Saturday, October 27, 2018

The State of Test Prep

Thanks to Google's diabolical news algorithm, my personal news feed includes every article on education, testing, GAT programs, SAT test prep, and any content that includes the words gifted or talented. I accidentally clicked on an article about Nebraska football and was immediately inundated with articles from,, and other sites. So I read about education and the Big Red.

All of the news is bad, and about 80% of articles are inaccurate, misleading, or full of incomplete or faulty logic, even from authors who bill themselves as experienced educators in GT programs. Being a parent who values education makes you Public Enemy Number One. If you want a good education for your child, you are the problem.

The reason you want your child in a gifted program is that the non-gifted program is 2 years behind the rest of the world and teaches your child to not think by subjecting him to spoon feeding and mind numbing worksheets. We can do mind numbing worksheets at home, thank you, if we want to. I know how to read to my child from a math book while he stares into space.

In high density urban environments, education has additional challenges. I'm surrounded by great schools that are 1/3 ELL, 1/3 zero reading at home, and 1/3 really bright kids. Mixed classrooms have been proven superior for gifted children, but only if the teach has the training, support, curriculum, and time to teach 3 levels of material. None of them do, except in well crafted studies. A gifted program is not an option - it is a minimum requirement for pre-college education. In a rural environment where I came from, I'd say the situation is more dire.

Basic parenting

Before I discovered 'optional' programs, I decided that my kids should read a lot and be exposed to a wide variety of what our world has to offer. On a daily basis, they should be subjected to material that is challenging and just above their cognitive grasp, aka something to make them think, aka math. According to current thinking on gifted education, this makes me wealthy and privileged. Our public librarian should have been confused why I visited weekly instead of sending my butler.

After I discovered gifted education, we changed gears a bit. Reading is good education, but 2 years of advanced vocabulary in one gulp is gifted. We stopped doing 'math', and started doing 'math you will not see for 2 more years.'

More advanced parenting

Somewhere along the way, I stopped trying get my child to learn math. I shifted to getting my child to teach themselves math. This dramatic shift in pedagogy came about because of the step I outline below, but it had a dramatic shift on the pace and the nature of the work.

If you want your child to shine on double digit addition, for example, you teach the mechanics of double digit addition, the child practices double digit addition a lot, probably starting with single digit addition and working their way up step by step until their speed and accuracy is there. People are amazed at how someone so young is so fast and accurate at double digit addition and you are very proud.

But if you take a step up to teaching your child to teach themselves math, you have to walk into what I call the Education Disaster Zone. When your child gets the hang of 4 + 5, probably counting on their fingers, you hit them with 23 + 57. They ask 'What is 23? Where is the arithmetic operator that is supposed to be between the 2 and the 3?' They can say 'arithmetic operator' because you have been pummeling them with vocabulary for the last 3 or 4 months. Instead of 20 problem at 30 seconds per problem, they are getting half way through one problem (23 + 57) in 20 minutes, barely getting any of it. As soon as they get 23 + 57, it's on to the next topic.

The child may still be counting on their fingers. 23 fingers is a problem, but whatever. In the meantime, the child just spent 6 months trying to develop the skills needed to handle what I call 'thinking work'. Not memorization (which comes anyway thanks to vocabulary), not speed, not accuracy, but advanced thinking and problem solving skills. 6 to 12 months later, they will emerge with a formidable tool set.

More effective parenting

Thanks to the COGAT, we had to take a 4 month hiatus from math and focus on non-verbal content. It turns out that this material is raw cognitive thinking training. The test prep approach, in retrospect, is muchg more effective and efficient thinking training when combined with supplementary material.

After each test, we came back to math, and it was a lot easier, even with my insane program. No math for 4 months and the child jumps back in, ahead of where they were, working more quickly and with less help. Thanks COGAT. Why don't schools take this approach? Probably because they are stuck with Common Core.

Step up to coaching

The biggest challenge in this approach is getting your child to stay in the game when he's getting trounced by the material. If your child is 'naturally gifted', because you did all of the things you were supposed to do before the age of 3, none of which I did, you may be wondering what problem I'm trying to solve.

