Issue #6

In this issue, I'm taking on competitive math for no reason, creating an award winning college resume 4-7 years in advance, and cramming for tests...
Issue #6
We're back to daily At Home Schooling, and it's not only going well, but everybody appears to be having fun. This week we had the last big test before high school. I think everything went fine, but we have 4 months to think about thinks that could have gone wrong.
From the Editor
I made it to issue #6.

In 2011, I started a blog under the rough heading of how I was going to cheat my child into a GAT program, not merely passing the entrance exam, but showing up ready to compete. I had an entire year of writing before the blog was discovered, which gave me the luxury of a series of failed experiments that I have since retracted.

This blog is no different. I've got an 8th grader paving the way; fortunately he wants to go to a selective enrollment school that has some room in the final score. I've got an arsenal of methodology and pedagogy to help, plans B, C, D and E if needed, and a second child to benefit from our experience.

Math Competition

We're going to enroll in competitive math this year. It's not so much competing in math as it is practicing timed tests. As you know, tests are everything...

Math Competition

We've been doing daily math now for almost 6.5 years. When I say 'daily', I mean a few times a week, but always on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, because the iron clad rule in the house is 'No math, no computer.' When I say 'math', I might assign reading comprehension or programming. Regardless, this has resulted in a lot of math. We started dabbling in competitive math material in 2nd grade because there's no point in going ahead in academic math until after pre-algebra. Going ahead in long division just makes a kid dumber.

The mother of one of the new kids in school teaches math. She suggested we get a 5th grade team together and enroll in an upcoming competition. What a great idea. Unfortunately, she also suggested that one of our teachers lead the effort. This is a non-starter; why would anybody want to work on the weekends? In lieu of the team effort, we signing up for the Math Kangaroo competition in March, 2019.


In third grade we attempted Math Leads for Mathletes. The book is described as best suited for advanced fourth and fifth graders as well as for extremely talented third graders or for anyone preparing for AMC 8 or similar mathematics contests. I would describe it as 'insanely hard', even by my standards. We had little luck with the book in 3rd grade, even though we knocked off algebra and trig the next year. I knew we were in trouble when the term 20482048 appeared in a problem.

We are currently plodding through the problems on Not only does this website have a name based on a lame pun, but it has good problems. We are doing the problems in order and are up to #6. You may notice heavy doses of algebra and trig. My little competitor ignores the algebra and solves the problem anyway, and trig at this level boils down to a few simple equations which I can explain in an afternoon. So don't be put off by the subject matter. So what if it takes us 20 minutes to get through a single problem?

We're going to take another shot at the Mathletes book. The challenge is that each problem takes about 45 minutes if done properly. I suppose that I could figure out a way to speed things up, but math is the opposite of speed.

Plan B

As I mentioned, Kangaroo Math has a competition on March 21, 2019, so we're signing up. My son complained in a very high whiny voice, with a pitch only achievable by someone with a promising math career, the kind that dogs can hear, saying 'I'm not going to a math competition for 13 year olds!'. It's for all ages. He's going.

It turns out that there are other competition available in the Chicago area, including MathCON (another great name). We'll have to do all of them.

How to Win

In addition to a variety of math skills, the little competitor would benefit from calculating quickly and accurately. We do some of that in school, but never at home. Speed and accuracy are the enemy of real math, and I'm not going to do anything to jeopardize graduate school, where the ability to regurgitate learned behavior and apply formulas are a prescription for failure. A child who practices math facts today is the employee of tomorrow.

Nonetheless, taking a timed test is good practice. We'll have to overcome deficits in calculation skills by clever problem solving so we're doubling up on clever problem solving. I'd like to say I wrote the book on problem solving for this age, but I didn't write it yet. I spell it out on my other blog, but it's not a book. If you want the book, see Poyla's 'How to Solve It' and reduce it to the level of a 10 year old.

A week into this, we've switched over to released tests from some of the competitions. The problems are much higher quality. We learned a new problem solving skill! That makes 6. One of the math comp sites actually listed Poyla's problems solving techniques on their website, but only 4 of them, and not the most powerful of all, and certainly not the new strategy 6.

Competitive math is the only category of childhood where every participant is a winner. Someday, they'll all be sitting for multiple high school entrance exams, the PSAT, the SAT and the GRE. Competitive math tests are good practice. I don't draw any correlations between standing in the outfield at a little league game and future success in anything. But doing 22 out of 45 problems in math competition under time pressure is good practice for lots of things.

Spider Man and the Bible

Our reading program started with the bible and meandered to philosophy and other types of literature. Then I read this article about Stan Lee and we're changing back...

Spider Man and the Bible

Somewhere around issue #2 I outlined our 8th grade writing program. My idea was to start with Jewish scriptures because it captures all of the foundational themes of western literature, is the basis for democracy, and provides a lot of great life lessons for a teenager. We're not Jewish and this reading program requires extra effort. We strayed from the course.

Recently, this article about Stan Lee came across my news feed: Stan Lee Gave Comic Books Permission to be More Jewish. It is well known that DC comic books had one dimensional characters and Marvel introduced more complexity, like the teen age angst, humor, and sassiness of Spider Man. The article describes these traits as Jewish. I wouldn't know. But its obvious to me that Spider Man has a lot in common with biblical characters, as do the rest of the Marvel Universe.

It's worse than that

In the 1st century, the Jewish leadership decided that all Jewish children would learn to read by mandate, and they had literature to work with. The rest of world history has been continually impacted by this decision. Do other cultures write as much? Maybe my culture the Irish when we take a break from talking. In the United States, I am just now seeing a bit of writing coming from the Indian and Chinese cultures, but there's still a lot of 1st generation STEM immigration producing second generation STEM students.

It's pretty obvious that a large portion of the best script writing is either from Jewish authors or influenced by Jewish authors. Historical and bigoted criticism misinterpreted their success as following the money. This line of bigotry states that wealthy people pay their way into gifted programs. A more accurate and intelligent interpretation is that super intelligence - the kind that comes from early reading and hard work usually produces high salaries and educated offspring. Good for them.

I lost this article, and to find it searched for 'Jewish news Spider Man'. Try it. There is a lot of Jewish news. Boy do they write a lot. According to this unscientific study, 47% of Jewish adults write for news organizations, probably part time.

What about STEM?

I found out about the 1st century reading mandate when my oldest was a toddler. We used Pre-K Phonics and Conceptual Vocabulary and made heavy reading part of our At Home culture. Since all cognitive skills are present in the process of learning to read (known since 1915), the result of out over-the-top reading program has been extraordinary math skills. Common Core has shifted math requirements to the verbal side as well.

When I was in graduate school, I stopped by a Jewish professor's house to have a meeting one night. He took a break to read the Hobbit to his 4 year old daughter - part of their bed time routine. It was a great experience, and I decided that I would steal from every culture when I found something worth stealing. I have gems from India, China, Africa and every place south of El Paso to share later. This is what it means to be American - to misappropriate other cultures. I'll share these other gems later.

We're not short cutting STEM in this house. But STEM isn't a path to leadership without strong verbal skills, and the CEO suite requires the ability to tell stories on top of regular communication skills.

On the other hand, most of the competition is in STEM. As I think about the fastest and easiest way to get to the top, I'm thinking about writing. A 1600 on the SAT is no longer a path to college. At 1550 with a few published papers or literary competitions on the other hand is a winner. I'm starting to look in this direction.

Building a College Resume

According to the stack of books I'm reading, a college application won't get very far if it lacks 5 or 6 strong activities...

Buidling A College Resume

According to the stack of books I'm reading, a college application won't get very far if it lacks 5 or 6 extra curricular activities. I'm not in favor of loading up on clubs, sports or even AP courses because it produces a shallow automaton destined to lead an uninspired life. I complained to my wife.

My wife replied that our oldest just survived 7th grade, the grade that counts in Chicago, achieving great grades except for that one quarter where he blew off one class because he calculated that he could, did well on his entrance exams, and did band, boy scouts, cross country, track, the math team, and met regularly with his Friday after school social group. That makes 5 1/2. He could have joined the science club for a solid 6, but he didn't.

Breaking it down

Schools are looking for 2 things beyond the 5 or 6 required activities: leadership and longevity. I'm looking for one thing - balance, aka not burning out.

My contribution was to disallow quitting. Thanks to this policy, he is the only 8th grader in band, slowly taking on leadership responsibilities. The boy scout troop is planning a trip to Florida next year, but the endeavor requires the scouts to be 1st class by then. Being 1st class by freshman year makes the eagle scout rank all but inevitable. Not quitting always pays dividends.

The sports mentioned above are barely sports. It's more like occasional jogging. In my day, we had hard workouts up to 2 hours every day for 5 months. The butter bean kids are spoiled with practice twice a week for 6 weeks. A good warm up for high school and no where near over doing it.

I don't know what he's doing on the math team. They are pictured above. Free parent consulting to the first reader who looks for clues in this issue and correctly identifies my son and the 2 smart kids on the team. If you put together the math competition article and the reading article in this issue, you'll see that I'm OK with it but wonder where it came from. I blame the science teacher. I've been training little brother from birth in math like Tiger Wood's abusive father trained his son; I limit the abuse to 30 minute sessions these days.

