Category Archives: Math

My Brain is Like Spaghetti Squash

Tonight 10-year old Zoolander was helping me with dinner when she casually shared this analogy comparing her brain & thoughts to spaghetti squash.
It does help explain how it feels to have difficulties with written expression.

Homework Too Hard

Tuesday was the last day of school for my 2E girls!  I know they’re relieved. (and so am I)  They work harder than anyone probably suspects in order to keep up with their peers in the Gifted program.

I found something sort of heartbreaking in the pile of stuff Zoolander brought home from school today, especially knowing that her ‘Stealth Dyslexia‘ makes math calculation & spelling a challenge for her.

It was a piece of paper (or some kind of royal proclamation?) from the first day of school last fall.  Zoolander said their assignment was to write down what they were worried about as they started 3rd grade.  This, from a 9-year old who scores very high on intelligence tests, but has already learned to be worried about her weaknesses.

The worries of a 3rd grader.

Expanding Our Horizons

I signed Lily and myself up for a Saturday workshop at a local university.  It was called Expanding Your Horizons, sponsored by the American Association of University Women. 

It’s intended to introduce middle-school girls to possible careers in mathematics, engineering and science. Lily would attend 3 short classes led by women… ‘Using Scientific Tools to Study the Solar System’, ‘Wildlife 101’ and ‘Transportation Engineering’.

I would attend 3 parent classes, the most intriguing called, ‘Paying for College’.  The title was just so tempting… like, maybe Oprah would show up and give every parent in the audience a big wad of cash.  What I really expected was bad news, which is definitely what I got, but I was pleasantly surprised to find the workshop really helpful.

The speaker was excellent… very efficient.  She was an ‘educational consultant’ and got right to the point.  There was none of that incredibly tedious workshop read aloud a handout b.s. that I can’t tolerate.  This woman knew all the ins and outs of admissions and applying for financial aid and she packed as much information into the hour as she possibly could.   It was terrifying, but really great information.  

The other 2 workshops were also outstanding, both of them more on the behavior of middle-school girls.  I actually felt like I learned something at the workshop and enjoyed myself too. Lily had a great time also, and was bubbly when I met her afterward. 
Of course, the drop off wasn’t without a little drama.  Most of the other parents just dropped their girls off and left, but Lily was close by my side, mumbling, “Just take me home.  I don’t want to be here.  Let’s just go.  Let’s just go.”  I tried to calm her, but it just agitated her.  I finally used the daycare method and did the…  ‘say goodbye and go’.  Lily told me later that after I left she’d hung back so far from her group that they hadn’t seen her and left without her.  A volunteer spotted Lily straggling and helped return her to her group.  Argggh.
I know it’s good practice for Lily to have to deal with new situations and the anxiety that comes with them.  I also feel like it’s important that she have frequent exposure to a college environment, all the better if it has to do with math & science.  So, definitely, for both us—horizons expanded.

Math Chat

After Lily expressed her math concerns at Dr. K’s, I emailed our Special Ed contact at school and Lily’s math teacher and explained Lily’s worries. I suggested that it might be a good idea for someone on the team to meet with Lily and talk with her about the big picture plan for her in math. Both teachers emailed back and said it sounded like a great idea.

Lily’s difficulty with math at school began in approximately 1st grade, when, because she was now in the Gifted and Talented program, the class moved ahead to 2nd grade math.  Lily instantly had trouble with abstract concepts such as money and time.  

Her difficulties became more apparent in 2nd grade, when Lily was moved on to 3rd grade math.  At this level she was expected to begin to learn multiplication when she could barely add and subtract single digits.  She brought home worksheets from the math program the school was using, Everyday Math, and Lily seemingly had no idea how to do the work.  

Her struggles continued in 3rd grade, when working on 4th grade math. By this time, I knew that as a visual-learner and twice exceptional, Lily was going to have trouble with rote memorization.  

In 4th grade, doing 5th grade math, I began to suspect that the Everyday Math program was not ideal for a learner like Lily.  It teaches on a spiral, so it touches on a math concept and then moves on, assuming that if the student doesn’t get it this time, they’ll grasp it the next time.  But moving from topic to topic so quickly left Lily feeling like she had not mastered anything and it was very frustrating to her.  Everyday Math also teaches the students several ways to solve a problem, but Lily just needed the comfort of really knowing the steps to solve the problem ONE way.  

I researched different math programs, and after meeting with the school, they agreed to let Lily try an online math program called ALEKS.  I seemed to work great at home.  Lily loved the pie chart on ALEKS that gives kids instant feedback.  At first, at school, ALEKS seemed to work well.  During math time, Lily would work on ALEKS on a laptop, but it wasn’t long before the material became more challenging and Lily started getting frustrated.  At home it was fine and I realized that it was because I was there to walk her through the steps when she was stuck.  At school, there was an aide who could help Lily, but not someone trained to offer math instruction to a kid like Lily.  

It was in the second half of 5th grade when we had a Learning Evaluation done on Lily.  Lily was gifted in math, especially quantitative reasoning.  When she was tested verbally, Lily was able to calculate math problems in her head to an 8th or 9th grade level.  It was the rote arithmetic facts and her ability to calculate on paper that were causing her such difficulty.  

In the meantime, we had Lily’s CSAP results back, which showed a decrease in math from 3rd to 4th grade.  In meetings with school officials, I stressed that we needed to find out why Lily was struggling so much with math and come up with some solutions for her.  

The school district finally sent in one of their secret weapons, a visual-spatial guy who specializes in figuring out visual-spatial learners, especially in math.  He observed Lily in class.  Mr. Visual-Spatial noticed that Lily seemed bored in class and hadn’t done any of her work, but when the teacher called on her she knew the answer.  Later, when he met one-on-one with Lily and he asked her how she knew the answer, she had no idea.  In a report, he explained that this is typical of a learner like this… always in trouble for not showing their work because they have no idea what steps they took… they just know they got the answer.  In Lily’s IEP Transition mtg, he explained that drilling Lily on arithmetic facts will never work.  She should just use a calculator.  Learners like Lily like to have context for math facts; they have a hard time just memorizing them.  In this meeting, Lily’s middle school teachers felt like she should go into the 7th grade math program and that this program is actually good for learners like Lily.  It gives them a specific steps for solving math problems but within that framework allows them to use their quantitative reasoning skills.

Shortly after my email to Lily’s middle school team, both the Special Ed teacher and her math teacher met with her and Lily seemed fine.  It feels like Lily is starting to trust the team and in exchange she’s really trying to be open and flexible.

I got a nice email after her meeting.  The Special Ed teacher told me that she had also gone over some of the IEP supports with Lily and that Lily was informative and insightful about what supports help her and which she doesn’t feel she needs.  The teacher said she was very impressed because most kids don’t have that insight at that age.

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