Archive for October, 2012

Take Five

“What exactly is it that you do?”

It’s probably the most common question I get regarding homeschooling. For anyone who hasn’t tried it, homeschooling does seem oddly opaque and mysterious from a distance. Am I running a one-room schoolhouse? Do I have a plaque with MR. MAYER on my desk? Do H and E have to raise their hands to go to the bathroom? It only gets more confounding if I mention that we’re really doing more unschooling than homeschooling, so I try and reserve that term for moments when I’ve got significant explanatory time on my hands.

I did have an odd variant of that common question lately, though, as someone ask me recently if I could describe unschooling in one word, and of course I didn’t have a ready answer; do we ever? But esprit de l’escalier came to my rescue once again, the next day, as I realized that there is a one-word description for what we do, and that word is jazz.

Traditional teaching is symphonic music writing. Every part, from first violin to timpani, is scripted out on paper; every section comes in on time and plays harmoniously together. September’s unit is earth science, October’s unit is the Cahokia, November’s unit is energy, December’s unit is money and economics. It sounds beautiful, but often as the first violins play while the French horns are silent, there’s something missing: interplay. The economics of the Cahokia, or the role of the earth in clean energy, isn’t in the script; nor are how the Cahokia felt about the earth, or the economics of energy production. Unit by unit the content goes by, prepackaged and perfectly shrinkwrapped. There’s a good reason for that: classrooms are symphonies. They’re groups of musicians, with different timbres and voices, led in education by a single organizing figure.

Unschooling – at least the variety we practice – is more like improvisational jazz. I’ll give you an example.

I started out with E last fall very much in the symphonic mode; my overall plan was to move through a very traditional set of prescripted units. I even had the first four fully developed – etymology (surprising origins of words), science (the formation of the solar system), history (the Rosetta stone and its role in Egyptology), and writing (the short story form). Day one, lesson one, the Rosetta stone. We got 0.004% of the way through my designed lesson before E asked, “why would they have bothered to write the same text in three different languages?”

Well, I explained, Egypt had undergone considerable political upheaval during the period surrounding the Stone’s creation, and there was a strong need to communicate in more than one language. “The same way,” I said, “that there are safety instructions in English, Spanish, and French on products you buy.” So there were three different cultures coexisting at the same time? Yes, essentially, I told her.

“How do you define the limits of a single culture?” she asked. I began describing the core aspects of human culture – economic interdependency, agreed-to governmental structure, shared language –

“Can we make one?”

I felt my symphonic performance coming off the rails. “A language?”

“A culture.”

I stopped, sensing one of those moments in life when the path you’re on opens into a very clear fork. Down one path – well-lit, by the way, and nicely paved – lay my lesson plans for the year, carefully developed, with new structured activities for each day. Down the other (decidedly darker, with something of a ground fog going on) lay…well, I had no idea what. What I did have in front of me, right now, was passion; E had risen from the floor where we’d been examining a picture of the Stone, elbow to elbow, and was now pacing the room making her excited fists.

“Sure,” I said, the harmonious strains of Mahler being elbowed aside in my head by the opening notes of ‘Take Five.’

That single question opened some big doors for us. We did create a culture together, and in so doing, E gift-wrapped a learning framework for me that took us from seismic activity and statistical analysis of Black Swan events to cultural economics and carrying capacity to arts, music and food. E gave her new culture everything – its own alphabet, its own hierarchy of government, its own annual fairs and festivals. What she told me, through her words and her actions, was this: passion creates a window of interest through which learning can take flight.

E’s culture (a section of Guatemala that broke free and became culturally isolated during a worldwide tectonic cataclysm) needed an origin story – and she wanted a believable one. So we put together an Excel table of all the earthquakes that had happened in the region since 1900, and analyzed how strong a quake would have to be to fracture a tectonic plate. Her culture needed a means of sustenance, so we researched the indigenous flora and fauna of the region and worked out the carrying capacity of the land remaining to our isolated Guatemalans. Based on that carrying capacity, she decided that there would need to be a form of government closely focused on food production and population, but she wanted freedoms and self-direction for her culture, too. So we talked through the rise of the state, the formation of governmental entities, and chose the type of government that worked best for her society. Throughout the fall, we worked on everything from transportation to commerce and trade to education (ironically).

