances.

After School Math Programs

The next level up the pyramid is the Kumon crowd. Many of my readers fall into this category. As the inventor of Anit-Kumon, I consider this group my primary competition in the Pedagogy Space. Like the sports group, it's a group of involved parents and really great kids. Unlike the sports group, these kids are college ready. At age 8. This group is split evenly between parents who do after school math programs because they work and are exhausted, and parents who after school math programs because they don't know any better. The tiger parents in this group will push their kids toward medicine, finance or law; end goal is Princeton. Somewhere between 6th and 12th grade the differences between Kumon and anti-Kumon are going to be obvious.

Activities

As we climb up the pyramid, next is the activities group. You can think of this group as Tools of the Mind, Executive Skills, and grit. Their kids take theater, art, and music. I've followed families that do this naturally, like art-theater-music-projects oozing out of their house on a daily basis with no effort. Observing these families is like walking into a musical. You never know when a song is going to break out. Their kids seem to do nothing and then just end up at the top. Recently I cornered a mom and high school sophomore in this category at a party and grilled them. The poor girl got as far as recounting the first few months of sophomore year and she already trounced the Stanford application process. When you go to a garage sale and see toys or games in the 7-9 range, it means the kids are 10-12. There are rarely Halloween costumes there, but they probably made them from scratch. Announce that you are not leaving the lawn until the parent goes back inside and produces some used costumes for sale. They will probably produce baby violins or guitars if you just ask. Once parent told me to walk by their dumpster that evening and I'll find a guitar on it.

Readers

Readers comprise the next group. These kids read 6 hours a day. The parents all say 'She just taught herself how to read'. They are lying. When you walk into the reader house, there are nothing but books and the parents read the same stack of board books over and over and over and over again on demand. Some parents have 4,000 books in their house. One parent has 4,000 books at 300,000 legos in the living room. Plus a couch and a chair crammed in. How do you compete with that? You don't. You get Exploding Kittens or Dungeons and Dragons, not to mention the Halloween costume box, and their kids invade your house like a Zombie Reader apocalypse. I used to open my front door and yell 'Norwood Play Date' and they would stumble out of their reading caves with arms outstretched because they are totally uncoordinated. They bruise easily, but the extra vocabulary exposure is worth the cost of an extra first aid kit for play dates.

I consider this group my personal Nemeses. I think I put the most time into closing this gap.

The downside of being in this group is that your kids generally stink at math and have a hard time passing the COGAT. These kids tend to get their revenge in high school and show no weaknesses in advanced math. But the benefits show up someday, not now.

The PhD Crowd

I don't know what to say about the joint PhD parents and their kids. I'm proud of our extra work in science and I think I can produce a grade school child with rudimentary high school science skills. Then I talk to a kid from the PhD family and its obvious that he's already thinking at the graduate physics level. If there is such a thing as a skill that consists of being friends with kids from PhD families, we're cultivating it. Someone has to take their ideas to market.

Putting it Altogether

To be on the safe side, a child needs everything. A little sports - very little, a bit of Kumon worked into Anit-Kumon, hopefully the Kumon part is outsourced to school, as much music-theater-art-projects as we can cram into our schedule, and a social engineering program that puts my kids squarely into the nerd groups. I have a stack of used instruments that we bought at garage sales and a piano, an enormous box of Halloween costumes that I've accumulated by the dozens each October, 4 box cutters, 7 types of glue, a dozen roles of painting and duct tape, and every appliance or furniture box, and an entire closet full of feathers, googly eyes, and anything else I can find at Michaels.

Back at age 3, when I was contemplating walking or driving to a soccer camp that a dad put together for 3 year olds, I was also contemplating what type of an education I wanted my child to receive. Age 3 is a good time to prepare for age 4. I tried lots of education at age 3, and none of it worked. We also tried the soccer camp. I spent my time interviewing parents with older kids until my socially awkward skills became annoying. Then I just stood their in the corner finalizing my education goals. I want a child who discovers an advanced book on some arcane math or science topic, reads it on his own, and then explains it to me.

In my next article, I'm going to provide the WHAM.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Teaching Styles and Learning Styles

On my other website, I'm working on a piece on grit. There is no formula for grit yet, except for the one I use, so that's what the article is about. The other site is published only once a month, which gives me a few weeks to get every book and research paper on the topic to determine whether or not I'm right.

Almost all of the research investigates grit for high end private schools for over-privileged children of high strung parents, kids in the bottom quartile, and rats. However, there is some really cool work out there.

