Friday, March 26, 2010
When It's Your Kid...
Peer pressure is starting to kick in, too. A few days ago he got a problem wrong in class, and several of the other students did that "oooo" sound they do. He was embarrassed, and angry, and a little upset at the teacher for not doing anything about it.
I was glad he told me about it, but not really sure how to respond. I empathized that it was no fun to be singled out like that, and tried to explain that the "oooo" thing was rooted in the other kids thinking of him as incredibly smart, and feeling some relief that he was actually human. He agreed, and promised me that he wouldn't try to dumb down his answers to fit in. He just got really frustrated at his classmates, both for being so far behind and for being so unpleasant about it.
(Just for the record, he wasn't posing; he really is bouncing off the ceiling of the curriculum.)
It was hard to hear, both as an educator and as a parent. As a parent, you hate to hear your kid get frustrated with school, and I remember going through some similar stuff myself. And as an educator, I hate to see a bright and curious kid get turned off on math because it's moving so slowly.
I told him it would get tougher and more interesting as he got older, and even volunteered to teach him some more advanced stuff myself, just so he wouldn't get completely turned off. That night I helped him figure out how to determine his average points-per-game in basketball; when he figured out that it was just division, he lit up. It solved one problem -- he actually had to grapple with something for a bit, and got the satisfaction of meeting a challenge -- but it may have caused another: now he's even farther ahead, and therefore subject to even more boredom.
As an educator, though, it brought home to me again my conflicted attitude toward 'tracking.' I know the arguments against it, and concede a great deal of truth to some of them. Yes, it tends to recreate socioeconomic class lines. Yes, it can lead to a sense of entitlement in the 'honors' group, and a sense of futility on the other end.
But at the same time, I see a bright and curious child basically forced to circle the airport over and over again waiting for others to eventually get out of his way, and I don't see the point. He's bright and curious now; if he's frustrated for too long, he'll turn his attentions elsewhere. It's well and good to talk about diversity, but he's getting mad at his classmates for holding him back, and they're getting mad at him for outshining them. It seems like respect for diversity should include diversity of talent, and should involve letting different levels of talent express themselves.
If he had outstanding athletic talent, he could express it freely and win approval for it. If he had outstanding artistic talent, the same would hold. But as a really bright kid whose wheels keep turning, he's considered suspect. It's a waste, and it's causing him real pain.
Kick me out of the Liberal Academic Club for saying so, but I can't wait for tracking to start. The kid is bored to tears -- literally -- and I just don't see what purpose is served. He's bright enough to notice how other kids react to him, but still young enough that he can't just tune it out. At that age, school is huge. It's his world. Being ostracized and bored on a daily basis seems like punishment, but he hasn't done anything wrong. He's a great kid with a lively mind and a true appetite for learning; I don't want that beaten out of him. I understand that other kids haven't had some of the advantages he has, but punishing him won't solve that. It's not his fault.
Philosophically, I get the arguments in favor of public schools and against tracking. I haven't yet given up on the public school, but my anti-private-school dogma is starting to fray. (In the words of a button from the 80's, my karma ran over my dogma.) I hope the school is able to raise its game soon, but ultimately, I feel much more obligation to TB than I do to the school. If we can't track within schools, we certainly can track between them. I'd hate to have to go that route, but this is just wrong. Egalitarianism is nice, but when it's your kid...
Check out the website 'www.kitchentablemath.blogspot.com' to read about all the frustrations that parents have with elementary school math and what some parents are doing.
Also, check in your local area for weekend math academies. They are usually non profit classes run by local mathematicians (the real thing...PhD's) on the weekends and they really challenge students who excel in math. They usually start taking students at about third grade.
Also, check to see if your public school has a pull out program for students who aren't being challenged in a specific area. Many public schools move students up to a higher class when they start to get bored.
Good luck. This is not an easy one to deal with. There is lots of information out there.