The problem is giving your child the education that he deserves, the education that all children deserve but very few will get because, according to my news feed, the whole country is turning against gifted education. Fine - this will make it easier to get into college for DIY's like me who put a bit of effort into At Home Schooling after school each day.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

GAT Games

Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could turn your child into a genius by playing games and doing projects all day? Technically, you can, but none of us are willing to risk it except for home schoolers in Montana.

Here are some of our favorite games. On the way to 99% these games become very competitive high stakes cage matches. These games are fairly age independent and work through different levels of certain cognitive skills. All best practices from previous article apply here.

Find the dinosaur

When my child was between the ages of 2 and 5, we would play this game in lieu of getting to bed on time. Any dollar store or drug store has a pack of animals, dinosaurs, and fish. Get all of them.

Find a messy room. Uncleaned bedrooms are ideal. Ask your child to leave the room and close the door. Hide the animals in plane sight. Invite your child to come back into the room, sit down, and from their vantage point - without moving - identify each animal in their hiding place.

The rules vary at age 2. There's no way you can ask a 2 year old to sit in one place; instead she'll run around the room collecting animals.

GAT Extensions
  • As your child develops visual acuity, hide the animals more carefully so that only a small portion is visible.
  • Close your eyes, and ask your child to describe where and how the animal is hidden, including orientation. Vary the orientation.
  • Invite your child to take a turn hiding the animals for you. When the child is 2, he will hide the animals in the exact same places that you
  • did and jump up and down and dance next to each animal gesturing wildly and laughing while you pretend you don't see the turtle in the exact place you hid the turtle on your turn.
  • Don't forget to wiki each of the animals and use the proper name. Vocabulary is king in cognitive skills.

Over time, you should see the direct result of their growing skill set, the nonverbal section of practice tests.

Find the word

Say a word backwards and ask your child what the word is. For example, is erutinruf is furniture.

One nice thing about this game is that it can be played anywhere, including the car. Another nice thing about this game is that it covers the gamut of cognitive skills from starter skills to very advanced IQ test taking skills. If your child has to sit for the WISC, this is your game. Finally, there are unlimited variants of this game, like anagrams and word scrambles.

If your child is learning phonics, stick with 3 letter words.

If your child is preparing for an IQ test, use a lot of simple 2 syllable words, like schoolbus or subway. There is an important reason for this approach. The path from an IQ of 100 to an IQ of 172 is algorithms, and IQ tests like words, so your child needs to become adept at word algorithms. In this case, the algorithm to solve subloohcs in 1/10th the time is to solve 'sub' and 'loohcs'.

In the absence of algorithms, your child will build working memory. This game is the working memory builder while your child struggles with sbuloohcs slowly and carefully with repeated do overs. It is both enjoyable and painful for me to watch a child plod along with the standard approach.

To make the game more fun, play the game in a public setting where there are posters and signs and billboards and choose a word that your child can find. Your child will be exercising a few important sub-skills while comparing each visible word to the backwards word. Repetition is an opportunity for your child to invent shortcuts.

The only way to get from linear thinking to algorithmic thinking is for you not to tell your child the rule that problem decomposition is 10 times as fast, but make them struggle the hard way (building working memory) until they figure it out for themselves. If your child is 10, and they don't show dramatic improvement in 4 weeks, explain the easier way.

I'm thinking of a color

The rules of this game are simple. You say, 'I'm thinking of something in this room and it's color is green'. Then your child looks around and guesses which green object you are thinking about.

How do you turn this game into a cognitive skills builder? The green object could be a the small plant in a painting on the wall, or the red object could be their lips. Not a bad start. Do these things as well. But no, this will not do.

'I'm thinking of an object that slightly smaller than the previous object but is used by the same profession'. You just nailed both figure matrices and word analogies. If your child has to sit for the COGAT and not the WISC 5, this is your game.


Games are a fun way to pass the time on the march to 99%, but you're not going to get there by playing the average version of games at the average level.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Helping and Not Helping

Shortly, I'm publishing a 2 part how-to for parents who just found out about GAT.  It's not bad.  The bullet points from the first video would make up the table of contents if I ever write a book on how to cheat your way into a GAT program.  We have to reshoot the 2nd video because my 10 year old editor screwed up the audio. I'd help him fix it, but I don't know how to use Premier Pro.

