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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 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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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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Happy summer everyone! Public schools are out and the summer has really kicked in. Some of you may be on vacation, and some may be involved with summer camps and summer schools. It never hurts to combine fun and relaxation with creative and productive learning. If you can find just 10 minutes a day for your kids to do some math, it would help them remember the things they have learned, and would make the next school year easier. Also, if your kids are a bit behind on any math concepts, you can take advantage of summer time to catch up.

Using GoldStudent as a resource will make it easier for you. In my family, we use dinner time to have stimulating discussions on various topics. Also, if we take a road trip, we play games in the car to make it fun. The most popular game in our family is “20 questions”, where one person thinks of an object, and the others try to guess what it is. The goal is to identify the object while asking less than 20 yes-or-no questions.

Have you checked out our problem of the day? It is an easy way to have a different problem each day to work with your child. It just takes a couple of minutes, and you can make it a family activity to get everyone to work together on a math problem. Give it a try!

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As parents we all want our children to succeed.  We often feel that they have the ability to do well in everything, and that all they lack is a little motivation or energy.  As a result we tend to push our children to do better, to try harder and to do a better job.  This is true in all things, in all school activities and school subjects.  And of course it is also true in math.  Math pressure, the stress of math homework, the volume of math skills necessary to master a topic it can all be very stressful for children .

But how do you know when you are pushing too hard, or maybe when you should push harder?

There is of course no one answer.  All children are individuals, and all will respond in individual way to pressure and stress.  Math pressure and math homework stress is no different.  Most children will respond well to some pressure, but most will also start to show negative reactions if pushed too hard.

Here are some key signs that indicate when you may be pushing your child too hard and/or they’re under too much pressure:

  • Your child seems depressed and does not communicate well.
  • Things that used to interest your child no longer stimulate him or her.
  • Grades begin to fall, homework is not completed, and your child displays inattention to school activities.
  • Your child exhibits antisocial behavior, such as lying, stealing and/or physical violence
  • Feelings such as restlessness, tiredness, or agitation become frequent occurrences.
  • You child refuses to cooperate, do chores, or seems to need much more attention
  • Your child has physical symptoms such as complaining about headaches or stomach pains

If you feel your child is exhibiting one or more of these signs, certainly you should consider changing your methods.  Take a step back and talk to your child about how they are feeling and where the pressure points are coming from.

Another option is to get some outside help. Talk to a counselor about your child.  If your child needs help with schoolwork, see what additional services are available to provide assistance.

One option for to help alleviate math pressure is the GoldStudent math assistance program. If your child is suffering from math stress, GoldStudent can help. GoldStudent provides math help, builds confidence, and fosters a learning environment where every student succeeds.

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