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2011 April 19

Good online math classes

For various reasons, we were looking for online courses for our son this year.  We needed two: a math class (specifically, a trigonometry class) and an English class (9th grade).

We have not yet found an English class that is suitable and available.  (There was one community college class that looked pretty promising, but it already had over eleven students on the waiting list and high school students have lower priority than matriculated community college students, so the chance of getting in was essentially zero.)

We did, however, find an excellent math course.  The problem with the high-school math class that he had originally been signed up for was that, despite the name “Trigonometry”, the first month of the course had no trig.  Indeed, it was just drilling in algebra, with 30 rather mindless problems a night, every night. (I posted on this at the time in Trig and Anal Geo).  We needed a course that covered trigonometry at a reasonably fast pace and provided challenging problems that were worth the effort of thinking about.

Because I’ve bought books from them, I’m on an e-mail mailing list for Art of Problem Solving.  Their texts are great (for my son, anyway), so when I saw that they were offering an online course in Precalculus with the topics my son needed, I asked around to find out what experience others had had in the AoPS courses.  The general consensus was that the courses were mathematically sophisticated, fast-paced, and well suited for kids who really loved math and excelled at it.  So we decided to try it.

The class meets weekly in a chatroom for an hour and half, and they have a forum where they can post and discuss solutions to their homework problems.  Today is the 8th week of the course, and my son has been loving it.  The problems have been tough (so tough that he has not finished them all, and has needed hints on a few of them), but very satisfying when he gets them.  I was pleased to see that I could still give him hints on trig problems (it’s been 40 years since I did trig!), though I had to work on some of them for 20 minutes before I could come up with a hint for him.  (These problems are problems, not mere drill exercises.)

It is clear that the AoPS classes are not for everyone, but we couldn’t be happier with them for our son.  The class is not an accredited one, so he’ll have to take a final exam at the high school to get course credit, but that should be no trouble.

Now if someone could find us an accredited (9th grade) online English class that teaches writing without requiring literary analysis essays, we’d be happy. Creative writing, play-writing, science writing, … anything but literary analysis!  (Actually, reading and literary discussion are fine, just not written literary analysis.)

36 Comments »

  1. Glad to hear your son likes the AoPS classes. We’ve only use their “Intro to Number Theory” book so far. My son is going to take their “Intro to Programming” class with Python this summer, and is really looking forward to it. He’s currently working on a text-based RPG, and it’s really coming along. I think the course will be good for covering areas he hasn’t run into a need to use and hopefully understanding some data structures for use in languages beyond Python.

    Is your son’s school open to substituting an elective-type English course? Maybe like technical writing? Some of the community colleges around CA have online courses in that. But they wouldn’t list them as 9th grade equivalents. I’ve heard that the new “Common Standards” that most of the states adopted in order to apply (unsuccessfully) for RTTT grants put more emphasis on reading/writing in the disciplines and for useful purposes as opposed to the current emphasis on literary analysis. The problem is that a lot of English teachers and English curriculum designers got into English because they *like* literary analysis (imagine!!). Perhaps you could argue that a more practical slant on writing is more in line with the Common Core standards that California has adopted (but hasn’t yet started to align testing with).

    Comment by Yves — 2011 April 19 @ 19:04 | Reply

    • The high school will accept any accredited English class, and would certainly accept a community college class. The problem is that community college classes around here are enormously over subscribed, and high school students go to the end of the waiting list. So essentially they are unavailable to him until he turns 18, which is too long from now.

      We found several community college classes that we think would have worked for him, but all had a prereq of a course with a huge waiting list. So we have to look elsewhere (too bad, since community college courses are also dirt cheap).

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2011 April 19 @ 21:34 | Reply

  2. How about community colleges around the state that offer online courses? I’ve heard that Santa Barbara City College is supposed to have fairly extensive online offerings. I’d suspect other community colleges also do, because it can be a money maker. (Stuffing more people into an online class doesn’t run into fire code violations.) SBCC is also oversubscribed, so I don’t know whether there are any online summer courses currently open. But, perhaps in some less-populated part of the state…

    I have spoken with friends of friends who teach history at SBCC, and they are assigning fewer essays because of the time involved in grading them, the increasing number of students in their classes, and no longer having any grading assistants. I suspect the same stresses apply to grading essays in English courses.

    Comment by Yves — 2011 April 20 @ 00:03 | Reply

    • I thought about looking through all the community college catalogs, but it took me over half an hour to find the appropriate course and section and whether there was room in it for one community college. Checking all 112 community colleges would be a full-time job for a couple of weeks.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2011 April 20 @ 08:53 | Reply

  3. CTY distance ed writing is expensive, but my daughter enjoyed it. He would probably start at level 3, which is writing the essay. None of the essays are literary analysis — it’s more of a personal essay type class. Level 4 is persuasive writing, also not literature based.

