Saturday, February 12, 2011

When Is A Math Track Too Accelerated?

At my PreK-9 school, we are currently in the process of "decelerating" our math program. As the math coordinator, I am convinced that simply because students can handle advanced topics in math does not mean that they should be learning such concepts at an early age. In other words, I believe that a math curriculum needs to be age-appropriate more than it needs to be accelerated. For example, next year will be the last year I teach a full-year Honors Geometry course in the 8th grade, as it is more appropriate to teach such a course no earlier than the 9th grade. What is the purpose of over-accelerating? So students can "max out", or worse, burn out in math by the time they are Juniors in high school?

As long as students (at all levels) are challenged per their ability levels, it is far more developmentally sound to enrich and enhance their math learning rather than simply move fast because they "get it".


Anonymous said...

My son did geometry in 6th grade, and then was forced to repeat it in 7th grade because he changed schools and the new school's placement test didn't adequately assess his ability. Luckily he liked the geometry teacher and had him again for honors algebra 2 in 8th grade (the teacher was then laid off, because he was expecting too much of the 11th graders in the class---he was teaching the honors class as an honors class, not a remedial one). I was coaching a math team at the school (recreational and contest math) and there was one 6th grader in geometry class who was ready to move on to honors algebra 2 by 7th grade.

My point: some kids are more than ready for geometry in 8th grade, and that "age-appropriate" is one of the worst of the teacher myths in math. When kids are ready for different levels of abstraction has very little to do with their age, and a lot to do with their intelligence and prior education.

I do believe in "mathy" students doing a lot of math outside the narrow track of the standard school curriculum, but holding them back because the schools aren't willing to teach them at the level they are at is sinful.

There is no way that a student can "max out" in math by the time they are juniors in high school---universities offer 4-8 years of math past calculus, and that's not even counting applications of math in other fields, like physics, electronics, and computer science.

It is possible to burn out a student by pushing them through math too fast. But it is even easier to do so by holding them back with a mindless drill-and-memorize approach.

The trick (and it is a tough one) is to find for each student where they will learn optimally, and teach them at that level. Forcing everyone to go at the same pace is going to ruin the education for the kids at either end of the spectrum.

Unknown said...

I appreciate your thoughtful--and thought-provoking--reply and hope others will chime in on this issue.... Perhaps "age-appropriate" was a poor phrase on my part, as level-/ability-appropriate is more in line with what I meant. Even though my school/class size is small (265 boys total in grades K-9, with math class sizes in grades 6-9 of 8-15), we do offer (and will continue to) a special track for those boys who are truly gifted math students. For example, this year we have an Algebra 2 class made up of a handful of 8th graders and one 7th grader. However, my feeling is that these types of "hyper-accelerated" courses should be the exception and not a regularly-offered track. Too many times students are pushed into taking these accelerated courses, often by their parents, when they are simply not ready; yet this parental push is based on last year's grade/performance or the mentality that "Jimmy" must résumé build, etc.

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