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UB's Gifted Math Program Challenges Buffalo's Brightest Students

Release Date: December 5, 2012

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- David Wang was underachieving in math class because he was too smart. The seventh grader at Transit Middle School simply lost interest in the subject. What he needed was a challenge.

His father decided to reignite his son's curiosity in math by enrolling him in the Gifted Math Program (GMP), an after-school, advanced mathematics program for middle and high school students at the University at Buffalo.

Wang soon became one of the GMP's most improved students, soaring past four levels of high school material to college level math. He is now a freshman at Williamsville East High School, and is enrolled in Calculus III in the GMP.

UB's Gifted Math Program, administered through UB's Graduate School of Education, encounters students like Wang every year, and has made it its mission to provide gifted children with advanced coursework they would not see in their regular schools.

"If you think about the normal curve, there are kids down at the lower end of the curve who get a lot of extra help at schools," says Anne Izydorczak, GMP administrator. "But at the upper end of the curve, you've got kids who really need something different that the schools don't have the resources to provide. And that's what we're here for."

The program, founded in 1979 by Gerald Rising, Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus in the UB Department of Learning and Instruction, and Betty Krist, professor emerita of mathematics at Buffalo State College, enrolls approximately 250 students from secondary schools in Erie, Niagara and Orleans counties.

Each year, the Gifted Math Program admits a class of 60 students nominated for entry by parents or teachers. Applicants undergo interviews and tests, which includes the math section of the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test.

The program offers advanced mathematics courses twice a week during the academic year, which may replace math courses in the students' home schools. Those in grades seven through 10 study an accelerated curriculum, while 11th and 12th graders take university-level courses in calculus and linear algebra. Students have the opportunity to earn up to 22 college credit hours through the GMP.

Time management is an essential part of the program, as many students juggle regular school work, sports and other extracurricular activities with GMP classes and homework. But despite their hectic schedules, students still arrive to class eager to learn.

"They've spent an entire day in their regular middle schools and then come here for two and a half more hours of just mathematics, and nonetheless they're lively and excited about it," says Harry O'Malley, teacher at Casey Middle School and GMP associate director.

"I get comments from parents, genuinely thanking me because their student is getting in their car all hyped up about things that were going on in the classroom. It really does seem to tap into the passion they have for the subject."

What keeps the students interested may be the Gifted Math Program's unusual approach to teaching. In many of the classes, instead of giving their students homework on what they learned in class, they use the work to introduce the kids to new concepts. Students are expected to investigate problems they have never seen before and develop methods to solve them, says O'Malley.

Program graduates take these problem-solving skills with them to their future schools, some of which include Harvard, Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Julie Sarama, GMP director, tells her students, "One day when you're at Harvard and you're not the smartest person around, you're going to be okay with that because you've felt that before. You're around a lot of smart kids and you're going to be challenged."

"I truly believe that being in gifted math is going to lead to their success in life."

Anna Blatz, a graduate of the GMP class of 2012 and freshman at MIT, credits the program for her early success in college. She was one of a few freshmen who found their introductory math courses easy.

"I'm studying mathematics in college and things are coming back up that I learned in seventh grade, which is pretty funny at MIT," says Blatz.

Blatz took away more from the GMP than an improved knack for numbers. The program also introduced her to new cultures. Unlike her regular school, Kenmore West High School, the GMP is diverse and enrolls students from several different countries and ethnicities. Blatz developed friendships with students from Columbia, Japan and China that remain strong to this day.

"Joining the Gifted Math Program was the best decision I ever made. It had a huge influence on my life. I do not think I would be where I am today without it," says Blatz.

"I made great friends, I learned how to be a hard worker and I learned a lot of math."

The application deadline for the class of 2014 is Jan. 23. For more information about the program, call Anne Izydorczak at 645-4467 or visit http://giftedmath.buffalo.edu/.