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Course selection at high school

Original post made by Parent on Feb 5, 2010

I am looking for advice from high school students or their parents re course selection at high school. My son is a "B" student at Jordan, but he wants to chose advanced lanes for all core subjects (the highest lane in math, English and science) in high school, and I wonder if it is the right choice. I keep hearing how much more intense high school is compared to middle school and if he is a B student in middle school, will he most likely struggle in advanced lanes in high school?
I would also like to get a clear answer on whether grades in 9th grade go to transcript for college or not. My son tells me that grades in 9th grade do not count (towards GPA) and if he gets low grades in those advanced lanes he will simply switch to lower lanes in 10th grade. But I also heard that all high school grades, (including 9th grade grades) go to transcript and that colleges look not only at GPA but transcripts and all grades in high school.
And lastly I'd like to hear recommendations of electives at Paly - video, photo, art, computer applications - which ones of those have the most inspiring teachers? This will be not a choice of subject but rather a choice of a teacher. Similar to when you are in grad school and everyone says "you have to take Professor Rubinstein class, it will be one of the few avademic experiences you will remember for the rest of your life". So who are those teachers at Paly whom you will remember for the rest of your life?

Comments (96)

Posted by advice, a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 5, 2010 at 10:34 am

it really depends on whether or not you can envision your child sitting down and completing upwards of 3-4 hours of homework (inc. studying) a night. If you think they will devote themselves to their studies, then they can attempt the higher lanes. That said, I would rely on the advice of your 8th grade teachers' recommendations. They would know best.

Yes, 9th grade grades go on the transcript and colleges see/use 9th grade grades in the application process.


Posted by advice, a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 5, 2010 at 10:36 am

i would also encourage you to speak with the 9th grade counselor at Palo Alto High School.


Posted by Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 5, 2010 at 11:19 am

Where did this crazy idea started that freshmen grades do not matter? I have heard people say it and cannot believe people would actually buy into it.

If a student has their own desire to do well, it's worth much more than a parent who is pushing their child into higher lanes. My son wanted to be in the higher lane of math so he took the bridge class in the summer and earned an "A", and then earned "A"s in the higher lane math in 8th grade. Then he was recommended to the highest lane of math at Paly (while not all students in his class were recommended). He does, however, have his dad to help him with math if he had questions, which was only once in awhile. We were worried that the 8th grade high lane math would be too much for him but he wanted to do it and he proved to us he could and is proud of himself.

So if your son is a "B" student now, he will have to step up to the plate this semester and learn some organization skills to prove that he can do the advanced workload. And as parents, he must be able to turn to you for help in high school once in awhile. If he has the desire to do well and wants to put in the effort, why hold him back?

Input from his current teachers would be helpful also.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 5, 2010 at 11:39 am

re advice to "speak with the 9th grade counselor at Palo Alto High School" - 8th graders are supposed to turn in their course selection forms by Feb 10 - not much time left to get recommendations from 8th grade teachers or 9th grade counsellors. Can lanes be switched later on , at least after we get the middle school teacher recommendations?


Posted by Teacher, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 5, 2010 at 12:10 pm

These are all good questions. My advice would be to consider these questions:
1. listen to your son's 8th grade teacher -- what is his/her recommendation?
2. how strong are your son's student skills? (organization, reading, completing all assignments, time management)
3. how strong are your son's writing skills -- THIS is where many freshmen feel the "higher lane" is intense
4. Does your son genuinely like English?


Regarding the 9th grade grades in general-- they DO show on the transcript of course. However, UC's and CSU's DO NOT calculate 9th grade into their GPA calculations. Private schools have their own protocols. 9th grade grades are typically not important to most colleges, but students do need to pass 4 years of English with a C- or better. Success/failure in 9th grade, however, can impact future courses that the student is allowed to take.

Hope this helps!


Posted by Jordan Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 5, 2010 at 5:21 pm

Trying to get advice on course selection has been frustrating so far.
At the Open House on Wednesday, they refused to answer any questions.
At the planning workshop on Thursday, questions had to be written on an index card and read in front of the entire group. Since my questions are specific to my child, I didn't feel that it was appropriate to waste everyone else's time.
Meanwhile, my e-mails to Play staff (which was how we were told to get information) have gone unanswered for three days so far.


Posted by Roy, a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 5, 2010 at 9:44 pm

Ok parent, heres some EXPERT advice from a 4.0 GPA(weighted) student at Gunn who has much experience with the hardest of the hardest classes.

Math-Stay away from the highest lane. Geo/Alg2A is definitely a do-able class, but the classes just get exponentially harder after that. Trg/AnltH is the WORST class, then there is Analysis, which is...dont get me started. Do not take unless you are ABSOLUTELY FASCINATED/TALENTED/INTERESTED AND MOST OF ALL GIFTED in math.

Highest science-Bio1AC isnt that bad, its manageable if you know how to study/work efficiently

"Advanced" English-Easy as 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288


Posted by student, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 5, 2010 at 10:42 pm

I'm a senior at Paly. For electives, I would really recommend video production and theatre which has a wonderful teacher. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.] Art is another fun class and is great because it allows you take glass-blowing later (paly is one of only 3 high schools in the nation that has a glass-blowing program!)

Definitely take higher lane English, critical thinking 1, it will open doors and won't become difficult until 11th grade. Paly only has Bio1A and Intro to sciences, so definitely have your son take bio, it might be a bit of a jump depending on the teacher but the other option is basically remedial. For math, don't take the highest lane as geometry/algebra 2 is extremely difficult class but it is a good idea to take geometry A or algebra 1 A, two options that will open doors so he can take calc by senior year. For math, your son's jordan teacher will usually decide what lane will be a good fit.


Posted by student, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 5, 2010 at 10:44 pm

Also, it is easier to start in higher lanes and go down than to start in lower lanes and move up.


Posted by Anon, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 6, 2010 at 7:46 am

1) My best advice: really really REALLY listen to your 8th grade English teacher. Cultivate a relationship with them so they can give you their honest opinion and then take their advice.
2) Other things to consider:
a) How resilient is your son? If he's earning Bs in English, unless he steps up his game (extra appointments with teacher, multiple drafts done outside of class, etc.), he should plan for a C in Crit 1 if he maintains the same skill set and level of dedication as a student. With all due respect to the PALY student above, course difficulty can vary depending on the teacher and cherry-picking a teacher based on course taught is almost impossible outside of the elective programs. I wouldn't take that chance if my child needed to work on their diligence or was fragile. Additionally, there are approximately 4 new faculty members in the English department since they were Freshmen.
b) What are your expectations as a parent? I mention this because if it isn't acceptable for your son to earn a C while his resilience kicks in or his skill deficits are remediated, then it's a recipe for stress.

I think that if you take an objective approach to the above questions, then you will make an informed opinion. Good luck!

PS--PALY email has had a problem in the last week with being "black-listed" by several email providers which might explain the lack of response.


Posted by Jordan Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 6, 2010 at 7:55 am

Thanks for the warning on the photography class.
Do other students share that view?


Posted by LL, a resident of Professorville
on Feb 6, 2010 at 9:54 am

What warning about photography? Couldn't find any reference to it above.


Posted by Fred, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 6, 2010 at 10:24 am

The bottom line is how hard your child wants to work. If you have to stand over your child for 8 hours to get 2 hours of homework done, it isn't going to work. Your child has to decide. By the junior year, the higher-track classes are pretty much at the college level, so, if your child isn't highly motivated, it will be torture.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 6, 2010 at 10:42 am

Science - there are only 2 options, the amount of work in Bio varies from teacher to teacher.
Math - Ellie Slack (IS at Jordan) was a Paly Math teacher before she came to Jordan. She will tell you that it is much better to get an A in a lower level math than a C in a higher level. Your child's current math teacher is a good resource.
English - Most kids seem to be fine in Critical Thinking and bored in the lower level English. Work load varies from teacher to teacher. Freshman and Sophmore year, the higher lane of English is not bad, Junior year is much harder, but again it depends on the teacher.
One elective should be a language. The other elective should be one he is interested in. The kids need to take a variety of electives over the years, most of them are fun and interesting. What electives has he taken at Jordan?
It is easier to switch lanes in HS than MS, but it should be within the first few weeks.
Email - I'd resend it if there were problems with email at Paly. That said, I have found half of the Paly staff to be terrible about returning emails.


Posted by parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 6, 2010 at 11:24 am

LL, it looks like it was removed by the moderators.
I was so discouraged by the tone of the Paly open house. I know lots of kids that are happy there, but my Jordan student was very bummed on Wednesday night and felt like they didn't care at all.


