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All you former mathematically gifted children

October 2nd, 2009 (10:54 am)

Lots of smart people read my blog; give me some advice here.

Molly is in 3rd grade this year. She just turned nine. (This makes her one of the older third graders; the joys of a September birthday.) She's at a public Montessori. In a Montessori school, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade kids are grouped together in E1. The 4th and 5th grade kids are grouped together in E2. This school is a K-8, but has a fairly mainstream, non-Montessori approach once they hit the middle school years. They offer 8th grade algebra.

We had conferences today. Molly's teacher said that she expects Molly to finish E2 (4th and 5th grade) math and pre-algebra by the end of the year. She recommended that we approach the vice principal now about having her take 8th grade algebra next year (or at least, 7th grade pre-algebra).

There are two major things that concern me.

1. What is it going to be like to be a 4th grader in a class full of 8th (or even 7th) graders?

2. If she takes algebra in 4th grade, what will we do with her in 5th grade (or 6th, 7th, and 8th grade, for that matter)?

So. If you (or your kid) took advanced math early, how did your school handle it? Was their approach helpful or harmful to you (/your kid)?

FTR, "sit through lessons on things you've mastered because that's what everyone else your age is doing" is Not On, so don't worry about telling me what a bad idea it would be to do that. I don't consider that an acceptable option, and thank goodness, I think the school also objects to that approach in principle, though they have limited resources and frankly have never known quite what to do with Molly. Her current teacher has been GREAT and very willing to let her cruise on ahead, but Molly is approaching the end of the line, in terms of what the elementary school teachers are equipped to teach, and she has a fair amount of elementary school left.

Novel and innovative ideas ("Have her learn statistics! No one EVER studies statistics!") are welcome.


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Posted by: Abi (springbok1)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 04:00 pm (UTC)

Do you want me to repost this in my lj, to potentially get a few more opinions? I have several friends from Mudd, who grew up in the Twin Cities metro, who were involved in some sort of advanced math program. I have no idea if that is still in existance, if it was just for one particular suburban district, and whether it kicked in that early. I can ask the pertinent people though.

Posted by: Abi (springbok1)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 04:53 pm (UTC)

And a few observations from my own experience. I wasn't classed into the advanced math course until 7th grade. In Wingra, as you well know, they had a go at your own pace approach in the elementary years - but I sucked at arithmetic, and so I got bogged down there. Once I hit the pre-algebra, I cruised through that, but since I'd gotten bogged down with arithmetic I hadn't had a lot of pre-algebra going into middle school at Van Hise. So, for me, 6th and 7th grades were pre-algebra (which was way too much time to focus on pre-algebra, in my opinion), and 8th was algebra. I think I would have been intellectually ready for algebra in 6th grade, if I had started on pre-algebra earlier, though it wouldn't have actually been an option at that point since my year was the first year they did 8th grade algebra at Van Hise. So my point is, if she gets pre-algebra this year, I think another year of pre-algebra would likely be boring for her. The difference between being with 7th vs. 8th graders seems like it would be minimal - at that point she's already so far ahead of her age that they're not likely to be her social peers either way.

Posted by: crystalpyramid (crystalpyramid)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 04:56 pm (UTC)

Posted by: eatsoylentgreen (eatsoylentgreen)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 05:07 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 06:18 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Abi (springbok1)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 07:29 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 07:42 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Abi (springbok1)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 07:47 pm (UTC)

Posted by: recordersmith (recordersmith)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 04:05 pm (UTC)

I don't have a whole lot of useful advice, since I *didn't* skip ahead in school, I had the luck of being able to do "gifted student" classes in junior high school. I don't remember elementary school much at all, except that when we had in class reading I would finish the material in 5 minutes and the teacher would let me go read other reading material.

I do remember being given the chance to skip 8th grade (my JH was 7-9) and my parents sat down and *talked it over with me*, pretty much letting me decide if I wanted to do that. They pointed out the age issue (I was already young for my class, November birthday :-) etc and I ultimately decided that I did NOT want to skip ahead. Don't know how big a difference that would have made, but the fact that my parents gave me the decision made a big impact on me. So the only advice I have is talk it over with her and see what she thinks.

Posted by: consider that you may be wrong (ukelele)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 04:13 pm (UTC)

I totally agree with the importance of talking it out, especially for older kids -- per below I *did* skip that grade (and I was awfully young for my year), but it was also my choice (in fact I initiated the process). Skipping and not skipping can both work fine as long as they are really taking the kid's needs and personality into account.

