The Institute for Mathematics and Computer Science (IMACS) celebrates 25 years of serving talented children by awarding $25,000 in a mix of scholarships to enroll in its online courses or to attend its South Florida after-school program. From humble beginnings of just 37 students in Plantation, Florida, IMACS has grown to include four South Florida learning centers and serves more than 4,500 students throughout the United States and in more than 15 countries.
IMACS President, Terry Kaufman, attributes the institute's longevity and growth to parents' concerns about education. "Many of our local families, as well as our online students, are actively looking for ways to develop the critical thinking skills needed in a rapidly modernizing world, and they are not finding that through traditional means," Kaufman said. "At IMACS, our goal is for students to become better thinkers and problem solvers for the rest of their lives, not just for the next standardized test."
Broward County Public Schools (BCPS), the sixth largest district in the US, recognizes the advantages of IMACS' approach. In 2015, BCPS selected the institute’s Elements of Mathematics: Foundations (EMF) online program as full-time curriculum for its top middle school math students. EMF covers pre-algebra through precalculus plus several university-level topics with depth and rigor that far exceeds traditional gifted math programs. Barrington 220 School District in Illinois recently became the second public school district to license EMF for its gifted students.
"EMF teaches very advanced mathematical concepts, yet the presentation and problem sets are designed in a way that allows middle school kids to learn the material online," noted Maxim Chekmasov, who holds a Ph.D. in mathematics and whose son Andrei is in the program.
IMACS' focus on logical thinking and creative problem-solving has produced results for its graduates. Many go on to excel at top universities of their choice, including Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, MIT and Caltech, and pursue careers in fields as varied as technology, medicine, engineering, law and academia.
IMACS classes and online courses challenge students by ability level, not by age. Online courses are self-paced and accessible 24/7 so that students can work at their individual pace and at times that fit their schedule. Local students are placed into appropriately challenging classes and moved up as they demonstrate mastery.
IMACS will raffle off 20 scholarships to enroll in the EMF Pre-Algebra Plus online course and five scholarships to enroll in an eIMACS university-level course in computer science or mathematical logic.
On each Tuesday from July 25th to September 5th, IMACS will randomly select winners from among students who score at least 30 on the EMF Aptitude Test or attain a qualifying score on the eIMACS Aptitude Test in the seven days prior to a raffle drawing. Parents may register for the EMF Aptitude Test at www.emfmath.com and for the eIMACS Aptitude Test at www.eimacs.com.
To be entered in a scholarship raffle for local classes, prospective South Florida students must attend a free IMACS placement class any time between August 7th and September 30th. Parents may schedule a placement class by calling IMACS at 954.791.2333 or by reserving their spot at www.imacs.org.
Raffles for online courses are open to new students only. Limit one entry per student. Online winners will be notified by email, so be sure to check the email account you used when registering.
October 2nd Winners
Ahana T, Math Enrichment
Armaan G, Math Enrichment
September 25th Winners
Lukas L, Math Enrichment
Noah K, Math Enrichment
Abigail D, Math Enrichment
Adam R, Math Enrichment
Aiden Z, Math Enrichment
Alan M, EMF Pre-Algebra Plus
Alex E, eIMACS Logic for Mathematics I
Andrea D, Math Enrichment
Andrew A, Math Enrichment
Anjali S, Math Enrichment
Anna K, EMF Pre-Algebra Plus
Antonio C, EMF Pre-Algebra Plus
Brent T, Math Enrichment
Brielle S, Math/Computer Enrichment
Caleb S, EMF Pre-Algebra Plus
Danielle M, Math Enrichment
Denitsa Z, Math Enrichment
Dhava N, Math Enrichment
Elijah R, EMF Pre-Algebra Plus
Erin S, EMF Pre-Algebra Plus
Ethan D, EMF Pre-Algebra Plus
Evan J, EMF Pre-Algebra Plus
James M, eIMACS University Computer Science I
