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Mentoring a Young Future Acedemic

  1. Jul 12, 2011 #1
    I will give you a little background about myself, if you don’t care skip down to the bold part. I am an actuary with a B.A. in mathematics, but I have always wished that I would have perused a career in academia. Growing up I did not have the best guidance, father was not around, mother working 50 hours a week during the evenings. I did not have a bad childhood, but I had no real guidance. K-12 teachers always taught at too slow of a pace for me to keep any interest. I learned more myself through self-study than anywhere else. After high school I joined the U.S. Navy, got married had a kid and went back to school on G.I. Bill. I did not want to go into graduate school because it was not going to be fair to my wife and kid. The G.I. Bill had run out and for me to force my wife to keep working and for both of us to be spending less time with our child was not something I was willing to do. So I became an actuary which pays well so she can stay at home with our kid and I get to see him 6 hours a day. I eventually will get my PhD part-time after I get my fellowship in the actuary society. I am 33 years old and I know it is not in my future to be the next Euler or Paul Erdös. I will always do mathematics for my love of the subject, but I don’t ever see myself becoming a distinguished professor at a top university.
    My kid is 4 years old and I have been doing some kitchen table mathematics with him and he seems to be enjoying it. I am looking for a little advice to help him develop. I am not going force my unfulfilled aspirations on him. However I don’t want him to be his own mentor. I was my own mentor which is another way of saying my mentor was an idiot.

    What do you wish you accomplished during your pre-kindergarten to high school years that would have helped you later on in your academic career?

    I personally wish I knew about International Mathematical Olympiad. I think it would have been challenging and fun to try and get there. I also wish I would have been involved with a sport. It would have been a nice way to meet people, keep fit and be eligible to be a Rhoades Scholar.

    If my son keeps an interest in Math or Physics I plan on spending a comfortable amount of time with him every night doing entertaining mathematics and maybe some physics. I am an actuary so I can pretty much get a job anywhere people put a dollar figure on life and death, so I would be willing to move if there is a K-12 school out there that I think he would enjoy.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 12, 2011 #2
    I don't really regret anything that happened before high school that is related to math. I hated math.*

    *I am from a small town in the middle of nowhere. (it takes about 2.5 hours to get anywhere bigger than my town and during the winter the roads are sometimes closed). My school valued sports way too much. I wish that more kids would have been interested in a math club and that we could have participated. I was really shy too so that didn't help either. However since it was a small town I got to try a total of 4 sports: track, cheerleading (middle school) ice hockey and cross country. I am happy I tried these sports because I actually placed in the district championship and got to go to state twice for cross country. *My hockey team also won second on one of the tournaments. It was fun. I didn't really like cheerleading (middle school) or track that much even though I was in both teams for two yeArs at different times. The thing that was speciAl about my school was that we had hunter's ed, and life time sports (learned to kayak, rock climb, fly fish, archery, ice skate, cross country ski, and sOme other ones) .*think I would have liked a high school that had more variety in academics. However, a school where not just math and science were valued but all subjects.*
    I think that just about most schools in big cities have good *opportunities, but small town schools also have a lot of advantages.*
  4. Jul 12, 2011 #3
    I think that's the wrong question. Part of learning anything is to mess up so that if everything had gone perfectly then it would have been a bad thing.
  5. Jul 12, 2011 #4
    I did not mean to imply that my child had to perfect or have a perfect upbringing.
  6. Jul 12, 2011 #5
    Well me, I wish I'd have gone to school after 6th grade. But that's probably the wrong way of looking at it. My lack of schooling caused me to attend community college for the first two years, which extended the length of my degree by one (also means I will only have to pull one "insane engineering semester" with sixteen credits... the others will be 13, 14, maybe 15). However, who knows if I would've been accepted at the (awesome) school I got into? Who knows if I would've gotten the nice scholarship? Maybe maturing at a community college was a good thing before going on to a huge university. You just can't know.

    My best advice, from one newly minted adult to an experienced one, is to play it by ear. You can't plan a childhood. It just happens.
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2011
  7. Jul 12, 2011 #6
    You better believe it, bro. I wish I would have done that
  8. Jul 12, 2011 #7
    To be honest, I haven't ever heard of many people who have succeeded in giving their children any sort of gigantic advantage by the sort of thing you're proposing. I think dreaming about Math Olympiads and Rhodes scholarships is ludicrous at this point because kids almost always surprise you with what they choose and will or won't take to in the end. I'm not saying you're a helicopter dad who hopes to cram junior into college math classes at the age of six or anything, but the best you can do is give him opportunities. My parents, good though they were, did not go out of their way to instill a love of math or science in my brother or I. They are still puzzled how they managed to turn out a physicist and a mechanical engineer. They didn't try to get us to learn multiplication tables at 5 but they did let us pursue our own stuff and we were always pushed to do well in school. There's also weird things my dad did with us, like letting us take every part we could pry off of a car and making catapults that really made me want to do physics. I can't think of any hard analogues to math, but I think kids at young ages generally have more fun making things and seeing how stuff works. The math would then follow that. Good luck to you and your son!
  9. Jul 13, 2011 #8
    Yeah, I was (back in middle school/ early high school) in sort of a unique situation in that my older brother was very very good at math (USAMO, lots of college math courses in middle school/high school) so my parents sorta probably thought "Oh! His older brother is good at it so why not try to get him to do it?" so they tried to get me to do extra math exercises and stuff like that. In response I pretty much rebelled against them/math to such an extent I almost failed 9th grade geometry. They eventually gave up, and I discovered math myself, read about advanced topics by myself and now I very much enjoy it and am either studying that or physics in college.

