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Adventures in high school classes January 5, 2016

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, science, Uncategorized, younger son.
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The younger son was very adamant that he wanted to take high school biology this year.  He wasn’t in my face about it, but whenever the question was put to him about whether he was sure he wanted to do that, he was pretty firm.

My approach to dealing with this, after seeing he was sure was, “What the hell?!”  Worst case scenario is that he fails and has to retake it in four years with his age mates.

The first couple assignments were great.  However, when he hit the second unit of the class, I started having second thoughts. It wasn’t going well.  And would failing a class leave a long term scar on his academic record?

He was worried, too, but he started asking me how he could improve things.  I noted that he started saying he needed to “study harder,” but when I asked him what he meant, he wasn’t sure.  I started giving him specific suggestions and pointers and told him that doing those things is what “study harder” meant.

I learned a few things from this experience.  First, younger son didn’t know how to study when he started this class.  To anyone who has ever dealt with a bright kid, you’ll identify this as a common problem.  It’s hard for kids to learn how to study when the subject matter they’re tackling is relatively easy and doesn’t require the type of effort that a seriously challenging class does…or any other life obstacle.  I think we’re all convinced this was a good experience in that regard.  Second, I’m probably more worried about his grades than I thought, but I think I’m managing not to be a helicopter parent.  There were some assignments he submitted that he didn’t ask me to review.  Some came back with really good grades and some didn’t, but I really wanted this to be his own work.  Honestly, it’s a bit more stressful to be hands off than I thought.  I keep reminding myself that I should be celebrating a good effort instead of relatively effortless higher grade (that probably indicates he wasn’t seeing anything new).

To all of our surprise, he pulled his grade up to a B- for the first semester.  This guarantees he won’t be a straight A student in high school, but I personally think he got a lot more out of it now than if he’d taken it when he was supposed to.

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World’s Worst Officemate November 23, 2015

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, family, gifted, homeschooling, research, science, younger son.
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I have been working at home, trying to finish up this PhD thing once and for all.  Earlier this year, the place I worked was shut down and so I figured that if I had any desire to stay in academia (which I do), the PhD thing is kind of a necessary evil.

Because of the job situation, however, I also ended up with a new officemate: my younger son.  It was actually a combination of factors: private school is expensive, middle school is a cesspool of derision and contempt (and therefore not the best place to develop social skills), and, finally, the younger son really wanted to take high school biology and no one would let him.  Except me, being the overindulgent parent I am.

I have to admit that he’s been a bit easier to deal with than his older sibling.  It’s amazing how much easier this education thing is when you’re not dealing with ADHD.  The younger son is amazingly self-sufficient and does a good job of keeping a schedule.

I have, however, discovered one major flaw in this plan.  I had no idea how much middle schoolers talked.  Mostly, he gets excited about the things he’s learning in his class, which really tickles me.  However, he wants to share everything with me.  Every. Thing.  I have learned more about genes and cell processes and reproduction in the past two months than I probably did during my own high school biology class.  I have learned about social and mental and physical health.  I am beginning to speak Spanish with a level of proficiency that has not been present since my teens.  And mostly, I see him being happy and excited about learning again.

Unfortunately, he’s not quite so receptive when I begin to talk about coding and arrays and debugging and compiler issues and, especially, writing.  I have begun, as of late, to tell him that while I’m glad he’s learning, I really need him to let me focus on my work, too.  Someday, if he has to share an office with someone, this will be good real life practice for not making them insane.  At least he’s not asking to go out every ten minutes, like the dogs.

Mom, could you homeschool me? December 15, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, younger son.
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I knew we had to do something when, early in the school year, the younger son asked me to homeschool him.  When I asked him why, there was the range of answers that included he’s not looking forward to losing recess when he gets to middle school, he’d like to spend more time with me (obviously we’re nowhere being a teenager right now), and even wanting to finish college at 14 or 15.

All I could think was, “Aren’t you supposed to be the easy one?!”

He is.  Honestly, homeschooling him would be emotionally easy, but I’m not so ready to quit everything and become a full-time mom again.  Or maybe ever.  Not sure, and hope to never find out.  The fact of matter is that he’s involved in so many activities that homeschooling him would involve me becoming a full-time chauffeur, and I know it would make me crazy.