(However, I do very much wish I had taken a year off before college. 14 wasn't too young for 10th grade for me, but 17 was too young for college. Gap years are awesome regardless, though...)

Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 06:21 pm (UTC)

Posted by: consider that you may be wrong (ukelele)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 04:06 pm (UTC)

I was mathematically advanced, but in elementary I was in a mixed-age class with everyone operating at different levels so it wasn't an issue. I did algebra in 7th, when the age difference was not so severe; was up to calc by 10th, at which point I'd skipped a grade, so the age difference *was* pretty big but in high school it didn't matter so much. (And many gifted kids have an easier time making friends with older kids anyway; I have more positive social memories of calc than of almost any of my other high school classes, and I gather research shows I am not alone in this -- just yesterday I was skimming http://www.accelerationinstitute.org/ .) So I can't speak to question #1.

Question #2: I don't believe in worrying about that now. I believe in getting kids the match they need now, and worrying later about the match they need later -- denying them their needs now because it might not work down the line is...is...it makes no sense.

In elementary school, I did what I did. Switching to public school in 7th, we spent a couple months fighting the system for an appropriate placement, but we were more stubborn than they were. Taking more math the following summer at CTY, I did algebra II and trig -- carefully avoiding geometry as it was the only math class remaining in my junior high, so I took that in 8th, skipped 9th (it was a 7-9 junior high), calc in 10th, classes at the local university thereafter. I also took number theory at CTY and was very active in math competitions.

You live in a major urban area; there's always options. You don't have to get much past algebra before your local colleges (2- or 4-year) can provide options, and somehow being young in there doesn't seem to matter so much (although you do have to be able to handle work pretty independently). There's a ton of fun and accessible math that's outside the usual math curriculum (see also: number theory, math teams/competitions), which can feed that fire without getting one too out of sync with curricular offerings. If elementary/middle or middle/high schools are physically nearby, there are plenty of kids who walk to the next school up for math.

There are also, for slightly older kids, lots of summer math opportunities -- CTY, TIP, Ross, PROMYS. She's too young for them now, but they might be able to hook you up with appropriate resources and counsel you on strategies (I know that CTY operates a younger kids' program, CAA, so they're definitely familiar with the age group, and they seem to see their remit for supporting advocacy pretty broadly).

Math is also a subject that's pretty friendly to self-teaching (for mathematicall talented kids, at least), so if she's years ahead and you really don't want her in a class with kids that age, it may work to give her her own textbook and let her roll. This is how I did most of my elementary math -- although, again, it worked better because we were in a multi-age context where there were already many levels of math going on so to an extent everyone was self-teaching and did not expect continuous teacher contact. (But hey, M's in that sort of setup already.)

It all works out.

Posted by: consider that you may be wrong (ukelele)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 04:16 pm (UTC)

There are also lots of math-related books that might be fun down the line -- Godel, Escher, Bach (which I have *still* not read but everyone tells me is awesome), Chaos (Gleick), that biography of Erdos I read this year (title..umm...The Man Who Loved Only Numbers). I haven't read Larry Gonick's Cartoon Guide to Statistics but I can vouch for his other books, so I bet it's a good one. And there are math-related pursuits -- music (especially theory/composition), origami...

Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 06:52 pm (UTC)

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: consider that you may be wrong (ukelele)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 04:18 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 06:56 pm (UTC)

Posted by: stargoatpdx (stargoatpdx)
Posted at: October 9th, 2009 07:56 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: October 9th, 2009 08:52 pm (UTC)

Posted by: stargoatpdx (stargoatpdx)
Posted at: October 22nd, 2009 01:04 am (UTC)

Posted by: stargoatpdx (stargoatpdx)
Posted at: October 9th, 2009 08:02 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 07:17 pm (UTC)

Posted by: (boing!) Cnoocy Mosque O'Witz (cnoocy)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 04:07 pm (UTC)

What about discrete math? That's a whole separate field.
FYI: I took algebra once at 7th and again at 8th. While it was annoying to do so, I did understand it better the second time.

Posted by: Ziactrice (ziactrice)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 04:36 pm (UTC)

I would suggest Elementary Analysis, Geometry, and even Trignometry if possible. I didn't get those until 8th grade, but I would not have done so badly in Algebra beforehand if I had realized there were real-life applications (or not so real life - I love doing geometric proofs - puzzles in math!).

Definite on the statistics - the lack of understanding of that one area by the innumerate people I meet, day to day, is tragic.

