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SingaporeMathPlacementTest 16 Jul 2006 - 20:45 CatherineJohnson

The placement test for Singapore Math is here, along with basic info about the curriculum.

A very useful Quick Guide is here.

Boiling it down:

  • Each grade uses two textbooks (and corresponding workbooks) per grade, labeled A & B. 'A' is used in the fall semester, 'B' in the spring semester.

I think it's a terrific idea to order, as well, one of the Challenging Word Problems books, and ask your child to do one bar model a day. That's what I'm doing with Christopher, and with me, too.

I finished the entire 3rd grade book of Challenging Word Problems -- all 268 of them -- on Saturday!

[update: When I say 'I,' I mean me, Catherine. I did the problems myself. I've only managed to haul Christopher through 10 or 15 bar models so far.]

Now, when I see a problem like 'There were 33 children in Mrs. Jones's class, 5 more boys than girls. How many girls were in Mrs. Jones's class?' an image of a bar model instantly pops into my head.

I think that's a good thing.

On the other hand, I'm having serious trouble summoning a bar model for a rate-and-distance problem in the opening review material in Mathematics 6, the newly translated Russian text.


There are a couple of other Singapore Math books for parents that I think are terrific. More on that later.


SummerSupplementTimePart4 (resources for kids who have fallen behind)
SummerSupplementTimePart5 (resources for preventing summer regression)



advice on Singapore Math 6-2005
Singapore Math book recommendations in a nutshell

OmegaThreeFattyAcids 11 Feb 2006 - 16:05 CatherineJohnson

I think Carolyn & I have ESP.

I'm serious.

A few days ago I read an article on fish consumption, IQ, & pregancy in THE ECONOMIST ($). I set it aside because I wanted to write a post about it.

Then yesterday Ed told me we're almost out of omegabrites, and today my cod liver oil for Jimmy & Andrew came in the mail.

AND: I just opened an email from Carolyn to find that she's wondering about fish oil for Ben! (Of course, Carolyn probably read the same article I did....)

My answer is: fish oil for everyone.

brain food

I found out about the Omega 3 fatty acids a few years ago, and was immediately convinced. Since then, the data has just kept coming, all of it good. On my Bayesian scale of certainty, 1 being No Clue and 7 being Death and Taxes, I'm at 7.

Fish oil is one of those 'Lost Knowledge' which I mean that it belongs to the store of cultural knowledge people used to have that's gone missing. (Flash poll: how many women here can name the different cuts of meat in a side of beef? I can't. People used to know this stuff!)

My mom told me that when she was a kid, people gave cod liver oil to their kids, because they considered it 'brain food.'

Well, guess what. It is brain food. But that idea got lost somewhere along the line.

Here's the connection.

Probably everyone here knows that, at some point, the NIH funded research on fish consumption and heart health, which found that high fish consumption was good for your heart.

From there it followed directly that high fish consumption would likely be good for your brain, too, since researchers had already noticed a number of connections between heart health & mental health. For instance, people who suffered heart attacks were likely to suffer depression, too (IIRC I think the connection worked the other way around, as well).

Although people knew these correlations existed, I gather it took researchers a little while to put two and two together. But finally someone did, and the NIH funded, I believe (NOT FACT-CHECKED) an epidemiological study of fish oil consumption and depression. It turned out that there are very low rates of depression in countries and communities with high rates of fish consumption.

Andrew Stoll

I no longer remember when Andrew Stoll came on the scene, but I do remember his story.

Stoll is an expert on bipolar disorder, which meant he was prescribing a lot of lithium to patients. Lithium has numerous side effects; it's a tough drug to take, and can be quite dangerous. (It's a naturally-occurring salt.) IIRC, he and a colleague wanted to find a substance that would work like lithium with fewer side effects.

Apparently there is an enormous, multi-volume dictionary or encyclopedia of all known chemicals, so Stoll and his colleague starting searching through known chemicals to find something that might mimic lithium.

