Tutoring your kid in math

I loved this story sent in by Lila M and got her permission to post it here.

My six year old son, who just started first grade, was having a bit of trouble with math – his teacher had given out a set of (rather complicated, in my opinion) problems, where the kids had to figure out the missing number: 2 + X = 5; 3 + X = 7, etc. He was having a hard time conceptualizing the whole thing, and I was having a hard time explaining it to him.
After several frustrating minutes, which ended with him throwing the book down and whining, “I can’t do this!”, I suddenly remembered: make it concrete! I asked: “Imagine you have two candies, but you really want seven. How many do you need to get?” He looked at me with a “no duh” expression on his face and said, “five, of course”. And so it went.
Several days later, we sat down to do a page of homework, and he was whizzing right through it, no trouble at all. I asked him what had happened, why he suddenly found it so easy.
“I’m thinking of candies, Mommy.”

Perfect use of concreteness. (And as a side note, who knew 6 year-olds were doing algebra these days?)

The “health halo”

Do healthy-sounding terms such as “organic” or “trans-fat-free” seduce us into eating more than we would otherwise? (I.e., do we feel virtuous eating our “trans-fat-free” french fries and conclude that we’ve earned a cookie?) John Tierney has a great piece exploring the phenomenon. From the article:

Experiments showed that putting a “low fat” label on food caused everyone, especially overweight people, to underestimate its calories, to eat bigger helpings and to indulge in other foods.

The researchers found that customers at McDonald’s were more accurate at estimating the calories in their meal than were customers at Subway, apparently because of the health halo created by advertisements like one showing that a Subway sandwich had a third the fat of a Big Mac. The health halo from Subway also affected what else people chose to eat, Dr. Chandon and Dr. Wansink reported last year after giving people a chance to order either a Big Mac or a 12-inch Italian sandwich from Subway. Even though the Subway sandwich had more calories than the Big Mac, the people ordering it were more likely to add a large nondiet soda and cookies to the order. So while they may have felt virtuous, they ended up with meals averaging 56 percent more calories than the meals ordered from McDonald’s.

“People who eat at McDonald’s know their sins,” Dr. Chandon said, “but people at Subway think that a 1,000-calorie sandwich has only 500 calories.” His advice is not for people to avoid Subway or low-fat snacks, but to take health halos into account.

David Pogue on the new Blackberry

Put yourself in the shoes of a technology product reviewer. You’ve got to praise or savage or critique the features of a product that, in all likelihood, your readers have never seen or held. Bad reviewers stay at 10,000 feet, describing a product in abstract terms, raving about its “elegant design” or slamming its “counter-intuitive interface.” Good reviewers, like Pogue, make the review concrete, giving the reader a vicarious sense of what it’s like to use the product.

Here’s an example from Pogue, who, in the course of eviscerating the new Blackberry Storm, makes its flaws painfully concrete:

It’s no help that the Storm shows you two different keyboards, depending on how you’re holding it (it has a tilt sensor like the iPhone’s).

When you hold it horizontally, you get the full, familiar Qwerty keyboard layout. But when you turn it upright, you get the less accurate SureType keyboard, where two letters appear on each “key,” and the software tries to figure out which word you’re typing.

For example, to type “get,” you press the GH, ER and TY keys. Unfortunately, that’s also “hey.” You can see the problem. And trying to enter Web addresses or unusual last names is utterly hopeless.

It’s such effective writing that you experience vicarious frustration…

Curse of Knowledge in negotiations

John DeGroote at Settlement Perspectives makes a connection that I hadn’t made — that the Curse of Knowledge might be a barrier to successful negotiations, because it leads us to believe (falsely)that our “subtle” signals are being received correctly by the other party:

At some point in almost every negotiation we are tempted to use our actions to send a message – a customer hoping to “get tough” demands the supplier come to her office; a home purchaser makes a “low ball” offer to signal that the house is priced too high; and a policyholder reduces his claim in an effort to “split the difference” with his insurance adjuster.  Unfortunately the other side often perceives something very different:  the supplier walks in assuming he is about to be introduced to more of his customer’s employees to expand the relationship; the home seller believes the purchaser isn’t serious; and the adjuster perceives its policyholder is willing to continue negotiating from a compromised position.

Made to Stick — the new edition!

I’m proud to announce that there’s a new edition of Made to Stick on the shelves, with 30+ pages of new material. (And I’m embarrassed to announce that it hit the shelves like 2 weeks ago and I just kept forgetting to plug it.)

We’ve added a new chapter called “Sticky Advice,” which includes 3 new pieces: “How to Unstick a Sticky Idea,” “Teaching that Sticks,” and “Talking Strategy” (the latter being advice for managers who need to ideas stick about strategy and vision).

Forewarning: The cover of the new edition is only subtly different from the old one — we didn’t want a big lemon-yellow “new & improved” starburst or anything — so, if you’re looking for the new edition, keep an eye out for a white line of text at the bottom of the cover that mentions the new material (“now even stickier!”).

Barnes & Noble has the new edition for 20% off in-store and online, and Amazon has it for its usual 34% off. You know, the book makes a lovely Christmas gift. Also Hanukkah. And frankly it’s never too early to get a head start on gifts for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Arbor Day, or Wednesday.