This week, the IMACS Blog visits with eIMACS student Shuli Jones. Shuli is one of our star students, having excelled in our university-level computer science courses since the 6th grade. She recently attained the highest score possible on the AP Computer Science A test exam as a high school freshman. A multitalented young lady with a passion for programming, Shuli is well on her way to a bright future.
Please tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you enjoy doing.
My name is Shuli Jones. I’m fifteen years old, and I’m currently a sophomore in high school. In my spare time, I like to participate in a variety of activities: I love to read, I do archery recreationally, I’m part of a trivia team and a classics society at my school, and, of course, I love programming. I’m also interested in learning new languages, coding and otherwise!
You’ve done some amazing things already at a young age. Tell us about the accomplishments and experiences of which you are most proud.
In recent memory, the thing I am the most proud of is scoring a 5 on the AP Computer Science A test. I took it while still a freshman, so it was my first AP test and I was very nervous beforehand. However, eIMACS had prepared me unbelievably well, and that, combined with my own hard studying, meant the test was nowhere near as hard as I expected. When the results came in, both my parents and I were really pleased.
Something else I’m proud of is my performance in my school’s classics society. Every year in May, we participate in the Ontario Student Classics Conference. This is a three-day competition with numerous other schools that tests knowledge of Latin grammar and vocabulary, as well as Roman life, mythology, and history. For me, this was my biggest commitment during the school year, and it’s something that I love to do. I put in many, many hours of hard work studying and working on projects with my team members, and it paid off.
My team won the Phyllis Morgan Trophy for Overall Excellence, which is typically regarded as the "top" trophy at the conference. I won several individual awards in the Intermediate category (for those having taken two years of Latin): First in Pentathlon, for having the best overall score on the five main events (notably with a first in Latin Derivatives), and first in Latin Oral Reading. I was also part of a group of four students who came second in Quaerite Summa ("Reach for the Top"), which is a quiz-bowl style competition based solely on Roman life. It felt great to get recognition for my work on something I love so much.
How did you become interested in computer science?
When I was in sixth grade, I spent Spring Break at a Girls Learning Code camp. They had partnered with eIMACS to give away a scholarship for the first eIMACS programming course, University Computer Science I. To apply for the scholarship, I took the eIMACS Aptitude Test. The test was interesting and challenging, so my parents said they would sign me up for the course. From there, my interest only increased. I’ve taken three eIMACS courses now, and each one has introduced me to new programming languages, topics, and ideas.
What do you enjoy most about the eIMACS computer science courses?
I have to say, the thing that appeals to me the most about these courses is their rigor. I can tell a lot of care was put into creating them: the information is always laid out in a logical sequence, and the learning curve is perfect. Assignments are usually just the right difficulty level to leave me challenged but not frustrated. At the same time, the programming that I’m learning is very in-depth; I feel that I’m being prepared very well to succeed in the rest of the coding world. I especially liked the variety of languages that eIMACS introduced me to (Scheme, Haskell, Python and Java), as well as the focus on "good" programming and not just on getting things done.
What are some ways in which your eIMACS experience has had a positive effect on your academic and non-academic pursuits?
Completely thanks to the knowledge I gained from my eIMACS courses, this past summer I was offered my very first paid programming internship. It was a great opportunity to learn more about the outside world of programming (and the endless debugging that real coders must carry out!). The courses I’ve taken through eIMACS have also greatly increased my capacity for logical analysis and thought; I often find myself applying the programming principles I’ve learned to my schoolwork and assignments. Additionally, eIMACS has had a positive effect on my life overall. I’ve been participating in their courses for three years now, and they have broadened my mind and introduced me to new things I might never have experienced otherwise. I’m so happy that I chose to learn computer science through eIMACS.
What kinds of things do you see yourself doing in the future?
I’m not sure yet. I know that I want to work in a STEM field, and right now my thinking is that I’d like to do something with engineering — perhaps be a mechanical engineer? I want my job to be something that lets me create new things and leave my mark on the world. Whatever that may be, I know eIMACS has helped to prepare me by giving me a solid grounding in programming and logical thought.