Alfie Kohn demonstrates in The Myth of the Spoiled Child that everything that's ever been written about children is completely invalid. For example, 70% of survey respondents report that other parents are overprotective helicopter parents, but 95% of survey respondents report that they are personally not overprotective. In other words, the myth of helicopter parents is a myth. There is a wealth of literature going back 2700 years complaining that today's generation is worse than the previous one, education standards have slipped, and schools are failing. In other words, the good old days of education involved carbon drawings on a cave.

Paul Touch does a very thorough job of cataloging contemporary grit research for older kids in How Children Succeed. He mentions Tools of the Mind for little kids in the context of the bottom quartiles. What happens when you apply Tools of the Mind training to kids who are probably going to end up in a GAT program? I think I'm the only one who tried this. The answer is you get a 9 year old who learns Algebra I from final exams.

I recommend everyone read The Rug Rat Race by Ramey & Ramey and start freaking out about college now. I don't think the conclusions of this paper are solid for the broader population, but it's likely that they apply to the authors' cohort, which includes me and my readers.

On to the topic for today

Lately, readers have been asking about how I teach. What is the approach? What is my teaching style? Fortunately, no one asked about children's learning styles. A child's learning style is an adaptation to whatever teaching style I happen to be experimenting with. They can apply their own preferred learning style when they follow their own pursuits. They're not going to learn how to learn by sticking with their own preferred learning style. That's called not learning.

My preferred teaching style is a range between nothing and spoon feeding.

On the not helping end of the spectrum, I will wait hours while the child flounders over and over again, and over and over again I ask to the child to read the question to me again and explain it. I spend most of my time focusing on this exercise early on because it builds a rare set of skills. With kids who are just starting down the GAT path, kids who are currently at about 50%, we might spend 6 to 12 weeks doing math word problems in this way. It's painful for both coach and child, but it's the fastest way to produce results. It might appear that the child is learning nothing.

The next step is to help the child by presenting other problems, easier problems, one-step problems, but problems that capture the topic being learned. For example, suppose we're struggling with 1/2 * 20 with a child who doesn't know either multiplication or fractions. We'll start with 'half of one' and 'half of two' and just work our way up to the problem. In this category of teaching, I also like to approach problems by asking 'You do anything you can think of and then we'll find out what the question is asking', especially with all things geometry.

I may present the problem in 19 different ways. You never know which one will stick. I had to do that a lot with counting, with addition, with anything in Shape Size Color Count. I may take a break, and then that night try yet another approach with beans on the dinner plate, or with the stuffed animals.

When we did Every Day Math Grade 2, at the wholly inappropriate age of 5, without bothering to do 1st grade math, we would get to a topic and put progress on hold for a week while we did some 1st grade math worksheets to cover a topic more thoroughly until we come back to the 2nd grade presentation.

On the reading and vocabulary front, I like to throw a whole bunch of content at once to the hapless student, and then spend the next 3 weeks sorting it out. Usually with reading and with vocab, I'm more than happy to provide answers, but the content is about 1000% of what is needed to answer the question, and the child is now on the hook for anything I just mentioned. What does 'tube' mean? The Word Board might get whacked with a dozen plumbing terms and we might spend two days on wiki.

If I know that the child is going to see the material again (and again and again) later in the book, and if the child is having a bad day, I'll not only tell the child how to do it, I'll do it myself. On numerous occasions, I do have done entire worksheets. Sometimes, I explain the whole topic, as in here's how a fraction works. Sometimes, I don't. I'm not going to run out of challenging topics for the child to figure out solo.

What I never do
Unless we are backtracking, or tackling a new vocab unit, I never do more than a handful of problems. Never more than 5 in math or test prep. My favorite number is one. If the child is working on one big problem, you've got problem solving, cognitive skills, executive skills, grit, and learning all taking place at once. Unfortunately, it's hard to keep a child at that level, but I've managed to find hard but not undoable material with 4 or 5 problems that will exhaust the child' brain in 15 to 25 minutes.

The two tests we need to tackle are the COGAT and MAP. Neither of these have a time limit. The worst thing you can do is teach the child how to do 20 problems in one sitting; an exercise like this is strengthening the wrong skill set - the go fast and ignore minor details and subtleties. This is no way to teach a thinker how to learn. If a child routinely tackles 3 or 5 problems at a time, they'll have no problem getting the more mundane parts of school work done, but on any decent test or school assignment, there's that one piece that differentiates thinkers. A child speeding along will miss it.

