Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Key To GAT

I'm not sure I can live up to the bold title I chose for today's article, but I was pretty inspired by my last article, so I took my own advice last weekend.  Like most of my articles, you have to read it twice to find the good advice because I bury it in off track commentary.

My kids are in a GAT program and doing well because I gave them material that they couldn't do and stopped answering their questions.  In the case of the first one, it was 2nd grade math at age 5, which was the introduction to both of us of academic work at home.   With the younger one it was Shape Size Color Count in Pre-K.

Does this sound drastic?  Their school day is filled with projects, plays, and self directed time.  The older boys like to use the self directed time to gang up on unsuspecting victims of network video games because they hacked into the school network and outsmarted the security system that is supposed to prevent this.  Last year, they used 6 different math books, none for very long.  I had a hard time figuring out what was going on.  In other words, it looks like the GAT program doesn't bother to teach anyone anything because this would just bore self learners.  So I was right.

I remember the point in which I officially just gave up trying to teach advanced math to a kid who couldn't even do grade level math adequately.  It was that point when we started to make real progress.  I didn't give up assigning advanced math, just expecting anyone to actually get it.

So I'm doing it all over again.  What follows might sound shockingly insane to parents of 4 year olds.  Parents of older kids will know that it's shockly insane, but it works. Instead of bothering to teach math at all, I just taught kids how to learn.  Here's a bunch of concepts that you have no clue what any of it means nor how to do it, and over the next few weeks (or more - whatever it takes) we're going to do this. In other words, if you take my advice and start doing math at home, I feel your pain because I'm in the same boat.

The other thing I did and am doing right now is to go to IXL and Khan Academy when we come across new math concepts that we skipped and that is causing mistakes.  I've got a few other work books (maybe a hundred, but one decent grade level workbook is usually good enough) that I'll read through just so I know what makes up math curriculum for each grade.  I think both of these sites have matured to the point where the workbook might not be necessary.   IXL has a great table of contents for this purpose.  It's harder with Khan Academy but if you start with lesson 1 of some grade and just keep going, you'll find out where your kid is stuck.

Last weekend, the 6th grader and I started calculus.  A lesson on Saturday to deal with derivatives and a lesson on Sunday to deal with integrals.  I think this is about the 5th or 6th time we've tried something like this and I'm finally at the point as a parent where it goes smoothly.   When he was crying his way through 2nd grade math (this was before I learned not to care whether he was getting it, which he didn't), you would have pointed out that he was not only NOT gifted, he was probably behind grade level.  Sunday night, I asked him to explain to me what the field of calculus is all about.   He gave me a pretty good explanation, but I didn't bother to tell him that the ability to find the slope of a curve or derive the equation of a curve from the equation of the slope turns out to be tools to solve much higher order problems.  He's 12, after all, and is not particularly fond of a field that he's so good at.  I'll wait until he's 13 to break the news.

The 8 year old is much more stubborn.  He kept trying to solve algebraic polynomial equations by staring at them and iterating between possible values of x until he narrowed it down to the answer.   So it took a whole week to get Mr. Stubborn to try transformations, which he kept screwing up.   He would transform an equation in the wrong direction until it was too complicated, and make mistakes every single time.   4 problems from Khan did the trick, although we had to do the 4 problems twice, and then 4 more problems.  It was really hard for me not to teach him the rules of transformation.  He'll learn these himself, and in the process learn something about learning.

If I cared that either of them would actually master a math topic, I'm convinced neither of them would master anything.  But if they learn how to learn because I'm not helping (other than finding supplemental exercises on IXL or Khan to close gaps), they are going to master a lot more than math.  

So what does it mean to be in GAT?  For that matter, what does it mean to score at the top on the ITBS, the COGAT, the MAP test?

Have you ever met a parent who's kid not only plays little league baseball, but practices daily with their child, and put the child on 3 traveling teams?  Yes, I said 3 travelling team.  I know these parents.  I know parents of little gymnasts who not only do the same thing but spend a lot more money doing it.  Well, GAT is almost nothing more than a kid who spends a lot of time in the academic gym. GAT is the travelling team of academics.  

I once asked a travelling team parent how we could improve our baseball skills and he lectured me on all sorts of clever ways.  "Get squishy balls and a plastic bat, go into the basement, and throw the squish balls at your little batter as hard as you can.  Repeat nightly."  I never thought of that.  And I never bothered to do it, or visit batting cages each weekend or much of anything else in baseball.  The bit more of GAT beyond spending time in the academic gym is doing insane things others don't, and the insane things including letting the child struggle with their work without helping and giving them work they can't do. Travelling team dads also throw hard balls outside at their kid as hard and fast as they can. I do the same thing with math, and vocabulary, and occasionally reading. Usually not reading, because I don't want a kid who hates to read because he has to read a book I chose, but I always do it with math.

The MAP test is our favorite travelling team.  Each question a child answers correctly is followed by a question for the next grade level.  I think it stops at trigonometry, but we're a few points shy of 99 right now, which is why we're looking at calculus.

I think for both the MAP and possibly the ITBS, grade level + 2 is required to score consistently beyond 95%. I have evidence that a child doesn't actually have to be good at grade level + 2 to get there.  A child can master grade level + 2 once, as in one single year, but if the child doesn't master learning this pace will not be sustainable and scores will eventually plummet.

In 2nd and 3rd grade, we took off school math and delved into Test Prep Math. The learning skills in this book are formidable and I don't think further training is on core learning skills is necessary.  In prior articles, I reported the research that proved teaching high school geometry to 8th graders results in a poorer performance in math during high school.  I think this research has one shortcoming that I'll discuss later.  I'm now looking 6 years down the road and see a shot at AB Calculus by freshman year.


  1. So I have a few questions as I tackle these methods with my child.... First, I'm struggling with this concept of a child making mistakes. I think the idea is great, I understand we learn well when we make mistakes--but how do I help my child learn from it when a mistake is made? Do I point out the error? Do I just move on the to the next worksheet? If I point out the error, how do I handle it? Tell the child it's wrong and to reread the directions and figure out why it's wrong on his own (that's kind of what I've been trying to do)? I don't know how a child will learn from the mistakes if I don't tell him it's wrong....

    Second, when your child is doing the worksheets and is crying from sheer frustration, what do you say? Can you write up an example of a dialogue you might have? I try to act baffled but sometimes it only gets me so far--especially when my kid is really really stuck on a problem.... Maybe my poker face is bad, though.

    Thank you for your help. I can see some of the tips we are following from you are already helping my child become a more independent learner.... This morning was the first time we haven't had 20 minutes of crying prior to rereading the question a second time. That's a win. But this seems like a deadly slow process, and I am trying to keep the faith. Maybe I need a support group, ha ha. :)

    1. I have released my Policy Statement on Mistakes in today's article. It's not exactly in the order needed to answer your question properly because I think of mistakes differently, but if you read it twice the answer is there. Note that the mistake begins the dialog on the problem and not just 'Do it over' until the kid is ready for 'Do it over'. Also, I found the crying ends on its own so I never bother to describe clever ways to avoid the crying.

  2. I've been there with every child under the age of 8. I used to resolve myself that the first 6 weeks is the crying stage, but it doesn't have to be that way. I'm going to give this a lot of thought before I respond formally.