As a homeschooled student, Shakthi could learn computer science anywhere. She chose IMACS. From 10th grade to 12th grade, Shakthi completed IMACS’ Modern Computer Science track, which includes University Computer Science I, University Computer Science II and AP Computer Science: Java Programming. Shakthi directly credits IMACS for her ability to deftly switch between various programming languages.
Shakthi’s multiple talents have earned her numerous honors. Original research in Number Theory propelled her and her teammates to the finals of the 2014 Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology where they won a $20,000 scholarship. Shakthi shines as a writer as well, having been named a 2015 YoungArts Winner in Poetry by the National YoungArts Foundation. As a high school student, she earned an "A" in UT Austin’s graduate-level course in Abstract Algebra.
Shakthi was accepted at Princeton, Harvard, UC Berkeley and UCLA and will attend Princeton where she plans to study theoretical math, creative writing and philosophy. She hopes to do research in some capacity throughout her career, either in academia or in a think-tank.
“I chose IMACS because it was thorough â€” it combined my predilection for theory and concept with rigor and practicality, both of which are needed to learn computer science well.”
Jacob began homeschooling in 3rd grade. Because IMACS focuses on ability level, not age, Jacob was able to enroll in his first online IMACS course as a 4th grader. He went on to complete IMACS’ university-level courses in Computer Science and Logic for Mathematics. In 8th grade, Jacob was accepted at Stanford Online High School from which he graduated with scores of 35 on the ACT and 5′s on multiple AP exams.
Many teens have a passion for math, computers and gaming, but few can be a voice of expertise. In high school, Jacob spoke at the Games for Change conference and worked as a teaching assistant for AwesomeMath. He also authored three popular books on gaming, including Minecraft for Dummies: Portable Edition, which has been a best seller in the tech book market, at one point reaching #1 in its category on Amazon.com!
Jacob chose Harvey Mudd where he plans to double-major in Mathematics and Computer Science with an eye toward a career designing educational games.
“IMACS gave me a whole new toolbox for approaching problems and puzzles across many different subjects. I learned how to visualize information and algorithms, and I loved discovering new programming languages like Scheme.”
Sarah wanted to form a deep conceptual understanding of the algorithms and logic used in computer science. She started IMACS in the ninth grade and went on to complete IMACS’ University Computer Science sequence. Graduating as co-valedictorian of her high school class with a score of 1570 out of 1600 on the SAT, Sarah was also a National Merit Scholar Finalist, a National AP Scholar and winner of multiple awards in math, science and language arts.
Sarah credits IMACS with her exposure to functional programming and the powerful uses of data structures and algorithms therein, which are generally not taught in standard high school computer science courses.
Sarah was accepted at Stanford, UC Berkeley, Cornell, UVA, William & Mary, RPI and Virginia Tech. She chose Stanford where she will pursue coterminal bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Computer Science with a specialization in Human-Computer Interaction. During her academic and professional careers, Sarah plans to develop software and do research in natural language processing and computational linguistics and eventually share her knowledge in a teaching capacity.
“My IMACS experience gave me an appreciation for the fascinating and vast field of computer science and was integral to my decision to major in computer science. I learned many different methods for problem-solving, which will assist me in all my endeavors whether related to computer science or not.”
Rachel began attending IMACS as a first grader. Homeschooled since third grade, she has always made time for IMACS in a busy schedule that revolved around competitive chess. While rising to the rank of #1 player in the US and #15 player in the world among girls under 14 and later attaining the title of Woman FIDE Master at just 16 years old, Rachel completed IMACS’ Advanced Math Enrichment and university-level courses in Computer Science and Logic for Mathematics.
As a high school student, Rachel earned A’s in multiple undergraduate math, science and computer science courses taken at Carnegie Mellon. She also scored a perfect 2400 on the SAT on her first attempt and earned 5′s on all of her Advanced Placement exams, including Computer Science A, Calculus BC, Statistics and Physics C.
Rachel chose Harvard, where she plans to major in Computer Science and Mathematics. She credits IMACS for motivating her to choose Computer Science as a major.
“IMACS fostered precisely the clear, logical thought processes necessary to succeed in advanced math and computer science classes. It is very important, both in math and computer science, to be able to think in an abstract manner, and I am grateful that IMACS prepared me very well.”