The weird thing about cheating into a GAT program is that if you do it right, your child actually acquires GAT skills. The other way your child can acquire GAT skills is to put them in a GAT program.  In other words, GAT is a self fulfilling prophecy.  If you act like GAT, and walk like GAT, and talk like GAT, you'll end up GAT.    See Amy Cuddy on 'Fake it until you make it' for inspiration.

In my video, I cover coaching skills, including not helping.  This skill needs some elaboration.  For those of you who are thinking 'my child does their grade level or next year's math worksheet on their own with no problems', I'm talking about something insanely hard, age inappropriate, that requires concepts and skills that your child does not have.  Something they actually need help with.

But you're not going to help.

Easier said than done

From a very young age, my kids had daily math.  Someone once told me that Indian and Chinese schools are 2 years ahead in math, so their first math was a 2nd grade workbook in Kindergarten.  It seemed reasonable that if they took long enough on a single question, maybe 25 minutes, they would eventually get it on their own. 

When test prep season rolled around (in one case 2 months before we started doing math), we had to start all over again with figure analogies and classification.  Again, you spend enough time on a single problem, you'll eventually get it.

Why would you spend 25 minutes on a hard problem, when you could spend 25 minutes on 20 easier problems? Wouldn't your child learn 20 times as much doing 20 times the number of problems?    Good questions.  We're not trying to teach the child whatever the subject of the problem is, we're trying to teach them learning skills at the highest level.  Then 6 months later, they can teach themselves.  Or, in the case at hand, they can teach themselves how to do a problem they've never seen before in order to pass a GAT test and get into the desired program.  As I point out in the video, you won't be in the room to help.

What to do instead

So you're sitting there for 25 minutes not helping, your child is struggling (which is good), maybe crying (which is bad), what do you do to pass the time?  You the parent learn problem solving skills, and in the process, convey these to your child.

The first problem solving skill is to understand the question.  That seems obvious until you are faced with a question you don't understand, in which case most people give up and jump to the solving part.  Have the child explain it to you, one shape, one word at a time.

If your child is lacking some skill to put the pieces together - inching toward the solution step - then you need to backtrack on that step.  In math, this is double digit addition for the first time, which is actually multiple steps in one; maybe you need to work on adding numbers that are multiples of ten.  In figure classification, this is brainstorming the names of attributes and seeing which shape or picture has what attribute.  Sometimes it means cutting out shapes and comparing them, or drawing each shape and their 6 potential transforms, then coming back to the problem.

The child will have no idea what you are doing other than prolonging the question until the light bulb goes off.

Then the child gets the problem wrong and you don't care.  You carefully chose material beyond their abilities for this exercise.  Of course they got it wrong.  Start over.  There's no penalty.

What you accomplished

You child just mastered zero math.   They 'learned' nothing and if you show them the exact same problem tomorrow they'll be stuck again and get it wrong.

In fact, they just unlearned.  They unlearned that quantity is quality, that getting an incorrect answer is bad, that mommy loves you because you know something.  They unlearned going fast, memorizing, caring about the material.

Instead, the child just spent 25 minutes learning how to go slow, to look at details, to decompose a problem, to investigate a problem thoroughly, maybe taking a sidebar on sub-skills.  These are very advanced graduate level foundational problem solving skills.  In other words, we're teaching the child how to be gifted and talented.  The gift is going slow, and the talent is not giving up.

Are there shortcuts?

Suppose your child has to take a cognitive skills test in 2 weeks.  You've done nothing up to this point to prepare.  Will the approach above prepare your child for the GAT test, or do you want to teach them how to transform shapes and worry about learning after the test?

These tests are not designed to measure how much your child knows.  They are designed to measure how they go about learning and problem solving.  These tests are really well designed to meet this objective.  On the hardest questions, the ones that lift the score above the cutoff, prior knowledge and practice is not going to help.  The only thing that will help your child is the learning skills.