When her teachers aren't smart enough to see that their problems are flawed - Mothering Forums

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Old 01-30-2010, 12:25 PM - Thread Starter
 
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OK, totally not dissing teachers here.

I'm guessing gyou have to let most things slide, but...

We had a parent conference yesterday with dd#1's teachers. She's doing great, etc. They were excited to have stumped her (for the first time) with a math problem. So, of course, I asked what the problem was.

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There are five ducks all together. Two are on the beach. The rest are in the water. How many are wet?
So, of course, I blurt out, "well, there's not enough information to solve the problem." They look at me like I've got two heads, so I explained that the ducks on the beach could be wet if they had just gotten out of the water, or they could be dry. More stares.

Dh thinks it's no big deal. I think it's one tiny incident, BUT dd is five and not quite old enough to defend her thinking against teachers who are telling her the RIGHT answer is three. I do realize we are at the beginning of a long educational road, but clearly our dd can do 5-2=3 hanging upside down in the dark, KWIM? My problem is that they thought the MATH challenged her and they don't see the flaw in their problem.

Any BTDT?
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Old 01-30-2010, 12:39 PM
 
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Honestly? I think that is where you teach her not to over-think problems when handed a sheet of math problems at school. It is an important skill to be able to figure out which option is most likely being asked.

There are ways you can do this that don't discourage her original thinking, but do help her narrow her thinking to be accurate for the specific situation and context.

ETA: how you frame your explanation is critical here. I highly doubt her teachers "aren't smart enough" to see "flaws in their thinking." If you have that little respect for her teachers to honestly think that a 5 year old is more knowledgeable of basic kindergarten skills and thought-processes, you run the risk of teaching her to be patronizing, condescending and arrogant.

If you tell her, "yes, often times people are not clear enough in their directions to immediately know what they are trying to communicate. At those times, either ask them for clarification, or, in the case of a test question, go with the most obvious explanation" you are more likely to teach her that poor communication and unclear instructions are a common part of the human experience, and give her the tools she needs to (a) switch her thinking process to one that is appropriate in each situation, and (b) help her learn the communication skills that we all need to understand each other.
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Old 01-30-2010, 12:51 PM - Thread Starter
 
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OK, so you think I'm being ridiculous. So work through it with me then.
I'm trying to figure out how to deal with these things in the big picture so my child will not have her thinking so narrowed and dumbed down as to no longer have any original, creative or radical thoughts. Sure, I want her to see what people want, but I still want her to be able to think in her own way. I disagree with you that the answer is obvious.

As to the format of the work. The children - this is kindergarten - are given the word problems one per sheet with lots of space to draw a picture and then write a solution. It's kindergarten.
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Old 01-30-2010, 01:02 PM
 
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Well, then either her drawing wasn't clear enough to demonstrate her thinking, so she needs to work on creating more precise pictures, or you frame it as "you are right! All of those things *could* be true! How creative of you to think of each of those other options! But, let's figure out what the teacher is most likely asking."

I don't think you are being "ridiculous" but I do think it is far more common that you realize, and unless the kindergarten teacher is in her first year of teaching, she's already seen this exact same situation with other students.

An example of a more precise drawing:

three ducks in the water, two ducks on the beach, on a rainy day with puddles on the sand. She then writes, "three ducks are wet, unless it is raining. then all five are wet."

While it is important that people always remember that the obvious might not be the answer, if any of us countered our boss with the type of bantering you are describing, we wouldn't last long.

you are right that we need to make sure our children/students don't lose the possibilities in their thinking, but we also need to make sure they learn that sometimes, the obvious way is the one to choose.
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Old 01-30-2010, 01:17 PM
 
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I agree that there is some ambiguity in the problem. You didn't say, though, what answer your DD gave to the teacher. What did she write on her paper?
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Old 01-30-2010, 01:25 PM
 
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You may also want to encourage your dd to ask the teacher if she feels that there is more than one acceptable answer, in her opinion. It's likely not too early to help her develop her ability to repectfully communicate how she is perceiving the question and that she sees valid alternatives, especially if you want to preserve this skill.

I have a tendency to over-think. I spent a lot of time up at the teacher's desk asking for clarification (even in early elementary) and defending my answers. Once in awhile, the teacher would give me credit. I doubt if they ever questioned my intelligence, and my teachers were patient with me. It did help me fine tune my test taking abilities as I learned through trial and error what the answer the test maker was likely looking for. By the time I was in high school, my alternative thinking was more valued.