Taking the next step

My next step as a parent is to do even more lessness than I'm doing now. The secret to raising a successful child is to do less and less. I'm not sure that band is going to survive to high school, although that would be nice. I'm leaving grandfather's college band memorabilia around the house as a hint. I am dropping my prohibition against quitting and replacing it with short, pointed lectures as needed. Here's an example:

What, you want to quit _______ ? Of course you want to quit. You're 13. Everyone wants to quit at that age. Let me warn you now, not quitting is the single biggest factor in your entire future. In fact, last night, the ghost of your future self visited me and thanked me for dissuading you from quitting because not only was __________ so important to your future life, but it opened many doors related to your future success. Why don't you put it off for a month and then we'll have the same talk then.

Studying for the test

Today is the final test for high school entrance. Once again we took a close look at the topics on the test and have been following a strategy of...

Studying for the test

Yesterday we took the the last test before high school. It's been 9 solid years of tests.

Going into the test, we took care of logistics, topical areas, practice, strategy, and last minute coaching advice (don't miss any questions and don't get any wrong and don't take too long). Coming out, my son explained to me the one thing we missed so that I'll spend the next 4 months with anxiety, doubt, and regret.

Preparation & Logistics

There are plenty of testing services available for this test. I strongly recommend that you sign up for one of these. We didn't sign up for any of them. Instead, I looked at the list of topics and we practices our weaker ones from high school level tests.

On the bright side, we shined logistically.

If you plan to arrive ahead of time so that your child is relaxed going into the test, you will find a solid 30 minute mess of just getting into the parking lot, assuming you select Lane like we did. Actual panicky nightmare may vary. There is a single entrance on a major road with barely enough capacity to handle regular traffic. I told my son to get out of the car, follow parents into whatever door they go into, get in line and register. We would touch base via text and I'll show up later if needed. It turns out that parents are not allowed in the building; I wasted 45 minutes getting into and out of the parking lot.

The test is timed, so I gave him my watch. We ate the breakfast of champions and he decided to forgo snacks. I told him to text me if needed before the test, but then turn off and hide his phone. The SAT requires number 2 pencils, but he was sure he didn't need any because we read through the lack of instructions multiple times before we left.

We ignored all other other types of test taking advice. The best way to prepare for the soft skills of test taking is take lots of tests, and my child is nothing if not over tested.

The dropped ball

It turns out that some of the advanced topics from the test prep websites are either not on the test or not on the test at the level of our preparation. For example, I was told after the test, 'Exponents were not on the test', but this could have meant 'high school level exponential proofs are not on the test.' I didn't ask for clarification.

The problem is that the math test is timed. This format favors fast and confident calculation from memory. This is our weakest skill area. We not only didn't practice this ever, we skipped any homework that was calculation oriented. I've never set a time limit on math practice and never will. I think this is a mistake, not necessarily something that would negatively impact the test score, but something that will negatively impact my nerves while I wait for scores to be released in the end of March.

Learning from mistakes

As I assigned practice tests for each topical area, I slowly decreased the complexity level of the material from solid AP high school vocabulary, for example, to something from an 8th grade test at a good school. High school preparation would benefit from overkill on certain subtopics like belated math facts memorization or Greek and Latin word roots. As we practiced over the last few weeks, I noted these goals for this summer and we agreed that they would be beneficial. It's weird to get agreement from a maturing child. We actually had a conversation that went like this:

  • I think it would be a good idea to memorize these 200 word roots this summer in preparation for high school.
  • Ok. Sounds good to me.
  • I really don't care for your bad attitude. Your doing it anyway.

When I asked how things went, the first question was did you have enough time to finish.

'We only had 40 minutes for 40 math problems. It was a struggle to get through them all.'

I'm cursing silently to myself. Fortunately, we have plans B, C, D, and E and have already discussed them thoroughly. It is entirely possible for any child to come out of the test feeling bad, having a headache, and finding out an hour later that they have a 103 temperature and just blew their future. We're prepared. Any of our other routes would get the job done for the future. Each one would be a bit harder though.

The worst part

Going into the test, we passed all varieties of people, including a family dressed as tiny Inca villagers. I would have loved to help if asked. I'm not assuming that their child is any less prepared than mine, just pointing out that there is a 99.72% chance that this is the case based on all available information. Any child is capable of academic success, but almost none of them have spent the last 2 years dedicated to it.

Even worse, coming out I saw plenty of capable kids who were totally exhausted by the experience, a few with a ghostly look for failure on the faces, and one crying in her mothers arms. This sight hurts me personally and is enough to turn my blog from a deep shade of red to a deep shade of blue. But no one is asking me for help, and when I offer, it is generally perceived negatively.

My general approach to offering help is welcomed by most people as 'Your child sucks academically and you obviously dropped the ball as a parent so can you kid come over on Saturdays so I can fix it?' Everyone is more than happy to believe that it's not their fault, that nothing is wrong with them personally, but there is something wrong with 'the system'. Trumps & Reagan's success came from the fact that they changed the Republican line from the former to the latter. I'm going to try it.

Issue #5

What does a gifted house look like? As we adjust to this year's homework level, I'm creating an environment where giftedness can bloom...
Issue #5
What does a gifted house look like? As we adjust to this year's homework level, I'm creating an environment where giftedness can bloom. Picture a house where the children read all day and have interests in history, science and math. Then go next door to my house where the kids are reading comic books and playing video games and the father is printing college level tests.
From the Editor
It's time to be gifted.

The first half of fall is a good time to assess how my family measures up. It's a good time because we're adjusting to getting up for school each day, don't forget your band instruments, you have cross country practice today. This fall is an espcially good time to forgo At Home Schooling because our teachers have piled on the homework.

If my child spends a significant time on the weekend doing their homework, I'm not adding extra math. I'll add extra chores, something to get the child out of his chair, but not extra math. I consider writing a chore. Practicing the clarinet is a chore. Our routine hasn't changed much, but no one has faced a worksheet since August.

I've spent the last month pondering my ultimate goal of kicking each child out of the house prepared to do whatever it is that they want to do. Next month, we're going to do some serious extra math.

Someone else's kids

I spent 5 years researching gifted households, interviewing 100's of parents. I adopted as many of their practices as I could, as many hours a day as my kids could tolerate, which is to say not a lot. The children of gifted households spend an inordinate amount of time reading and engaged in other geeky learning activities. My kids spend an inordinate amount of time being normal.

During this time I also studied cognitive skills and this research produced methods that deliver results to the frankly non-gifted household. If my kids aren't going to spend 3 hours a day in learning activities, then they are going to spend 30 minutes a day in brutally difficult hard core cognitive skills building activities, and I'll twist any of their normal leisure activities toward something more productive.

I'm starting to see results of my efforts. It's not just that my normalies can compete with children raised the traditional gifted way, it's that I've noticed my kids bring something else to the table. Something social.

The Cost of College

College costs in excess of $220,000 are a scam. I'm not paying that much for even an above average degree. Instead, I'm looking at graduate school...

The Cost of College

I have two requirements for college. The first requirement is that my child goes. The second requirement is that he exits college with zero debt so that he can go to graduate school.

College costs, like baby toys, health care, and homeowners insurance are a scam. If you want to feel like you're a better parent by spending more money, someone will help you do it. Unfortunately, decision making and financial literacy in this country are abysmally deficient.

This scam falls the hardest on the middle class. The deal for the middle class is this:

Agree to send your child to our school at the exorbitant price of $260,000. Then fill out these financial aid forms and we'll tell you what the real price is. We will calculate the real price by evaluating everything you've spent your life saving for, like your home and retirement, and then we'll take as much of it as we can.

The secret of top graduate schools in the US - I'm talking about University of Chicago or Stanford - is that most of their graduate students did not attend Harvard. Most attended OK but not great schools. Some attended downright crappy schools but got into Northwestern by getting a masters. They're all really bright and capable. You're child will feel like a real putz sitting in his graduate class with $200,000 in student debt.

What about the experience?

I recently had a discussion with a top ranked academic dad who argued that sending your child away to college is an important experience for their character. Living independently and all of that. I don't dispute this claim, but you'd have to be nuts to pay over $200,000 for your child to learn to live independently when a) they will anyway and b) there are cheaper ways to do it if you want your child to be independent by age 17.

I'm not recommending that my child get an online degree from the University of Online Degrees. I will point out, however, that the risk of your child not being able to live independently greatly diminishes after the age of 20. One quarter to one third of college freshman completely fail at living independently, to the detriment of their lifestyle, grades, and future. 'My kids are perfectly capable of being independent at age 17', you argue. My kids are even more independent than yours (see my blog's title). That is an additional reason I'm not paying over $200,000 so they can learn to be independent.

To help you understand how to make good financial decisions from someone who has accumulated decades of undergraduate and graduate training in financial decision making and the math behind it, here are some examples to warm up for the college decision.