Putting it all together

Once we get past the first 6 weeks of crying, and there is usually crying when the child figures out that parenty is not going to do the work for them, then you can put it all together. Start with today's 5 problems. Let the kid do them. Then do them again together. On problems with a correct answer, ask the child to prove it, and with problems that have an incorrect answer, pick one, or more, or all of the above approaches.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Math Grit

Yesterday, I stopped by my neighbor's house. The neighbors have 4 boys. The day I showed up to unlock the building and begin moving many years ago, a neighbor showed up to introduce herself and the rest of the block. She pointed to each house and named them. When she pointed to the house with 4 boys, she said 'They have 4 boys', so I walked into that house and offered the 12 year old $100 if he would help me move. Twelve hours later he limped home to die.

The boys are all out of college. The 2nd oldest returned to his parents home to get ready for graduate school. We chatted. He announced that he intends to teach high school math.

After a brief moment of silence, I explained what's wrong with education and how I had to create my own pedagogy to fix it.

All of the top performers have one skill set that sets them above their peers. I'll call it Math Grit.

  • They are not put off by complicated unsolvable problems.
  • They spend more time reading the question than trying to solve it.
  • They chug along event after 5 wrong answers in a row.
  • Since they get the answer wrong so often they always check.

There is very little in school curriculum before high school that requires these skills. By then it's too late for most kids.

The only way to teach this skill set is to work on hard material that takes a long time and has a high error rate. I'm a fan of 1 problem a day that requires going to wiki or Khan to find out what a rational number is or how to do square roots, or if your kids are older, what a coefficient of correlation is. In the mistakes and confusion, a host of really powerful cognitive skills are born. I have a running list of these subskills and they are quiet amazing to see in practice. With test prep math we have fun arguing about what the sentence mean and whose answer is correct based on each person's twisted version of the question.

If you train your child to do math one baby step at a time, like Kumon or another after school program, I don't see how your child will get this skill set.
Lately I've been laying out a program for fourth through 7th grade. The early years provide the foundation.

  • Pre-K - all phonics and shapes, or as I think of it, pre-cognitive skills test prep
  • K & 1 - cognitive skills
  • Throw in 6 months of a math book that's current + 2
  • 2nd and 3rd grade - Test Prep Math
  • 4th grade - snippets of algebra, geometry and trig
  • After 4th grade we're going to thoroughly do Algebra 1. I needed to start another blog to do this.

Both of these books have a figure matrices section that goes a little overboard. I was frustrated that COGAT test prep books for older kids present material at about the K or 1st grade level. I've never seen rigorous quantitative training at the 99% level, so I created it. There's too much at stake to shoot for 95%. Cognitive skills are the foundation of learning. The COGAT measures these skills, and school districts choose children for GAT programs based on the COGAT. Therefore, it logically follows that children who are prepared for the COGAT, aka have the skills that the test measures, will do well in all subjects, including math.

Next Steps

My 4th grade curriculum starts with basic alegbraic manipulation, e.g. solving 5(x + 2) = -7(36 - x). According to my 2 foot high stack of algebra books, this is only part of the deal, but it got us beyond the MAP test and opened doors in geometry and trig. By the way, algebra books stink. They all teach the steps to solve each problem instead of teaching problem solving.

You can't just hand your child one of the new York Regency exams and expect a solution for 'Find the correlation coefficient for the best linear fit...' if your child doesn't know what 'correlation coefficient' or 'linear fit' mean. Unless your child spent 2nd and 3rd grade preparing for this. Yesterday, my Test Prep Math graduate explained how he got 80% of the questions right even though he didn't know what most of it meant.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Vocabulary Rich, Math Rich

As I mentioned in the last article, vocabulary has a big impact on test scores and math. It appears to be the single biggest factor. Vocabulary is a thread that runs through all the sections of the COGAT including figure and quantitative programs. In the over the top GAT preparation program, vocabulary is front and center.

I know quite a few little GAT machines who a) have parents who don't speak English and b) are vocabulary powerhouses. How did they get there? The answer is simple. They read a lot. Plus both of their parents have multiple graduate degrees from the Ukraine or Indian Institute of Technology Bombay. They also do a lot of test prep. But they read a lot.

Vocabulary occupies most of our time starting at age 3.9. It is one of our core courses at home, the other two being math and cognitive skills building. Once we passed the GAT hurdle, cognitive skills building became cognitively taxing math, we stopped doing normal math, and vocabulary continued until about 2nd grade, at which time the little brains are capable of vacuuming words like the vacuum at the NASA Glenn Research Center..

The process of mastering the conceptual use of vocabulary happens simply as a derivative of learning a lot of words. Tests measure conceptual mastery. Kids pick up the individual words. Something happens in between and I am aware of only two exercises that can help.