As someone who has a learning disability, I remember the pain/shame of being a horrible reader and obviously being at the bottom of the class at reading time. I think I might have preferred tracking, so that I wouldn't have had to read aloud in front of all of the "smarties"!
In any case, good luck !!
Around here, it is the average kids who often head off to private (parochial) schools. The schools are no great shakes academically, but they can be much better for some kids when attention is being devoted upward to advanced kids or downward to remedial instruction.
So much is dependent on the school system structure in your state, there's no reason it has to be the way it is.
My son & daughter are also in the advanced group, the tiering helped them stay engaged, but so math/science fairs, special extracurricular activities (24 card game!), and no small bit of effort on our part to do fun & challenging things.
My experience with the teachers has also been that even in the "tracked" classes, some kids need more and they do their best to provide it. We've been really lucky.
Honestly, I think Geeky Boy got bored a long time ago and that caused some issues in middle school. Now that he gets to take the higher level classes even if he isn't the neatest, most organized kid (yep, that's what the middle school tracking was based on, in part), he's back to enjoying the content again.
And we considered private school for both our kids. Financially, we didn't think we could swing it. And I felt horribly guilty since I believe in public schools at all levels. But, the best thing you can do, besides supplementing your kids' education is to write the superintendents and school board. That's where curriculum is set and you might be able to make some headway there.
If your son is not the only one, it's possible some of the teachers could band together for a grant proposal. A math corner of the room meant for enrichment just like the reading corner in so many classrooms might do it. Combined with a more collaborative, group-based pedagogy, it could work without the "smart stigmatizing."
In the end, I'm not so sure how successful public school was for my children (now 27 and 23 in M.A. programs). As a single mom in graduate school with teenagers, it was darn near my only option. My son got his GED at 16 out of boredom and went to Community College. I saw it coming with my daughter and home schooled her for a year, yes, while doing my Ph.D. coursework and being a GTA and RA. It was the only solution for us, but I think you have other options. If I chad the money for a good private school earlier, I think my son would have been spared the struggling, bored years from 6th grade to dropping out as a sophomore (got the GED right away though).
Do something before frustration turns to boredom. In lieu of homeschooling, see if he can be pulled from math time for private tutoring. Surely there's an available room where this can happen, and surely the school would see this as a better option to losing him to home schooling or a private school. When I homeschooled my daughter, we did the reverse--she went to school for the first two periods for Trig and French, then came back home for the rest. It does not have to be all or nothing.
Also, I skipped a year of school, and it was okay. I didn't have many social problems, but I still was bored academically a lot.
The school district I went to (& they continue this to this day), if you are advanced they let you go to the middle school for classes (not all day). Similar fashion you go to the high school for classes while in middle school. ONce in high school you can take classes at the local CC or local RU. Other students were allowed to skip.
Elementary school I went to we went at our own pace (with the teacher pushing us to challenge ourselves). If we got ahead, we got ahead and kept going. At the end of the year we finished the curriculum and started the next year's curriculum.
Most schools (private and public) are not well equipped for those that are truly significantly different than most of the population unless you have a specialized school. Those are rare. The truly gifted that I have known all went to public schools. The parents realized the private schools in the area were geared towards kids from upper middle class backgrounds who did well in school but weren't head & shoulders above the rest of the population in terms of intelligence. Tuition at these schools was significant and still were not set-up for the exceptionally bright anymore than the public schools. Why spend the money? They worked the system and guess what they turned out just fine.
"Kitchen table math" is particularly focused on some really awful math curricula that are out there. You kid's classmates might be behind because of the math books being use!
BTW, I was in a 4/5 classroom, and was doubly bored in 5th grade. If not for two things (a pull-out program and my Dad's college algebra textbook), half of elementary school would have been a waste of time.
Martin Gardner's recreational math books have done more for math education than any tracked classes I know. Aha! Insight! and Aha! Gotcha are good entry level books. Also check out Marilyn Burns' books--the content is excellent despite the slightly obnoxious titles ("Math for Smarty Pants" and "The I hate mathematics book!")
