Advanced Summer Program for students age 11-14
who show high promise and love mathematics

Questions & Answers

Who attends MathPath?

1. Can you tell me a little about the demographics of the students at MathPath? How many apply? How many attend? What is the age distribution? What is the geographical distribution? The gender split? Other sorts of ethnic and religious diversity?

A. The number of applicants has increased each year, so it is hard to judge how many will apply in your year. For the 2014 camp, 266 applied by the time we stopped accepting new applications on March 8. Overall, 121 applicants were accepted and 105 attended. For several years we increased the size of the camp slightly each year, but our thinking now is that 105 is our steady state.

As for age distribution, in 2014 it was as follows

  age 11:  15
  age 12:  28
  age 13:  40
  age 14:  22
The 12 and 13 year olds are always the largest groups and are usually about equal.

The grade breakdown for students in the school year before they attended the 2014 camp was

  5th:	 3
  6th:	 15
  7th:	 45
  8th:	 26
  9th:	  4
  Other: 12     (primarily homeschooled, sometimes in high school)

As for geographic distribution, typically 95 live in the US (of which some are foreign citizens), 2-5 live in Canada, and the rest live in other countries. Those living in the US are usually pretty evenly split between East Coast (zip codes 0xxxx – 3xxxx), West Coast (9xxxx) and the interior (4xxxx – 8xxxx), with numbers slightly favoring the region where we hold camp. In 2014, with camp in Massachusetts, the numbers were heavily skewed in favor of the East Coast. With the 2015 camp to be held in Oregon, we expect to return to a typical distribution.

As for gender, in 2014 we had 31.4% females (33 out of 105). We have had at least 30 females in 3 of the last 4 years and expect to have at least 30 females every year going forward. Girls have plenty of opportunity to make other female friends. Still, like the rest of the math community, we are striving towards the day when the sexes will be represented equally.

Students of all major religions have attended MathPath, as well as students who are not religious. In every case so far we have been able to accommodate students who for religious or medical reasons have food restrictions — vegatarian, vegan, kosher, halal.

All major ethnic groups have also been represented at MathPath. Groups that tend to highly value education and science are present in greater numbers than in the population at large. In recent years, over half of our students have been asian (both parents have asian surnames) or eurasian (one parent has an asian surname). Likewise, there are noticeable numbers of Jews and students of Eastern European heritage. However, our observation is that kids themselves really don't care about any of this. They all mix together easily through the things they have in common: a love of math and the joy of being zany kids.

2. I see from your website that you are geared toward middle school students with gifts in math. What kind of ability/achievement levels is your program geared toward?

A. MathPath is geared toward middle school students at the higher end of giftedness in mathematics. However, we do not measure giftedness using SAT scores or performance in national math contests. Any student who loves math deeply can apply. The only factor is the student's application package, including the applicant's solutions to the Qualifying Test and the recommendation letters.

All admitted students share a common characteristic – they are able to do sustained thinking on a problem. This we know since a student must do satisfactory work on the Qualifying Test. The problems in the Test are mostly unlike the ones in time-limited math contests. Many MathPath Test problems require the students to think longer and write much more.

3. Is your program appropriate for students who are middle school age but well into the high school math curriculum?

A. Absolutely! MathPath is the oldest program in America for highly gifted math students of middle school age. Many of these students are taking high school or even university courses. However, it is not necessary that the student know any high school material because MathPath is about enrichment, not acceleration. Individual attention as well as sessions at different levels ensure that students have the opportunity to proceed according to their level.

4. After reading through the MathPath materials online, we wonder whether Algebra is required for kids going to the camp. While Jesse loves math and has shown some talent in it, he has not yet learned Algebra systematically (he learned Pre-Algebra and some topics in Algebra). Would it be best for Jesse to participate next year (if he is able to qualify) once he has learned Algebra completely? He will only turn age 11 shortly before camp starts this year.

A.  The short answer is: we prefer that a student at MathPath have (at least informally) a year of algebra and a year of geometry, but it is not required. We have had a few students come who have had neither and have thrived, by choosing the right courses (e.g., number theory, graph theory, combinatorics – courses that don't use much algebra or traditional geometry). These students sometimes come back for a second year, after they have more algebra and geometry, and get an even richer experience.

It also depends on how much a kid is comfortable hearing about math that they can't fully understand yet (because every student attends the "plenary" talks, and these will sometimes require algebra or geometry). Some kids are happy, in fact excited, to get a glimpse at advanced math that they can't fully understand yet but will want to come back and study later. Others are frustrated if they can't understand it completely.

The best answer is: what counts for admission is how well an applicant does on our Qualifying Test (QT). There is always at least one question that tests algebra skills, and at least one that tests geometry skills. Sometimes a student does poorly on those questions and does very well on other questions. Then we may well admit the student, with the suggestion that we get on the phone and discuss whether the student should come that year or not. Also, if that's what happens in Jesse's case, at that point we can put you in touch with students who came to MathPath in a similar situation, and you can find out from them if they thought it was a good idea.

