Saturday math class adds up to challenge

Gifted: A county program for middle-schoolers who excel in math has 80 enthusiastic participants.

March 06, 2002|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

For many children, the weekend is a time to take a break from school and socialize with friends. But each Saturday, some Howard County teens sit in a River Hill High School classroom for two hours, studying math.

It isn't a typical math class. Although the logarithmic equations on the board look complicated, these kids don't even pick up a pencil. Almost as soon as a problem is on the board, they are calling out answers.

"They're thinking through things very quickly in their heads," said Lynn Collins, who teaches the class.

County middle-schoolers who are extremely gifted in math participate in the two-year course. The classes are run by Howard County's Gifted and Talented Program. Seventh-, eighth- and sometimes sixth-graders meet after school or on Saturdays for two hours every week. During this time, they are able to complete three math courses - algebra I, geometry and algebra II - before they enter high school.

Christopher Morton, 13, takes math with Collins instead of the course at his middle school, Mount View. "I'm learning math things that I wouldn't learn otherwise. I can take AP [advanced placement] courses in high school, and college courses will be easier," he said.

Collins works with 80 children in four classes. Saturday's 9:30 a.m. class, a first-year group, has 14 students from a variety of backgrounds and schools. All four classes meet at River Hill High.

What middle school pupils do during their regular math class varies from school to school. Some work with a gifted-and-talented resource teacher or spend time in the school media center. Some sit in on the class, though they are not expected to do the work.

"Sometimes they like to participate in the other class. The teachers like to use them as a resource," Collins said.

It is easy to see why the children are enthusiastic about being in the Saturday class. Collins, who was once mathematics department chairwoman at Wilde Lake High School, keeps a relaxed atmosphere in the classroom. She has been teaching in the program since it began in the mid-1970s, and she speaks to these gifted children as someone who is on their wavelength.

During a lesson on logarithms, Collins told the youths, "All we're doing right now is getting used to the notation. Most people think they're pretty frightening. Actually, they're trivial."

Collins makes it clear that there are practical uses for even complex math. She used the Richter scale, which measures an earthquake's power, to show students how logarithms are used in the real world.

"What we have to do is to be able to apply these to problems," Collins said. Children were given a Richter scale rating for earthquakes and had to predict their energy output using logarithmic equations.

"There are some students who have really never been challenged at all," Collins said.

Sarah Jawed, 13, who attends Wilde Lake Middle School, agreed that "it's more challenging" than regular math class.

Another advantage of the program is bringing these like-minded children together. "Very oftentimes, they are one of a kind at a school," Collins said. "They need the interaction with each other."

To be invited into the gifted math program, middle-schoolers must score a 90 or above on two math tests taken in fifth and sixth grades. Teachers' recommendations and A's in all their previous math classes are also required.

Separate math courses for gifted pupils do not continue in high school, where advanced math is available. Because these children will take advanced placement courses, they can earn up to 11 college credits. Some will take their senior year math class at Howard Community College.

Although Collins at one time envisioned going back to teaching high school, she said that she enjoys this age group. "The kids are fun to teach because they are excited about math and excited about learning," she said. "They're bright, they're quick, they're fast. They're delightful."

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