But here was the rub: on any given day, I awakened having absolutely no idea what we were going to do. I’d made a roster of topics we needed to tackle, but I’d allowed Ellie the freedom to choose the order we’d examine those topics in. The lesson plan, as it were, needed to be developed on the fly – and my job was more to react to the choice of topic of the day, and install as much content, with as much subject variety, as possible. Exhausting? Yes – but exhilarating, too; it was, for all intents and purposes, improv jazz, with all the tightrope-walking and rapid changes of pace and direction that improvisation demands. What I got, to start each day, was a key (her passion area for the day) and a time signature (the relative pace with which she wanted to go; slow, methodical and intense some days, rapid-fire forward progress on others).

At the core of this concept, three simple rules emerged for me:

  • Turn the traditional unit-based concept on its side. Rather than starting with a unit-based learning structure, start with a project, and let the widest possible variety of learning disciplines – writing, research, mathematics, statistics, arts and crafts, music, physical activity – into that project. I’ve done projects with E that ran through a very traditional set of school ‘classes’ in the course of a day, but they might have been made of up fifteen minutes here, a half-hour there. What I try to do is to let each stage of the project dictate a set of tasks that need to be solved to move the project along, and then let E explore how to address those tasks. What this allows a child to do is learn something when it is important to learn it to advance the project.
  • Passion and interest > scheduling and convenience. Would I rather have known a week in advance what I was going to be teaching E? Sure. But answer me two questions. First, what are you going to be doing a week from today at this time? You can probably answer that question with some reasonable level of conviction; I’ll be in the Monday morning meeting at work, I’ll be going for my 7AM run, I’ll be cooking dinner. Now, tell me what you’re going to be excited about a week from today. That took a little more thought, didn’t it? If you could even answer that question at all, it’s probably a very rough guess1. It’s all right, as a mature adult with a career, not to worry whether or not you’re going to be motivated to learn through your daily work; I’d hope you would, but for many of us, the learning stage of our career work is over, and now we’re applying what we’ve already learned (and, I hope, enjoying doing it). But for children, whose career is learning at the moment, excitement is key to ensuring that new concepts and ideas take hold.
  • Be ready to install related disciplines at a moment’s notice. One of the benefits of an excited and energized learner is his or her willingness to take on additional learning tasks. As a result, I’ve learned to look for every way possible to wedge another discipline’s worth of content into a project. Introducing science into creative writing (because you can’t write a convincing diving suit experience if you don’t know how atmospheric pressure works, after all) or physical activity into science (show me what walking would look like on the Moon…now Jupiter) makes for more interesting learning. You’re involving more areas of the brain in onboarding a new concept, and that increases your chances that said concept will take root and grow.

Over time, I’m sure E is going to want some symphonic components in her learning. She might not; she might be content with improv jazz until she heads off for more ‘traditional’ learning in college or graduate school. But maybe she finds a way to bring the two together in her life. If she does, I want to be among the first in line, with headphones ready, to hear what it sounds like.

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1 Although, since you’re probably a parent of a gifted child if you’re reading this, it’s all right to answer this question with sleep.

Unconditional

It’s an easy, alluring trap to fall into, and I do it more often than I’d like to.

It starts so simply; one or another of them will come up to me, waving a piece of paper or a Lego monstrosity or a frog made out of craft foam, and more often than not, it’s pretty amazing. E cornered me the other day and insisted on taking me on a tour of her Minecraft island; inside her mansion is a lava-powered hot tub, a vending machine that dispenses cooked chickens, and – in the back yard – a roller coaster. She’s wiring up half the island for zombie/creeper detection with pressure plates and redstone (whatever that is; I’ve gleaned from conversation that it’s a form of crude electrical wiring) and wants me to see every square inch of her defensive perimeter.

It’s pretty amazing. And I told her so, and off she went, beaming with pride.

Did you see it happen there? It was pretty subtle. What happened is this: I unbalanced the praise equation, tilting it away from gifted-is-wiring, and toward gifted-is-output. In so doing, I created an obligation for myself to get her in a random, decidedly nonproductive moment, and tell her she’s an awesome kid, to counterbalance this moment.  That’s the way of emotional intensity. They’ve already soared to a personal emotional ‘high’ based on what they’ve created. Seeking out my approval, or Kathy’s, just takes them that much higher. Trouble is, I don’t want them to think that they have to do something to merit praise and attention – because there will be days they don’t feel like ‘producing,’ and I need each of them to know that those days are good days, too. They’re good kids on those days.

