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There is No Math Gene

There is No Math Gene

Remember when I said there is no math gene? I meant it. But to underscore it, I’m going to share my son’s artwork.

What does art have to do with math genes? Take a look at the photo. These are some of the art pieces that are hanging on my wall created by my oldest son. (My youngest son has an art wall, as well.) I’ll have to admit, these pieces are pretty good. The longboard piece (Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street Rainy Day) was made in his second year of art in high school. That’s the one I want to discuss.

My son is not an artist. Would you believe me if I told you that if I asked him to draw me a picture of a person, I’d get something that resembled a stick figure. No kidding. And even then, it might take some imagination to figure it out.

So how does my stick-figure-drawing son paint such a stunning piece on his longboard? Hours and hours of work studying perspective, lighting, shadows, and paying carefull attention to detail. And a few minor meltdowns.

But that brings me to my point. Nathan spent three years in (high school) art class as a struggling artist. We don’t normally think of the actual work to be the struggling part. But it was for Nathan. He spent more hours on his art homework than he did on his calculus or history homework. Why? Precisely because he’s not an artist. It doesn’t come naturally to him. And that means a lot more effort is required to produce acceptable work.

It’s no different in math. It takes hard work. Even for those who “get” math, it’s hard work. Take, for example, two high school juniors…both girls. I’ve known them since the early elementary years and both are tops in their Calculus math class. I know this because my youngest son is in that class. He describes how hard they work, how many questions they ask in class, and how well they do on their tests. They put the time in.

So it’s not about having a math (or an art) gene. It’s about being persistent. It’s taking a break and coming back to it later. It’s believing that with effort it can be done.

Nathan has absolutely no career aspirations that involve art. And maybe most kids don’t have any career aspirations that involve higher math. But the math that is required of our kids…it’s not beyond their reach as long as they’re willing to put in the work. And if they do, they’ll find that it’s the struggle that makes the accomplishment so much sweeter.

By the way, a few weeks into his college life, Nathan texted me that he wanted to put wheels and trucks (whatever those are) on the board so that he could actually use it. Apparently his roommate has his own long board and it’s a lot of fun. Um, I don’t think so. The board and all the hard work are staying right where they are, on my wall. I thought kids were supposed to get their brains back after high school…

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Will Power

Will Power

I am thrilled to share with you a guest blog post by Dr. Parnell Donahue.  Enjoy.

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Interesting article in this morning’s paper about will power. The investigators found that people who thought will power was limited and could be used up, had less will power than those who thought will power was unlimited!

After reading it I wanted to say, “Well, duh.” But I had just told my wife that I did not want peanut butter for my English muffin because I didn’t have the will power to avoid eating a “cup of it.” I just love extra-crunchy peanut butter, and when I start eating it I usually eat far too much. But it’s not a matter of will power; I just decide to eat too much of it because I love the way it tastes.

I have had plenty of experience with will power, (as well as won’t power). I quit smoking “cold turkey” more than 40 years ago because my 5 y/o son said he didn’t want me to get cancer. He had seen the news items on the Surgeon Generals report on smoking and lung cancer. I had “tried” to quit many, many times before, but had always gone back to cigarettes after a couple of weeks or months. I went back because I wanted to go back – I liked the way cigarettes tasted –  not because I didn’t have enough will power. When my reason was great enough, I found the will power.

Could anyone train to be a successful athlete with limited will power? Who could work two jobs with limited will power? With limited will power wouldn’t most anybody quit the second job? I don’t think a person with limited will power could ever get through college, let alone medical school! Who could stay awake and work 40 hours or more with limited will power?

The amount of will power depends on why that person needed to do what he thinks is difficult. If it were to support a family, or another passionate cause, the will power would be there; if it were to buy a condo on the beach the quiting would be easier than continuing the work.

We know that the will is controlled by the intellect and that if the intellect presents the facts that show the value of the deed, then the will, will choose to go the extra mile. So, if I found out that peanut butter caused cancer of the pancreas (which it does not), I would find the will power to avoid it. However, if it caused red discoloration on my back-side I know I would run around with a crimson butt!

Forty years of pediatric experience have taught Dr. Parnell Donahue that the unique perspective of teens is an invaluable resource for parents who want their children to become men and women of character.

His often frank discussions with teenagers cover topics familiar to parents – drugs, sex, suicide, medical care, financial responsibility, self-image, religion, even the importance of being nice – but with the added benefit of revealing how teens feel about these and other subjects, and what teens perceive their parents feel about those same issues.

Visit him on his website at:  http://www.messengersindenim.com/

Flashback: Bounced Check

Flashback: Bounced Check

I was going through my binder of story ideas for my monthly Kidnexions Connection newsletter and found a post-it with a story about Nathan.  It’s a good thing I took the time to write the story down because I had forgotten all about it.  So here’s the first in a series I’m calling ‘Flashback’ as I remember or find things my kids did when they were growing up that relates to learning about money.

Sometimes we adults use vocabulary words that don’t always make sense to kids.  It’s hard to do it any other way, though,  since kids  arrive on this planet with little understanding of any words.

But as our kids get older it’s easy to forget that something that makes perfect sense to us makes absolutely no sense to them.  Take the words ‘bounced checks’.  It’s been quite a while since I’ve bounced a check, and that happened because a roommate of mine handed me her rent check without the funds to back it up.   My VERY FIRST mortgage payment in my entire life bounced because of that.  Lesson learned:  just because someone has a full-time job doesn’t mean they have any rent money.  And there’s a reason people collect first and last month’s rent.

But back to Nathan.  I’m not sure what the context was, but apparently I had used the words ‘bounced check’ while he was listening.  It was probably something like, “I can’t believe my VERY FIRST mortgage check bounced because she didn’t have the money to pay for rent and never told me…”  But whatever it was, he realized that bouncing checks was not a very smart thing to do.  

Apparently he’d been giving this some thought because he finally came up to me and asked,  “Is it okay to bend checks?”  (He does know what checks are.)  And honestly, I had no idea what he was talking about until he told me that he heard me say that bouncing checks was a bad idea.  It made me wonder what visuals went through his head when he thought of checks bouncing.

Freudian Slip

Freudian Slip

I was working with a group of 4th and 5th graders on Pet Project, a project where kids get to take care of a pet for a year.  Part of the project requires kids to go through catalogs and buy things for their pet.  They need to fill in a real order form and write a check using some old checks I saved when I closed an account (with all important information blacked out).

They love this project because they get to make their own choices. They also love it because they get to learn how to write real checks and keep a running balance simulating what adults do.  As they were flipping through the catalogs, I overheard one of the girls say to her friend, “Why don’t you just bring it to work tomorrow?”  in reference to something she wanted to see.  Then she started laughing and said, “I can’t believe I just said ‘work’.  I meant to say ‘school’ but we’ve been sitting here doing all this adult stuff, it just slipped out.”

I love it!  That’s exactly what they’re doing…adult stuff.  One day they’re going to be adults and now is the time to get them ready. And what better way to learn than through a fun project that allows them the flexibility to make their own choices.  Because learning how to make good choices, well that’s another skill they’re going to need when they grow up!