Insurance companies will describe all of the safety and security you need at $2,000 per year to over-insure your house. I observed that in my densely populated neighborhood that there have been zero events warranting insurance in the last 100 years. If I could legally go without insurance, I would. 40 years times $2,000 is $80,000. That's a lot of money to cover a hypothetical accident.

When I graduated from college, I took my car into the dealer on schedule. I would get my car back after paying $500 to $1,000. After graduate school, I never took my car in ever. Plus, I have bare bones auto liability insurance. I save enough to buy a new car every 15 years. I would certainly appreciate zero risk on an over-insured well maintained car, but instead I spent a few hours reading the manual and looking at my engine. That's about $10,000 an hour for my time.

Here are three general financial decision making principles that we are going to apply to the college question:

  • If you observe that most people do something, don't do it because it's probably the result of financial illiteracy and laziness. Most people make the wrong financial decision most of the time.
  • If someone stands to make a lot of money by offering you advice - I'm thinking universities - do not take it.
  • You have to put a bit of thought into the alternatives.

Here is the alternative

As the graph above demonstrates, you can spend less money and obtain a superior result if you forgo the traditional 4 year university (option A in the graph above) and opt for a combination of a local solution for undergraduate followed by sending your child away for a masters (option B).

How will your child be regarded by employers, peers, and more advanced degree programs? Not special? Not gifted? On the contrary, this child is going to be gritty and unique.

Fortunately, we live in a large urban area with a cheaper, local option that is equivalent to the premier state school 4 hours away in farm country. Unfortunately, I'm not the only one who has identified this solution. Our premier state university's enrollment is down, but the local version's enrollment is up 37%.

Under no circumstances am I considering an undergraduate degree at any of the top 20 universities. It's not that I don't value an undergraduate degree from MIT, for example. It's just that I value a graduate degree from MIT more, and I value having a graduate degree from MIT with no student debt even more. The pedigree from an undergraduate degree has become pedestrian - it's so 1980. I don't know anyone who doesn't have a graduate degree.

What about graduating early?

We have the option to knock off 1 to 2 years of college credits during high school. I'm not against accelerated work, but this is not going to factor into my plans.

Passing an AP History exam as a high school senior is not equivalent to taking a history course as a college freshman. The former has a certificate, and the latter an education. The best high schools in the country can churn out AP students who spend their time mastering the material on the test at the cost of learning. There's something to be said about an older student - learning takes time. A student who memorizes formulas is useless to both employers and graduate programs.

Instead, the AP treadmill is useful to push a child into more advanced college courses. I'll let my child take AP courses, but each one will defer real learning until college. Testing out of BC calculus does not mean you avoid college math - it means that college math is going to be CD calculus or whatever follows BC. (Advanced series and real analysis in case you care.)

Writing - Kanye and Fallout 4

Our daily writing has been evolving has been evolving in interesting directions. Each night, I find an interesting essay on a controversial topic, and then we argue it.

Writing - Kanye and Fallout 4

The traditional approach to creating a gifted writer is many years of reading followed by many years of writing. Somewhere in that time, probably during the years of writing, maybe earlier, the author develops some interest worth writing about. It seems to me that the ability to generate something interesting (at least to the author) is the key of writing. Why write if it's boring?

Our writing program meanders through each of the sub topics of writing such as paragraph layout, crafting a well-crafted sentence, evaluating another author's faulty logic, choosing the right word. Given the recent homework load, my teenager and I do our daily writing at 9 pm, and therefore, writing has of late been talking. Each day I search for a well crafted editorial or commentary essay on a topic that might interest either a 13 year old or his dad. Each night we read it, followed by an exercise to provide insightful and interesting commentary that proves to me a) you read and understood the topic and b) you can put together a coherent thought on this topic, articulate it, and defend it.

I'm taking the side of Kanye West

Google seems to think I'm interested in contemporary culture and video games. I wonder why? Regardless, it doesn't take long for me to find something worth debating. Earlier this week, we debated Kanye West. I'm took the position that Kanye West is right. I didn't exactly win the argument, but together we're going through the basic problem solving mechanics of putting forth and defending an argument. 4 more years of this and either I'll produce a conservative republican or a student who doesn't suffer from writer's block on his AP English essay test.

Here's what I've got so far. Kayne West has stated that Trump should ease up on his criminal policy because, to paraphrase, and you have to paraphrase to make sense of Kanye's comments, "In another multiverse I would be in jail." I will translate this into white conservatism for you: "There but for the grace of God go I." This is called empathy for the less fortunate. Go Kanye. Two points for me.

I would love the opportunity to stand next to Kanye like a signer or UN translator and translate his words into the greek philosophical tradition from Plato through John Locke. He's been accused as being illiterate. If this is true, this makes him a genius because he's nailing the great arguments (with a bit of paraphrasing) without being aware that the arguments were previously made, and he's putting it into contemporary language for his own audience. I don't allow my debate partner to contribute to my blog, but you can imagine his counter-argument with a bit of 13 year old histrionics.

Video games are fair game

We are authorities on all of the hot new video games, the companies behind them, the history of video game development, video game news, and video game blogging. That's a lot of video gaming.

It's not video game playing, however. It's video game research. It's video game research at the graduate thesis level because a certain parent got involved and raised the bar.

The hot new game that little kids don't play but are nonetheless experts on thanks to videos and blogs is Fallout 76. Reddit is full of essays proving that the Brotherhood of Steel could in fact have been present in 2076 despite 5 game releases of canon that make this unlikely. Reddit is a great source of well articulated logic - both sound and faulty. When a video game topic is the subject of debate ('is this author correct when he asserts that Bethseda has violated their cannon?') our adult level discussion usually goes an extra hour and requires additional wiki-ing and other research.

In both all cases (Kanye or Fallout), I'm subjecting the future AP English writer to we crafted arguments by various authors as the subject of our nightly reading. In a few weeks I'm going to change the rules a tiny bit - instead of telling me your argument, write it.

Does God matter?

So far, I'm losing this argument, but I've got about 4 more years to research and prove my position. The title of this argument, supported by whatever essay I can muster, is this: If most of your friends and their families do not practice religion, and they are doing quite well in life, both parents and child, do we really need faith, or religion or God?

Does anyone have good argument to share?

The daily effort rule

Once again, we're following the rule that whatever you spend a little time on each day, you will eventually get a lot better in that domain. 30 minutes a day will likely lead to the 99.9% level. We found this out doing a little math each day in Kindergarten. I think this rule originated with me. It's like the 10,000 rule for kids.

This rule is magic. There is no need to hurry, to focus, to practice, or to worry. It just magically happens. In writing, we meander from one sub-skill to the next and back. Eventually, all of the pieces will be in place. The Bronte sisters famously parlayed story telling into classics. We are going to parlay debate into something. I'm not quite sure what yet.

Managing Homework

I'm fascinated with the type and level of involvement of parents in their children's homework. Is this fair the child or his peers?

Managing homework

At a friend's school, parents complain each year about a certain student's science fair project. Her parents both teach chemistry the university level, and each project features expensive equipment and a graduate level thesis. This student always wins first place.

I have no problem with this. What fun the parents must have working with their child. Of course it's not fair. But we all have our specialties.

Some parents do their homework with their child every night. The homework is flawless, and it counts for a sizable percentage of the grade. Is this fair the child's peers, let along the child? What is the right level of parent involvement in homework?

The answer is heavy involvement

If you can get away with it, do as much of your child's homework as you can. By 'doing as much' I don't really many doing anything. You can help by reviewing and raising the bar. If your child answers a math problem, ask them to describe 3 ways to do it better or faster. If your child writes a sentence, encourage them to work on it until it would pass for a quote from the New York Times.

Thanks to this approach, my kids won't let me see their home work, share it, discuss it, or let me know what subjects they have at school. I suppose this is a victory for independence, but when I was allowed to 'help' with homework, their work quality was much higher and they learned much more.

The teachers in our program make a concerted effort to wean the parents from doing their children's homework during 5th grade, and by 6th grade the teacher effectively blocks parents from the homework process. Unfortunately, this doesn't work for my schedule. Homework doesn't matter before 6th grade, and by then I feel guilty allowing my child to turn in sloppy, incomplete, mistake ridden work that pales in comparison to the flawless homework completed by the parents of his peers.

The homework killer

A large percentage of high school students will fall apart physically and mentally during high school AP exam because of the homework killer. They get their homework off of chromebook, do their homework on chromebook, and spend 5 extra hours doing homework because chromebook has social media and chat apps. 2 am bed time is followed by morning coffee - in high school - which is followed by the general disintegration of their life, not to mention the pressure of falling grades.

My youngest has friends across the city, country and world. He opens something on his computer - like a game or programming application, then dials up his friends on Discord and away they go. Can I say 'dial up' and not come off like I'm born in the 19th century? He's been using one of a dozen email accounts for 3 years.

