Wednesday, January 20, 2016

How to work and homeschool too

I hope everyone had a great New Year!

I know from previous surveys that a high proportion (perhaps 50 percent) of families of profoundly gifted students wind up homeschooling at some point during their school years. These days there are a lot more options for online schooling and individualized instruction than in the past.

One thing that holds some families back is the assumption that one parent (likely Mom for a variety of reasons) will need to stop working in order to homeschool.

But it turns out that working and homeschooling aren't incompatible. I have a piece published over at Fast Company today on the ultimate second shift - "How These Parents Work and Homeschool Too."

To make it work, families need to embrace a few ideas.

First, work does not need to happen between 9 and 5, but even if it does, school does not need to happen between 9 and 3. Any of the 168 hours in a week can be in play! (well, probably not 2 a.m. to 5 a.m., but still).

Second, all working parents need childcare. For some parents, school serves this function, but the educational and custodial care functions of school can be unbundled. A number of homeschooling, working parents have nannies for some chunk of time. These caregivers might be able to supervise some aspects of schooling (e.g. trouble shooting for an elementary school student taking an online class).

Third, homeschooling parents can share the load. Two parents taking half the homeschooling means that the time load is cut in two. Many families belong to homeschooling co-ops or even district-run programs that offer electives or specialized instruction one day a week. This becomes time parents can work. Homeschooled kids might go to college classes, or do intense athletic or artistic endeavors, which fills some time too.

If the pieces of work can be moved around, then the math works. Someone could work 35-40 hours a week, and homeschool for 20, sleep 8 hours a night, and still have 52-57 waking hours per week left over. It would be a full life, but a doable one.

Do you or have you homeschooled? If so, did you maintain any professional involvements during this time?

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Acceleration, math, and college standards

California has long had issues with matching up its public K-12 school system with its system of public universities. When I was out there a few years ago doing some reporting, I learned that a number of schools had (until recently, people were trying to change this) not offered the classes that were necessary to attend one of California's 4-year public universities. In other words, young people with perfectly good high school diplomas would find themselves needing to do lots of extra course work in order to enroll, not because they didn't stretch in high school, but because apparently no one was thinking that children from those high schools might wish to earn 4-year degrees from one of the major universities. Talk about low expectations.

Anyway, I was thinking of this as I read an article in EdSource about how districts are choosing to accelerate students. There's been a bit of a rethink about how many 8th graders are taking algebra as it's become clear that many haven't been prepared. If you have trouble with algebra, most higher level math is going to be tough to understand. This impulse brushes up with a different issue, though, which is that in order to attend one of the flagship universities, you really need to have followed a sequence that includes something like calculus your senior year. It's hard to get there without doing algebra in 8th grade.

So this leads to the question: who gets accelerated? Ideally, everyone would be free to work at his/her own pace with no judgements. But if not taking algebra in 8th grade means you're probably not going to have the right classes for a top university 4 years later, it becomes a bit more fraught. You potentially have people making the choice of who seems like college material and who doesn't, quite early.

So, broadly, how should acceleration decisions get made?

The Ed Source article details efforts to make sure the criteria are fair. I remember years ago taking the Iowa Algebra Aptitude Test to see if I was ready for algebra in 6th grade (fun story: the teacher administering it had such a heavy southern accent I thought for a long time that it was the "Owl" Algebra test). Of course, tests have their problems too. So there are other options. Teachers can recommend people who didn't quite get the right scores, though teachers can't recommend against someone who did get the right score. And parents can elect to accelerate children too.

There are arguments for or against these options. Good teachers naturally teach to the middle of a class. They are constantly checking for understanding, and if most of the class isn't getting something, they'll stay there. This means that if enough children who aren't quite ready for accelerated math are in a class, it can get watered down.

On the other hand, questions of who's in/who's out sometimes become so big and fraught that schools decide it's better to have everyone do the same thing. And that's not a win either. So in general I think that if people are willing to try more advanced classes, it's OK to let them, especially if classes are then benchmarked to state or national tests so there's a force against watering them down (a la AP Classes).

