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 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.