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First off if you've been reading my diaries, then you already know that I'm a middle school teacher at a very small school.  I teach four core subjects: Science, Math, Social Studies, and English.  My Master's is in Japanese, so you may be wondering how I even got this job.  Needless to say, through several brilliant strokes of fate, I winded up in the job and have become the anchor to the school.  I am basically the middle school program all rolled up in one package.  I've had some of the parents tell me point blank that if I were not in the school they'd leave.  Anyway, let's get to the story.

I'm teaching a genius.

One of my children is thirteen years old and we just started Calculus I.  Yes, you heard me right.  I taught him Geometry and Algebra II in the space of three months, and now he's finding limits and can derive an equation (both the easy way and the long way).  He understands what a derivative and an integral in fact are.  He's doing high school level physics, long essays on famous people, and learning three languages.  I am of course teaching him Japanese :)  He's an exceptional young man.

And trying to teach him is a 24-7 job.

I am not an experienced teacher (1 year previous experience) and my specialty is not in any of the subjects I teach.  I have to thank my own teachers from my time in middle school for all the hard work they put in.  I still remember Newton's laws of motion and a lot of math.  Still, to stay ahead of him I had to learn Geometry and Algebra II faster than him, or at the very least, be versed enough in it to answer his questions.  I haven't done middle school math since...well middle school...so this was a test of endurance for me.  

I spent the last two weekends taking an online calculus course, got a textbook for him and myself, and have been spending most of my spare time understanding it.  I took a Calculus I course in college, and now I'm wishing I spent more time in class and less time lollygagging.  It's been stressful, and I've been trying to find ways to increase my knowledge and my energy level so I can do the best job I can.  

The kid's father even has me come to their house on Saturdays for two hours to continue to teach him and pays for it.  He told me he has to tell his son to go to bed and stop doing math, and that his son was never so interested in school until I arrived.  I think his father was buttering me up a bit, but other parents have said the exact same thing.  

I was talking with a friend of mine who was giving me help with calculus, and while he was tutoring me, I told him about the genius I was teaching.  I told him how it was taking a lot out of me to try and learn calculus faster than him. He looked at me, paused, and said "I wish my middle school teacher had done that for me.  I learned nothing in math until 10th grade."

Just, wow.

Originally posted to sujigu on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 04:37 PM PST.

Also republished by Teachers Lounge.

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Comment Preferences

  •  i was a math prodigy myself (11+ / 0-)

    after i went to college i developed wider interests and let it go (thank God I didn't end up at MIT with fewer chances to develop wider interests!)

    but 40 years later I am still VERY grateful to the teacher who agreed to teach a special calculus class with me and just two other older advanced math students when I was 14.  She was the first woman I ever met with a doctorate in math.  She was such an encouragement.  She was a role model in more ways than one.

    RIP Mrs. Swick.

    Politics is like driving. To go backward put it in R. To go forward put it in D.
    Drop by The Grieving Room on Monday nights for support in dealing with grief.

    by TrueBlueMajority on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 04:45:28 PM PST

  •  My Cousin Is/Was A Genius (7+ / 0-)

    and I don't often throw around that word. My dad's side of the family professors and PhDs. My mom's side, not so much. I recall my mother begging her sister to send him away to a school where he could be around other people as smart as him. Where he wouldn't be "mocked" for being "different."

    Within a year of going away to college he changed his name and refuses to talk to his parents (he only communicates with me).  

    The good news is he found his calling and all he does these days is study Lemurs. Heck he just got back from six months in Madagascar.

    When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

    by webranding on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 04:55:03 PM PST

    •  My brother is a genius (8+ / 0-)

      He did nothing with it. At all.

      We non-genius siblings got to spend a our childhoods feeling stupid in comparison, only to grow up and discover there's far more to intelligence than the stuff on IQ tests.

      •  the problem with geniuses (7+ / 0-)

        is that they need to learn self motivation, because assigned tasks are too easy for them.