    EPGY might also offer something.

    The other accredited online English programs wouldn’t be faster/harder/deeper, just sufficient to get credit and might include literary analysis. Look at University of Missouri’s CDIS, University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s online high school, BYU, etc.

    Comment by Jo in OKC — 2011 April 20 @ 05:47 | Reply

    • We’ve looked at the CTY writing class, and not rejected it, but there wasn’t much enthusiasm based on the the description.

      BYU classes are accredited, but are the same sort of literary analysis that was causing him trouble in high school. I doubt that their teachers are any better at motivating him than his high-school teacher was, so the BYU classes are unlikely to help us.

      We’ve not looked at CDIS, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, or EPGY yet.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2011 April 20 @ 08:51 | Reply

  4. Not accredited but very popular . . . I am curious what you think of the (free) Khan Academy. http://www.khanacademy.org/

    Comment by Judy — 2011 April 20 @ 06:39 | Reply

    • Neither my son nor I have much patience with video lectures—we read far faster than people speak. A good text book beats a video lecture any day (for us).
      In any case, what we are looking for is feedback on writing assignments, which requires someone to read my son’s writing, not a canned lecture.

      Live lectures in which you can ask questions are a very different sort of thing from a video lecture.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2011 April 20 @ 08:48 | Reply

  5. In e-mail I got recommendations to try
    http://www.k12.com/ (a weak recommendation from someone not very happy with the K12 Spanish class)
    They have online English classes for high schoolers, but it requires some registration to get any useful information out of their web site, and I haven’t decided to let them put me on their spam list yet.

    http://www.bravewriter.com/ (online classes for home schoolers, but no mention of accreditation anywhere)

    http://www.826valencia.org/ (workshops and field trips in San Francisco and a few other big cities,
    no online courses mentioned on their website)

    Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2011 April 20 @ 09:16 | Reply

  6. Another pointer sent by email was for http://iuhighschool.iu.edu/courses/index.shtml (Indiana University’s online high school, which supposedly will sell individual classes).

    Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2011 April 20 @ 17:22 | Reply

  7. Yet another e-mail suggestion: http://www.apexlearning.com

    Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2011 April 20 @ 17:23 | Reply

  8. Courses labeled AP English *Language* and Composition are probably what you are looking for.

    Comment by Kai — 2011 April 21 @ 06:12 | Reply

    • Not quite: we’re looking for a somewhat lower-level course than AP right now, as we have to find ways around the writer’s block. Any decent AP course would have a large writing requirement, which may be too much when we are looking for strategies to get past the emotional block.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2011 April 21 @ 08:23 | Reply

  9. AP English Language and Composition focuses on reading non-fiction, but can still include literary type analysis of that reading (writing about tone, diction, etc.). Free response questions from past exams are here so you can verify whether it fits the need or not:
    http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/members/exam/exam_questions/2001.html

    AP English Literature and Composition focuses on reading fiction (novels, short stories, plays, and poetry). It sounds like that is exactly what he does NOT want.

    Comment by Jo in OKC — 2011 April 21 @ 08:23 | Reply

    • He loves reading fiction (probably reads in excess of 200 books a year), and doesn’t mind discussing it, but writing literary analysis triggers his writer’s block. I suppose that he does not see the point to it—no one reads literary analysis (unless forced to) so there is no natural audience. The style of argumentation used in literary analysis does not appeal to his notions of proper reasoning (which involves mathematical or algorithmic analysis).

      He says that he would not mind trying his hand at creative writing (something his schools have avoided having students do), and he would not mind writing non-fiction if he got to choose the topic and style. I think he would particularly enjoy play writing, as he has been heavily involved in theater for the past 10 years. He would hate autobiographical “how-I-feel” essays or heavy-handed polemical writing. Trying to find a course that has open enough prompts to avoid the minefield of things he would block on has been part of the problem—most teachers give fairly narrow prompts for the sort of stuff they would like to write, and the match in interests is poor.

      A good class on mathematical writing (using Halmos’s How to Write Mathematics, http://www.math.uga.edu/~azoff/courses/halmos.pdf) would be a great thing. So would a play-writing class. Finding one that the high school will accept is part of the problem (it needs to be accredited, and those marketing to the home-school market often don’t bother with the bureaucratic nonsense that goes along with getting accreditation).

      For the AoPS math course, the lack of accreditation did not matter. I knew the course had solid content, and the high school was willing to give credit by exam. For English classes, there is no easy credit by exam. We might be able to argue our way to credit by portfolio, but that is uncertain at best. It would be far simpler if we could find an accredited class.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2011 April 21 @ 08:45 | Reply

      • Does he also have trouble with writing for social studies classes, or have his schools not required much of that? That might tell you whether his writer’s block is very specific to literary analysis.

