The gap between the most and least prepared students has always been wide in most classrooms. This year, that gap will be a chasm.  

A recent study suggests students suffered on average 4-7 months of “missed learning” during the pandemic. Therefore, schools have an incredibly difficult challenge ahead of them, and they’re going to have to focus on their students struggling the most.  But what about the kids who got ahead last year? Will they lose much of the progress they made last year?

Here are some tips for keeping your advanced learner challenged, inspired, and engaged.

Watch AoPS founder Richard Rusczyk's full webinar on preparing for the return to school.

1. Connect With Like-Minded Instructors and Peers

Connection. That's certainly something we all could have benefited more of over the last year. For students, learning in a silo can be difficult and discouraging. Making sure your student feels connected is certainly a priority for parents this fall. As you pursue new social connections for your student, though, don't forget about academic connections too.

Find teachers or older students who share the same passions as your child. These are the role models your students see themselves in and are inspired by. They can also become lifelong mentors.

A community of like-minded peers can also be instrumental. There are plenty of in-person and online ways to connect your student to those interested in the same subjects. Is there a math club at school (and if not, could you start one)? Are there groups or leagues outside of school? The Math Circle Network includes 300 local math communities. AoPS Academies bring our curriculum to neighborhood campuses.

Online groups can also be an easy (and safe) way to connect, even at a distance. Not only can students turn to each other for support; they challenge each other too. Friendly peer competition also serves as its own motivation. You can join the AoPS Online Community — the largest English-speaking math community in the world — for free.

Don't have access to any of these resources due to the pandemic? You as a parent are the greatest role model. So often, our kids learn by example. So it's critical to model problem solving with the intention of making sure your kids develop those critical problem-solving skills, too.

2. Make Every Day Something New

To engage is to challenge. If you want to keep your student motivated, you have to keep them pushing up against the frontiers of what they're capable of.

That was VERY hard to do during the pandemic. Unless you had a truly outstanding teacher or school program, your student probably dealt with a lot of repetition in their curricula. Repetition begets boredom begets disengagement.

So how do you break through that wall of monotony? By problem-solving! Problem-solving, simply put, means solving problems you've never seen before. Problems that force you to lean on fundamental skills like creativity and critical reasoning instead of memory.

Advanced math is a great way to introduce new, complex, and unconventional challenges to students. By trying multiple approaches to the same problem, students develop creative thinking skills. By spending a lot of time (sometimes hours!) on a single problem, students build up perseverance. By writing out their solutions and thinking through real-life scenarios, students hone their communication skills. 

This practical skill set not only keeps students highly engaged; it also sets them up for success academically and professionally. These skills translate to all subjects: engineering, economics, philosophy, computer science, as well as any situation where you have to take basic ideas and combine them to solve new problems. Not to mention this skill set is completely automation-proof, safeguarding your child’s prospects for those innovations yet to come.

Regardless of the classroom your student will be returning to, try to integrate new challenges into their days:

  • Sign up for an AoPS online math or physics course!
  • Alcumus is an online math learning system that uses adaptive AI to challenge high-performing math students with questions optimized to their skill level.
  • Have a younger student? Beast Academy Playground is a free collection of fun tabletop math games that families can integrate into everyday life for youngsters 4+.

At AoPS, our students solve hard problems every single day. As a result, they no longer run from challenges — they chase after them. And once kids get used to doing hard things, there's no telling what their futures hold.

3. Say Yes to Subject Mastery

The pre-college education system in this country is designed to produce math literacy for all, but mastery for none. This leaves our most motivated students — those inspired by digging deep into subjects — bored and unseen.

AoPS is changing that. Getting young students into deep problem-solving early, when they still have the resilience and tolerance for failure, is so important.

First, find out what your child is really interested in. Prompt them to research into the companies behind the games or hobbies they love. Look at the people who were involved in building those companies and games. They'll discover that those people almost always have a problem-solving background in math or science.

Next, try to find a course or group or teacher that will help your student dig deeper. Allow them the freedom to uncover and turn things on their head. There's no telling what they'll find. And they'll build some critical discovery, communication, and problem-solving skills along the way.

Adding in Art of Problem Solving

We get this question a lot, and it's an important one: How can you integrate AoPS into your student's schedule, alongside traditional school? Many students use AoPS classes during the school year and over the summer, but they tend to make more progress over the summer since there's more time. You can see our different options in the image below.

Here are some ways our families bring "better math" into their traditional classroom:

  • The student arranges "separate math time" with their teacher. Some of our students are permitted to leave their regular classroom during math time and do an AoPS math class instead. This way, they'll get the socialization of staying in the classroom most of the day, but the extra challenge when math time comes.
  • The school accepts AoPS classes for credit upon parent request. Some schools will accept AoPS classes for math and science credits. That way, students don't have to keep up in both math classes. Talk to your teachers about it. We often see that it helps if there's more than one parent asking for it.
  • Add in math as an extracurricular. Some students prefer to do math instead of sports or music. We see these students taking our math courses either right after school (most of our classes are at 4 pm PT/7 pm ET) or on the weekends.
  • Help build a better math program. This one's a much higher investment for parents, but we do see many of our parents working with their schools to build a better math program. It could be improving the core program that's already there or adding on a math team as an extracurricular. Many of the strongest student math teams at schools are parent-run!

At Art of Problem Solving (AoPS), we discover, inspire, and train today’s most motivated students to become tomorrow’s great problem-solvers. Since 1993, AoPS has prepared hundreds of thousands of motivated students grades 2–12 for college and career success through engaging curriculum, expert online instruction, and local academies. 

Through our four programs — Beast Academy, AoPS Online, AoPS Academy, and AoPS Academy Virtual Campus — we offer the most comprehensive advanced math pathway in the world. Compare our program offerings here.

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