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Terrified of homeschooling (again) March 27, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, homeschooling, math, older son, younger son.
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Last night, the younger son was working on his math homework while I sat next to him and played sudoku.  I’ve found that this is the best way to oversee his homework because I don’t really pay attention to what he’s doing unless he asks for help, but I’m close by in case he starts getting frustrated.  And really, I can’t concentrate on anything important when I’m interrupted every ten minutes for an explanation.

The younger son has started running into problems with a concept now and again.  After he gets so many wrong, the program will switch gears and have him work on something else for a while.  Then it goes back and tries the subject again.  This happened for the first time a few days ago.  He complained, saying it was repeating questions.  I told him the program thought he needed more practice.  Last night, it happened again.

“Mom, the program thinks I need more practice.  But I don’t. I know this stuff.”

“Well, you’ll have to prove it to the computer.”  And he answered every question correctly.  The fact that he got peeved about repeating questions is a huge improvement from the kid who would avoid doing pretty much anything for fear of getting it wrong…and if he did try and get it wrong, there would be a major emotional blowout to follow.  That kid is a distant memory…but was around as recently as six months ago.  This, in my mind, is why you need to present challenges to perfectionists.

I’m now anxious for another reason.  I really thought the younger boy would slow down in his math progress.  Yes, I did up the amount of time he spends from 20 to 40 minutes per day, my reasons for which are elaborated in another post.  And he no longer gets everything right.  In fact, on his daily practice, he’s usually hitting somewhere between 80 and 90 percent correct answers.  But he’s still not really slowing down.

At the end of the year, he’s going to be three years ahead in math.  We didn’t expect this, and this puts us past the ‘drop dead’ point where the school can do anything.  His school only goes up to 5th grade at his campus.  The other campus starts at 6th and goes through the end of high school. Realistically, he’s not ready for that with his reading and writing.  So now we’re obligated to keep going with his current math program for the next three years.  Because of the structure of the courses, he will have to slow down signficantly.  However, we’re still looking at a realistic possibility of him being through algebra 2 before he starts middle school.  At that point, we are going to have to see if the school is willing to let him join a bunch of high school students for geometry or precalc…when he’s 12.

I’m nervous about this because of what is going on in his classroom.  He’s not participating in the regular math class, but he does work on addition and subtraction drills.  His teacher is putting on his report card that he’s ‘beginner level’ in math based on these drills.  I really am not worried how he’s doing on this because of the fact that I know he can add two and three digit numbers in his head, even though he still writes some numbers backwards when writing the answers.  I am guessing the pressure of timed quizzes, the act of writing, or perhaps lack of interest are causing his poor performance.  (Incidentally, while he may not do every problem, all the problems he does are correct.)

I am concerned that teachers in the future are going to look at this and believe he doesn’t know math rather than looking at what he’s accomplished through the online math program.  And I’m worried this will have a negative impact on our ability to accelerate him when the time is appropriate.  But, mostly, I’m frustrated that so much of the assessment of his abilities rests on judgements of things like basic arithmetic or handwriting when it’s become so obvious to me that he’s got some serious abstract thinking abilities.  No teacher is ever going to see that unless they give him some challenging material.  (I have to admit that I had no idea until we started down this path with the math program.)  Likely, they won’t because they’re so stuck on what I consider to be somewhat superficial things.

Based on my experience with the older son, I guess this is starting to leave me terrified that the younger boy will eventually need to be pulled out of school.  I have that thought every time I get a note about some problem at school.  Admittedly, most of them are small things that I don’t have to worry about.  The thought is sitting just under the surface, though, and pokes an eye out every time something seems amiss.

For now, we’ve decided to just keep him moving through regular school while supplementing math during the school year and language arts during the summer.  I imagine that in about 3 years, however, we’re going to hit a pretty serious fork in the road.  I’m a person who doesn’t take well to waiting, however, so even now it’s still on my mind a lot.

Observation as a parent of a gifted child: laziness March 23, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, math, older son, societal commentary, teaching.
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The older boy couldn’t seem to make it out of bed to get to high school on time, and when there, couldn’t make it from one class to another in the allotted amount of time.  He was spending time in between classes socializing, and outside of school, he wasn’t doing his homework.

In the past week, however, he’s been getting up at 7 a.m. without fail so that he can catch a ride to the library and study economics for a few hours each day.  He’s made it through two chapters, including doing all the study guide problems and writing out definitions for vocab words.

His plan is to finish the economics course by the middle of May so that he can take the CLEP exam.  This was the course *he* really wanted to do.  When we were going through the list of possible topics, he picked it out and said he wanted to do it.

Lazy children don’t do these things, so he’s obviously not lazy.  On the other hand, it was pretty obvious his high school classes just weren’t doing it for him.