There’s nothing wrong with praising output; in this house, there’s lots of output, and I really am impressed with all of it. Output is great. But so is non-output. They’re amazing kids when they’re wiring their Minecraft islands and when they’re asleep and when they’re brushing their teeth and when they’re writing and when they’re not writing and when they are laughing and when asynchrony makes them act nine and nineteen and twenty-nine. Teaching them that gifted is wiring, not output, requires an endless rebalancing of this equation. It’s made that much harder, I’ve noticed, when they’re in their en fuego output phases, when my desk piles up with H’s cartoon cards and the floor of A’s room is awash in Legos, part of his never-ending quest to build a convincing Pelican (from Halo) and E is working out the finer points of a Minecraft dirigible.

I have to work harder to catch them in their sleepy moments, their regular-kid moments, running around the yard and shooting Nerf guns at each other and singing about the Batmobile losing a wheel. Some weeks, I don’t ever find those moments; they run at full-blast from the time they get up until the last joule of energy dissipates and dreams overtake them, and I’m left to whisper their awesomeness into sleeping ears before pulling a blanket up and kissing them goodnight. But I know at those moments that there is work to be done. Leave the equation unbalanced too long, and that toxic message would begin to seep into them, the errant concept that I love them for what they do instead of who they are.

The Best Bad Idea We Have

We went to see Argo this past weekend and loved it. They really don’t make movies like Argo anymore, and I can see why it was tough to get the film green-lit – especially considering the masterful within-film skewering of the movie industry itself. The dialogue is fantastic. At one point in the movie, the protagonist and his boss are presenting the idea of a fake movie production as a cover to rescue six Iranian hostages, and the two gentlemen they’re presenting to wince and ask, “do you have any better bad ideas?”

“This,” our protagonist  replies, “is the best bad idea we have.”

That exchange was fresh on my mind as I read Jessica Lahey’s post in the New York Times, entitled ‘Against Accelerating the Gifted Child.’  I suppose that if an acceleration ‘debate’ exists, somebody has to take the con position; it’s 2012, after all, and no pro position can exist long in a vacuum without someone emerging from the blogosphere to oppose it. Lahey’s intent is to tell us, once and for all, that accelerating children cripples their social development and leaves them crying out for meaningful interaction.

There’s at least two fundamental flaws with her argument. The first is that Lahey seems to live in a universe where children are accelerated willy-nilly, on the basis of topping out the weekly spelling test for a month or two or growing bored with doing factor trees. She even warns against this very, um, ‘menace,’ specifically noting that:

My concerns about grade accelerations are best articulated by the recommendations for best practices published in Gifted Child Quarterly. Toward the end of the report, the author, Maureen Neihart, warns that acceleration “may be harmful to unselected students who are arbitrarily accelerated on the basis of I.Q., achievement, or social maturity.”

Um…

Er…

I call bullshit. Actually, wait; I call shibboleth on Lahey (and, to a lesser extent, on her cited GCQ author, Neihart). Unselected students? Arbitrarily accelerated? What the fuck does that mean? Has this woman really never heard of the Iowa Acceleration Scale? It exists for a reason – to objectively score and assess the goodness of fit of a child’s acceleration from one grade to the next, taking into account everything from intellectual capacity to social maturity to extracurricular involvement to household stability to siblings’ feelings. When we sat with our school’s administration to discuss the acceleration options for E, H, and A (in that chronological order), Iowa was the first book onto the table, and it was made clear to us that no one moves up without a rock-solid Iowa-scored recommendation – and that there is always a plan for a route back to the former grade. Iowa even includes a very black-and-white discontinue instruction if the child doesn’t want to be accelerated – so no one’s ever advanced who can’t honestly say that he or she wants to be. Lahey’s obvious lack of familiarity with the Iowa guidelines is a strong hint that she’s fighting out of her weight class in this article.

But the larger concern I have with ‘Against Accelerating the Gifted Child’ is the tired, populist journalism tack of taking a subpar outcome – given a choice of two paths- and declaring the other choice to be the obviously superior one. In the article, Lahey’s up in arms that 9-year-old Tanishq Abraham has been errantly accelerated into college, noting his mother’s concerns as:

“He is a happy child,” she said, “but once in a while, he does say, ‘Yeah, I wish I had friends.’”… “With my friends from kid classes, you get to play with them, and that kind of socialization, and this [college] it’s more, like, talking, and I guess I kind of miss having friends, I guess.”