Oh, um, I'm a chemical engineer now. I was never hurt by taking courses ahead, other than being even more a geek than I was classed as - but I couldn't have avoided that anyway. At least with the harder classes, I didn't become so bored I wound up with failing grades - something that did happen in English and almost in Pre-algebra. It didn't help that I wound up with one of those woman-hating teachers who thought girls could NOT do math for that class.

Oh, if only I had a time machine. I would SO go back and challenge him to a duel of equations...

Posted by: crystalpyramid (crystalpyramid)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 04:54 pm (UTC)

Hi! Um, I'm a random person who's been stalking you on the internet, but I'm teaching math right now, and I like talking about myself, so maybe this will be helpful. (-:

My school used the UCSMP books, which advocated having two math groups, with the higher group being a whole book ahead of the lower group. I was in the higher group, which worked great for me, until high school, when I immediately decided I was bored with Advanced Algebra and needed more. I ended up doing an independent study in the next book simultaneously, and completed tenth-grade math (precalc) also as an independent study. I think I had weekly meetings with the tenth-grade math teacher to make sure I was on track and to answer any questions I might have. Occasionally if I didn't like his explanation I'd go bug the calculus teacher, who always had explanations that were beautiful and fascinating and usually irrelevant. Junior year I did calculus and calculus-based physics with the seniors, who were much more interesting human beings than my own class.

Senior year this meant I'd run out of math, so I did some random math classes at a local college (it was Rochester, NY, so it was RIT, because UR's classes were during the school day) to keep my brain working. The only problem with this was that when I went to college (Swarthmore), the classes didn't quite match up with the classes available at the college, so I ended up having to retake Multivariable Calc. And then I got bored and gave up on math and majored in physics, which was fine.

The other thing I know is that many of my friends who skipped grades ended up losing the time later on. For instance, one friend skipped two years of middle school and then spent two years after college trying to figure out what to do with his life. My boyfriend skipped a year at some point and then never finished college. Another good friend of mine skipped a year and then took an extra year to finish college. In the end, everybody's fine, and I don't think any of them think what they did in grade school was incorrect, but they didn't end up quite as ahead as I'm sure their parents thought they would.

Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 07:21 pm (UTC)

Random stalkers with useful input are always welcome!

Getting bored with math in college and majoring in something else entirely is perfectly reasonable and healthy, IMO.

Also, a grade skip is not on the table for all sorts of reasons. #1 is that I skipped a grade and in retrospect it wasn't a very good solution for me and I un-skipped. #2 is that Ed started K at 4 (with a November birthday) and hated being the youngest kid. She is working way ahead of grade level in other areas as well, but they're easier to accommodate.

Posted by: Corinne (corinnethewise)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 05:01 pm (UTC)

What my school did (although this started in middle school, in elementary school they just gave us extra sessions where we learned puzzle solving stuff like the games section on the LSAT) was they just sent people ahead to the high school, and then in high school they were allowed to take college classes at OSU. It seemed to work pretty well. Obviously there are some transportation issues, but if you can get those worked out and all the teachers are amenable, it works pretty well.

Posted by: Cool-Man (tg2k)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 05:02 pm (UTC)

What a lucky situation...my school in 4-6 grade kept me in the most advanced level they could, where my grades suffered a bit because they bored the heck out of me with multiple pages of long math or division.

The only escape was that, for a time somewhere in there, they took me out of the class and put me with computers where they were trying to teach me BASIC programming. Unfortunately, BASIC sucked and I couldn't figure out how to do much with it, and they didn't exactly know how to guide me because they were clueless themselves.

But in any case, the BASIC concept of variables was a great precursor to algebra. So another option might be to see if she can learn a little computer programming in a simple language.

All that said, if you can get her into actual advanced math classes, that would be my first choice. Every math class I took proceeded well below my capabilities, until at least pre-Calculus (and AP Calculus was possibly as fast as I was really comfortable with). It would have been great to have been able to rush through them faster.

Posted by: _contingent_ (_contingent_)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 05:10 pm (UTC)

My school didn't handle it -- I came from a small town where there was no GT, and by the time they finally let me skip ahead for math, it was beside the point (I was working with a tutor studying non-Euclidean geometry a year _before_ my school let me take basic geometry).

