Category Archives: Visual Spatial

The Gift of Creativity

Mold and the Twice Exceptional child

Did I mention that Zoolander wants to be a scientist when she grows up?  Let’s just say that her favorite gift from Santa this year was a plastic human skull.

It started in 1st grade.  Before that, she claimed that she wanted to ‘hunt bears’ for a living. She changed her mind after she did her Science Fair project on the quality of our water.  

I called the Water Department and asked if she could test the water at their lab. Both scientists in the lab that day were women and they were delighted to suit-up a somewhat toothless, 6-year old Zoolander in a real grownup lab coat, roll up her sleeves and let her go to town. They were so kind and helped her through her experiment, while Zoolander grinned from ear to ear.  She loved it and was hooked.


She then became obsessed with blood and the human body.  One of her most thrilling experiences came at the age of 7, when the nurse at the doctor’s office let Zoolander help test her own urine.  Livin’ the dream, baby!

Almost every book Zoolander checks out the library at school has something to do with the human body or blood.  She really likes books with pictures, especially if they are gross.

They had a reading contest at school with books for prizes… Zoolander ordered ‘An Introduction to Genes and DNA’.  Last summer, on the first day of camp, her counselor asked Zoolander which Disney Princess was her favorite.  No response.  Awkward silence.  So, the counselor tried asking her what book she had read last and was a little caught off guard when Zoolander shyly replied, ‘Solving Crimes with Forensic Science’.

Zoolander sleeps in a pile of her science books.  She especially loves the series of ‘Horrible Science’ books, which are illustrated with funny Mad magazine-style cartoons.  Her favorite is ‘Blood, Bones and Body Bits’, but recently asked me to order ‘Chemical Chaos’. 

So, last weekend, I found mold on some food in the kitchen. (don’t ask)  Zoolander was psyched and begged me to let her keep some. She was all out of petri dishes, so she put some mold in a jar.  She decided it needed water and then maybe some flour and then maybe a little sugar.  Then, because her father had so carelessly thrown away a previous jar that contained moldy cheese, she made a special label for her new mold jar.

I am not a scientist, and I can’t keep up with her curiosity, so I try to find enrichment opportunities for Zoolander.  I know she’s a visual thinker, because she tells me that she has a DVD library in her head and when she’s bored at school she selects a movie and watches the entire thing.  Great.

Anyway, here is some of the fun science stuff she loves that other visual learners might enjoy.

*Mad Science-A hands-on after school science program. This is the highlight of her week.
*CU Wizards-Fun and free monthly science show for kids at the local university, which features lots of soda geysers and other kid-pleasing explosions.
*Usborne books-Lots of colorful non-fiction titles with beautiful illustrations.
*Horrible Science-Fun UK book series.
*IPhone Apps-3D Human Body, 3D Skeletal System, 3D Muscle System, Molecules, 3D Brain, 210 Human Body facts
*Android App-Speed Anatomy
*3B Scientific-Online site for all your human anatomy and plastic skeleton needs.
*Discovery Channel-Human Body/Pushing the Limits
*Hoagies’ Gifted science links

Zoolander’s obsession with science and her strong visual memory make me think of an interview I did with a scientist named Tom.  Tom describes himself as a visual thinker who definitely knew at an early age what he wanted to be.

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.

The Brainhugger Does Battle

I shouldn’t say battle.  Today’s meeting at school wasn’t a battle.  It was actually a very cooperative effort, with professional educators who care about my daughter.  But I prepared for the meeting as if I was preparing for battle.  I studied every website I could find, called friends for pep talks, outlined my talking points and baked muffins.  Yeah… stayed up late, baking muffins, so they would think I’m more normal mom and less crazy-out-of-her-gourd mom.

My daughter’s elementary school has done everything they can to help her.  She’s a 5th grader, 2E or Twice Exceptional… in the Gifted and Talented program, but struggling with ADHD, Sensory Processing Issues, written expression and possibly learning disabilities we’ve yet to discover.

Speaking of discovering, I’m taking her for more testing tomorrow morning… with a Learning Disabilities Specialist we’ve hired outside the school.  I sat in on last week’s testing session and was blown away by my daughter’s mind.  Some of the stuff on the test, I couldn’t do.  The Learning Specialist gave her numbers and had her repeat them backwards.  I had to stop at 3 numbers.  My daughter could do 6.  She said she saw the numbers in her head and then read them backwards.  The Learning Specialist said, “Did you know about this?”  I said, “Well, yes… that’s how she studies her spelling.”  She said my daughter’s visual memory will be a powerful tool.

I need a code name for my daughter, so I don’t have to keep writing, ‘my daughter’.  I’ll ask her what she wants to call herself.

So back to the meeting at school,  I’m too tired to explain tonight.  11 people in a room, intimidating and exhausting.

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