Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts | 501 S. Sapodilla Ave, WPB, FL 33401

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Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts | 501 S. Sapodilla Ave, WPB, FL 33401

THE MUSE

Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts | 501 S. Sapodilla Ave, WPB, FL 33401

THE MUSE

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Rates of Acceleration

Underclassmen in accelerated math tracks find both academic benefits and mental drawbacks to learning high level math at young ages
Listening+to+his+AP+Calculus+AB+teacher+Traci+De+Le%C3%B3n+teach+a+lesson+on+Riemann+sums%2C+communications+freshman+Anthony+Stan+follows+along+in+his+notes.+%E2%80%9CI+think+there+are+many+benefits+of+doing+%28accelerated+math+courses%29+because+I+can+get+all+my+math+credits+in.+I%E2%80%99ve+already+finished+all+my+math+credits+for+high+school%2C+and+now+I+can+mostly+focus+on+college+credits+instead%2C+so+thats+a+huge+plus%2C%E2%80%9D+Stan+said.+%E2%80%9CMath+is+just+so+useful+in+so+many+places%2C+and+I+feel+like+if+I+get+this+kind+of+knowledge+early+then+Ill+be+better+at+it.%E2%80%9D%0A
Aiden Velez
Listening to his AP Calculus AB teacher Traci De León teach a lesson on Riemann sums, communications freshman Anthony Stan follows along in his notes. “I think there are many benefits of doing (accelerated math courses) because I can get all my math credits in. I’ve already finished all my math credits for high school, and now I can mostly focus on college credits instead, so that’s a huge plus,” Stan said. “Math is just so useful in so many places, and I feel like if I get this kind of knowledge early then I’ll be better at it.”

A correction was made to this story on 2/9/2023.

In the story, Ana Valdarrama Lemus’ name was written as Ana Valdarrama. Her name is Ana Valdarrama Lemus. This has been rewritten with the correct name. 

The story below has been corrected with the noted revisions. 

Over the past few years, teachers have seen a definitive “influx” in the number of underclassmen in accelerated math classes, particularly Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus courses. 

“When I first started teaching (AP) Calc, maybe 9, 10 years ago, it was mainly seniors, and now I see a lot more sophomores,” AP Calculus AB teacher Traci De León said.

Because there are more freshmen and sophomores taking AP Calculus AB, there are more sophomores and juniors in AP Calculus BC, meaning that students much younger than before are expected to learn high level math concepts, like calculating integrals and differentiating functions. While these expectations contribute to the success of some underclassmen, it can put a strain on others.

Going Further, Faster

Although younger students in AP Calculus courses may be expected to struggle due to the college-level coursework, many underclassmen excel in these courses. According to a casual survey given by The Muse to students in their AP Calculus classes, out of nine sophomores who responded to the survey, eight said they had A’s and B’s in their AP Calculus classes, and all nine said that they felt their math abilities in AP Calculus were either average or above average.

“I find that those newer freshmen that are doing it (taking AP Calculus) are very well versed in math,” AP Calculus AB teacher Craig Adams said. “I tend to believe the kids taking it at that age, their brains aren’t the most mature yet and fully developed, so they might not necessarily be understanding the overarching concepts. However, they are, and it’s impressive.”

AP Calculus teachers generally agree that this understanding is due to the innate interest in math these underclassmen come into the class with.

“If they’re in their math classes when they’re in middle school and they’re bored and they want to be pushed harder and they can get self-motivated to go online and do those courses and excel in those courses, then I think that they are successful in AP Calc,” Mrs. De León said.

Piano sophomore Hannah Zimmerman solves a practice problem during her AP Calculus AB class. Zimmerman is part of a growing number of students enrolling in advanced math classes. “I personally really love doing math. I find it fun and entertaining to challenge myself with a more difficult math,” Zimmerman said. “I think solving these more difficult problems is challenging but in a fun way. I just like doing the work.”
(Aiden Velez)

For underclassmen who previously took or are currently taking AP Calculus and are interested in the material, this has helped them adapt to new content.

“I ended up in these math classes in the first place because I pick up material pretty quickly,” dance junior Josie Chase said, having taken AP Calculus AB in her freshman year. “I just have a math brain. That’s what I’m good at, so once I got back any information I missed over the years I did fine (and worked) at the same pace as upperclassmen.”

Although reaching this point in their math education required teaching themselves more advanced concepts and spending time outside of school in online courses, many students who took advanced math courses as underclassmen don’t regret their choice to accelerate their education.

“I’m very glad that I’m taking AP Calc right now because I feel like it’s such an entertaining class, learning all these different things that normally I wouldn’t find in all the previous courses,” said piano sophomore Hannah Zimmerman, who is currently taking AP Calculus AB. “I feel like in the previous courses, they were all the same thing with a (little) extra information being added on but then suddenly, we got to AP Calc, and we’re learning a completely different thing.”

Regardless of the academic benefits of taking AP Calculus earlier in high school, being separated from those in their own grade can hinder the social lives of accelerated students.

“It was definitely more isolating socially because I was also in AP for science, so half of my academics were with upperclassmen who I didn’t know,” Chase said. “The biggest downside of taking accelerated math is that it’s hard to make friends. I was a freshman in AP Calc with all these juniors and seniors, and I didn’t know how to interact with anyone.”

