Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Does America hate its gifted kids?

In the internet era, everyone loves provocative titles. So Newsweek obliged with a recent essay called "America Hates Its Gifted Kids." The piece offers up the usual arguments: the focus on bringing people up to minimal standards means bright kids get little attention. Teachers who try to differentiate face an uphill battle because, well, it's hard.

All this is true. But does America actually hate its gifted kids?

I'd say that hate is a strong word. I think the emotion is more nuanced. Certainly, we have our narratives. We like the story in which no one expects great things from someone -- and then that person goes on to succeed. Someone who shows a lot of potential from the get-go doesn't fit this narrative as well. We also have a very strong egalitarian impulse. While good in some ways, people are obviously more or less talented in many regards. The problem is that we also dislike the concept of people who think they're somehow more special and better than others. We tolerate this in athletic pursuits (usually -- though sometimes not judging by the reaction to Richard Sherman's NFC championship game rant). But the language of someone being gifted implies this specialness. And sometimes we like to see the tall poppies cut down.

But more I'd say it's just neglect and bad incentives. I was at a conference on educational philanthropy a few years when attendees were asked what they thought were the big issues people should focus on. Gifted children was an option, and got about 2% of responses (and I answered that, so I'm a chunk of that 2%). Teachers wind up with a huge range of academic levels in classes, and have to triage what to address. Weighing options, it's easiest to assume that gifted kids can fend for themselves.

The Newsweek essay does suggest that people be grouped by ability, not age, which is something many of us would love to see happen more broadly. The organization of schools has little to do with the reality of what people can handle. But changing the way 50 million school children are organized is not an easy thing to pull off. And so that's why many parents wind up doing what they can on their own.

Do you think America hates its gifted kids?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Snow day math

Like many other communities on the East Coast, we've had a large number of snow days this year. Yesterday (and today!) was another. Our sitter was snowed in and my husband was stuck in Europe, so I spent the day with the kids. We re-read Graeme Base's Uno's Garden, a book with a number of number games. The plants in the forest decrease in squares (100, 81, 64, 49...) and the number of buildings increase by the power of 2 (2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64...) You can see how quickly numbers can change through different functions as opposed to basic counting sequences.

Uno's Garden starts with 10-squared, and goes down. My 6-year-old and I spent our afternoon working on the concept of "squares." We drew dots to show why these numbers are literally "squares." Then we realized that, hey! They go up from 10 squared. You can square 11, and 12 and so on. We also figured out that multiplying larger numbers is really about multiplying the tens place and the ones place -- that 12 x 12 can be figured out as 12 x 10, and then added to 12 x 2. I told my son I'd draw the correct number of dots in a square if he could figure out the squares and, sure enough, I wound up drawing 121 dots, 144 dots, 169 dots, etc. Once we'd figured them out, he decided to write his own book about Uno in a forest, with 225 plants and 15 buildings, and 196 plants and 14 buildings and he spent hours illustrating this thing.

It was a good way to pass the time (we even managed to talk through the concept of prime numbers) but what was a bit sobering to me was how happy he was about it. He was beaming the whole time and not insisting on playing Mario Kart. Eventually we lost steam as the 4-year-old and 2-year-old demanded attention. But we kept going for a good long time, and he was more excited about this project than I've seen him much lately.

So...what to do. We're not going to homeschool but I purchased Hard Math for Elementary School and I think we'll schedule a regular time to do it together. Extra-curricular homeschool as it were. I'm curious when other families make such enrichment work with their schedules.

Friday, February 07, 2014

More math challenge for early elementary?

The upside of the string of snow/ice days we've had recently is that I've gotten a chance to talk more with my 1st grader about school and what he's learning. He's quite enjoying the graphing unit they're in with math, but talking through some problems with him over lunch, I can see that we really need to be challenging him more.

So I've been looking for math resources to use at home with him. The idea is that he and I would do some math projects together. I'd really like them to be fun because getting him to do homework is occasionally like pulling teeth. I don't need more basic worksheets. But I'm not sure I'll come up with particularly fun or inventive things on my own.

Has anyone found such a book or online resource that's really good for gifted early elementary school aged children? We worked through Bedtime Math and are looking forward to the sequel coming out in March!