5

My daughter is very bright, and particularly good at math. But, she gets bored easily — possibly some near ADHD traits, although generally not to the level where it causes any disruption. She's in seventh grade this year, and tells me that math class is the worst part of her day, which is sad and scary. STEM education research shows that girls often lose interest in math and science at this age, even when they excel at it.

Specifically, my daughter says that she understands the material presented in class immediately, but then the whole class is spent going over it, leaving her, as she describes it, "bored out of my mind". And evidence shows that she does get it — she's getting an A in this class and can easily do and discuss the material. (She even teaches it to her younger sister.)

I've spoken with the teacher a number of times over the year so far, and he seems receptive, but... it isn't really helping.

Initially, he said that he would "shift" the homework so that she'd be getting a more challenging problem set. (The materials are structured so for each section of the workbook, easier problems come first, and he usually assigns the first few questions as homework.)

After a month or so, though, this never actually happened — my daughter was coming home with the same problems, and still complaining. So, I talked to the teacher again. This time, he said "Oh, well, she's not doing any of the challenge problems, and that's how I really know if a student is advanced."

Challenge problems? Turns out that these are written on the board in the back of the class every week. They tend to be more like math puzzles than something which follows the curriculum (for example, one was the Knights of the Round Table Marriage Problem). Students may work on these if they're finished with in-class work — but there's no space to discuss them.

My daughter says "I'm not a mind-reader! How can I figure out how to do these things if we don't talk about them in class?" And, that point does seem to have some fairness. I encouraged her to try them anyway to help show the teacher that she can, and she has some, but... I'm sympathetic to her argument that doing brain-teasers doesn't do much to address the thing she's having a problem with.

What she really wants is for the regular curriculum to move at her pace. I know that's really hard when you've got a class of 20, but there's got to be something. Last week, I went back to the teacher again and we talked about the issue with the challenge problems, and I reminded him again that he hadn't actually done the "homework shifting" he'd first promised. So, the new thing is that he sends home a notecard with some extra, more advanced problems.

They're currently doing the very beginnings of algebra; the normal homework has them graphing equations like x = 3y and x = 5y - 5. The first notecard had problems 3x + 8y = 24. My daughter said "Dad, I don't know how to do this." I showed her how to isolate the x variable, and I could see a little nuclear lightbulb go off in her head.

The next day had y = x² and similar, and again, bam — "Dad! This isn't linear!" And last night, she was given some equations and told to find the "x and y intercept" — and to look up what that meant. I showed her on the graphs she'd drawn earlier ("Look, when x is zero, you intercept the y axis...") and again, she didn't need to be told twice.

So.... this is at least offering some challenge, but:

  1. She's still bored in class,
  2. She says "So, when we do get to this stuff, now I'm going to be even more bored! I'd rather just wait to learn it so I at least have something to think about."
  3. If I'm doing all the teaching, what is she going to class for?

And thank goodness I can still dredge up memories of all this stuff — if I couldn't, I'm not sure she'd really do well being completely self-directed via Khan Academy. I mean, we could get a private tutor or something, but that's still extra work, not better work.

I'm kind of out of ideas. Do you have any helpful suggestions I could bring to the teacher? I could talk to the principal, but without some concrete idea for what I want, that just seems like getting the teacher in trouble, which isn't my goal.

  • PS: I realized in looking for it online that that "King Arthur" problem is actually... pretty complicated! See this 14-minute-long youtube explanation. I can see a group of clever middle schoolers figuring it out collaboratively with some discussion and guidance, but assigning it as a thing to do quietly alone without help ... I can see why my daughter feels frustrated. – Public School Parent Dec 23 '16 at 21:52
  • You aren't going to get any particular solution out of this teacher, nor out of any of the following teachers for the next five years. They will (with rare exception) always cater to the bulk of the class. You need to focus your attention on how you can maintain a bright child's spark GIVEN they will probably always be in an educational environment that is not tailored to them. It's tough, but the take-away is that this will be a problem you and your child need to fix, and counting on the school to be responsive will not work. – Ask About Monica Dec 30 '16 at 16:41
5

I taught Spec Ed, so this isn't in my bag of tricks. If the teacher is willing to just have her sit in class, and IF she is getting all her work done, including assignments, perhaps she could be allowed to do other homework assignments, or read or draw quietly at her desk?

I don't know what country you are in. In many areas they teach to the lowest students (no child left behind) and that's horrible for anyone higher than the lowest. A good teacher would allow your child to participate when necessary but do other things when their work is completed if she is not disruptive.

