calculus for all

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I live in Pasadena and have visited the Math Academy classes twice, as the chair of a local university mathematics department.  I’m thrilled that the mathematically gifted students in this district now have opportunities to do challenging work as early as fifth grade.  In fact, I wish the program could start at an even younger age, so that even more students from diverse backgrounds would be able to participate.   

From what I have seen, the program pursues speed and depth at the same time.  If the seventh graders’ AP Calculus scores show room for improvement, it is because the seventh grade curriculum aims to cover only some of the relevant calculus hw topics, leaving the remainder for eighth grade.   Instead of trying to fly through calculus at top speed, the Math Academy seventh graders spend a lot of time exercising their problem-solving and proof-writing skills, often in the context of number theory.  On the first day I visited, they were fluently composing proofs of algebraic divisibility statements, with a joy and accuracy rarely displayed by my college sophomores, who study the same material.  Their problem-solving skills are further developed as they study for math competitions, in which they have already had great success.   

What Math Academy is demonstrating is that we don’t have to choose between acceleration and enrichment when it comes to satisfying the appetite of gifted students for fascinating mathematics.  It is because the traditional curriculum is lacking in depth that we should neither force these students to move through it at a slow speed nor hide from them the many enticing extracurricular topics which they are prepared to devour.   

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