Posted by Open House, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 6, 2010 at 12:06 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Paly Senior, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 6, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Im not going to go into Freshman grades as it has already been covered. My advice is generally don't slack off too much at any point in your high school career(obviously).
As for course selction, I would definetly take Video Production and/or art. Mac, the vid prod teacher, is a good teacher with a lot of experience in that field, as well as a teacher you want your kid to know. I dont think i have ever heard anything bad about him ever. As also stated, Paly is among a select group of schools that has a glass blowing workshop. If there is one class i wish i had taken as a freshman, it would be art.
regarding laning and choosing courses, it depends on the subject. For nath, i would allow your childs math teacher to choose the lane. they most likely know your kids math abilities the best and subsequently know the best class for them. For English, I would take crit. think 1, its not a hard class and most people of all writing abilities are in that lane. Science has very limited choices freshman year, and probably wont b anymore difficult than their current science class. One warning is that for chemistry and physics, whenever your child takes them, you should stay away from PhysicsA and ChemA vs normal Physics and Chem. Although they have the "A" moniker, they are not weighted any differently, unlike an honors or AP class, and are only paced faster and have some pre-requisites (A in freshman bio, have taken a trig class, etc). Those classes will only end up causing your child more stress and have no real benefit unless your kid absolutely knows that s/he wants to be a engineer or chemist. Lastly, make sure your kid takes classes that they will enjoy. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Paly Student, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 6, 2010 at 3:08 pm

decision.

Since you're son will be a freshman. . .

Regarding SCIENCE and ENGLISH. I would definitely recommend that he take Biology 1A and Critical Thinking 1 (since the lower lanes are, sadly to say, bereft of any true ambition or will to learn on the part of the students). The difficulty of freshman science and english has little to do with the lane, but with the teacher your son gets.

Regarding LANGUAGES, I would like to point out the difficulty of various classes.
JAPANESE 1,2,3,4,4H,AP very easy
CHINESE 1,2,3,4,4AP easy
FRENCH 1,2,3 easy
FRENCH 4, 4AP challenging (unless you are fluent)
SPANISH 1,2 very easy
SPANISH 3 easy
SPANISH 3H very challenging (one of the hardest classes at Paly, taught by a very strict yet lovely teacher)
SPANISH 4AP challenging
SPANISH 5AP somewhat challenging
In terms of languages, choosing a lane for him will not be too challenging, since it will be based mostly on his fluency.

Regarding MATH,
I would recommend either Alg1/Geometry or Geometry/Alg2
Although I found the content in Geo/Alg2 very easy, I would like to impress upon you the three following points...
1) If you plan on getting a solid A in Geo/Alg2 you either need to have a strong passion for math or be willing to spend anywhere between 70 to 100 minutes a night on homework. As a teacher's assistant for the class and a former student, I would like to point out that very few people (2 or so) get Cs or lower, that 2 or so people get As in a typical class, that 3 or so ppl get A-s in the class, and that 50% of the class falls in the 82%-88% range. HARD WORK and NOT INTELLIGENCE is what counts the MOST in freshman math (though the same is not really true once you get to junior year)
2)The major difference between Geo/Alg2 and Alg1/Geometry is not the amount of homework nor the difficulty of the material, but the difficulty of the tests.
3)Classes following Alg1/Geo are of similar difficulty. However, if you stay in the upper lane, prepare for the next year to be slightly harder (Trig Analyt), Junior year to be ten times harder (Analysis), and senior year to be about the same as junior year (BC Calc). Analysis is frequently considered to be one of the school's hardest classes (i.e. at one time during 1st semester there was only one A per class) not because of the breadth of its material but because of the challenging nature of its test (i.e. 6 page tests in 45 minutes).
---
All in all, I would recommend that your son take Geo/Alg2 if he is willing to spend 1.5hrs a day on the homework. Having never attended a PAUSD school before, I was still able to get a 99% in the class, and was able to do almost as well in Trig sophomore year, and in BC.

Last but not least, Regarding the electives he might choose,
I would suggest Art Spectrum since it will allow him to take AP Art in the future. Video production, on the other hand, does not allow him the possibility to continue to a more advanced level in the future. You might as well consider AP Music Theory or AP Computer science, if your son is interested in either one.

ALL IN ALL...

What matters most in not how well he did in middle school, but how willing he is to work hard. Although my grades were far from stellar in middle school, I was able to get all As freshman and sophomore year while taking 3 APs and playing sports (as well as participating in many extracurriculars), and am now able to take a handful of AP classes junior year and still maintain a respectable GPA because I decided to push myself more when I matriculated into high school. If your son is up to it: LISTEN TO HIM. Do not listen to the middle school teacher who will try to discourage him from trying harder. This will make him less independent in his thought process, and less willing to try hard. The decisions he takes starting in freshman year will have paramount importance on his success in the future. By letting him challenge himself, you will allow him to sit next to brighter, more talented, and ambitious students during his classes. He will make friends with kids who will support him along the way to college. The simple, yet not always pretty, truth is the following...
If your son chooses the easier lane, where most are content with simply a B, he will learn to not try his best. But if you put him in a more challenging class, next to people who strive for As, your son will strive to do his best both in school, and in life.

Good luck,
Paly student


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 6, 2010 at 6:00 pm

I agree with Paly Student that a lot of HS success is about hard work, but it is also about whether school comes easily to your son. Paly Student sounds like someone who "does school" well. Does your son have to work hard for a B or is it pretty easy? Is he willing to put in 2-4 hours of work a night to be in the higher lanes?

What math is he in now? If he's in Pre-Algebra, I believe he would need to take a summer school course to enroll in anything but Algebra 1.

Also, even though their course info is due soon, you can make an appointment to see a counselor at Paly (and talk to his current teachers) between now and the end of the school year. The schedules don't really get run until the summer, I think a lot of the timing is so they have lots of time to input the data. He can change things this spring or even a the start of the school year if needed. Paly is pretty cooperative about making changes so a student is in the right lane.


Posted by Grad Student, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 6, 2010 at 6:21 pm

As a Gunn grad - class of 03 - let me offer my advice:

Take the 'easiest' classes, get the highest grades in those classes if you can. An 'A' in the 'easier' lane is much better than a 'B' in the 'higher' lane. Your son will have a much easier time getting into the UCs if he can have more A's.

Everyone thinks the opposite when they are at your son's stage - but when you look at the schools people were admitted to, you realize that it's only the letter that matters.


Posted by One more mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 6, 2010 at 8:35 pm

Thank you for your thoughts, Paly student, especially on the language classes.
It's really helpful to have your input.


Posted by The 411, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 6, 2010 at 10:42 pm

It is really a bad idea to choose classes based on a teacher. Opinions about teachers vary widely in some cases. Some teachers respond more to kids who show more enthusiasm for the subjct, and if your child isn't into the subject, that "great" teacher might seem quite average. Other teachers specialize in making their elective accessible and relevant to everyone, and then kids who actually came in with considerable skills already don't feel as challenged. It's all just part of life at school. Some stuff better than other stuff, and not nice and neat and predictable. Get used to it. And seriously, think back to high school and college. Weren't there some teachers/profs that you disliked even though they were popular with yoru peers, or some you liked even though most people didn't? Sometimes the popular teacher doesn't really provide the best skills and preparation for next level courses.


Posted by Why not just try it?, a resident of Meadow Park
on Feb 7, 2010 at 5:46 am

Best advice I have: If you have raised your kid with a "better to try and fail than not try at all" attitude, then just let your kid try. Prepare him for accepting a TON of work. Let him accept he MIGHT not be able to do it, and if he can't quite yet, so what? It doesn't mean he is stupid, it means he isn't ready for college classes until the NORMAL age of 18, instead of the "fast track" of 16.

But, if he does manage it all ok, it will be from a ton of work and he will know he can.

So what if he tries, and then just comes "down" to the normal lane? At least he tried! No harm in trying here in America. We admire "tried and failed" more than "never tried" anyway, as a culture.

Much better that way than to start "lower" ( ie NORMAL) and then try to bump "up" a lane as a sophomore. That is extremely hard.


Posted by Why not just try it?, a resident of Meadow Park
on Feb 7, 2010 at 5:55 am

Addendum: Be sure you all know...while I believe it is a good thing to support your kid if he WANTS to try, he and we need to remember that "failing" to stay in the AP track lane in High School is not really a failure for life and college.

The thing is, the "college classes" at the High School level are much much harder than the ones AT COLLEGE..so in fact to not be able to succeed at them at such a young age means nothing aobut their ability to succeed at college. The converse is true..succeeding in APs as a Junior and Senior is basically a guarantee that college will be no problem, but NOT doing it means only he won't go to .say...MIT.


The APs are much harder because they are

1) full of foolish work that colleges never give... because the teachers are trying to teach college level to an immature mind, which means a lot more busy work than in college

2) daily, instead of 3 times per week..a lot of down time in transitioning, so yet more wasted time out of a very busy week.