The Chicago Public School system gives every child a gmail account in 5th grade. As expected, the students undergo a year of frequent misuse, abuse, and overuse of email. We went through this with the older child. Not the younger - the younger got through his first year of email use and over the hurdle to mature use without mishap. I know this because 9 year olds are sloppy with security and I read much of it. Here is an example posting: emoticon, emoticon, 20 exclamation points, why aren't you online emoticon.

To manage technology, I set certain ground rules in preparation for high school.

  • I lectured them on why technology is the homework killer.
  • If I catch them misusing technology, I will threaten to ban them from life from all forms of technology, which I have done 53 times and counting. I will also lecture them further, which is worse than the unfulfilled threat of ban.
  • All devices must be charging in my bedroom when I go to bed, which is getting earlier.

Technology in action

I place a heavy emphasis on learning and effort. I place zero emphasis on grades before 6th grade. For us, grades count in 7th grade toward high school selection; your grade may vary. 5th grade is a special year because it falls between the rigorous At Home Schooling program in grades 1-4 and the new level of seriousness we give school in 6th grade. It's a blow off year for us.

While my older son was more than happy to turn in blank math homework on his way to a D, my 5th grader refuses to take me up on my offer. My competition, his teacher, is unusually inspiring. Last night, he couldn't find the word 'dispersion' in the book he is reading at school, and not just because he didn't bring the book home, but because the google books search couldn't find the word. We switched to google books because I'm sick of having to find words in his books so he can finish his homework before 9 pm.

He pulled up his friends on Discord, friends who actually brought the book home, and they couldn't find it either, probably because it is an inane time wasting homework exercise. Then he emailed the class and none of these kids could find it either. By the way, he doesn't use his school gmail account because it is monitored.

Finally, he emailed his teacher complaining about the issue. I strongly warned him not to explain how he couldn't find the word, but he wanted to prove his case. So you're basically telling your teacher that you are cheating? 'No, I'm demonstrating the thoroughness of my result,', he said. He's about to encounter learning experience number 1.

Choosing your child's major

One of the goals of parenting is to encourage your child to leverage their talents in following their dream. You just can't let on that you are doing it.

Choosing your child's major

One of the iron clad rules of parenting is that you can't encourage your child to pursue an interest or choose a major because they'll either fail at it and blame you or pick something completely different to spite you. This rule is well documented in parenting books and also by veteran teachers in gifted and talented programs.

An inspiring teacher will hook your child on the wonder of whatever topic they teach, be it science, reading, history, or math. If a parent tries this with any topic, that topic is immediately branded as lame and the parent is pressuring the child, in the eyes of the child, to follow someone else's dream.

Is it possible for the parent to stay out of their child's choices, even if they've known about the above advice for the last 9 years? Not in my case. I've been able to refrain from sending my child to a space camp because they've shown an interest in space, but when my child shows an obvious talent, I can't not point this out in an encouraging way.

First it was math

My first foray into gifted giftedness was to help my 5 year old conquer Every Day Math Grade 2 before 1st grade. At school, he was branded the math guy. Great, I have a math guy. You're the math guy, I said.

It was at this time that he developed a strong interest in advertising and media, specifically the ability to make people do things they don't want to do, like spend a lot of money on a dubious product. 'Look dad, in this commercial teenagers are playing with a toy for 6 year olds and they are pretending to be really excited about it.' Why are they doing this? 'To make the 6 year olds buy this stupid toy!'

Want to do some math? I asked. 'No', he replied, 'I hate it.'

Then it was advertising

There is an ad crafter down the street who is spellbinding when he comments on the weather, his word choice is amazing. My son turned down my offer to go down the street and talk about crafting copy. One friend makes about $1.5 million each year designing a few ad campaigns. Not bad for a few weeks of work. So my wife offered to broker a meeting.

'I'm not really interested in advertising. I say I am because it's more interesting than my real interest.' What is your real interest? 'I want to dedicate my life to finding the galaxy that is shaped like Yoda,' he said. And pass up a rewarding and lucrative career making kids buy toys they don't want? Not on my watch. My response was to switch from math to the daily writing exercise for this child.

We're back to math

Recently, I offered to do my son's math homework for him. Really. I think it's a great plan. The 5th grader refuses to take me up on the offer to get D's in 5th grade in preparation for 6th grade. I'll write an article on why next month. That got me thinking. My older son is going to be a writer of some type in some media, but he's currently working on passing out of Algebra II before high school and now is thinking that he might knock off Geometry as well. That would put him in Trig as a freshman. I could do his homework for him, we'd have father and son time, he'd get good grades, pass AP exams in BC calculus, then ignore math for the rest of his life. Everyone wins.

'But every field now needs math in college, you said so yourself'. I was talking about statistics. Statistics drive advertising and political thought.

Yeah, but astronomers need physics, and physics is based on math, so I'm going to need math.'

A career in politics

I should have paid more attention when he told me he joined the competitive math team at his school. But I see a way forward.

Between our arguments about Kanye West and Trump (see related article), I see some opportunities in politics, especially for a child with a talent for manipulating social settings. Yeah, you need statistics for that, but not trig. I'll have to encourage the astronomy thing until it becomes lame. Or, more likely, I'll make him run for a school office and arrange some casual lunches with politicians until he signs up for summer trig to get it out of the way before high school.

Issue #4

The summer ended with excessive amounts of camp, traveling and math. Gearing up for the school year by practicing doing hard work..
Issue #4
The second half of the summer is a good time to make your kids work really hard at things they don't have time to do during the school year. Emphasis on 'really hard' work.
Saturday, September 3, 2018
From the Editor
Summer is over. We survived.

This summer was unusual, almost a summer off for the older child. The younger was asked to step it up in the chore department.

Mr. New Teenager went to boy scout camp for a week, then YMCA camp for 2 weeks, then Spain and Portugal for 2 weeks (thanks to relatives and my wife's summer camp buddies from when she was 11). This left very little time for him to progress academicinsanely, but after a brutal 7th grade qualifying year for high school, he is ready for a year off from me, if not permanently off from me. I feel like my job is over until he ends up in trig his freshman year. More on that in the next issue.

The younger one and I had extra time to spend together. He turned 10 this year, which is a good time to take on adult level chores. It's hard being a single parent. He stepped up his game. Experts consider chores to be the foundation of grit and academic success, by the way.

We didn't have much time to tackle academic pursuits. I'm going to add some material to my evolving elementary school algebra, trig and miscellaneous. By the end of the summer, we randomly tackled exponents. I'll save that for the next issue.

Summer camp

Summer camp is in full swing right now. Demand in our particular camp is so fierce that if you don't reserve 15 months in advance, you won't get one.

Summer camp

Our summer camp is in a dairy state that I won't mention. I made the mistake of mentioning the name of this camp a few years ago and it was sold out within a week. It's worse today. A small number of these camps serve the Chicago area. The modest price is worth it many times over. For the record, Michigan has a thriving dairy industry and many camps, so feel free to look there.

The camp is run by college kids who once attended the camp in grade school. During high school, the older kids help, watch and learn. The younger kids appear to have complete independence, including the opportunity to do what they want including pranks. In reality, there are at least 3 pairs of eyes on every kid at all times. All the counselors look really laid back. It's a lie.

Every week, there are pictures of kids doing stuff - sailing alone, riding horses through the lake, taking a zip line, but mainly doing skits and competitions and other fun all camp or cabin versus cabin events. Each day the kids sign up for that day's activities. There are no pictures of kids shooting arrows or guns, throwing axes, or swallowing flaming swords, the type of stuff that my kids sign up for. The kids learn to camp away from the camp, cook, clean, hide like Indians, and fend off mosquitoes. At night, they play cards, tell stories and jokes, and bond.

I am so jealous of the parents of the girl riding the horse through the lake. I only have boys, and neither want to ride horses because it's a girl sport. There is a counselor right near the girl, but it looks much more cool after I photo-shopped out the counselor.

When the boys are not at camp, they have to do summer math and chores. And whatever kids do in the city that's fun.

This is year number 5 for my oldest. The youngest is only on year 2. When they talk about camp, I listen quietly without showing interest or they go all CIA on me and revoke my security clearance. I rank all the things they do including scouts, chores, math, music, etc on the way to successful, productive independent adults who will one day contribute to our world. I think this camp ranks in the number one or number two spot on the list.


One of my readers asked how I keep the house clean and still find time to work with my kids in At Home Schooling a few times a week. The secret is chores.


There are quite a few good books that explain why chores are so important. Chores teach grit. With grit, a child will set big goals and continue to work toward those goals despite the obstacles or disadvantages. This child will close any gaps in education and eventually surpass her peers at MIT by work effort. Case closed. I added chores as one of our education goals.

Getting your child to do chores is a three stage effort.

In stage 1, you have to do all of the chores after you help them with math or test prep. Hopefully, your children are under the age of 6 at this time. They see you do all of the cleaning. I like to do it on Saturdays in one big 3 hour effort, one end of the house to the other. Chores are important, rewarding, and fun. If I hear you complain one more time about having to do your math I'm going to take that book away from you and give you this toilet brush.

