Friday, September 14, 2018

If you read my blog for some period of time, you know that we always had a problem with math instruction. Smarty is fast and she has a great innate aptitude for math (sorry, growth mindset people, I do believe in innate abilities). Math class instruction was always too slow and too repetitive for her. One notable exception was third grade when she had an amazing teacher who actually proved that in-class differentiation can work. Unfortunately, she did not have the same math teachers before and after, and we always had to use a lot of persuasion and advocacy to allow her to do something other than sitting in the classroom bored out of her mind.
This year, Smarty was thrilled to be immediately put into Algebra 2 by easily passing an Algebra 1 end test. Her class was small (5 people!) and moved fast... but not fast enough for Smarty. She did not enjoy the review chapter and the routine of solving about 30 problems for each topic. She did them all in school to avoid homework, but she started to resent math. So I took a deep breath and wrote an email to her math teacher basically explaining that Smarty always enjoyed being able to move at her own pace and asking if she could switch from in-class instruction to an independent study through ALEKS (a platform of choice in the school that Smarty attends).
I expected the usual response that we received in public schools for years - it's good for her to learn to explain her thinking to others, it's good for her to interact with people who are not as mathematically advanced, she needs to learn social skills, that will help her in life (to that last one, I always wonder why she can't learn these social skills in all other classes), and finally that she has to prove that she already knows the material that she would be "missing" in the classroom. But none of that happened. The teacher answered very quickly, and said, "I perfectly understand her talents. In my lengthy teaching career I saw very few students as mathematically talented as your daughter. If she wants to go to ALEKS, I will work with the headmaster on that." Within 3 days Smarty got access to ALEKS with the condition that she has to have at least 20% of ALEKS content mastered before she can "disconnect" from her math class and go to ALEKS full time. She took an initial assessment test and ALEKS deemed 56% of Algebra 2 class already mastered. I was amused by this assessment, since it was close to mine once I looked through Smarty's Algebra 2 book (I thought that she is solid on about 50% of the material).
Since Smarty's current knowledge was a lot more than 20%, she was allowed to get on with ALEKS right away. She is expected to spend 5 hours a week on it to earn full points. She will work on it during her regular math time 4 times a week and probably during one of her 2 free periods that she has every week, so getting hours done should not be a problem. Considering her speed, I expect that she will be done with Algebra 2 by winter break leaving plenty of time for Geometry in the second half of the year.
Smarty is super thrilled to get to ALEKS, but I have mixed feelings about it. She showed me how the program works, and I feel that the "explain" part is focused exclusively on the process, i.e. on steps of solving a particular type of math problems. I did not see any discussions as to why the steps are the way they are or connecting this particular problem to any real-life applications. I do want to meet with her math teacher to discuss if there could be some sort of additional check-in or mentoring available to help her not to lose the bigger picture of algebra. I am also still waiting on the decision for competitive mathematics - I would like Smarty to be able to do AMC8 and AMC10, but currently the school does not have a math team or allocates any additional time to work on competitive math as an elective. Perhaps it's something that has to wait until the next year.
Still, I am relieved and encouraged that we did not have to fight another year to keep Smarty's love and interest in math going. I really hope that she will thrive and shine in this new environment and that she will get support that she needs.

Your Turn

Were you successful advocating for your child's needs in school?


Min Erva said...

I'm actually the opposite with K's math. I prefer the "slow" method. I also believe she needs more work on skills like collaboration and working in groups. I want K to learn to explain her thought processes and talk about how math is relevant. These are more important skills for her to learn right now than acceleration. She can do it in other classes but I would like it to be done in math classes as well. I want a thorough deep understanding. Reading math books help to solidify that.

MaryAnne K. said...

I'm glad you found a way for her to enjoy math! Johnny is really good at math, but he surprises me by being very patient with the super easy math in school. He just does math at home on his own for fun. He might learn more math faster with your approach, but it isn't a realistic thing to demand in our particular school district.

Ticia said...


Hopefully they'll have a math team she can join next year.

Wendy and I are in constant negotiations about math.