Thank you Heigh Ho for posting this on the Afterschooling board! Really interesting article.
“It is common that they can ask simple questions and then, in the next minute, a very complicated one. But if the teacher doesn’t know enough mathematics, she will answer the simple question and shut down the other, more difficult one. We want children to ask difficult questions, to engage so it is not boring, to be able to do algebra at an early age, sure, but also to see it for what it is: a tool for critical thinking. If their teachers can’t help them do this, well—” Rifkin searched for the word that expressed her level of dismay. “It is a betrayal.”
In my experience, a common emotion in the NYU math circles, at the Russian School, in the chat rooms of the Art of Problem Solving and similar Web sites, is authentic excitement—among the students, but also among the teachers—about the subject itself. Even in the very early grades, instructors tend to be deeply knowledgeable and passionately engaged. “Many of them are working in the fields that use math—chemistry, meteorology, and engineering—and teach part-time,” Rifkin says. They are people who themselves find the subject approachable and deeply interesting, and they are encouraged to convey that.
Many of these programs—especially the camps, competitions, and math circles—create a unique culture and a strong sense of belonging for students who have a zest for the subject but all the awkwardness and uneven development of the typical adolescent. “When I attended my first math competition,” at age 11, “I understood for the first time that my tribe was out there,” said David Stoner, who joined a math circle a year later, and soon thereafter became a habitué of the Art of Problem Solving. Freewheeling collaboration across age, gender, and geography is a baseline value. Although the accelerated-math community has historically been largely male, girls are getting involved in increasing numbers, and making their presence felt.
And earlier is better than later: The subject is relentlessly sequential and hierarchical. “If you wait until high school to attempt to produce accelerated math learners,” Loh told me, “the latecomers will find themselves missing too much foundational thinking and will struggle, with only four short years before college, to catch up.” These days, it is a rare student who can move from being “good at math” in a regular public high school to finding a place in the advanced-math community.
Sitting in a regular ninth-grade algebra class versus observing a middle-school problem-solving class is like watching kids get lectured on the basics of musical notation versus hearing them sing an aria from Tosca.
This fall, the Art of Problem Solving’s founder, Richard Rusczyk, a former Math Olympian who left his job in finance 18 years ago, will open two brick-and-mortar centers in the Raleigh, North Carolina, and Rockville, Maryland, areas, with a focus on advanced math. An online program for elementary-school students will follow.
Edited by wapiti, 10 February 2016 - 11:27 PM.