1) For me, skipping ahead was only minimally helpful. Advanced math kids aren't just thinking ahead of their peers, they're also thinking differently. Taking classes ahead just taught me to do stuff laboriously and by rote that I could do in my head, but without any grounding in why this might be important later. While the structured goals were probably useful, overall I think it made me a worse mathematician. I'm a much bigger fan of tutoring and independent study (the tutoring more to help set goals and build the foundations that will lead to understanding the importance of proofs and formal methods). Maybe there are local advanced programs that can do the same thing.

2) Math is very broad. The standard path in high school is essentially "math for accountants", and the standard path in college is essentially "math for physicists". You're learning a narrow slice of a huge field, only those pieces needed to build the more complex parts of math needed for the most common applied purposes. Frankly, given the huge importance of computational work today, even the "straight and narrow" math path should include a lot more discrete math than it used to (and the lack of numerical methods is a disgrace, but I digress). And that would still leave out all of the funky stuff like number theory and abstract algebra. If you keep her on the straight and narrow path, you'll have a problem with what to do next. If you hook her up with someone who can bring her into the wider world of real math, you won't.

If you can't find good local programs, I don't know what to recommend to do for tutoring. I didn't start getting tutored until I was ten or so, and by then I was advanced enough that it was appropriate to connect me with a math grad student. That may be too early for Molly unless you found just the right person.

Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 07:05 pm (UTC)

I think 8th grade algebra would be far enough ahead that she could take it next year without getting bored. Though, the advantage of a tutor would be that I wouldn't have to throw her to the wolves put her in with middle schoolers.

How often did you meet with your tutor? Did your parents place a classified ad, or what? I think that if I told the school that I wanted to hire a tutor to come in during the day periodically to give her lessons in advanced math, they would be fine with that if I were offering to pay. And if I had the tutor background-checked, since otherwise s/he is not technically allowed to be alone with students.

Posted by: _contingent_ (_contingent_)
Posted at: October 3rd, 2009 08:52 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: October 3rd, 2009 10:29 pm (UTC)

Posted by: _contingent_ (_contingent_)
Posted at: October 4th, 2009 07:21 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Lane (riverrocks)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 05:21 pm (UTC)

I found it was ok to be ahead of my age peers and take some classes with older kids if the teacher had a good handle on the class and didn't allow teasing/bullying and if I also had some interaction in some form with age peers I was also friends with (which usually turned out to be other geeky outcast kids). Also, it's important to make sure that in the process of getting a kid to the level they're capable of, instruction in the building blocks of that subject aren't missed along the way. Between moving between school districts several times and having more than one teacher who dealt with my already knowing what they were teaching everyone else by sticking me in a corner during math time with a set of headphones and some tapes and workbooks about geometry and other math concepts, I ended up in algebra (at the age of 12) with a solid understand of pi and only a shaky grasp of fractions (because I just hadn't had a lot of exposure to them). Luckily my teacher saw that as a challenge rather than a reason to send me backward, and got me caught up in a couple of weeks, but a less competent teacher could have soured me on math for the rest of my school career.

Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 07:06 pm (UTC)

Also, it's important to make sure that in the process of getting a kid to the level they're capable of, instruction in the building blocks of that subject aren't missed along the way.

Oh yeah.

This is something Ed frets about a lot.

Posted by: Cyllan (lilisonna)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 05:24 pm (UTC)

What does Molly want to do? Does she lovelovelove math and want to keep on studying? Is there anything that seems really cool to her that's math-related (like statistics) that she could focus on for a year so she's doing algebra in 5th instead of in 4th?

Other those those questions, I don't have lots of help. I'd lean towards letting her skip ahead or do a year of independent study, but I don't know what she loves.

Posted by: Amanda (branna)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 05:37 pm (UTC)

There's no real virtue in trying to learn statistics before you've learned algebra, IMO. The language being used depends on algebra to a tremendous degree, and anything sophisticated is a lot easier to grasp once you've had at least an introduction to matrices/linear algebra, which she wouldn't be ready for at this stage. She'd be ready for a solid stats course in high school, if I extrapolate from what she's doing now, but not before.

The combinatorics and probability theory part of it, though, is a different story---that would be accessible to her once she'd completed a reasonable pre-algebra sequence.

Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 07:09 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Amanda (branna)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 05:29 pm (UTC)

As the math material gets more advanced, seeing it more than once becomes less of a cause for boredom and more of a cause for understanding the material better and more deeply. So it is less of a problem to "repeat" a more advanced subject down the line.

There's also other material my middle school taught as part of pre-algebra and in parallel to algebra, as part of the honors sequence: some very basic set theory, introductory geometry, solid geometry, probability theory (which was invaluable later), an intro to the concept of number sequences and series (which was also very useful later), and so on. They lumped most of it into a course called "Problem Solving." All of these are subjects she could address in independent study once she's taken algebra, assuming that her school doesn't offer a class like this.