I’ll bet he does. Tanishq is dealing with the same Hobson’s choice most PG kids are – namely, that learning with one’s agemates is an intellectual death sentence of boredom and depression, and learning with one’s intellectual peers is a social death sentence of isolation and condescension. We’re not talking about good ideas for these kids; we’re looking for the best bad idea we can find.

Somewhere, in an alternate universe, Tanishq isn’t at American River College; he’s eating tater tots and playing kickball in fourth grade, and while he’s bored out of his mind, he might have a thriving social life. Might. Most PG kids struggle to make friends easily, and when we’re talking about fourth grade, we’re talking about a couple of fifteen-minute recesses, a twenty-minute lunch, and beyond that, fourth grade is…well, it’s fourth grade. Lahey seems comfortable trading away something like six-sevenths of Tanishq’s educational day in favor of making sure he’s got someone to play tag with for thirty minutes a day. (By the way, I’d take any situation in which an obviously PG child like Tanishq is ‘happy’ and run with it. Happiness isn’t an easy thing to come by for PG children.)

Ability-grouping, Neihart’s other option, is another ‘good bad idea,’ but it’s the good bad idea nobody’s willing to do. There’s a smattering of schools in the country that have gone full-bore ability-grouped in their school day, but most haven’t; ours hasn’t, and that’s where our kids’ friends go to school. That’s how the logic tree goes for parents, and we’re not insensitive to their social needs. Our kids’ friends are at their school, so that school is the context within which we need to best try and meet their needs. Moving our kids to an ability-grouped school in another county would be just as disruptive to their lives as acceleration would be – and at least with acceleration, they still see friends, old and new, at recess.

In reality, if Lahey had (ahem) bothered to do her own homework, she would have found, via the excellent work of Miraca Gross, that most exceptionally gifted kids who underwent acceleration ended up more satisfied than their unaccelerated peers. That doesn’t mean that acceleration is right for every gifted kid – and I don’t think anyone’s ever taken that position; that’s what Iowa is for – and it doesn’t mean that accelerated kids end up giddily happy, foaming at the mouth over the wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling joy present in their lives. It means that, given a hard choice, the acceleration path held more satisfaction for them in the long run.

It is, ripped from the script of Argo, the best bad idea we have.

Khopitar

Archaeologists perusing dusty, discarded thumb drives full of Facebook posts in the future will almost certainly come to one conclusion: that social media was the exclusive domain of the intelligentsia. I couldn’t blame them for their conclusion. Every third FB post, it seems, is a complaint about how stupid everyone on the planet is (or is becoming). We’ve dressed up our accusations of assclownosity lately; many of them originate from behind the cheery musketeer of Someecards, or from felt, or from the mouths of hijacked 50s housewives. But regardless of the messenger – musketeer, muppet, or mistress of the house – the message is always the same: you’re all frustrating idiots, and I do wish you’d either pull your shit together, or – barring said pulling taking place – behead yourselves and improve the world’s oxygen supply.

I’m far from immune. I grimace at the mangling of its/it’s and your/you’re; I’ve had to seek outside help for my issues with commonly-misspelled words.  I try for my best Gandhi smile when I hear I could care less. I reached for that smile this week when I received a presentation that someone elected to do in Excel. I’m no NDT, but if memory serves, Office includes a presentation development tool, and its icon is not a little green X. But I smiled my full Mahatma, and migrated graphics and text and clipart arrows and whirly process diagrams over into PowerPoint, and got it going in the right direction once again with as gently-worded an email reply as I could muster.

Why do I bring this up? Because I’m pretty sure this sort of zero-tolerance, draw-pardner! philosophy we’ve acquired toward those with different mental wiring is an acquired trait in adults, and I found my rationale at – of all places – Spirit, the Halloween store.

Halloween is always an interesting time around here. A’s costume choice usually churns through nineteen different hand-wringing choices before grudgingly coming to rest on one (“but NEXT year I’m being the Arbiter, Dad’). He’s the only child I’ve ever encountered that once changed costumes in the middle of trick-or-treating. H always surprises me; one year, she was a zombie cheerleader, and she seemed to be going down the Monster High route this year, but then zagged on me and elected to be a bee. I kept waiting for the punchline. ‘With a green face and kind of a lurching flightpath? A zombee?1

‘No…Dad…just a bee.’