3) in the context of students trying to succeed in all those "important" extracurriculars like sports, clubs and mandatory "volunteer" work..yet more time out of their lives than they will need to take in college. ( where most of them are just "in school")

So, frankly, in general, unless you have a kid who is bored with "normal" and therefore heading off to the MITs of the world, just let them try it out..do their best, then help them shrug it off and chill out a bit if it doesn't work ou. Chill out a bit, let them mature, ease up on the stress and let them go to college "normally"



Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2010 at 8:34 am

One thing that hasn't been mentioned about electives is that for some kids an elective like choir, band, drama, etc. becomes their haven and community for the four years of high school. Some take this elective just because of the requirement and then take it again and again because it is the one non-stressful environment where they can hang around with the same kids and teacher year after year, eat lunch together and feel sane together. It is often the one place where they feel they belong and are accepted. Even the parents of these students seem to get to know each other and help each other out.

Talk to students or parents you know and find out which electives fit this category for your child's interests and personality.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 7, 2010 at 10:58 am

What's the deal with photo class?


Posted by Larry, a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 7, 2010 at 11:18 am

Getting your son into advanced classes has the advantage of influencing which other students he hangs out with. Way back when I was at Jordan and Paly, my peers' parents -- mostly professionals and Stanford professors -- had more positive influence on me than anyone else.

As for electives, metalshop ended up having as much positive effect on my life as AP math did, and many of my classmates from back then concur today. I'm a research scientist now, working at the intersection of shop class and math class. Once I realized that building complex stuff was my passion, life choices became easy. The sooner your son recognizes his own passion, the better off he'll be.


Posted by Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 7, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Paly Parent, I like your advice about the electives serving a secondary purpose of providing a social haven for like-minded students.
Do you have any thoughts on good elective choices for kids who really love to write? My child is very disappointed that journalism options don't seem to start until 10th grade.


Posted by Teacher Mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 7, 2010 at 5:18 pm

The photography teacher is wonderful but her class is hard (i.e. expect to do work)

I have a senior at Paly who is going to college. He was in average classes and got average grades. Although he has had many stressful moments, he is happy, educated, and well adjusted. As parents we have to help our kids balance academics with their emotional health. Some kids are naturally driven to overachieve, while others are not. Paly is a great school, but make sure your kid is balanced and happy. Then maybe they'll have enough stamina to be challenged in college.


Posted by a confused parent, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 7, 2010 at 11:08 pm

So is it better to get an A in a lower lane, than a B in a higher lane. I am told that the scores are weighted for the Honors classes in the 10th grade, which means they are out of 5.0 points rather than 4.0. So my question is that why should the child go through stress in school (not worrying about the challenge and the peers), when all she needs to bother about is the grades for college. Once you are in a decent college, get challenged, work hard and get all the knowledge you want. I have asked this questions to various people, and all I get to hear is that challenging a child is more important rather than the grades, but when it comes to college, isn't the GPA important?


Posted by Paly teacher, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 8, 2010 at 12:03 am


The information above about 9th grade grades counting is not correct. UCs and CSUs take an average of 10th-12th grade classes, and not all of those classes -- only those that fit into their A-G requirements.

Private colleges may have their own rules, but any college -- indeed, any sensible person -- will discount poor grades in 9th grade if a student shows in later years he/she can get higher grades.



Posted by Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 8, 2010 at 8:26 am

So if the teacher recommends one lane (e.g. one lane lower) and the student chooses another (e.g. one lane higher), what happens? Will the student be placed according to teacher recommendation or according to his own desire?


Posted by also confused, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Feb 8, 2010 at 9:12 am



Confused parent,

I think the higher lanes are perceived to be where a students will work with equally motivated students, raising the bar, and there seems to be a status associated with it, among the kids. Another perception is that the students will not be "bored" because they are in the challenging lane as opposed to the easier lane.

What's hard to decide is just how worst off the lower/regular lane actually is. At Jordan 7th grade higher lane Math, the idea is the class covers the same material, but faster, or at least that's that's what they say, so that the kids don't call the regular lane stupid math.

If the material covered would really the same in the regular lane, is that doing harm? It could be bad if too many kids are remedial, or slackers (PAUSD is not exactly inner city schools), but also maybe a strong student could learn to help out, and be a leader in the class.

Doing college level work in High School seems like overworking, I'm leaning towards not racing, and not feeling threatened that only the higher lanes can maintain excellence.

where are the posters who can say they took all lower lanes, and got A's - do they regret not taking the higher lane?








Posted by also confused, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Feb 8, 2010 at 9:22 am



confused parent,

forgot - the AP classes probably drive the higher lanes, and the higher lanes prep for handling them?

so maybe it depends on how many AP's one plans to take?


Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 8, 2010 at 9:32 am

Sorry, I don't have any advice on electives for those freshmen with a passion for writing.

I do however have a question for those who recommend video production. I have a child who loved video production in JLS and did two semester sessions, getting to school 30 minutes early most days to work on the morning announcements. Which of the two Paly classes should be the right fit? We don't want a class that teaches the same things already done at JLS, but we don't want to miss the introduction to new things either by opting for the wrong class. Any help would be appreciated.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 8, 2010 at 9:45 am

Broadcast Journalism is the morning announcements class. Video production is more geared toward movies and movies making.

For a child with a passion for writing - get another elective "out of the way" freshman year so they have a spot for those writing electives later on.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 8, 2010 at 10:13 am

Zero period PE - how tough is it? I know many students are signing up for it, but I they don't realize what it is like to get up at 6 am to make it to 6:50 class. What is the drop out/transfer rate from zero PE class?


Posted by Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 8, 2010 at 10:25 am

My son heard at Jordan from the counselors that hardly anyone takes the Zero Period PE and if they choose it, they cannot transfer out later.


Posted by Paly, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 8, 2010 at 8:38 pm

"Zero period PE - how tough is it? I know many students are signing up for it, but I they don't realize what it is like to get up at 6 am to make it to 6:50 class. What is the drop out/transfer rate from zero PE class?"

As a sophomore (last year) I took 2APs, played a sport (for which I did not get a prep), took nine classes, TAed, had many extracurricular activities, and took zero period PE. Back then, I would usually go to bed at around 12:30 AM.

But now, as a junior, playing no sport and doing far fewer extracurriculars, I got to bed anywhere between 2AM and 5AM (and at 3AM on average) simply because of homework.

As you can see, zero period really was not that bad. There were approximately 40 students in our period, and virtually none dropped. However, since many were doing school sports, only 25 students were in class on an average day. The class "starts" at 6:50. However, when they say "6:50" they actually mean that you change from 6:50 to 7:00. Attendance is not taken until 7:00. At 7:30-7:40, the class ends, allowing students sufficient time to change and get ready for first period.

If you want to take eight classes or have a prep during the day, I would definitely recommend taking Zero Period PE.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 8, 2010 at 9:23 pm

Paly,

Nice way to freak out everyone. Seems you are taking higher lanes than you should be in. Three and a half hours of daily sleep for a teenager isn't healthy. Hope you can reflect in college and think it was worth it. Thanks for the details on Zero PE though.


Posted by another curious one, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 8, 2010 at 11:20 pm

@Paly: You say zero period PE is an option for a student who wants to take 8 classes. My understanding was that if you took zero period PE, you HAD to take a prep. In other words, 7 classes total.

My 8th grade son is sad because he wants to be in band, and if you do band, that's it for electives until junior year. Band is one, language another. My son would love to take a fun elective but unless he drops music, which he doesn't want to do, he can't do it. It's too bad you can't just be in jazz, if you want to do jazz you have to be in regular band as well. Sigh...


Posted by Paly Student, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 9, 2010 at 12:00 am

@another curious one

If you take zero period Pe you can take eight classes sophomore year (but not freshman year). However, when I was a sophomore, two of the freshman in my class took eight classes (since not all the administrators were aware that they couldn't)




Posted by Joey, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 9, 2010 at 7:58 am

Changing topic slightly. I am a sophomore in the adv Math lane at Gunn. Is there an alternative to taking Analysis H in the jr yr and then still be able to do BC Calc in the sr year? By the way, why do BC calc and not AB calc, do colleges care? thanks


Posted by Mom, a resident of Duveneck School
on Feb 9, 2010 at 4:39 pm

How do Palo Alto high schools weigh honors and AP classes in GPA and how do they report grades to college transcripts - weighted or unweighted or both?


Posted by Paly Student, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 9, 2010 at 4:49 pm

Paly does not report weighted gpas to colleges or students, since most colleges recalculate gpas themselves (due to their varying policies). However, it does report unweighted gpas on the student's transcript. On the transcript, you and the college will see an unweighted district gpa (all classes taken through high school) and a state gpa (all academic classes taken through 10th-12th grade). Many people assume that freshman grades do not matter since they are not included in the state gpa. However, this is very foolish since only UCs accept the state and gpa, and ALL colleges will still see your ENTIRE transcript (including freshman year) even if the state gpa does not include freshman year.