James R, EMF Pre-Algebra Plus
Jesse T, EMF Pre-Algebra Plus
Joanna B, eIMACS University Computer Science I
Jojo K, EMF Pre-Algebra Plus
Lance G, EMF Pre-Algebra Plus
Leo S, EMF Pre-Algebra Plus
Levi G, EMF Pre-Algebra Plus
Logan G, eIMACS University Computer Science I
Lucia M, EMF Pre-Algebra Plus
Luke S, Math Enrichment
Malachi C, EMF Pre-Algebra Plus
Natalia M, Math Enrichment
Nathan H, Math Enrichment
Pedro M, Math Enrichment
Roberto F, Computer Enrichment
Sam M, eIMACS University Computer Science I
Sebastian L, Math Enrichment
Sohail H, Math Enrichment
Sophia R, Math Enrichment
Spencer B, EMF Pre-Algebra Plus
Tyson R, Math Enrichment
Varsha S, EMF Pre-Algebra Plus
Vrishak V, EMF Pre-Algebra Plus
Wyatt C, EMF Pre-Algebra Plus
The Institute For Mathematics and Computer Science (IMACS) has received a grant of $5,000 from the Multiplied Foundation Fund of the Community Foundation of Broward to provide full scholarships worth over $10,000 for 20 students to enroll in IMACS' 2016 Hi-Tech Summer Camp.
The Multiplied Foundation was founded by 14-year old IMACS student, Peyton Robertson, with the mission of supporting and expanding STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. Peyton has a deep appreciation for how early exposure to enriching STEM activities can motivate a young person. At 11 years old, he won the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge. By 14, he was awarded three patents.
Peyton credits his academic accomplishments, in part, to the strong foundation in mathematical thinking that he developed while attending IMACS: "The early skills I developed at IMACS helped me to have a deeper understanding of the math and computer science classes that I have taken in school. My hope is that other students will benefit from the foundation that the IMACS program can provide."
"IMACS is honored to be working with the Multiplied Foundation to provide scholarships to 20 very deserving students," said IMACS President Terry Kaufman. "Bright and curious minds come from all backgrounds, and we all need to do more to identify and nurture these kids. We thank the Community Foundation of Broward for making this opportunity possible."
Camp scholarships were awarded to rising 4th through 9th graders who have a desire to build their math and logical reasoning abilities but who would otherwise not have the resources to attend. Recipients were selected from applicants at Piney Grove Boys Academy (PGBA) in Lauderdale Lakes and "I Have A Dream" Foundation in Miami.
James Wilson III, a rising 5th grader at PGBA, is excited to attend the camp. "Every day we get to do a cool project and learn something new. I can't wait for tomorrow," exclaimed James. "It's great to see my son, who is very athletic and into sports, also be so intrigued and interested in technology thanks to his time with the program," observed James's mother, Melissa Mata. "The exposure he's getting at IMACS is definitely priceless."
Frances Bolden, Educational Administrator at PGBA, is also impressed with IMACS: "I could tell from meeting the staff and touring the facilities that IMACS is about challenging students through the latest technology to expand their knowledge to a new level." She added, "Everyone gave us a warm welcome, and I left knowing that our students were in good hands."
IMACS Hi-Tech Summer Camp program consists of logic puzzles, computer programming, virtual robotics, electronics, and an element of competition. Working solo and in teams, kids learn how to think logically and creatively while having fun.
About the Multiplied Foundation
The Multiplied Foundation's mission is to support and expand STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. The Multiplied Foundation was founded by Peyton Robertson and seeded with the $100,000 he won during the 2015 Pebble Beach Pro Am's Chip Off Challenge. Each year, the Multiplied Foundation distributes 5% of its 12 quarter rated average value to organizations supporting STEM education. For more information, visit multipliedfoundation.org.
The Institute For Mathematics and Computer Science is an independent teaching and educational research institute focused on helping students reach their highest potential in math, computer science and logical reasoning. For more information, visit imacs.org.