When we went to a specialist in gifted assessment, she said, “I don’t believe in lazy.  Kids aren’t lazy, but they can be unmotivated when presented with something that isn’t sufficiently interesting and stimulating.”  That was about seven years ago, and I didn’t believe her.  I started to wonder about it when, in sixth grade, the only class he did well in was the only one that was accelerated: math.  For the record, he really isn’t all that crazy about math.  It wasn’t until last year, after the older boy studied like crazy for his US History CLEP exams and passed them, that I had to admit that she was right.

Now I’m wondering what he’d be doing if he’d been able to accelerate at the high school.  The school doesn’t allow students to take AP classes until their junior year.  Doing early enrollment at the college (without his GED) wouldn’t have been possible without his counselor signing off.  (Given she fought my parents tooth and nail when I was in high school, and he had the same counselor and was doing poorly, I doubt that would’ve ever happened.)  But looking at him, I’m seeing what a huge mistake they’re making with these policies.

I feel like I ought to tell them this.  But I am also tired of fighting it and feel like it’s just better to focus my efforts on my own kids.  This mental fatigue is the kind of thing that makes me see why so many people pull their kids out of the system.  There’s just no energy to deal with it, especially when it’s obvious what the solution is.  The school, in the meantime, has mired itself down with pointless rules that keep people from excelling, and in some cases, succeeding.

Repost: Planet of Youth March 27, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, math, physics, science, teaching.
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If you’ve ever wondered how old you are in Jupiter years, this is your chance to find out. All you need are the following: your age in earth days, the mass of sun and the distance between the planets and sun. And Math!

Note: The reason you are using variables for most of the project is so that you can use any planet you want. If you did this for each planet using numbers, you would have to do everything over for each planet. If you want to cheat and avoid the math (as well as get a more exact value), you can check out Your Age on Other Planets.

These are the variables we will be using:

G is called the gravitational constant (we’ll give you this later)
Ms is the mass of sun
Mp is the mass of the planet
A is the acceleration (how much it’s speed changes in time)
R is the distance of the planet from the sun

First use the following equations:

This is Newton’s Law of Gravitation.

This says that the force exerted on a planet is proportional to the mass of the planet, Mp, and the mass of the sun, Ms. It is inversely proportion to the distance between the planet and the sun, squared, or R2. If you increase the mass of the planet or the mass of the sun, the force will increase. On the other hand, the force will decrease if you increase the distance between the two. However, the decrease isn’t linear – that is, it doesn’t decrease a fixed amount for a change in distance. It will change based on the square of the distance, faster than if the distance wasn’t squared.


This is Newton’s Second Law

This equation states that the force on the planet is equal to its mass times its acceleration.

Both equation (1) and equation (2) are equal to the force. Set them as equal to each other (using the transitive property: if a=b and b=c, then a=c). Then solve for A.

Your result should show that the acceleration on the planet only depends on the mass of the sun and the distance between the planet and the sun. The acceleration isn’t affected by the mass of the planet!

Now we’ll give you another equation for A:


The is the acceleration of a circular path (the orbits of the planets are very nearly circular)

What this equation says is that the speed changes by a factor of the speed (V) squared over the distance between sun and the planet. If you ever want to get into Newtonian mechanics, you’ll run into this as a basic result for how speed and acceleration are related when an object moves in a circular path.

2. Use your two equations for A (the one above and your result from Exercise 1) and solve for V, your velocity (or speed).

3. Now that you have an equation for the velocity, you know how fast the planet is moving. Again, the speed of the planet has nothing to do with the planet’s mass: it is only affected by its distance from the sun. The farther from the sun that the planet is, the slower its speed.

Let’s figure out how far the planet has to travel to make one orbit around sun. If the path traveled is a circle, and the radius is R, what is the circumference of the circle? Set this formula equal to distance, D.

4. We know how far the planet has to travel around the sun and how fast it goes. Let’s figure out how long a year is on that planet. Since speed is distance over time (V=D/T), we can rewrite this. Solve for T.

5. Now substitute your equations for V and D into your formula for T. This will give you an equation for the length of the year.

6. Now let’s test our answer. First, figure how long is an earth year in seconds? (Hint: the number of days in an earth year is 365.25.) Your answer (and all future answers) should have four significant digits. The answer will be your Converted Answer.

7. Use your formula for T to figure out how many seconds are in an earth year. The value for π is 3.14159, G is 6.67•10-11 N•m2/kg2, the mass of the sun is 1.99•1030 kg, and the radius of the earth’s orbit is 1.50•1011 m. Your answer will be in seconds. This is your Calculated Answer.

8. Now figure out how accurate your calculation is. The formula to calculate percent error is

Your Percent Error should be less than 1%. If it is not, try to look for an error in your calculations.

9. Now use your formula to calculate the number of seconds in a year for your planet. Planetary radii are listed below.

Planet:______________________ Radius: _______________________________

Conversion Factor: __________________

10. How old are you in seconds? Multiply the number of seconds in an earth year, your Calculated Answer, by your age in years.

