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.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

The Little Test

Today was a practice test. 

Practice tests are an important part of a test prep regimen.  In the past, we've sat for GAT practice tests, staged GAT practice tests (when none were available), staged standardized tests. 

Normally, our prep pace is just a few ridiculously hard questions a day.  This maximizes learning.  But a real test has lots of questions that are easy and a few that are hard (the ones that count if you're trying to meet a cutoff score are the hard ones).  A real test is a different dynamic, and one more thing to practice.

My favorite practice test was a 2nd grade ITBS where I read the questions and the answer choices to my 4 year old and he pointed.

In most cases, the practice test is the real thing, like it was today, with a score that doesn't count.

Like always, I grilled my son on the test.  What was it like?  Who was there?  What was on the test?  Did the calculator I gave you that only does arithmetic prevent you from getting a trig question correct?  How many people were there?  This is what I learned:

  • I don't remember anything from the test.  I only remember one question from my K GAT test.  Which rhymes with boon?  Moon, spoon, monkey, something else.
  • All the 7th and 8th graders had to sit in a room together.  There were only 14 kids in this room and they were all nerds.
  • There were 4 sections, no essay (for kids not in high school) and a mystery section.
  • We had 3 breaks.
He then went on to explain the breaks in detail.  I asked what was on the mystery section:
  • It was like a GAT entrance exam, sort of.  I don't remember any of the questions.
Now you know everything I know about the taking the SAT in 7th grade.  I'm interested in this mystery section.  Is it because the SAT is used to qualify kids for the Northwestern and Duke summer programs?  I wonder if we'll see our scores on that section.

I asked one last question.  How did you do?
  • I ran out of steam on the last section and didn't finish it, but on the rest I think I did OK.
  • I felt like I was prepared, like I have been preparing for 3 years.
Which he has.  Of course, we prepare in a completely different fashion than everyone else, and I expect results from our innovative and rigorous approach.

The big test, the one that counts, is in a few weeks.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Calm Before the Storm

Next Saturday is our big day.  The rest of Chicago has been getting scores in the mail with test results for K to 4 entry, and it totally stresses me out.  Next week I will be a wreck as usual.  It's hard enough when one of the kids or parents I coach takes the test.  Vicarious test taking is just as challenging to prepare for as actual test taking.

A while back, a Power Mom asked for a retrospective  what I did wrong.  I'm elevating this PM to PMYL, which stands for Power Mom Yoda Level.  He questions was some sort of Plato or eastern mind trick to make me reflect.  My articles are long enough when I barely have 20 minutes before work to type frantically and check for typos.  Brace yourself.

The approach I took didn't result in any mistakes of lasting impact.  Some of was intentional and most of it was not.   The approach can be split into a few categories.
  • I read the papers and presentations of cognitive skills experts and test authors and did exactly what they recommended.
  • I read the articles of intelligence researchers, education researchers, and psychologists and did exactly the opposite of what they recommended.  From this effort, I can explain exactly what's wrong with education in the US, but I didn't gain any actionable strategies for my own children.
  • I bought all books in print and tried them out.  Only a handful were useful as busy work.
  • I wrote my own test questions, attempting every permutation possible in a desperate attempt to pass the test by brute force.   Somewhere at about the 60% mark, the light bulb went off and I realized it wasn't about shapes.  It was about thinking.
Except vocabulary.  Vocabulary is about vocabulary.  My favorite researcher of all time pointed out that when a child is learning to read, all cognitive skills - math, whatever, all of them - are actively deployed by the child's brain.  He also stated that each vocabulary word doesn't just increase a child's knowledge by a single word, it spurs cognitive growth.  Red is not just the name of a color, it is a member of various classifications, has a hue and brightness and other qualities, is used to represent concepts like stop and danger, works in some situations and not in others, looks good on some people but not others and comes out of your finger when you cut yourself.  The magic happens with the cognition left over after the word red is worked, cognition that is then applied to other things, like math.

So I discarded phonics books from the last decade that look more marketing and fun than learning and thinking, and listed out every word 5 letters or less that would appear in a scrabble championship.  After a few years, the result was a Pre-K Phonics Conceptual Vocabulary and Thinking which I sometimes right as Pre-K Phonics Conceptual Thinking because that's how most people google it.
  • What's inside

    • Phonics through 2nd grade
    • Instructions for a solid reading program at the 99% level
    • Math vocabulary through 2nd grade, just in case
    • The reason my 13 year old is sitting for the SAT on Saturday
    • The reason why I use terms like incredulous, inculcate, and fallacious with my kids and they don't roll their eyes
Click here for fabulous phonics

While Math House is called Math House because I have many wasted years studying graduate math and trying to solve the Riemann hypothesis, the phonics book is the gem of the collection.  Guaranteed high math scores on advanced material is not enough to crush the reading section.  I think my kids spend 2 or 3 hours a day reading - on a good day, and we don't have nearly enough good days.  Last week was mainly band concerts, baseball games, the school play, and me working way too much.