They found that the one chemical closest in structure to lithium was omega 3 fatty acid. Their study of Omega 3 fatty acid used to treat bipolar patients was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the two best journals in the field.

Three-page excerpts from every chapter of Stoll's book, The Omega-3 Connection, are posted on the omegabrites website. Terrific book.

We buy all of our fish oil from OmegaBrite, because it's manufactured by Stoll's ex-wife and because it's pharmaceutical grade, meaning it can be prescribed by physicians. This may mean nothing in terms of insurance; I don't know. I've never tried to get reimbursement. 'Pharmaceutical grade' in the case of omegabrites means the product can be used in an NIH-funded study.

IIRC, Stoll had a lot of trouble rustling up enough pharmaceutical-grade fish oil to do the study in the first place. I think he had to get the stuff he used from the people who did the heart study....Then, because there was no pharmaceutical commercial-grade product available on the market, his wife, who is also a psychiatrist, decided she would manufacture it herself & start up a whole company. I'm glad she did, but I don't think it's been fun for them.

pharmaceutical grade liquid fish oil?

That reminds me.

I spent years poking holes in zillions of omegabrite capsules every morning so I could squeeze out the oil inside into grape juice & give it to Jimmy and Andrew.

Those days are over.

The last time I spoke to Andrew Stoll, who is a friend of John (Ratey)'s, he said they were going to try to make a liquid version. I'm still waiting.

A couple of months ago I finally gave up and bought some Nordic Natural Complete Omega-3.6.9 oil.

Then I remembered my mom liked Carlson Norwegian Cod Liver Oil, which is what came in the mail today.

I have no idea way of judging their quality. I could use advice.

no more asthma

Fish oil has two important properties of which I'm aware; I'm sure there are lots more:

  • it is a natural antiinflammatory

  • it is liquid at very low temperatures

The natural antiinflammatory characteristic means, basically, that fish oil is a cure-all.

For at least the past 10 years researchers & physicians have been focused on inflammation as the source of all evil.

Eventually people began looking into inflammation as a problem for the brain, as well, and I'm sure it is.

Fish oil is a phenomenal antiinflammatory. When we first moved to Westchester Ed, Christopher & I developed asthma. Actually, I'd already had fairly severe asthma for about 10 years, but it had never been diagnosed. People kept telling me I had bronchitis. When Christopher was 4, he spent July 4 having an asthma attack so bad he was throwing up, which, unbeknownst to me, is the Danger Point. He could barely breathe.

All three of us were using inhalers every day when we started taking omegabrites.

Within a few months, all 3 of us had stopped using inhalers.

I think there may be a cumulative effect as well, because for a few years there we'd still have to get on the inhalers every time any of us came down with a cold.

Now we don't need inhalers for colds, either.

Another miracle cure: my mom's bursitis is gone. Bursitis is an inflammatory disorder.

Andrew Stoll's dad, who was in his 70s or 80s when I met him, told me his arthritis was gone. This stuff works.

fluid brain membranes

I don't think anyone knows exactly what Omega 3 fatty acids do in the brain, but one thought has to do with membrane permeability.

Mostly, Americans eat Omega 6's. That's corn oil. We eat HUGE quantities of corn oil, which is fine by me, since my dad was a farmer who raised corn. I've got nothing against corn!

But we're almost certainly way out of whack; we're supposed to be getting a lot more Omega 3s, and a lot less Omega 6.

Here's the way I think about the brain & Omega 3s.

Why don't salmon freeze up stiff as a board when they're swimming around the North Pacific waters?

Because they're made of fish oil.

Now picture a salmon made of margarine.

He's froze-solid, isn't he?

Stoll and others (IIRC) think it's possible fish oil is good for the brain because it replaces Omega 6s in cell membranes, which are made of fat.

If you're eating margarine, your brain cell membranes are made of margarine.

If you're eating fish, your brain cell membranes are made of fish oil.

Apparently, it's good to be a fish.