I hope this helps


Posted by Paly Student, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 9, 2010 at 4:58 pm

@Joey

I would strongly recommend taking Analysis H and especially BC Calculus, since you will not cover Taylor series and basic differential equations if you take AB calculus. BC is one the most fun and memorable classes at the school, and looks far better than AB to college.

However, if you found TrigA rather challenging (as in a B or C), I would propose taking IAC instead of Analysis, if you plan on getting an A in math. Analysis is way harder than Trig (although the class average goes up significantly towards the ends of each semester). IAC on the other hand, is not that hard, but rather dull
(since you cover as much as you do in Analysis but way less rigorously).

If you take IAC junior year, you can still take BC senior year if you do well in IAC (which is rather easy). However, I would recommend that you take Analysis next year and maybe study a bit of math during the summer so that you do well.

Good Luck!


Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 9, 2010 at 5:46 pm

Interesting side aspect to the weighted gpa on transcripts, our insurance company did not give good student discount as they only took the transcripts at face value. A weighted gpa for the advanced classes would have made a great deal of difference. This cost us money - a lot of money when it comes to insuring a boy to drive the family car.


Posted by Par for the course, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 9, 2010 at 9:28 pm

The AP courses are overrated.

Math and science professors know pretty well which kids took ap math in high school and which took math in college because the ap kids don't have a good grasp of the material.

My kids are not in high school yet, so I have no first-hand knowledge of the courses, but from the posts here it appears there is a heavy emphasis on massive loads of homework rather than on simply accelerating kids who need it. What that tells me is the courses are geared for kids (or their parents) who want the status of ap but are not necessarily strong in math. It also tells me there is nowhere for gifted kids....

The emphasis on overwork rather than on deeper conceptual learning seems to be a theme within PAUSD.


Posted by Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 9, 2010 at 11:01 pm

Par,

"My kids are not in high school yet, so I have no first-hand knowledge of the courses"

Exactly, you have no experience yet. The highest lane of math does teach deeper conceptual learning and is geared toward the gifted in math. And for the further math gifted, they are allowed to take classes elsewhere.

Teachers and staff continually have to hear from parents who try to bully them into dumbing-down the curriculum so their children can earn A's when their children are really not qualified to be in the highest lane. Our teachers put up with a lot from pushy parents. I've witnessed unacceptable behavior from intense parents being downright rude to staff and it's a shame.


Posted by Par for the course, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 10, 2010 at 7:01 am

"The highest lane of math does teach deeper conceptual learning and is geared toward the gifted in math." The higher lane is based on doing more work, but the results are kids who have been pushed beyond their conceptual understanding. That is why college profs are less than impressed. And it's for sure not geared toward the gifted, who would be bored by the workload. They need to move faster, not just do more work.

Glad to hear they have other options for the gifted.

"Teachers and staff continually have to hear from parents who try to bully them into dumbing-down the curriculum so their children can earn A's when their children are really not qualified to be in the highest lane." I take you at your word that this is true--it is the natural consequence of a system that creates lanes based on the workload. It's a silly system.


Posted by college mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 10, 2010 at 9:14 am

Interesting comments on this thread, many great points. As a mom of a Paly graduate, now a happy college student, i'd like to add one thought. There is a lot of commentary about getting into college and very little about what happens in college. I know some very successful former Paly h.s. students who cannot manage in college. I don't know if they burned out from all the pressure, or if they simply pushed beyond their natural abilities in high school (thanks to the constant support of their families) and couldn't maintain the effort in college. I DO know that getting into a good college isn't the end of the game. One must pace oneself and succeed in college and beyond.


Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 10, 2010 at 9:21 am

Does anyone see a value in teachers providing the percentile rank in addition to the grades? My kid has a B- overall grade for a particular subject in the 1st semester and the teacher told me in one-on-one conversation that he is at the bottom of the class, which caught me by surprise, as I had no idea where his grade places him. Moreover, he has been often telling me that he got a B- on the test because it was very hard one and everyone struggled with it. But apparently not, if he ended up in the bottom of the class. Personally, I would love to know where on the bell curve my son as, as the grade does not tell much. There can be classes where only small percentage of students get an A which would mean that a B is a decent grade, while in other classrooms all got A and B and a B- puts you in the bottom...


Posted by Another 2 Cents, a resident of Professorville
on Feb 10, 2010 at 10:06 am

My son qualified for the higher lane and remained there all through high school, getting mostly As and Bs. The thought was that the higher lane would look better. He worked hard, but most importantly learned how to study and organize time. He never felt that a B in the higher lane was a bad thing.

His best friend did not qualify for the higher lane and remained in the regular lane. My son periodically helped him when he was challenged and so was able to see the content difference between the lanes (quite significant). The friend received a higher unweighted gpa. They both applied to a wide selection of colleges and ended up being accepted to the same colleges (not the most selective, but the very next level). So, it seems the higher lane does not really provide an advantage unless you can achieve the higher grades as well.

Even more interesting - they are both doing equally well in college, both on the dean's list nearly every quarter. I truly feel that the most important lessons in high school are how to study on your own and not get discouraged.

Self motivation is key, so if the higher lanes will require parent supervision (as noted above), then go with the regular lane and let the student feel proud and learn the skills that will be needed in college.


Posted by Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 10, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Par for the course,

Do you realize that there are 4 math lanes at Paly? Turn to page 44 and see the flow chart: Web Link

Most are not in the first lane, which leaves 3 lanes. The highest lane, which ends at BC Calculus is not as easy as Paly student above implies (nor are all the classes he claims are "easy"). The students in the highest lane are the students who are naturally gifted at math, not just the hard workers. They are the ones who enjoy math contests. Paly student said this: "BC is one the most fun and memorable classes at the school". Not all the BC students would say that unless they were gifted in math. And for the very, very few who can rise off the flow chart, they are allowed to go elsewhere for math.

Moral of the story: don't believe everything you read here. Some statements are correct, others are not. And remember that most kids in Palo Alto would be considered gifted elsewhere in this nation.


Posted by Paly Grad Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 10, 2010 at 12:57 pm

My kids both graduated from Paly, and were both laned into the high level of math coming out of middle school. But they took different paths, and ended up in very different places in college, because of their math lane choices.

My older kid ended up working her way all the way through BC Calculus. She got a B in the class, but got a 5 on the AP exam, which gave her credit for the first year of college math. She was given several academic awards based on her math and chemistry achievements. Her first college math class was sophomore level calculus, and she did very well.

My younger kid decided to drop down a lane a couple of months into her freshman year at Paly. At the end of her freshman year, she dropped into the middle lane, and took Trig/Analyt her senior year.

Although she did well in that class (A-), friends of hers who got Bs or worse in AB Calculus with similar grades in all other classes got into UCs, while my daughter did not. She had similar SAT scores and extracurriculars.

I spoke with admissions officers at Cal and Stanford, and they said that one of their differentiating factors was math lane, regardless of the student's eventual major. If I had to do it again, I would encourage my younger daughter to stick with the AB calc lane.


Posted by Jordan teacher, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Feb 10, 2010 at 5:57 pm

wow this is an interesting thread! I wonder if "Parent" had any idea what a huge response she would get...

As a Jordan teacher, regarding which math lane your son should do, I would listen to Ellie Slack and do exactly what she suggests. She's GREAT, one of the best teachers in the district, really takes time to get to know all the kids, and is a terrific mentor. If he's capable of the higher lane work, she'll tell him to go for it...

As for the other stuff-- my daughter was an excellent student through middle school, got As and Bs, but was definitely not an AP kind of student-- not a verbal-linguistic learner, and got her grades through sheer hard work. At Paly, she struggled with some classes, and sailed through others, depending a lot on how the class was structured and whether they took different learning styles into consideration. She managed to graduate with a decent GPA, and then took two years to pursue an artistic career.

When she decided to go to college, she was easily accepted into a respectable program in a perfectly respectable State University. She has done extremely well, in part because of her being more mature, but also because Paly prepared her well for the rigors of college classes. She has noticed more than once that she can write an essay, or read and comprehend an article, or stay organized on long-range projects, better than her college peers who were not so well-trained. She says that, as hard as Paly was, she's glad, because it has made it that much easier for her to navigate college.

I guess this is my two cents regarding your son's choices for 9th grade-- because in the long run, he will chart his own path, and hopefully you will let him do it without running a whole lot of interference. Be supportive, give him a tutor if he wants one, and drive him wherever he needs to go until he can drive himself. But let him choose, and make his own mistakes, and encourage him to always, always pursue his interests... Help him to talk through his options so that he can make considered choices about his education, including electives... That's the best you can do for him, because that ability will stay with him all his life.

Now is the time when you begin transitioning from authority figure to consultant-- hopefully you can do so graciously, and then later you'll be rewarded by listening to your confident and thoughtful young adult son as he calls you to ask for your advice on something... :-)

(P.S. He may not always take the advice, but it's darn nice to be asked!)