About the Community Foundation of Broward
Founded in 1984, Community Foundation of Broward helps families, individuals, and corporations create personalized charitable Funds that deliver game-changing philanthropic impact. We provide leadership on community solutions, and foster philanthropy that connects people who care with causes that matter. Our 450 charitable Funds represent $173 million in assets and have distributed $89 million to create positive change. For Good. For Ever. For more information about Community Foundation of Broward, visit cfbroward.org or call
954.761.9503. Connect at #cfbroward @cfbroward
The IMACS Blog is taking a short summer hiatus and will return next month. Have a safe and happy 4th of July!
IMACS hopes this Thanksgiving day finds you with much to be thankful for as you enjoy the company of friends and loved ones. To our students, parents, instructors, staff and partner schools — you have our deepest appreciation for making this another fun-filled year of learning and achievement!
The IMACS Blog will return next Thursday, December 5, with a regular feature article. Happy Thanksgiving!
Our regular blog postings will resume next Thursday, November 29th. In the mean time, here’s a little list of things we are thankful for at IMACS.
• We are thankful for our incredibly talented and passionate instructors who, on a daily basis, inspire so many bright, young people to achieve great things.
• We are thankful for our tireless and dedicated staff who are what holds this institute together and allows us to accomplish so much.
• We are thankful for our ingenious curriculum developers whose boundless creativity and innovation never cease to amaze.
• We are thankful for our partner schools who embrace our vision and invite us to be part of their students’ educational journey.
• We are thankful for our supportive parents, all of whom make varying sacrifices to give their children the opportunity to learn with us and who entrust them into our care.
• Most of all, we are thankful for our amazing students whose pure joy in learning is an endless source of energy and motivation for all of us at IMACS.
To all of our blog readers, IMACS wishes you and your families a warm and happy Thanksgiving!
Can it really be that almost a year has passed since our very first ‘Staff Picks’ blog post? That means another class of IMACS graduates is moving on to new adventures in learning, and we are busily planning for our Hi-Tech Summer Camp. It also means that it’s time to meet three more members of our IMACS family—Daniel Payne, Ken Matheis, and Lauren Rosenfarb—and to get their book and movie recommendations for this summer.
Daniel Payne, Assistant Director and Senior IMACS Instructor
Dan has been teaching for IMACS since 2003. He teaches all levels of math and computer enrichment and our University Computer Science I course. In addition he teaches many of our Placement Classes for new students. Dan is very enthusiastic in everything he does and it shows as his students love his classes and always hope that he’ll be teaching them again the following year. Dan received his BA degree in Anthropology from Florida Atlantic University and also has an extensive IT background.
Here are Dan’s picks:
“My favorite book is The Hacker Crackdown by Bruce Sterling. It’s a true crime story about the the dawn of computer hacking as a romanticized pursuit for teenagers. These were my contemporaries, and as a part-time denizen of the electronic BBS culture, I felt connected to the stories in this book. Sterling dissects the lives of the ‘villains’ to walk the reader through what lead the kids to commit these crimes and how the FBI was in way over their heads trying to catch them. There is something special about the electronic ‘nerd’ culture heroes who were only known by a select few until the movie The Matrix formalized this appeal to the masses in 1999.
That leads me to my favorite math/science movie. Yes, The Matrix. Pop culture latched on to the visuals, but for me that is only a bonus. It was the right movie at the right time, bridging the shift in the meaning of ‘nerds’ from a pejorative for socially awkward brainiacs to exceptional, savvy people who know how to do important things the rest of us do not. The protagonist, Neo, a hacker superhero, could not have existed on screen ten or even five years prior. The few movies that tried it were unable to capture the hacker/gamer culture that had already existed on a small scale for decades. Yet he seems perfectly believable ever since.
One more thing. The film was an excellent vision of Rene Descartes’ ageless dilemma that there can be no proof that our world is as our senses inform us. This is another well trodden topic that the Wachowski siblings did better in this film than any other rendition I have seen or read.”
