As a lifelong math learner, I am extraordinarily proud of the math program we built at MSGA that empowers gifted students to accelerate their learning and have fun with math. I feel excited when I get to share our approach to math teaching and learning because I believe that our Accelerated Math Lab not only promotes independent thinking, perseverance, and problem solving, but it also solves many of the shortcomings of a traditional math class. Our approach is proven to be beneficial for math students at any level, but it can be life changing for the gifted learner.
One of the most significant problems in any math class is time. As I am sure anyone can recall, there were classes when the teacher went too fast and you felt lost and flustered, or when the teacher went too slow and you felt bored and disengaged. It is likely there were also days that you knew how to solve the problems before the lesson ever began. While I prided myself in a traditional setting on differentiating instruction to minimize this wasted time, it was impossible to meet the needs of all of my math learners. Through the use of personalized learning plans and adaptive digital math curriculum in our classrooms at MSGA, students are able to master topics and move forward at their own pace, getting credit for what they already know, and only spending time on learning and practicing new skills. This makes it possible for students to work on a variety of skills at a variety of levels at the same time. Giving students the ability to control the amount of time they need to learn a concept allows each student to learn math at their “just right” pace. Our guides spend their time consulting with students, tracking progress, and providing 1 to 1 instruction as the students work through their curriculum.
A third problem many gifted learners face in a traditional math class is the lack of challenging work. Over the years, because of their ability to learn concepts quickly, many gifted children learn to equate being smart with things coming easily. The feeling of being challenged is often uncomfortable because it is so rare. As parents and teachers of these children, we know that they need opportunities to puzzle through math and persevere in the face of a challenge. At MSGA, we make it happen. Because of the efficiency of a self-paced, mastery-based instructional model, there is no wasted time during Accelerated Math Lab and students are able to work on appropriately challenging work every day. In addition, students and guides spend a portion of each daily math block delving into opportunities that further develop and strengthen our students’ mathematical abilities. We do this by prioritizing activities and content that deepen students’ understanding of concepts and help build problem solving skills. Students complete projects with real-world applications, work on competitive math problems, and think and reason through challenging math puzzles. In our younger grades, there is a great deal of emphasis on using manipulatives and playing with numbers to build a strong number sense and confidence with math. We call this portion of the math block Math Recess, a daily time for students to explore the exciting and interesting parts of mathematics. Not only do our students look forward to this portion of the block, I couldn’t be more pleased that we prioritize building our students’ mathematical reasoning and perseverance through these tasks.
Our math program develops students’ ability to set and monitor their math learning goals. Because they work at their own pace, they set daily, weekly, quarterly, and yearly goals which they work to achieve. This also leads to ownership of the learning process and intrinsic motivation to work hard and master content, all of which are overall goals of our school. At a young age, they learn how to learn and what it feels like to work hard, using tools and strategies to achieve their learning goals. While the guides offer support and circulate to monitor students’ progress during class, the students are truly the drivers of their own learning.
While I believe that our Accelerated Math Lab creates a classroom environment conducive to the best possible math learning, it is important to know that we are always seeking to improve. We are continuously evaluating our program and making changes for the best interest of our learners. Improving the resources, training, and methods used by guides will continue through the years, but we will never waver from our commitment to provide a self-paced, mastery-based learning environment for gifted learners.