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When it comes to providing their children with the lifelong benefits of genuine learning, South Florida parents know where to go — IMACS! For over 20 years, the Institute for Mathematics and Computer Science has been giving students an outlet for reaching their highest potential in math, computer science and logical reasoning. IMACS teaches its unique classes after-school at its own centers as well as at many of the top private schools in the tri-county area, including Pine Crest, American Heritage and University School. To meet the growing demand for its classes, IMACS is expanding to new locations in Delray Beach and Pembroke Pines this fall.
What sets IMACS apart from other academic programs? The serious answer is that all materials are developed in-house by a long-standing team of mathematicians, computer scientists, engineers and programmers who are unconstrained by the need to follow a standards-based curriculum. Furthermore, applicants for instructor positions must survive a highly-selective recruitment process and go through a year of rigorous training before being entrusted to lead an IMACS class by themselves. But if you ask the students, they'll simply tell you that IMACS is fun!
While IMACS may be well-known among the gifted and talented community, its program is truly beneficial for most children. "Our students are grouped by ability, not by age," explains IMACS President Terry Kaufman. "This allows us to take elementary school students of a wide variety of abilities and turn them into strong mathematical thinkers. At IMACS, every child is a 'math person'." IMACS challenges kids to think and work in ways that help them outperform the expectations of their parents, teachers and, eventually, their university professors. For the rest of their lives, IMACS graduates simply think better.
One of IMACS' new locations will be open to all students in the greater Delray Beach area; it is located on the campus of the American Heritage School on Linton Blvd. Since 2010, IMACS has offered classes to American Heritage students at the private school’s Plantation campus. AHS student Azzara Nincevic is a long-time IMACS student. "When I began IMACS in first grade, I immediately loved it," she said. "All of the problems were thought-provoking. The curriculum helped me to develop logical thinking skills and made me realize that I would like to pursue computer science in college and after."
The second new location will be at Greentree Preparatory Charter School in Pembroke Pines. "We've always had a lot of students from the Pembroke Pines community enrolled at our Weston center," said Kaufman, "So we're excited to be partnering with Greentree Prep to bring our program to where this population lives." The new Pembroke Pines location will also be convenient for families in Miramar, Cooper City, and northwest Miami-Dade.
At both locations, IMACS will initially offer the first three levels of its highly-acclaimed Mathematics Enrichment program for students in Grades 1-5. At Delray Beach, IMACS will also offer Computer Enrichment, University-Level Computer Science and University-Level Logic for Mathematics. With anticipated growth, additional classes will be added at both locations in the future.
Give your child an unfair advantage in life: enroll him or her at IMACS where students learn to think deeply and creatively. These skills will translate to all areas of your child’s academic and professional life. IMACS is offering FREE placement classes at Delray Beach and at Pembroke Pines during the months of August and September. Families may also register for a placement class at alternate IMACS locations in Boca Raton, Weston, Plantation, Fort Lauderdale and Aventura. To attend a class with your child, call 954.791.2333 or visit imacs.org.
The IMACS Blog is taking a short summer hiatus and will return next month. Have a safe and happy 4th of July!
—Jo Boaler, Professor of Mathematics Education, Stanford
The above quote comes from a recent article by Stanford professor Jo Boaler. Professor Boaler, through her Youcubed organization, advocates for valuing depth and creative problem-solving over computational speed and memorization in K-12 math education. She further argues that classroom emphasis on the latter is partly to blame for the poor understanding and dislike of math in the US and the unfortunate belief by some students that they are not "math people."
How did the US get to a place where so many people think that math achievement is indicated by a limited and limiting set of skills? Would you really measure achievement in literature or composition by how well and quickly a student spells and punctuates? Of course not! Language arts subjects are accepted as a form of art with all of the associated depth, creativity, and multifaceted approaches to thinking. Although genuine mathematics shares these characteristics, for decades school math has typically skimmed the surface of math knowledge, allowed little room for creative thinking, and focused on the "right" way to get the answer.