Posted by Another Jordan parent, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Feb 10, 2010 at 6:59 pm

I agree that if in doubt it is worth talking to Ms.Slack. She is absolutely superb and she would give you an honest advice.


Posted by Par for the course, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 10, 2010 at 10:48 pm

Mom,

Yes, I know about the lanes.

My point was that the entire system lanes kids based on how big a workload they are willing to shoulder (and I am aware that this includes taking similar courses in advance over the summer to get the grade during the year). In other words, kids are driven to higher lanes by peer or parental pressure.

You are probably right that some of the gifted kids gravitate to the highest lane, but that begs the question of what would suit them best. I'd also have to guess that plenty of gifted kids find other outlets rather than submit to all the grunt work. This system is not structured for a gifted kid who just needs acceleration and not multiple hours of homework every night.


Posted by Paly Mom, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2010 at 12:13 am

I would suggest talking with the 8th grade teachers about math placement and taking Critical Thinking 1 for 9th grade English. If your son is not gifted in math, you need to be aware that there's a big difference between Alg. 1 and Alg. 1A, Geometry and Geometry 1A. My daughter started out in Alg. 1A, not being very strong in math. As soon as she started to have some problems, the teacher changed her to the lower lane without discussing it with us or recommending tutoring, which bothered me since it turned out to be a very important decision. The lower-lane Algebra was extremely easy, and she didn't learn anything that she hadn't learned in middle school. As other posters have said, it's hard to move to a higher lane, so she's been in the lower lane all through high school. I wish I had had more guidance and also more understanding of the difference in math lanes.


Posted by I took BC in the 1980s, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 11, 2010 at 8:49 am

I'm reading here about how students in the high lanes stay up past 1am every night doing homework. I took a bunch of APs back in the 1980s when I was in high school, as did most of my friends. We all scored 4s and 5s on the AP exams, including Calculus BC and Physics. I don't think any of us worked past 1am every night. The classes weren't easy by any means, but the huge workload people are describing here seems an order of magnitude worse than what I saw in high school.

I find it hard to believe that Calculus BC is significantly different than it ever has been...I mean, it's still first-year calculus and they're not throwing in multivariable calculus and differential equations now, are they? If so, why is the workload so heavy at the PA high schools? Are the internal standards of the schools extremely high to the point where you have many students only falling in the middle of the pack in Paly calculus classes while acing the AP exams?



Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 11, 2010 at 9:20 am

The work load - in many/most classes at Paly seems to be significantly more than what my friend's children in other parts of the country are doing (including other highly ranked schools).

There is a lot of busy work - even in AP and honors classes - at Paly. In high school, I don't remember doing any kind of non-academic projects in Honors classes. Kids at Paly are cooking for language classes, doing videos for multiple classes, building engineering projects for non-engineering classes, putting together musical sound tracks for english, etc. I know the teachers are trying to make things interesting, but most of the time for these projects is spent on the project, not learning the subject. Not that you don't learn from these projects, but there is only so much time in the day and perhaps it should be more focused on learning the actual subject.


Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2010 at 10:06 am

I think this is what is happening as described in the above posts. It is no longer about learning the subject and understanding the work but doing all the stuff for homework. The grading is such that tests and quizzes, which really assess what the student knows is too small a part of the grade. Instead too much emphasis is put on the busy work which homework has become. And, quite often, the busy work is what the parents take over - from science projects, to cooking, to art, all having very little to do with the subject but more to do with parents ability and money. The physics project is one which causes plenty of grief as the second hand market in these is huge as well as pairing with the friend whose father is best at carpentry!! I know of one physics student who spent one whole Saturday sitting in a friend's garage "watching" the father build a machine which he had designed and had plenty of fun in building. The 2 girls were as bored as anything but took all the credit for the A they received for his hard work. I doubt very much if they learned anything related to the subject from this process!

I would like to see homework and projects being no more than 5% of the grade and tests and quizzes 75%.


Posted by Paly 08 grad, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 11, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Freshman year is a joke. If your kid knows how to work at all he should have no problem in the highest lanes. It only gets harder from there. Don't compromise in the first year.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 11, 2010 at 5:46 pm

I'd like to see projects A) relate to learning the subject (no more posters for Spanish class...) and B) be done at school so the teachers know the kids did the work. The Rube Goldberg physics project should and could be done at school - just like Bio and Chem labs. That particular project is so often done by parents, and if not, is a major logistical issue to coordinate (try finding 30 hours outside of school for a group of high school kids to work on a project, its called Winter Break).

Paly 08 grad - your comment about freshman year being a joke is insulting to students who struggled during their first year. School does not come easily to everyone. The transition to high school is easy for some kids and hard for others. The issues are not always academic, they can be social, organizational, etc.


Posted by Paly Student, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 11, 2010 at 7:00 pm

@Par for the course
The math department at Paly is very accepting of gifted students. The whole flaw regarding your argument is that you assume gifted students will be bored with BC Calculus and have no other options. You say that they not only need more work, but that they "need to move faster". But gifted students at Paly do have the option to move faster. Instead of taking BC senior year, they can take it junior year (~15 students do this every year), sophomore year (~2 students do this every year), or even freshman year (very rare) if they are extremely passionate about math. Once they are done with BC Calculus, students have the option at taking math at Stanford (and get credit for it on their HS transcripts).
Additionally, tests and quizzes in all of the math classes at Paly (department policy) account for 70 or 75% of a students grade. Teachers seldom give projects in any of the math classes, and homework is assigned daily and usually take one hour (which is very reasonable since students (of all calibers) should practice what they have just learned). .. therefore, I do not understand what you are taking umbrage at.

@ I took BC in the 1980s
You say that
"I find it hard to believe that Calculus BC is significantly different than it ever has been...I mean, it's still first-year calculus and they're not throwing in multivariable calculus and differential equations now, are they? If so, why is the workload so heavy at the PA high schools? Are the internal standards of the schools extremely high to the point where you have many students only falling in the middle of the pack in Paly calculus classes while acing the AP exams?"
I agree that BC has not changed much over the past 30 years and yet students' workloads have increased significantly.
The problem is not BC on its own. Among high achieving students, the reason tere is so much more work now is that it is now uncommon for juniors to take 4 or 5 or even 6 APs(i.e.BC calc, AP Chem, AP Bio, AP Chinese, AP US HIstory, English, AP Statistics). With at least one hour of homework a night for each of these classes, it's no wonder that students stay up until 3 doing homework every night. Among regular students, stress and work has also gone up. Although "regular" students are still taking the same classes they used to twenty or so years ago, more work is being assigned. Unlike the APs which are for the most part very good at Paly (though exhausting to do the high level of content), many of the regular classes have significant busy work (i.e. posters) that you would not find in AP classes (i know this first hand).





Posted by Paly 08 grad, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 11, 2010 at 8:25 pm

palo alto mom - It's all in the game. Paly's tough, college is tougher, the real world (I have to imagine) is tougher still. The top lanes of all the freshman courses still constitute an easy year at Paly. A kid who wants what Paly has to offer should start strong.


Posted by Par for the course, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 11, 2010 at 10:02 pm

I think BC is right: The content hasn't gotten harder, but it sure sounds like the workload has grown.

This issue of projects is a separate one. Projects are just a different way to learn--that doesn't make them non-academic or mean that kids are not learning about the subject. It sounds as though they have been added on top of other demands, though, again adding to the load.

And yes they should be done at school.

Paly Student,

You missed the point entirely.

Gifted kids don't need more work--they just need to move faster. Paly and the middle schools have a system that allows acceleration only for kids shouldering unnaturally heavy loads. So the system demands they hammer away at things that are remedial for them in order to move ahead. In other words, it leaves out gifted kids who are unwilling to shoulder those loads. It's wrong-headed.

It's good that students can move on to the higher lanes (and Stanford) earlier, but it's foolish that the system requires the student to first work like a dog. Enough to turn plenty of gifted kids off math for sure--and I'll bet it burns out a bunch of gifted and non-gifted kids alike.

And the issue is wider than gifted students or math.

The skills and knowledge are no more demanding than they were 30 years ago, but the workloads are up for all students in this area. It doesn't make sense.


