Summer Bloggers 2009 :: Grayson Cooper

Name: Grayson Cooper
Breakthrough Site: Summerbridge Pittsburgh
Subject Teaching: Calculus, Current Events, Leadership and Policy Issues (Yes, four separate subjects-I’m working with the Community Leaders program for rising 9th grade students)
School Attending/Year:  University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2012Cooper

Define “academic rigor.” Tell a story about when you pushed a student to achieve beyond what they thought they were capable? If you’ve just started the summer, tell us how you set a high expectation for academic rigor for the summer from the outset?

I teach Calculus (adapted for Algebra I backgrounds-but which covers the conceptual entirety of a College Calculus I course), something that students, regardless of socioeconomic background, are typically scared of and intimidated by.  

One of my students, BC was going to be absent from Summerbridge for the first week due to a family vacation (a special exceptional exception was made on the conditions that he work with me in advance on the work and do his homework for that week).  So I went to meet with him, first giving him a pre-test on Algebra I concepts.  Then we went straight into Finite Limits, Infinite Limits, the Derivative and the Limit Definition of the Derivative.  This represents about 3 weeks worth of College work, and about our first week of math at Summerbridge.  BC completed this in working with me one-on-one in one and a half hours.

But did he really understand it?  Was he just regurgitating what I told him?  Well, maybe if he was telepathic.  He would spontaneously describe Algebra II concepts (the asymptote for example, simply after looking at a graph of 1/x and solving the infinite limits of 1/x), without any prior exposure to it (I simply drew the graph, drew the dotted lines, “what do these mean?”).  He did similar things with Calculus concepts, such as the numbers to pick for evaluating limits.  Although we moved as fast as possible (I’ve taught this specific course, as a 60 hour course that I developed, over the past two summers-so we didn’t do anything extraneous if he already comprehended-yet even still, with a pace limited only by the informational capacity of our words, his thoughts wandered fast enough even in this intensive setting to uncover these insights)

Incredible, right?  But anyone could spot him from a mile away, right?  I talked with his mom, asked if he’d been identified or evaluated as gifted, “Yes, I’ve identified him, and a few teachers have said so”, but no actual formal identification or evaluation.  I was pleased that his mom was so attentive to him, but disappointed that this potential had not been provided the necessary services to fully develop.

For me, Calculus is academic rigor, independent of background.  BC got 2 of the 10 questions right on the pre-test.  He would unlikely make it past a private school entrance exam.  But Calculus is different.  It doesn’t test where you come from, it shows where you can go.  There is no advantage coming in, other than the motivation and ability that you bring with you, and it allows those with outstanding qualities of both to truly shine.

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