        Even learning advanced topics only goes so far, because those do eventually run out. The next step, researching at the boundaries or creating things, isn't the same as learning in a class.

        In the end, if they don't learn to create something with their gifts, what's the point? Creativity isn't the same as learning calculus.

        •  Yup, Lots of wasted smart alcoholics out there- (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          radical simplicity, mrkvica

          Sad really when all that mental talent goes to waste.
          Had a HS brilliant friend, got a full boat scholarship to college- Partied so hard first year dropped out of college, never left home, married or anything. He's 60 now and I suppose he's lucky to be alive, but that's it.

          "Time is for careful people, not passionate ones." "Life without emotions is like an engine without fuel."

          by roseeriter on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 12:14:53 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  It's hard, and overwhelmingly depressing, ... (0+ / 0-)

            when you find you're surrounded by people of average intelligence who say things like "there's far more to intelligence than the stuff on IQ tests" but really mean "I hate you because I'm not as smart as you".  Sure, IQ tests do not evaluate artistic talent, musical ability, etc., and it certainly doesn't mean that the possessor is a "better" person, but it damn sure DOES evaluate "intelligence", which is the ability to reason, perceive complexity, calculate quickly and many other things.  It's no wonder most people with ultra-high IQs keep that fact to themselves; revealing it isn't worth the grief it brings.

            "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure about the universe." -- Albert Einstein

            by Neuroptimalian on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 07:58:29 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Wow. That's an interesting interpretation. (0+ / 0-)

              Methinks you've spent time with people who aren't in our family, and who treated you badly. I hope you've found people with whom you fit better than whoever treated you so poorly.

              I won't go into my family's dynamics, except to say that social intelligence is critical, but is not tested via IQ tests.

              As a person with a decent, but not quite genius IQ, I can understand what you mean when you refer to jealousy among people who are less intelligent. It happens. However, not everyone with less intelligence is jealous. Most people I have encountered who disdain those of greater intelligence have generally run into those whose arrogance outshines their intelligence.

  •  Math prodigies (11+ / 0-)

    Good for you for being such a dedicated educator! Your kids are lucky to have you.

    I have had the privileged mentoring several kids like that. I avoid the word "teaching" because my belief is that my time is better spent finding appropriate resources for them than in trying to teach myself something in order to teach it to a kid whose native math ability is that high. Keeping me in the loop can only slow them down.

    Two suggestions for you. First, rethink the accelerated march thru the traditional school curriculum you are currently on. Great article on that here.

    Next, consider suggesting that the family shift from tutoring for math acceleration to distance learning courses specifically geared towards kids like this. Johns Hopkins and Sanford both have appropriate programs, which are based on SAT scores taken in 7th or 8th grade. Another great resource I highly recommend for distance learning math courses and books geared towards highly gifted math kids here.

    •  that's a nice article (11+ / 0-)
      Another danger of the calculus trap is social. Aside from the obvious perils of placing a 15 year old in a social environment of 19 year olds, there are other drawbacks to early acceleration. If ever you are by far the best, or the most interested, student in a classroom, then you should find another classroom. Students of like interest and ability feed off of each other. They learn from each other; they challenge and inspire each other. Going from ‘top student in my algebra class’ to ‘top student in my college calculus class’ is not a great improvement. Going from ‘top student in my algebra class’ to ‘average student in my city’s math club’ is a huge step forward in your educational prospects. The student in the math club is going to grow by great leaps, led and encouraged by other students.
      I was saved by the library.

      A problem a smart kid can have is the game: "how lazy can I be and still get an A," because that can be more challenging than doing the coursework on time, like playing golf with a handicap.

    •  Music Instruction Also Suggests Teaching Gifted (6+ / 0-)

      learners differently from the mainstream methods.