Posted by Paly Student, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 11, 2010 at 11:25 pm

Par for the course,

I believe that "you missed the point entirely". You say that the system "leaves out gifted kids who are unwilling to shoulder those loads". As a Paly student, let me first tell you that BC only has one hour of homework a night and that it is very reasonable, so I have no idea why you say it "requires student to first work like [dogs]". Secondly, you note that the system "demands [that] they hammer away at things that are remedial for them". If the work is remedial for them, why would they be taking the class? If a student finds a class "remedial" he/she is asked to move up a lane. Will there be homework in the higher lane? Of course there will, but the whole point of the system is that it moves gifted kids up to the level where the work will actually benefit them. If you are a gifted junior doing vector calculus and linear algebra and have never done them before, will you need a bit of practice? Of course you will. You say that gifted students "don't need more work--they just need to move faster". What do you mean by that? It's not as if they get more work by moving up a lane... the content simply gets harder.
At Paly, it's very easy to see who has a natural inclination towards math. Most students (who show some promise in math) are asked to take the AMC, and the scores are listed in the Mathematics Resource Center. I know very many gifted people at Paly (some of which have gotten 150s on the AMC10, 2400s on their SATs, Intel finalists, etc..). And guess what... very few of them found the workload in the upper math lane daunting. And out of the one or two very gifted students who were bored even while taking BC as sophomores, they were allowed to do independent studies and then take stanford math the following year.

As to why the workload has gone up, don't blame it on the individual classes. The reason the workload has gone up is simple. Students are simply taking more of these "challenging" classes. While students used to take two or at most three AP classes, many are taking 4 or 5, and it is not surprising that students' workloads have gone up from 4 hours a night of homework to 7 or 8 hours.

As you have yourself pointed out, you have no first-hand knowledge. So please... inform me as to how you can accuse me of missing the point when you have no knowledge as to what you are talking about.

Thank you and have a nice day
Paly Student


Posted by Paly Student, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 11, 2010 at 11:30 pm

Paly Grad 08,

I agree with you for the most part. Although freshman year is not that easy for all students, it truly does get much harder from there on. The whole point of taking harder classes freshman year is so that one is ready for what is to come. At Paly, the system is very rewarding. But as you have said, you truly have to want to do well in order to get what Paly has to offer.

All in all, i believe that it is crucial that one be in the upper lane freshman year. Even if one finds it difficult, one at least knows that he/she has tried his/her best. But if one takes the lower lane freshman year, it is ten times more difficult to move up a lane.


Posted by Par for the course, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 12, 2010 at 7:12 am

Paly student,

Well, you've waffled on the amount of time. Is it an hour of homework? 1.5 hours? Others say more like two. And math is not the only class, so the hours add up and students end up working later into the night. That is too much.

"If the work is remedial for them, why would they be taking the class?" That's the way the system works. The way the system is designed, it doesn't matter which class you put them in, the work will be remedial. Either they've had part of the math already or they figured out part of the math already or they got it the first time and do not need weeks of homework to get and reinforce what they got the first time.

No, the system takes no account of gifted kids--it is designed for kids who are willing to do lots of homework that may be a little too hard for them and kids who have tutors working them through the summer.

Sorry, I don't have time to explain the learning needs of gifted students, but the short answer is that they don't need more of the same. They just need acceleration. This is what I was talking about when I said you'd missed the point. There is lots of info available on this by surfing ....

You say it's easy to see those with a natural inclination towards math at Paly, but I'm suggesting to you that they may either be pushed by parents or peers rather than inclined. As for test scores, well again, I think you're off track. Those don't have much to do with gifted kids, though I understand they are a big focus for many Paly students.


Posted by Morgan, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 12, 2010 at 8:40 am

If I remember correctly you won't have too much to say about it as your son will be tested and then placed in a class that fits his skill/knowledge level. (Language, math, science, English).


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 12, 2010 at 9:10 am

While students should challenge themselves, no one should go into freshman year expecting it to be easy. For some it will, for some it won't. My 2 nieces took similar classes, except for taking a different foreign language. They both got great grades. One spent hours every day doing homework. One spent very little time and breezed through. Same school, a lot of the same teachers, 2 years apart. Some kids just "do school" well. Some equally bright kids don't.

The comment about "remedial work" was accurate. Not that the work is remedial for that student, but that students are expected to complete pages of homework covering information they mastered years before. Homework is supposed to reinforce learning from that day and challenge you, not just fill up time.

And as some background, there are many parents who ask teachers to give more, not less homework.


Posted by former Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 12, 2010 at 10:02 am

About Math...it is very important and status-y at Paly. But, very few kids just land in BC Calc in junior year. It has become an absolute mission for some parents, and they plan for this back in 6th grade and arrange year-round tutoring (not remedial) to ensure this happens. Some of the kids get there through sheer constant work and parental pressure. The high status attached to this by parents and students was a constant during our time at Paly. We did not perceive any such high status (or opportunity) for a similar acceleration or status attached to the Liberal Arts, by the way.


Posted by former Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 12, 2010 at 10:03 am

To clarify, what I meant by "just landing" is that natural talent is a plus, but parental planning is what really makes this happen. In order to be in with certain crowds, one MUST plan to do BC Calc as a senior. I write this to inform you of the prominence the subject of Math has at Paly - which was notable.


Posted by myths of giftedness, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2010 at 10:04 am


Par,

"Sorry, I don't have time to explain the learning needs of gifted students, but the short answer is that they don't need more of the same. They just need acceleration. This is what I was talking about when I said you'd missed the point. There is lots of info available on this by surfing ...."

Paly student has been more than generous sharing his/her experience, no need for you to be so arrogant

"giftedness" is being redefined all the time, and your definition that students just need acceleration is simplistic

as you suggested surfing - you might want to check out Carol Dwecks' book Mindset - the new psychology of success, or this month's The Myth of the Gifted Child, NY Magazine.

everybody thinks there is too much homework, at all levels, but if there is any place that has options for "gifted" Math students, it's Palo Alto, they have multiple lanes starting in Middle School

also if a student really loves Math, the work is more enjoyable for them so what takes 1-2 hours for one student can take 45 minutes for another

if all you want is speed, homework can be done in a speedy way too, no lack of options












Posted by par for the course, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 12, 2010 at 3:24 pm

myths,

It's a big topic, and I don't think it would be helpful to go into great detail here.

I didn't define giftedness in terms of students just needing acceleration. It is more complex than that, but it is true that the single best thing those kids need is acceleration.

I'm well-acquainted with Dweck, but what direction does that cut in this discussion?

Pausd does have four lanes but as I explained above it isn't geared towards gifted.

As a parent, the problem seems much broader. Students are taking all these APs, doing all this homework until late at night, and yet they're less well-prepared when they finish high school than students were 30 years ago.


Posted by gifted, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Feb 12, 2010 at 4:20 pm

I was officially tested as gifted, in California's "MGM" a number of decades ago. (In those days, teachers suggested that certain students be given Stanford-Binet and those with an IQ over 150 were put in the program. If I remember correctly, the cutoffs varied by district).

In my opinion the most important thing for gifted children to learn is that they have to work, and work hard.

It is all too easy for gifted children to participate in accelerated
education and get good or great grades without doing much work.

Learning to work hard will help them much more than learning a few years earlier than others how to integrate over a variety of types of sets, or how to write poems with exactly their intended voices, or how to play Brahms on the piano.

Yes, with math skills, a gifted individual might find a way to collect lots of money without working hard. But with a well developed capacity for work, that individual might help his community, country or world in a big way.

For the gifted, I say, pour it on.

It's the not-so-gifted that will suffer from inefficiency in homework assignments.


Posted by Par for the course, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 12, 2010 at 4:32 pm

gifted,

"In my opinion the most important thing for gifted children to learn is that they have to work, and work hard." I would be more precise and say it's important for them to believe that their success is and will be based on hard work. That is the mindset theory mentioned above.

"It is all too easy for gifted children to participate in accelerated education and get good or great grades without doing much work." Well, that depends on what you mean by accelerated education. Years ago, they would sometimes throw them into a room by themselves with a textbook and hand out good grades. The acceleration advocated by most educators moves students through material at a pace that is challenging but ensures mastery, and grades are a different matter altogether.

"It's the not-so-gifted that will suffer from inefficiency in homework assignments." No, you seem to have a view of the gifted as a highly efficient robot. They can be inefficient, too ....


Posted by myths of giftedness, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 12, 2010 at 5:47 pm



Par,

you seem to acknowledge that effort and work is better than being ordained in some way

gifted brings up the example of music - what gifted musician is statically gifted without hours of work, work that deserves credit. The effort is where much of the pleasure comes from, they can achieve greater challenges from that work.

is acceleration without work even possible?

inefficiency in homework assignments has nothing to do with giftedness, it's a plague which parents need to push back on. Some suggestions above - no art posters, or tedious projects, and I think teachers should try their own assignments to see if they really only take half an hour.

if four Math lanes aren't enough, there is always home school.






Posted by Par for the course, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 12, 2010 at 6:04 pm

gifted,

"is acceleration without work even possible?" Doubtful, but then I never said there should be no work. My point was that the way the lanes and courses are structured means that there is no way to accelerate without practicing and re-practicing what was already learned. The non-gifted kids are still working to understand as the gifted kid waits and repractices what he or she has already learned.

Yes, inefficiency has nothing to do with giftedness, yet it's not just a plague that parents can simply push back on. Some kids are more efficient, others less. Pushing is an inappropriate response. I don't quite get what you have against art posters.

