Saturday, March 2, 2019

GAT & Sports

Is it appropriate to pursue a sport, and if so, at what age? At your age, you need to be active, but what about a 6 year old? Since the release of test scores in Chicago is a few weeks away, and we're all totally stressed out, let's talk about sports.

Sports is a complicated question. At a macro level, the data aren't helpful at all. Macro data is rolled up statistics that cognitive and education researchers look at. Using macro data is why their research is so bad and should just be burned. Micro research is a single child, and generally clear. Macro-micro data is a sample size of about 1,000 data points, but behind each data point is an actual child with parents. Once education researchers get out of their office and meet actual children, we can finally fix all the problems in education, which they caused.

Macro-Micro data

There is no correlation between sports before middle school and academic success. In every program from a sub-par neighborhood elementary school to the top GAT program in the country, there are kids who do sports 30 hours a week and kids who don't do sports at all. In this range, the kids randomly fit different academic profiles and have test scores anywhere between 50% and 99%. I rarely work with kids below 50%, but it appears to be randomly distributed there as well.

For an individual child, academic success depends on art, reading, science projects, cognitive skills, and a home that values education. These are easy to correlate and make nice graphs. A 5 year old who is driven from one hockey game to the next who sits in the back seat reading Chaucer is going to do well in school. Data on sports participation is irrelevant to predicting academic success.

There are a few exceptions wherein Macro-Micro data is helpful. Parents who are totally into their children's sports, enjoy winning, send their child to sports clinics to develop 'technique', and sign up for traveling teams are going to produce a kid 2 years behind by high school with a probability of about 98%. In 2% of the cases, the child quits and hates their parents. When my children were young, the sports culture was rampant at nearby schools, so I made a concerted effort to avoid sports early on, and it was the correct decision. All I knew about GAT at the time was that it was rare, so I only did the opposite of what everyone else did until I figured it out.

It's heartbreaking to watch kids get to high school after a career of team sports. If I were in charge of public policy for the US, I would ban sports before middle school and remove all sports teams from schools at any level. Personally, I'm probably at the 97 or 98% in sports (effort and time, not skill or ability). Clubs, park districts, city sports would be great. But until schools actually succeed at academics, they have no business being distracted by sports.

Micro first principles

Let's run through the guide of parent decision making. The part of your child's brain dedicated to decision making will be completely formed at a age 25, so if you ponder letting your child make their own decisions, think again. The part of your child's brain in charge of knowing cause and effect outcomes over a 30 year period will be fully developed by the time they have grandchildren, so again, you're going to have to step up and do some life coaching.

  • Principle #1
    Academic success depends on reading, art, math, social skills, music, and being active.
    This sounds like the definition of 'well rounded', but it's really just the list of prerequisites of academic success. It's hard to concentrate for 6 straight hours on a boring science lab if you're not in fairly good shape.
  • Principle #2
    All of these activities are fun until the parent cares. Then it's just work.
    I've got a son with 2 or 3 good friends who love little league. They stink at baseball and sit on the bench a lot. They also enjoy a variety of other sports that they also stink at. But they're active, participate, win the good-attitude awards.
    In addition to making it known that I personally think baseball is a waste of time and sports are stupid, I make sure they sign up, go to the games, am totally overwhelmed with joy when my son doesn't drop the ball, and occasionally sneak into the race line to talk pre-game smack.
    If I applied my preferences, we'd train for Iron Man competition or full contact fighting. But for my child's development, I think the social skills of low calorie burning activities like baseball are more important.
  • Principle #3
    Sports is not limited to organized team sports at the park district or school. You can take 6 mile walks (which I like to announce as the day's death march) and 50 mile bike rides at an inappropriate age. This winter in Chicago, it was negative eleven degrees, so naturally we had to take a 3 mile walk on that day.
    Would you be happy if your child was at the 50% in academics? Of course not. That's the reason why your child doesn't do what everyone else does, like play video games all day. In the same way, you need to look beyond what other kids are doing in sports and think creatively.
  • Principle #4
    If your child has a slow metabolism and likes to eat your Doritos while you're trying to teach him advanced math, you need sports. This is why I invented Principle #3. Similarly, if you are falling behind on other areas of personal growth, like art, you need to step up your game there as well.
  • Principle #6
    If you overdo any activity by pushing the child too much, they will learn to hate it and likely not do it ever again once they are old enough. Don't ruin sports. Sports is something that can be important in high school, college, and especially after college so don't ruin it early.
  • Principle #7
    No, I don't see a contradiction at all between walking 4 miles a day every day and not over doing it, so stop thinking that. I'm not raising butter beans.
  • Principle #8
    Whatever activity that your child does, they are going to want to quit at some point. Wanting to quit is a characteristic of children under the age of 15. There is a brain lobe in charge of wanting to quit that is slowly replaced by the brain lobe in charge of decision making. Don't let them. But you don't need to do anything organized 12 months a year, and you don't need to do 3 sports when 1 will do, and you don't need to sign up for basketball camp in the summer just because your child plays basketball in the winter. Sign up for something else.