* Afterschooling math. We did Singapore Primary Math as our main "spine", but had lots of other options, too. Later, she did eIMACS and Art of Problem Solving.
* Beginning in 3rd grade, her teachers let her pre-test on each chapter and just do what she didn't know. This sent her through 2-2.5 years of math each year (actually more, since she did each book in the entirety and no class ever did the whole book).
* Beginning in 5th grade, she did Algebra I. Since then, she's moved through one standard course a year, sometimes online or on her own, others in a class with other (older) students.
* Math Contests. We never did MOEMS, but I've heard good things about it (www.moems.org). The Abacus International Math Challenge is a nice untimed math contest (http://www.gcschool.org/program/abacus/index.aspx). Mine started doing the AMC-8 in 5th grade and did MathCounts in 7th & 8th.
* Summer math camps rock! My daughter has attended AwesomeMath in Dallas and MathCamp. There are others, too. He's still young for them, but they're good to have on the horizon.
* Art of Problem Solving (www.artofproblemsolving.com) is where the top math students in the US (and some from around the world) hang out. They have books, classes, forums, etc.
We've also tried the variations on schooling. Mine was in private school through 6th, homeschooled in 7th and 8th, and now is in public school for high school.
Differentiation is critical, especially in elementary school. I assume this teacher doesn't have every child in the room reading the same thing all the time. Why would it be okay for them to do the same math all the time? I think you should meet with TB's teacher and discuss your concerns.
If your kid is bright enough to worry about, there aren't any other kids that can form a natural intellectual peer base in his grade, so tracking will only go so far.
For example, my school tracked reading in 1st grade. Trouble is, I started on the fourth and fifth grade books and I had a lot of waiting around after that year. In fifth grade, I was still reading ~20 fold more than the bar they set for the most advanced students in the school.
Getting pulled out for private tutoring, or even just reading on his own in the library (that's what they did with my dad), might work somewhat well, but he will end up being a bit on his own socially if he doesn't have a peer group with basketball or something.
Despite what Mountainmums suggests, skipping a grade can create other/different/worse social problems (worse, if you'd ask my mother... they used to skip kids a lot more than they do nowadays but when you're two years behind, 8th graders hitting puberty gets very awkward, and US K-8 schools are designed first for socialization and secondly for education).
Homeschooling is effectively the same thing, if The Boy is ever going to go back to 'the system' (in college or beyond). He'll come out, on average (for a homeschooler) two grades ahead. It can allow him to find peers where social things will flows more naturally, but it'll create other socialization differences (not necessarily all weaknesses, but definitely differences).
Look, a bright kid can learn everything in K-5 in about six weeks of private tutoring or intense self-education with textbooks. What you need is to find a creative solution that helps him get by socially. Judge by how happy he is, not by how much he's learning.
Part of me has to ask, because it's part of MY dogma, if in a few years time the girl is every bit as bored (maybe moreso, having an older brother to learn from as well!), but gets along better socially, are you still going to make sure she gets extra opportunities in math? Forget the myth of social equality as it relates to other families for a minute. Are you even going to carry it through in your own?
I spent a lot of first and second grade not doing anything that the other students were doing (I entered first grade reading at a fourth/fifth grade level; this was at the time where you weren't really expected to read until the end of first). My teachers and my parents worked together to find alternate activities I could be doing at all times, and to integrate them into the classroom. It was a pain for them, but it kept me from going insane. Maybe you and TB's teacher could team up to find something else for him to do in the classroom, or some other way for him to self-pace.
Also: what about conceptual, higher-level math, rather than more computation? Playing with stuff like that takes him outside of the progression of regular math, so doesn't give him skills that will set him up to be more bored later, but proves that math can matter. Statistics? Fractals, which are complicated but can be explained and explored at easier levels? Physics (which is all about math at the macro level)? No idea what sorts of resources are available for younger folks learning this stuff, but it might work...
