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September 30, 2012

Cognitive risk: should we urge kids to climb to the next limb - or play it safe?

                                                                                                                       Photo by: Vauvau

By Carol Lloyd, Executive Editor

Call me Wannabe Tiger Mom.  But when my seventh grade daughter began 

complaining that she was going to essentially be doing a second - albeit 
more advanced - level of pre-algebra this year, I was compelled to do 
something I would have never done back in the old days before I worked at 
GreatSchools. I became one of *those* mothers. After back-to-school 
presentations, I found a moment to whisper sweet nothings into the math 
teacher's ear: shouldn't we bump her up to algebra?

The teacher, a 30-year veteran of the algebra wars, told me he was open to 
the idea and that he thought she could probably do it, but if she chose to 
do move up, there was no going back. The first couple of months was all 
review he explained, so by the time it got hard she would be ending the 
first trimester.

It all depends on if you're planning on applying to private high school, he 
explained. After all, if private school is in your child's future, then you 
need to do GPA risk management, because he assured me, there will be bumps 
in the road and there's no guarantee she'll get an A.

Over the weekend, my daughter and I weighed the pros and cons. She's not a 
breezy, leave it to the last day type of gal: she has a pit bull's diligence 
and an actuarian's risk aversion. One adoring teacher recently teased her 
when she failed to get a class joke: "You're so smart and so slow." This 
sounds horrible, but it's true.

So we talked about risk. She would love to go a private high school, but in 
our neck of the metropolis they cost $35K a year, so it's unlikely. But even 
if it was our plan, I thought about how easy it is encourage our children to 
avoid challenge, risk, and cognitive sweat when it comes to their education. 
I could tell from our conversations my daughter was already well tutored in 
this mindset and she began leaning away from jumping up a level.

Growing up we all encourage our kids to do things that scare them - whether 
it's learning to swim or running for student body president. But in this age 
of college acceptance anxiety, it's tempting to treat our children's 
education as a series of safe bets on their future, not about the substance 
of the learning experience itself.

I told my daughter it was her decision but that she needed to make an 
informed decision. We borrowed the textbook and looked at the chapters her 
teacher said got difficult, then watched a couple of videos on those 
subjects by Salman Khan. I told her we could review the lessons the night 
before so she'd have a preview of what she'd be doing in the classroom the 
next day. And I told her, again and again, it was her decision.

In the end, she chose to try Algebra. We don't know if this was a good 
decision or not, but I'm happy to see she was willing to bet on her ability 
to take on a challenge - GPA be damned. There may be a time when I'd 
counsel caution, but for now it seems more important for her to feel like 
she's challenging her brain than repeating material she's already done. But 
who knows, perhaps in a few months I'll be confessing that we made a horrible 
decision. (Just yesterday I learned how countries whose students perform the best in math learn algebra slowly over multiple years.)

Only time will tell, but what's life worth without an occasional long shot on yourself?


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There's even a better program, Carol. It's called Aleks.com. See if your child's school uses it for a discount, but it allows students to work at their own pace, move quickly through concepts they master and then gives them more practice on the problems they need practice.

It starts with an assessment, so there isn't needless review.

My daughter is on track for 7th grade Algebra and 8th grade Geometry, and this will be one of the assessment tools the teachers use to recommend that.

Good luck!

Every child has his/her own skills that need to be enhanced on their own ways. The development of the cognitive skills of children includes ways on how they were able to solve their problems and out from them. They actually building their knowledge and learning the environment surrounding them as they develop their cognitive abilities.

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