In stage 2, they do their math while you clean the bathrooms or vacuum. When they have questions, you stop what you are doing and answer the question. The goal in this stage is to get your children to work independently. The other goal is that you are cleaning their bedroom or 2 days of dishes and if they complain about their work or try to get out of it, you'll be in the proper frame of mind to fulfill your role as a parent and enforce their 35 minutes of math. This stage should last from age 6 to 7. If you skipped this stage, you need to go through it for 6 weeks, even if your child is 12. Six is the magic number in psychology.

In the next stage, give your children all of the starter chores, like picking everything up so that you can vacuum. Look dude, I've got to vacuum the whole house and your crap is everywhere. Help out. You can give them the option of picking up before they do their math or vacuuming after the do their math. They will try each. Consider it vacuum practice. The ideal age is 8. Again, if you didn't think of this when they were 8, do it for 6 weeks.

In the next stage, you just slowly add to their list any chore that does not involve inhaling dangerous chemicals. You can pass on picking up, vacuuming, doing the dishes, paint the trim, resealing the flat roof on your building, weeding, sweeping the garage, anything you like.

You have to keep cleaning the toilets. At each stage, you showed that chores were very important by doing them. Your kids aren't dummies. They aren't going to practice their instruments because you demonstrated how unimportant music is by not practicing an instrument yourself. But they will vacuum if they see you cleaning a toilet.

The kids are at camp. I went up to the roof today with 2 five gallon drums of aluminum sealant. It didn't need it. When my oldest was 11, we spent 4 hours in 120 degree heat sealing the roof, and did such a good job that it will last twice as long as when I did it myself. Next year my sealant expert can do it himself.

When the oldest was at camp our vacation, the youngest got a double dose of chores. It takes a year to warm up, staring with taking the dishes out of the dishwasher. Since there were only 2 of us home, I added clearing the table, cleaning the dishes, vacuuming the kitchen, vacuuming the rest of the house, putting away 7 years of clutter in his bedroom, and painting the trim. In other words, a week of chores.

Algebra corner

This month algebra corner is all about solving geometry problems. Geometry is a good warm up for algebra. In some ways the problem solving techniques for both are simliar...
Solving geometry problems
A good geometry problem

What makes this geometry problem so good is that there is no question. Without a question, the student will hunt and peck through each angle, like this is a puzzle. There are a few geometry axioms that apply here, like the sum of angles in a triangle, the sum of angles in a line, the definition of a right angle (noticeably missing). With a little unstructured practice, most but not all of these are intuitive. With a little more practice the child knows what to look for.

If there were a question attached to this problem, the only purpose of the question, especially if I write it, would be to distract the child from proper problem solving. I could write 40 pages on problem solving algorythms, but hunt and peck is a much better approach. Unstructured work is more conducive to learning. This approach makes problem solving technique second nature.

We do a lot of problems like these. In between, like a quintuple decker oreo, I ask that all geometry axioms be proved from scratch, starting with the sum of angles on a line, with no help. I'll write about that later. It's a quintuple decker oreo because every time I ask, it still take a lot of time to redo the same proofs.

A great geometry problem

This is the world's greatest geometry problem. What is the problem asking? What is the problem definition? Is that triangle equalateral? Where are the numbers?

Kids who solve many problems like the first type may struggle with the concentric equilateral triangle, but the premise is the same. Apply top notch problem solving skills to this problem.

To start with, tell me everything you know about this problem and its contents. Everything. Everything! At some point, we get to the circle which has a radius r. Where is the radius? After a few attempts, the radius is drawn from the center of the circle to one corner of the triangle, and the problem falls like a house of cards, provided you know the basic 4 equations of trig. The missing line or shape is one of the Big Five problem solving skills. Another skill is use everything in the problem. Use everything you've ever learned about anything.

I am steeped in the Poyla tradition of problem solving. At one point, I became bored with helping a certain little kid solve complicated problems by reminding him, over and over again, of the Big 5 problem solving techniques. With geometry problems of like the ones on this page, I don't have to repeat 4 of the problem solving techniques. Removing the question paves the way for methodical, structured thinking.

The bottom line for both geometry and algebra, take away the question and let the student solve the problem. Then you're on the short path to graduate level math technique. Once you've solved, it, you can read the question.

Summer writing

Summer writing reached an important milestone last week. We've been talking and reading and talking since May. This week I introduced actual writing. It went better than I expected.

Actual writing

Since summer began, we've been reading short passages and discussing them. Part of the reason is that this is a good way to begin writing. Part of the reason is that I have a 13 year old boy with a two word vocabulary: good and stuff.

For his first writing exercise of the summer, I gave him the choice of writing about one of the topics that we've been discussing or write a historical account of his favorite video game. Guess which topic was chosen?

3 Years of work

A digression is order. When he was in 6th grade, I helped him work on his science labs. His teacher would grade a lab. The kids could resubmit the lab as many times as they want to for a regrade until they achieved the desired score. I would occassionally help because the 5 or 6 page lab narrative was usually filled with shockingly abysmal writing. Once we spent 2 hours discussing what is important enough to include. Once we spent 4 hours recrafting and recrafting and recrafting sentences until the reader could understand the text.

I sent an email to express my appreciation to the teacher. The lower the grade, the higher the incentive, and the more productive our work learning how to craft a sentence or paragraph. Then I wrote the math teacher a 3 page document outlining my math goals from functions through calculus that I wanted to cover before 7th grade was complete, asking for help. I received a restraining order from the Illinois 7th Circuit Court forbidding me from sending emails to his teachers.

In 7th grade I backed off the writing oversight. Thus summer writing.

Immediate Success

After 90 minutes, he had once big paragraph. I told him without reading it that he has at least 3 paragraphs and probably run on sentences. 'This is going to be 6 pages long' he said, justifying the long paragraph. Let's just end it here, I said, I don't have 12 days to wait for your first writing assignment.

My goal as a math and now writing coach is to break up work into 25 or 30 minute chunks and focus on one little bit per day. After 6 months of this, we will make a lot of progress. We won't get to the second day if I'm critical or complain about all the mistakes I see. This day, I would start with paragraphs. After about 20 minutes of arguing, I asked him to name the subtopics within that big paragraph. He found 4. We broke it into 4 paragraphs.

I asked him to rewrite one sentence that started with 'This is because he...'. He fixed it in 2 minutes. In 6th grade, an improvement of this sort would have taken 30 minutes.

It wasn't a bad effort. I was actually impressed with his work and he could see my pride without me saying anything. This is very very important if you want to make it to day 2. I asked him why his writing skills were so good.

'You know those last few weeks after all the tests are over where nothing happens in school? Our teacher was gone most of the time. All we did whether the teacher was there or there was a substitute was write. In the morning, we would get a topic. We would have a few hours to write about what we were going to write about. Then in the afternoon, we would write it, and at 3:00, the time was up and it had to be done.'

Oh my friggin gosh. That's like 3 months of at home writing per week. Could my letter have caused a revolution? Unlikely. But I'll take it.

Nonetheless, there's a lot work left to do. After that first day I created a long list of things to work on (one at a time, of course). For example, how to choose and limit a topic to a doable 45 minute task. There were other grammar and writing mechanics and techniques that I noted need improvement.

I did a bit of research on the SAT - the essay and reading comp - and was surprised to find a) our At Home writing program and odd choice of reading material which I talked about in prior issues is lined up closely to the methods and goals of the SAT, and b) none of the writers understand why the SAT chose their peculiar methodology. I understand. In short, it's no longer the beginning of the twentieth century and our world values more than a novel set in the English country side dealing with people wearing period costumes.

So little time, so much to blog about. The saga will continue in the next issue with the SAT. It's hard to reach goals if you don't know what you're working toward.

Issue #3

July 3, 2018 We survived the tests and unleashed the summer academic program. We're taking on a single math field for the first time in 5 years. Eight years after I introduced daily math, I've introduced daily writing.
Issue #3
This issue outlines the summer math program. Math means 'what you have to do before I let you play video games' Between camps and math, there's precious little screen time.
From the Editor
Summer is here. We survived.

The family went to see a movie and left me alone to fend for myself. Here's my fending with fresh mussels.

We survived the big 7th grade test. My 4th grader, who we consider the math genius in the family, tried hard to beat older brother and came close. Older brother wants to write for a living, and younger brother wants to go to Mars, but so far the math guy is a better writer and the writer does better in math.

Normally, the topic of daily math varies from week to week depending on my level of insanity. As an experiment, I am going to focus on Algebra I this summer with child #2. After I disentangle algebra from the topics in an algebra book, we can dig in. This will be the first time one of my kids focused on a single subject in 3 years. Child #1 is going to get nothing but writing.

The last break was 3 years ago. I told the oldest that he could get D's all year. He would never have this opportunity again. He took me up on it, exceeding expectations (he got a C in math, I didn't expect anything but a single B on his report card), and by the end of 5th grade we were working frantically to catch up. This break will be from the normal routine to a different routine, which will be equally hard. But different.

Summer algebra

I have a stack of about 2 dozen Algebra I books from the library. None of these are suitable for use by a student. These would work really well for a parent who assigns their child algebra to do at home and the parent is stuck...