Interestingly, tracking is not townwide. We have a huge population for a town and a wide diversity of socioeconomic groups. A pretty good chunk of kids are English language learners, and that makes things interesting as well.
I feel for your son. I would be frustrated as well.
You should explore an IEP. Even if your school doesn't do "pull outs" for gifted kids, there should be someone who coordinates gifted education at the district level (Or maybe a person in charge of "curriculum and instruction"). Call that person directly and ask what can be done for your kid.
Also, our district is using a computer program to assist with advanced kids in math.
Our state requires schools to identify kids as gifted, but provides no funding to do enrichment activities or pull outs or anything.
And to the first commenter who suggested that you homeschool your kid: I remain in awe of those who think that the job that teachers do is a cinch to do at home on your own. The level of expertise and training required to be a classroom teacher is above my personal abilities, and I have a Ph.D. It is NOT an easy thing to do well. It takes a huge amount of time and energy to create a decent curriculum. And there are some kids who won't do well being taught by a parent.
I'm sorry, I'm just sick of people who toss of "oh, just home school your kid" as a solution, without realizing the huge undertaking it represents.
Bright kids will find something to occupy themselves. It's far easier to make that schoolwork.
This really resonated with me. Its ok to be a star football player, but god help you if you excel in the intellectual realm. You will be punished.
I call BS on that. At the primary school level a star football player would be forced to play with kids his/her own age who were of much lower talent. Some tracking happens in little league but still you have wide variance in talent that can drive the talented crazy.
In the county I am from, the talented academically were given far greater chance to develop their talents than those athletically talented. Basically all the bright kids went to their own school within the school (all honors/AP courses, smaller classes sizes, usually the better teachers as well). Stud of a football player had to play on the same team with kids who would never play football beyond high school.
Ditto. Stats is both incredibly useful and an almost magically new experience for folks who like math. But most kids get little to no exposure to it, even at top private schools.
And from a practical angle, it's where the money is (yes, I realize that wasn't the point of your post).
This is what happened to 3 of my buddies and me. Our 4th grade elementary teacher (who was in her 70s) spent about 10 minutes a day with us working out of a 5th or 6th grade math book published in the 1930s. Yes, some of it was drilling on basic problem solving, but by the end of the year I understood geometric progressions (starting the joys of 2 squared).
There's no need to homeschool etc, but it might be helpful if the teacher in question actually "differentiated" instruction.
When I was in elementary school, I went to CTY summer school and had a blast (probably the best educational experience I had ever had, pre-college), and after that, I skipped a grade (8th, maybe?). Even after skipping a grade, I was still ahead of things and bored in school. When I went into high school, I was 1-2 years ahead in math classes, and topped out by junior year.
My general experience of elementary and high school was frustration at how boring it was. It was only after I got out of high school -- and briefly, when I got to go to summer camp at CTY -- that I really learned how wonderful and stimulating education could be.
I definitely encourage you to consider skipping a grade, if it's an option. For me, it had advantages and disadvantages (disadvantages were primarily social ones), but I think the advantages won out. One thing I would say is that the earlier you can skip a grade, the better; the later it is, the harder the social aspects are likely to be.
I can also highly recommend CTY's summer math program, if it is still anything like what it was in ~ 1990. It was a wonderful experience. There are probably others like that as well. I highly recommend giving your son as many opportunities to go to math camps or gifted & talented camps as possible -- especially as you get closer to high school, it makes a big difference to meet and spend time with peers who love math and realize that it's ok to be like that.
I was lucky that my school had activities for Math & Science kids. We had a trip once a month to see some outside speaker or go to some museum or go to a math camp for a day; that was cool. One other thing I did near the end of high school was to take a class at a local community college in the evenings. That was pretty cool. In retrospect, I probably woulda enjoyed doing more of it.