What math sequence did your children take? If they took classes post-calculus in high school, what were those?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

More kids take calculus in high school. Is this a good thing?

I took AP Calculus (AB) my sophomore year in high school, and then a semester of the BC version my junior year. While this was certainly considered "advanced," it's not particularly rare to take at least the AB version in high school anymore. According to this article in The Conversation, the proportion of students sitting for an AP Calculus exam has risen from about 5 percent in the 1980s to 15 percent now. Author Kevin Knudson posits that it's unlikely that the talent bench has gotten three times deeper in the intervening years. Instead, he claims that in the rush to stand out for college admissions, more students are pushing to take calculus. However, when they take college calculus classes, they find that they would have been better served by having a deeper understanding of algebra, geometry, and pre-calculus concepts.

I have mixed feelings on this. It is possible that having more students take AP Calculus classes could dilute the class. Experienced teachers have a good sense of what students are grasping and not grasping, and they naturally tend toward the mean. They move on when the majority of the class "gets it." This means the class would move slower if it contained a broad group of students vs. the most mathematically advanced students.

Knudson also points out that the rise of AP classes may be a result of schools failing to offer gifted education to high school students. Advanced classes seem like something, and since they're broadly perceived as a metric of a high school's quality, administrators are happy to offer them.

On the other hand, AP classes are that -- something -- and they're benchmarked for quality and understanding in a way that many other courses are not. If all a teacher's students score 4s and 5s on the AP exam, she is at least covering the required topics. If they score 1s and 2s, something isn't working. That's apparent, even if the students all get A's.

Likewise, one of the things that has always made gifted education easy to cut is that it's seemed aimed at just a few kids. AP classes that enroll 10-15 percent of students are harder to cut. That's a much bigger constituency.

What do you think? Is the expansion of AP classes a good thing, or is the situation more complicated?

Friday, November 20, 2015

How to talk about your gifted kid

In the 10th anniversary post, I wrote that we'd be re-visiting some of the topics that sparked the most discussion over the years. One of those questions was how to talk about your gifted child.

Parents want and need to talk about their kids. I'm sure this is somewhat annoying for people who don't have kids, but parenting consumes a lot of time, and most of us want to do a good job at it. Consequently, kids becomes a frequent topic of conversation. Likewise, kids want to hear you talk about them. My 8-year-old was in a play last night (he delivered his one line with great enthusiasm). In the car on the way home, he said things like "Tell me more about my performance." I guess it's good to ask for what you need!

I was happy to tell him that I was proud of him, and that he'd done a good job remembering his line, and I was proud that he was not nervous in front of the crowd.

But that's a different matter from public conversations. For many parents of gifted children, I've heard from readers of this blog, conversations with other parents can become fraught. Parenting conversations on the playground or birthday parties or school pick-ups require some portion of shared issues. A parent whose kid is really struggling with math doesn't necessarily want to hear about how many grade levels ahead your kid is working. I never like the "misery Olympics" of some parenting conversations (over who has it worse) but even if everyone's talking about the wonderful things their kids did, a parent whose kid got his first B+ on a math test may not want to hear about another child's proof he dreamed up in his bedroom at night for fun.

So what do you do? Obviously, other people's comfort is not the only important consideration in life, but when you're in a community for the long haul, it helps to nurture connections. This is one reason that forums for parents of gifted kids are so important (I'll put a plug in for the Davidson Institute's programs here!) Such discussion groups can be safe spaces for parents to chat with other parents who understand. It lessens the weight of having only the people who are there in person.