Speaking of last week, here is a question from the SAT from last week's article.

The author uses an extended quote in lines 61-69 as part of a larger attempt to
a) convey the impact of an unexpected discovery
b) illustrate the suddenness of a decision
c) simulate a child's misconceptions
d) criticize the artificiality of the "young adult" classification
e) describe a young reader's sense of history

As I mentioned in the prior article, after a few years of research, we reduced all reading comp exercises to a simple mathematical proof.   It's almost long division now.  But there is a prerequisite that I didn't mention.  These questions are packed with vocabulary.  I should have chosen one of the harder questions but even in the question above you can see convey, misconception, artificial, sense, and not the 2nd grade definition of sense.

Somewhere in the Pre-K Phonics introduction, I might mention that opposites are not very useful, but synonyms are extremely valuable for the COGAT.  This applies to the SAT as well.

One Power Mom did Pre-K Phonics with her 4 year old and asked me do you really expect kids to know 'due' and 'dew'?  Ha. No I don't.  I expect them to figure out that there are things like dew and due lurking out their, which is a cognitive gold mind, but mainly I expect parents to read these two words in a phonics book, freak out, and raise the bar in their house.  Some words strike the imagination of one child, some strike the imagination of the other child.  You never know.  Some times we would just burst out laughing and move on.  Sometimes the word went on the Word Board for the 112 days it took to get it because I thought it was important for the COGAT.

From then on, it was 3 years of the Word Board and vocab workshop.  By 2nd grade, words just became the fabric of Math House.

By the way, I owe this Power Mom an article on how to get a four year old to internalize halving and doubling, tripling and cutting into thirds and make it part of their visual-spatial cognition.  Maybe next week.

In the mean time, for the last week, we've done zero to prepare for the SAT on May 5.  I first came up with this idea 8 years ago, when a Mentor Mom told me that her 7th grade daughter got a 700 on the SAT and Stanford sent her a letter asking her to apply in 4 years.  Since then, I've been asking the question, what if we could crush the verbal section?  Our incremental preparation could fill about 30 pages if I included all of the setbacks, 3 pages with just recounting the how to.

Well, we probably can't crush the SAT because we go so very slow on our work, both math and verbal. It's tempting to change gears and shoot for speed, but the MAP test is in June and we need 99% to get into high school.  The MAP and the SAT are not the same thing, and I don't want to negatively impact the MAP.  So the SAT has been relegated to MAP practice.  Still, it's the SAT.

Last night I was out with Power Dads on a biking brewery research tour and we were discussing how preparation is going for the MAP.  All of their kids are genuinely smarter than my kids. Officially, it was just a biking brewery tour, but I don't drink much, I ask a lot of questions, and dads talk a lot when they drink. So putting that altogether it was prime research.  One dad said his daughter was in a prep course and she recently had a grueling 4 hour MAP test prep session.   The SAT is our prep, but it's only 3 1/2 hours so I kept my mouth shut.  We might have the edge, however, in the grueling department.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Tiger Mom Revisited

Some of my readers complained that when they google Test Prep Math they get GMAT results.  This is totally offensive to me.  If a result came up with the GRE math, chemistry or physics subject, that would be OK.  After all, 99% on the MAP tests year after year in grade school is going to be a waste of time if Stanford turns down my children's graduate applications.  At the risk of looking like every other test prep website:


On To Tiger Mom
In the famous seen in her book, Amy Chua recounts a 4 hour ordeal of screaming and crying while she forces her daughter to rehearse an impossible piece for an upcoming piano recital.   Chua is presented as an overbearing evil mom with unrealistic expectations for her child and no concern for her child's long term mental health.

This scene replays itself over and over in Math House, usually on simmer instead of full boil.   There are two important difference between the Evil Overlord of Math House and Tiger Mom.  These differences are why I am not a Tiger Dad, and beyond criticism, and Chua took a lot of flack for her book, even though Chua and I think and act in nearly same way.