Ken Matheis, Senior IMACS Instructor
Ken is a senior instructor for our computer science program. Ken was a student in Project MEGSSS, the predecessor program to IMACS, through 11th grade. When MEGSSS lost its public funding for his senior year, he completed his courses at IMACS as one of our first group of students! Ken received bachelor’s degrees in Mathematics and in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Rice University. He was a part-time IMACS instructor from 2000 through August 2011. During part of this time, Ken completed his MS and PhD in Mathematics with a specialization in Cryptography. Since September 2011 Ken has been working full-time with us as an instructor and also as a programmer working on several important projects, including our ISLANDscience virtual science lab.
Here are Ken’s picks:
“For my favorite TV series, I have to go with Star Trek. No matter which spinoff series you watch, you see Gene Roddenberry’s vision of what humanity could accomplish if we got over our minor differences and worked collectively to solve the more serious problems we face, such as widespread hunger, severe poverty, and abject racism. Equally important, the characters also demonstrate the right attitudes one should have when resolving conflicts: cooperation over stubbornness, empathy and diplomacy over aggression, understanding over ignorance. Sure, there are plenty of physical conflicts as well, but entering into them is depicted as a last resort.
My favorite book is The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov. The Foundation Trilogy focuses on the application of mathematics to human psychology with the goal of predicting human reactions to various events. Such a project is breathtaking in scope, requiring statistical analyses of quadrillions of humans. The outcomes, however, only apply to groups of people; they do not and never can predict the reactions of a single individual. Asimov tells a masterful tale of a 30,000 year old collapsing galactic empire and a protagonist who uses this technique to attempt to rebuild it in a mere thousand years. It inspires me to push the limits of mathematics in my own fields in order to benefit our society.”
Lauren Rosenfarb, Marketing Director
Lauren began her IMACS career in 2005 as an instructor. She is now our Marketing Director and also manages our homeschool programs. Lauren graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in Public Relations and Journalism and Mass Communication. We love having such multi-talented people on our staff!
Here are Lauren’s picks:
“I really enjoyed many of the math and science focused books and movies previously mentioned in our ‘Staff Picks’ segment. Two additional math and science movies definitely worth watching are Moneyball and Contact.
Moneyball, originally a book by Michael Lewis, is based on the true story of Oakland Athletics baseball general manager Bill Beane (portrayed in the movie by Brad Pitt). After loosing many of his star players, Beane has to reassemble a ball club despite an almost impossibly tight budget. Beane hires Jonah Hill’s character, Peter Brand, a young, Ivy League economics grad, with radical ideas about building a winning team. Using statistical analysis, Brand and Beane find a whole team of undervalued players and invest, not in stars, but rather in probable hits and runs – the stuff that wins are made of. The idea of valuing statistical data and probabilities over intuition and experience does not sit well with Beane’s scouts and controversy ensues.
Mathematics also plays an important part in the movie Contact, based on the Carl Sagan novel of the same name. In the movie, Jodie Foster’s character Ellie uses radio antennas at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence project (SETI) to listen for any radio signals coming from space in hope she will discover a message from intelligent extraterrestrial life forms. After years of detecting nothing but natural random radiation, Ellie finally picks up a transmission that consists of the first 261 consecutive prime numbers. Because there is almost no chance of that sequence of prime number randomly occurring in nature, Ellie theorizes that the radio transmission must have been created by an extraterrestrial intelligent life form.”
Dan, Ken, and Lauren – thank you for sharing these books and movies. Our blog readers will surely enjoy these thoughtful suggestions.
It’s winter at IMACS headquarters in South Florida. What does that mean? Sunshine. Temperature in the 70s and 80s. New Yorkers at the mall. Gotta love it! With the holidays around the corner, you might be wondering what to get for the math or science lover in your family. So we asked members of our IMACS family to share some of their favorite books or movies for our Winter 2011 Staff Picks list. Instructors Guy Barmoha, Frances Keiper and Jeff Piskun offered some terrific recommendations. If you’re still in need of ideas, check out more favorites from our Summer 2011 Staff Picks blog post.