Summer algebra
The right Algebra I book

I have a stack of about 2 dozen Algebra I books from the library. None of these are suitable for use by a student. These would work really well for a parent who assigns their child algebra to do at home and the parent is stuck.

The content of these books varies widely, but they all include many topics that are not under the heading 'Algebra I'. Here's what I found inside.

  • Pre-algebra - negatives, fractions and parentheses
  • Functions, especially linear functions, which is a course in between pre-algebra and Algebra I.
  • Most but not all Algebra I topics
  • Algebra II topics
  • Advanced post-algebra topics like complex numbers, exponents and logs.
  • Post calculus topics like linear algebra and series, with some statistics thrown in.

What are these authors thinking? They write algebra books for a struggling high school student and then throw in a few optional chapters on topics after BC calculus.

The right Algebra I book is a list of problems for the child and one of these spoon-feeding books for the parent in case you're asked to help. From this list, which problems are the best ones for your child? Any problem she can do in 30 minutes.

Algebra I topics
Equation Manipulation

Step 1 in algebra is the transition from 3 + __ = 15 to 3 + x = 15. This is followed by more complicated version of this equation. As I explained in the last issue, there's no magic in solving simple algebriac equations, just a little hard work and experimentation.

Khan is a good place for sample problems but you have to use google search because the Khan website itself is useless in finding anything. There are plenty of Algebra I and Algebra II high school tests available, and the first few sections cover this topic.

Geometry and Trig

Once your child knows how to solve for x, it opens the door to a diversion into geometry and trig. We are now coming back to Algebra I to clean up all of the gaps.

Pre-Algebra Practice

Algebra problems are a good place to practice pre-algebra skills. We're very rusty on our pre-algebra skills because we skip pre-algebra and backtrack whenever a pre-algebra concept appears in an algebra problem.

We also found a gap in linear functions. Apparently my 20 minute linear function starter course did not stick, even when given twice. I think I'm going to assign an 8th grade linear functions book as a backtracking exercise.

The best starter problems for Algebra I are word problems. Verbal math requires 3 times the thinking as equational math, and as a bonus word problems are usually multi-step. The third best way to practice Algebra I is just to move on to trig and geometry, but as I found it leaves a lot of gaps.

Advanced topics

The focus of Algebra I is performing the 4 basic manipulations (add, subtract, multiply and divide each side of the equation) properly in the presense of negatives and parentheses.

At some point, I'll introduce a 5th operation, which will be to multiple one element of one side of the equation, or the whole side, by one. One in this case can take the form of 5/5 or (1/5)/(1/5), or (1 + x) / (1 + x).

The last topic will be finding the roots of simple quadratic equations without a formula.

During this tour of basic Algebra, we'll encounter, learn and practice a variety of math topics. When we get to 2nd degree polynomials, it will be time to move on to Algebra II, but not before next year. In between Algebra I and Algebra II, we'll use our new found equation manipulation skills on geometry and trig. Again.

My Algebra I course
Problem selection

A good Algebra I problem has 3 parts:

  • Some confusion and complication that disguises the equation to be solved so it takes the child a few minutes to realize that this is the same exact routine as the last exercise, mainly solving for x.
  • A series of equation manipulations fraught with pre-algebra topics that takes a few attempts to find the right approach. Do we start by adding 3 to each side or dividing by 5? Let's find out.
  • A 3 or 4 step solution process independent of the equation manipulation that requires some logic. By this I mean something more than 'find the value of x', like 'will Sue go to the movie based on solving the value of x in each scenario?'

Algebra I books themselves are horrible, as is Khan Academy, because they focus on a single step to practice a single topic, repeated over and over again in problems, with no confusion, until it's programmed into the child's brain, and then move on to the next spoon feeding topic. To make matters worse, in case the child isn't in the mood to think at all, Algebra I books and online material explains in nauseating detail how to do the problem step-by-step.

This isn't going to a child to do homework in 4 AP course by 8 p.m. each night. This is the prescription for a college essay that reads 'I spent 8 hours a night doing AP homework because I never learned how to think before I got to high school and that's why my admissions scores on 'personality' and 'liveliness' are zeros.

Practice Problems

After a month of research, I've settled on the NY Regents exams in Algebra 1. I'll supplement these with released tests from Virginia and maybe Texas. The level of the material in most is suitable for elementary school, and the harder problems will develop thinking.

The NY library has Algebra I exams going back to 1955. The 1955 version is a riot. Here's the first page.

With the exception of the concept of 'x' appearing in these problems, my exiting 4th grader has seen all of these topics in school except for question 8. Question 8 requires special mention because it involves factoring nth degree polynomials, a topic that has been moved to modern Algebra II courses, representing a skill as useful as using a slide rule or churning butter. I will be investigating strategies to test out of Algebra II in high school simply to skip this annoying topic. (I will also be investigating strategies to test out of geometry and trigonometry because this is Competitive Parent Magazine).

The Best Way to Do Algebra

The 2nd best way to learn Algebra I is to do algebra word problems, but these are so lame that my 7th grader's math journal is full of answers to homework problems that read 'Joe would not consider apples to begin with because he likes Doritos, so this problem is lame.' I read through a year's homework answers because he brought home the contents of his locker. I don't know what the questions were, but there's no doubt his non-answers are 100% correct. Joe wouldn't eat apples and I'm sure the problem is lame.

The best way to learn a super-set of advanced Algebra I skills and all of the thinking and problems solving skills and Grit which should be the real objective of doing Algebra I work - is to program video games. The best video games would be the original Pong or Atari games like Asteroids and Space invaders, but these have already been rejected by my kids as Ancient Lamoness. Modern video games are suitable for both boys and girls, whereas I think my old school approach was more for a boy who has been trapped in a cave for the last 40 years.

I'm going to supplement my Algebra course with a step-by-step tutorial on how to set up a web page, add javascript and jQuery, and add Canvas. Canvas is a way to plot x and y, draw shapes, and make them move on a web page. I'm competing with Alice and Scratch, but Alice and Scratch take away the work to move a point on an x/y grid.

I know from experience that a child will emerge from a visual programming exercise midway in the Algebra II realm with higher skills and less effort. If anyone is interested, I'll share. I started this blog a month ago, and it takes about 2 years for readers to notice, so I'll probably be finished before I get the first comment.

The authority on grit

You are probably wondering if this will be an article on Angela Duckworth's ground breaking research that correlated Grit as the single biggest factor in a child's eventual success academically, professionally, in life and family. While I'm a big fan of...

The authority on grit
Looking for grit

You are probably wondering if this will be an article on Angela Duckworth's ground breaking research that correlated Grit as the single biggest factor in a child's eventual success academically, professionally, in life and family. While I'm a big fan of Duckworth, she neglected to provide a prescription for endowing your children with grit. I am providing that prescription, so this article is about me.

The writing program is a small part of our grit activities. I've got something time consuming, mind numbing, and grueling in mind. The writing program is delayed, however, because my 7th grader's home room teacher, who teaches the class reading, has been giving the kids all day writing assignments starting with the topic after first bell and concluding with turning in the assignments at the last bell. Curse you, home room teacher, for beating me to it.

The secret formula for grit, or if you have multiple children like I do, grits, is to provide your children with fun, engaging, role playing projects at age 4, and slowly take the fun out of them and replace it with a sense of growth and accomplishment as the years go by. Throw in chores and band, and you've got grit. Also scouts or life guard camp, and painful sport like wrestling, cross country, or similar endeavor. Or all of the above. We chose all of the above. Please refer to the url for this website if you doubt me.

There is debate among authors whether band or chores are a bigger determinant of grit. I'll take them both.


To find the time in our busy weekend schedule to do test prep or weekend math, I made the kids follow me around the house with their assignments while I cleaned. I used to set up a desk and chair outside the bathroom while I cleaned it for one kid when he was 4 years old. He would do his phonics, and I would clean the toilet. I used to get the whole house vacuumed, bathrooms cleaned, kitchen cleaned, and everything picked up. It was a break for mom, my exercise, and a good way to build up tolerance against my kids whining about the insane work I assigned. Dude, you have to add 2 digit numbers, and I have to clean the toilet in a house full of boys. Quit complaining.

Little by little I started to assign chores that don't involve harsh chemicals. I'm still left with toilets, but today everything was picked up, the kitchen cleaned, all rooms vacuumed (properly, finally), and I only glared at them from the bathroom for nostalgic purposes. I think they know I'm proud of them. They didn't earn their chore grit from nagging. They earned it from watching me do it, with drama and various speeches I give from time to time. Numerous parents told me I should just hire someone to clean my house once a week. It's not expensive - maybe $80. (Forget for a moment that the $80 a week adds up to $72,000 by the time the child goes to college). I wonder what type of lesson this parent wants to teach their child.

