Sunday, September 18, 2011

Alex's Research

As teachers and home schooling parents, Ed and I believe that one of the most valuable lessons we could teach Alex is that if you don’t know something, search for the answer. To that end, we’ve provided him over the years a wealth of reference books, including dictionaries, various almanacs, and textbooks. In addition, we’ve allowed him to have supervised access to the Internet, and he is a whiz at using search engines to locate information about topics of interest. When he was younger, he preferred the search engine Ask Jeeves (which later became, but now he is a devotee of Google, probably because, through his extensive mathematical research, he actually knows what a googol is. When he was younger and would ask us questions we didn’t know, he would tell us emphatically, “Check it out!” or “Look it up!” Now that he’s mastered surfing the Internet by himself, he no longer has to rely upon us for information because he can check it out and look it up himself.

Lately, Alex has been more independent, spending time reading and researching on his own. In fact, he seems to resent intrusions on his solitude. If I walk into the room when he’s reading a book or working on his computer, he will ask me, “When are you leaving?” Sometimes he’s even more blunt and will simply suggest, “Mommy is leaving.” Although truthfully this hurts my feelings a little bit, I’m glad that he’s able to entertain himself while making good use of his time by learning. Nonetheless, the nosy mom in me has wondered what he’s researching, and, of course, he’s unlikely to share what he’s thinking. Thankfully, his computer offers wonderful insights into his thought processes, so yesterday I decided to see what secrets his laptop would reveal. Mind you, I don’t feel a bit guilty about spying on him this way because I think parents should check out what their teenagers are doing online to ensure their safety. A quick glance at Alex’s computer desktop revealed an interesting array of documents and applications he has downloaded. With his love of math, I’m never surprised to discover he’s been doing mathematical research. On his desktop currently is a calculator application that can determine the difference between two dates, and he has a document about how to calculate the day of the week for a given date. In addition, his love of pi continues, as evidenced by two documents on the desktop listing 10,000 digits of pi. Although he has memorized nearly 2,000 digits of pi, I suspect he may be working on learning even more of them. He also has a document about Jeopardy rules, which didn’t surprise me, considering what a big fan of this game show he is. Other items on his desktop require a bit more interpretation on my part as to his interests in them. For example, he has information about the Conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, and I’m guessing that he has heard about this periodical from seeing it advertised on Fox News, which he and Ed watch religiously. He has also downloaded a preschool enrollment form, which I think he liked because it requested information he finds vital: name, address, phone number, and ages of children. Other downloads reveal his fascination with calendars and dates. To illustrate, he has a document from the Kentucky Department of Education giving guidelines about how to set up a school year calendar. Another document I found gave me pause for thought: “Conference of Presidents Special Symposium to Bring Ahmadinejad to Justice for Incitement to Genocide.” While Alex follows the news, I couldn’t figure out what the appeal of this report held for him until I saw the date at the top of the page—December 16, 2006, his 15th birthday. Another dated download required some detective work on my part. He had a video entitled October 1970, and I wondered why he would find that date long before he was ever born interesting. A little calculation and speculation brings me to the conclusion that Ed, whose birthday is in October, turned 19 in 1970—the same age Alex is now.

After looking over his desktop downloads, I proceeded to his Internet browsing history to see what else he’s been researching lately. The most recent sites he’s visited reveal some varied interests. Continuing his affection for calendars, he found a site that has a 10,000 year calendar. He has also visited a free game site called Gas n’ Go, a simulation game where the player runs a gas station. Since Alex loves simulation games, such as Restaurant Empire and Monopoly Tycoon, I’m sure this game is right up his alley. Also, he studies trends in gas and oil prices; from following the stock market, he actually understands what influences the rise and fall of these prices. With his interest in the stock market and investments, his recent visit to the Harris Bank website makes sense to me. In fact, the only baffling link I found was his visit to the Growing Up Forum, where a mother had posted concerns about how her nine-year-old would cope with a the new baby in the family. I’m guessing that Alex’s only curiosity here was the mention of the age of the older child and perhaps relief that as an only child, he never had to cope with a new baby in our house. From there, I investigated Alex’s most-visited websites, all of which reflect his favorite topics and interests: Google, Google Images, You Tube, 314 Digits of Pi, Factorial Number Generator, Alexander and Baldwin Price (his favorite stock to follow because its abbreviation is ALEX), and J! Archive (a fan-generated archive of Jeopardy games and players). In surveying Alex’s history on the computer, I’m pleased that he has such a natural curiosity as well as access to the Internet to satisfy his desire to learn and gain knowledge about topics he finds engaging.

“For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will fill you with joy.” Proverbs 2:10

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