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Old 01-30-2010, 01:42 PM
 
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To be entirely honest, this is one of the reasons I don't want to send my kids to school. That's a very simple example, but ambiguous questions are a plague and quite frankly I think that teachers should be discouraged from asking them. The question in your example is one that I would expect a LOT of kindergarteners to have difficulty answering/defending adequately, gifted or not.

I also don't think that it's reasonable to expect a kindergartener's drawing to fully illustrate their thought process. Lots of kindergarten children couldn't draw a representation of a duck that anyone would recognize, let alone a beach, an ocean, rain, and puddles. In fact, I'm pretty comfortable saying that I couldn't do it right now with a pencil and twenty minutes. I'd be seriously irritated if anyone expected my five year old to pull that off.

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Old 01-30-2010, 02:11 PM
 
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I mostly agree with spedteacher, but I also am interested in what your DD said when you asked her about this. I'm sure she can do 5-2 = 3--so can my daughter, but the word problem process is really different...she has to understand what they are asking, and this question is sort of confusing (not even for the reason you mention, necessarily).

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Old 01-30-2010, 02:25 PM
 
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I asked my 2nd grader this question to see if she'd see the ambiguity, and she said, "Well, it's either three, four, or five." I asked how she'd answer if she saw that question at school, and she said, "three". I do think it's possible to see all the possibilities but understand what the teachers are looking for, though it would be harder in kindergarten, partially just because your dd doesn't have the experience with story problems and tests and teachers to understand how they work. But I think that to understand that all three answers are possibly true but at the same time to understand what answer they're looking for is a useful skill. At least as useful as "5-2=3".
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Old 01-30-2010, 02:26 PM
 
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I just asked my K dd this question. Her answer was 5. When I asked her why, she said all 5 were wet because all 5 were in the water at some point if they were on a beach. She can do simple subtraction such as 5 - 2 = 3, but she did not perceive this question as a math problem. Even if she had, she still might have come up with the same answer.

Laura - Mom to ds (10) and dd (7) "Time stands still best in moments that look suspiciously like ordinary life." Brian Andreas.

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Old 01-30-2010, 03:03 PM
 
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The answer they wanted was three.

If she wants to give an answer other than the one expected of her (3) she needs to be prepared to defend her answer. I do think this is a very difficult job for a K, and I really think that in K-3 ambiguous questions should be avoided.

What I have done in the past with young kids was say, "you are right. The answer could have been xyz. I don't think it was a very good question". I have not spoken to the teacher about it, but I have written in margins on tests when I thought the answer should have been granted credit.

For an older child, I would probably say :the teacher is looking for this kind of response; you can give it or give an alternate one - if you give an anternate one, though, you will have to give more detail as to why

It is sad, in a way, the easiest (and thus promoting laziness? and people pleasing?) way is to give the teacher what she wants.
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Old 01-30-2010, 03:08 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by spedteacher30 View Post

While it is important that people always remember that the obvious might not be the answer, if any of us countered our boss with the type of bantering you are describing, we wouldn't last long.

.
I don't think this is an appropriate comparison. A teacher is not a boss. I think it is dangerous to say a child should not question a teacher on an academic issue because the teacher is the one in charge. FWIW, I have absolutely asked my supervisors for clarification without any issues.
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Old 01-30-2010, 03:44 PM
 
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You know, I'm 36 years old and I still remember two questions I got "wrong" in third or fourth grade.

One was "what do all living things need?" I said "sunlight." (I didn't know about the life forms around deep-sea vents back then. ) It was marked wrong, and the teacher said the answer was "other living things." When I questioned her, she said, "If you left a baby out in the sun without anyone to take care of it, it would die."

The other one was "what's the most important organ in the human body?" I said the brain, and the right answer was supposed to be the heart. In both of these cases, the teacher didn't see any ambiguity in the question or any sense that there could be more right answers than the one they had in mind.

I don't have good advice for the OP, I just am kind of amazed that all these years later, this topic brought these incidents so vividly to my mind.

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Old 01-30-2010, 03:52 PM
 
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Originally Posted by Rivka5 View Post
You know, I'm 36 years old and I still remember two questions I got "wrong" in third or fourth grade.

One was "what do all living things need?" I said "sunlight." (I didn't know about the life forms around deep-sea vents back then. ) It was marked wrong, and the teacher said the answer was "other living things." When I questioned her, she said, "If you left a baby out in the sun without anyone to take care of it, it would die."
Because "all living things" translates to "human infants"? There are plenty of living things which don't require other living things.