I have always put a lot of words out there. I invented the Word Board originally as a reminder for me to use the words that we were learning; the Word Board went on the refrigerator because it's a high traffic area. The fact that it turned out to be such a powerful skills development tool wasn't as important as my attempt to be a more responsible GAT parent. Once my kids got a hang of 10 or 20 weekly vocab words, I started adding synonyms to maintain the correct level of challenge (which happens to be a 50% error rate). At the same time, we started math in Pre-K by plowing through math vocabulary through 2nd grade, with the exception of any concept we would cover later, like multiplication.

The first exercise is 'prove' it. If at the Word Board, my child said that 'shaded' means a 'a darker color', but he said this because it's the exact same thing I said the day before, then I'm not convinced he knows what it means, and I want examples, synonyms, opposites and why anyone would shade anything. I would randomly demand 'prove it' like a Word Board despot if a GAT test were approaching.

The other exercise is to buy an analogies book or do the analogies sections from Building Thinking Skills or similar test prep material. If your child is 6 or 7 or older and struggling with a verbal score, an analogies book is a good place to start. There are no challenging versions of this material on the market. It's at the 50% level. But one or two analogies books are a good start and describe the basic elements of the word matrix and which one doesn't belong questions you'll find on the GAT test. It is up to you as a parent to provide the other 1,000 words your child might need.

A Note on Math

Both kids promised to try this year on the MAP test, and both math scores don't appear on the 2015 RIT charts. It's a good start, but I think we can do better. We maintained about 45 minutes of week of math practice going into the test, about 15 minutes a day 3 days a week. We take specific subjects or unusual problems and have a quick discussion, followed by problem solving or possibly arguing. Since Every Day Math grade 2 in Kindergarten, we haven't really studied math. It was more of an exercise in dealing with something new. Once we covered logs because I happened to see it on the web one day. I love logs. It's backwards thinking and extra work, like square roots and Roman numerals. The level of discourse is on par with a graduate level lecture, and I don't hold back on the terminology, syntax, or sentence length.

When we did Pre-K phonics and Shape Size Color Count, it was all about how hard the kids had to think to get the latest in a stream of age-inappropriate concepts. That's what we practiced, and that's the skill they picked up. I had no idea that there would be a huge payoff down the road.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

The Big Deal

I need some catching eye candy for today's article.  Something like 'What every lazy GAT parent who want their child to excel at a top school avoiding the work it takes to get there needs to know'.

As mentioned previously, I'm trolling for useful research articles on this topic.  When I say 'avoiding the work' I really mean 'working a lot and changing how you do things', but for the child it's mainly chores and a few well spent minutes each day.  Like 15.  Or 25.

I was shocked and surprised to see an article entitled Want to Help our child succeed in school?  Add language to the math, reading mix last week.  The first time I read this article, I dismissed it because this information has been known since 1911 and I based 2 of my books on it, Pre-K Phonics Conceptual Vocabulary and Thinking or Pre-K Phonics Vocabulary and Conceptual Thinking - don't remember which, and Shape Size Color Count.  Both books have vocab up to 2nd grade. Vocab is the key.  I've said it about 372 times.  Vocab Workshop starts in K.   How many times have I recommended this as part of the curriculum?

I encourage all of you to read this article.   Let me summarize the findings for you.  Language predicts success in reading and math and social skills.  Language going into K predicts academic progress for the next 6 years.  Not much else does.

Problem solving skills were not part of this study, nor an emphasis on kids at the 90-95 level, but you can't have everything in one study unless you are desperate to get your child into a GAT program. The article also mentioned that children who entered K ahead showed less gains than children who entered behind.  Shame on those parents for dropping the ball.

I'm going to extend these results from my own findings.

  • If you overdo language from age 4 to 6, your child will be really, really far ahead in everything.  If you didn't do this, put up the Word Board for the next 2 years and catch up.
  • If you add problem solving skills to the mix, and you should, you're can get the child to the point where high performance is effortless.  This is my new goal.
I'd like to thank David Lohman for pointing out that vocabulary is 75% of the COGAT, and for making the COGAT a hurdles for GAT programs.  I once wrote put didn't publish an article entitled 'Is David Lohman Evil?'  When I compare my child's recent scores to the MAP test score chart, the scores are not on the chart.  That's what I'm talking about.   Conclusion - David Lohman is not evil, he just is not in charge of making COGAT skills part of education curriculum.

Lately, the other one has been precalculating the minimum needed to get to his selective enrollment high school and quitting once he gets there.  Arrrgggghhh.  It looks like he's there with some room to spare, and he was kind enough to blow away the math portion; we had some gaps in this area and he made an effort at my request.  Then he turned around and sluffed off on the reading which is his strong subject.  More about that in my new blog, competitiveparentmagazine.com.  I bought the url next week and will be launching soon.  These articles are hard to read on a phone.  

