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.

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