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Spring break came and went so quickly.  School is back in full swing now. Students in high school are starting to prepare for the AP and SAT tests.  This is the first time I see my daughter studying seriously for a test. While testing is one way to judge a student’s knowledge and skills, it is not always so good at evaluating a student’s problem-solving methods, or the student’s ability to do things.  I begin to really appreciate the project-based method of teaching and learning.  Can math be taught using a project-based system?

Did you know that students can earn points on our site?  Once they earn enough points, they can get fun prizes, selected through our website.  I want to congratulate two students from Tennessee who claimed prizes in the past month!  Check out the prizes we offer at Points and Prizes.

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March is the month that most schools in California have their spring breaks.  My kids’ spring break is the last week of March.  If you plan to travel somewhere for the break, take the opportunity to get connected with your kids by playing some games that are creative and stimulating. We often play 20 questions on our road trips.  One person thinks of an object and the rest of the family will guess.  You can ask a total of 20 questions, to which the answers can only be yes or no.  Why don’t you give this a try the next time when you are on the road with your family? Here are ten objects you can start with (our family rule is that only single-word objects are allowed):

  1. Pocketknife
  2. Screwdriver
  3. Orange, or apple, or tangerine
  4. Panda
  5. Disneyland
  6. Skyscraper
  7. Wet suit
  8. French fries
  9. Tiramisu
  10. Laptop

I am sure everyone has their own strategy.  The strategy we use is the following:

  1. Figure out if the object is gas, solid or liquid
  2. Figure out what the approximate size of the object is, e.g., is it bigger than me?  Is it bigger than my hand?
  3. Figure out if the object is alive
  4. When you figure out the above 3, it is amazing how much you can narrow down the choices.  Our success rate is about 90%.

We like this simple and yet creative game because it is fun, it engages the entire family, and it trains our children one way to solve problems.

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Happy Chinese New Year! The Chinese use the lunar calendar in addition to the solar calendar. According to the lunar calendar, the new year this year was on Feb. 3, which is the Year of the Rabbit. The twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac cycle every 12 years. Because every month in the lunar calendar has 30 days, and there are no months with 31 days, every 4 years the lunar calendar is corrected by repeating a month.

The Chinese keep track of their birthdays using both the solar and the lunar calendar; the older generations tend to celebrate such events according to the lunar calendar. In China, people get a week off for Chinese New Year. This is like Thanksgiving and Christmas combined, as most people in China get together with their family and extended family, to give presents and red packets with freshly printed money in them. New Year’s Eve is filled with the sound of firecrackers, which people set off until dawn on New Year’s Day. I remember years when I would open the door on New Year’s Day to see the ground covered by “snow” from the small pieces of paper from the firecrackers. On New Year’s day, people will pay visits to their friends and relatives and wish them a Happy New Year, which we call “Bai Nian” in Mandarin Chinese (the dominant dialect in mainland China). I want to wish all the members of goldstudent a Happy Chinese New Year.

I recently read an article from the Wall Street Journal titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” by Amy Chua, a professor at Yale. It was an excerpt from a book she wrote recently. When I read the article, I was very intrigued. Being a Chinese mother myself, I am very aware of the Chinese and American culture and value differences. I don’t think Chinese mothers are superior, but they are certainly different.

In my opinion, Chua seems to do things to an extreme. She would not allow her daughters to have sleepovers or to perform in school plays (which I certainly allow and encourage). She set high expectations for her daughters, requiring that they play either piano or violin (there I admit that I have similar views). I also share in other expectations; I expect my children to get straight As. About 25% of the students graduating from my daughter’s junior high were straight A students. This means to me that even a straight A student is not at the very top, just in the top quartile. I want my children to play a music instrument, because I think it is good to appreciate music, and to have a way to express oneself musically in times of happiness, loneliness, or sadness. Both my children have been playing piano for more than five years. I use various techniques to get them to do things I think are good for them, ranging from rewards (such as offering cell phones and game consoles) to making them feel bad for not doing things (e.g. telling them that if they are not good in math, how would they be able to manage their own finances, or get a job with good pay).

Where I differ from Chua the most is that I think academic excellence is only one aspect of a child’s development, however important. I think emotional intelligence, interpersonal, social, and communication skills, the ability to work well in a group, to learn to lead and to learn to resolve conflicts, are just as important, if not more important, in terms of life skills. As a result, I encourage my children to play team sports. I don’t think there is a right or a wrong way to raise children. We are different as people, as parents, and there is no single story, nor should there be.

If you want to read the entire article by Chua, follow the link: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704111504576059713528698754.html

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Happy New Year! The holiday break came and went so quickly. But it did allow time for me to be with my family, to catch up on year-end cleaning and organization, and to reflect and think about my goals for 2011. As my children get closer to college (2.5 years away), I am thinking more about how to plan, prepare and help guide the kids. There are many aspects to this process, including of course financial planning. Saving and investing are important lifetime skills. Children are not typically taught these skills in school. How are you preparing your children for this?