I'm really excited about the dynamic between reading and math at age 4 as it grows until about age 10.   I've got about 20 articles on this topic to write.  On the other hand, high school is looming and I have a goal of breezing through a rigorous AP program with a few minutes of homework a night.  That's the official goal, but it belongs in another website.




Saturday, May 19, 2018

100% GAT Guaranteed

There is a 100% guaranteed chance that your child will meet their GAT goals if you just follow the secret formula.

Last week, I surveyed the last few years of education and cognitive psych research.  Most of this is funded by the NIH and NSF and a few new government acronyms.  I did not find a single paper with a research topic that is pertinent to learning, early education, or what it takes to succeed academically.  There were a few papers about how to learn cognitive skills by researchers who obviously have never met a child before.  An actual parent learns more in 10 minutes of trying to teach their child how to read CAT than any 3 papers on learning.

So when I say there's 100% chance your child can become GAT, it's simply due to the depressing situation that the United States is against teaching pre-school kids any useful skills.

If you take any paper title, and add 'because we don't teach our 4 year old's to read' you will have an accurate picture of education in the United States.  I downloaded the papers from research.gov and found things like 'Comparing a practice based curriculum to an experiential curriculum ... because we don't teach our children to read', or 'Evaluating training methods for teachers...because we don't teach our children how to read.'  There quite a few reform minded engineering education papers that should end with  '...because we spend too much time spoon feeding math instead of teaching problem solving skills'.

When is the United States going to wake up and realize that spending $300 million each year trying to figure out how teachers can make up for lack of reading at home is a waste of money?

Jim Trelease, the author of The Read Aloud Handbook and hero to many GAT parents, bemoaned the fact that he went to Washington and was drummed out of town for being an advocate of reading in school.

You know that the secret formula for GAT is simply to start acting like a GAT family, make your child read, learning problem solving skills, do some advanced math on a routine basis, and have completely different attitude about the whole endeavor which you can find in my articles.  Many parents blow it by confusing lots of work with making progress, when in fact the more classes you go to and the more workbooks you do, the less skills your child will end up with.  The irony.

I should probably mention this distinction instead of assume it.  Non-GAT children score really high on tests and get A's in school because they have memorized and practiced their way to a high level of academic achievement.  GAT children score really high on tests and get A's in school because they've learned the skills to figure out things on the spot with no prior work.  Think of GAT children as lazy underperformers who know how to cheat without help.  I don't know any kids in a GAT program who are simply hard workers, but I know a lot of kids trying to get into GAT programs who spend a lot of time sitting in classes and doing worksheets.

This is an important distinction because GAT children, who will invent things and solve unsolved problems need to know where all of the Non-GAT children are so they can hire them to actually do the work.

Speaking of GAT, yesterday I found out that my 7th grader is more prepared for college than 63% of high school juniors and seniors in the US.  If you've been following my articles recently, you know why I know this and also why I'm reluctant to discuss it.   My second thought was 'I need to publish what we did because it was really cool' and my third thought was 'but I can't right now because the little brother wants to go to Stanford'.

My first thought was - Oh my gosh, his reading score is higher than his math score.  That on it's own is the single biggest determiner of success.  I'm really proud.  I think I had tears in my eyes.  We spent a lot of time working on that over the last 2 years and it's really hard.  I wasn't even going to try, but I keep getting emails from someone who is doing EDM Grade 2 with her little one, and it's a constant reminder of why, how, and yeah you can do it.  It always pays off.  Next year we're going to spend 100% of our time on writing - no math at all.

This weekend, we have to fill in some gaps in math, but getting a high score in math is not hard.  We have a permanent advantage here, practically cheating.  Thanks to Test Prep Math in 2nd, 3rd, and a bit of fourth grade, we spent all of our time at this age on thinking skills and zero time on decimals and long division.  There's no question this is behind the reading score as well.  This means that I've got a child with the skills to learn 3 or 4 new maths in about 5 days.  I know we covered this stuff before, but we don't really practice it.  It's more just fun looking at and figuring out confusing things, which is what GAT is all about.

We went through each missed question, and here's how the conversation went:

What is the answer to this question you missed.

It's B.

Why did you mark A?

Because my brain was fried by the half way point.

Ok, that's fair.  Why did you miss this one?

Because I don't know what f(0, 3) means.

I don't either.  (If any readers know what this is, please leave a comment.  I have no idea.  Is it supposed to be a multivariate question?  How is a 7th grader taking the SAT supposed to know that?)

What about this question?

How am I supposed to do that?

We've got 5 days to figure it out.