Guy Barmoha, Senior IMACS Instructor
Guy has a BS in Mathematics from Florida State University and a Master of Science in Teaching Mathematics from Florida Atlantic University, where he continues to serve as a Teaching Assistant. He has been a part-time instructor with IMACS since 1995 and has taught all levels of our Mathematics Enrichment courses as well as the summer Logic Puzzles course, a Computer Enrichment course, and an Electronic course.
Guy is an award-winning teacher who taught middle school math for 11 years, including the Great Exploration in Mathematics gifted program. He received the prestigious Edyth May Sliffe Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1997. In 2001, he was a finalist for Broward County Teacher of the Year and was named Broward County Middle School Teacher of the Year in 2004. For the past four years, Guy has been a Mathematics Curriculum Specialist for Broward County Public Schools, and before that, he spent two years teaching math to distance-learning students. As you can tell, Guy is one busy, well, guy! But he always manages to find time to teach at IMACS. As he puts it, “Teaching here is always a bright spot in my week – the interactions with the students, parents, and staff always make it feel like home. Not to mention the great curriculum!”
Guy’s survey response is below:
“There are quite a few books that I enjoyed reading, not all related to mathematics. Even though we are mathematics educators, we all understand the importance of literacy. It is hard for me to pick a favorite book, so I will choose two to discuss. One that has some sentimental value, especially since we are discussing IMACS, is called What Is the Name of This Book? by Raymond Smullyan. This is more a compilation of logic puzzles than a novel; however, there are surely stories told within the book. You may ask why I chose this book. Well, the answer is simple – this is the book that reminds me of learning to teach at IMACS. In this book, students have to solve logic puzzles to find their way around the Island of Knights and Knaves, where Knights always tell the truth and Knaves always lie. Many of our logic puzzles that we use at IMACS are based on the problems in this book and other Raymond Smullyan books. I can still see our late founder, Burt Kaufman, teaching from this book and showing all the cases and subcases that students have to consider to solve the puzzles.
The second book is named Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos. Since we mentioned how important literacy is, we should not overlook the importance of numeracy. This book discusses consequences of innumeracy. A story from the book that sticks with me is the one about the stockbroker. The story goes something like this …
… Suppose I told you that I could predict the movement of the stock market correctly for the next five weeks in a row. Would you trust me enough to be one of my clients? Most people would. Well what you may not know is that I gave the same deal to 2,048 people. I then told half of them that the stock market will drop, and I told the other half that the stock market will rise. After the first week, there are 1,024 people who believe I predicted the movement of the market. Of those 1,024 people, I tell half that the market will drop and half that it will rise over the second week. By the end of this cycle, I will have 64 people who will believe that I am knowledgeable enough about the stock market to be able to predict its movement for five weeks in a row. …
This book was full of interesting situations like the one mentioned above. This is why I enjoyed reading it and refer to it often.”
Frances Keiper, IMACS Instructor
Frances has a BS in Mathematics from Stetson University and an MS in Applied Math from the University of Central Florida. She has been teaching part-time for IMACS since 2003 and previously taught math at Broward College. Frances worked for IBM Federal Systems Division at Cape Canaveral, Vandenberg AFB, and in Houston on Space Shuttle ground support software and on an upgrade to Mission Control flight information systems. She’s also had a few international assignments with IBM in Melbourne, Australia, where she created software and hardware upgrades for various banks, and in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where she managed a project for the state-owned telephone company.
Frances’s survey response is below:
“I loved Dune by Frank Herbert – the book, not the movie. I got totally lost in the fantastic but somehow believable world Herbert created and just hated it when I finished the book. (I recommend skipping the sequel.) Herbert created a physical world full of sand containing creatures perfectly suited to that environment such as giant worms that travel rapidly over and through the sand. Then he populated the world with people who had their own elaborate social order and customs, again perfectly suited to that world but unlike anything we know on earth. The magic of the book is that it is so rich in detail and written so vividly that it becomes very real to the reader. You are drawn into this made-up universe. I don’t believe, even amidst the mountains of details regarding the physical and the social systems of Dune, that there is a single bit that is illogical. It all fits together so beautifully. You just have to believe.
For a more recent favorite, I really liked The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean. It’s full of quirky tales from the Periodic Table.