    So I would be wary of trying to overly influence him. The most important thing, in my opinion, is to foster a household that values knowledge and science. I like MissSilvy's idea of focusing on sort of construction type things, giving children the opportunity to build things was always an aspect I wish I had in my childhood...
  10. Jul 13, 2011 #9


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    Yes, you need to be careful with the influence. You should promote an environment where your children are able to pursue their own interests. You can expose them to new idea, but don't force them.
  11. Jul 13, 2011 #10
    There was a thread here sometime back where the OP was saying he wished from a younger age, his parents would have been more strict with him (academic) wise. Children are left for hours in front of the t.v. and video games at such a young age and when they get older it's going to be hard to get them to have academic confidence in themselves. From an early age if the OP introduces his child to math concepts and instill the love of learning and academic discipline, he's really paving a nice road in the future for his son.

    OP, keep doing what you're doing. Keep t.v. and games to a minimum.
  12. Jul 13, 2011 #11
    If they had started to try to do that when since you were 4 years old, I don't think there would have been a rebellion :smile:

    Btw, exactly how is he going to foster a house hold that values knowledge and science when he's being told to back-off on trying to teach his child mathematics? How many children enjoy their "play doctor" sets, and enjoy giving their siblings band-aids and playing doctor but yet when they try to pursue a career in medicine, they run into a brick wall because they find the courses too difficult? Engineering isn't bread and butter. What good will having an interest in something do if academically they can't handle the work?

    It goes hand in hand. Introducing the child to building things and at the same time preparing them academically. Can't take one and leave the other.
  13. Jul 13, 2011 #12
    Due to the fact that lives are chaotic, and the smallest change in initial conditions can lead to huge differences down the road, I do not think you should wish anything had been different, as long as you're reasonably happy with your current life.
  14. Jul 13, 2011 #13
    Are you serious? Do you even read some of the threads you respond to :/? I never said for him not to ever teach his kid math; that would be silly, given the vast applications and importance of mathematics. What I and the other posters are suggesting is that math be introduced gradually while also making suggestions about other things that would benefit a very young child. If you or anyone else believes that you can attempt to teach (and keep interested) a young child in purely abstract concepts, I think you're the one who is mistaken. Don't be so quick to jump on your high horse, Edin, we're just trying to help the OP out.
    Last edited: Jul 13, 2011
  15. Jul 13, 2011 #14
    Of course you're just trying to help out the OP. So too am I. I'm just dropping ideas down that's all. No hard feelings here, Miss. :rofl:

    The OP said "I have been doing some kitchen table mathematics with him and he seems to be enjoying it. I am looking for a little advice to help him develop. I am not going force my unfulfilled aspirations on him. However I don’t want him to be his own mentor. I was my own mentor which is another way of saying my mentor was an idiot."

    That's what I want to encourage him to keep doing. All most of you were saying is that he should leave the kid alone and not push things on him. Or...? I'm I just really confused here? :redface:
  16. Jul 13, 2011 #15
    I did lots of things *WRONG*...and I actually had very good guidance for the most part. My mum's a primary school teacher and my dad used to teach high school. I do think that me f-ing up helped me grow lots. Two of the things that I genuinely wished I could change are as follows:

    1) Spend a little less time glued up to a soccer forum and do other things, like, do actual training.
    2) I wish somebody told me (or I figured it out on my own but sometimes I didn't believe in myself that much) not to care about other people. I used to be called "the encyclopedia" because well, I guess that's obvious enough. I liked it at first, then I hated it. And one thing led to another but anyway, if I had grown a pair earlier, things would be very different now.

    That's all I can think of off the top of my head.

    For the record, I hated maths at school. I liked physics, chem and bio though. I remember telling my dad I'd be right back (when we were working) and I ended up sleeping for a few minutes in the toilet. I was much more into english lit. I learned to appreciate mathematics and physics as I grew older and my dad grew into one of my favourite teachers.


    Wrong choice of words. More like: "I grew to..." not him!!
  17. Jul 13, 2011 #16
    My point was not completely neglecting having a role teaching a child mathematics. It is just at a young age I think learning by actually building things is a better way to learn important things like geometric intuition and physics than learning by doing lots of work on paper. As the child matures though, obviously more traditional math becomes more important. Putting myself in the place of a young child, I would much rather learn about physics and math knowing how I could eventually use it to make something cool.
  18. Jul 14, 2011 #17
    Counteracting our general society's disdain for math and science is probably enough, if you then gently offer support and enthusiasm where they actually want it. Some kids like competitive things like the IMO, others will hate it. This has almost no bearing on their later abilities.

    Some other things to think about as a parent...

    Fostering self control:

    Being careful with praise:
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