The first difference is that I have assumptions, not expectations.  My expectations for my kids are abysmally low.  I strive for zero expectations.  I expect that a 7 or 8 year old would rather play video games and watch TV instead of worry about his future.  I expect that a young child will cry when presented with a problem that exercises grit and cognitive skills.  Maybe he'll just complain at first, but as soon as it's clear I'm not doing his work for him (because then he won't get the benefits), he might try crying.  I expect him to not know what he's doing, to make lots of mistakes, to do far less than I've assigned, and to end up with wrong answers.  That's where the skill set is born, and that's why he's doing this work.  If I gave him something he could do, like 30 easy math fact problems, he'd look good but fall far short of the goals I have for him.

On the other hand, I have assumptions.  I assume my kids will get the work done one way or another because I'm withholding all fun activities until it is done.  I assume that I can't withhold food because his performance will suffer (tried that, it doesn't work).  I assume that he'll learn key skills that other kids don't learn and that a year from now, he'll be scoring in the top 1% on everything for the rest of his life and be 6 years ahead of other kids in key subjects, even subjects we don't do at home, all because I stayed focused on grit and cognitive skills during 2nd and 3rd grade.

I like to say 'Of course you don't want to do this.  You're 8 years old.  I'm an expert at being an 8 year old.  I was an 8 year old for an entire year'.  Seems like a good thing for a dad to say.

I expect the first 6 weeks are going to be really tough because school just spoon feeds easy work and the parent is used to helping and answering questions when the child falls short.  Scaffolding is great when you want your child to memorize and master a bunch of new concepts in a short period of time, but the child never learns the thinking and learning skills tackle learn pre-algebra on his own.

4th grade was a blur of algebra.  You can't do algebra without pre-algebra, and that means you either have to learn it on the spot or get assigned backtracking material by The Overlord before you can move on.  I threw in some functions,  a little geometry (prove everything starting with a line is an angle of 180 degrees), a little trig (everything you need to know in 30 minutes or less), and it's on to SAT test prep books.

Test Prep Math Level 4
SAT test prep is surprisingly easy compared to the real thing.  I generally assign 5 problems at a time, from the math section, with no time limit.  A few years later, we've not only completed all the math problems but learned high school math on the way, with the exception of advanced trig topics and calculus.  Again, my expectations are really low for this exercise.  I expect almost nothing.  I assume we'll get through it and come out on top.

In a few weeks, my 7th grader is sitting for the real deal, all 3 1/2 hours of it.  I gave him a few timed versions of certain sections, but our real goal is the 6 hour MAP test ( 3 hours of math on one day, and 3 hours of reading comp on another day).  I figure 3 1/2 hours of SAT brutality should be good practice for the 7th grade MAP.

After we licked math, we had a book full of reading comp questions.  The reading comp was really hard.  It didn't go well.

I traveled to the planet Dagoba to be trained by the Jedi Master Yoda of reading comp.  A high school English teacher, he coaches SAT on the side.  He told me things like "When the question asks 'which answer reflects the tone of the passage', count words in the passage, you will".  He also told us to 'figure out an answer wrong, why you got'.   His advice got us past Baffled; it gave us things to do instead of crying and yelling at each other, but ultimately it's not for 99% and its not for an 11 year old.

Once again, I'm stuck with an area of cognitive research that is unexplored and undocumented, so as the Foremost Expert in the Field of Real Cognitive Skills, The Kind That Actual Children Have, Not The Useless Made Up Crap That Fill Education Journals, I took on the challenge.

So I applied the learning framework outlined in Test Prep Math.  After all, the math word problems in TPM target reading comp.  This isn't obvious how a math problem prepares a child for reading comp until you see the SAT.   Here's why reading comp = math and math = reading comp.

The author uses an extended quote in lines 61-69 as part of a larger attempt to
a) convey the impact of an unexpected discovery
b) illustrate the suddenness of a decision
c) simulate a child's misconceptions
d) criticize the artificiality of the "young adult" classification
e) describe a young reader's sense of history

Step 1 - look at lines 55-60 and 70-75 for the answer.   This is more of a geometry thing that I'll cover later.

Step 2 - Notice each answer has 3 concepts.   You simply take each concept (like convey), and if the author complains, states, recounts, but does not convey, cross out the answer.  Test Prep Math hammers away at the 3 bucket limit of working memory, and here it is in action on every single question in the SAT reading section.  The iterative permutations of solving these questions are identical to Section 3 of TPM, which is why figure matrices are such good predictors of academic success.

That's it.  There are no other question types.  It is really helpful if the child can tell you about the author and the type of passage (propaganda, argument, description, memoir, what ever) because the first 2 questions are going to require this knowledge.  But all questions require the same mathematical approach.  If a question looks like its a different type, it's just disguise.

Once we got this, I went from assuming that reading comp questions are impossible to assuming that I'm going to be disappointed if my kids miss any.  'Convey' went on the Word Board.

