On April 29, 2019, FLEX College Prep conducted an academic expo at the Los Altos Youth Center to help the families of middle school students (grades 5-8) better prepare for high school.
The panel, moderated by FLEX CEO Danny Byun, was comprised of experts in three areas of education (math, science, and the humanities) who had over sixty years of combined experience working with Silicon Valley students.
The panelists discussed the common challenges facing students as they transition from middle school to Silicon Valley high schools and made recommendations for planning ahead.
The panel opened with a consideration of what families should expect in high school. Before a discussion of each subject area, families were invited to consider a question designed to highlight common misconceptions about high school academics.
Tiffany Lu, FLEX Senior Director of Curriculum, asked the first question.
Which is the first math course in which “hard work doesn’t always pay off”?
A. Algebra 1 (8th grade)
B. Geometry (9th grade)
C. Trigonometry (11th grade)
D. Calculus, regular or AP (12th grade)
Summary: In discussing the fact that students–even “good” or “hard-working” students–often begin to struggle with math during 9th grade geometry, Ms Lu explained that high school-level math requires students to have a conceptual understanding of math, whereas middle school-level math, up to algebra, relies on a more formula-driven, drill-style of learning.
By high school, students without strong problem-solving skills, such as the habit of drawing a diagram, and strong reading skills in deciphering a word problem, will find it difficult to maintain good grades on computational skills alone.
Yoon Choi, FLEX Director of English, discussed the challenges of reading and writing at the high school level, not only in English and humanities classes, but also across all disciplines. She opened her discussion by asking:
What is the biggest obstacle for students in developing strong writing skills?
A. Weak vocabulary
B. Not enough practice writing
C. Not enough practice reading
D. Video games & social media
Summary: Ms. Choi discussed the fact that for many students, poor reading skills results in poor writing skills. She explained that the sudden increase in the volume of reading and the requirement that students read across a variety of genres (literature, history, science, social science) can be overwhelming, even for a strong reader but particularly for a weak one.
This problem is compounded by the fact that high school students are no longer tested on their knowledge in short answer or multiple-choice tests alone, but more and more, students must create persuasive arguments in the forms of essays and research papers.
Klaus Aichelen, FLEX Director of Academics, presented on the challenges of the sciences at the high school level. He asked:
Which is the first high school science course in which “hard work doesn’t always pay off”?
A. Biology (9th grade)
B. Chemistry or Chemistry honors (10th grade)
C. AP Physics (10-12th grade)
D. Physiology & Anatomy (elective)
Summary: Mr. Aichelen explained that in high school, as students moved from a more intuitive science such as biology to more conceptual sciences such as chemistry, students find that they cannot just rely on memorization and common sense. In order to excel in high school level science, students need to have a big picture understanding of concepts, which will enable them to digest and accumulate the sheer volume of information that is being presented to them. He also added that science testing also moves away from short answer and multiple-choice tests and requires that students are able to demonstrate their understanding in written form.
As the discussion continued, the panelists gave recommendations as to how middle school students could plan for the challenges ahead, and also introduced FLEX courses designed to meet these recommendations, including a course on study skills and time management created by Ms. Lu. Mr. Byun cautioned parents to establish good habits in their students early on, briefly touching on the pervasive problem of video gaming and social media. He also provided an overview of the variety of ways in which FLEX can help families plan for high school and college.
For more information on FLEX programs designed to prepare middle school students for high school, contact us:
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