February 9, 2010

{We have a problem. A math problem.}

Raka is in her junior year. As the semester started in January, more and more I have started seeing a different side of her.  In fact, the transformation has been dramatic. The pressure of school has increased significantly.  I see her up late at night or walking into the kitchen with her pjs on, hair all unruly, glasses on, and walking absent minded with her biology or math book. When I place a cup of hot chocolate or some freshly baked cookies or a few slices of ripe mangoes next to her, she takes her spectacled eyes off her biology book and looks at me. Then after pause, a cute smile, a “thank you” and “I love you dad”, she always goes back into her textbooks.  

I'm starting to realize that my baby is starting to take full charge over her own life and getting ready to drive her own destiny.

In one of these moments, I stared down at her math book. She was going through arithmetic series and geometric series and then progressing to limits. My mind went back to the days of me being in class 10 in India where I went through all this.  So I could not resist asking her, “So baby, have you reached the Limits, yet?” 

She said “Yes.” 

Of course the smarty pants in me uttered: “No baby, how can you reach Limits?  Mathematically, limits is not something one reaches.”

Raka raised her eyebrows and said “Ha ha ha, very funny.” That started our math journey.

I am trying to stay ahead of the class and twice a week discuss her progress with her. Being a strategic marketing person, I had to start by developing a vision for the journey. The vision was “Learn-Act-Teach”, where Raka would first learn the concept, get rewarded for the learning in tests, and then teach me and her friends the concepts. This would help her cement the concept.

This math connection has helped me get closer to her and now we are getting into solving problems. The other night we were at the dining table trying to solve to the Tower of Hanoi problem.  http://mathforum.org/mathimages/index.php/Towers_of_Hanoi
Together we went till 4 pieces. That night, the geeky dad in me worked out all the solutions on a spreadsheet till 7 pieces. Soon I will solve till 8 pieces and then I'll really impress her.

Good luck to you with the Tower of Hanoi, and once you solve it, you may want to pass it onto me.

February 2, 2010

{...while parents dream big, their children focus on the small stuff...}

It's such a simple concept that we as parents often cant wrap our heads around the perspective of our children. We may see the next Michael Jordan, while they see a fun game with their friends. This is a great New York Times article by MARK HYMAN on parents wrapping their heads around the world through their kids' eyes:

A Survey of Youth Sports Finds Winning Isn’t the Only Thing

At a time when sports tutors seem as plentiful as piano teachers and high school games are routinely nationally televised, Peter Barston has learned something important about youth sports.

Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
Mike Barston, left, with his son Peter, who has toured youth leagues in Darien, Conn., asking youngsters their reasons for playing sports.
Adults may lean toward turning children’s games into an approximation of professional sports. But ask young players what they want, and the answer can be disarmingly simple. More than training to be a Super Bowl star, more than even winning, youngsters play sports for fun — at least they do in Darien, Conn., Barston said.

He has not proved that scientifically. But a research project spearheaded by Barston, a sophomore at Fairfield Prep, makes an intriguing case that while parents dream big, their children focus on the small stuff.
Since August, Barston has toured youth leagues in Darien, asking this question: Why do you play sports?
So far, he has polled about 255 members of the Darien Junior Football League, who range from fourth grade to eighth grade, and 470 boys and girls in the same grades from the Darien Y.M.C.A. basketball league. Barston, 15, has begun to survey players in the local softball program. Next up are baseball players and, if he receives permission from league officials, lacrosse players.

The project was born of curiosity — and happenstance. Last summer, his father, Mike, who serves on the board of the junior baseball league, attended a workshop by the Positive Coaching Alliance, a national organization advocating a kinder youth sports culture. The presentation referred to a 20-year-old study by scientists at Michigan State’s Institute for the Study of Youth Sports who had polled young athletes about their reasons for participating in sports.

Barston and his 12-year-old brother, Stephen, took that survey at their father’s urging. Then, with his father’s encouragement, Barston began pondering a local version.

“I thought it would be really interesting to update it for Darien,” he said.

The survey is a single page listing 11 reasons children might have for playing sports, including the laid-back (to have fun, to make friends) and the purposeful (to win, to earn a college scholarship). Like the Michigan State researchers, Barston instructed the Darien players to assign points based on the importance of the reasons for a total of 100.

From the mound of data he gathered, Barston found a striking pattern. No matter how he categorized the responses, the most important reason youngsters gave for playing sports was the same: to have fun. That was the top response from football and basketball players, from boys and from girls, and from players in each grade from fourth to eighth. In the basketball survey, 95 percent of boys and 98 percent of girls cited fun as a reason for playing, nearly twice the number who mentioned winning.

Barston does not say that his poll is statistically accurate. But it is a window into what offensive linemen and power forwards think about sports and might say to their parents and coaches — if they were asked.
“It shows kids are out there to get away from their lives and have a good time with their friends,” Barston, a recreation league second baseman, said. “They’re not out there just to win.”

His preliminary findings are not far from what the Michigan State researchers Martha Ewing and Vern Seefeldt concluded in 1989. Their study of 28,000 boys and girls around the country asked, Why do you play sports? The top answer then was “fun,” followed by “to do something I’m good at” and “to improve my skills.” “Winning” did not crack the top 10.

When told about Barston’s survey, Ewing said: “It’s a great project. Within communities, parents and sport organizations need to do more of it — talk to the athletes."

Barston said his initial reason for undertaking the survey was simply to compare the views of young athletes today with those from 20 years ago. He estimated that he had spent more than 100 hours on the project, and now he is thinking bigger.

Barston has been toying with the idea of starting a Web site where he would post data and encourage other young people to start “Why Do You Play?” projects.

“The Web site idea is very preliminary,” he said. “I am trying to think of ways to spread the word and get other people to do this in their hometowns.”

Parents and league officials in Darien have praised Barston’s efforts. Guy Wisinski, a member of the junior football league’s board, said the survey was a “touch of reality” for adults.

“It reminds us why kids play sports in the first place,” he said. “It’s not about winning a championship in the fourth grade and having that be a life achievement.”