Homeschool Help from a Rocket Scientist and Father of Twelve – CalcuLadder

My dad, Dr. Edwin C. Myers is a rocket scientist. In the 1970s, he designed the optics of the Infrared Interferometric Spectrometer for NASA’s Voyager I and II space probes and was featured in Who’s Who in Technology Today. He has taught at the university level, performed geophysical research in the petroleum industry, and served in public elected office. He also authored the world-famous CalcuLadder® math drill series. My mom, Nellie Myers, holds her B.A. in art and is an accomplished artist.

My parents started homeschooling in 1980 – back before most people had even heard of homeschooling!  Homeschooling wasn’t easy.  There were few educational materials available to homeschoolers at the time, and you couldn’t do a quick internet search either!

Thanks to God, Dad and Mom successfully homeschooled all twelve of us children, from K-12th grade, with my youngest brothers graduating in 2014.  My dad still likes to joke, “Nellie and I only wanted two kids — we just never got the two we wanted!”

Homeschool Help From a Rocket Scientist

Here is some valuable insight that my dad shares for homeschooling parents today:

“I still remember the evening over 35 years ago when I found out that our oldest son—who was finishing up a second-grade math workbook—couldn’t add:

“Say, Matthew, what’s 7 + 4?”

“Uh, 7 + 4?” Matthew replied. “Let’s see . . . 7, (and his fingers went under the table as he whispered slowly) 8, 9, 10, 11 . . . 11!”

Almost every problem I asked him went that way. Matthew understood the concept of addition and he could use a concrete procedure (counting fingers) to get the right answer—most of the time— but only after 7 or 8 seconds!

“Two years with workbooks haven’t given Matthew the level of skill he needs,” I thought.

“He’ll really get bogged down in multi-digit multiplication and long division, where he’s got to use addition and subtraction routinely on his way to getting the answer. And if he learns to multiply and divide no better than he adds and subtracts, then fractions will be a disaster!” 

Matthew’s experience was a classic example of the limitations of knowledge without know-how.

Tensed boy sitting with stack of books against rocket science theory

The Armchair Quarterback

A familiar illustration of knowledge without know-how is the armchair quarterback. A head full of football knowledge, the armchair quarterback can identify all types of football playing formations, quote the rules of the game in detail, recite statistics on dozens of players and teams, and call excellent plays from his TV-side seat.

It is quite another thing, however, to walk onto the playing field and actually EXECUTE a brilliant play that was developed while sitting in an armchair, and most armchair quarterbacks would fail if they tried. Fortunately, however, most of us don’t have to earn our livelihood by playing football, so that our playing skills don’t make a great deal of difference in our lives.

There are a number of skills, though, in which we cannot afford to be mere armchair quarterbacks, but in which our practical performance level makes a big difference in our capability as stewards under God. What are some of these skills? And how can we tell when a skill is learned “well enough”?

Self-Reinforcing Skills

We want our children to get to that delightful point where they “take off and run” with the skills they’ve practiced in the classroom. This happens when students get “over the hump” of their initial awkwardness and slowness, and gain confidence and the realization that their new skills make them more capable and productive.

Many students never get over the hump in certain skills. Unless one gets over the hump, the new skill tends to fall into disuse. A good example of this tendency is the “might-have-been piano player.”

Many of us have perhaps taken lessons on the piano or another musical instrument in the past. We probably recall the unpleasantness of having to practice a skill that simply seemed to rob us of time for doing other activities at which we were more adept. If we never reached the point where piano playing “paid off” in making an attractive sound for ourselves, chances are that we’ve lost much of whatever playing skills we once attained.

Hemmed In by the Hump!

There is often an uncomfortable period — a “hump”— in the learning of an unfamiliar skill. During this period, our child is often aware of his own clumsiness in regard to the skill he’s learning. He may become irritated that the process of learning the new skill leaves him less time for other activities he enjoys.

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