September 30, 2018

Litter Theorist

Tonight I was watching Nicole do her computer homework. First she reads a story, than she answers questions about it for points. The program is designed with little kids learning to read in mind. There’s a button you can press that will read the question, and a button next to each multiple choice answer. There’s no penalty for a wrong answer. Instead, the child is given a chance to change any answer the system marks as wrong. The faster you go, the more stories you can read, and the more points you can accumulate.

After reading the story, Nicole skipped the question and had pressed the button to read aloud each answer. She then picked one of the answers based only on the story and the answer, completely bypassing the question.

“She’s a little fuzzier”, Daddy said with pried. In computer security “fuzzing” is a technique of testing a system by supplying a series of different inputs in order to see how the system handles it. By skipping the question she was effectively testing the system. Is the right answer ‘A’? No. ‘B’?..

“She’s a statistician like her mommy,” I disagreed. On a subconscious level her mind is building a probabilistic modal to infer the question is based on the answer, and which answer is most likely to be correct. If the answer mentioned concepts not in the story, it’s not likely to be correct. For example, if answer A might be ‘Penguins live in the Zoo’, but the story didn’t mention a Zoo, than even though A is a correct statement, it’s not likely to be the answer to a question posed about the story.

Whichever the case, she’s using her knowledge of the system to create a short cut and it was working. She could always narrow down the set of four answers to the two most likely, and almost always got the correct answer on the first try.

I know I should be encouraging her to do her homework the way it’s intended to be done, but I find value in learning to pattern match, to come up with a strategy to tackle a problem (Read as many stories as quickly as possible). The questions are designed to encourage reading comprehension.
Being able to reason about the program is a useful skill, that also relies on reading comprehension. So for now, I’ll just sit here beaming silently with pride and my little mini me.

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