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The Coastside EPGY Alternative Open for Mathematics

by Emily Berk

As I handed the glossy red packet to the boy, his face lit up. He raised both fists above his shoulders, gave a high, joyful jump, whooped, and said, "Yes! I know what this is."

You would've thought the kid had just won the lottery. But, no, in the packet were the four CD-ROMs that comprise Stanford University's EPGY Algebra I tutorial software and a sheaf of instructions about how to install and run it.

For mathematically gifted students, learning math in a normal, heterogeneous classroom may result in deep frustration. For example, for a child who already intuitively knows how to add three-digit numbers with borrowing, a teacher's otherwise reasonable requirement that they "show their work" may make doing homework intensely frustrating. A first grade teacher with 19 students struggling to learn to add and subtract may feel overwhelmed when a student asks for help in converting base ten numbers into binary.

Parents of mathematically gifted students are often astonished that their child's mathematical gifts make providing an appropriate learning environment for that child so challenging. For nearly 35 years now, Stanford University has been developing its Education Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY) to address the needs of mathematically-advanced students from kindergarten through high school. They have also recently added writing, physics and computer programming instruction to their curriculum.

Because EPGY courses are computer-based, students can take advanced courses regardless of where they live and can work through the lessons at their own pace. The software keeps track of topics which the student has not yet mastered and re-drills in those areas. It also provides chapter tests so that if the student already understands the concepts in a chapter, the student can skip that lesson.

Stanford offers a mathematics curriculum for every grade from kindergarten through seventh; it then provides Algebra, Geometry, and advanced placement courses such as Number Theory and Calculus. Stanford recommends that math students start in EPGY at grade level. However, if the student progresses quickly enough through that grade level during their tuition period, they can go on to higher and higher levels without any additional fee.

EPGY courseware is unlikely to appeal to those who are math-phobic. There are no flashy shoot-em-ups in EPGY, none of those "random, explosive events" that my friends at Atari used to insist on in their software. Each lesson is presented by a guy who sounds like a math professor. In even tones, complete with scratching of chalk on the blackboard, he explains the concept that underlies the lesson. He then poses questions for the student to answer. When the student answers correctly, the instructor intones, "Good job!" or "Right" as brightly as he can muster. (He never does get too enthusiastic.) My teenage daughter LOVES to say "Good job!" unenthusiastically with him.

If the child gets an answer wrong, the instructor non-judgmentally says "Try again" and the screen provides a hint about what's wrong. (Computer-literate students can actually go in and change the way the instructor responds to right and wrong answers, although they can't change the lessons.)

One shortcoming of the EPGY program is that it can cost a lot of money. Most EPGY licenses cost at least $450 per quarter. This gets prohibitively expensive.

The EPGY Coastside Alternative is a group of families on the coast who have contracted with Stanford to acquire EPGY at a much lower cost with the understanding that we will not impose on Stanford's tutoring staff until we've exhausted local alternative support. At present, we comprise 22 students working on EPGY math ranging from kindergarten through Algebra. Students from nearly every public and private school on the coast as well as a number of home-schoolers and some kids from over-the-hill are participating. Cost per student per Coastside Alternative license is currently $210 per year.
As with any computer program, the EPGY software does have some bugs. However, Stanford has promptly responded to all of our questions and problems.

To run EPGY, you must have an IBM-PC or compatible with a sound card and a CD-ROM drive. You should have access to the Internet so you can submit progress reports to Stanford.

This article is in the April 2001 issue of
<AHREF=" ">CoastViews Magazine.
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