Begging Summer Math

We begin 5th grade summer math today. We're two months early as usual so I can prep my readers for this activity...

Begging summer math

We're beginning a 2 year math program. This is a repeat of teaching 2nd grade math to a 5 year old in many ways, including the complaining, the pain, the constant 'I can't do this' and the string of incorrect answers. As you can see, we're using a high school SAT test prep book.

In order to gear up for this, I've spent the last 2 months getting mad at internet usage and video games. This is really hard for me to pull off. I started a new job 6 months ago and I've been in front of the computer day and night all weekend fixing problems at my new job. Today I announced no internet usage until 10 hours of chores, music, jogging, and other activities are completed (2 hours of actual activity and 8 hours of complaining and wasting time doing things like reading, the Kindle being the only screen available).

Did you notice that the article's title says 'begging' and not 'beginning'? I didn't notice this until I published it.

The program

Welcome to the SAT program. Here is a little primer on how it works. Between now and next summer, we're going to do about 5 math problems a day from whichever test and problem we finished the last time. This time next year, we'll start in on the reading comp tests and repeat the whole painful ordeal.

The work is both impossibly hard and really easy at the same time. The easy part is our pace of about 5 problems a day. I don't care if my child wants to do the problems and then redo them all a few times, or if he wants to talk through each problem with me as he goes and ask for help, which is "what do I do?" followed by my answer of "the problem", or "how do I do this" followed by "by reading it and doing it". If we get to a problem that requires some knowledge, like exponential operations, we may take the day off and do exponential problems instead. I'm looking for about 30 minutes of effort, not necessarily any achievement.

The hard part is having to do new, unknown, hard, thinking problems on a Saturday morning when other kids are playing video games. But, we're in a gifted program, and the secret of a gifted program is that the top 2 or 3% of academic performers do a lot more than just school. That's why we're here. We're like the travelling team of academics.

Right now my son is trying out various forms of whining and moaning looking for a response from me. My response to him and to you, the reader, is that we will muddle through for the next year, moaning and all, and magically my son will be doing high school level SAT problems with some skill and success. He might even finish the SAT some day and get a decent score.

Why am I doing this insanity?

My goal is that my son is challenged with some insanely hard and new work each day in order to make him think. There isn't a course in school called 'Do new insane work' so we fill this gap at home. When he goes to math competition, he will be blown away by kids who practice routine calculation problems like 1/x or probabilities so that they speed through the timed competition test. I envy these kids; I love competition and if we had the time and effort, we would do both long slow problems and practice on timed tests. But I won't let my son go the speed route because it will have negative consequences to his future academic work.

During our SAT work, week by week, my son is going to pick up a complete set of formidable academic skills along the way. There are some really big ones like jumping into the unknown with courage and fortitude, knowing that the effort will be rewarded with success. There are lots of little skills like reading a problem and knowing whether the easiest way to address it is just to guess or check each problem. (This is a subset of time management skills as well). Since my child doesn't know the correct way to do things, he will solve a few problems the wrong way, and I'll be proud. He'll need this skill in graduate school. There are so many more. I'll point these out when I see them.

Here is a short list of skills that I don't want my son ever to learn. The skill of being able to do something because I just told you how to do it. The skill of being able to do something fast because this is the exact same problem you just did 72 times previously. The skill of doing a problem quickly because it only requires the application of some stupid math calculation or concept. The skill of doing a one-step straightforward problem. The skill of doing math quickly because you practiced your math facts and in doing it quickly without thinking, you don't appreciate the actual math thing on the page because you're too busy calculating the correct answer.

The Big Five are back

My main skills goal right now is just to refresh the Big Five Problem Solving Skills that we learned starting with COGAT test prep at age 4. When you put a 10 year old in front of an SAT test, each problem is going to have a light bulb experience, and it may take 10 minutes and 3 question readings to get there. These are all multi-step problems with unfamiliar math concepts. A high school sophomore would have a completely different experience. When you do grade level work, you don't get need to use the Big Five skills.

Here is an example from today. If mxm7 = m28 and (m5)y = m15, what is the value of x + y? When we tried this type of problem 6 months ago, we ended up backtracking on exponents and algebra for about 3 months. Now we're back. After getting yelled at, I asked him to explain exponential operations to me. This shut him up, because the last time I asked it took him 3 weeks to work out exponents. If anyone cares, let me know. There is an easy way for little kids to work these things out without knowing anything about exponents and never see or memorize a formula again. Nonetheless, this was a hard problem.

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