The first time I saw him, he reminded me so much of Q. The way he rolled his head back when he was thinking. His lack of eye contact when speaking. His abnormally precise language, his obsession with numbers, especially very large numbers resulting from doubling, irrational numbers and those resulting from functions unknown to any mathematician other than himself. I played with him the way I’ve played with countless other children I’ve met like this. I created patterns and let him expand on the series. I invented functions using made up notation to see what he would do with them. His mother, anxious that he would make a good impression, encouraged him to look at me and answer my questions. “Wait” I hush her, almost in a whisper. “He’s thinking.” Before each math class, I check and restock all the supplies my students will need: wide ruled paper, colored pencils, crayons, and pens. Pens? Not Pencils? Yes, pens not pencils – black and purple pens to be precise. I know this is unconventional but there’s a method to my madness. Think about it: Why do we use pencils for math? Normally this question is met with a blank stare since the use of pencils for math is so universal that most have never considered questioning this convention. The obvious answer, of course, is to erase our mistakes but, why do we want to erase our mistakes when we know that we learn from our mistakes?
While the ability to memorize math facts is not related to mathematical reasoning skills required for higher level math it greatly influences the perception of a child’s math ability. Compare two children learning to add fractions. They are given the task of calculating 1/14 + 1/21. Both equally understand the concept and procedure to add fractions.
Few parents of elementary school students are thinking about high school advanced placement options. Unfortunately, class placement as early as 4th or 5th grade may have a profound impact on a child’s ability to eventually take advanced placement classes in high school.
This is the first of a series of articles to explain accelerated math options to parents. This installment will explain the math options available in most NJ public schools and how elementary school math placement determines a child’s high school options.

Rita VoitRita Voit is the founder of HEROES Academy for the Gifted. Archives
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