The Many Faces of Gifted: Matthew B.

July 7, 2015

Every gifted child has a unique story. The following story is part of a series of posts highlighting gifted children and adults we have found through IEA programs, depicting the many faces of gifted. The IEA Academy – mentioned in this story – provides young students with challenging enrichment classes that focus on exploration and application of knowledge.

By Matthew B., Academy Student and Yunasa Camper

Matthew, Sarah and Betsy
Matthew (center) and his sister with IEA President Elizabeth Jones at Yunasa

Three years ago, my mom brought home a flyer from a school meeting that mentioned IEA and provided their website’s information. I was so excited that I could take a course called Rocket to Calculus with other like-minded students. This experience led me to take more classes at the IEA Academy including: Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Biochemistry, and Mock Trial. My experiences at IEA helped me realize how much I enjoy learning at an advanced level in a group, so I started a MathCounts team at my elementary school to help others have the same experience.

Matthew rocket launch
Matthew (right) with a classmate and teacher preparing for their rocket launch, a culminating experience in the IEA Academy Rocket to Calculus class

MathCounts is a national mathematics competition for students in grades 6-8 that is the only one of its kind. Over five hundred chapters are found in all fifty states as well as in several territories of the United States of America. It takes place once a year. The MathCounts competition has three divisions: regional, state, and national. There are four rounds. The sprint round focuses on speed, the target round focuses on solving more challenging problems, and the team round focuses on group problem solving. The countdown round, done in gameshow style, prioritizes individual knowledge. What makes this competition special is that it features a team score and a team round where you are working as a group on math problems in a timed environment.

When I was in sixth grade, I formed a MathCounts team. I started by going around the playground at recess and asking some of my friends and other people who I thought would enjoy being involved. I told them that anyone who wanted to join our team could. Once I found three other people so that our team would have enough members, we went to the principal and asked if we could set up a MathCounts team to represent our school. Our school’s principal said yes, but she wasn’t sure if she could find a place and time where the team could meet at school. I said that was okay; the team could meet at my house. She gave us permission slips and required our guardians to sign them.

We began meeting once a week for one hour at my house. I led the rest of the team, and at first I was the only person who taught them. As the number of members rose and what we learned went beyond what I knew really well, some of the other members helped with teaching things they knew using review and practice materials. We had adults, who were supportive of our group, teach more difficult material. Suddenly our little MathCounts club became a very big deal, which eventually led to our school creating an after-school math competition program for students in grades 4-6. First it was just our members meeting once a week at my house. Soon, parents and siblings became involved, and many of the members wanted to learn and practice more than once a week. We set up additional times where anyone who wanted to learn on that day of the week could come. The entire school became involved in math competitions when other parents and the principal started an intra-school competition called Mathzilla that same year. This experience led me and the other team members to start taking more advanced math courses. Even after we finished the MathCounts competition, our team did not end because we had developed friendships, and we decided to continue the team and do more competitions.

Setting up our team taught me many important things. I learned how to work with a group as a leader, and I had to come up with ways to instruct them. When team members were having a difficult time, I encouraged them by reminding them that just by participating on the team they were being successful because we were working on much harder math problems than most people our age. The team was really more about understanding advanced mathematical concepts than about winning competitions, and every member of our team was in it to learn. I am very glad that I have had this opportunity. Organizing a MathCounts team taught me the value of a community, leadership skills, and that one person can make a difference.

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