      I only teach recreational traditional music but the same principles apply. The teen years is a time of a 2nd growth spurt in brain & nerve tissue that doesn't all survive through life unless it finds a use.

      So a teen learner is neurologically a gifted learner compared to an adult who decides to take up the same instrument just 10-15 years later. It'd be criminal to follow the same course for an eager teen instrumental student that is best for an adult learner.

      I think I recall hearing that the intellectual areas of the brain are similarly enhanced during these years so it's probably desirable to consider giving the intellectually gifted student instruction that's most tailored to develop those talents when they're prime of the prime.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 05:54:15 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  As A Kid I Had Some Speech Issues (7+ / 0-)

    the public school teachers, I would later find, read books on their own time to try to figure out how to help me. Then they did after school and during recess.

    I've spoken to crowds of thousands of people. They helped me in ways I can't really put to words.

    Years ago I tracked them down to thank them. That child you are working with will recall you and what you are doing for the rest of his life.

    When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

    by webranding on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 05:06:56 PM PST

  •  You two could check out (8+ / 0-)

    Mathcounts  http://mathcounts.org/ and The Art of Problem Solving  http://www.artofproblemsolving.com/ as well as other sites like MIT's Step or Stanford. Good luck.

    "George RR Martin is not your bitch" ~~ Neil Gaiman

    by tardis10 on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 05:07:07 PM PST

  •  Some young prodigies are for real. (6+ / 0-)

    A good many, unfortunately, are fake. Particularly in this era of the narcissistic helicopter parent, many kids have been relentlessly hounded to excel by adults in their lives, and they "burn out" while they're still young.

    Maybe the prodigy in your care is for real. Good for you for your weekend brush-up on calculus. You really want to be of service. As should be a primary motivating ethic for a teacher.

    I felt a pang as I was reading, thinking back on my own (mostly unhappy) school situation. I wish adults in my life had accommodated my differences more, and taken an open-minded, want-to-be-of-service attitude, as you're taking. Society smiles on the aptitude for learning out of books. This works in your favor, relative to this kid. Generally, it works in favor of this kid finding sympathetic teachers and tutors throughout the course of his academic career. Beside facility with book-learning, differences in learning, too, are never a "bug." They're always a "feature." That's what my own parents and teachers most certainly didn't get, and for that reason, I've had to play catch-up well into adult life.

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 05:10:29 PM PST

  •  Great Story. Kudos. (7+ / 0-)

    When I am asked about inspirational teachers that I've had, two leap to mind immediately.  Both were middle school teachers.

  •  Republished to Teachers' Lounge (6+ / 0-)

    And I sent you an invitation so you can do that for yourself.

  •  My deep respect to you. Don't do it alone. (5+ / 0-)

    Look for other resources like Kahn Academy videos.

  •  It's these stories that we educators live for. (9+ / 0-)

    Take that kid and give him every opportunity possible--math camp, NASA summer camp, pre-college courses at the local branch campus, etc., etc., etc.  There are people all the way up the food chain who would give their left big toe to make sure that he has the chance to be the best person (person != mathematician, though that's part of it) he can become.  

    Reach out in your community if you can, and if you can't then I encourage you to consider reaching out to we Kossacks to provide him and any other students with the chances to make the most of themselves.  We're the super-blue side of Team Blue, after all, and many of us will bend over backwards to hold up our side of the social contract!

    You think it's hot? Imagine what it would be like if global warming really existed!

    by JSc on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 05:52:07 PM PST

  •  Math competitions (6+ / 0-)

    Are a way that kids like that can find peers, as well as a way to connect with highly selective programs for the mathematically gifted, and with adults who are experienced in mentoring kids like that. A previous poster mentioned www.mathcounts.org , which is the main national contest for middle schoolers. You should also check out the American Mathematics Competitions. this is a series of exams leading to selection of the US team to the international mathematics olympiad for high school students. The bottom exam in the aeries is for grades 8 and below. There is a wealth of info about other contests and other resources at the link I gave above, and which was also mentioned by a previous poster www.artofproblemsolving.com . This road is actually pretty well paved. You do not need to re-invent the wheel here.