Meanwhile, I lost track of E as we traversed the store; doubling back, I found her in the plastic-weaponry aisle. That was an anomaly in and of itself, as it’s usually A who’s camped out in Plastic Weaponry, brandishing this and that and generally making other parents wish they’d picked another time to go shopping. E had, however, elected to go as her Dungeons & Dragons characterthis year, and was looking for just the right half-elven touch to her blade weapon. “Excuse me,” she asked of one of the cheery-but-weary seasonal employees shlepping crates of fake noses around the store. “Is this a khopesh, or a scimitar?”

Now, E’s got this kind of very matter-of-fact look she adopts when she’s genuinely concerned about such things, and it came forth, because clearly she couldn’t imagine a world in which seasonal-hire college kids aren’t extensively trained in the proper nomenclature of their plastic weapons. It’s a look beyond her years, one that conveys a shovelful of gravitas and a real need for a reliable answer. It must have touched this poor woman at some level, because she set her fake-nose crate aside and squatted down with E, informing her that she really didn’t know, and what could E tell her about those things? She then smiled and listened while E went on at length about her confusion, that the blade of one looks like this, and the other looks like that, and this thing was sort of halfway in between. The Spirit store clerk never got impatient, and neither did E, despite the woman clearly having no idea whatsoever what this girl was talking about. After a few minutes of conversation, during which neither hurried the other – and the clerk did little more than listen to E’s seemingly endlessly-unfolding arguments in favor of each – they settled on the fact that both blades are Middle Eastern in origin, and that either might sub nicely for an Elven weapon. E was sufficiently satisfied to add this fine injection-molded product to our cart, and that was that. No knee-jerk eye-rolling; no urge to haul out the keyboard, lip bitten nearly white with rage, and task a musketeer with calling a clerk an idiot on Facebook3.

Is it patience, perhaps? Is it not that we need others to be vastly intelligent, but merely patient while we work out the differences between our knowledge bases, our cognition models? If I assess E’s future interactions with others strictly by her WISC-IV, she’s not going to meet many people on the planet who are close to being her raw intellectual equal – but she’s got more patience and willingness to interact now than most neurotypical forty-year-olds I know.

I’m going to take inspiration from her. The guy who sent me the Excel ‘presentation’ is an operations god, and I’m sure he knows things about Six Sigma and Lean that would make me look like a preschooler by comparison. We each have our own highly unique set of perceptions and skills, and where our Venn diagrams touch and intersect and flood with color, we’re impressed – but where they bounce from each other, soap bubbles in summer wind, we’re instantly convinced of the other person’s alarmingly high dingleshit quotient, and off we go to Facebook to enlist the help of the Cheerfully Sardonic Musketeer once again. In reality, we’ve just failed, I think, to see things from their perspective.

I’d like to believe it’s true. I’m pretty sure the Spirit clerk had some specialized knowledge of her own. After all, for the price of a few patient minutes squatted on the floor with a nine-year-old, she sold a fairly pricey plastic khopesh. Or was it a scimitar?  I don’t think the checkout clerk cared as he ran my card.

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1 Pretty sure I have one, maybe two years left of bad Dad-grade jokes like this before the tween rolly-eyed sighing begins.

Yeah, we geek it pretty hard over here.

3 Not that she’s old enough to be on FB anyway. But I’d rather she didn’t learn this as a knee-jerk reaction in any form.

The Case for Not Teaching Estimation – or Why Your Grandmother Got Too Much Medication

Dave and I have discussed our 2e daughter, H, before, and her diagnosis of dyscalculia. There are actually several forms of math LD; hers appears to be a combination of many forms at once. She is more comfortable home-schooling math, where she can work on the computer instead of a worksheet, repeat the information as often as she needs to, and take tests that are not timed. Despite all of this, she struggles to make a “B” in her online class (and as you know from prior posts, we could care less about grades as long as she is working at it.)

We have had to accept, though, that she will not learn some math in her life. Dave and I don’t think it’s realistic for her to learn every math function, and we’ll be ecstatic if she’s  able to make it through algebra. To an outsider, and even to some 2e parents and kids, this comment might seem mean, or defeatist. We have not “given up” on her, and would never stop her from tackling a subject if she wanted to try. We are, however, realistic about the fact that there is only so much time in life, and spending it struggling on every math concept – when she could be spending that time on utilizing tools to help her in the long run (digital watches, calculators, MS Excel spreadsheets) – doesn’t make sense. So, with this in mind, we treat every math unit as a trial. Is this something she will need to know and use in life? Great – let’s teach it. However, if we’ve tried for weeks (or years) and she still doesn’t “get it”, let’s then switch to teaching her to use tools that can help her achieve the same outcome, and skip through this unit. Focusing on what she’ll truly need to function in life shapes our lesson planning from week-to-week.