The number of lanes is irrelevant--one math lane would be enough, if it were structured differently.


Posted by Paly Student, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 12, 2010 at 8:14 pm

Par for the course,

As I have already said before, I am acquainted with many very gifted people at Paly. None of them complain about the workload in BC. For these "gifted" students the homework generally takes anywhere in between 30 minutes and 45 minutes at most. I usually finish my homework for BC in under an hour. Of course there are some who say the work takes 1 hour to 2 hours. But are they gifted at math... Probably not as much so.... You also say the system asks that the kid "waits and re-practices what he or she has already learned" If the kid already knows the material in a class, he/she can ask to move up. This was the case with 3 of my friends and me. Our parents did not ask that we move up. On the contrary, we did so ourselves, and the math department gladly allowed us to move up a lane.

Gifted students at Paly are not like the ones you see in movies. They are not, for the most part, the secluded "math geeks" you see in films who can multiply huge numbers or integrate ridiculous functions in their heads. Gifted students, the ones who go to Paly at least, are capable of taking BC in sophomore or junior year as well as other challenging sciences classes, while at the same time running clubs (i.e. math club, science club...), going to service events, playing instruments, doing sports, winning art contests, publishing books, starting companies, doing science internships.... (you get the idea)
Are these people doing much work? Of course they are. But what makes them gifted is that they are able to do all of these things when other students wouldn't have the talent or speed to do all of these things in a day.

You say that the system is not designed for gifted students. You are totally wrong. If you ask the typical kid at Paly, he/she will probably say that it is designed for gifted kids as opposed to regular ones.

You also say that "Students are taking all these APs, doing all this homework until late at night, and yet they're less well-prepared when they finish high school than students were 30 years ago". Once again, I must disagree with you, but this time on two accounts. First of all, how do you quantify preparedness? If you're not even familiar with the system (as you have yourself pointed out) can you even make these claims. In ap chem, we often have former paly ap chem (7 this year) students come back, and every single one said that college (half went to Stanford) was far easier than HS and that they were more than prepared. Secondly, the second flaw with your statement, is that you fail to acknowledge the growing intensity of the college application of the process. 30 years ago, someone could easily have gotten into Harvard with a 1450 CR+M SAT and a 2 or 3 AP classes. But now... with a 2370 CR+M+W and 9 AP classes, one is far from guaranteed an entry into any of the Ivies, MIT, or stanford. Is this good? I don't know. But in a world increasingly competitive, one has to work harder to be successful. The gifted students at school realize this and use their talents to get more done in the same amount at time as it takes other students do to whatever they do. Are there going to be some gifted students who excel without much work and simply by "accelerating" (as you say). Of course there will, but should we reform the entire system to accomodate two or three students out of 1700? No.

Most of my "gifted" friends are very happy of their education at Paly. T he school has one of the strongest math clubs in the country (7 USAMO qualifiers two years ago out 500 countrywide!!! second place SIEMENS finalist this year!!, 2 members of Asian Pasific Olympiad USA Team out of ten or so in the ENTIRE country). The math department is extremely accepting of gifted students. Next year, there will be a freshman in BC. Do these gifted students find the class boring? Far from it. As a student in the upper lane (unlike you) I can testify that the tests challenge event the gifted students in the class. The tests in BC are 110 points. On our last test. The highest score in our class (out of 2 periods) was a 101. There were two or three As in a class of 30. The tests are usually 6 pages in one hour. They are not "remedially" easy (even for the USAMO qualifiers), The tests are 60% of a student's grade. The quizzes are 10%. The homework is only 30%. Gifted kids can get extra credit by doing well on contests. The class is obviously designed for gifted students. I have a friend who took BC sophomore year. She is one of the five best female high school mathematicians in the country!!!, and got a C on one of the BC tests. Was the class difficult for her? Not really, but did she find it remedial? No. Even though she had the highest AMC score in the state, most of the material was new to her. WHY??? Because contest math does not require calculus and advanced material!!!! Gifted students at Paly (with regards to math) do not spend hours learning what they are going to learn. Instead, they spend hours extending what they have already learned, since they need a very thorough understanding of series, geometry, combinations, etc.. to do well on contest math.

The last point that I would like to make is that parents (especially on the Palo ALto online) are the ones making a far bigger deal of the issue than it really is. Parents complain that students simply move up math lanes because their parents pressure them to do so. So what? Isn't the whole reason we have so many gifted students in Palo Alto because we have so many well-educated parents. Gifted students, for the most part, come from nurture and work, and not from who knows what! Although movies and novels like to portray gifted students as a fifth grader reading calculus books in a family of high school drop outs in a crime-ridden neighborhood, the reality is that true geniuses like such are very uncommon. Most gifted students are gifted because they are passionate about school and math. And why is this so?... Because their parents are passionate about math, because their parents work hard and want them to work hard...This is why gifted kids often come from engineer and computer science families. It isnt because they were born that way but because they were taught to work hard. This is why I do not believe that it is wrong for our education system to ask "hard" (I don't believe it's particularly hard for the girfted) work from gifted students.

ALL IN ALL
Many of your points sound valid, but they are far to abstract. Your whole argument about "acceleration" instead of "work" fails to take into account what a gifted student in Palo Alto is like. Before you respond once more, please get out of your house and ask gifted students what they think of the system.


Posted by Bo, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 13, 2010 at 8:04 am

"Gifted student" is not synonymous with "successful student".

Students who study well can be successful through sheer hard work, even if their IQs are not in the gifted range.

Students with IQs in the gifted range will grasp concepts more quickly. They will still need to practice. (Distributed practice is the way the brain retains learned material). However, mastering new material will not be nearly as taxing for gifted students. Intellectually gifted students can be unsuccessful when they don't put forth the effort to master material, or don't hand in all the assignments.




Posted by former Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 13, 2010 at 11:18 am

While my comment is directed to Paly student, I sincerely hope that parents of 7th graders will get something out of my comments.
I stand by what I posted before, that parents are the ones, to my knowledge and in my experience (usually) to be credited with a kid doing BC Calc in junior year. I disagree with what you posted, that students generally ask to be moved up. They DO recognize the status in such a move, true. Yes, there are a handful of true math geniuses but if you check into their backgrounds, you will find m and d responsible for early and aggressive action.
Specifically, in our experience, this is what happened: I was suprised when a couple sets of parents of younger kids (they were still in middle school when mine were in high school)aggressively sought me out to find out the "secret" of how to persuade the school district to move their kid(s) ahead a grade in math...it was totally artificial and required the parents to pay for heavy high-level tutoring of the kid(s). Another example: some kids who do NOT test out of 8th grade, etc., are pressured by their parents to take the test again. I think up and coming high school parents need to be aware of this local "system" of education. It is artificial in some ways, yet these are the kids YOUR son and/or daughter will be competing with for limited UC and Ivy acceptances, since no university will take many students from any one high school. The slightest advantage becomes a major advantage.


Posted by math path questions, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 13, 2010 at 4:50 pm

What does "test out of 8th grade" mean?

Do some kids skip taking Algebra I altogether? I was aware that a handful of kids take Algebra I in 7th grade, but I was not aware that some children simply skip other courses altogether by testing out.

Am I missing something or misunderstanding something?

My understanding is that all 6th graders in the district are required to take 6th grade math, regardless of how mathematically adept they are. They accumulate points on the 9-point scale and children with 9 points can take Algebra I in 7th grade (skipping Pre-Algebra, with both parent approval and the math instructional supervisor's approval). Presuming that these students stay in the highest math lane thereafter, this would put them in BC Calculus as juniors.

Are there other points along the math pathway that these children can accelerate past a course in this sequence? Can they indeed test out of not only Pre-Algebra, but also test out of Algebra I, and/or Geometry/Algebra II or other courses?

I realize that there are very few students who would be capable of this, but I want to understand if this is even a possibility for a truly gifted math student in this school district.

What is the scoop?


Posted by Paly junior, a resident of another community
on Feb 13, 2010 at 5:15 pm

at Paly math questions

Yes, it is possible.
I skipped a year of math in HS so that i could take BC junior year.
Although it is rare and hard to do, you can skip Geometry/Alg2, Trig, or Analysis if you do very well in the previous course (~97%+), ask the Instructional supervisor (who is kind of scary/intimidating and will have a major part of the decision)[the student and not the parents should asked since the IS will probably say no to the parents but might say yes to the student if he puts up a good case for moving up], and learn the material over the summer. Some students have skipped without even taking math over the summer; however, they were extremely gifted at contest math (and therefore were well acquainted with the IS), and were able to do well. Moving up from a lower lane to a higher (not on the honors track) [i.e. skipping Geo or Alg1] is a much easier affair.
I hope this helps


Posted by another parent, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Feb 14, 2010 at 12:05 am

@math path questions: If your 6th grader gets a 9 on the rubric, they still only go to Pre Algebra Advanced in 7th grade. If they want to take Algebra 1 in 7th grade, they have to pass a test proving that they already know pre algebra. It's a pretty hard test, and most students who take it don't pass, though there are increasing numbers who do, mostly the contest kids.

