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Posts Tagged ‘knowledge’

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 Holidays
Happy holidays! The first semester of school is coming to an end. Some of our students are preparing for end-semester exams, and we are getting ready for the holidays. This is a good time to relax and recharge, to reflect on the past and to plan for the future. We wish you all a happy holiday season!

Recently I had a chance to attend a meeting where I heard Salman Khan speak. He is the founder of Khan Academy. This is a website that offers many free educational videos, hosted on YouTube, covering a wide range of topics. These videos focus on teaching one concept at a time. I like the visual way of teaching. Check it out at www.khanacademy.org. These videos are good complement to the worksheets we provide at GoldStudent, which help children master a math concept.

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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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I attended a symposium on math education in Los Angeles.  There were many school teachers and administrators in the audience.  I learned something that I’d like to share with you.

Neuroscientists have found out that one part of our brain is used for learning new things (for simplicity,let me call this “new” part of brain), and another part of the brain is used for storing things we know (let me call this “knowledge” part of the brain).  When our children learn something new, they use the “new” part of the brain.  The “new” part of the brain is limited in capacity, meaning one can always learn new things, but there is a limit on how many new things one can learn at one time.  In order for our students to be able to learn other new things effectively, we need them to master things, so these things will be stored in the “knowledge” part of brain, freeing up space in the “new” part of the brain to learn other new things.

This helped me understand why math practice is important.  Take multiplication tables as an example: When a student learns it in the beginning, it is the “new” part of the brain that is used.  When it is a new subject, the student needs to process a lot of concepts to figure out what the answer is.  As the student practices and repeats the exercises, the multiplication table becomes knowledge and is stored in the “knowledge” part of the brain.  Once it is in the knowledge part of the brain, it will be called out quickly when it is needed.

What we see is that when a student has really mastered multiplication tables, he does not have to think each time, the answer comes to him automatically.

In the past, I only knew that to master something, practice is necessary.  Now I understand there is a physiological reason for it.  This applies not only to math, but to any new thing we want to learn.

I am interested in figuring out how to help our kids improve their math skills.  I would love to hear your thoughts.

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