Some parents go ahead and talk about their kids and figure if it's said from the perspective that you're proud of your kid -- because you are! -- and not implying that this is because you are better at this parenting thing than other people, then it's all good. Let the chips fall where they may. If other people have a problem, they have a problem. Other parents elect to talk more about extra-curricular activities, where everyone's into different things, and there's less straightforward academic competition. I'm curious what strategies Gifted Exchange readers use.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

When to skip a grade, when not to (plus DITD program info)

I had a conversation with a father recently whose highly gifted son had needed more challenge. The school recommended accelerating him a grade. The family didn't want to do that, and wound up putting him in a private school where they thought he could get more individual attention and flexible grouping (there were smaller, multi-grade classes).

Obviously, any situation has its own particular complications. But it got me thinking about when skipping a grade is the right choice, and when it might not be.

My first thought was that this boy's school was pretty rare. Educators in general do not have a positive view of full-grade acceleration. This is why it is a massively under-utilized option, compared to the situations in which it would be useful. Acceleration does not cost anything. It may save taxpayers money! It can be done in different doses (one grade, two grades, etc.) People are often worried about social outcomes, but the A Nation Deceived report addressed those pretty well. There aren't many to worry about. In any case, a quick view around a 6th grade class will show that people mature at incredibly different rates anyway.

That said, it's not perfect for every situation. A child who has extreme gifts in one subject (e.g. math), but is more toward grade level in everything else, would not be made whole by a whole grade acceleration. That child needs an individualized study in math -- perhaps the ability to take college classes early -- and could likely be accommodated in his/her age-grade the rest of the time.

A child who is highly-attuned to fitting in and being like everyone else may rebel at the idea of a whole grade acceleration within the same school. Parents have to make the ultimate decision, but the child's thoughts and feelings need some consideration too. A grade skip may be better done when people would be switching schools anyway, or moving.

Finally, the question is what the other options are. If there is an alternative school available -- a gifted magnet school, perhaps, or a feasible private school that could offer individual attention -- then those options can be thrown into the mix alongside whole grade acceleration.

When do you think skipping a grade is a good option, and when not?

In other news: The Davidson Institute, which sponsors this blog, has several programs with deadlines coming up. Please see below.

2016 Davidson Fellows $50,000, $25,000 and $10,000 Scholarships

The Davidson Institute for Talent Development offers high-achieving young people across the country the opportunity to be named a 2016 Davidson Fellow, an honor accompanied by a $50,000, $25,000 or $10,000 scholarship in recognition of a significant piece of work in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Music, Literature, Philosophy or Outside the Box. Applicants must submit an original piece of work that is recognized as significant by experts in the field and that has the potential to make a positive contribution to society. The scholarship may be used at any accredited college or university. The deadline to apply is Feb. 10, 2016. For additional information, please visit

2016 THINK Summer Institute – Three-Week Academic Residential Program

The Davidson Institute is seeking gifted teens to attend the 2016 THINK Summer Institute. THINK is a three-week residential summer program on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno where students can earn up to six college credits by completing two university courses. The 2016 THINK Summer Institute will run from July 9 through July 30. Tuition is $3,500 and covers course credits, books and materials, room and board, and the cost of planned activities. Need-based scholarships are available. To qualify, students must be 13 to 16 years old during THINK and must submit a SAT or an ACT score report. The application deadline is April 1, 2016. To learn more about THINK, please visit

Davidson Young Scholars Application Available

The national Davidson Young Scholars program provides FREE support, information and resources to families of profoundly gifted students. Through an online community and annual event, Young Scholars have the opportunity to meet others with similar interests and abilities, and utilize their talents to maximize their educational potential and make a difference in the lives of others. Parents collaborate with a team of knowledgeable Family Consultants who provide individualized services based on each family’s unique needs, including educational advocacy and planning, social and emotional development, and enrichment opportunities. Once enrolled, Davidson Young Scholars can access exclusive opportunities such as online courses and a summer camp for 8 to 12 year olds. The Davidson Young Scholars application deadline is the first of each month. Please visit the website to learn more:

The Davidson Academy of Nevada - Apply for 2016-2017 School Year

The Davidson Academy of Nevada, a free public day school for profoundly gifted pupils located on the University of Nevada, Reno campus, is now accepting applications for the 2016-2017 school year. Classes at the Academy are not grouped by age-based grades, but by ability level, providing profoundly gifted young people an educational opportunity matched to their abilities, strengths and interests. To attend the Davidson Academy, students must be at the middle or high school level across all subject areas and score in the 99.9th percentile on IQ or college entrance tests, such as the SAT or ACT. For admission details, please visit Applications are reviewed on a monthly basis with a final application deadline of April 1, 2016. Interested families can meet current students and parents, faculty and staff, network with others and ask questions at Academy tours. For upcoming tour dates and to RSVP, visit .

Thursday, October 22, 2015

But it's optional...

Homework is a source of friction in many families, and we are not immune to this. Let’s just say that learning to be organized about the homework’s location and completion is a skill that takes time to master.

But one source of friction I hadn’t really anticipated is what to do about optional problems.

My oldest son’s teacher gives weekly homework assignments, and often they have optional harder math problems. In general, my kid likes a challenge. However, when he handed me the homework this morning to sign, I noticed that he’d done all the required problems and none of the optional ones. I asked him about it and, as he has done in the past, he acted like I just didn’t get it. “Mom,” he said. “They’re optional.”

Which is true. Optional does mean that you don’t have to do them. Of course, I was the kind of kid who would have done the extra problems. My husband claims he would have made up extra problems beyond the extra problems just to do them. So what do we do when our kid wants to do exactly what is required and nothing more?

On one level, I get it. Homework isn’t particularly fun, and the problems aren’t so challenging that he really has to struggle with them. He creates his own challenges in terms of dreaming up characters and then creating whole timelines for their lives and their extended families’ lives. Indeed, in his timelines, he’s writing about someone who lives from 1837-1904, and will tell me how old this person was when various life events occurred, which is basically what the extra problems are too (3 or 4 digit subtraction).

I also recognize that my husband and I might benefit from chilling out a bit on the “above and beyond” front. I explained this situation to a fellow parent at a birthday party and she pointed out that my son was already well-versed in the 80-20 rule.

That said, I also told my son that doing none of the extra problems sent a message that he was simply not interested in efforts to do more challenging things. Whereas doing at least a few of the problems would be a show of good faith. It’s more a social message than anything else. We compromised on him doing 5 of them quickly at the breakfast table this morning.

What would you do?

Friday, October 09, 2015

What should you tell your kid?

As promised in my 10th anniversary post, I'd like to re-raise some of the issues from the most-discussed posts of the past. A particularly thorny issue for many parents is what to tell their kids about giftedness.

Parents always have to figure out what's worth sharing with their kids and what's not. I generally don't tell my 4-year-old daughter about playdates until shortly beforehand for a few reasons. One is that she has little concept of time, and so every day I would have to keep explaining that no, it's not today, and deal with that disappointment. Also, sometimes kids get sick or have to cancel, and she'd be devastated by that. So while, as an adult, I know that anticipation accounts for a major chunk of the happiness gleaned from an event, I generally make a strategic choice that she will have less anticipation but also less disappointment by not knowing far ahead of time.

Playdates are one thing. But what do you tell your kids about their own giftedness? Kids pick up on many things. Children may hear other adults say "you're so smart" or realize that adults treat them as curiosities when they do something advanced for their age (like write words in sidewalk chalk as a 3-year-old). If there are lots of meetings with teachers about appropriate challenges, they will pick up on that.

If you have them tested, that will introduce a whole new set of questions. There is nothing normal about going to sit in a psychologist's office to take the WISC. You have to figure out how to explain that one, and then how to explain the outcome. And many children will want to know the outcome. If the child figures out it's a test with numerical outcomes, he might want to know that. So, would you ever tell a child his IQ score?

I'm very curious how Gifted Exchange readers have addressed these issues with their children.