Exceptions to the Equation 

Although many students who take AP Calculus as underclassmen end up doing well, not all students who take accelerated math just “breeze through AP classes.” Some underclassmen who choose to take a higher level math course never learn foundational math skills necessary to fully grasp the concepts in higher level courses. A freshman who responded to the casual survey preferred not to share their letter grade in their AP Calculus class and said that they felt their math abilities in AP Calculus were worse than average.

“Sometimes, you do have sophomores that are pushed past their math limits because they’ve rushed certain foundational mathematics in their middle school years,” Mr. Adams said. “Forcing kids (into AP Calculus) at an earlier age when they’re not really understanding basic fractions or silly little concepts, and (they) missed that one hole, that’s a big deal.”

Due to COVID-19 and online learning, many younger students have also spent a lot of their math careers learning foundational math skills online, which can make courses like AP Calculus much more challenging for them.

“I think I’ve struggled more (than upperclassmen) because a lot of my years of math were learned on the computer in virtual learning and (through) FLVS, so people who have taken it (in) in-person classes might have better fundamentals in math,” said strings freshman Allison Yan, who is currently taking AP Calculus AB.

While some students take higher level math courses because they have a strong inclination towards math, others may have taken it for college applications or because of external pressure. 

“The reason I joined AP Calculus in the first place was just because it was the way of things,” said communications junior Ana Valdarrama Lemus, who took AP Calculus AB in her sophomore year but did not continue to take AP Calculus BC after that. “It was the logical next step, but I only joined it because of that. I’ve never wanted to do anything in my life that relates to math. It’s not something that I’m interested in.”

Valdarrama Lemus feels that because she was not interested in calculus, or math in general, she was not able to immerse herself in the content and therefore not able to fully grasp it.

“I cannot fully understand things that I’m not in some way interested (in) because my brain just doesn’t bother trying to learn them,” Valdarrama Lemus said. “It was like no matter how many books I read, no matter how many homework problems I did or tests I took, it was never going to click for me because I just couldn’t bring myself to really want to learn it. I just couldn’t bring myself to really love math in a way where I could learn (at a) high level like that.”

For students who know they are not going to go into a STEM field in the future, many feel taking highly accelerated math at younger ages did not fully benefit them and instead caused them unnecessary stress.

“(AP Calculus) is an incredibly high level math, and I will never do anything in my life that will require knowing that level of math,” Valdarrama Lemus said. “I wanted to instead focus on taking classes that have to do with what I want to do and have to do with my interests.”

AP Calculus BC teacher Timothy Freeman also agrees that “just doing that (AP Calculus) to do it is definitely not the right move.”

“If you’re going into STEM then yes, you should work towards getting there … But if you’re not even going to be touching math outside of high school, then pushing yourself to do it (AP Calculus) if you are struggling is just going to end up backfiring,” Mr. Freeman said. “If you’re pushing and struggling and stressing just to eke out barely a passing grade, then it’s detrimental because, as a student, you’d be burning yourself out for class that has nothing to do with what you want to do.”

Explaining the lesson, Mrs. De León teaches her AP Calculus AB class, a college level introductory calculus course with students from all grade levels enrolled. “I do think there’s this want for students to move faster than maybe they are ready for,” Mrs. De León said. “There’s a lot of students that I’ve taught that they’re not doing well in AP Calc and then they take a step back for a year and then they come in and they excel the next year, just because they need that extra year of math to just prepare them. Don’t push it faster than you need to, because there’s no reason. What’s the rush? Make sure you’re going in the level that will make you the most successful and eventually we all get there. We just go at different paces.”
(Aiden Velez)

Although an accelerated math track can be very beneficial for some, when others are pushed too hard, too fast, it can cause intense stress and mental health issues.

“Trying to shove yourself through it (math) as fast as possible can end up causing burnout and extreme stress and all that way too early on,” Mr. Freeman said. “You should be trying to challenge yourself but not push yourself to having breakdowns and things like that when you’re only in your first or second year of high school.”

A Case by Case Basis

The consensus of most AP Calculus teachers seems to be that whether or not an underclassman can handle highly accelerated math courses all depends on the student themself. 

“You just hope that within the first quarter, you can tell between your own self taking the class and your teacher who’s in the room with you,” Mr. Adams said. “You guys should be able to identify, ‘Is this the right choice? Is this acceleration putting me in the best driver’s seat to succeed?’ I would say nine times out of 10 it’s right, but that one out of 10 case, they’re the ones that are getting hurt.”



 

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About the Contributor
Priya Gowda
Priya Gowda, Coverage Editor
Priya Gowda is a second-year staffer and coverage editor on The Muse. She enjoys rewatching Gilmore Girls, creating playlists, drinking coffee, fawning over her cat, and adding books to her ever-growing TBR list. Aside from writing, Priya also loves to read (her current favorite books are "The Picture of Dorian Gray" and "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous") and will pick up anything from literary fiction to gothic classics. She is excited to continue writing about unexplored topics on campus and is looking forward to working with everyone on the staff this year to produce great content.
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