        Did the teacher he had want them to write in that “literary analysis” voice? If so, perhaps that was part of the block, because stuff written like that is not all that interesting to read, IMHO. I had trouble with it in a college English LIt class taken after a number of journalism and tech writing classes, because the literary analysis voice violates all the rules about writing for your audience. And, if that voice is causing his block, there might be lots of classes where the essay prompts are more practical and not of the “compare and contrast” variety. (Yawn.)

        You might also look online for strategies for dealing with writers block. I haven’t googled, but I suspect there will be advice to start by typing random thoughts and notes about stuff you want to talk about, then put the random thoughts in order, then flesh the random thoughts into real sentences. And, advice like saving the first and last parts to work on last. It’s difficult to start with the “what I’m going to tell you” summary. Start with the specifics–the guts of the essay. Once that’s nearly done, try the conclusion. Only after that, go back and write the intro. Also, he might start with some sort of boilerplate word processing file each time, so he isn’t starting with a totally blank page.

        Comment by Yves — 2011 April 21 @ 13:08 | Reply

        • Most of his serious writing instruction occurred in 7th and 8th grade history classes (far more than he ever got in English classes). He had some difficulty with the long assignments, but not the serious block he hit in 9th grade English. The writing block did extend somewhat to his science fair project this year, but he did get that done by the deadline. So the writing block is not exclusively for literary analysis, but it was much more severe there. We hope that if we avoid literary analysis, we can get him through a writing class and more able to do the sort of writing he wants or needs to do later on.

          We’ve tried several different writing strategies to work around the block, but so far none of them have made a dent in it. Many of the usual strategies (including the ones you mention) seem to make the block worse, rather than better. We finally had him withdraw from the English class he was in, rather than fail by not turning anything in. We are looking for a way to get him the writing practice that he needs, without triggering a major depression.

          Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2011 April 21 @ 14:01 | Reply

  10. Texas Tech University ISD also offers online high school English courses. I think they’re probably the same as at BYU and your local school, though.

    Northwestern’s CTD’s Gifted Learning Links offers a course called Journalistic Writing Honors that they recommend for 2 semesters of High School credit, but can be taken over the summer. I don’t know if that would qualify for credit?

    Comment by Jo in OKC — 2011 April 21 @ 08:36 | Reply

    • These may be what we are looking for. The Creative Writing course looks like a pretty good fit, and it is accredited.
      Thanks, Jo!

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2011 April 21 @ 08:51 | Reply

      • On further analysis of the actual syllabus, rather than the one-paragraph catalog copy, the “Creative Writing” class does not look like it has much creative writing in it. It looks like a standard literary-analysis-plus-personal-essay English class. The Journalistic Writing course did not have a detailed description, but the catalog copy was unappealing to my son.

        He might be willing to take the vocabulary class, though—he says “Boredom sounds better than writer’s block.”

        Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2011 April 23 @ 08:53 | Reply

  11. “Mere drill exercises?” Sorry. You need those to do the problems your son is so evidently good at.

    Comment by J.D. Salinger — 2011 April 22 @ 13:24 | Reply

    • Actually, not everyone needs to do lots of drill to do the harder problems. For those who don’t, the usual math classes are excruciatingly boring. It is very nice that AoPS has a course that focuses on the hard problems, for those students who don’t need the drill. I doubt that any high school has enough of these students to justify making a class just for them, but by gathering the students from around the country, AoPS can have enough students to offer the class.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2011 April 22 @ 14:02 | Reply

  12. I will put in another plug for Michael Clay Thompson’s English Vocabulary I Honors class through Northwestern CTD. Based on his SAT, he may need additional challenge, and as he will be working directly with the master one on one via email, I am sure this can be worked out.
    http://www.ctd.northwestern.edu/gll/program/academics/courses/honors-ap/courses-honors/
    Judy

    Comment by Judy — 2011 April 23 @ 09:04 | Reply

    • We love MCT, but my daughter took this class and the only reason to take it through Northwestern is the accreditation. You can get the same class for TONs cheaper by buying the homeschool guide (you have to buy the student book in both cases).

      Comment by Jo In OKC — 2011 April 23 @ 17:16 | Reply

    • Good point in general. The curriculum is well designed, and it works on its own without the teacher. However, this is the fourth class my son has taken from Mr. Thompson. They have met in person (at a gifted conference) and have developed a great student mentor relationship over the years. I consider Mr. T my son’s language arts teacher. Mr. T’s persona is present when my son works on the assignments. My son cares what Mr. T will think of his vocabulary work, comments, and insights. He makes a great effort to surprise and delight Mr. T in his email comments regarding the notes. My son has sent all sorts of creative responses including video and photo stories. Mr. T acknowledges the above-and-beyond work and sends back comments and encouragement that are invaluable in keeping my son engaged with the hard work of learning and retaining hundreds and hundreds of Latin and Greek stems and thousands of vocabulary words. Their exchanges go far beyond what I could do as a parent/teacher working from the book alone.

