Archive for the ‘2e’ Category

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.

Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road

This post was originally posted on the blog, An Intense Life, as “Back to School?” on August 20th, 2012. Dave and Kathy are guest bloggers on the site.


For the past few years, our preparations for the school year begin by having a discussion with our kids about whether they want to go to school at all. Our default is to discuss full-time homeschooling, since we could get learning done in less time, and not be constrained by the school calendar. We both have flexible jobs where we could make it work. But the kids have their own ideas.

Our kids all still really, really want to attend school – for at least part of the day. Of course,  our kids really, really want to have ice cream for breakfast, but we don’t let them. So I suppose I’d have to clarify that they really, really want to go to school, and we have researched this option and think that it’s a good idea.

To be fair, we have a good situation as these things go. The public elementary school they attend has a full-time gifted program, and all of them are accelerated an additional year within the program. The district and the school have been very flexible with allowing E (profoundly gifted) and H (highly gifted/2e) to both homeschool part-time. The teachers, kids and parents in the program are great, too.

But, we’ve learned from our mistakes and discoveries. E’s learning speed is so fast that we have to reevaluate every 3 months where she is at. (Dave describes it as running full-speed from a train and throwing furniture back to try – unsuccessfully – and slow it down.) Last year, she homeschooled in the morning instead of attending for literacy and math, and she and Dave covered an incredible number of topics and projects, all fueled by her desire to learn. I taught her some basic science, too. When we sat down to document what she had covered over the nine month period, we discovered that she had completed most of a freshman year of high school – at age 9. We were stunned.

As I said, it would actually be easier for us to homeschool full-time, but we would like our kids to attend school for as long as they want. I don’t want to pull them out unless it’s something they really, really want. Which so far they don’t. So, we live between two worlds for now, and it’s doable. (Our only rule: no whining about school.)

So, we’ve decided – based on the above- that it’s a good idea to send them to school at all. The next question we discuss is: what do we all want to get out of the time spent at school?

The school has its own goals: to have our children perform well in class and on their standardized exams. To socialize them, and to teach them gym, music, art, science and social studies. To have them eat lunch and get exercise. It’s also to keep the kids stimulated and occupied for the better part of the day until their parents can come and pick them up.

What are our goals and our children’s goals for school? They are usually not the same. There is some overlap, certainly. Our kids want to see their friends, play at recess, read, learn some interesting math, do some cool art, and bond with their teachers. Dave and I want our kids to discover passions, learn from teachers and classmates, and be as social as they’d prefer to be. We try to communicate that our expectation is for them to be respectful at school, but also allow that we, as a family, have different priorities. Off the yellow brick road, so to speak.

In addition, we continue to work with all of them on nurturing and managing their multiple intensities. E is managing how to relate to other highly gifted kids who may not share her exact level of intellectual intensity about a subject. At the same time, teaching H not to take on emotional water during the day at school is a huge challenge. She’s like a gigantic sponge taking it all in as the day goes on, and it makes it challenging for her to get anything done at school. A, meanwhile, is learning to balance his need to be social, active and imaginative while at school with his desire to learn subjects they don’t teach much – like science and robotics.

The outcome of the discussion is how we get ready for the school year. E is starting some high school classes in earnest this year, and she wants this to be her priority. So we’ll probably skip some elementary school days when she’s focused and wanting to complete a project. H is trying a creative writing class for gifted kids more at her level, and a math class specifically for kids with a math LD. She’d like to feel more comfortable with her talents. A is excited to have one of the girls’ favorite teachers this coming year, who thankfully also likes to teach lots of math. He also knows he’s going to have to work hard to keep his intensities under control at school.

So far, our kids have responded in a positive way to the discussions. It helps that we are supporting them in something they would like to continue, as opposed to forcing them into a decision. We plan to keep wandering along in the grass, keeping the yellow brick road in sight for now, but not taking it.

Oh, and we still have to get school supplies, clothes, shoes and haircuts. Because, highly gifted or not, they’re still kids.

Parenting to Intensity

When Kathy and I agreed to contribute a blog post on the challenges of gifted parenting to SENG’s blog tour, the first question we asked each other was ‘where do we start?’  There’s  no shortage of challenges for the parents of gifted children, especially during the summer, when it seems that we’re constantly on the go – arguing minimum-age requirements with summer camps, prying children out of books to go and enjoy the outdoors, and always, always, dealing with intensities.

