statesman logoMSI (Math Scene Investigation)
New online program to challenge students.

Youths who excel at math get to broaden their problem solving skills.

SARAH EVANS, Statesman Journal


Yoshikai Elementary School fourth-grader Anirudh Appachar enjoys solving math problems, but he doesn't always feel challenged by the ones he encounters at school.

His parents already have him participating in a math program for gifted students through Johns Hopkins University, but Anirudh wanted more.

Enter Math Scene Investigation.

Anirudh is one of 16 fourth- and fifth-grade students in the Talented and Gifted program who are participating in an MSI pilot program this spring.

MSI, developed by the Salem-Keizer School District and SK Online, is aimed at TAG students who are far above their grade level in math and want an extra challenge.

"The kids who are moving faster are the ones who need the stimulation, the challenge to go on and solve the problems of the world," said Burt Kanner, the SK Online math department chairman and the main developer of MSI. "This course is set to broaden their knowledge by looking at the history of mathematics, reading about some of the personalities."

The 10-Pentament program would allow participants to log in either at school -- when they have finished their regular math work and are looking to do more -- or at home.

MSI has five activities every Pentament, each relating to a different math-related issue. Participants can work through each activity on their own time and submit answers online.

The goal is to launch the program in the fall for students in grades four and five, and to eventually expand it to other grade levels. For now, 19 students were chosen to meet once per Pentament with MSI organizers so they can use the program and discuss what works and what doesn't. MSI still is in the development stage, Kanner said.

Many gifted math students are moved up the ladder to higher levels of math, Kanner said. He wanted MSI to not just take the "vertical" approach, instead allowing students to further explore particular concepts in areas such as math literature or history.

These students are accustomed to knowing the answer easily, and Kanner said his goal is to give them a challenge they can't solve right away.

"The important thing here is that you're trying," he told the pilot students Thursday at their first meeting. "I'm going to take you to a place where you can't answer a question."

Kanner searched online for a program to help gifted math students, and when he found none, he created his own.

Another major component of MSI is that students will be working with the Casio electronics company to use a fairly new graphing calculator called ClassPad Manager. The technology allows students to install the graphics calculator software on a computer so they can use it  solve problems and graph/analyze the results. The students doesn't need to purchase the actual device.

Casio is trying to better publicize the ClassPad, Kanner said, and plans to use the MSI program as an example to help market the technology.

The pilot students got their first look at MSI on Thursday, when they worked through one of the activities in a computer lab at Roberts High School. The discussion level was high as the students worked through the problems and talked together about their answers.

Madeline Ballard and Brian Weber, fifth-grade classmates at Pringle Elementary School, seemed excited about trying the program.

"I thought it would be challenging, and I think challenging is fun," Brian said.

"Math is one of my favorite subjects, being able to figure out things," Madeline added. "Sometimes, you don't get challenged enough (at school)."

Schirle Elementary School fifth-grader Jeff Metzger said he had looked ahead at some of the future activities and already thought some of them would be a challenge.

"I think it will be good for me," Jeff said. "It will help me learn beyond what the schools are helping me learn."

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