The final word

There is no strong correlation between sports and future academic success. But there is a strong correlation between reading or music and future academic success. There is an even stronger correlation between how many correct answers your child gets above the 99% on the MAP test and future academic success. And there are only so many hours in a week.

Put these things together and the decision is obvious. You need sports for basic health and social skills that round out the last check boxes on a college application, but you don't need it right away, and you don't need a lot of it.

Does your child like soccer? Then do it. Do you like to sit at a little league game with other parents? Then do it. Is your child chubby because they spend too much time programming? Demand it. Otherwise, don't worry about it.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Taking the SAT at age 4

In this article, I'm going to link our work on the COGAT at age 4 to the work on the SAT 6 or 7 years later. It's identical.

Did I say SAT at age 4?

We've kicked off SAT practice. I'm struck at the continuum of learning between age 4 COGAT practice and age 10 SAT practice. If you consider our other insane activities like Every Day Math grade 2 in Kindergarten or accelerated vocabulary up to 2nd grade, you'll appreciate the doable-ness of the latest experiment. No, it's not age 4, but it's the exact same experience all over again. In this learning continuum, I don't really see anything new developing at the base of the skills pyramid. It's quite surprising that the subskills are the same as well, they just morph with changes in topics.

Our approach

You will find a PDF of Practice Test #1 on the college board website. On page #38, the math test begins. The reading tests can wait until a less age-inappropriate age. We started with question 1, and here we are a month later on question #15. We did questions #12 through #15 last weekend, and did them again yesterday; my son did not recognize the material from the prior week. Last night, after a few hours, I think I figured out how a child is supposed to do question #15 in a reasonable amount of time, but I'm still stuck. We tried question #15 7 times and failed 7 times.

So far, our success rate on all questions is about 25%, and we're averaging about 20 minutes per question. You don't get this experience in school, in an after school program, or with a tutor. Flying along on a worksheet of doable problems bypasses a variety of learning experiences.

The first few weeks of math or reading or COGAT test prep with most children seems like a futile exercise, especially if they are not ready, which is the best time to start. What do I hope to accomplish?

What I hope to accomplish

I've done this type of thing many times, and this will be the second time I've gone through the SAT with a child who is the wrong age. I know exactly what to expect.

  • I expect to take off time to study things that we need to know but don't. In the case of the SAT, it's pre-algebra. In the case of the COGAT, it was studying shapes and shape transformations. In the case of EDM Grade 2, it was how to subtract.
  • I expect the pace to pick up slowly between now and the end of 6th grade. We'll never get to the point where the child can do all 15 or 30 problems from one section of the SAT in the time allowed. We'll probably get up to 5 problems in on 30 to 60 minute sitting with a score of 60%, 80%, or occasionally 100%.
  • By next year, we'll be taking some time off to cover Geometry theorems or basic trigonometry.
  • During this process, my child will start to learn shortcuts. What is the objective of math, after all, but highly refined cheating? Sometimes he'll just plug in the answers and prove to me that this is the best approach. I'm more impressed when he shows me that if you look at the problem the right way, not the equationy way, the answer is obvious.
  • Finally, I expect him to sit for the actual SAT, and despite never having done more than 5 problems in one sitting, make a fairly good show. It's amusing to see a 12 year old standing in line with a bunch of high school juniors. I have mixed feelings when the same 12 year old scores in the top 3rd of college bound juniors.
Counter Intuitive Pedagogy

I have a hard time convincing the Kumon crowd that my way is better. After all, if you drill your child daily on grade level or grade level + 1 math, your child is going to do pretty well. During 2nd through 3rd grade, we took the Test Prep Math approach (see the curriculum page) and avoided routine math and worksheets at all costs. I can't argue that our 99% is better than your 99%. I can argue that spending most of our time developing cognitive skills is much more valuable than mastering math concepts, but most people don't get it. How can I promise that the best way to academic success is to avoid arithmetic in favor of confusion and mistakes?

If you are just starting out, I just gave you a glimpse of the future. If you're beyond the COGAT, join the fun on my other website www.competitiveparentmagazine.com. The current issue is philosophy, which is a 4 year project in the works.