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The other one was "what's the most important organ in the human body?" I said the brain, and the right answer was supposed to be the heart.
What kind of school did you go to...

Mamazee... there is a BIG difference between a second grader and a kindergartener. I would fully expect a second grader to be capable of explaining their answer, but I'm not sure that's a reasonable expectation to have of a kindergartener.

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Old 01-30-2010, 04:19 PM
 
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Shouldn't the correct answer be none? Ducks have a waxy coating on their feathers that repels water, so they never really get wet.

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Old 01-30-2010, 04:23 PM
 
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IME, school is full of these kinds of questions. I have very clearly told my children that you have to figure out the answer the question/teacher/test is looking for if you're looking to get the mark. If you want to go in a different direction, you will likely have to explain your thinking and/or lose the mark. That's just school - the teachers mark on what they can see and what they expect. The rest of the time we encourage an attitude of being a life long learner - school's just a part of that.

What actually bothers me more about the scenario described is that the teachers thought they'd stumped your dd. This demonstrates that they're not seeing her.

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Old 01-30-2010, 04:42 PM
 
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I don't think the issue here is the validity of the question- I taught 4th grade for 5 years and I accidentally asked unclear questions all the time.

I think the real issue is that the teachers were "excited to have stumped her for the first time." That just sounded weird to me.


P.S. I agree with the PP that solving word problems requires a whole different set of skills than simple addition/subtraction. The fact that your DD can do 5-3 doesn't necessairly mean she could translate a word problem into that correct equation.

P.P.S. This may be taking the conversation far afield, but not overthinking a problem is a very valuable skill to learn. After all, the standardized tests that really MEAN something (SAT, ACT, PSAT) include bad questions in every single administration, and it doesn't matter what you think- you have to choose ONE answer. And you only have a limited time to complete the test, so agonizing over all the possibilities will kill your score. I work in a high school now, so I know whereof I speak.

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Old 01-30-2010, 04:46 PM
 
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I attribute my math anxiety and test anxiety to the extremely ambiguous questions in my younger years. I sit with dread and stare at ambiguous questions, terrified and trying to figure out what they really mean.

:/ Not that I really want to tell everyone this...but IMO I think emotional support is just as important as academics. Especially in a 5yo.

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Old 01-30-2010, 05:05 PM
 
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I read a homeschooling book recently where the parents recounted an incident where their child (in K or 1 I think) got an answer marked incorrectly that was actually answered correctly, even the teacher admitted. When pressed, the teacher (under duress, in a meeting with the principal) said that it was a second grade level question that their daughter shouldn't know. So they marked it wrong. The principal agreed. Apparently the school couldn't favor the kids that were ahead because it would make it harder on the kids that were not.

Not surprising they homeschooled after that.

The most obvious question I can think of is: why was a second grade level question on the test if they expected the kids not to know it (and penalized those that did)?

I also remember in high school getting a 100% on every quiz, test, and assignment in my etymology class, to get a 98% (A, not an A+) for the quarter. When asked, the teacher said "a 100% means you know everything there is to know about the subject, which neither you nor anyone does". Believe it or not, I loved this teacher, real Robin Williams in Dead Poet's Society kind of teacher. He was right in essence, but his thinking was not at all relevant to the type of system in which he was teaching, where I even could get "100%"s.

We, too, are homeschooling, BTW!
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Old 01-30-2010, 05:10 PM
 
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Originally Posted by eilonwy View Post
[color=Indigo
Mamazee... there is a BIG difference between a second grader and a kindergartener. I would fully expect a second grader to be capable of explaining their answer, but I'm not sure that's a reasonable expectation to have of a kindergartener.[/color]
I agree that there's a big difference between the two ages. I don't think she would necessarily be able to explain it, just that in the long run it's valuable to not overthink questions, and that rather than complaining about bad questions, it might be more useful to teach her to figure out what they're looking for. As Belia explains:

Quote:
This may be taking the conversation far afield, but not overthinking a problem is a very valuable skill to learn. After all, the standardized tests that really MEAN something (SAT, ACT, PSAT) include bad questions in every single administration, and it doesn't matter what you think- you have to choose ONE answer. And you only have a limited time to complete the test, so agonizing over all the possibilities will kill your score. I work in a high school now, so I know whereof I speak.
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Old 01-30-2010, 05:49 PM
 
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I am a real love of learning for the sake of learning type - so the idea of coaching a child to give the answer a teacher wants to hear does not sit very well with me.