I have no idea whether this hypothesis is still current, but it's highly motivating. Every time I pull up an image of a semi-sold margarine brain I get serious about sticking with my fish oil regimen.

fish oil, pregnancy, IQ

I think Terri mentioned that they hope to have one more baby, so I wanted to get this study posted.

from THE ECONOMIST story:

...the amount of omega-3 in a pregnant woman's diet helps to determine her child's intelligence, fine-motor skills (such as the ability to manipulate small objects, and hand-eye co-ordination) and also propensity to anti-social behaviour.


That, at least, is the conclusion of Joseph Hibbeln, a researcher at America's National Institutes of Health who has been working with a set of data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. The Avon study was begun 15 years ago by Jean Golding, of the University of Bristol, with the aim of unravelling the genetic and environmental pathways that predispose children to disease. It contains data on 14,000 expectant mothers and their offspring.


...the children of those women who had consumed the smallest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids during their pregnancies had verbal IQs six points lower than average...the finding is particularly pertinent because existing dietary advice to pregnant women, at least in America, is that they should limit their consumption of seafood in order to avoid exposing their fetuses to trace amounts of brain-damaging methyl mercury.


Dr Hibbeln, however, says his work shows that the benefits of eating such fish vastly outweigh the risks from the mercury in them. Indeed, in the Avon study, it was those children exposed to the lowest levels of methyl mercury who were at greatest risk of having low verbal 3˝ years of age, those children with the best measures of fine-motor performance were the ones whose mothers had had the highest intake of omega-3s. Their third finding was that a low intake of omega-3s during pregnancy led to higher levels of pathological social interactions such as an inability to make friends as a child grew up.

....the “frightening data” showed how 14% of those seven-year-olds whose mothers had had the lowest intake of omega-3s during pregnancy demonstrated such behaviour, compared with 8% of those born to the highest-intake group.

converging lines of evidence


Studies such as this one, which rely on correlating one variable with another, are not enough to draw firm conclusions on their own, since correlation is not necessarily causation. But these results are supported by several lines of data. One is that the graphs show “dose response” curves—in other words, different levels of omega-3s have different effects. There is also a lot of experimental work showing that omega-3s have behavioural effects on adults. One of Dr Hibbeln's other studies, for example, showed that omega-3 supplements given to violent alcoholics reduced their anger levels by a third within three months

serotonin & dopamine hypothesis


It also helps to have a plausible mechanism, and Dr Hibbeln thinks there is one. Research published in 2000 by a group in Canada showed that giving omega-3 supplements to piglets doubled the levels of molecules called serotonin and dopamine in the frontal cortexes of the animals' brains. One of serotonin's jobs is to show growing nerve cells how they should connect from the frontal cortex, where reasoning takes place, to the limbic system, the seat of many emotional responses



there is a second way that its level might be reduced—by competition with a similar group of fatty acids called omega-6s. Indeed, it may be the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 in the membranes of cells—particularly nerve cells—which is at the root of the problem, since this can affect the ability of messenger molecules to pass through the membrane. The average cell membrane of an American, whose diet is low in fish and high in omega-6-rich vegetable oils, contains 20% omega-3-based lipids and 80% omega-6-based ones. (Some 10% of American calories now come from linoleic acid in maize and soya oils, the principal sources of omega-6s.) In a Japanese cell membrane, by contrast, the figures are 40% and 60% respectively.

words to live by

I love this.

Here's the title of Dr. Hibbeln's talk to the McCarrison Society:

I think I'll go pour Jimmy & Andrew a slug of their yummy new Norwegian cod liver oil right this minute.

autism & bipolar disorder & fish oil

Which reminds me.

I may have mentioned that Robert DeLong believes autism is caused by the genes for bipolar disorder expressed early in life, when the brain is still developing, instead of later on.

I believe him. When I say I 'believe' him, I mean I think that's what autism IS: autism is bipolar disorder expressed at birth or sometime around there. Until someone proves DeLong wrong, autism = bipolar is my personal hypothesis.

