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Course selection at high school
Original post made
by Parent, Palo Alto High School,
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?
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Posted by Paly Student
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 6, 2010 at 3:08 pm
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.
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.
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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.