So the bottom line is: Let Jesse do the QT and let us decide.

You might say, well, doing the QT is a lot of work, so why do it if the decision may be that MathPath won't accept him yet or he will decide not to come even if you do?

The answer is: if a student loves math, then they usually find it fun and instructive to work on our QT, whether they come to MathPath this year or not. If your child instead finds it merely hard and frustrating to work on our QT, that's a signal to stop and not apply to MathPath until a later year.

Because of Jesse's age, if he doesn't come this year, he will have several more opportunities.

5. My son is 13 years old and he is in 8th grade middle school. But he is taking pre-calculus in high school and he will take calculus after this summer and he scored 25 in AMC 8 test last December. My question is which camp will be better for him this summer, MathPath or Canada/USA MathCamp ?

A. It is necessary to provide enrichment for the very gifted in their early years. MathPath is such a program. MathPath is for those in the age range of 11 to 14 years. MathPath is more suitable for these younger students, first because your child will have peers who are in the same age range, and second, because MathPath is more concerned about building a coherent mathematical foundation than the high school camps. This should not be construed as a weakness of the high school camps. High school students who have had some exposure to some of the main branches of mathematics have already begun to have affinity towards one branch more than others and they thus tend to take in courses in that subject as well as other subjects at high school camps. I (George Thomas) know this since I founded and grew a high school camp. The student at MathPath is too young and needs to have the broad exposure before they go to high school camps.

What is a foundation for the middle school student who is precocious in math? A foundation is what an edifice rests on. In this instance, it is the historically precedent concepts of which today's mathematics is the sequent. Such a foundation is provided at MathPath – through courses in such fundamental topics as geometry, mathematical induction, counting, number theory, and a survey of mathematics history. These are supplemented by the plenary lectures of the visiting speakers, often very distinguished mathematicians who provide a window on modern research and illustrate how a mathematician can think deeply even about elementary topics. The mathematics writing course is also a foundation course, albeit not concept-wise, in that it provides practice in the proper way of writing in the mathematical language, while also raising issues about methods of mathematical proof.

The Canada/USA Mathcamp is a summer program, for highly gifted high school students, where there is lot of freedom for the student to take various courses – not necessarily the ones mentioned above. As founder of both programs, and knowing both well, I recommend MathPath for middle school age students and Canada/USA Mathcamp or another good high school program that gives students lots of choices in math when these students apply from Grades 9 and above in future.

Finally, although Mathcamp allows 13 year olds to apply, it admits very few, and also very few 14 year olds. All the top high school camps have so many applicants these days that there is little incentive to take a chance on a young student. In addition, as of this writing Mathcamp does not accept applications until March 15, so by the time you know their decision it is late to apply elsewhere. Note that MathPath does rolling admissions, starting in the fall.

So if your son would still prefer to go to Mathcamp – perhaps he is used to spending most of his time with much older kids – then we recommend that your son use the following decision procedure:

  • Fill out the MathPath application form and start to work on our QT. If he finds it hard, complete it and see if he gets admitted to MathPath, but forget about Mathcamp this year; he is not ready.
  • If he doesn't find our QT too hard, and gets admitted to MathPath, accept our admission (pay) and begin the application process to Mathcamp.
  • If (as likely) Mathcamp doesn't admit him, he is all set to come to MathPath and will have a fine time, with plenty to learn.
  • If Mathcamp does admit him, and he prefers it, accept Mathcamp and withdraw from MathPath. You will get all your money back except a $100 service fee.
We have absolutely no problem with your using MathPath as a backup this way, so long as you tell us that's what you are doing, and inform us as soon as possible if you withdraw (so that it is not too late for us to admit someone else from our long waiting list).

Hope this helps.

6. My daughter is in grade 7 and into math contests. We have learned about AwesomeMath. Should we send Kyle to MathPath or Awesome Math?

A.  First, you can't "send" Kyle to either; she has to be admiited. With few exceptions, admission is not certain at either program. (The only students guaranteed admission to MathPath are our strongest alumni.)

What is relevant here is a comparison of MathPath with ALL programs where most students are from high school. Even if Kyle were accepted, or even if she were in 8th grade, she would be among the youngest students at any high school program. This poses a problem for the student. We discuss this at length on the Who Applies page.

The focus of MathPath is the broad mathematical foundation of the middle school student. Even the problem-solving at MathPath keeps this focus. Another aspect of MathPath is that the grade 6 and 7 students who wish it can take MATHCOUNTS courses.

The MathPath program runs for four full weeks. If you had a grade 8 student and could not decide between the programs, then consider also family vacation plans to see which program would fit the time.

It is also useful to hear the views of students who have attended both program. The Art of Problem Solving hosts Forums where students express their opinions on many thing. Go to the forums specifically about MathPath and you will find some such discussions: click here.

Finally, we have asked our own students who have attended other math camps to compare them. We have a webpage devoted to their reviews.

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Page last updated December 20, 2014
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