In an article in the March 23 issue of the journal Neurology, [ed.: I think this refers to the 1998 study] DeLong presents a new hypothesis that about two-thirds of children with the most common form of infantile autism actually have a treatable, genetically linked, early-onset form of severe depression. The argument is based on recent genetic analyses, behavioral studies and brain chemistry and imaging analyses on autistic children by researchers at Duke and several other institutions.

gold strike

I've just discovered DeLong has a recent publication on this subject. I've been out of the loop; I had no idea.

wow. It's a review article. So I've got this evening's reading all picked out.

Family history studies of autism consistently reveal a large subgroup with a high incidence of major mood disorder in family members, suggesting the two entities are related clinically and genetically. This review examines this concept, comparing current clinical and biological knowledge of autism and major mood disorder, and advances the hypothesis that this subgroup of autism represents an early-life phenotype of major mood disorder. If confirmed, this hypothesis would suggest that the basic biological defects determining major mood disorders may have prominent neurodevelopmental and cognitive dimensions. Testing of the hypothesis will depend on genetic studies.

The entire text is here: Autism and Familial Major Mood Disorder: Are They Related? J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci 16:199-213, May 2004

in a nutshell

  • fish oil is good for the brain

  • fish oil may be especially important for pregnant women

  • fish oil is probably good for every aspect of brain function, including mood and cognition

  • we have strong evidence that fish oil treats bipolar disorder

  • we have very strong evidence (strong as in almost certainly definitive) that autism tracks with mood disorders

  • since fish oil treats bipolar disorder, it may well treat autism as well

  • if you're taking fish oil supplements you need to take Vitamins C & E, too. I forget why

  • American brain: 20% omega-3-based lipids, 80% omega-6-based ones

  • Japanese brain: 40% and 60%

No wonder we can't do math.

nix on the flax seed oil AND Vitamins C & E

A couple more factoids.

First, if you're taking fish oil supplements, you should take Vitamins E & C, too. I've forgotten why. There's some wonky mechanism where you can end up producing more free radicals (or something) & damaging brain cell membranes, etc.....obviously, I remember essentially nothing of this except that you're supposed to take E & C along with.

Second, I would skip the flax seed oil. First of all, it's different from fish oil somehow....I forget why.

But also, a psychiatrist friend of mine told me she'd heard from other psychiatrists that flax seed oil can actually cause mania.

That was interesting to hear, because I once gave Jimmy & Andrew big honking doses of flax seed oil & they were both up for the entire night, manic as all get out.

update from ktm guest

"So if flaxseed oil isn't good (and I had heard that it wasn't), then what would vegetarians take in order to get a healthy dose of Omega 3s?"

Flax is a good source of ALA, but not EPA and DHA. Fish oil is a good source of EPA and DHA. All three of these are omega-3 fatty acids. ALA can be converted to EPA and DHA, but it doesn't seem like this works very well when humans eat flax oil (according to some researchers). If you're a vegetarian then you're probably just screwed as far as finding a good source of EPA and DHA goes and you'll have to just stick with flax. Maybe there's some way of convincing the ALA to convert to EPA and DHA more readily.

"Is cod liver oil a liquid source of Omega 3?"

Yes. it is about 11% DHA, 7% EPA.

Thank you!

(This is exactly what I recall reading, btw. I also remember - NOT FACT CHECKED that grazing animals like cows can convert ALA to EPA & DHA. That's why cows don't need to eat fish.)

update from Ann

If you go back to the Omegabrite website, they now have OmegaBrite Kidz Tutti-Fruitti or Orange Cream flavor liquid omega 3 for kids. They only have to take 1/4 tsp.

I can't believe I didn't see that!

I'm thrilled.

Of course, first we're going to have to use up our two big honking bottles of Carlson's Norwegian cod liver oil.

The omegabrite website is new and improved. They seem to have posted abstracts of most or all of the psychiatric and cognitive research on the Omega 3s.

