Friday, June 08, 2007

Impulsivity - Noun, from the Latin Impulsivus

In one of my classes, "Supporting Students with Special Needs," we recently had a couple guest speakers come to talk about autism. One of the many symptoms of autism spectrum disorders - this includes a wide range of problems, some more minor than others - was impulsivity. A classmate raised her hand to ask what that actually looks like in the classroom, and our guest instructor told us that it was sort of the extreme of "distracted and acting out" - yelling things out without raising his hand, getting out of her seat to wander the classroom, talking loudly to a classmate during class, etc. He described it as "one of those things where you just know it when you see it."

Later, I obliged in giving a demonstration.

There an interesting phenomenon that has been noted over the years with a particular kind of math problem. Here's a question for you:

Tim has some marbles. He gives two marbles to Jill, and now he has four marbles. How many marbles did Tim have to start?

If you said 'six,' you'd be correct. (As an aside, I say there's not enough information. We know he has marbles. We know he gives two of them to Jill. And we know he currently has four. We know nothing about whether he gave any marbles to other kids, or if he got any new marbles, or if he lost some, or if he beat up his little brother Mark and stole Mark's marbles. Thus, my answer.) It was determined that third grade was the average point for kids to be able to answer that question correctly.

Here's another question:

You have some cookies. A monster comes and eats two of your cookies, and now you have four cookies. How many cookies did you have at the beginning?

Six still, right? (Though maybe now some of you are thinking there's not enough information.) Turns out that most kindergarteners were able to answer this question correctly. Even though the math involved is the same (X-2 = 4, solve for X), there is a three-year difference in ability to correctly answer simply based on the wording of the question.

The guest instructor then put this scenario to us: What happens to the kindergartener who is able to successfully answer that first question? He's declared a genius, put in special advanced classes, praised for his logical reasoning skills and spectacular math potential, he takes AP Calculus and AP Physics and goes to MIT and gets an advanced degree in math. Great.

But what happens to the third grader who can't answer the second question right? He's "slow" and needs more attention, he's held back for more academic support, he grows up believing he's no good at math, he avoids the subject and fails classes for lack of effort, he... he...

As the instructor searches for the right example to really drive home his point, I helpfully suggest, "He becomes an English major!"

The class laughed and the instructor turned to my earlier classmate and said, "That's impulsivity."

Fortunately, later, when the instructor told us we are the "gatekeepers" of our students' learning, I was able to refrain from asking, "Are you the keymaster?"

I figured one demonstration was enough for that day.


Aussie Boy said...

C is for cookie. That's good enough for me.


You wanted a response. Ok then:

A girl was asked in her mathematics class "What's the number that comes after 8?" She quickly and confidently replied "7" and of course the teacher said she was wrong. The answer was given based on what her understanding of the phrase "comes after" meant. When thinking of this concept, she had always thought of the numbers as running in a race. With 1 being near the start line, and 2 a bit further along, and as you get further and further along the running track the numbers get higher and higher. So of course the higher numbers would finish the race before the lower numbers, and thus "7 comes after 8" made perfect sense to her.

The moral to the story is that English is stoopid and cookies are yummy, but most importantly that we all learned something: C is for cookie. That's good enough for me.

Caffeinated Librarian said...

Hey Aussie Boy - I'm confused. Are you saying that cookies are good enough for you? 'Cause I'm getting that sense...

English majors get a bad rap but, as I often remind my science and techie friends (who are making TWICE what I make even with less education), English Majors are like the Force: we're everywhere...we bind the universe together.

Or at least we make sure the science/math types have blogs to read... *sigh*

Trina said...

hehehe... nice reference to some classic ghostbusters there. You gave me a nice morning chuckle. Thanks :)

Heaven said...

Great post, I'll have to remember that for next year when Matt starts MIT, oops I mean kindergarten.

Anonymous said...

And seven eventually wins, Aussie boy, because seven ate nine.

Aussie Boy said...

Oh Nutmeg, you goose :-p You better not let Lara catch you mathematically flirting with me like that. She might get jealous and lock me in the car with Froggie...

(With the windows wound up no-one can hear your silent screams...)

Anonymous said...

I have a little boy who is autistic in my classroom, and impulsivity is one of the biggest ways a stranger would notice. Being that he's young, it's a bit more acceptable for him to act out in certain ways (like wandering around the classroom, for example; in secondary schools this wouldn't be so socially acceptable, but in the right circumstance it's actually what we encourage in lower primary).

(And you're so right - after being told my Maths was NOT where it should be by Year 6, I definitely went on to focus on English. So touche, Lara!)

Lady M said...

I agree with the "not enough information" point. There are some kids who would have worked out a marble syndicate since the time you asked the question, and would be selling shares and taking lunch money by now.

Lara said...

aussie boy - i like that story, and i've retold it to colleagues in my teaching program. it's a great example of how different people just learn differently.

caffeinated librarian - cookies are good enough for *anyone*, if you want my opinion. (and you must want my opinion to at least some degree, because you're here reading my blog.) and yes, i agree about english types. particularly, we english teachers in my program have adapted paolo freire and taken to saying: by teaching them to read the WORD, we're teaching them to read the WORLD. it's a vital job.

trina - i'm glad someone caught it. ;)

cori - beware the early labels. that's all i have to say.

nutmeg - hahahahahaha!

aussie boy - stop hitting on my readers. :-P

aly - we do what we can to allow for it in secondary schools, but i'm not sure we encourage it. mostly because we're trying to prepare these kids for the "real world" of adulthood, and it just won't be appropriate in most adult situations. while we try to create situations where it's more acceptable, we also have to try to get them to just Sit. Still. :-P

lady m - you're right! that's a scenario i hadn't even considered! see what i mean? clearly there is not enough information to answer that problem. ;)