At the far end, as other folks have said, she can get into college math classes in high school once she gets past Calculus, at which point, if the college Math department is a solid one that teaches formal math, there will be no dearth of possible courses for her to take. Also, depending on what science courses her high school has on offer this may free her up to take a wider range of advanced subjects.

The one real problem that I do see is this: the social dynamic will be such that she'll probably get very used to working on her own. Based on my own experience that's not ideal: half the fun of the Problem Solving course mentioned above was that the problem sets assigned were very challenging and the students worked them together and learned from each other. The same was true much later on in the intense math courses I took in college. It helped to come in to those classes prepared to collaborate.

Posted by: consider that you may be wrong (ukelele)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 05:52 pm (UTC)

The one real problem that I do see is this: the social dynamic will be such that she'll probably get very used to working on her own

Yeah, per above, this was very much my experience in math. I was fine with it for the most part -- I generally am not a study group kind of person -- but the rare occasions when I had mathematical peers (or superiors!) were quite stimulating, and I realized rather abruptly in college that I hated the solitary nature of math research (a major reason I am not now a mathematician).

My husband got kicked out into the hallway with a math book by elementary teachers who didn't know what to do with him, but he got kicked out with a couple other kids. And in high school when he blew through his math sequence, there were a few other post-calculus kids, and his school (a private school which was perfectly happy to set up a class for 6 advanced kids) made sure they had classes to take, and he definitely got positive effects out of that that I missed out on.

It's hard to find peers when you're that far advanced, but they are out there. Maybe not within her school, but certainly in your area. And it gets easier as they get older and are attending larger schools (more likely to be more kids at their level, plus they can find each other through math team/science team/chess club/future problem solving/whatever nerdy things their school has -- and math team was totally fun, especially when we went to nationals and got to make trouble running around the hotel... *g*).

Posted by: Sarah Prineas (sarah_prineas)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 05:37 pm (UTC)

My husband was this kind of advanced in math--and in the Minnesota (Wayzata) school system, too. Mostly what they did with him was sling him out in the hallway with a calculus textbook, or something.

One thing he benefitted hugely from was these summer classes at the U of MN for advanced math kids. If you want more info I can ask him. Ping me (sprineas at gmail).

Posted by: Welsh Bard (welshbard)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 07:24 pm (UTC)

My school experience was interesting. I was a gifted student growing up in Minneapolis in the 1960s.

I started school at 4 (with a November birthday) because I was already reading, and the school said I'd be bored at home. The Mpls schools, though, were shit in the 60s, so in third grade my family moved us to Edina, with one of the best school systems in the state if not the country.

We all made the decision to hold me back a year in third grade for social age reasons, not for academics. Also, in the new school, 4th graders started shifting between classes for math, science, etc., much like in Jr. High. My new teacher promised that I wouldn't be bored in her class, and she was right. In reading I read at the back of the programmed reading system, which was great for me, because the articles were more interesting. I'd say I read at a Jr. High level in 3rd grade. I know I was at the top of the class in math.

In fifth grade, I got into a district-wide enrichment program. Fifth grade was Math Center, where every Friday noon we went to a separate location for the rest of the school day and didn't cool math shit. We were still expected to complete all the rest of the work for the grade. Sixth grade was Science Center, with a similar cool factor. I loved it and thrived.

In Junior High, I skipped 7th grade math, and in my math class got my first exposure to computer programming (remember this was the early 70s and there were no PCs). It stuck. By tenth grade I was the computer teacher's aide, playing computer games for an hour a day, plus running computer tests occasionally (kids never change). That summer I got a job doing programming for money. By my senior year, I was in AP Calculus.

I got a 4 on the AP Calc test, which would have let me skip one quarter of calculus at the U of MN. That pissed me off, until I found the tests you could take to directly skip classes, so I got out of two quarters.

On reflection, the thing that worked for me in grade school was having a rich environment to work in, with lots of options. I strongly recommend keeping in school at the age appropriate grade and not jumping ahead. I am so glad I got readjusted early. My social development was stunted enough as it was by being a geek, I didn't need extra help being a social outcast by being too young. I've also seen what havoc it plays with people. Gerri's youngest brother skipped two grades, so entered college at 16. His social development still hasn't caught up in pharmacy school many years later.

