Saturday, November 4, 2017

Practice, Training, and Learning

A few weeks ago, I re-reviewed the COGAT practice tests.  Then I pondered how different practice is from cognitive skills development.   I've been pondering ever since.

My goal for the period leading up to the test is to increase a child academic, cognitive, and problem solving skills.  There's very little difference between these skill sets.  The only academic skill that is not on the list of cognitive skills and problem solving skills is how to survive a 50 minute math class when you figured out next month's chapter in the first 60 seconds of class.

The first rule of cognitive skills development is that it's not going to happen if the child sits down and does more than 1 problem.  This is impossible for most situations, so the next best thing is a few problems for decoration surrounding 1 problem that will result in cognitive development.

The second rule is that if the child knows the rules, recognizes the problem format and knows what to do, then no cognitive development is going to take place.  Think about that.  I'm going to great lengths to make a problem confusing and hide that it's really just a plain old boring math problem, except when it's not a plain old boring math problem.

My absolute favorite conversation to have with kids goes like this:  "Mr. Math Guy, what does this mean?"  You tell me.  "I don't understand it."  Then explain it to me.  "How can I explain it to you?"  Read it again.  "Read it and still don't get it."  Then tell me what the first word means.  "Really?"  I've got all day.

The conversation works better if you use a 1970's Clint Eastwood western accent.  When this conversation happens, we're on the verge of a cognitive explosion and this kid is not just going to learn math, they are going to learn 5 or 6 really powerful life changing skills.  I'm currently working on suggested content for these kids when I get mentioned in Nobel Prize speeches.

The third rule is that you can't tell the child anything.  Telling is the opposite of learning.  This is really hard to do when the kid starts at square one so feel free to cheat a little.

The fourth through nth rule (for lack of time) is that you can't hurry, mistakes are required, you're going to end up on tangents, and any time your child gets anywhere near the Big Five problem solving skills, clear the decks and do not, under any conditions, do another problem after that because you may ruin the whole experience. You can't use a Big Five if you have a whole bunch of work to do, and I don't trust either child or parent to live in the moment and make it a life lesson if you follow up using one of these skills with more problems.

Of course, you can't do any of this 2 weeks before the test by zooming through practice tests.  Plus, practice tests are nowhere near as hard as the convoluted knot that is in Test Prep Math.  (Reading comp skills are an added bonus.)

So far, I've directly addressed the problem wherein the child does not have skills, by prepending easier problems.  I've addressed the problem wherein the parent does not have any skills by adding direction.  I've addressed the problem of what do you do if you end up with a braniac (section 2) I've addressed the problem with children who have unusual skill gaps but are competent in other areas (section 3).

The problem I'm working on now is children who are highly trained in math, like after school or weekend managed math program, and don't need the problem solving skills.

This is a pending disaster.  It's my worst nightmare and keeping me up at night thinking new problems.  I put my contact information right in Test Prep Math.  If anyone has any questions or problems, I get a call and the clock starts ticking on me fixing it.  I didn't get any calls for 12 months, other than 'great book, my son thinks your book is not lame' or 'great book, my daughter loves math now' but in the last 2 months, I've a few calls like "my son is already in the 99th percentile in math but can't pass the COGAT".  The culprit appears to be Level One and Mathasium.  I don't think it's the extra math.  These aren't bad programs.  The culprit is that being really great at math precludes the need for high level cognitive skills, the skills that are so important we should probably form a cult around them.  The COGAT, on the other hand is remedial math heavy on extra problem solving skills.  There's a disconnect.  It looks like managed math programs take a short cut and just teach and practicing math, then hard math, then really advanced hard math.  No skills required.   Then there is an add-on program for test prep skills, but it's too late.  The damage is done.  This is not going to end well.

I'm on the case.

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