Intensities are omnipresent in our household this summer, jostling for attention not just among our kids, but within them. As I write this, the kids are involved in attempting to do a shot-for-shot remake of the first Harry Potter movie (shot on iPhones!), and the intensities are all on display. H fears rejection in contacting the local Melting Pot to see if they can film there, her emotional intensity on full alert; what if they say no, Dad? But, at the same time,  her imaginational intensity can’t conceive of how the production could possibly go without footage of the restaurant’s excellent interior. (It’s rumored to be haunted, too, and that turns every dial in her intensities to 10.) E cannot reconcile her intellectual-intensity theater director’s soul, which knows she’s the perfect Draco, with her imaginational-intensity actor’s soul, which badly wants the role of Luna Lovegood. Meanwhile, A is here, there, and everywhere in the production, his psychomotor and imaginational intensities in top gear – despite playing the role of Baby Harry at the outset. No discussion of robes can go unchallenged by competing sensory-intensity positions on how they should feel (let alone look); no scene setting can be finalized until every participant’s imaginational-intensity vision is present in the final version. And when emotional and imaginational and intellectual intensities clash in deciding how to film a shot? We can almost feel the psychic temperature rise in our house.

What else would we write about for this guest blog post, then? Intensity it is. In particular, with SENG’s mission in mind, we want to address the role of accepting intensity – and even parenting to intensity – in raising emotionally healthy children. I’ve dealt with the issue of how intensity is sometimes treated within the gifted community in another post, so I won’t revisit those comments in detail, other than to note that Kathy and I have both experienced the viewpoint that intensity is something to be governed and minimized and managed – and disagree with it. ‘Gifted is wiring,’ we are taught; and if that is true – and we believe it to be – then attempting to stick one’s hand into the wiring closet and pull out a fistful of sparking leads, hoping we’re improving the situation, is folly. All that wiring is in there for a reason; it makes up who your child is. Loving and accepting your gifted child can’t be a cherry-picking exercise, unfortunately; we’re not allowed the privilege of accepting intellectual capacity without the ‘extra’ wiring that goes along with it in the form of intensity.

So, instead of parenting to the intellect and attempting to manage intensity, what if we elevated intensity to become the equal of the intellect? What if we parented to intensity, just as we parent to the intellect? What if we fed both aspects of our gifted children equally in our parenting actions?

The very idea of parenting to intensity runs counter to most of our parenting instincts at least twice; it’s more difficult to do, and it’s less societally accepted to try. It’s more difficult to do because intensity comprises the louder, more boisterous voices in our households. These are the ragged sobs of feelings dealt blows too hard for young and emotionally-intense hearts to endure; they are the frustrated exclamations of momentary defeat for intellectually-intense children who cannot quickly master tasks meant for hands much older than their own. These are the voices that spiral ever upward in volume, one kid’s outburst a decibel louder than the one just before, and about to be cut off by one a decibel louder still. What we want to do is calm these waters, not go rowing out into them; we want the louder voices quieted, and not necessarily embraced. That’s not a criticism of our skills as parents; Kathy and I struggle with this every day. It’s so much easier to praise a gifted kid when he or she is nose-deep in a thick new book, or quietly coding a Mindstorms robot prototype; those acts look and feel ‘good’ to us as parents, because we’ve been taught that they have ‘productive outcomes’ in their later lives. But those acts are not our kids in their totality; intensity is just as much who they are as intellect is. We need to acknowledge that we’re dealing with minds and hearts that traditional parenting wisdom – and reflexes – simply don’t speak to.

Accepting that idea – that our kids are intellects and intensities – isn’t easy for societal reasons, too. Our culture wants the Enlightenment Mind from gifted children – pure cerebral horsepower, devoid of quirks and idiosyncrasies. Intensities are often viewed as encumbering drogue chutes, constantly slowing down the workings of an otherwise-remarkable mind. They’re medicalized, referred out for therapy, given acronymic titles and mouthful-of-jargon terms, most of which end with the word disorder. We’ve been told, over and over again, that was is to be celebrated and honed about our children is their raw intellectual capacity, while what is to be controlled and mitigated and medicated are the intensities they display. Psychomotor, we’re told, can be calmed with ADHD meds; imaginational intensity can be curbed with focusing exercises, while emotional intensity is best consigned to the abrasive world of ‘toughening them up.’

Parenting to intensity is neither the easy path nor, necessarily, the enjoyable one. Intensity is intensity, and a full day of dealing with one child’s solitary intensity can be enough to make a couch and a pair of headphones look very attractive; three children with multiple intensities apiece makes that subjective day even longer. But parenting to intensity, rather than to intellect, accomplishes one vitally important task: it communicates, without ambiguity, that children are loved and accepted for the whole of their being, and not just whatever intellectual contribution they might one day be able to make to society. Parenting to intensity says, clearly, that gifted is wiring, and that who you are as a gifted child is who you are, not what you do or are capable of doing. Our cultural archetype library readily categorizes other forms of monolithic parenting as short-sighted and self-centered; prodigy parents in sports and music are assigned a certain level of craziness for their manic focus on sharpening the skills of their children, but parents of gifted children who focus to exclusion on intellectual development often aren’t. (This is a strange reversal of the cultural norms for the children themselves, by the way; we tend to celebrate the athlete and the musical prodigies themselves while excoriating the parents, whereas for academically gifted children, the opposite is often true.)

