Virtual classes can be problematic for talented children. Teachers design classes so that every student — regardless of their skill level — can learn the material. When delivered in-person, teachers can adapt in ways that prevent more advanced students from becoming too bored. In a virtual classroom, that’s almost impossible.
And that’s a big issue for parents of talented students in the era of COVID-19.
How can a parent be sure that their talented child will get the most out of their math education? Quite by accident, the Institute for Mathematics and Computer Science discovered an answer.
Unlike most schools — where math is presented linearly as a collection of rules that need to be memorized — IMACS teaches its students how to use math as a gateway to critical thinking. Instead of equations and word problems, IMACS students learn to problem-solve and think creatively within the context of games, stories, and puzzles.
For two decades, IMACS has provided online classes for talented middle and high school students, along with face-to-face classes, a home-school program, and a summer camp for bright elementary-aged children. But with the outset of the global pandemic, IMACS immediately invested in moving the face-to-face program to a virtual setting, which resulted in their entire program being online. The result shocked instructors, students and parents.
“My daughter was enrolled in the spring,” recounts Abigail Pendrak, “so I got to see how you transitioned online almost seamlessly. It was beautiful! She still looked forward to her classes every single week!”
Here's how IMACS approached the shift to virtual classes. Students start each week with a multimedia experience of short videos and interactive exercises to introduce core concepts at their own pace. During the week, they all meet up for a Zoom session, where an IMACS instructor introduces more challenging concepts and helps them to understand the material at a deeper level. They’re rewarded with points throughout the year, which can ultimately be exchanged in the online IMACS Store for fun logic-based games.
The results have been impressive. Students covered the same amount of material online as they did in the classroom with the same degree of engagement.
IMACS alumna Anna Cai, an Alabama resident and now parent herself, was thrilled that her daughter would now have the IMACS experience. “IMACS was enough to save me from all the boredom of school,” says Anna who went on to earn a PhD in Economics. “Even though IMACS is just a few hours a week, it was so stimulating that I was fine sitting in my regular school classroom, doing whatever else.”
“We are thrilled that our students now receive the same quality of education – but in a virtual classroom. Using a hybrid model of self-paced learning with weekly Zoom classes ensures that students stay on schedule, learn at their own levels, and receive the challenge and social engagement inherent to a classroom setting,” says IMACS president Terry Kaufman. “Plus, talented students from anywhere in the world can now get the most out of their math education.” Any parent who's interested should consider signing their child up for a free class at https://www.imacs.org/start/ .