I got into a discussion once with a posters on this forum and I said she might be overanalysing things. She replied that she had been accused of over analysing things all her life and it was quite painful for her. Why was her deeper analysis "wrong" per se? If you have a child that goes deeper into topics, this should be supported. She should not be told to give the teacher the answer the teacher wants just for marks. Particulalry in K. Sigh.

I agree with the PP who said emotional support in this area is just as important as academic support. It can be difficult to know you are right when other people think you are wrong.

PS. When you ask a child to give an answer that is below her reasoning skills you are essentially asking her to dumb herself down. If she is capable of figuring out that some of the ducks on the beach may be wet, then that should be supported.


PPS. I do think older kids should learn test taking skills - including that in important tests you will have to pick one answer and should pick the most obvious or what the tester wants. However, I think an older child can grasp the nuances of the situation and when this should be applied much better than a younger child.
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Old 01-30-2010, 06:36 PM
 
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I am a real love of learning for the sake of learning type - so the idea of coaching a child to give the answer a teacher wants to hear does not sit very well with me.

I got into a discussion once with a posters on this forum and I said she might be overanalysing things. She replied that she had been accused of over analysing things all her life and it was quite painful for her. Why was her deeper analysis "wrong" per se? If you have a child that goes deeper into topics, this should be supported. She should not be told to give the teacher the answer the teacher wants just for marks. Particulalry in K. Sigh.

I agree with the PP who said emotional support in this area is just as important as academic support. It can be difficult to know you are right when other people think you are wrong.

PS. When you ask a child to give an answer that is below her reasoning skills you are essentially asking her to dumb herself down. If she is capable of figuring out that some of the ducks on the beach may be wet, then that should be supported.


PPS. I do think older kids should learn test taking skills - including that in important tests you will have to pick one answer and should pick the most obvious or what the tester wants. However, I think an older child can grasp the nuances of the situation and when this should be applied much better than a younger child.

Unfortunately, my children have never had extensive experience with curriculum that was in proximate level to their ability. DD's response was to not pay attention and not demonstrate what she knew - the teachers had no idea, and didn't seem to see the disconnect between her passionate dissertations on topics of interest and what she demonstrated on worksheets and the like.

In DD's previous school, and DS's kindie, they were unwilling or unable to differentiate. I explained the "game" to DD when she expressed concerns about her grades (I hadn't). I told her that I wasn't wrapped up in grades, and that grades are merely what you've demonstrated to the teacher you know within the pretty narrow parameters set by the marking system employed by the district. It was up to her how she approached this.

An example. They were doing simple machines for science. The depth of understanding she developed via independent research on her own time far exceeded what they were taught in class. The test was basically a worksheet. The worksheet required that she simply answer the questions asked, or should she have turned it over to the blank side and written an essay? To then not have the essay acknowledged or appreciated, or worse, taken as a challenge by the teacher? If you're dealing with teachers who set as a goal to stump a child, and to not even see when they haven't actually stumped her?

We have found her a school where the teachers embrace exploratory, in-depth learning. They are not trying to "stump" her, but would rather encourage her to write the essay or build a model or whatever. I had hoped that the first school would be like this, but it was not.

I experienced the rejection of teachers who didn't actually want that extra mile. I experienced the confusion of not understanding how learning experts (teachers) detered me. I grew to understand that I had to find those opportunities for myself, that school didn't have to be the avenue for this. I had an overall great elementary experience, a mediocre high school experience, and uni was fine after the first couple of years. When I saw my daughter experiencing these things at such a young age, and an unwillingness on the part of her teachers to nurture her intellectually, I felt I had to explain the game while nurturing it outside of school.

I'm also a "contextual" thinker who overthinks things, and is hopeless at multiple choice due to running through variables. Maybe it's a fit thing related to thinking style.

ETA: I would be framing this differently to my child than phrased here. It would be something like "well, I think the teacher was expecting ____" to the child. The challenge as described in the OP is that the teachers may continue to be rigid in the range of their expectations and then it is left to the child to navigate as they're there and the parent isn't. I'd rather make it about the system than allow my child to conclude that they have the deficit.

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Old 01-30-2010, 08:25 PM
 
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What actually bothers me more about the scenario described is that the teachers thought they'd stumped your dd. This demonstrates that they're not seeing her.