I loved the play Proof, which I saw at American Heritage Schools’ Mosaic Theater. And I liked the movie, too. It’s about a famous mathematician who is working incredibly hard to develop a proof, something that will be acclaimed the world over. He is an old man in the story and dies. His daughter, a mathematician in her own right, cares for him and grieves at his death. At first you’re not sure if the old mathematician was a genius or crazy. His behavior was bizarre. After a while, you’re convinced he was crazy.
Then a young math student shows up and trolls through the old man’s notebooks looking to find or maybe steal his brilliant but maybe non-existent proof. The twist toward the end is that the student finds the brilliant proof, but the person who developed it is the old mathematician’s daughter! I especially loved the fact that the hero is a FEMALE mathematician!
I almost never miss checking in to see what topics NPR’s Science Friday covered during it’s most recent broadcast. And I also really like an Australian call-in science show from Triple J Youth Radio. It’s called Dr. Karl. Dr. Karl himself is an enthusiastic and engaging science guy who can explain anything in simple terms and will readily admit that he’s not qualified to answer when he isn’t!”
Jeff Piskun, Senior IMACS Instructor
Jeff has a BS in Mathematics from Villanova University and an MS in Sports Administration from St. Thomas University. He started with IMACS in 2003 and is currently one of our part-time instructors. Jeff also teaches middle school math. A big sports enthusiast, he worked for over six years in sports and entertainment venue management for several professional teams, including the Florida Marlins, Miami Heat, and Florida Panthers.
Jeff’s survey response is below:
“Two books I would recommend are Freakonomics and Super Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. These two economists use basic economic principals and basic statistics to look at real-life situations and investigate the hidden side of everything. The books are written in a fun but eye-opening manner and explain things like: why charging parents late pickup fees will actually increase late pickups not deter them; why your realtor actually does not have your best interest at heart; how walking drunk is more dangerous than driving drunk (not endorsed!); that many government programs actually have the opposite effect than intended (shocker). Parents should note that the books address some adult topics, so beware, but they are really an eye-opening read.
I enjoy movies that are similar to the original Stargate with Kurt Russell and James Spader. I like anything with codes and ancient secrets and the science/adventure/historical fiction genre overall. I’m intrigued by the idea that even though certain events are part of “history,” we still do not know everything about what occurred and why. Many many years later there are still mysteries and puzzles that need to be solved and theories to be investigated. Codes, puzzles, and mysteries based on historical events and real data are exponentially more fascinating than fictional ones.”
Guy, Frances and Jeff – Thank you for the awesome recommendations!
To our readers – Thank you for making our blog a part of your online experience. We sincerely appreciate your time, comments and feedback. Our next post on December 22nd will be a classic from the IMACS vault. All the best to you and your families for a wonderful holiday season and happy and healthy New Year!
IMACS’ Director of Curriculum Development, Dr. Ted Sweet, discusses the importance of challenging the gifted and talented student in order to reach his or her full potential and to avoid common pitfalls. Ted is a graduate of Project MEGSSS, a predecessor program to IMACS. He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Miami and his Ph.D. in mathematics at UCLA. Ted joined IMACS in 1998.
Burt Kaufman, one of the foremost American mathematics curriculum developers of the last half-century (and my high school mentor), once made an observation that resonates with many educators of bright and talented children. It was that good grades obtained through little or no effort ultimately led to poor study habits and general intellectual laziness.
Even parents of children enrolled in “gifted” programs of the type currently in favor with many public school systems sometimes complain that their child is “coasting” at school.
Unfortunately, students that solve every problem with ease often get out of the habit of focusing and thinking systematically, skills they will need if they are to reach their full potential. Not surprisingly, it can be a challenge for parents to explain to their bright children that getting an ‘A’ may not be enough to ensure their future academic success.
Bright students whose mental agility and intuitive cognitive abilities are not sufficiently challenged can start to develop problems during elementary school. These may manifest themselves in the form of so-called “careless errors” when doing arithmetical problems, for example. And talented students who have not been stretched intellectually will typically “give up too easily” when they finally encounter challenging problems that require careful analysis. In extreme cases, behavioral problems may start to develop.