On the other hand, he’s said he’s not sure he wants to leave school because he likes it and would miss his friends.  After several discussions, he told me:

I think I need to write a pro and con list.

In the meantime, I’ve done a list in my head.  First and foremost, he likes school.  To me, that is the prime reason to keep him there.  If he’s got a good thing going, don’t mess with it.

Beyond this, however, we’re discussing some academic acceleration for a couple subjects at school.  I honestly do think that he’s better off staying where he is, but it’s also clear that the standard curriculum is not going to cut it.  At a couple points, I contemplated whole grade acceleration, but I’m now opposed to this idea.  I spent a lot of time reading through the Iowa Acceleration Scale material, and he has a couple things going against him: he’s already one of the youngest in his class, he’s small, and he’s athletic.  Participation in sports is a major no-no if you’re going to bump kids up entire grades because this can have very real implications for the physical development and ability later on.  I’m now certain that this would be a bad idea for him, and so subject acceleration in a couple areas seems to be the best solution.  Fortunately, the school is, so far, open to discussion.

The other thing I’ve come to realize is that there’s really no hurry in getting through school.  Is it really any better to go to college early and find a job early and lose that much time from your childhood?  I realize that, for some kids, this is the only way to deal with the gap between mental ability and typical school pacing.  Or maybe they are really that driven.  I am fortunate in the fact that my kid doesn’t seem to require that level of acceleration, and I’d like to give him as much time as possible to explore his options.

I think, most of all, I want him to understand that there’s no reason to hurry up and get there, despite the fact that a lot of people think that’s somehow a sign of competence. I guess I’m starting to realize that no one really will care if he finishes high school in two years or four…just that he get there and finished.  If he finishes in four, though, there’s the opportunity to explore more interests and do other things without the stress and expectations of adulthood weighing him down.  Given the opportunity, there are a lot of other things I wish I could’ve done in my teens that aren’t an option now.  I therefore hope he understands the value of taking his time: maybe he can learn to enjoy the journey.

Ms. Cherish Goes to the Atheist Meeting September 17, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in gifted, religion.
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I’ve contemplated writing on this topic for a while.  At the same time, I haven’t wanted to.  Probably because I’m not sure what the point of revisiting this is other than to gripe.  But then I came across this article about misogyny in atheism and decided I was just irritated enough to say something.

What’s a blog if not a soapbox for such issues?  That being said, if you feel the need to vent about the article, please take to the site where it is published.

Let’s start with some background: I am an agnostic Quaker.  Yeah, such things do exist.  What this means is that I am a fence sitter on the concept of a god.  I don’t think there’s really any way to disprove that a god does or does not exist (and I have a pretty good background in both physics and math, so I’m fairly certain I know what such a proof would entail).  I know that makes me a heathen in some people’s eyes and an idiot in others.  I could think that way of other people, but that’s where the whole Quaker thing comes in, so I try to refrain.  If nothing, it’s at least a minimal attempt at humility and recognition of the respect everyone deserves…even when I really don’t feel inclined to give it to them.  Or when they aren’t giving it to me.  It’s hard, but I do try.  (In the words of Howard Brinton, it is better to be inconsistently good than consistently bad.)

Because of my varied interests, I have a friends who fall along the whole spectrum of belief not to mention diverse religious preferences among those who are believers.  It’s not a suprise, therefore, that a friend invited me to go to an atheist meeting a while ago.  He said that I would probably fit in very well because of the whole agnostic thing, the fact that I’m a scientist, the fact that my husband and I regularly read Skeptical Inquirer.

Except I didn’t.  And I fully didn’t expect to.  Part of this is because I used to read a lot of skeptical and atheist blogs, mostly for their scientific content.  I started getting irritated a while ago because the tone of such conversations often devolved into religion bashing.  I stopped altogether after the Watson/Dawkins debacle on PZ Myers blog (mentioned in the article above).  Why in the world would I want to spend my time associating with people as obnoxious as Dawkins?  (And I love how Neil deGrasse Tyson makes this point in the video below.)