  • Thanks. We could talk about possibilities for this. She says she sometimes helps her other classmates, which is good for her own learning as well. This will at least cover some of the boredom, but still leaves a little bit of "if her actual learning is coming from homeschooling anyway, why is she at school"? – Public School Parent Dec 23 '16 at 21:59
  • 2
    I taught in the public system and it is not set up for individuals. It remains very much within the one size fits all model. Please know that many teachers hate this as much as students and parents. I think a lot of school time is about childcare. Your child is very lucky to have a concerned parent who is willing to teach. Too bad educators (or people who have teaching degrees) aren't running the schools... – WRX Dec 23 '16 at 23:28
  • I'm a little more optimistic than that in general. We've had math teachers the last two years who were able to keep her engaged and excited. – Public School Parent Dec 24 '16 at 15:09
  • Well I do hope you can work this out. Being turned off maths would be a true shame. Best of luck! – WRX Dec 24 '16 at 15:26
3

Talk to the principal and see if your daughter can be moved to the next grade class in math. Make it clear that this request is not meant to be an insult to her current teacher, but to ensure that your daughter is being adequately challenged. That was the opportunity that was presented to me, and I am thankful that I had that opportunity.

Eventually she may run out of math classes in the last year of high school, at which point she could do self-study learning, or take more advanced classes at a community college, or use the free time to take an unrelated elective course.

  • This is a great idea, but it depends on the grade range in the child's school. I attended or taught in schools that ended in seventh grade, also sixth and eighth. After school tutoring might help, but can be expensive. – WRX Dec 24 '16 at 14:57
  • I agree that this is a good idea, but I probably should have mentioned that we already did that. She went to 5th-grade math class in 4th-grade, and then the next year went completely to 6th grade. Also, in our school system it happens that the same teacher has a subject for both 7th and 8th grade, so skipping would move her to a more advanced curriculum but we would still have the mismatch between pedagogy and learning style. (+1 in any case, because this might help someone else in a similar situation.) – Public School Parent Dec 24 '16 at 15:16
0

Well, one thing to keep in mind is that grades are important to teachers and to parents, not necessarily important to a child's life. Why do I say it? Because nobody ever asked me about my first ten years of school ever again when I had matured.

Grades are only relevant for certain educations. But in my country, only grades 11 and 12 count for that.

What's important is a neverending fun and desire for learning. Learning the good stuff. The stuff that matters to her life. Staying curious, communication, how to solve problems, how to set goals, how to decide on a purpose for one's life.

My brother once stopped doing homework because, well, he argued that he knew all the stuff (he could prove it) and that homework was only a means to achieve that. The teacher agreed.

Try to avoid the ADHD label though, because it's more of a symptom than a disease. There's usually a reason for brains to choose a certain behavior. Brains do not like data that feels irrelevant to one's life and schools are amazing at forcing to learn irrelevant stuff that will never be used again and has no impact.

Try to strike a deal with the school and prevent them fron making it the child's problem. Because they'll probably try that.

Even though boredom can be considered torture for young minds. In my opinion at least. You have the right and the obligation to protect your child from a careless school.

One course of action could be to build an emergency package for her. Stuff she can quietly train, read or practice in her head whenever she gets bored, as long as she can prove to know the stuff that is taught in class.

She could write her first novel while the other children practice stuff she doesn't need to practice. Help her to fill the gaps, ideally in a way that compounds to a worthy goal and get the teacher to ignore it.

Teachers are full of occupational hazards. They're used to being right, being the smartest person in the room and some chose their profession because of own problems in school.

Understand him a little, Ask him a lot, make him feel comfortable. Antagonize only if you must. Maybe you can get him by saying "isn't it important that my daughter keeps loving math? It'll be very bad if she feels punished for being a fast learner". Maybe flatter him a little. Because if she gets it immediately, he must explain it well. Try to align his values with your goals. Only kick his butt as a last resort.

  • 1
    However, primary/elementary school is where we learn the basics and build our educational foundation. It is, as far as I am concerned, the most important because we learn how to learn. Now, we could discuss what should be taught and how it is taught and what is or isn't important -- but without that early learning, later learning would be an impossible mess. ;) I think there should be specialists in maths and literacy in all grade schools. – WRX Dec 24 '16 at 21:17
  • 1
    Children should learn good stuff starting with day one. There they learn that they are loved (hopefully). Learning is very very important. I just question the "how" and the "what", not the "if" or the "how much" – Haunt_House Dec 25 '16 at 0:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.