AoPS Options: 4 Ways to Study!

Many parents contact me because they are confused by the options for studying AoPS curriculum. And it is confusing! Here is a summary of options with my list of advantages and disadvantages:

(1)  AoPS textbook only.   

Advantages: go at your own pace, more practice problems, if parent teaches it is least expensive option

Disadvantages: no group/community learning, may need to hire a tutor (becoming most expensive option)

(2)  AoPS online class.  

Advantages: student is on a set schedule, i.e., you know exactly when you will be finished with a course; student joins the AoPS online community of math loving students, opportunity to learn and practice Latex skills, writing problems evaluated by human teacher.

Disadvantages: students often do not take deadlines seriously and do not complete homework problems by deadline (homework extensions only compound this problem), little flexibility for family schedules, some students do not like text-based class, fewer homework problems.

(3) AoPS self-paced class.  (Prealgebra only)

Advantages:  very similar to online class without online classroom, but with great flexibility in timing

Disadvantages:  students historically tend to not complete the class, access limited to 9 months per half course.

(4)  AoPS Academy courses.

Advantages: In person classes with online video during pandemic

Disadvantages:  Limited campus sites

I support students who are using all these options with an online whiteboard and videoconferencing.  
For example with the textbook only option (1), I work through the problems with the students and then assign the Exercises, Review Problems and Challenge Problems as homework.  
I also support students who are taking online classes (options 2,3,4) with light homework help.  Sometimes I remind them of key points from lecture, a short prompt here and there to get them started.  I also model solid mathematical documentation on the whiteboard to help them avoid errors and improve their writing problem responses.  I also get them started with Latex (more exciting than it sounds!).

Why your gifted student should study AoPS

I’m your expert in all things related to Art of Problem Solving math curriculum and math contests generally.   I guide students who are taking the online AoPS courses and studying from the textbooks independently.  I help students prepare for AMCs and I coach a homeschooled MathCounts team every year.

You can also call me a Richard Rusczyk fan girl.  One of my favorite talks is one he delivered at Math Prize for Girls in 2009, when he showed this slide:

“I certainly wish your website and materials existed when I was in high school. I went through junior high and high school without ever missing a question on a math test, and then took [Math] 103 and 104 at Princeton, which was one of the most unpleasant and bewildering experiences of my life and poisoned me on math for years.”
–Princeton University alum
He continues:

“I want you to think for a minute what this student’s middle school and high school teachers thought when he went off to Princeton.  They thought, “We succeeded.  He went off to Princeton; we’re awesome.”  They never saw this.  I’m sure he didn’t go back to his middle school teachers and say, “Yeah what’s up?!?  You didn’t prepare me for this.”

“So they didn’t get this feedback, and this happens a lot.  Kids go through school, some very good schools, they get perfect scores on everything, and then they come to a place like MIT, a place like Princeton, they walk into that first year math class, and they see something they’ve never seen before: problems they don’t know how to solve.  And they completely freak out.  And that’s a bad time to have these first experiences.  Having to overcome initial failure.”

Don’t let this happen to your student.  Front load their math education by challenging them early in their academic career.  I’m talking elementary and middle school.

5 Ways to Help Your AoPS Student

I teach math to homeschooled students, and I limit my practice to Art of Problem Solving curricula and preparing for math contests like MOEMS, MathCounts, and AMC.  

Today I want to talk about a certain type of student that I help more than any other:  The Online AoPS Student.

AoPS offers terrific online classes for students who love math.  They are text-based, with no video or audio, just a live moderated discussion board where teachers ask questions and ideal student responses are posted.  They offer weekly homework, reading assignments from their textbooks, and more online practice with their Alcumus problems. My own kids and I have taken these classes and enjoyed them.  

So why are parents coming to me to help their online AoPS students?  I’ll answer this question with my list of 5 Ways to Help your AoPS Student

(1)  Read the textbook before class.

This is a tall order for any student, especially those in elementary and middle school.  Many don’t learn this style of independent study until college. Now is a good time to learn this education hack with a built in incentive:  if you arrive at your AoPS class more prepared, then your answers are more likely to be models and selected to posted for the class to see. As any AoPS student will tell you, they live for the fame and glory of being posted!  

(2) ACTIVELY read the AoPS textbook.

Reading a challenging textbook in any field does not look like curling up with a cup of tea under a warm blanket.  Reading a challenging textbook means sitting up in an uncomfortable chair at a desk or large table, with a pen and notebook ready to go.  Write out the problems and the solutions, copying them line by line as if you were solving them yourself.  Understand each step before you continue. Work through all the practice exercises.  Get your money’s worth!  

(3)  Learn in small chunks every day

It’s better to learn in smaller chunks every day than to cram a whole chapter’s worth of material the day the homework is due.  Sleeping helps with educational digestion.  

(4)  Start homework problems early

Read and attempt a few problems.  When you reach a wall, don’t bang your head against it.  Walk away from your homework, sleep on it and try again the next day.  Maybe take some time to solve a few alcumus problems. Schedule time every day to just take another look at your homework.  The truly difficult problems in life are not solved in an hour but often require months or years of study. Get used to it.  

(5)  Consider ditching the online class and going old school

The AoPS textbooks have plenty of practice problems and plenty of challenge problems.  Work through the textbooks at home, every day, for a less than an hour per day. Model clear mathematical technique by writing out the problems and solutions as you read.  Make slow but steady progress on your own schedule. We took over 1 calendar year (including summers!) each on prealgebra and algebra, but it was worth the extra time to ensure complete mastery.  In contrast the AoPS classes proceed at a blistering pace.  

Online learning is tough which is why I’m called to help.  I spend much of my time reteaching students the principles already described in the text.  I also assign practice problems from the textbook that align with the online homework problems.   I model clear problem solving documentation (AKA showing your work) so they can see for themselves how helpful it is.