First, there was the whole Quaker thing.  While a couple people were familiar with it and felt that it was kind of cool, there were others who were just plain stupid about it.  I was grilled on why in the world would I belong to any sort of religiously affiliated group.  “Traditions are inherently bad,” I was told.  I should have replied that sweeping overgeneralizations are not on the top of my list of good things.

Later in the discussion, something came up about raising children.  In particular, one person voiced an opinion that parents don’t have the right to make decisions about their children’s education and that the state ought to have the right to keep parents from passing on religious beliefs to children.  (Not surprisingly, this person isn’t a parent.)  Now, let’s start with the fact that I think this is an extreme view and not representative of most people I know how are non-believers.  But this is also the basis for many (overly vocal) atheists’ opposition to things like the homeschooling.  It seriously pisses me off.

I know that most of the people who are opposed to homeschooling use the whole socialization argument, so being as irritated as I was, I started asking questions to move the topic to that point of discussion.  Then I nailed the person with the fact that research shows that homeschooling is in fact a superior method of socialization compared with a typical educational environment.  As it turns out, I’d spent some time researching the topic and wrote a post on it.  Obviously this person wasn’t going to take me at my word, so I got his email and later sent the link to the article about it.  Silence.

Finally, there came the sexist comments.  They came in the form of praising a female atheist, going on at length about how it was nice to have such a ‘lovely and beautiful woman atheist’ in the group.  It felt like she was being flirted with on a public platform.  Obviously ugly women atheists aren’t all that interesting. Hello?!  I thought freethinkers understood that praising a woman based on her looks rather than her skills and abilities is sexist.

My whole irritation with the freethinker/atheist/etc movement is that it strikes me as the flip side of religious fanaticism.  Instead of fire and brimstone preachers, there are the charismatic (and often assholish) ringleaders who are just as vitriolic as the Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern types.  They are intentionally inflammatory and disrespectful.  Further, they’re an awful smart lot, and they can rationalize everything and they think they know everything.  This is a problem because that’s not what a skeptic or freethinker is.  It amazes me how many people will spew their opinions on topics as fact even though they haven’t done a lick of research.  The thinking from the most vocal atheists is just as black and white as a religious zealots and only sometimes better informed.

I actually think that a lot of this does go back to that whole socialization argument I had with the fellow at the meeting.  Almost everyone I know who is a non-believer is very highly educated.  Most of them went through some sort of formal schooling environment where they learned that they were smarter than everyone else.  In fact, a lot of them will be very forthcoming on that point given their identity is very wrapped up in their intelligence.  And there is a lot of research that shows gifted kids left in that environment have problems, even as adults, relating to others.  The resulting behavior a form of maladaption that can follow people for the rest of their lives.  If they’re never around people who are as smart as they are, they don’t learn much in the way of humility, discussion with others as peers deserving of respect, and continue to underestimate and challenge people (because it’s an ego boosting behavior) as adults.

That’s what really bothers me about this.  Some of these people are incredibly smart and they assume they can figure anything out because they’re rational.  They fail to see complexities and nuance in discussion about difficult topics, particularly if those complexities involve emotions.  They assume that they can solve any problem with their reasoning without actually researching topics to understand where their reasoning may have faults and failures.  They fail to see their opinions as exactly what they are: a dogmatic response to something not always grounded in research or respect for others.  Agreement is the litmus test for whether or not you’re really a ‘good’ atheist.

It’s not all of them, but it’s a lot of the most vocal ones. And it’s very off-putting for people (regardless of gender) who may otherwise be interested in what they have to say.

I walk the line June 24, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, older son.
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I’ve been watching the older son grappling with his courses for the past year.  He was taking courses through an independent study organization to finish up some credits he needs to enter college.  I didn’t feel comfortable with some of these (especially literature classes), so we decided to go this route.

In doing this, I’ve discovered that the older son has a deadly combination of issues: ADHD and perfectionism.  I didn’t quite understand how the two fed into each other, but I can definitely see it now.

The older son also had the disadvantage of not working in the classes with peers.  The first few he did were in print rather than online. He would struggle for days to complete a single assignment, and it didn’t make sense to me at first.