I've also assigned dirty plumbing tasks, rewiring the electricity, sealing a flat roof when it was 120 degrees out, picking up every cigarette butt on the block, painting, and fixing the car tail light because my hand couldn't reach the bulb. We've taken many 5 mile walks just for the fun of it, and one 50 mile bike ride. Last month I announced that we would no longer go out to eat as a family unless we walked to a restaurant a minimum of 2.5 miles away. I can't say for a fact that these rub off on other activities, but I've witnessed my kids spend upwards of 5 straight hours without a break doing school projects and papers.

There's plenty of mystery to grit for people sitting around pondering what could cause grit, but there's no mystery for those who do grit.


This year was the 4th year for band for the older one and the 1st for the younger one. It's not a high pressure endeavor. Other than daily practice, like 20 minutes, it's more about not quitting. No kid wants to practice, and most kids want to quit. In fact, most kids do quit. Colleges are not looking for kids like this. It takes some effort on the part of adults so that kids aren't told 'you have to practice because it's really important' and than show 'you'd should quit because this is so unimportant that your parents don't do it.' I started practicing daily myself until I mysteriously got so bad that my kids banned me from playing. I bought books full of musical and movie music. I threatened my kids to get them a real teacher. I threatened to practice with them. And most importantly, i forbid quitting.

The human brain develops the part that is in charge of decision making at age 25. By the teen years, the immature, undeveloped brain learns to use the part that is in charge of emotional responses to make decisions. A parent who lets their child make decisions before age 25 on issues that impact the child's future has their own problem with decision making.

In 7th grade, children are just learning to use their emotion brain lobe to make decisions and promptly decide to quit everything. This is normal. I was a 7th grader for a whole year. I know 7th grade. Of course you want to quit. But you can't, because I also know 8th and 9th grade, when you wish you didn't quit. In fact, future you just visited me last night in a time machine and forbid me from letting present you quit. So you can't.

7th grade just ended, and the 7th grader is downloading jazz sheet music and practicing twice as long now, at his own volition, because he is interested in joining the jazz band at the high school he qualified for. Are you writing this down? This is your recipe for grit.


Academic work qualifies as grit if it is advanced, confusing, time consuming and hard. This year, it's going to be writing. Unfortunately, my child just spent 3 straight hours on his computer working on a weekend writing assignment for his insane teacher, so I'm going to have to raise the bar.

With the little time that we had, we read the first 2 chapters in our book. I asked 3 questions:

  • What did it say?
  • What is it really saying?
  • What do you think about it?

He identified a few subtle elements of the passages. A good start. He failed to notice the really broad obvious themes, but so do most adults, including me. And best of all, he commented on the text without using the word 'lame'. It's a start. When you read the writing article in this issue you'll see how quickly we made progress.

Summer writing

Our summer writing program is a big hit even though we haven't gotten to writing yet.  We're in the process of learning how to read and how to choose a topic by stealing from Jewish scripture like all good Hollywood writers...

Summer writing

Our summer writing program is a big hit even though we haven't gotten to writing yet.  We're in the process of learning how to read and how to choose a topic by stealing from Jewish scripture like all good Hollywood writers.

I studied world religion in college and know the contents of the scriptures from each world religion.  The scriptures for these religions - including my own - did not put Hollywood on the map.  This is why I'm studying Jewish scripture.  Plus, it's relatively short stories that we can read in 15 to 20 minutes and discuss.

Our formula is to read a story and discuss what happened.  Then we go back to the text and make sure our summary is exactly what happened and not what my son thinks happened because he thinks he knows better than the text.  Then we look at hidden literary themes and devices, ask what makes this a good story, and what movies or books used that device.

Our first eye opener was the story of Joseph and his brothers.   After we read it, we discussed what happened, who the main characters are and what motivates them.  I found the missing 4 points on my son's reading comp test scores.  During the discussion, he described the main, main character (who's name I won't write because I'm told this is not polite) like we all would.  Then we looked at the supporting text and the text did not support his explanation.  In fact, the text  supports an explanation of this character that I didn't know even though I read the text at least 20 times.

We are one step closer to AP Literature.

On to movies...

Last night, we went to see Ant Man and the Wasp and dissected this movie for our nightly literature work.  After a few weeks of dissecting stories I see the world with new eyes.  We had a meandering discussion, but her are the highlights:

  • The movie uses 'threes' repeatedly.  3 heros working together, 3 villains, 3 daughters, 3 states of the the ant suit, and other threes.
  • This was my warm up to get him to see the main point of the story.
  • The daughters triplet is the lead up theme.  We haven't found this is Jewish scriptures yet; maybe it's there for sons, probably, but we'll get to Ruth and other prominent female characters some day, and maybe check Christian scriptures and the scripture from Islam.  One of my friends is a theology professor and I have her book on women in both scriptures.
  • Then the big point - reuniting the mothers and daughters plus the father and daughter, but the big point in the Ant Mom and Wasp Girl.
  • The whole point of Jewish scriptures - through chapter 40 or so, is the father is separated from his children in the first few chapters and the rest of the whole thing is more separation and reuniting leading to the big reuniting in the first book of Christian scriptures.
  • We were not brought to tears by the mother and daughter thing.  I recommend every mom with a daughter watch I Kill Giants followed by Ant Man and the Wasp.
  • Instead, we brainstormed good movies and books with a Father Reunites With Son Theme.  Most movies have this plot until Kathleen Kennedy ruined Star Wars:  Indian Jones, Empire Strikes back, on and on.
  • My son reads a long list of book series with Dystopian themes.  Fathers are no where to be found usually.  What's up with that?

Most days, my son finds time to connect with his diaspora of friends online.  I stick my head in his room every 20 minutes and announce that he only has 5 minutes left.  Then dinner, Trumpet practice, busy-ness.  Finally we connect for 30 minutes or more for the day's 'Math', which is literature these days.  It's been years since the whining stage, and we have a pleasant and productive discussion that always ends with reviewing the plots and developments in video games.  This is ground breaking father and son time with a teenager.

Algebra and trig

This is a really big topic that is going to take many issues to develop. Here's the first bite sized chunk. We have a very simple formula that we start with.  Take these four equations and any introductory trig problem is solvable:

Algebra and trig

This is a really big topic that is going to take many issues to develop. Here's the first bite sized chunk.

We have a very simple formula that we start with.  Take these four equations and any introductory trig problem is solvable:

  • The angles of a triangle sum to 180
  • The Law of Sines is sin(a)/A = sin(b)/B = sin(c)/C
  • The Law of Cosines is A2 + B2 -2ABcos(c) = C2
  • If you don't have a calculator, you can solve sins and cosines from the unit circle using the Pythagorean theorem (the reduced form of the Law of Cosines)

Then we attack problems.  It's simple to get started if you understand a bit of algebra.  Write down all of the equations and leave variables (like a or A) if you don't have a numeric value from the problem.  Any equation that has one variable is solvable, and you can chip away at the problem.

The fourth bullet above is going to require additional  sessions.  Sometimes we start with the fundamentals of the what and why of trigonometry, and sometimes little bits of this discussion sticks.  But in practice we iterate between what is trigonometry, why it is what it is, and how algebra applies.

I will present the fundamentals of trig in another bite sized chunk in a future article.

At this stage note that a and A are the angle and it's opposite side. We always relabel problems in this way and make c and C the biggest angle and longest side. Some day this won't be necessary. This approach to trig is designed for 10 to 12 year old children.

Issue #2

June 3, 2018 In the final weeks of grade school spring testing. Last minute tweaks to cramming and summer planning begins.
Issue #2
This issue is a wrap up of the spring testing season. Gaps are appearing and need to be addressed quickly. Planning some heavy duty math and over the top writing for summer.
From the Editor
Welcome to Competitive Parent Magazine.

The first issue of Competitive Parent Magazine appeared as an article in  That website featured articles from my first parenting initiative - to get my children into a decent GAT program.   It started with a 3 year old whose older brother some how ended up in a really top notch program, mainly by luck and cheating.   After thousands of hours of research and 100's of experiments on volunteers (almost all who ended up in a GAT program), the easiest and surest way to meet this goal is to train the skills that entrance tests like the COGAT, OLSAT, and WISC4/5 measure. 

Older brother afforded me the opportunity to experiment with the 4th through 7th grade experience.  He's on track to go to the high school of his choice.  Little brother is picking a high school with much more stringent entrance requirements and only accepts geeks.  More on that later.

In the meantime, the goal of Competitive Parent Magazine begins where leaves off, pursing high school with intention and planning, 20 minutes a day of work under the heading 'No Math, No Computer'.  The eventual goal is a child breezing through rigorous college level work in high school, fully loaded with AP courses, and still going to be at 9 pm after an hour or two of homework.

When I started I asked the question, can we get into one of the country's top GAT programs and succeed?  This proved the rule, "You will make progress in that area where you apply effort."  I have modest expectations...

I was a bit disappointed that someone recently missed out on a few extra points on a certain math section of a certain math test.   It seems the question wanted to know which theorem applied to the diagram.  Was it the ASA Theorem?  The SAS Theorem?

I immediately knew that we had been thwarted.  I failed as a parent.  It never occurred to me that something as simple and as solvable as calculating the remaining sides and angles of a triangle could be formalized into a theorem and students would be expected to remember the name of the theorem and regurgitate it on a test.  No wonder why kids hate math and the US education system is failing them.