Here's where the research stands on autism and Omega 3 fatty acids:

At present, although omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are considered to be a promising therapeutic for autistic children (Kidd, 2002; Richardson and Ross, 2000), the best evidence currently available to support this claim comes from research showing that autistic children have lower DHA levels in blood than children with mental retardation (Vancassel, et al 2001; Bell, et al 2000). Additional support comes from evidence that low plasma omega-3 levels in boys were associated with behavior problems, temper tantrums, and sleep disorders (Stevens, et al 1996).
I should add that I don't see any particular changes in Jimmy & Andrew thanks to fish oil.

I give it to them because it's obvious to me that Omega 3 fatty acids are critically important for the brain, period - and because I do see obvious changes in me thanks to fish oil.

Jimmy & Andrew have such severe forms of autism that I don't think it would be pretty hard to see subtle improvements.

update: Andrew & cod liver oil

Since we have some parents with autistic kids reading the site, I think I should post this.

Both Andrew and Jimmy are highly sensitive to medication changes.

I ran out of my Nordic Natural liquid fish oil a couple of months ago, and didn't get around to ordering new fish oil until last week.

I ordered Carlson's cod liver oil.

Yesterday I gave Andrew 1 tsp, and he had a horrendous half-day. Then he settled down sometime in the afternoon, and was pretty good.

This morning he's been great.

Twenty minutes ago I gave him 1 tsp of Carlson's cod liver oil, and now he's screaming & tantruming.


I don't know what to make of this.

Either he's 'getting readjusted' to fish oil, or he's not supposed to be taking cod liver oil.

I don't remember problems like this with the Nordic Natural product. (Which is not to say they didn't happen. We have so much tantruming & screaming that we often miss the cause.)

Jimmy's been fine both days. But he's 18, and much more stable than Andrew at this point. (fyi: Andrew is 11. He is Christopher's twin.)

I have no idea whether Andrew's tantrums are connected to the cod liver oil.

However, I'll probably go ahead and order the new Omegabrite produce & switch him to that. Jimmy can use up the cod liver oil....

update: Andrew's fine, too

There's obviously no problem with Andrew taking Carlson's product.

update: The Omega Plan

Joseph Hibbeln recommends Artemis P. Simopoulos & Jo Robinson's book, which was the first book I read about the Omega 3s. Simopoulos also did NIH-funded research on the Omega 3 fatty acids, IIRC.

I thought it was terrific.







while we're on the subject of Jo Robinson —

I also like her book When Your Body Gets the Blues very much.

Check out her research page - wonderful stuff on light, mood, & weight (though I can't find the study they used to have posted showing weight loss from sitting in the sun....). The original 'body blues' study is here.

WHEN YOUR BODY GETS THE BLUES is the other alternative-medicine self-help book I believe absolutely.

Ever since reading the book, I try to get all 3 kids outdoors in the sun for 20 minutes every day.

These study findings suggest that a program of moderate-intensity walking, increased light exposure, and selected vitamins can improve women's mood. The high level of adherence to the intervention suggests that women could comfortably incorporate this tri-modal program into their daily lives. These findings extend the work of other studies that have demonstrated the positive influence of each independent component (light, exercise, and vitamins) on mood (Kripke 1998; Wirz-Justice et al. 1996; Blumenthal et al. 1999; Moses et al. 1989; Benton, Fordy, and Haller 1995).

Women in the intervention group improved significantly compared to those in the control group on all five dependent variables that measured mood and well-being. Not only did their depression scores decrease, they also reported greater self-esteem, improved general well-being, and greater happiness.

We were particularly interested in determining whether the intervention addressed symptoms more prevalent in women than men, such as anxiety and fatigue. The subscales of the POMS showed that the women in the intervention group experienced a significant decrease in anger and tension. Meanwhile their vitality improved, as measured by the GWB subscales.

Omega 3 fatty acids
brain food

-- CatherineJohnson - 03 Feb 2006

TopicType: SubjectArea
TopicHeadline: about learning disabilities