Posted by: consider that you may be wrong (ukelele)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 11:41 pm (UTC)

There is actually, from what I have seen, a substantial body of research saying that grade-skipping is, on average, neutral-to-positive socially. Some kids have negative social experiences, and there are some kids who are skipped who simply shouldn't have been (whether for reasons of academic readiness, temperament, participation in sports, etc.), but this is not a place where it's good to generalize from one's personal experiences as they do vary.

(I was in the neutral-to-positive side myself; I had neither friends nor much in the way of friendly acquaintances before skipping, and had a stable group of friendly acquaintances after. So, I mean, my social life still sucked, but at least I sorta had one. In regular school, anyway; in my summer nerd camp, I was borderline really popular, which was awesome. If I could've been in an environment like *that* all the time grade-skipping would've been a wrong answer. As it was...arguably I should've skipped *more* grades, but taken time off before college.)

Posted by: Welsh Bard (welshbard)
Posted at: October 3rd, 2009 12:16 am (UTC)

Posted by: crystalpyramid (crystalpyramid)
Posted at: October 3rd, 2009 12:13 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Terrie (terrie01)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 07:50 pm (UTC)

If you'd like a TON of resources on gifted education, check out http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/. Great resources, and covers some of the various methods of meeting the needs of gifted children.

Posted by: Martian687 (martian687)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 07:54 pm (UTC)

Hey, I was wandered over here from springbok1's post. I spent years and years bored out of my mind in math until 5th grade, when a friend's father arranged with our elementary school to come in during recess and teach Pre-Algebra to any of the mathematically advanced kids that were interested.

When I got to middle school the next year, my mom spent about a week arguing with administrators, trying to get me into the 8th grade Algebra class. (That class was itself an advanced class, as algebra was usually taught in 9th grade at the high school.) Eventually the administrators agreed that if I could pass the test the 8th graders had to take to get into the Algebra class, I could take it too. I passed.

I actually really enjoyed Algebra class. For the first time the subject matter wasn't boring, and I felt like my 8th grade classmates were more grown up and mature than my 6th grade classmates. (That may have just been due to the fact that anyone in an advanced class was there because they wanted to be there.)

The following year the middle school decided to offer a Geometry class for myself and the handful of (at the time) 7th graders that were in the Algebra class the previous year. A month into 7th grade the school decided to allow me to skip into the 8th grade. I ended up at a Sci/Tech HS, so I wasn't the only Freshman in my AlgebraII/Trig class. I took Pre-Calc my sophomore year, BC Calc my junior year, and then Multivariable Calc and Linear Algebra my senior year.

In the end it all worked out fine for me, but that's probably due to the fact that I ended up at a HS that offered much more advanced math classes than normal.

Posted by: A. A. McNamara (aamcnamara)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 08:22 pm (UTC)

Okay, so my math education followed a very circuitous path. I started algebra I in sixth grade, but wasn't allowed to go on with it; in eighth grade I finally did algebra I through a correspondence course. (I took the UMTYMP test several times but never quite made it in.) In high school I made up a year by taking the combined algebra II/pre-calc class my school offered, so now I'm in calculus III my first year of college.

I was really frustrated by all these stops; it did force me to focus on other things--I read a lot of books during school, did a lot of writing, that I might not have had time for if I had had really appropriate-level and challenging classes.

In high school I was pretty much right along with all of my bright classmates who'd been in public schools all along and hadn't skipped any grades.

One thing I will add is that it depends if Molly tends to learn at a faster pace than other students, or just is at a higher level in general. I was consistently frustrated with higher-level math classes (when I got a taste of them) because it was new stuff, but it was all going so slowly.

If Molly's good at independent progress and all that, and learns math at a faster pace--this was never an option for me, and maybe isn't here, either, but if you talked to the algebra teacher and saw if there was maybe a time in the day when she/he and Molly could get together and just work through algebra at Molly's own pace? I know I would have loved that, as a kid. Or even now.

I can definitely answer specific questions, too, being a Twin Cities kid. UMTYMP is a great good thing; I took the test each year I was eligible for it, but always was just a few points off. If Molly has algebra in 4th grade, she probably could get in--part of why I didn't pass the UMTYMP test was insufficient math education up to that point, I think. There are also correspondence courses, online courses, etc. that let you go your own pace; and there is of course PSEO later on.

Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: October 3rd, 2009 01:27 am (UTC)

Where did you go to high school? Was it in Minneapolis, or in one of the suburbs?