But choosing this path can often lead to confusing convergences of action that are unrelated to motivation. H and E are both partially homeschooled, both attending online courses relevant to their ability levels, and on the surface, that would appear to be a monolithic decision applying the same logic to both. In reality, we’re addressing intensities in both cases. E’s intellectual intensity is such that she wants to run as far as she wants, as fast as she wants; she’s a classic Stephanie Tolan cheetah, and restricting her intellectual environment is a sure route to apathy and boredom. What E needs from homeschooling is space and time. H, on the other hand, has emotional intensity at a level that causes her to take on water simply sitting in a classroom surrounded by 26 other baskets of intensities. The emotional level of the room is just too ‘loud’ for her to get any real learning done, so she benefits from a calm learning setting; what she needs from homeschooling is quiet and focus. A, by contrast, is something of an extrovert, and school is a great track for him right now. Homeschooling him would deprive him of something he needs – so we’re very careful not to ‘group him into’ a decision-making process that doesn’t address his individual intensities.

Intensities are usually the first ‘filters’ gifted children perceive their worlds through – the exposed nerve endings that first touch the world. To deny intensities their role in how our children understand the world around them is to blind and deafen them, to force them to find their way through their lives with unfamiliar secondary senses, echoes and reflections of their environs. Parenting to intensities is exhausting, and the urge to limit, to confine, and to quiet them is, at times, undeniably alluring. But the way out, as with so many things involved in gifted parenting, is the way through; acknowledging intensity, embracing it in our children, and allowing them to use them to define and understand the world around them is the surest route to loving the whole child – and, in the long run, to allowing children the means to harness and control their intensities, rather than live at the mercy of them.

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I have always had an ability to block people out when I am concentrating. Even when I was a kid, I would be reading somewhere in the house, my parents would be trying to find me for dinner, and they would have to walk right up to my face to get my attention. This ability served me well in college, since I was able to get homework done in my personal zone of quiet while (usually) chaos surrounded me.

Dave noticed this trait early on in our relationship; he eventually learned not to try and talk to me when I was reading or concentrating, but to get my full attention first. [Dave: “a flare gun is handy for this.”] It’s just an accepted fact of our marriage after 18 years. If Dave is telling me something and I’m not concentrating on what he is saying, I might say, “What?” and then answer his question moments later, when I finally realized what he actually said. Frustrating for him, I’m sure, but we’ve (well, he has!) learned to live with it.

It was no surprise, then, when two of our children exhibited this same trait, presumably inherited from me. I have chuckled as I have tried to get their attention while they are concentrating on something, or reading, and I am unable to even get them to look up. Or waiting for a few moments after I say something for them to definitively process what I just said. Of course, I can’t complain about any of this, without the “tree, meet apple” conversation coming up.

It was with interest, then, that I learned about something called “auditory processing” problems. Medically, these made sense to me: kids (like myself) with ear infections as a child, whose brains didn’t quite develop the ability to fully process what they heard. Thus, a “delay” built into the system between actually hearing what is said, and then further processing what that means. Annoying, certainly, for those around me, but it hasn’t hindered me in any way from being able to become a wife, mother, or physician. Jobs, I might point out, that involve lots of listening.

Psychologists have politely suggested that we may want to look into auditory processing therapy for our kids with this issue (and probably with myself along for the ride). We have agreed to look into it, and thankfully I have a great resource through my medical group of someone who can help me sort out recommendations that we receive. Drawing the line about when to “do something” is simple for me: it’s when the “something” starts to interfere with day-to-day functioning. Thus, we explore what the options are, and whether any intervention is evidence-based. Meaning, someone apart from the person making money on the intervention has studied whether the intervention is effective. Evidence-based interventions for issues that are interfering with day-to-day functioning are, in my book, typically worthwhile from a medical point of view.

Yet, here’s my confession: I love having my cone of silence. Being able to effortlessly retreat to my own private world in the middle of chaos is wonderful. I suspect my children love that they can do this, too (Dave wishes he could do this). It’s like our own superpower, or superhero flaw, depending on your viewpoint. The kids will routinely go to Dave instead of me with their disputes, because they know they have to get my attention before I’ll even listen to them. No one bothers me when I’m working from home or reading because they know it’s pointless (I will look up for blood or smoke). The kids don’t try to talk to me all at once in the car because they know I can’t process everything at the same time. They’ve all learned to adapt, and it’s probably taught my kids to be more polite. Other than hearing more “what?” around our house, you might not notice it exists.

