The gap between the most and least prepared students has always been wide in most classrooms. During these last two pandemic years, however, that gap has turned into a chasm.
Though there are some signs of academic rebounding, we still aren’t at pre-pandemic levels, with NWEA showing math scores still down 5 to 10 percentile points on average, and with some cohorts of students declining even further this past year. This means classrooms will be filled with students at vastly different levels of readiness. As we look toward “back to school” for fall 2022, teachers continue to have incredibly difficult challenges ahead of them in order to keep students at the right level of challenge.
3 Ways to Support Your Advanced Student this Fall
With learning gaps exacerbated in the classroom, what can families do to keep their student challenged, inspired, and engaged – particularly in STEM subjects? Here are some tips for parents of advanced learners.
1. Say Yes to Subject Mastery — and No to Something Else
Students need to develop a love for excelling in a discipline — whether that’s math, violin, or theater. Expertise for its own sake is arguably the most valuable and transferable skill we can cultivate in students.
First, find out what your child is really interested in. Prompt them to research into the companies behind the games or hobbies they love. Look at the people who were involved in building those companies and games. They'll discover that those people almost always have a problem-solving background in math or science.
Next, try to find a course or group or teacher that will help your student dig deeper. Allow them the freedom to uncover and turn things on their head. There's no telling what they'll find. And they'll build critical discovery, communication, and problem-solving skills along the way.
Getting young students into deep problem solving early, when they still have the resilience and tolerance for failure, is critical. This is how they build adaptability and other problem-solving skills that can be transferred to any type of future challenge.
Finally, it’s important to remember that helping your student find and grow their expertise will require time and space. To get very good at something, you have to spend time on it — which means, they will likely have to say no to something else.
2. Connect with Like-Minded Instructors and Peers
Connection. That's certainly something we all could have benefited more of over the last two years. For students, learning in a silo can be difficult and discouraging. As you pursue new social connections for your student, don't forget about academic connections too.
Find teachers or older students who share the same passions as your child. These are the role models your students see themselves in and are inspired by. They can also become lifelong mentors. A community of like-minded peers can also be instrumental. There are plenty of in-person and online ways to connect your student to those interested in the same subjects. Is there a math club at school (and if not, could you start one)? Are there groups or leagues outside of school? The Math Circle Network includes 300 local math communities.
Online groups can also be an easy way to connect, even at a distance. Not only can students turn to each other for support; they challenge each other too. Friendly peer competition also serves as its own motivation.
3. Push Against their Knowledge Edge
To engage is to challenge. If you want to keep your student motivated, you have to keep them pushing up against the frontiers of what they're capable of. That was very hard to do during the pandemic. Unless you had a truly outstanding teacher or school program, your student probably dealt with a lot of repetition in their curricula. Repetition begets boredom begets disengagement.
So how do you break through that wall of monotony? By problem-solving! Problem-solving, simply put, means solving problems you've never seen before. Problems that force you to lean on fundamental skills like creativity and critical reasoning instead of memory.
Let’s take math, for example. Advanced math is a great way to introduce new, complex, and unconventional challenges to students. By trying multiple approaches to the same problem, students develop creative thinking skills. By spending a lot of time on a single problem, students build up perseverance. By writing out their solutions and thinking through real-life scenarios, students hone their communication skills.
This practical skill set not only keeps students highly engaged; it also sets them up for success academically and professionally. These math skills translate to all subjects: engineering, economics, philosophy, computer science, as well as any situation where you need to take basic ideas and combine them to solve new problems. Not to mention this skill set is completely automation-proof, safeguarding your child’s prospects for those innovations yet to come. Regardless of the classroom to which your student will be returning, try to integrate new problem-solving challenges into your student’s days. Get creative with the questions you ask and scenarios you present by continually challenging your student with problems and situations they’ve never seen before.
Here are a couple ways to keep your student challenged:
- Alcumus is an online math learning system that uses adaptive AI to challenge high-performing math students with questions optimized to their skill level.
- Have a younger student? Beast Academy Playground is a free collection of fun tabletop math games that families can integrate into everyday life for youngsters 4+.
Here are a couple ways our families bring "better math" into their traditional classroom:
- Add in math as an extracurricular. Some students prefer to do math instead of sports or music. We see these students taking our math courses either right after school (most of our classes are at 4 pm PT/7 pm ET) or on the weekends.
- Help build a better math program. This one's a much higher investment for parents, but we do see many of our parents working with their schools to build a better math program. It could be improving the core program that's already there or adding on a math team as an extracurricular. Many of the strongest student math teams at schools are parent-run!
About the author
Chris Smith is the Director of Beast Academy Classroom at Art of Problem Solving. At Art of Problem Solving (AoPS), students train to become the great problem solvers of tomorrow. Since 1993, AoPS has prepared hundreds of thousands of motivated students grades 2–12 for college and career success through engaging curriculum, expert online instruction, and local academies. Through the four programs — Beast Academy, AoPS Online, AoPS Academy, and AoPS Academy Virtual Campus — AoPS offers the most comprehensive advanced math pathway in the world.