Posted by: A. A. McNamara (aamcnamara)
Posted at: October 3rd, 2009 01:52 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Steuard (steuard)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 08:23 pm (UTC)

I was really fortunate that the Lincoln, Nebraska public school system had a great gifted program: almost every year from 3rd (2nd?) grade to 9th grade I had a "math mentor" for one on one teaching rather than being in a normal math class. I ended up getting basically two years ahead in that time, but my program of study was aimed much more at "enrichment" than "acceleration" and I feel pretty good about how that worked out.

Even if your school district doesn't provide a mentor system, that may be an approach to explore. The idea is to parallel the standard curriculum, covering the core topics and milestones at roughly the same rate (though possibly with less boring drill and repetition for topics the student already understands). But those basics won't require as much teaching time or as much of the student's energy as for most kids, so in addition you set up a succession of ongoing projects related (more or less) to the class.

The details depend on the subject, the student, and the teacher, but there are all sorts of possibilities, some directly related to the main subject and some only marginally so. As a less related example, my first year algebra mentor and I spent one day a week for a few months programming a computer to create an interactive multimedia show (this was before such things were available off the shelf). As a more related example, after my second year algebra textbook briefly mentioned matrices, I spent a couple of weeks learning cool matrix math that I normally wouldn't have seen until a much later course.

I'm not sure how you'd arrange this if the district wasn't paying for one-on-one instruction, but if the classroom teacher is a little flexible I'd think you could hire someone to come in and do math enrichment projects with Molly during that class period one day each week (much cheaper and easier to arrange than a daily mentor!). You'd need to look around for someone sufficiently creative and fond of math, mind you: it doesn't work well if the mentor doesn't have the mindset you're looking for. Grad students might be a good pool to search in, if you can't find anyone appropriate by word of mouth.

That plan also pretty much assumes that she'll end up in the most advanced classroom she's ready for (a gifted or honors one if possible), despite the age difference. I think it's usually survivable, and it's not as if she'd feel that much more of a connection to a class full of kids her age who were years behind her in the subject. And it's absolutely worth it to look into taking college classes during high school (and, I suppose, high school classes during junior high) if that's the only way for her to keep moving forward. (I don't think there's ever a reason to make her spend longer getting from one subject to the next than most kids do.)

Posted by: probably_lost (probably_lost)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 09:26 pm (UTC)

I took algebra with the 8th graders when I was in 5th grade. It was pretty manageable - I had a short walk down the street to the junior high school, and my classmates picked on me a little but were really nicer to me than most of my 5th grade classmates! I then commuted to the high school for geometry in 6th grade, Algebra II in 7th, precalc in 8th, and in 9th grade I took calculus (making that the one year I was actually taking math in the same school as the rest of my classes). I took continuing ed courses at the local university for the next 2 years and pretty much just did independent reading my senior year.

This worked out fine, but wasn't terrific -- as noted upthread, advanced math students aren't just ready for different material, they tend to think differently and have different needs as well. A more individualized program of study might have worked better, but the school district really didn't have any way to provide that. I filled in a lot of gaps on my own through reading, CTY courses (also mentioned above), and my involvement in the school's math team. (I joined the high school math team in junior high and it was a GREAT experience for me -- however, it might be a bit much for a 3rd or 4th grader.)

There is certainly plenty of math off the "main sequence" of high school math classes, but a lot of it is more approachable if you have at least some algebra. Maybe consider letting her take the algebra class with the 8th graders and then plan on doing some guided learning in math for the next few years instead of trying to continue with the sequence? For some mathematically gifted students, there's no better way to turn them off math than your standard high school geometry course anyway, alas. The question then is where the guidance comes from. I'd be happy to work with her if I were closer to Minneapolis, and I can certainly suggest some books and resources, though my expertise is with students who are slightly older (and for whom math is rather more difficult).

Sorry to ramble - the HVAC here is going crazy and my office is about 80 degrees, which does not seem to promote coherent thought. I'll think about it some more and post or call if I have ideas.

Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: October 3rd, 2009 01:28 am (UTC)

Molly would LOVE to be on a math team. They don't have them for third graders, alas.

Posted by: katana_girl (katana_girl)
Posted at: October 3rd, 2009 11:50 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Dr. Rivka (rivka)
Posted at: October 2nd, 2009 11:57 pm (UTC)
phrenological head

One of my favorite homeschool bloggers has kids who are very gifted in math, and so she's been through this issue now with several kids.

Here's a post she made about why she doesn't go straight to algebra. Instead she spends some time on number theory, probability, and other elective-type math before moving on to algebra later on.