While math assignments are constructed and graded rather narrowly, language arts assignments are regularly assessed for creativity and style in addition to technical proficiency. But did you know that professional mathematicians also place a high value on creativity and style when it comes to reviewing each other’s work? Clever and elegant proofs are admired far more because they unveil and illuminate the inherent beauty in mathematics in ways that technically correct but unwieldy proofs cannot.
At the K-12 level, an educator skilled in mathematical thinking can teach even the youngest students the kind of rich mathematics that inspires creative problem-solving and a genuine love of learning. It is these skills, not computational speed and memorization, that will better prepare students for success in the modern world.
"My kid could finish his math homework in no time if he would just do it, but instead he drags it out for an hour, and that’s with me having to nudge him through it." Sound familiar? Parents and teachers often assume that a gifted child will automatically be a high achiever given the child’s high abilities, so it comes as a surprise when he or she underachieves. There can be a variety of reasons for underachievement, but a common cause is lack of motivation. Whereas bright students often enjoy working toward external recognition for their accomplishments, gifted learners may not value outside praise as much, particularly if given for activities that do not enhance their learning experience. A child may think, "I already know it, so why should I have to spend time proving that to someone else, especially someone who knows that I know it?"
Parents and teachers searching for ways to reignite motivation in an underachiever would do well to appeal to his or her intrinsic love of genuine learning. Because gifted children typically require little effort to learn standard curricula, they need additional challenges that demand meaningful effort. The satisfaction that talented athletes feel after bearing the weight of a true physical challenge fuels their fire to push to the next level. Talented minds need to feel that same kind of satisfaction, the kind that comes from bearing challenges that have true intellectual weight, so they can make the connection between effort and achievement. Providing those challenges is a first step to bringing back lost motivation. For additional strategies on enhancing motivation in gifted children, visit the Davidson Institute for Talent Development.
When fewer than 1% of 2014 college-bound high school seniors attain a perfect 800 on the math section of the SAT, you know that you’ve met someone special when he’s achieved that amazing feat before even cracking the teen years. That someone is Shiva Oswal, a precocious 11-year-old from Northern California who recently earned that lofty score as part of a program through Johns Hopkins’ Center for Talented Youth (CTY) called the Julian C. Stanley Study of Exceptional Talent (SET). In fact, the probability of an 11-year-old earning a perfect score is less than 0.01%!
According to its website, SET "was created to help extremely talented students achieve their full potential, and, through its research and advocacy initiatives, to enhance the educational opportunities available for all academically advanced students." Those who qualify through their SAT scores gain access to individualized educational counseling and opportunities to connect with mentors and intellectual peers.
How did Shiva do it? The multi-talented board game designer and aspiring professional soccer player mostly studied on his own by taking SAT practice tests. He kept acing the math section at home, so he felt confident that he had done equally well on the real thing, and indeed, he had. (By the way, Shiva is happy with his performance on the Critical Reading and Writing sections too!) His parents, Arvinder and Vikas, are extremely proud, but they also realize the magnitude of the journey known as raising Shiva.
The Moment You Know Your Child is Gifted
When Shiva was around two years old, his parents noticed that he was able to master abstract concepts and make many logical connections. He often saw patterns and anomalies that others overlooked. For example, having observed that cars had license plates with letters and numbers, he was quick to notice a car with an all-numeric license plate and proceeded to ask numerous questions to understand why. The same thing happened when later that week he saw a car with just letters on its license plate.
As with many gifted children, Shiva enjoys probing a subject thoroughly and persistently asks questions in an attempt to acquire deeper knowledge. "How fast can a cheetah run?" "What will happen if it fights an elephant?" "Is a cheetah faster than Spiderman?" These are just some of the questions that his mother, Arvinder, remembers from a time when two-year-old Shiva was intensely passionate about the swift, spotted feline.
By age four, Shiva was solving math problems in his head. When his preschool teacher asked the class how many hundreds make a million, Shiva promptly responded with the correct answer, 10,000, even though he had never been exposed to the concept of multiplication. At that point, Arvinder and Vikas, were certain that their son was gifted. "We felt a sense of responsibility and were quite unprepared to deal with the needs of a relentlessly curious and intensely gifted child," recalls his mother.