11. Now divide your age in seconds by the length of a year on your planet. How many years old are you on that planet?

12. Check your answer. You have been given a conversion factor for your planet. Divide your age by this number.

13. Now check how close your answers were. If your answer to 11 is your calculated answer, and your answer to 12 is your converted answer, use the equation in 8 to find your percent error.

Now ask someone older than you how old he or she is on Mercury.


This chart is for the instructor. Once the student has completed Exercises 1-8, they can get the information for their particular planet(s). The conversion factor is actually the number of earth years it take for that planet to make one revolution around the sun.

Planet Radius (m) Conversion Factor
Mercury 57.9•109 0.241
Venus 108•109 0.615
Mars 228•109 1.88
Jupiter 778•109 11.9
Saturn 1430•109 29.5
Uranus 2870•109 84.0
Neptune 4500•109 165
Pluto 5900•109 248

In case someone wants them, these are the answers to exercises 1-8.



3. D=2πR

4. T=D/V


6. 31 557 600 seconds/year

7. 31 680 000 seconds/year

8. 0.39%

The presumed snobbery of gifted education February 2, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, gifted, homeschooling, older son, societal commentary.
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I was having a conversation with my older boy the other day (it does still happen…despite the fact that he’s a teenager, I haven’t become dumb as bricks yet), and we were talking about people we know who are what I’d call “gifted education snobs”.

I’m sure you’ve met these people: they’re the ones who talk about how their kids will eventually get into Harvard while they can’t even tie their own shoes at 16. Although, if their kid is like Albert Einstein, it might be forgivable. But seriously, these are the people who are pushing kids who are probably reasonably bright beyond their limits or into doing things that make them depressed and frustrated.

The reason they bug me is not because they have kids who may or may not be intellectually superior to my own. Let’s face it: I’ve run into a lot of people who are smarter and more knowledgeable than myself. It’s not even the attitude that they are superior (although I have to admit that can get annoying, too).

What gets me is the notion that their kids are so bright that everything will come easy to them and they’ll never have to work at anything. Because that’s what it means to be smart, right? This attitude is obviously not working for the kid, and it’s giving everyone else a bad impression of what giftedness is or is not, as well as what the parents of ‘gifted kids’ are like.

This attitude is what hurts the rest of us who are advocating for our gifted kids. I imagine from the outside, it all looks the same to someone who doesn’t anticipate their kid will ever get to be in a gifted program. We all just look like we’re trying to give our kids a special advantage over everyone else.

So let me clarify: that’s not at all what I have been trying to do with my kids. There are some things gifted education should do that has nothing to do with a special advantages:

1) I want my kid to learn to work hard. No matter how smart you are, there will always be things that are challenging in life. There will be some point where you hit a brick wall. It’s best if you learn early on how to manage your time, be responsible, and deal with learning new things (which can sometimes be intimidating). Probably two-thirds of most students can get that out of a regular classroom. For half of the other third (or one sixth), it will be too much – and there is a significant amount of funding and infrastructure in place to help these kids (which they very much deserve). However, the other sixth is left to float, in most cases. They’re smart, and for some reason it’s more acceptable to let these kids coast and fight boredom through school than to give them the same appropriately challenging education that most other kids receive.

My older son is learning that there’s a significant difference in effort between his high school and homeschool courses. At most, he spends about two hours outside of school per week doing his high school work. His homeschool work, where he’s learning everything himself, is a lot harder. He’s even gotten extremely frustrated. But that’s what I wanted: he needs to learn to deal with that frustration (that he can learn things that are hard if he keeps trying or gets some help). I want him to know how to deal with this before he gets to college and flames out because he’s never had to those other skills established and honed.

2) Gifted kids, like all other kids, want to feel secure and have friends. They don’t want to be the constant target of bullies. Again, I think this is because most people may not understand how badly gifted kids can stick out. I got tons of complaints about my older son “talking like a professor” in middle school. I never thought he talked oddly because this is the way we talk to each other at home. But in a group of mixed-ability, this sort of behavior sticks out, and the other kids use it as an excuse to bully and ostracize. There has been a lot of research (some of which is listed here) showing that gifted kids are more likely to be bullied than others, even by teachers, because of their differences. The only place many of these kids feel secure and can make friends are when they are with other kids like themselves, i.e. where they won’t stick out like sore thumbs. This sort of arrangement also tends to make them less likely to become overly confident in their abilities because they go from being smarter than everyone else in a regular classroom to the average person. (The fact that they are in a gifted classroom often doesn’t play into their perceptions; they are more affected by their interactions with the people around them than labels.)

So when I complain about my kid not being able to take advanced coursework, it’s not because I think he’s better than everyone else: it’s because I know he’s being deprived of the opportunity to learn the intangible skills that go with being appropriately challenged. It also deprives him of the chance to feel like a normal kid. Both of those things are very important to how he will function as an adult, and far more important to me than having him look like he’s smarter than other kids.


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