"There is no one way"

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Acceleration

This is the first of a series of posts on the topic of acceleration. I have combined them and edited them into one article on my Web site. Read it there!

I remember one student who managed to take my Geometry class in 9th grade even though (unbeknownst to me) she had already taken a traditional Geometry class in 8th grade. When her father found out, he was miffed, because she had ruined his plan to hyper-accelerate her. I asked her if she thought she had been mis-placed. Her response: even though she got an A in 8th grade geometry, that course had had no meaning for her; she was happy to finally understand this material.

Yes, that is an anecdote about a single student, but it is representative of a broad social phenomenon. Over the years, there has been a disturbing trend towards hyper-acceleration in math education. It started with a full dose of Algebra 1 in eighth grade, but it keeps getting more extreme, with Algebra 1 in 7th grade, AP Calculus in 10th grade, and college courses in 11th and 12th grade.

The trend is at its most intense in the socio-economic groups that used to have a monopoly on mathematics beyond arithmetic in the days before "algebra for all". In some ways, it can be seen as an attempt to assert that kids from certain families are just better at math, and deserve the various advantages supposedly conferred by being "ahead", such as admission to fancier colleges. Of course, no one says it quite like that, and I'm sure such a thought doesn't even cross anyone's mind. Still, the class context of this trend towards hyper-acceleration is hard to ignore.

In this and subsequent posts, I will put sociology aside, and focus on an educational analysis of questions around acceleration.

In most cases, parents (and others) present this as solving a problem: the child is not being challenged, the child is bored, and hyper-acceleration seems to be the only solution. This is not always a fair assessment of the problem, but even when it is, except in very few cases, hyper-acceleration is not the best response. Watch this short video for an alternate response by Calgary math educator Gord Hamilton, of MathPickle.



In my next post, I'll discuss the problems with hyper-acceleration, and in the following one, I'll share a strategy to resist hyper-acceleration. In the final post of the series, I will explain that a moderate amount of acceleration can be a good thing.

--Henri

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