Most of the questions on the math section we're very tricky in a strictly verbal way, as in spending a lot of time reading the question, even for me, and keeping 3 distinct concepts in working memory and coordinated.  There was very little in the way of advanced math.

Let's back up a little and you can see why I'm not really all that worried about the math section:

  1. Son some how gets into GAT program even though his score is 10 points behind cutoff.  I'm not kidding.  The school was desperate to fill the seat a month after school started.  We were dumb enough to accept.
  2. Parent decides it would be nice if other child could go there to cut down on driving each day.  Plus parent frantic about other son surviving his program which turned out to be accelerated by 2 years.  What a cataclysmic disaster that could have been.
  3. Parent reads papers from author of COGAT, notes that working memory and reading are really important.
  4. Parent reads 5,000 pages of other research on problem solving and determines that heavy doses of confusion also play a role, not to mention core problem solving skills.
  5. Parent notes that all math books are spoon-feeding and devoid of problem solving skills and working memory.
  6. Parent writes 4 math books that are all confusion and problem solving.  More verbal than math.  4th math book is a phonics book.  Now you know.
  7. Parent's totally unprepared 7th grader does well on college entrance exam, well enough to go to college, just not Harvard.
  8. Parent looks at test and answers (they do that nowadays) and finds a 100% correlation between early training and current test.  I've explained in past articles why this is the case - advanced math is not a good predictor of college success, overcoming trickery is.
  9. Parent hides good advice on bottom of blog articles and does no marketing at all on books.
  10. Younger brother who gets all of the benefits of older brother's experiments is going to send his 7th grade test scores to Stanford.
Then I'll go public.

The 7th grader last night asked if he could take AP calculus in high school.  

He meant freshman year.

It broke my heart to tell him 'No, probably not until sophomore or junior year without summer school, but when you take it I don't expect it to be hard.'  He's just too darn slow at math to skip high school trig.

  



Sunday, May 6, 2018

Competitive Parent Magazine Issue #1

Competitive Parent Magazine
Sunday, May 6 2018
Issue #1

So little time, so many topics. I've referenced Competitive Parent Magazine in the past because it has an annual award called The Pettie that I usually win after careful consideration by the panel of judge, who is me. This year is probably going to be different, because there are parents out there fighting battles that leave me in awe. But we just sat for the SAT.   For fun.  Anyway, I've taken this week's articles and added them all to the inaugural issue of Competitive Parent Magazine.

In this issue
  • Teaching Half Matrices to 4 Year Olds
  • Start Your Rigorous Summer GAT Program Now
  • Putting the Skittles and the PS4 In The Closet
  • Northwestern & Duke Summer Programs
  • Trig at Age 9 - A Bookend
  • Developing a Writer
Teaching Half Matrices to 4 Year Olds
A Power Mom asked me this question:  Are 4 year olds expected to 'get it' with the halving and doubling in Shape Size Color Count?  My 4 year old isn't getting it.

I've been delaying answering in the hopes that he gets it.  I've worked with this boy before and he's extremely bright.  The answer is of course no and yes, and it is a very good example of what it takes to develop cognitive skills at any age. 

For starters, let's jump ahead in Shape Size Color Count to lesson 85.  The premise behind half matrices is simple:

  • They're on the COGAT.  We needed a score of 99.8 to get into a GAT program.
  • My 3.92 year old didn't get it the whole multi-step matrice problem, not even the counting.
  • The COGAT loves ambiguity, and a numeric transformation of 2 could in fact be a numeric transformation of double, but you won't know until you check the answer set.
  • Doubling is good for 90%.  A higher score needs to delve into tripling and quadrupling.  Not that quadrupling is on the COGAT, but that level of thinking is.
Here's what I'm talking about.   I had double up on the quant questions because the color printing costs are so high, and it's worth it.


By this time, the child knows what -2 and thirds mean, as well as what a blob fish is. The problem is getting there. Here are some ground rules:
  • A single problem like this for a 4 year old might be a 20 minute affair, but could also take multiple days.
  • We practiced halving and doubling in our spare time with pennies, fingers, stuffed animals.
  • As soon as a 4 year old really gets it, he will crush you tomorrow by totally forgetting it.
  • Something is going on in that brain and none of us know what.
  • I've never worked with a child who struggled as much as my child did, but if you want to see the outcome, read the article about Trig below.
Cognitive skills don't increase unless the work taxes the skills. Work that taxes cognitive skills results in floundering, forgetting, wrong answers, and multiple attempts.