I always try to find opportunities to tell my children the importance of saving, how the daily Starbucks hot chocolate can add up to a large sum of money over a year. I also tell them the power of compound interest, both in terms of its negative aspects, relating to unpaid credit card bills, and in terms of its positive aspect with regard to saving and investing money. While I don’t think my children really understand the importance of this yet, I hope that later in life it will make sense and help them plan for themselves. The ability to calculate compound interest is a skill for life. Interested in sharing your thoughts with me on this topic? Email me at contactus@goldstudent.com.

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We are well into the new school year by now. In my family, we have settled into a routine of driving to schools and then driving to sports after school. With three kids in three different schools and three different schedules, driving has been really hectic (no school bus system where we live). However, we believe it is important for our kids to have a balanced set of activities, that combines academics with sports and other things.

In my spare time, I have managed to squeeze in time to read a few really good books (mostly on planes when traveling for work). One that is worth sharing is “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. In the book, the author tries to share his observations of what he believes are the key elements that make people succeed. He highlights the importance of environment, talent, effort, and being at the right place at the right time. He points out that it may not be just coincidence that Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Eric Smith (CEO of Google) were all born within a year of each other, signifying that the timing of the information technology revolution likely is a contributor to these super-successful innovators.

There are two things mentioned in this book that resonate strongly with me. The first is the 10,000 hours rule: He researched the experts in many fields, from computer programmers, to musicians, to mathematicians, and concludes that to truly become a master of something, one needs to not only have talent, but must also to put in about 10,000 hours to sufficiently master a subject, be it math or playing the violin.

The other is Gladwell’s observation as to why Asian children seem to be good at math. He points out two factors:

1) The Asian culture is such that parents and society believe that everyone can do math, and be good at elementary and high school-level math.

2) The Asian educational systems make students practice far more hours of math than what is expected in the U.S.. He believes that the cultural expectations (the environment) combined with the additional hours of practice drive the success of math education in China and other Asian countries.

Having grown up in China and gone through the Chinese education system, I cannot agree with him more. As far back as I can remember, adults around me, be it my parents, grandmother, or the neighbors’ children, who were just a few years older than me, would all ask me math problems as a daily routine and part of the daily play. When an entire community embraces math or education in this way, and in addition the schools assign significant homework assignments, it works: Children learn math extremely well. When a child in China was behind on his or her basic math skills, parents would find weekend tutors, or would tutor the kids at home themselves, to make sure their kids could keep up.

Will American culture evolve to the point where we will also expect all kids to be able to master basic math skills as do other cultures?

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A new school year has started. It happened way too soon for me and my family. Nevertheless, the new school year is here, with new schedules, new teachers, and new routines! My daughter, starting 10th grade, is taking calculus in zero period, which means the class starts at 7 am! Personally I think it is way too early to start a class for anyone, not to mention kids who still need more sleep to grow properly. I don’t remember ever having to take a class that early.

Watching my daughter move up in her math classes reminds me again how important it is to have a solid foundation. Without a strong foundation in arithmetic, fractions, algebra, exponentials, it is almost impossible to move on to functions, without which calculus and geometry is nearly impossible to learn. Once again, my husband and I are so glad that we helped our children build a strong math base from their elementary school days, those drills we did to prepare for math Superbowl. If you have kids still in elementary school, you may want to think of a way to do some regular math with your kids. The fruit of these efforts will show up years later and it is all worth it!

A big change in my family is that my niece from China came to live with us and will finish high school here. She is almost 16 and is attending a local private school. We were all very nervous about how she would manage the language and culture barrier. So far she is doing really well. In China, people think that American students have almost no homework, and that they can eat and drink in the classrooms. She was surprised to find that in fact American students have a fair amount of homework, and cannot eat or drink in the classroom. She was also surprised that the books here are so heavy, and that the students in high school have to move from one classroom to another. In China, high school students stay in the same room while the teachers change classrooms. She is happy, but surprised to find out that there appears to have less homework on weekends compared to weekdays, which is the opposite of what happens in the Chinese system, where teachers assign a lot of homework over the weekend because they think the students get two free days! Students in China cannot therefore take much time off to relax on the weekend. In the best case they get a half-day free, with the rest spent on homework or extra enhancement lessons.

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Suicidal zero needs to be taught his value by No. 1

Zero, written 0, is both a number and the numerical digit used to represent that number in numerals. It plays a central role in mathematics as the additive identity of the integers, real numbers, and many other algebraic structures. As a digit, 0 is used as a placeholder in place value systems. In the English language, 0 may be called zero, null, nil, “o”, or nought. [Wikipedia]

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