A few weeks ago, she started the “estimating and rounding” unit of her math class. She has tried to learn this many times before. What has been explained to us is that subitization, or the ability to recognize that, say, three dots on a page equals the number “3”, or that four dots is more than three dots, in an inborn ability. People with dyscalculia just don’t have this inborn ability. Therefore, they do not estimate as well as others, even into adulthood, and have a difficult time retaining some concepts as a result.

So, as we started the unit, we asked ourselves the question: will she need this to function in life? Neither Dave or I could pinpoint a single time recently that we had used estimation, and, more specifically, any time in the past decade. There’s a reason for that; we’re just now wrapping up the first decade of the smartphone era. Prior to 2002, this concept of not teaching estimation would have earned us an incredulous, wide-eyed response – namely, ‘what are you going to do? Carry a pocket calculator everywhere?’ Since then, smartphone ownership has exploded, to the point where more of us own one than not, a trend that appears to be here to stay. In just a decade, we’ve gone from phone-as-phone to phone-as-PDA. The parallel trend in usage of the free Google Docs platform has resulted in similar use of spreadsheets as a society. When (Google Docs precursor) VisiCalc launched in 1980, it cost an amount in 1980 dollars roughly equal to an entire copy of Microsoft Office today, and could do much less. Today, you can have a spreadsheet for nothing more than a few minutes of time registering a Google Docs account. We’ve arrived at a new state of expectations in mathematical precision; one in which we can really be as precise as we’d like to be, at any point during our day.  Numbers are now of two kinds: the kind we can precisely know, or the kind that frankly matter so little it’s not even worth pulling a phone from my pocket. The theory is that we need estimation to figure out whether the answer is in the “ballpark”; to me, that’s why you double-check calculations, or enter them into a spreadsheet to see the logic structure.

In fact, by this point in my career, I actively try NOT to use any mental math or estimation in my practice – and here’s an example of why.

I’m an internist in a geriatric practice. One of the things that happens as patients get older is that their kidney function declines, some more quickly than others. We use a blood test, called creatinine, to calculate whether each patient has a normal kidney function, and thus decide whether we can use certain medications or not, and at what dose. The formula involves four factors: the patient’s creatinine, age, weight, and gender. There are actually even more accurate (and invasive) ways to measure the kidney filtration rate, but given the ease of getting the data, we use this one in internal medicine as an acceptable benchmark.

Until we had electronic medical records (again, within the last 10 years), many physicians would estimate what the kidney function was. Generally, on rounds, physicians were not calculating (even with a calculator available) the actual kidney function for each individual patient. They were estimating based on the creatinine result alone (which would be listed by the lab as “normal”) whether the kidney function was within range. Trouble is, they were wrong more than not, because the creatinine would not be abnormal until the patient had lost 50-60% of their kidney function. Studies showed that physicians routinely overestimated the kidney function of older adults, and thus often gave them medication doses that were too high. Nowadays, we use an electronic medical record in my practice where I can simply type in an automated phrase –  “.gfrc” – and it will pull the information from the patient’s record and enter that data into the formula to calculate the kidney function. Then, when I order medications, it will help me pick the correct dose for their calculated kidney function. If I need to, I can quickly look up the formula on the web, or my iphone, and calculate it myself.

The point is that we, as doctors, received a healthy dose of estimation math in the 1970 and 1980s, and we went on to take a full slate of mathematics, through calculus. We did all of it, all of the estimation worksheets and gumballs-in-a-jar word problems, and much, much more in the way of traditional mathematics. We are the outflow vector of everything mathematics teachers ever hoped for in teaching estimation, and we suck at it. Moreover, we suck at it in an environment that can be truly life or death. So, doctors have moved to the next step:  using tools to help us be more accurate, safer, better. Are there really situations anymore in which a phone-less, laptop-less engineer is put on the spot to calculate the load-bearing stress on that bridge right now?

I have begun to wonder, based on working with our 2e daughter, why we don’t have these conversations for all of education. What process do we use to decide what is obsolete, to actively stop teaching what we don’t need in favor of new skills that are much more important?

We, in my opinion, have generally moved beyond the need to estimate, and even moved to a point where relying on estimation can be harmful. What about, instead, teaching the value of a precise calculation – using the correct tools, and rechecking your work? We might thank ourselves when it’s our turn to be grandparents.