Challenging mathematically talented middle school students
Guy Barmoha, director of the secondary learning department for Broward County Public Schools in Florida, wanted to challenge high-achieving, middle school mathematics students beyond what acceleration can offer. Elements of Mathematics: Foundations, a curriculum by the Institute for Mathematics and Computer Science, provided the solution.
EMF is an online self-study curriculum that teaches pre-algebra through precalculus, as well as advanced topics such as group theory, number theory and topology, in just three years. Students are ready to study advanced placement calculus in ninth grade.
The program also covers Florida’s math standards for grades 6 through 8, which allows BCPS to offer EMF as the full-time math curriculum for the district’s middle school students.
“EMF has a strong focus on logic. Instead of rote memorization of rules, students learn why the rules work and how to apply them,” Barmoha says. “EMF also exposes students to topics typically reserved for college math majors, and provides the framework to solve problems that aren’t merely copies of ones they’ve seen. These problems prioritize the underlying relationships of quantities, operations, shapes and sets.”
Barmoha says that while acceleration works in certain situations, learning at a faster pace isn’t necessarily more difficult for the district’s top students. They need a more substantial challenge in order to achieve meaningful growth.
“There are kids who start EMF never having seen a hard math problem in their whole life,” Barmoha says. “Now math is challenging, but also incredibly interesting, so it becomes worth it to wrestle with a problem and to learn to deal with mistakes.”
The program began as a pilot to start the 2015-16 school year. Barmoha says that at the end of the 2014-15 school year, the district tested fifth-graders who met specific criteria.
A group of those tested were chosen as a pilot cohort of 43 students at 16 schools. Three moved out of the district. Entering the 2017-18 school year, 34 of the remaining 40 students, who are now in eighth grade, are still in EMF, which represents an 85 percent retention rate.
Barmoha says the implementation logistics went as expected. Since EMF is a self-study online program and students earn their grades directly from the coursework, the district had to make sure students had laptops and space to sit and study, either in a math class or the library media center.
Teachers do not have to facilitate any of the learning for EMF students. “We didn’t have to train our instructional staff at all because it’s a self-directed learning program and students have access to an online help forum,” Barmoha says.
At present, there are 180 students in grades 6 through 8 using EMF at 34 of the district’s 42 middle schools. Barmoha says EMF not only meets expectations in preparing middle school students for state assessments but also provides them with world-class mathematics education.
“Most, if not all, of our current EMF eighth-graders will be taking calculus in the fall when they start high school,” Barmoha says. “Students are getting the best preparation in mathematical thinking and complex problem-solving that we can give them.”
For more information, visit EMFmath.com/schools