Equations with vacation

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Many people with fond memories of attending summer camp in July remember sun-soaked days of swimming, playing sports, hiking or horseback riding - and evenings filled with singing around campfires.

The summer camp memories of 60 middle and high school students, however, will include algebra, geometry or pre-calculus problems worked in a university classroom for 33 hours a week. Their evenings will be spent not around a campfire, but in a mandatory study hall - and they'll love it.

These students will be attending the 2006 Summer Math Institute at the University of North Texas July 9-29.

The program provides accelerated instruction for students who are particularly talented in mathematics, allowing them to complete up to a high school semester's worth of Algebra I, geometry, Algebra II or pre-calculus in three weeks.

SMI, which began in 2000, is sponsored by UNT's Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science, a two-year residential program that allows talented students to enroll at UNT at the time they would normally be juniors and seniors in high school. At the end of two years, TAMS students receive at least 60 hours of college credit and the equivalent of a high school diploma.

This year's SMI will include students from Amarillo, Austin, Houston, Lubbock, San Antonio, Tyler and smaller cities from throughout Texas as well as cities in the Dallas-Fort Worth areas. Twelve students are returning for a second or third summer of SMI, and one student will attend for a record fourth year.

The classes, led by public and private school teachers in Texas, are designed to allow each student to progress at his or her own pace. Classes are limited to no more than 20 students so that each receives individual help, said SMI director Wendy Boyd-Brown, a TAMS academic counselor.

"Many parents have told me that their students are bored in regular classrooms because teachers design classes around other students who aren't accelerated in math," she said.

On their first day at SMI, the students are tested to determine their levels of competency in the subject they will be studying, then assigned to do certain chapters in textbooks. Once a student completes a chapter, he or she will take a test, and must score at least 90 to go on to the next chapter. Before starting a new chapter, the student will take a pretest.

Jason Colvin, a teacher at Denton's Ryan High School, spends part of his summers teaching Algebra I at SMI.

"I'm really more of a guide than a teacher because the students are reading the books on their own," he says. "The kids I teach at SMI are younger than what I'm used to. They're usually still in middle school. But they're highly motivated, and it's fun to work with them during the day."

Student Matt Pavlyukovskyy took geometry in SMI last summer and is returning this year to be in the pre-calculus class.

"A lot of my friends say they get really bored during the summer, when they're hanging out by the pool all day," said Pavlyukovskyy, who will be a sophomore at Guyer High School in Denton this fall. "I don't want to waste my whole summer. I thought going to SMI would be a good opportunity to get ahead in school for next year. I still have time this summer to go to the pool."

SMI students are in class from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, breaking for lunch, and from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Saturdays. Their evening study halls, led by teaching assistants who are current TAMS students or recent graduates, are from 6:30 to 7:30.

At the end of three weeks, the students take comprehensive exams in their subjects. The teachers complete evaluations of each student and write recommendations to the students' school districts, noting if a student should receive academic credit for the subject.

Besides the accelerated learning and the experience of being on a college campus, SMI provides friendships, Boyd-Brown said.

"The students meet kids with different backgrounds and cultures, who are just as excited about learning math as they are," she said.

Pavlyukovskyy, who says attending SMI led to him applying to TAMS, kept in touch with other SMI students he met last year.

"There are no nerds here. They're really nice, social kids who just like to do math," he said.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108