If you have any insight on question #15 from section 3 in practice test #1, feel free to share. We're stuck. If (ax + 2)(bx + 7) = 15x2 +cx + 14 for all values of x, and a + b = 8, what are the two possible values for c? I can see what's happening mathematically, but I can't see how a high school junior is supposed to address this quickly without the brute force approach. Otherwise, I'm going to sit this question aside on the watch list for another shot in 6 months. There are, of course, answers on the college board website, but I'm more interested in the learning process than the knowing process, so don't look there. That's cheating.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Cognitive Load Theory

Here is the COGAT in a nutshell. It is the direct application of Cognitive Load Theory under the guise that children with a learned aptitude for academic material generated the ability to handle cognitive load.

Start with this quote I found in this article on the website theemotionallearner.com. It's a great website if you're in to that sort of thing. The quote is in a brief summary of Cognitive Load Theory (CLT). I wish I spent more time researching CLT, but researchers are really frustrating. More on that later.

Complex novel elements will overload working memory, so the complexity of a task needs to be pitched at the right level. As new information is incorporated into [long term memory] and new cognitive schemas arise, it leads to less load on cognitive resources and the level of complexity can increase.

The way cognitive skills tests measure cognitive skills, aka aptitude for academic work of all kinds, is to present never before seen novel tasks which are complicated. Complexity is defined by multiple relationships at once. The "right level" is the level way beyond the one your child can achieve with success in a reasonable amount of time. Long term memory is not in the picture in one test sitting, so it's all working memory on the COGAT.

Minor Implications

The classic way to beat the COGAT is to practice COGAT type questions, taking the 'novel' out of the equation. The classical approach is good for about a score of 85% to 90%.

The superior approach is to feed your child a steady stream of overly complicated working memory taxing exercises - regardless of the similarity to an actual COGAT question. This approach is good for 90% after just 6 weeks. Imagine what you could do with 12 weeks.

Wondering whether or not an activity or toy or game will help prepare your child for academic success? How complicated is it, how many things are happening at once, and how many skills does your child have to develop in order to finish the task? In general, the longer it takes, the closer the task is to the desirable mix of attributes. Bonus points for an activity that is fun enough to keep your child's interest while the skills are developed.

For example, is piano more desirable than the clarinet? Certainly at age 4, because the clarinet is way beyond the piano. The piano has 2 hands and two staffs. The clarinet is 2 hands, the mouth, cheeks, tongue, the tips of 10 fingers stretched in a way to create squeaks; none of these body parts are developed enough at age 4. Feel free to complain below about my bold assertion. Both of these rank below reading, which has at least 62 things going on at once. That is why reading comp is such good preparation, and why math in word problem format is 10 times as powerful as math in equation form. Is gymnastics better than soccer? It is if it's more interesting to your child. Like the clarinet, there are dozens of activities that are wonderful in later ages that parents push their children into at age 3 or 4.

The major implication

If you provide your child a steady stream of qualified activities, their working memory becomes a powerful weapon, and they will develop a host of sub-skills to deal with complicated tasks.

I accidentally discovered that the transition from working memory to long term memory starts at about 3 (mostly painful) weeks and eventually the child grows the capacity to instantly store items in long term memory that should meander close to the event horizon of their working memory. Short term memory is a brief sorting area for things that are sucked into working memory and things that are worth discarding, like the term 'trapezoid' which never seems to make it.

At some point, you reach the limit of the skill set of the child - not in their actual skill set, but in the material that is suitable to throw at the child. How many gladiators does the coliseum lion need to eat before he's bored? Not many.

In my ongoing series of diabolical experiments, none were as effective as those performed at the beginning of reading and math, where CAT took 3 weeks, as did the first page of Every Day Math . Both were Herculean tasks of brain growth.

Then I discovered fields, like trigonometry, chemistry, and philosophy. In throwing these at the child at an inappropriate age, and once they get beyond the phase of the minor implications of CLT, there is no such thing as an inappropriate age, I observed a whole new dynamic in cognitive skill develpment.

When you throw an entire field at your child in a short period of time (like one sitting), the process of understanding material and transitioning it to long term memory is too much. Instead of taking bits and pieces, which at first glance is what you think you might observe, the child lays the foundation for the next pass. I call this effect 'bucketing'. The child creates brain buckets for the material. It looks like they are not learning, but when they eventually see this material in class, it's all 'Ah ha!' instead of 'What?'.

For this reason, I'm transitioning from 'how to cheat your way into a gifted program' on this website to 'how to cheat your way through high school AP courses' on the next website.

A note on research

If you read the article linked above, you will see 'objective measures of cognitive load are difficult to obtain'. This makes me wonder, yet again, how much time these researchers spend with actual children. You just have to look. It usually occurs at the 15 minute mark with newby's and the 25 minute mark with advanced children. They heave a heavy sigh after reading a question for the 13th time, missing words like 'three' that are in plain sight. Researchers need to look for 'cognitive exhaustion' and measure performance up to that point, and they will have their proxy for cognitive load.