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:
- She's still bored in class,
- 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."
- 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.