Another thing I found odd was how one of his teachers was initially very abrupt with him.  It didn’t take long before she had completely changed her tune and was being incredibly nice and encouraging, which I thought was odd.

The second set of classes have been online and part of the assignments involved discussing things in a forum, so the student could see what the other students had submitted.  This was an eye-opening experience for me.  It also helped me make sense of his teacher’s dramatic change in behavior.

After watching him and seeing what other students have submitted, I realized three things:

1 – He can easily and quickly finish things that are simple.

2 – When things appear to be more difficult and/or time-consuming, he has difficulty concentrating and finds himself unable to stay on task.

3 – Part of the reason things are difficult and/or time-consuming is because he has seriously high expectations for himself that are way beyond what is often required.

I’m not saying he doesn’t have ADHD, because he most certainly does.  We tried for years to forego medication.  One day, he came to me and said he couldn’t even concentrate on projects he wanted to do for fun, so we opted at that point to look at something to help.  (He does take meds, but it’s the lowest dose that’s effective.)

However, in homeschooling him, neither of us had a reference for what a ‘typical’ high schooler should be doing in his classes.  He would give me an assignment, and we would spend a lot of time revising it.  He worked very hard, but progress was slow.  In one or two cases, he would hand things in half done because of lack of time.

What surprised me is that even the items he handed in half done or that were rough drafts often came back with exceptional grades.  I remember one assignment full of rough drafts of short essays which he aced.  I couldn’t figure it out.

The problem is that both of us really expect a lot out of him, and I learned, after seeing work that other students were doing, that it was likely too much.  Far too much.  While he was going into a detailed analysis of similarities because characters from two different novels set in two completely different cultural and temporal reference frames, it appears his fellow students who likely are trying their hardest, are writing something much more simplistic.  They are being told to elaborate, and he’s being told to eschew obfuscation.

The thing that has me concerned is that college is around the corner, and I worry that he’s going to continue to hold himself to those standards, even when it is so obviously working against him.  He struggles with the idea that it’s better to just hand something in, even if incomplete (by his standards), than to turn it in late, though perfect.

A lot of perfectionists deal with this.  I have told him that it’s not a bad trait, but that he needs to save it for the things that are really important to him.  If he wants to write the Great American Novel that people will pore over and debate and analyze, that is the time to be a perfectionist.  If he’s handing in an assignment that fulfills the requirements laid out by the teacher, who likely will spend ten minutes skimming the entry, being a perfectionist is really not going to help.  He needs to learn to walk that line.  To some extent, we all do.

A Rite (Triangle) of Passage May 13, 2014

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, family, gifted, homeschooling, math, older son, teaching, younger son.
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pythagorean_catThe younger son recently started his pre-algebra class.  Somehow, this has made math a bit better.  I think the fact that it has algebra in the title makes him feel very accomplished and that, in turn, has made him more enthusiastic about math.

The other day, he was doing some of his homework, and the lecture was confusing to him.  I listened to the lecture and then said, “It makes more sense if you draw a picture.”  He responded that, “Pictures always help me learn better.  I guess the math program doesn’t realize that some of us are visual learners.”  I was both amused and quite stunned.  I think I’ve been discussing educational theory a bit too much at the dinner table.  I can tell he’s listening to us.

Tonight, he hit a milestone.  He called Mike over, and I followed, so he could ask us how to pronounce “pythagorean.”  He was sure he’d heard us talking about it before (yeah, we discuss this stuff around the dinner table), and he wanted to be sure that was what it was.

“Oh, wow!” I said.  “You’re doing the Pythagorean Theorem.  That’s awesome!”  Suddenly, there was an impromptu round of cheering and high-fiving.  The older son even came over and gave his little brother a big hug, saying, “Woo hoo!  The Pythagorean Theorem is awesome.”

As the lecture progressed, it reiterated the terminology, focusing on right triangle legs and hypotenuse.  Given I’ve had ZZ Top in my head, I had to immediately sing, “She’s got legs!  She has a hypotenuse!”  I wasn’t able to come up with much more, though.

Yes, I have to admit that I realized how odd it was, in retrospect.  We were having a celebration that younger son had made it to the Pythagorean Theorem, and we were all making a huge deal about it.