The question of how to satisfy the intellectual needs of bright and talented children has been studied in depth by the professionals at IMACS. Our research demonstrates that bright students who are exposed to curricula that foster the careful, logical analysis of significant math problems benefit in many fields outside mathematics. A student who learns to truly think does not leave that skill in the classroom.
What classes that you coasted through do you wish had been more challenging for you?
The A/C is cranked and the sweet tea is flowing. Our IMACS Hi-Tech Summer Camp, where kids solve logic puzzles, build electronic circuits, and learn how to program, is in full swing. Summer has definitely arrived at our headquarters in sunny South Florida. Did you ever notice how people from other parts of the country refer to it as “Southern Florida?” Wonder if they say “South California?” Anyhoo, we asked three members of our IMACS family to share their favorite math- or science-related books and movies for our completely informal, very unofficial recommended summer reading and viewing list. They say you can tell a lot about a person by the media they consume, so here’s your chance to get to know Lisa Cunningham, Danielle Ernst and Stephen Flegg.
Lisa Cunningham, Director of Curriculum Training
Lisa has an Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from Florida International University and worked many years ago for us as a part-time math enrichment instructor. In our search for someone to head up our ISLAND training, we called Lisa to see if she knew anyone who would be interested. After hearing the job description, she said “What about me?” Lisa jumped at the opportunity, and we are so lucky she did. She also has a daughter who takes math enrichment with us.
Her survey response is below:
“Sure, I’d be happy to participate! I love all things Star Trek because it’s fun to think of what the future could be like, and it is all about the science of things – carbon life forms, tricorders …
I also really like Good Will Hunting. What I like about that movie is that it portrays a brilliant mathematician who would have attended a Title 1 school where, unfortunately, there aren’t as many enrichment opportunities available to foster intellectual and academic growth. As a teacher, it is rare to come across that natural ‘genius’ student who has not been exposed to such opportunities.
As far as books, I would recommend The Science Book. It has some great explanations and wonderful pictures. I use it to reinforce concepts with my daughter or to help her understand the ideas she questions.”
Danielle Ernst, Senior IMACS Instructor
Danielle was an IMACS student from 3rd grade through her high school graduation. During high school she also worked part-time as an IMACS office assistant. Danielle received her BA degree in Mathematics from The Johns Hopkins University. Upon graduation she contacted us about the possibility of working for IMACS and has been with us full time for the past two year. Danielle teaches many of our advanced math enrichment classes as well as our computer programming and virtual robotics classes. She is also involved in developing our new online Virtual Robotics Lab software. There’s nothing like hiring former students. 🙂
Her survey response is below:
“I’d love to be part of the blog! My favorite math book is called An Imaginary Tale by Paul J. Nahin. I read it right after I took a complex analysis course while I was studying abroad in Australia. My professor there was so enthusiastic about the subject that I couldn’t help but enjoy it as well. I found it extremely interesting to read and learn about about a branch of mathematics that only exists in the ‘imaginary’ sense.
My favorite math-related movie is probably A Beautiful Mind. It’s a very moving film with great acting, and it is based upon a real-life mathematician. It was a very popular movie, and I like that it brought a story about mathematics into the mainstream. Now people who never took any math classes after high school know who John Nash is, and so do I!”
Stephen Flegg, Senior IMACS Instructor
Stephen started teaching for us part-time in 1999 right after he received his BS degree in Physics from Florida Atlantic University and is now on our full-time staff. He teaches our most advanced math enrichment classes and also developed a beginner chess class for our homeschool program. This summer, in addition to teaching the electronics class for our summer camp, Stephen is involved in writing lesson plans for ISLAND. We’re very fortunate that many of our instructors such as Stephen love teaching for us and have been with us for a very long time.