Posted by: consider that you may be wrong (ukelele)
Posted at: October 5th, 2009 10:29 pm (UTC)

That post is so awesome. I've delicioused it in case I need it down the line (my kid's too young for it now but is probably on that trajectory...)

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: rgeorge (rgeorge)
Posted at: October 3rd, 2009 01:06 am (UTC)

My first thought when reading abi's repost was: Chiyo-chan!

Posted by: cheshirecatco (cheshirecatco)
Posted at: October 3rd, 2009 03:48 am (UTC)

Taking a class with 8th graders could be rough; they get kind of mean around that age.

That said, if she does take pre-Al, you might look into UMPTYMP (I assume it's still running, anyway). They'll take care of accelerating her through senior high. Saved me about 5 terms of math at Carleton.

Posted by: ((Anonymous))
Posted at: November 25th, 2009 09:59 pm (UTC)


I also went through UMTYMP in High School while living in Minneapolis. Lots of time commitment (it meets after school), but it was much more interesting than taking math in High School. And young kids are in it (starting grade 5), which should be appealing.

Martine Kalke

Posted by: Haddayr Copley-Woods (haddayr)
Posted at: October 3rd, 2009 04:23 am (UTC)

I am missing something BIG here.

From what you say, it appears they just want her to take upper level math. That's it. So she'd just go to the bigger-kid classroom for math, and then be in the other classroom for her other stuff?

Is that wrong? And if it's right, what is the harm in her being with older kids an hour or so a day?

I'll bet I missed something big, even though I read it twice, because the topic was math and I was worried I would develop hives.

I will IM you tomorrow about my conference, which went SO much better than I thought it was going to.

Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: October 3rd, 2009 02:11 pm (UTC)

Yes, it would just be a one-class-a-day visit.

Your reaction made me think about my own emotional response and why the thought of putting her in with 8th graders for an hour a day freaked me out so much.

When I was 12, I took two classes at the high school (History, and Spanish). My hippy-run school thought it was a good idea to have 8th graders who had never attended public schools take a class over at the high school (usually math or language) because this would help to acclimate us before the next year when we'd be thrown in at the deep end. I had seen some movies and TV show episodes that featured hazing of freshmen, and was convinced that if anyone realized I was two years younger than a freshman, they would KILL ME. It was a really terrifying year for me; I mean, it worked out well in the end (I'm glad I was able to take Spanish II my freshman year, which I wouldn't have been able to if I hadn't done this) but it cut me off from a lot of the social activity at Wingra, and so I was much more lonely. I was also very depressed a lot of that year, I think in retrospect I might have had a flare-up of OCD, and in general it's not a set of memories that I think back and say "oooh, yeah, sign my kid up!"

That same year, there was a kid at West who was even younger than me. I could tell because he wore his backpack on both shoulders, plus he just looked really little. He was walking up from the elementary school to take Algebra.

Many years later I got to know this guy pretty well (it was sometime late that year that it clicked and I realized I had seen him before) but we've fallen out of touch. Conveniently, someone here knows how to find him so I am going to see if he has any input for me. (Admittedly, he was taking Algebra at the high school, because it was much closer to the elementary school than any of the middle schools were.)

Posted by: Haddayr Copley-Woods (haddayr)
Posted at: October 3rd, 2009 05:27 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Parasite Girl (parasitegirl)
Posted at: October 3rd, 2009 07:42 am (UTC)

Poke around my profile, find "Fennel" and send him this...because if there's one person from our past who might have some firsthand feedback it's A.Mandel.

Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: October 3rd, 2009 01:55 pm (UTC)

Ohhhhhhh, thank you. I had been thinking since the conference yesterday that I wish I could get his take on this.

Haddayr's "am I missing something?!?!?" question made me realize that part of my fear here is based on the year I was 12 years old and taking Spanish and History at West High (it seemed like a good idea at the time). A. was taking math at West high that year, too, walking up from Randall to do it, and I actually noticed him at the time because I could tell he was even younger than I was.

Posted by: D. Fennel (fennel)
Posted at: October 4th, 2009 04:22 pm (UTC)

Posted by: Naomi (naomikritzer)
Posted at: October 4th, 2009 10:45 pm (UTC)

Posted by: D. Fennel (fennel)
Posted at: October 6th, 2009 03:55 am (UTC)

Posted by: consider that you may be wrong (ukelele)
Posted at: October 5th, 2009 10:31 pm (UTC)

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