But younger son didn’t think so.  He thought it was awesome and giggled continuously for the next few minutes. I guess he likes having a math cheer team.

 

The “dear teacher” letter November 11, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, math, teaching, younger son.
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Last week was parent-teacher conferences at the younger son’s school.

If you don’t know, I dread these things.  I had been feeling better after last year, but then I realized I’d been lulled into a false sense of security.  In particular, two years ago, younger son’s teacher was having a fit because he wasn’t doing math with all the other kids.  The thing we kept getting was, “He’s really not all that great at math.”  Last year, we attempted to have the younger son do his math curriculum at school.  We kept trying for a month.  However, it was very clear that his teacher was unable to help him, so they sent him out into the main office area where there was a lot of traffic…and no one to help him.  We said we would take care of it at home and didn’t hear another thing about it again.

At the beginning of this year, there was some noise that he would do the math at home in addition to the math at school.  We quickly put a stop to that and said, “You’re punishing him for being smart.”  Making him do two sets of math a day is no good.

The thing is, I really don’t understand this.  He’s doing excellent by standardized testing standards.  What more do they want?  I sure hope they aren’t saying, “If Johnny worked just a bit harder, he would be at the 98th percentile instead of the 96th!”  Or are they saying that if they worked harder, they could beat Suzie’s score in math?  I seriously doubt it…and if they are, then I think they’re a little bit whacked.  All I can think is that this is either a control issue or a conformity issue.  It has absolutely nothing to do with his math ability.

Which, incidentally, isn’t all that good.  “You know, he’s not the top student in the class as far as math testing goes.”  That’s what we got.  I suspect this is, “He’d be doing better if he was doing math with all the rest of his classmates,” as in I should feel guilty for making him miss out on the stuff his friends are doing.

Unfortunately for her, I really get irritated with things like guilt trips and appeals to social norms.  I really don’t care if my kid is doing something different.

The other issue is that it has *everything* to do with his math ability.  She’s taking math scores and comparing them to other kids.  We already know that his processing speed may not be that great and that he’s not the kind of kid who likes to spend time memorizing things.  Math at the elementary level is all about those things: computation and recall.  However, his reasoning and visualization skills are really great.  Like most elementary teachers, I think she doesn’t understand that math is more than multiplication tables.  She recognized that he knows those things, but that maybe he needs time to figure it out rather than having it at the tip of his tongue.  What she doesn’t realize is that he’s not the kind of kid who is going to tolerate endless drilling of memorization facts when his real strengths are in logic and reasoning.  Would you like math if it was always doing the types of things you hate?  This kid is stoked to get into algebra soon…why would I want to kill that and tell him he needs to practice flash cards more?

There are ‘optional’ tests on the MAPs in science and science reasoning.  His scores in both those areas were the same for 10th graders and above, according to national norms.  Why do they always want to hold kids back to their weakest skills, even when those skills are still obviously above average for their age mates?  Even in his ‘weak’ area, he’s still near the top of his class…and they conveniently ignore his strengths and pretend like those have nothing to do with the issue at hand.

I have to write this teacher a letter with some follow-up information.  However, there is a part of me that wants to ask why there is such a focus on holding younger son back when they should instead be focusing on allowing ALL of the children to perform at a level appropriate to their abilities.

You see, when she said he wasn’t at the top of the class in math, I didn’t feel guilty.  I felt bad for those other kids because they were being held back and not having the opportunity to work on interesting and challenging work the way younger son is.  Rather than being ashamed that my son is getting to do things he finds interesting and challenging (so that he’s also learning about having to work hard and deal with frustration), I wondered why the teacher and school aren’t ashamed of what they’re doing to those other students.

 

It’s official: younger son is smarter than I am. October 3, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in gifted, homeschooling, math, younger son.
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Younger son isn’t one you’d pinpoint as being very gifted…at least I wouldn’t.  I have had random people tell me that he’s quite bright, but that’s never what has come across to me.  He’s very outgoing and socially conscious…VERY big on morals and ethics.  Fun.  Goofy.  Just wants to get his homework done so he can play.

In other words, to me he seems like a perfectly normal little boy.