My goal is to cover the deficit in gifted education by covering one concept, proof, theorem, technique at a time between 4th or 5th grade and high school so that my child will know math before it happens.  The big problem in high school math and science is that kids are expected to solve a proof or know a concept in one night of homework that dozens of brilliant scientists took hundreds of years to conceive.   Even worse, the scientists or mathematicians were highly motivated to solve the unsolvable, but students are usually highly demotivated just to resolve a problem in homework in order to go to bed.  Tossing out one nuget a month to a younger child resolves this issue.  I present the material, we struggle, and the challenge grows while the child takes as long as needed to really learn the material.  There is a disclaimer, of course, that gifted education does the same thing, but do they do it at the 99.9% level?  I think not.

Back to the drawing board.  Today, my 9 year old, the prime beneficiary of mistakes with Mr. Oldest Child, will be presented with and solve these theorems.

For starters, we use our #1 GoTo Geometry Solution Protocol:  Solve everything you can solve before you read the question.   With trig, it's pretty straightforward:
  • a + b + c = 180
  • Law of sine:  A/sin(a) = B/sin(b) = C/sin(c)
  • Law of cosines, aka Pythagoras' Theorem when c is not 90o:  A2 + B2 - 1/2ABcos(c) = C2
That's pretty much it.  That and a little algebra.  Also, A is a side and 'a' is the opposite angle.  We always re-label the diagram in this way.  C is the longest side.  It helps at this age.
If I only had 20 minutes to teach trig, I would spend 19 of it teaching the 4 rules of algebra, 30 seconds showing 2 similar triangles and yada yada yada let's use the 3 things above and just solve what's missing.  Of course, I'll go into much more detail in future issues.

Once you've solved everything that can be solved, you can look at the question and see what's missing.  This won't work, of course, for a high school junior taking the SAT, or maybe it will, but it certainly works when there are no time limits on the test.

I always have to look up congruent versus similar.  I don't have the luxury of a photographic memory from 3 years at the Word Board.   I was standing there for 3 years asking questions not giving answers.  So I looked up congruent triangle and the first hit was that #$%@*#!!!! ASA theorem.  Apparently it's harder than I thought.  Our experiment today is to use 3 three bullets above and put this theorem out of its misery.

The MAP is not the SAT.  I thought the MAP was a subset of the SAT, and that studying for the SAT and actually taking it would make the MAP a breeze, but I was wrong.

First of all, the MAP asks about the ASA and SAS theorem, and I'm still mad about that.

Secondly, there's something about the MAP reading section that I don't understand yet that makes it harder than the SAT.   I've got 3 more years to figure this out.  My current working theory is that it has something to do with specifying what an author is implying by choice of wording and how topics are covered in the essay.  This is the key to an 800 on the reading section of the SAT, of course, but there is enough other question types that a 13 year old with an implication = result deficit can make a decent showing by answering other questions, like what does 'concillitoritudtion' mean in line 33.

I was late to the implication = result game.  In fact, I couldn't figure out that most books were about something else until I was 39 years old.  You'd think that if an author wrotte an entire book on a topic, the book was on that topic, but it turns out that the book is actually on a completely different topic, like politics, that appears no where in the book.  Personally, I'm sticking with nonfiction, where the autobiography I recently read on McKinley was in fact about McKindley and not Trump.  Or was it?

For years on getyourchildintogat, readers asked about writing.  Isn't writing a skill just like anything else that would benefit from a concerted intentional effort?  Yes it is.  But my specialty is identifying and training advanced cognitive skills so that I can teach my children trig when they are 9 years old.

But after that MAP disaster and a less than stellar 550 on the SAT, we're going to do some writing on the way to solving the implication = result issue. 
Once again, I'm in uncharted territory, but I think the following problem is highly solvable:
  • A good story is based on one of a handful of fundamentally human themes
  • These themes are already covered in classic literature of all types
  • I don't know anything about Hindu or Buddhist literature
  • Latin American literature is really cool, as I vaguely recall from college, but it makes no sense
  • That leaves Greek literature and Hebrew scriptures
  • The Jewish people formally declared that all Jewish children should read, approximately in the first century.  (I read this in The Source, a semi-fictional book, but it's plausible)
  • Look at the Jewish impact in western culture over the last 500 years in finance, physics, media, Hollywood, Nobel Prize winning, etc.
  • My son loves to talk about movies.  He can see a 30 second trailer for a movie that hasn't started production yet and spend 45 minutes explaining the as of yet unwritten plot.
  • A good movie plot is nothing more than one of the classical themes in literature
  • We're kind of religious.
A little problem solving later, and we are going to read Jewish scriptures.  It's the new daily math.  We'll read something, probably in order because being Irish and American Indian doesn't qualify me as a Jewish scholar, and then I'll give him a topic to write about along the lines of 'What are they saying, and what are they really saying?'  It will be a three part essay, with the final part being 'Which theme's were applied in Star Wars A New Hope or some other movie'.  Spoiler alert - the main theme of both Jewish and Christian scripture is 'Who is Your Father'.  Now you know.  I think using scripture to cover movie themes disqualifies me as a Christian blogger, but I will at least have an opportunity to work in something of values on the side.  

We'll throw in some Christian Scriptures, which I know a bit more about, and I will unleash a child for high school ready to blow away AP English, unless he decides to become a monk like his uncle.

From the description of this website, you might surmise that we have a unique approach to most math subjects.   It's almost a parenting philosophy.  I know many children excelling in after school math programs, year after year.   It's a lot of work, a lot of practice, and might play a role in the child's success.  The problem I have with these programs is that it is math training.  A little at a time, lots of help, and again, lots of practice.

I don't see a direct correlation between after school training and my goal of having a child sitting in a high school AP course with a lot of new material thrown at him every day, with no help, and little time to work once concept before the next 5 concepts need attention.

With algebra, I have a 5 minute introductory course and then I start firing off the questions.  We'll address any pre-algebra that we missed at this time.   I can't imagine how boring pre-algebra would be for its own sake, so we skip it.

Here is my introductory talk on algebra.  If you picture me addressing a new class of recruits with shaved heads who are about to undergo a rigorous 6 week boot camp, it's more fun to read.
  • Look at this equation.  What is wrong with it?  x(5x-4)-2x=7x + 1/2x2
  • The problem is that this equation is broken.  The equation we want looks like x = 7, with x on the left, equals in the middle, and a number on the right.  That is an easy to solve, not broken equation.  What is the value of x in the equation x = 7?  It is 7.  What is the value of x in the first equation?  We don't know.  It's broken.
  • Let's fix it.  There are only 4 things you can do in algebra*.  You can add the same thing to both sides, divide each side by the same thing, multiple both sides of the equation by the same thing, or subtract the same thing from each side of the equation.
  • Since you've never held a live algebra equation in your hand during algebra combat, you will not know which one to do.  So you will try one operation and ask 'did this equation just get more like x = 7, or did it get more complicated?'  If it got more complicated, you will start over and pick the next operation.  There are only 4 operations to try.  Have some extra paper handy.
  • Before you begin, you must get rid of parentheses.  You stink at parentheses.  You also stink at double negatives.
  • Therefore, we will write out each step, and if you screw up the parentheses, if you screw up the negatives, if you do an operation only on one side of the equation, and you will, or do an operation on only part of one side of the equation, and you will, we will find the error and fix it.
  • Am I clear!
  • Yes Sir!
Here are my 4th grade recruits at Navy Seal Team Six training holding an 800 pound log on which I wrote an algebra problem for them to solve.

And here's what the solution might look like after a week and 93 attempts:
  • x(5x-4)-2x=7x + 1/2x2
  • 5x2 - 4x - 2x = 7x + 1/2x2
  • 5x2 - 6x  = 7x  + 1/2x2
  • 5x2  = 13x  + 1/2x2
  • (4 1/2)x2  = 13x 
  • Divide by x - not obvious to raw recruits that this can be done
  • (4 1/2) x  = 13
  • x = 13/ (9 /2)
Here we have to take a break to invent the Flippy Property of Fraction Division, which will result in
  • x = 13 * 2/9
  • x = 26/9
High school Algebra I tests available online have sections with plenty of example problems. Khan Academy has much easier ones, which we never use for that reason.  I need grit as well as algebra dexterity to meet our goals.  Algebra will follow naturally from really complicated problems, but grit won't.  One 15 minutes problem is gold.  15 one minute problems play a role when you're getting nowhere.  You'll also need to backtrack with parentheses problems and double negative problems.

From start to finish, this takes about 4 months if you stick with it.  We never stick with it.  There's also geometry, trig, and obscure competitive math problems to work through.  If we did Algebra I start to finish, it would be too easy.

I think we're going to concentrate on Algebra I this summer.  I'm still mad about the SAS and ASA theorems.  The MAP is not going to get me again.

* There are a few more things to do in algebra, like multiple by 1 (aka 3x/3x) and find roots, but they'll find out later.