This is hard on most parents. It's much more gratifying to watch your child blow through 20 easy Kumon problems. Most parents won't get their kids past the 98% cuttoff to get into a GAT program because they take the easy route.  I think this book took us 2 passes and will take at least 3 months.  Maybe 6.  It depends on how early you start and how far along your child is counting on her fingers.

Like all material, eventually the child gets there, and when he gets there, he has a formidable skill set. In this case, we ended up with a Visual Number sense, which I didn't even know was possible. Ideally, SSCC graduates will do arithmetic on sight. This will create a foundation more more advanced skills that is super powerful.

For the first half of the book, we really struggled. After that, we really struggled to get through a single question in 15 minutes. There was lots of discussion and taking breaks to review halving and doubling. If you are looking for an easy repetitive book that magically puts your child above 97% on the COGAT, keep looking. Until then, if your child is in the early months of age 4, this is it:


Start Your Rigorous Summer GAT Program Now
Summer is a good time to start your GAT training program.

Get a stack of material, including:

  • Rigorous, challenging cognitive skills building thinking material
  • Some age-inappropriate math to struggle through, like something your child will see in school in a few years
  • Some easier workbooks for backtracking, a bad day, or for doing alone because you're busy.
Create some ground rules and goals.  In this house, the ground rules are 'No math, no computer', where math can be anything.  I've added chores to the daily regimen because kids who do chores have a better attitude toward academic work.  (Someone explain to me the relationship between vacuuming and problem solving.)  My goals are simply 15 to 25 minutes of hard core thinking each day on something.

Once you've got that together, you're ready for the next step.  Summer is a good time to start your program, but immediately is even better.  I'd like to do a study on GAT outcomes for children of parents who start immediately, as in open the box from Amazon assign the first page. The control groups would be parents who start the 1st day of summer school.  I already know what the conclusion of this study will look like. 


Putting the Skittles and the PS4 In The Closet
The approach to academic work varies between age 4 and graduate school only in the amount of quality concentration and thinking that the child is capable of.  A 4 year old is good for 15 minutes a day, maybe 3 or 4 days a week.  A 4 year old has a lot of bad days where thinking is thwarted by hunger, sickness, exhaustion, and the parent accidentally yelling at the child for curling up in a ball under the table.  A 3rd grade child is good for daily work, maybe 20 or 25 minutes a day.

The approach and methodology for problem solving does not change between age 4 and graduate school.  I announced this definitively a few years ago based on working with a 4 year old and a 7 year old.  It was a bold assertion.

Here is the logic underneath my assertion.  My cognitive skills research started with problem solving with IT engineers, graduate school work, and worked backward through high school geometry proofs (thanks Poyla) and down to age 3.9.   It was all the same:  be baffled, make mistakes, ignore the solutions (it's about thinking, not finding out the answer), trying again.

Here I am thousands of hours and hundreds of kids later, with kids covering the age range, and two of my own that are 5 years older, and I can announce with much more confidence that in fact there is no difference at all.   Older children are only good for 25 minutes of really hard core top notch thinking.  But the material needs 90 minutes of start up time and more routine work.  They only appear to work for 2 solid hours, but when they've gotten through the 25 minutes of really challenging problem solving, they are worthlesss.

This week, the PS4 went into the closet.  I discovered that I have a 13 year old who follows me around - brace yourself for this - talking to me.

Northwestern and Duke Summer Programs
I wish I had a picture of the 14 grade school kids who took the SAT last week, but security escorted me out of the building.  I think 13 of these were there to qualify for the programs at Duke and Northwestern.

Duke has an online program now.   If you ask me if you should enroll your child in this program (assuming you pass the rigorous qualification) my answer is definitively yes.

The reason we're not personally interested in these programs is because our GAT program is rigorous enough.  I think it's the top program in the country.  I personally know many graduates who are breezing through one of the top 10 high school programs in the country without really trying.  The other reason is that my kids would rather shoot arrows at camp during the summer and I'm more interested in a path to graduate school than advanced chemistry at Northwestern, which we're doing on the side anyway as needed.

If you ask me how you get your child past the entrance criteria and into the program, you're asking how do you hone your child's cognitive skills to a very high level.

Trig at Age 9 - A Bookend
Let's revisit the very first graduate of Shape Size Color Count and both Test Prep Math Level 2 and Test Prep Math Level 3 because he's bothering me while I'm trying to type.  I hate having to go to amazon to get these links because of that 1 star rating from a plumber (I'm not kidding) on TPM who said that the solutions were wrong.  You're not going to get to 99% on the MAP test for the rest of your life with solutions that are obvious in a book that spends 6 pages explaining why each problem is designed for mistakes and repeated attempts.  Either he needs to do the problem again or the author does.  That's the nature of cognitive skills building

In order to keep my 9 year old out of my hair, I drew a few triangles, introduced him (once again) to the sine/cosine unit circle do-it-yourself-with the Pythagorean theorem-calculator, and asked him to tell me everything that is missing.  When I say 'calculator' I mean 'without a calculator'.