In math, he’s one of these kids who struggles with computation.  Not as badly as some kids (*ahem* older brother *ahem*), but it is his computation that slows him down.  He’s enrolled in Stanford’s EPGY program for math, which we do at home (even though the school still grumbles occasionally).  I thought he’d get into the program, but I was honestly stunned at his ability to answer logic questions.  I remember when he took the test, I was watching, trying to puzzle through some of the questions and he was already onto the next question.  It made me realize that there’s obviously some ability there…but because of the computation issues, he struggles to express it.

When helping the younger son do some homework on percentages earlier this week, he made a very interesting comment:

When you divide an even number by an odd number, except five, you get a repeating decimal.  When you divide an odd number by an even number, though, you just get a remainder.

Is that right?  It sounded like it was plausible, but I’d never come across such a rule.  I had to look it up.

According to Wolfram’s MathWorld, if the divisor is a multiple of two or five you get finite decimal expansion.  If, however, the denominator contains a prime other than 2 or 5, you’ll get a periodic decimal expansion (i.e. repeating decimal).  

So he was very close and might have been able to prove it by induction for very small n…if he knew how to do proof by induction.

It kind of stunned me, though, that he was trying to figure this out and neither Mike nor I had ever given it any thought.

Things I never thought I’d say to my kids September 10, 2013

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There are a million things I never thought I’d say to my kids.  Truth be told, I’ve avoided a lot of them.  Today, however, I found myself telling the older son something I imagine would have made my 17-year-old self would cringe.  Or even hurl.

The older son is taking some classes through correspondence this year, mostly English, to finish up the classes he needs for college admissions.  We’ve managed to do most other things at home, but English was one thing I never bothered with because he’s an avid reader.  And by avid, I mean he devours books like candy.  He’s also done exceptionally well on any sort of standardized testing in this realm.  I didn’t want to waste his time by pushing stuff on him when he was doing pretty well in his own right.

He got his first homework assignment back from one of the classes and was reading it over while we had some lunch.  He gave me this look…the same one you get when someone tells you a joke that you can see the humor in but don’t particularly think it’s all that funny because it’s just weird.  You know what look I mean.

The comments on a couple of the problems were simply horrible.  As in, the teacher had rewritten his answers so that they were entirely dumbed down.  It’s not that these answers were vague or wrong or anything; he chose words that made the point and his answers were succinct.  The rewritten answers were long and meandering but weren’t any more clear.  I called Mike and read the rewritten answers.

“You’re kidding me.”

Sadly, no.

So I found myself saying something that I know I would have never, ever believed in my own youth: “You just need to get through the class and pass it so you can go to college.  College will be better.”

It makes me really sad that my son, who loves language and literature, is going to have to endure a class where he was hoping to be able to think about and discuss literary works on a really grown-up level.  Sadly, it looks like he’s going to have to keep it light for his teacher.  I could only reiterate that this is why I feel that high school is a waste of his time.

Making your mom proud (if she’s a physicist) August 19, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in gifted, homeschooling, older son, physics, science.
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One of the classes that the older boy is doing this year is physics.  Rather than give him something very math intensive, I instead chose to have him study from Paul Hewitt’s Conceptual Physics text.  It’s a book I came across after I’d already had a couple years of physics, and I regret not having had that book first.  It does a wonderful job of explaining how physics works and what the concepts mean without drowning the reader in math.

When I picked up the older son after his study session the other day, he began talking about how imbalances in forces are what cause objects to accelerate.  For instance, a car will move forward when the force created by the engine to move the car forward exceeds the forces of friction, gravity (if it’s on a hill), etc.  After listening, I asked the question, “What happens then if the forces become balanced?”

I fully expected him to say that the object would stop moving.  I really did.  This is what the vast majority of students in my physics labs assumed when asked that question.  Their assumption is that the forces must always be out of balance if the object is moving.

His response:

It would really depend on if the object were moving or still to begin with.  If it was moving, it would continue to do so, and if it wasn’t moving, it would continue to stay still.

My response was to yell, “Yes!!!!!” at the top of my lungs and pump my fist.  I’ve been proud of my son many times over the past few years, but few things make me beam as much as displaying a clear understanding of Newtonian mechanics.

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