  •  I am so envious! (6+ / 0-)

    It took until I was 20 to get through high school. I was in 10 different school systems and in each one, I maybe found one teacher that was really there. And a lot of placeholders.
    I consistently score high on tests but just could not get with the program so my grades were abysmal.
    Luckily for me I went to an experimental school attached to a teachers' college (among other places) where they tested out Evelyn Woods Reading Dynamics on 10-year-olds (it works). As a result of finally learning to read, I was able to educate myself to some extent, but not in any methodical manner, huge gaps between subjects that interested me.
    Had one person spent enough time to figure out where I was, my life would have been MUCH better.
    Good on you man, and lucky for your student, I hope he finds a nourishing environment after he leaves your class.

    If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

    by CwV on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 06:29:02 PM PST

  •  When my astronomical SATs earned me an (8+ / 0-)

    interview at Harvard, I made a big point that my greatest education had been in a remarkable grade school in Bethesda, Maryland in the early 1960s, especially 4th grade.

    Harvard did not accept me, for reasons that are kind of comical in retrospect, but I ended up getting an even better education at a very good university.

    I think about my wonderful grade school teachers a lot more than I think about my various teachers in high school and college, with some exceptions.

    My advice is this:  stand back.  Don't push.  Make resources available (as you're trying so hard to do).  This kid is probably smarter than you, and you can't cram anything down.  Facilitate his self-education.

    Thank goodness I had some teachers do that for me.

    I used to skip school very often in late high school, and I had a note written by me and signed by my mother that said:  "My son needed to take off yesterday so that high school would not interfere with his education."  I got away with that at least 20 times, and still had the highest grades and highest SATs in the school.

    Best of wishes for your good problem!  It's a wonderful problem to have as a teacher!

    •  The advice to "stand back" is spot on. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Timaeus

      As is the advice to make resources available.  In fact, I'd strongly recommend that the diarist do just that and not worry about trying to "teach".  Just give the kid material as fast as he wants to absorb it and be available to answer questions that may arise (or find a resource that can).  If he's allowed to progress at his own pace, he'll be FAR happier than if held back by some program or system designed by someone who hasn't the slightest idea how the mind of a genius actually works or what it's capable of.

      I was lucky enough to have a fourth grade teacher who did this for me, and put me on a path that helped combat the crushing boredom that comes with being a student confined by an unequipped public school system.  It was probably the greatest thing anyone in my life did for me and I'll be forever grateful.

      "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I am not sure about the universe." -- Albert Einstein

      by Neuroptimalian on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 08:06:47 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Amen. We both had teachers, but we both (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Neuroptimalian

        had the best teachers in 4th grade.  And that really did turn my life around!  

        It's so sad that so many millions or billiions (considering the whole world) of students never ever get that kind of real teaching.  

        God save us all.

  •  Steer him online (9+ / 0-)

    My 15 yo decided he wanted to learn Java to help him with a computer game so he did what kids do and went to youtube and found some classes. Turns out the classes he found are an actual Stanford computer science  course. He can even go to the class website and get the reading and homework assignments.  He asked for the (very expensive) textbook for his birthday.  Now when he is on his computer he is no longer playing games, he is "coding." It is now all arrays this and algorithyms that, teaching his program to calculate velocity of something or other and getting some newbbit of code to work.

    It is a different world.

    If you want something other than the obvious to happen; you've got to do something other than the obvious. Douglas Adams

    by trillian on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 06:39:19 PM PST

  •  The Genius I taught (6+ / 0-)

     I had the privilege of teaching a true mathematical genius many years back.  When he was a third grader (8) I taught him high school algebra.  He was at the top of the class, and his babysitter(14) was also in the class.  He tutored her.

