Sunday, July 29, 2018

Goal Effort Outcome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next we went to this list.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Pace of GAT

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

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

Here's the skill

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

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

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

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

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

Here's how to teach the skill

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

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

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

The pace of GAT

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

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

The short cut

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

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

The pay off

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

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

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

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The GAT Calculator

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

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

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

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

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

Topic Max Enter Value Age Impact Score
Total Score
GAT Percentile

A Child's Education

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

Outsourcers

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

Sports

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

After School Math Programs

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

Activities

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

Readers

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

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

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

The PhD Crowd

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

Putting it Altogether

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

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

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