His survey response is below:
“I found it tragically difficult to find some work that would be held up above another as my favorite. In the book category I can give you two books, the first being The Black Cloud by Fred Hoyle; yes, the same Fred Hoyle who made fun of the Big Bang with the name ‘Big Bang,’ and the name then stuck. It is an old novel but very well done and falls into the hard sci-fi genre. Although he takes cheap shots at the Big Bang theory and, by doing so, messes up the theory of evolution, the rest is solid. Those sound like major flaws but not in the context of the story. The next book is called The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes. This book is a biography of the intellectual history of the 18th and 19th century. I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m loving it nonetheless.
As for movies with math and science, there are many but one seems to always come to mind – 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick. I was very young the first time I saw the movie, but even at a young age I recognized the attempts to make it realistic even if I had trouble following the story. This became even more obvious when compared with Star Wars, which I also loved as a child. No sound in space, centrifugal force, orbits and many other features awed me then and now.
Lisa, Danielle and Stephen – thanks for sharing! You’ve given our fans a lot of good stuff to wrap their minds around this summer. Do you, dear reader, have a favorite math- or science-related book or movie that you would like to add to the list?
Today, we’re chatting with Iain Ferguson who – in addition to being IMACS’s senior curriculum developer for the computer science program – is the guy behind the sophisticated technology that runs our online computer programming classes. Iain has taught these courses as well, and so brings with him the experience of having seen what works in the classroom and what doesn’t.
Q: Why does your Introduction to Computer Science course use the Scheme programming language? Isn’t the Advanced Placement exam in Java?
A: We start off with Scheme because it’s the most effective for helping students to understand the fundamental concepts of computer science that are common to all programming languages. And we’re not alone in this choice. Graduates of the some of the top universities, including MIT, Yale, Princeton, Johns Hopkins and UC Berkeley, were first taught to program in their freshman year using Scheme.
What we’ve found over 20 years of teaching this course is that if you throw a new student straight into Java, or whatever language the AP exam covers at the time, he or she can easily get mired in its complicated rules of syntax. If you simultaneously try to make a student learn the fundamentals, which are arguably more important, some of those fundamentals just won’t be understood, or they’ll be understood incorrectly. And so the students try to move on to more complicated programming assignments, and they’re hampered by a false understanding of the underlying abstract thinking.
Scheme’s syntax is simple and natural. So it takes our students very little time to pick it up. They use their mental energy instead on developing a deep comprehension of the the abstract mathematical thinking involved in programming. Applying that way of thinking to concrete computer algorithms is then rather trivial for them.
Q: Beyond doing well on the AP exam, how do you know that this approach of teaching Scheme first is working?
A: We hear from a lot of our former students once they’ve gone on to university about how easy their classes are thanks to what and how they learned here. One of my favorite stories is of a student named Erik who went to Virginia Tech. He was taking Computer Engineering in a class of about 600 students, and the first exam was designed to weed out about half of them. So Erik completed the test in 10 minutes with a perfect score. The next day the professor called him in and accused him of cheating. Well, of course, he hadn’t cheated and when he said so, the professor gave him a similar question that was solved just as quickly. Then the professor wanted to know how it was possible for a freshman to have such a deep understanding. Erik told him about learning to program with Scheme, and that was enough to convince the professor that not only had Erik not cheated but that he was also the strongest student in this class of 600.
Q: If Scheme is so beneficial, why don’t more high schools offer it?
A: Their resources are very limited, especially in this economic environment, and the demands on teachers’ time is rather significant. As with most university-level courses, it’s unrealistic to ask high schools to even consider putting resources towards preparing and teaching a class like this. If you really want to do it at a high level, you need instructors with an extensive background in university-level computer science and extensive training in teaching advanced subjects to young adults. Plus you either have to develop the appropriate curriculum or find it and license it. So you’re looking at a lot of time and expense, both of which are, unfortunately, in short supply at the typical high school.
Sounds like a guy who knows his stuff! What language did you use in your first computer programming class, and did it leave you with confusion or clarity?
P.S. If you’re ever in South Florida and want to play a game of Nim, stop by our offices and ask for Iain. He will destroy you, and it won’t hurt a bit!
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