From School to Homeschool
As residents of the Silicon Valley area, the Oswals have access to some of the best schools, public or private, in the United States. During the first few weeks of kindergarten, Shiva was very excited to go to school and usually sat in the front row, eager to learn. Over time, the limited intellectual stimulation led to a decline in his interest in school. By the end of second grade, Shiva frequently announced that lunch and recess were about the only things he looked forward to at school. This is when his parents knew that they needed to look for alternatives.
"While schools did the best they could, they were neither adequately prepared nor widely exposed to what it takes to meet the needs of the gifted child and hence lacked the ecosystem to adequately challenge the gifted mind," explains Arvinder. After a few months of intense reflection and research, they concluded that homeschooling would probably best suit Shiva.
One of the key benefits of homeschooling is the ability to customize an education specific to a child’s passions. Of course, homeschooling has hurdles too. As Shiva’s mom describes, "The primary challenge is that most of the research (to design an optimal experience) rests on the shoulders of parents because designing a sufficiently challenging and engaging learning experience requires an intimate knowledge of the individual child’s passions and strengths."
Resources for Gifted Students
Meeting the educational needs of an extremely bright but young person such as Shiva is no easy task. For his parents, the main difficulty is to continuously find resources of increasing complexity and to pursue these without extinguishing the love of learning. Balance and a sense of what truly matters in life act as guiding principles. "Our hope is that Shiva lives a joyful and fulfilling life while pursuing his passions to the fullest, and we hope he is minimally affected by extraneous factors such as the pursuit of wealth, fame or approbation."
The Oswals have found that the most relevant resources for Shiva have been either online or in classes with small groups of passionate, gifted kids with shared interests.
"Self-paced, online programs such as Elements of Mathematics: Foundations from IMACS are uniquely suited to adequately challenge the mathematically gifted," shares Arvinder. "Our son loves EMF as it allows him to accelerate at his own pace and level up accordingly."
Other online programs that have worked for Shiva include Guinevere’s Gifted Group also known as Online G3. G3 classes are grouped by skill level rather than chronological age to allow asynchronous learners to accelerate as needed. Shiva also loves the Druidawn creative writing program, which taps into "the multidimensional and kaleidoscopic world that resides within the gifted mind."
Live Resources and Events
In addition to online courses, Shiva has benefited from small, live (or live streamed) classes. He loves attending classes taught by Dr. Lucian Sega who encourages gifted students to engage in sustained, rigorous mathematical pursuits. As Vikas and Arvinder explain, "Dr. Sega’s ability to make a broad range of advanced, often abstract mathematical concepts crystal clear is stunning. We find ourselves wishing we could travel back in time to restart our own secondary math education with him!"
For introducing a wide range of math concepts in an engaging way, the Oswals are grateful to Yul Inn of the Fun Math Club. Another extraordinary educator and entertainer who has taught the Oswals much is Dr. Arthur Benjamin. "Our family has enjoyed his Mathemagics shows numerous times. Each time we’ve watched him in action, we gained a new insight, a heightened love for learning or both!"
Other Important Resources
Additional resources can be found through support organizations such as Gifted Homeschoolers Forum, the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page, the TAGMAX listserv and the National Association for Gifted Children.
The responsibility of nurturing a young, gifted child takes heartfelt dedication and constant work to continually build an ever-evolving system of resources and support. It is, without a doubt, a labor of love as only a parent can know it, both the wonderful strides and the worrisome stress. But it is all part of a unique path that each family with a child like Shiva must forge together.
As Shiva’s mom put it beautifully, "An important part of what we do has to do with ‘the journey’. The journey has not been delegated. The fondest part is that we are traveling on this journey together. We are constantly amazed at how far a child can go when allowed to freely pursue a passion-centric learning approach. It’s been a joy to see Shiva surprise us every day with out-of-the-box solutions. We are very grateful for all that we are learning together as a family because we often satisfy curiosities rather than march to fulfill an external mandate or to earn a grade."
Editor’s Note: Shiva’s parents granted IMACS permission to disclose his status as a Davidson Young Scholar and as a participant in the CTY SET program.
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