Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Summer of Awesomeness

Every year I eagerly wait for summer so we can plow ahead with some awesome academic work while the rest of the country goes to soccer camp.  (For those of you who need soccer camp because you both work, our summer work is about 45 minutes each day so you have no excuse.)

I used to speculate that my average, normal, rotten kids were average, normal and rotten.  Since then I've had the opportunity to coach a lot of kids because their parents were struggling to build an At Home curriculum to supplement school (aka the place where learning dies), usually because they were doing Test Prep Math and wondering how it is possible to actually do it.

Every one of these kids I've coached, every single one, is way smarter than my children and every coaching session was ridiculously easy compared to my experience at home when we were getting started.

I realize that summer is also test prep season for many readers.   Some of the things listed below are related to the COGAT, but most to the ITBS or MAP test. We don't face a high stakes test again until May of 2018, and it is the MAP.

In each case, if you watched us starting out on a new project, you would think we had no business doing it and my kids should just learn a trade like plumbing and forego college, but I can assure you that plumbing is a very technical field with some brilliant workers, so I think we're stuck with college, and then graduate school, and probably post-doc.

Most of my summer efforts involve putting together an Over The Top Reading Program of books that are so good I read them as well.  While this may be the most important part of every summer, it's also the most boring for me to write about so I won't.

When we started Every Day Math 2nd Grade at age 5, my first child was barely adequate at Kindergarten math.   Sometimes a single problem would take 2 days. After the first week, we got through 1 page, and I had to get a 1st grade book to help out.   He mainly got it wrong.  9 months later, he was zipping along in the 2nd Student Journal and we called it quits because the challenge was gone.

This is the single most important lesson I have learned as a parent and academic coach, and it characterizes everything else we've ever done.

After 3rd grade, I subjected him to the my working draft of Test Prep Math Level 3.  His grades were pretty bad and his test scores were falling.   He would spend 1/2 hour reading the problem and yell at me because I was making him think.   Then we both learned to take our time (probably more me than him) and his progress picked up and the arguing stopped.  2nd most important lesson I've ever learned.

The 2nd child was subject to Shape Size Color Count at age 3 and 4, not to mention Test Prep Phonics (only phonics book written by an engineer) and 1st grade math and EDM 2nd grade went quickly with little to no involvement from me.  He also benefited from a summer of test prep where we did Building Thinking Skills through the 4-6 Grade version.   I recommend Building Thinking Skills a lot, because there's not much else to choose from, but I think it targets the average.  If anyone is thinking 'oh no, my child doesn't find it easy' then read the paragraph above on EDM because I have a whole different approach to what is easy and what is hard, and different expectations for the outcome.

After I got the kids past the basic skills, our summers have really taken off.  As a reminder, the basic skills are: be comfortable not knowing what the heck you are doing, read the question as many times as it takes to understand it, make lots of mistakes, and build working memory while you juggle a bunch of new vocabulary words and try to figure out a problem at the same time.  Plus go slow. And always have zero expectations so you aren't disappointed.

Here are some examples to inspire you:

  1. Last summer, we discovered that our inability to do competitive math didn't actually preclude doing competitive math.  So we've been printing 5th through 8th grade released tests and doing them.   You may watch my 8 year old do this and wonder why we bother, but read the paragraph above again about our first experience with EDM and you'll see why an 8 year old is now crushing 8th grade competitive math tests.
  2. I bought an SAT test prep math book a few years ago as a follow up to TPM.  Those first few questions were a disaster.   The summer after 5th grade, some of the math practice tests were finished.  This year, we turned our attention to the reading comprehension questions after finishing all of the math tests in both books.
  3. The summer after 5th grade, we decided to try the 8th grade math book in the hopes of getting it out of the way early.  The first few weeks were nothing but frustration and dashed hopes for me.  You'd think a dad who calls his home 'Math House' would have sons who like math.  By the end of the summer, we only completed half of it and had to continue through November to finish.  Lesson 3 - summer projects may continue past summer.
  4. I followed up 8th grade math with Algebra, which was painful, and Trig, which went really well because his insane Chemistry teacher taught the kids the basics of trig with right triangles, and all I had to do was the advanced part.
  5. We've done writing projects, as in you've got 30 minutes to write something impressive on this topic, but neither of us can stay motivated because his writing assignments are generally really good during the year.  It's just in math that schools can't seem to get their act together.  But a kid who did 6 essays in the summer is a kid who did 6 more essays than any other kid.
Every few years I think about letting my kids take off math entirely.  This year my older child reminded me that I have done this in the past, so I gave him a high school Chemistry book.  The table of contents are posted on the refrigerator. His "math" is to take a section, explain it to me, and then complete some of a test that I find online concerning the topic at hand.  This is the first time since EDM that things didn't start out on a disappointing note.  High school chemistry books are spoon-feeding compared to TPM.   Maybe I should have gotten the AP version.  I'm pretty excited about this summer project regardless.  

I'm also posting vocabulary words 100 at a time on the refrigerator.  This hearkens back to the days when we did this for Test Prep Phonics and Vocabulary Workshop.  I'm getting these from the SAT books.  There are about 20 new words per page in the SAT book that are new to a 12 year old.  Anything up there after 2 weeks that isn't crossed out is a word that he'll never care about, so we move on.

The 3rd grade child is a problem.   We can't do competitive math forever. I tried his older brothers 8th grade math books, and he could do it, but he doesn't have the maturity to know what he is doing.  I bought him his own SAT book, and he can do it, but it seems pointless.  He learned some algebra but doesn't have the maturity to really appreciate it.  We did some html, css, and java script, but he's more interested in marketing his stupid you tube channel with his website than learning how to program.

I told the 3rd grader that we're not going to look at math again until he's finished with 4th grade, and the heck with his grades and test scores.   4th grade math just teaches a child how not to think anyway.   So this summer, he's going to be writing.  It will probably be marketing copy, but it will at least be writing.


  1. How does your 3rd grader write? You give him a topic and he writes or uses any workbook?

    1. I announce the topic and give him a chance to come up with his own, better topic, instead of doing mine. Then I ask for a certain number of well crafted, intelligent sounding sentences that use proper grammar. He demands to do his work on the computer in order to use spell check.

      I've found over time that the best way to do this is to let him write 5 or more sentences, and then go through each one and recraft it until I'm happy. I'm usually asking questions about better words or making suggestions. I've noticed a small impact in this school homework folder by just letting him write, but a huge impact in his homework folder from times when I'm contributing a lot, even if I'm dictating better sentences for him to replace his crud. I"m all about not helping or spoon feeding, so this was not expected. I've decided that with writing and vocabulary, and even reading, I'll give him one shot and then spoon feed with a fire hose. In math, his math book could be on fire and I won't even sneeze on it. Maybe I'll add gasonline. I need to figure this one out. It seems in writing, the more I help, the better his writing gets. Maybe all that reading trained half of the brain to learn by watching.

    2. Any writing workbook recommendation for a lazy parent or busy during summer? I was thinking about finding writing prompts my child can pick from daily, or use any workbook that you can learn to write sentences using proper grammar.