      Comment by Judy — 2011 April 23 @ 19:28 | Reply

      • Accreditation is important to us, as we are trying to stay in the public high school and they don’t care about the quality of a course, only its accreditation. Actually, they may care about the quality, but they have no way to determine that, so accreditation is used as a defensible proxy.

        Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2011 April 23 @ 20:49 | Reply

  13. Just found another option:
    http://www.calcampus.com/english.htm

    None of the descriptions make me think they’ll be the world’s most interesting courses, but they’re not SUPER expensive, they’re accredited and several (HS English Comp, Research Procedures) appear to not include any literary analysis.

    Comment by Jo In OKC — 2011 April 23 @ 17:43 | Reply

  14. More options, although those in this first set have a STRONG Christian worldview that may not suit (found them through HSLDA links).

    http://www.sevenstaracademy.org/default.asp?contentid=486
    http://www.scholarsonline.org/Info/literature.php
    http://www.northstar-academy.org/academy/CourseOfferings.aspx
    http://www.troy.edu/ecampus/accelerate/faqs.htm
    http://www2.taylor.edu/online/coursecatalog/english/

    This virtual school offers a creative writing course:
    http://iqacademywi.com/curriculum/high-school

    Here’s another virtual school. They seem to use the Aventa courseware. They offer journalism and creative writing in addition to the usual English 9-12.
    http://www.johnadams-edu.us/courses.php

    Comment by Jo In OKC — 2011 April 23 @ 17:52 | Reply

    • Wow, Jo, you’ve been busy! We do have to be careful about too much religion in courses, as my son has little patience with dogmatism. Of course, “Christian” worldview means a lot of different things, some good and some terrible, so labeling something “Christian” does not say anything very specific. Unfortunately, educational offerings that are explicitly labeled “Christian” are often from the most intolerant, anti-science end of the spectrum and would not be acceptable to us.

      Even fairly mild racist propaganda (like the Narnia series) sometimes rubs us the wrong way.

      I’ll pass this list on to my son, and see if any of them interest him.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2011 April 23 @ 20:58 | Reply

  15. My daughter did several of the CTY English courses through Johns Hopkins, and she enjoyed them. All her instructors were good. Actually, with one exception, I would say all of them were excellent. The one exception was all right, but a bit new to dealing with students. The value of those classes is in part the interaction of the instructor with the student. My daughter did it via email and snail-mail (you’re allowed to choose the method you prefer). She enjoyed the assignments, and she received several page letters from her teacher about the assignments, discussing them, encouraging her, making suggestions, and in general doing what you would hope the best teachers will do.

    The level of the classes is early university, say first or second year. The teachers are aware, however, that they are dealing with younger children, and they direct their courses in an age-appropriate manner. I noticed as my daughter matured, her instructors adapted their teaching manner to match her development.

    The material itself, at least in the courses she took, was to some extent student directed, with a great deal of teacher input. For example, in one assignment she was supposed to write a letter convincing her parents to let her do something. The idea was to learn persuasive speech. At the time, she was 13 and dancing with a local ballet company as an apprentice. She often read the Kids Post section of the Washington Post, and was irked at how much more time they spent on sports than on the arts. So she told the teacher what she really wanted to do was write a letter to the Post persuading them to write about dance. They agreed to let her change the assignment, she worked on the letter for several weeks, with back and forth with the teacher. And then she sent it to the Post. They ended up doing a feature on her, showing how a dancer spent her time.

    So that’s the kind of thing they do with students. It was a good experience for my daughter. Johns Hopkins gave her a transcript for all the classes she took with them, which was useful when she applied to colleges.

    BTW, she took a number of the AoPS classes and very much enjoyed them. Hers were focused more on math contest types subjects, such as number theory and probability and counting. She also took their WOOT course, which I think stands for World Online Olympiad Training. She worked hard in the course and told me she found it very useful. She also enjoyed interacting with the other students, who understood her love of math at that level and ability.

    I also took an AoPS classes on Number Theory. I wanted to check out the site for my students and brush up on my skills for the math teams I was coaching. It did an excellent job with that. I really enjoyed it. The way they teach is particularly suited to the style I found best, and I would strongly recommend their classes, especially for accelerated students.

    Best — Catherine

    Comment by Catherine — 2011 April 25 @ 09:15 | Reply

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