Also, why do they want to 'stump' a kindergarten student? Find an appropriate challenge level, stretch her thinking, sure, but stump seems more like they found a way to out-do her, or some other weirdly competitive take on a teacher/student relationship.
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Old 01-30-2010, 08:31 PM
 
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Shouldn't the correct answer be none? Ducks have a waxy coating on their feathers that repels water, so they never really get wet.
Was thinking the same thing.

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Old 01-30-2010, 08:46 PM
 
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Am I the only one who got stuck on "all together"? If the ducks are all together, how can some be in one place and some in another?

I also have a history of overthinking word problems ...

Amy loving DH 5/04, raising DD 2/05 and DS 11/09; missing my mom& my babies 6/07, 12/07; and on the side
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Old 01-30-2010, 08:52 PM
 
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Honestly, I would be less concerned with the specifics of the math question, and more concerned with the teachers seeming to be excited that they "finally stumped" a 5 year old. They need to quit trying to prove they are smarter than a five year old, and start looking at ways to stimulate and challenge her mind in positive ways, while giving her encouragement. JMHO

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Old 01-30-2010, 11:16 PM
 
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I can see the "stump" thing being potentially okay, if it was in the spirit of, "Great, we finally found something that's interesting and challenging!" although that doesn't sound so likely from the OP.

And the original question also, I can see that being a reasonable attempt at a word problem. My 5yo can be a literalist, and he answered correctly right away.

What would concern me is the response to her thinking creatively. Our state standards actually spell out that math problems should not be framed in a way that discourages that kind of thinking. Pattern sequences, for example, should be presented as "what is LIKELY to come next if the pattern continues." This is one of the things that has come up with DS. He and his dad were playing with Legos in the fall, and his dad was doing some kind of pattern with one, then two, then three, and DS flipped out: "NO! That is NOT a pattern! A pattern is ONLY red-blue-red-blue." I know the teacher has a few students who were struggling with mastering that kind of basic pattern, which is why it was drilled, but it's been a red flag for me.

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Old 01-31-2010, 12:16 AM
 
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I am with the group that is more concerned with the teachers main goal seeming to be to stump a 5 year old.

On that note, I wouldn't be happy with that question either. I would probably mention it to the teacher too. First thought when I read the question was "3, 4 or 5 could be wet."

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Old 01-31-2010, 12:36 AM
 
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Your poor DD! I've definitely BTDT when I was in elementary school. I really HATED word problems just for that very reason. I figured all the teachers should just give me the questions straight up instead of beating around the bush so I could get it over and done with quicker. I think for that very reasons I absolutely loathed math until I got into calculus.

The comments from the teacher really bother me and I would keep a close eye on what your DD says about school from now in case that teacher gives her any problems. I had one teacher specifically who felt rather threatened by me in 3rd grade and she would purposely embarrass me or threaten to pull me out of the gifted program. After reading this I actually got a flood of memories about this specific teacher and was in a bad mood for awhile. But you know what? I really appreciate having this board because it's opened my eyes to situations like these where gifted children are not treated with the respect that they deserve (I actually read an article awhile back about how teachers tend to be much more negative to gifted students vs. bright ones). If you would've asked me before having DD if my public school experience was OK I would've said yes but I think it's really because I've forgotten so much along the way. After readings discussions like these I'm reminded about how much I really did struggle in the system, which is actually a good thing because I feel I'll be so much more aware about these things once DD gets into school.

So sorry for the little walk down memory lane but I appreciate your post because of that! I don't really have much in way of advice except to just pay attention with how this teacher deals with your daughter in the future.
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Old 01-31-2010, 12:54 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Belia View Post
P.P.S. This may be taking the conversation far afield, but not overthinking a problem is a very valuable skill to learn. After all, the standardized tests that really MEAN something (SAT, ACT, PSAT) include bad questions in every single administration, and it doesn't matter what you think- you have to choose ONE answer. And you only have a limited time to complete the test, so agonizing over all the possibilities will kill your score. I work in a high school now, so I know whereof I speak.

So, so, true... and not even in high school. On standardized tests throughout their school career, and ESPECIALLY in university. I hate multiple choice because I can usually find ways to make three out of four of the answer right... and often three ARE right... you have to learn to choose the best answer according to those marking the test.

However, this is a pretty crazy skill for even a gifted k-student to have to learn. That said, she would have learned it pretty quickly anyways since gifted kids are always overthinking.
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