I'm not sure if there's a way to skip a grade of math after this opportunity. Anyone else want to chime in?


Posted by math path questions, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 14, 2010 at 8:51 am

I had understood that there was a test given to all students at the end of 6th grade that determined whether the students were placed into Pre-Algebra or Pre-Algebra Advanced in 7th grade.

Let's say that there is a clearly mathematically gifted student who obtains a 9 on the rubric, is a "contest kid" and aces the test for placement into Pre-Algebra Advanced.

Will the math department automatically offer to test this student even further to determine if the child already knows the Pre-Algebra Advanced material?

Or is the test they give to all 6th graders a sort of diagnostic that will shake out all kids along a continuum stretching from mastery of basic mathematics to mastery of algebraic material?

What I am driving at is whether this district makes an effort to identify mathematically gifted students who are capable of skipping ahead straight to Algebra I, or beyond, in the absence of "pushiness" on the part of parents.




Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 14, 2010 at 9:52 am

In 6th grade, there are some kids who go directly to 7th grade math (I'm assuming based their 5th grade teachers) and any 6th grader has the opportunity to test out of a particular unit and received more advanced work, so there is opportunity to move ahead. I believe Jordan also has a zero period math class for really advanced kids.

The goal is to have all the kids ready to take Algebra 1 by 9th grade if not sooner.


Posted by res, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 14, 2010 at 11:47 am

math path questions

"What I am driving at is whether this district makes an effort to identify mathematically gifted students who are capable of skipping ahead straight to Algebra I, or beyond, in the absence of "pushiness" on the part of parents."

pa mom is correct - mathematically gifted students, starting in 6th grade, are both identified and given opportunities to accelerate. the acceleration however does not mean less work, I think it's at least same amount of time of homework, as the regular math.

I would trust the teachers, they know who belongs there, eventually the students and parents do too.




Posted by Par for the course, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 16, 2010 at 10:01 am

paly student,

Thanks, I think your post clarifies things. By gifted, you mean kids at paly who take higher-lane courses and get good grades. I meant it in the way it is generally used in education. There are different definitions (e.g. IQ), but a hallmark is the ability to learn quickly, perhaps in only one area. That is why those kids benefit from acceleration. As Bo points out, they need to practice, but not in the same ways as other kids. Some of the "gifted paly kids" may also be gifted, but not all or even most. And you'll find plenty of gifted kids who are not "gifted paly kids"--that is, they are in lower lanes or getting poor grades.

math path,

"What I am driving at is whether this district makes an effort to identify mathematically gifted students"

No, none. The district lanes kids starting in 7th. If you look carefully at the "rubric," you'll see it is aimed at the "paly gifted" as opposed to the gifted (note the overwhelming emphasis on double extra bonus homework and grades), and that the "acceleration" it permits is just the main math track in other districts (e.g. Cupertino, where the regular lane is algebra in 7th).

You seem concerned that your child might know all the pre-algebra material by the end of sixth. The only way to avoid covering that material again in 7th is to pass a comprehensive all-or-nothing test. You should know that the test is not aimed at checking whether your child is prepared for algebra but whether your child has covered every detail of your middle school's curriculum and can remember it all.

And to answer your other question: yes, you'll need to push. (Just make sure your kid is motivated and that it's not coming from you.)


Posted by Par for the course, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 16, 2010 at 10:04 am

Oops, I meant to say that the acceleration permitted by the rubric is a year behind some districts such as Cupertino. By pushing beyond the "rubric" to the extra-special test, you arrive at material covered in the main math lane in Cupertino.


Posted by Eyes Wide Open, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 19, 2010 at 11:08 pm

Par for the course:

Thanks for mentioning Cupertino. It prompted me to do a little research. What an eye opener! It appears that in the Cupertino Union School District, they start 6th graders on Holt Course 1 or Holt Course 2 Pre-Algebra. (These are the same books used by Palo Alto 7th graders in regular Pre-Algebra and Pre-Algebra Advanced.)

I just reviewed the 2009 CST (STAR test) results for Cupertino Union School District as compared to Palo Alto Unified School District. (By the way, Cupertino Union, a K-8 district, has a bit more than twice as many middle schoolers as Palo Alto Unified.)

Nearly 1 in 4 Cupertino Union 7th graders are mastering Algebra I (per the CST test results) in the 7th grade compared to 1 in 50 PAUSD 7th graders doing the same.

1 in 4 Cupertino Union 8th graders are mastering Geometry in the 8th grade, 1 in 2 Cupertino Union 8th graders are mastering Algebra I in the 8th grade, 1 in 12 are mastering "8th grade Math" and the rest are failing to master Algebra I or failing to master "8th grade Math".

1 in 33 PAUSD 8th graders are mastering Geometry in the 8th grade, 1 in 2 PAUSD 8th graders are mastering Algebra I in the 8th grade, 1 in 4 are mastering "8th grade Math" and the rest are failing to master Algebra I or failing to master "8th grade Math".

There is no reason to believe that PAUSD could not achieve similar results to Cupertino Union. I don't believe that there is a fundamental difference in the apptitude of the students or the cultural attitude toward academics in the two districts. What appears to differ is the adequacy of the preparation at the K-5 levels so that students can be ready to tackle Pre-Algebra beginning in the 6th grade vs. spending an extra year on "Pre-Pre-Algebra".

The reason this matters is that more students would be on track to complete a calculus course before graduating high school, thereby opening up the potential for these students to pursue a STEM degree in college, if they so desired. It's about keeping educational doors open.


Posted by Par for the Course, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 20, 2010 at 8:59 am

Eyes,

I think you're right that PA kids could achieve similar results to Cupertino.

It looks to me like PAUSD spreads Cupertino's 6th grade material across two grades, 6th and 7th. Why?

You might be right that the PA kids come to 6th less well prepared and would flounder if they had to take pre-algebra in 6th and algebra in 7th. Or it could be a decision to slow the curriculum based on "gut" feelings from instructional supervisors, bureaucrats, teachers, etc. The second seems entirely possible, too, given what I've seen....

Either way, my sense is that two different philosophies are at work. In one, the system lets the kids move somewhat at their own speed through the curriculum. In the other, the system is totally focused on making sure the middle level kids get a boost.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 20, 2010 at 9:18 am

I think there is a big problem with math in elementary and also in 6th grade because the classes are not laned. I have kids who were bored at how slow the progression was in math in elementary school, learning the math facts was absolutely no problem for them and they could easily have coped with more challenging work and when I spoke with their teachers about this I was told that it is better to learn these things slowly so that they know their facts instinctively rather than progress on to more challenges. If the classes were laned then those who were able could move at a much faster pace. These kids found math boring until about 7th grade where they started to be challenged and math became their favorite subject.

Alternatively, I have one kid who really struggles at math at every level since 1st grade and finds every new concept really difficult, taking a long time to grasp it. Putting these 2 types of students in the same class can't be fair for either. Those that get multiplication straight away are held back on learning division while the slower students feel dumb because what some think of as easy makes little sense to them.

Laning for math, and English, seems to be against the grain, but to a child who is bored because progression is slow or to a child who needs time and practice to understand new concepts, it would make sense to me. The same with a child who is a naturally good speller and writer with one who is slower paced. Additionally, the slower writers are often the kids who find math easy, and those who find math easy need a lot of help with spelling and grammar. Although of course there are some who find both difficult.


Posted by Carol, a resident of Professorville
on Feb 20, 2010 at 10:37 am

Cupertino reviewed Everyday Math for their elementaries and rejected it. PAUSD reviewed Everyday Math and adopted it amongst an uproar of parents and math professionals. Everyday Math does not prepare our elementary school students thoroughly for middle school math. Instead of drilling traditional calculations, Everyday Math wastes time teaching alternative methods of calculating which need to be abandoned when in middle school.

It would be helpful to find out which math program Cupertino has used for their elementary schools. I can guess it is traditional math and the students are doing traditional math drills. And if not in school, they are doing it afterschool.

To the original posting, the students with crazy hours and schedules are the ones who are taking too many AP classes or are in higher lanes than they should be taking. The middle school math teachers have a good idea which lanes their students should take.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 20, 2010 at 11:01 am

Resident - Addison starts "laning" kids for Math in 5th grade. Each of the teachers takes a different math group (or at least they used to). 6th grade math seemed to be a review of everything learned in elementary school, the 7th grade pre-algebra seems like it would be pretty manageable for most 6th grade kids. Remember what was taught K-4 in elementary math - it seems like the kids who are good at math by middle school are succeeding despite the curriculum, not because of it. There was lots of emphasis on projects like book reports but not much emphasis on math.


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