And finally: as his father, you can have an extraordinary impact, by showing him cool math stuff, and surrounding him with other adults who love math. I was lucky that my dad and my parent's best friend were both scientists. If you're not like that yourself, there are some cool blogs out there that you can check out. I highly recommend Dan Meyer's blog (http://blog.mrmeyer.com/). Also check out Rhett Allain's blog (http://scienceblogs.com/dotphysics/) -- most of it is probably much too advanced for him right now, but you might spot a few neat things there. Even if you aren't very knowledgeable about math, follow some of this stuff and you might be able to keep your son's interest and become as interesting as a professional mathematician.
His solution was to convince my mom to homeschool him. That way he could proceed at his own pace.
Homeschooling is great for many kids, but I understand that it isn't the best option for everyone. Whatever solution you find The Boy's boredom I wish him luck.
And I do think that teaching him more advanced math at home is a good idea. :)
Just please remember that kids don't learn the same as college students. My dad used to be a college professor and he tried to teach my brother and me the same way that he had taught his college students; this didn't work very well, and resulted in me being turned off math and greatly frustrating my brother. Hopefully you already understand this, but I just wanted to mention it.
One of the good methods for dealing with this that costs a school district nothing is "flexible grouping" - a flexible arrangement that isn't tracking. Each unit students are assessed at the beginning, then grouped across the grade level according to their ability in that new unit. Weaker students benefit too, as they are more able to ask questions and things move at their pace. Groups are reformed at the beginning of each new unit.
Enrichment programs. A stimulating home environment. These are reasonable options. But you know what else is good? Learning to work with and alongside people of differing abilities. That's citizenship. That's public school.
If your child is extremely bored in all subject areas I think you need to find a gifted school. They are definately out there and if you are in a metropolitan area like NYC there are great high schools for gifted students. I know he is only in third grade, but keeping him from being discouraged is important in the big picture.
I am also wondering if the teacher engages him in helping the other students. This can also be rewarding and helps develop other skills. This worked really well for my nephew who is advanced and there are few alternative school choices and a lack of tracking where he lives.
I do feel very grateful that in 5th grade a gifted coordinator identified my ability and essentially taught me 7th grade honors math in 6th grade. From the 7th grade on, I was essentially in 1 honors grade level (so 2 levels above age) above my class. I self-taught my senior year, with good support from the math teachers in my school.
I don't remember ever being frustrated by the pace, but maybe that's a personality difference. I do think what was done for me better prepared me for college.
Of course, I also took Honors Differential Equations in college with a high school junior. While she wasn't a spectacular mathematician as far as I could tell (she probably got an A, but I didn't get the impression that this was easy material for her), the fact that she was essentially 4 years beyond her high school peers' honors math level and 5 years beyond the typical HS student was eye-opening. She presumably had some fantastic advantages in college, assuming that she went into a field where math mattered.
Straw man argument.
You don't have to reject public education to believe that something should be directed at each child's abilities. That was the norm back when I was in school, and our schools were bursting at the seams.
The problem that arose in the last few decades is that resources have been directed away from the top 20% (not to mention the top 1%) and into federally funded "title" programs for the bottom 10%. More recently, the emphasis has been put on teaching to the bottom 1/3 to ensure that "all" will pass a state-mandated high-stakes exam. This will only get worse if teacher's pay is based on passing rates on a low-ball exam of that sort rather than one that measured whether I gained at least one year in math (from 7 to 8) when in 5th grade.
I was advanced in art and it was utterly boring having to complete basic skills alongside people without artistic talent. I don't recall being treated like a star athlete, but I realized that the art problems were not boring, I was. I am not sure if that applies to math, but I certainly came up with my own art challenges with simpler material. In a way it helped me build my creativity.
In my experience, the private schools did more work, the students had more autonomy, and the teachers had better academic qualifications, more drive, and the unionized deadwood could be eliminated. Oh, the teachers did a better job and had superior outcomes while making less than their unionized brethren in the public schools.
A big thing, the parents who send their children to parochial or private schools interested in education, they have some skin in the game (financial and otherwise). I would not dream of putting my child in a public school in this day and age.