I think somewhere in the intro to Test Prep Math I might fess up to targeting reading comp.  I should have said targeting 99% on reading comp.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Step Two

I've lost count where I am on Steps.  This article is about the book end and reading comp.  That leaves a reading program, whole language math, miscellaneous topics. how to write a sentence, and then I can get back to math.  I'm much more excited about reading because this is Math House.  In reading, it's us against them.

Speaking of us against them, the Chicago Tribune took a swipe at Houston recently. Found in this article is perhaps the best crafted sentence I've ever seen.  As you know, Chicago is basically crime, corruption, and debt.  50% of our taxes go straight to debt service and corruption, not to mention filling pot holes and dealing with 100 year old infrastructure. That doesn't leave a lot for education.  Our gifted programs, at least 5 of them, are perhaps the best schools in the world across all measures, but we have quite a few neighborhood schools that are just trying to keep up with ELL with almost no budget.

The article, which you can read here, snipes Houston for stealing our bean idea and gradually supplanting Chicago as the 3rd largest city in the country. Here's the sentence I find so impressive:

If being surrounded by a cultureless abyss insufficiently communicates to confused tourists that they are in Houston, the bean’s verticality will therefore act as an additional reminder of their poor life choices.

I think I have more readers from Houston than Chicago.  At least I used to.

I get a lot of questions about writing.  Writing a single sentence like the one above is going to require all skills including the foundational math skills.  Therefore this will be the last topic I explore.  If you're wondering why math and sentence writing are identical, so am I.

For those of you who wish to continue reading my beanless discussion of Reading Comp, I am wrapping up 3 years of research and experimentation and I'm pretty excited.

I've mentioned Reading Comp in the past as a good way to prepare for a cognitive abilities test.  Everything is the same - concentration, looking back, resolving ambiguities, dead ends and mistakes, working with material that is new, advanced and confusing.  Everything except for the shapes.

In the last few months I've been approaching Reading Comp from a more direct angle - how to crush the heck out of it and then back over it a few times just to be on the safe side.

Our TTWBN score in reading is always 4 points shy of victory because my kids refuse to read the passage when answering questions.   The older one got an advanced passage in 1st grade on a Magic Tree House subject, got all the questions right from memory, was scored in the 4th grade, and decided from then on to deal exclusively with questions.   The other one liked that approach.  Eventually they tried reading the passages at my request, and the scores didn't budge.

3 years ago we started SAT test prep for math, one question per week.  I shoot for 5 questions, but it's all backtracking in the 4th grade.  (It just occurred to me that my definition of 'backtracking' usually means 'covering a topic you've never seen before'.)  There are 10 practice tests and 30 practice essay questions (short, normal, anything goes).  We made progress in math, but the reading comp did not go well despite doing Test Prep Math.  By go well, I mean a 10 year old making a decent showing on high school level work.  Vocab was a killer.  SAT test prep books aren't all that hard, especially the first edition of the College Board book, which I love, and we have no time limit.  I figure that this approach aligns perfectly with the TTWBN test.  (Note to google search engine - I am not talking about the MAP test.)

I traveled to the planet Dagoba to be trained by the Jedi Master Yoda of reading comp.  A high school English teacher, he coaches SAT on the side.  He told me things like "When the question asks 'which answer reflects the tone of the passage', count words in the passage, you will".  He also told us to figure out an answer wrong, why you got.   His advice got us past Baffled; it gave us things to do instead of crying and yelling at each other, but ultimately it's not for 99% and its not for an 11 year old.

Once again, I'm stuck with an area of cognitive research that is unexplored and undocumented, so as the Foremost Expert in the Field of Real Cognitive Skills, The Kind That Actual Children Have, Not The Useless Made Up Crap That Fill Education Journals, I took on the challenge.

I tried to refocus my children on the reading passage.  Let's get into the question and worry about the answers later.  This is the same approach used to teach EDM 2 to a five year old.  We backtracked a lot on vocab, we made mistakes (of course it's disparate regimented perspective, you can see it hinted at right in the passage).

Then the light bulb went off.  In the same way that Whole Language Math uses language to convey graduate level statistics to a 13 year old, Analytic Reading Comp applies math to reading comp.  It's a huge win.   You want to get from 50 to 99 on the verbal portion of the SAT?  This is the way to go. 

Let me show you an example.