So, we’ll plan to go down the road of “looking into it”, and perhaps even “doing something” if we can find anything that meets my criteria above. But I plan to ask whether any intervention would hinder our cone of silence superpower. That’s not a price I’m willing to pay.

“Do You Have a Second?”

“Do you have a second?” can mean so many things in my life. It can mean that someone would like to ask me a medical question, or they are looking for volunteers for the carnival at school. So, I’ve learned to be a little hesitant when it comes to answering the question.

Over the past few years, I’ve also learned to recognize it as a call for help. I volunteered to be one of the GT ambassador parents for my kids’ elementary school about a year ago, which means I act as a conduit to help other GT parents find information. When a parent of a gifted child asks this question, I know that we are likely looking at a conversation much more than a “second” long. These are the mornings when I’m glad I don’t have to hurry to patients already waiting in the office for me. I can take a few moments to listen to a GT parent, and try to help steer them towards the resources they need.

The questions usually fall into some basic categories: how and when to test into the full-time gifted program at the school; trouble with the parent understanding their child; trouble with the child not being engaged at school; coping with intensities. Since I’m an internist in a geriatric practice, I steer clear of any medical questions about children (other than to say, “you should take your child to his/her doctor”), because clearly I’m not qualified to comment.

I do preface any conversations I have with an explanation that Dave and I are “off the grid” – the best way that I can think of to explain that we are pretty far out there in terms of having left most traditional GT schooling ideas behind. By way of explanation: all of our kids are in a full-time gifted program, and are skipped up an additional grade; my daughters both part-time homeschool literacy and math. Plus, all of our kids have different issues: E is extremely unusual in terms of her intellectual level; H is 2e with a profound math learning disability; and A has all five intensities, all at once. Consequently, what has worked for one child did not necessarily work for the others. We’ve literally done every type of acceleration that exists within our school district.

What I love about volunteering, though, is listening and having empathy for the parents. Their stories can be heart-wrenching, and you can see how much they genuinely care for their child. This is such a tough road to go down, trying to help your gifted child choose a path that makes them truly happy. So much easier to concentrate on measured achievements, test scores, or fighting with the school. One of the parents I spoke with earlier this year commented to me recently that our conversation really opened her mind to possibilities she hadn’t known existed. She seemed so much happier to be pursuing a path of exploration, rather than doing the same things she’d always done. A definite bright spot in my day.

Here’s hoping I can help a few more parents find resources, and happiness, for their gifted kids “off the grid” – well worth many “seconds” of my time.

2 + 2 = Fish

E has made something of a name for herself in our household as our resident puzzle-solver, so the events at our breakfast table one sunny morning were a wide-eyed surprise.

See that pic up there? Go give it a minute or two. I’ll wait.

Back? Super.

H  – our resident dyscalculic – looked at this and got it, literally, in about one second. Seriously. Through a mouthful of cinnamon roll, her immediate comment was, “you flip the shape around and stick it together, so two 2’s make a fish, two 3’s make an 8, and two 7’s make a triangle.”

Sleepy E arrived at the table minutes later to find the iPad at her place, and frowned. And then her ‘working’ face went on, and I could see the gears starting to whirl and steam starting to rise. I could literally watch the permutations and insinuations get examined, one by one, and discarded.

“I don’t get it,” she sighed.

The real revelation for us was that it was literally impossible for E to discard the symbolic freight of numbers as mathematical fact. She was trying mathematical possibility after mathematical possibility, analogy after analogy – do fish have four fins? Does a triangle relate somehow to the number seven? – without success.

It’s a rare moment when H’s issues in subitization become a gift. They’re not numbers first to H; they’re shapes. If I gave you a set of squiggles that, mirrored and docked, became recognizable shapes, you could probably solve that problem as fast as she did. (And maybe you did anyway.) But load down a graphic with meaningmathematical meaning in this case – and E’s traditional problem-solving machinery grinds into motion instantly. I had to point out to E, as a hint, that if you began by thinking of them as numbers, the puzzle actually became more difficult to solve, at which point she ‘got it’ – but whole minutes had gone by.

This strikes me as particularly important having watched (again) the video entitled Future Learning, in which one of the most important skills for next-generation success is the ability to reject doctrine, to slip dogmatic bonds and free the mind to approach problems freshly, with what amounts to that child mind. As I marveled at what H had done, I wondered to myself: are there fish and triangles in my own daily challenges that I’m not identifying and addressing correctly? And how do I teach ‘machinery’ like E’s to start with the ‘child mind’ when we approach problems like this one?