    When he was in the fourth grade (9), I taught him Geometry and Computer Programming.  But these where only part of his interest.  He also wrote poetry, played piano very well, and composed his own music, mimicking the style of Chopin.  He thought Chopin was cool.  

    In the summer between 4th and 5th grade, he really took off, taking College Algebra at the University, then taking Calculus in the fall instead of going to 5th grade.

    I followed up on him some years later and discovered his real love was his music.  Last I heard, he was the conductor of an orchestra at a University in the Midwest.

    Students like him and like what you now have come along seldom in any career.  Enjoy, do the very best you  can, and do not feel you are short changing his student.  You are not.

    "We borrow this Earth from our Grandchildren."

    by Arizona Mike on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 06:40:21 PM PST

  •  The boy's parents need to look into (8+ / 0-)

    the Davidson Institute. It is an organization for profoundly gifted children. The problem is that no one you or the parents know will have had any experience with raising or teaching a child like this. There are only a few thousand in the entire US. No teacher in the school will have ever had one as a student. The Davidsons have been working with them for almost twenty years.

    Before we found the Davidsons, I was the president of the local gifted education group. I would describe our experiences and the rest of the parents would just stare. I guess they thought I was bragging when I was really looking for help.

    Our first meeting with other Davidson parents was astonishing. We shyly trotted out some of our more outrageous stories and someone always piped up "That sounds just like my son!" It was wonderful to be able to compare notes and figure out what was "normal" and what was we really should be concerned about.

    All of the parents were concerned that their children were not socialized properly and didn't have any friends. Within five minutes the kids were playing together normally (at least if you didn't listen too closely to what they were saying). My now college-age children still have many close friends from the Davidson group.

  •  Teaching (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    hotheadCA, CA wildwoman

    I know what you're doing can't be easy. Good for you! Good teachers aren't appreciated enough.

  •  You didn't say where you're located (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CA wildwoman

    Is there a junior college or even a university nearby?

    I benefited from taking evening-school calculus at a nearby junior college when I was about that age.

    You should also consider the on-line options available now.
    I've been impressed with the quality of Wikipedia entries on math subjects.  One can learn a lot just by browsing around topics such as algebra, calculus, number theory, statistics, probability, set theory, category theory, lambda calculus, etc.

    Many universities such as MIT have on-line courses, and many of those are free.  Even the courses that cost a few hundred dollars might be appropriate, depending on circumstances.  (They will tend to provide access to an actual human for evaluation and guidance.)

    A crucial thing to note is that at some point soon, merely getting information from text-books won't cut it.  Your student will benefit greatly from one-on-one exposure to professionals that can provide the kinds of insights you don't see in the texts: learning how to approach a problem or a subject, knowing which journals to follow, getting a sense of which ideas are currently "hot", etc.   They could perhaps suggest access to symposia, conferences, etc. that would help your student begin to create an academic social network.

    My experience was that learning the rote stuff in textbooks was easy and interesting, but the "AH HA!" moments came when I suddenly understood how and why a professor or researcher or historical figure thought they way they did.  That allowed me to see things through their eyes and approach problems in novel ways.  I often found it maddening when people didn't understand that I was trying to figure out how they thought, not how to solve the particular problem in front of us.

    I'm not sure if that rambling helps, but I'd be happy to ramble more if I understood the situation more.

  •  Possible resource: EPGY at Stanford (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CA wildwoman

    You should look into this:

    Stanford's Education Program for Gifted Youth

    I don't have personal experience with EPGY, but (many years ago!) worked at IMSSS, a department that preceded it, and know some of the people involved in it.

    This would be a connection to some very bright people who have decades of experience with gifted children and with the production of state-of-the-art online instructional material. (IMSSS was teaching Stanford courses by computer in 1974!)

  •  as a library assistant, I have had several home- (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GreenMother

    schooling families recommend khanacademy.org for math, and it appears to be branching out.

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