You'd think he'd remember this from 6 weeks ago when we did the exact same thing.  It's like age 4 all over again.

I like trig.  You can teach it in a single 1 hour session.

Draw a unit circle on graph paper and draw a line anywhere you want.   sin(a) is the y and cos(a) is the x.  You can use A2 + B2  = C2 to calculate common values, like 30o, 45o, 60o, 135o etc.  It helps at this age to always use capitals for line lengths and always use lowercase for angles.  A is opposite a, B is opposite B.  A calculator could help with 25o, but we don't use calculators and just guess on SAT type questions where they deviate from common angle values.

Then I ask for the Law of Sines and the Law of Cosines.  If you forgot, here they are respectively:

  • A/sin(a) = B/sin(b) = C/sin(c)
  • A2 + B2 - 2ABcos(c) = C2
For kids in middle school or near middle school, you can find triangle stacks on the web to practice these equations.  For age 9, we discuss cos(90) = 0, and stick with the Pythagorean version of the Law of Cosines.

Here's the unit circle on the left, and the problem on the right in case you want to try it


Here's the view of the daily math that bought me 60 minutes of free time, minus the 25 minutes I had to backtrack and re-explain the unit circle and help with mistakes (help as in 'Wrong.  Do it again')


You'll note the Dorito bag.  At age 4, this was a bag of skittles.   I found that snacks are a useful inducement for ridiculously hard age-inappropriate work, especially if your child is crying because you are a mean parent by making them do all of the work.  It is important to remember that 20 skittles are no more motivating than 5 skittles, and you can stop giving snacks at any time.  Or you can walk 3 miles a day with your child on what I like to call 'Math Talk Walks', but privately I think of these as 'Don't End Up Being A Chubby Videogamer Walks'.

We do a trig problem about every 6 weeks. This gives my children 5 weeks to forget what they learned so that trig becomes an exercise in thinking and not an exercise in applying memorized formulas without thinking. That is why I refer to my approach as Anit-Kumon.  I don't want a child who get's a 1600 on the SAT because they've trained to get a 1600 on the SAT and then doesn't get into Stanford.  Stanford has a method to weed out these kids that I haven't reverse engineered (yet).  Instead, I want a child who get's 1600 on the SAT because they can figure out trig on the spot - because they've learned the cognitive tools to do so.  Presumably they'll use this toolset for something else during high school and Stanford will notice.

Developing a Writer
I've been asked often how to develop a writer.  I've got a child who will be some kind of a writer, possible a director or advertising media creator who spends his time researching astrophysics websites looking for the galaxy shaped like Yoda.  The other one, who we refer to in this house as The Math Guy, also writes a lot, as in songs, books, and posters to sell stuff.

The starting point for writing is art, crafts, and projects.  The number one skill writers have is that they dream up something that has multiple pieces and which takes a long time to finish.  Art is important because it has setbacks.  You have to do it a few time to get it right, whatever it is.  You want a writer?  Sign her up for an art class.  Chores are important because they are boring and repetitive.  Chores make writing seem like fun.

This stage of writing continues from age 7 to 12 while they develop grammar, vocabulary, and articulation skills.

At some point around age 11 and 12, you can start (slowly) two activities: The first activity is daily writing, like a journal, and the second activity, at least at the GAT level, is a 4 hour marathon of pain that I like to call 'Crafting Sentences'.   We sit down with some school work and take each sentence at a time and fix it.  What are you trying to say here?  Is 'fix it' good enough, or do you mean 'recraft the dependent clause', 'elaborate on a undescriptive pronoun', 'match the syntax of the sentence to the logic we are trying to convey', or what?  During this process, the child says what they are trying to say, and I explain why I'm not clear what they are trying to say and that inadequate sentence that they only spent 2 minutes on sure as heck isn't saying it anyway.

I refer back to Test Prep Math, which was as much convoluted logic and vague words as math, and the main reason they do well on the reading comprehension section of the MAP, and think of each sentence as a math problem on its own, as in a 10 to 20 minute exercise of work, mistakes, and trying again.

So here we are back to foundational cognitive skills.  The little writer slowly realizes that it wasn't about math at all back then.  It was about being confused, making mistakes, and trying again.  I have mentioned this to both my kids numerous times.  Someday they'll leave math in the past; it might be after winning a Fields medal or a millennium prize form the Clay Institute, but some day they'll have to write.