The author uses an extended quote in lines 61-69 as part of a larger attempt to
a) convey the impact of an unexpected discovery
b) illustrate the suddenness of a decision
c) simulate a child's misconceptions
d) criticize the artificiality of the "young adult" classification
e) describe a young reader's sense of history

Here's our journey.  It took us 3 years to get here.
  • In order to determine what larger attempt means, you probably have to look at 55-60 or lines 70-75.  It would have saved us a lot of trouble if someone just told me that.  (Checking the intro, they did.)
  • After that, it's a matter of 3 words in each answer choice.  There's the magic number for working memory once again - thanks Test Prep Math.
  • So we take them one at a time, marking off no, maybe, no, no, maybe.  If the passage doesn't criticize, I don't care if it discusses the artificiality, young adults, or uses the term classification.  Cross out that one.  In other words, be extremely picky, hypercritical, rules oriented, logical.
  • Then we have to start all over again with the 2 maybe's.  This isn't 'cross off wrong answers and guess'.  This is 'methodically go through each and every detail like a Reading Comp Shredding Machine'.
  • Usually there are a half dozen words that need to go on the Word Board and discussed at length.
  • Maybe we get it wrong and say 'Darn it.'  Maybe we're tired or sick and can't concentrate.  It happens.  My fallback plan is just to give up and quit.  
  • There are a few other questions types, like what would the author of passage 2 say about lines 61-69 in passage 1, which take longer, but same approach and more discussion.
The best part is my fascinating conclusion.  There are no other question types.  That one question is it.   We do lots of these.  I can see tricks, techniques, subkills, etc. and none of it matters.   Week by week something is happening in that little brain that does what it needs and subskills bloom.  I don't care. I'm just in charge of being the other team member and enforcing the Big Five skills.

What about actually reading the passage?  The approach above is more about reading the question and then going back to analyze the passage. 
  • I want to know after the passage is read, who is the author and why is he writing this passage?  Do this before answering the questions.  There are so many questions that require this knowledge, you might as well do the work the first time.
  • When you read the passage, read it to find out who the author is, what type of mood she's in, and what type of writing this is (narrative, descriptive, argument, propoganda, etc.).  We don't need the Word Board for vocab at this point, but a framework of writing styles (types?) would be useful. 
The other best part of this is that it takes us 45 minutes to get through a single passage + 10 questions, a big improvement from 60 minutes.  There are 2 passages and a 20 minute time limit.  We do one passage in 30 to 45 minutes.  I am enforcing the most powerful skills of all - concentration and learning unencumbered by a time limit.  This skill alone guarantees learning and improvement.

The third best part is the conversation that follows.  He reads the passage and then answers.  I read the passage and we go through each question one by one while I grade.  Sometimes we each read the passage and answer the questions together.  Since I'm totally useless, this is more just for conversation and motivation.  Working together is more fun.  It's all adult level academic conversation.  We should do more of this, but we don't.  Thanks SAT for the help being a GAT parent.

How can I grade?  I don't have the solutions since I threw them away.  Having solutions reduces the outcome from 99% to 85%.   Not having the solutions requires brain work.  Having solutions ends brain work.  How do I know if my child got the correct answer?   It is hard work for me.   Asking your child to do work that you don't want to do sends a very clear message of how unimportant this work is for the child.  Working the solution puts me in a position to articulate things I see that he missed and he'll make a note of that.  I ask questions - real ones because I'm stuck and need help - and he joins in the adult level process of figuring things out.  We're never 100% sure on all questions, but we're 100% sure on the process to get there.

If you read the introduction to Test Prep Math or Shape Size Color Count, this is exactly the same foundational process starting at age 4.  The introduction to Pre-K Phonics and Conceptual Thinking is a bit more over the top and kind of the opposite advice, but it's consistent.  I think TPM is more directly applicable to reading comp, but of course Pre-K phonics is about reading and vocab, which is a prerequisite.  

With effort, we perfected the House Rules that underpin an effective learning environment, and now we're reaping the rewards.   Most of this effort involved me learning how not to help, not check solutions, not to have expectations, not to show emotion one way or the other when I announce the correct answer, not get impatient and frustrated with a subpar performance, and 5 other nots.  High performance learning is counter intuitive, which is why only 1% fits at the top.  The result was unencumbered learning.

There's the book end.

There is one more best part.  Both the SAT and the TTWBN test prep are a boot camp of analytic reading skills.  It's just like studying for the COGAT, which is a good way to pick up cognitive academic skills.  It's not about passing the test (it is - I just lied), it's about your child performing better in writing and chemistry.  Which it is.

A final note for the 2 readers who made it this far.  The TTWBN stands for the Test That Wont Be Named.  It's the test that my 7th grader takes every year, but this year it counts toward high school enrollment.   Competition is brutal.  This test has nothing whatsoever to do with the mappy thing, and I'm not the least bit interested in showing up on a google search.