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Q&A #8761


MEGSSS vs Algebra/Geometry for Highly Gifted middle schoolers

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From: Joshua (for Teacher2Teacher Service)
Date: May 21, 2002 at 01:09:36
Subject: Re: MEGSSS vs Algebra/Geometry for Highly Gifted middle schoolers

>Joshua, thank you for your advice. I have one follow up question. My daughter
>enjoys the more abstract math, but she has never been particularly good at,
>or interested in, the application of math.

To me, the interest in the application comes naturally as you get
interested in the "real" (pure/abstract) math.  So I wouldn't worry
too much.  I was always good at doing math in my head, but I was not
so good at memorizing important facts or formulas.  With some work,
I could rederive them, but it just wasn't my interest.

>She is one of those kids who fought arithmatic, and struggled learning her
>addition/multiplication tables.  To be honest, as quickly as she grasps
>abstract ideas, she must think a bit before knowing the answer to 4x6.

I know the feeling.  In eighth grade I was just figuring out for
sure whether 7*8 was 54 or 56 (I could get it right if I had to, but
I didn't know it by heart, and if I was in the middle of solving a
longer problem I might well stick the wrong one in while I was focusing
on some other part of the problem).  I made careless mistakes all the time.
I was also taking calculus.  It didn't slow me down much, though
I got a lower "A" in calculus than I would have if my arithmetic
(and trigonometry, for that matter) had been a little more smooth.

>Surely an educated person needs to be able to apply
>math as well as understand it. So if I let her take MEGSSS, how do I make
>sure she also learns how to get the right answer to math questions, too?

There is a bit of a gap here: the skill at quick answers to basic
facts is not the same as "getting the right answer".  I'm sure your
daughter can get the right answer to 4x6 or whatever, if she actually
cares; it's just that she doesn't usually care, and it's not worth
the time or effort to work it out (or to sit down and memorize it
once and for all).

I recommend math contests.  For me, a little rivalry with the other
top math students at my school quickly motivated me to find ways to
catch the careless errors, improve my speed a bit, and even memorize
some of the more frequently used facts.  I'm not sure it'll work as
well for your daughter, but it's worth a try.  MathCounts is a great
program, with good problem-solving as well as plenty of practice problems
that repeat the same basic skills over and over again.

>The school's program doesn't cover this at all, as far as I can tell. Should
>I send her to Algebra II/Geometry, so she gets more experience in the
>application side of things? Or send her to MEGSSS, so she gets to stretch
>mentally, and find some other way to supplement their program?

I think the MEGSSS curriculum will be much more interesting to
someone interested in the abstraction.  Plus it sounds like the
other students in the class will also be more interested and
motivated ... I'd hate to pass up that kind of opportunity.  Of
course, I don't know your daughter (and her likes, or her needs)
as well as you do!

>Is there an online class she could
>take, perhaps?

I am much more familiar with programs that supplement the other direction:
they give some problem-solving experience to balance curricula that
are overly drill based.  Some have a good blend, like my former employer
EPGY (Education Program for Gifted Youth, at Stanford,
http://epgy.stanford.edu).  For pure drill, though, the local tutoring
programs like Kumon seem to have a great program that kids enjoy.

>Also, do you know where I might find information about the
>MEGSSS curriculum?  I had no luck on ERIC or the internet, but perhaps I
>misspelled the program name.

The Florida schools sure do seem to keep it a secret!
It appears to me that the MEGSSS curriculum is actually the
"Elements of Mathematics" curriculum at
  http://www.eimacs.com/LM/LMPlain.asp?F=emwelcome&N=Welcome
but it took hunting through a lot of Florida school web pages to
find clues that suggested that. It looks right, though.

Hope that helps!  And do keep in mind that it's just my opinion,
based mostly on my own experience and a bit on my experience as a
teacher ... there are sure to be plenty of other people out there
who have a different perspective on this decision.  If what I'm
saying doesn't seem to fit what you're thinking, please do take
a look around (or just write back to T2T and get an answer from
someone else).

Enjoy,

 -Joshua, for the T2T service

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