A "math-a-thon" is an intensive, short-term math study session with the goal of learning and absorbing massive amounts of material in a short period of time. The results of any individual math-a-thon will be highly dependent on the student's intelligence, motivation, and focus so we can't guarantee any particular result. However, as an example of what is possible, we did a math-a-thon with one of our 6th graders who had already completed half of a typical 7th grade curriculum over several weeks. He completed the other half in a single weekend. At that rate, he could have completed an entire year's worth of typical 7th grade material in 9 days (two weekend math-a-thons with the 5 weekdays in between used to review and solidify the material from the first weekend).
Not Just for Gifted Kids
While the student in the example above is clearly gifted, similarly impressive results can be achieved by students at any level, when compared to their normal pace of learning. For example, if a student is typically at or slightly below grade level, and is currently a bit behind, a math-a-thon might be the answer to filling in any gaps they might have on earlier material so they can quickly get caught up to grade level. Learning new math relies on a comprehensive understanding of earlier math, so gap filling, confidence building measures can be extremely valuable to many students. This is especially true for those subjects like Algebra which rely so heavily on understanding fundamentals learned in pre-algebra courses.
Is this really a good idea?
Some educators object to this type of intensive learning, arguing that math is best absorbed over longer periods of time. We agree, but we've found students can learn a lot very quickly, and retain it, as long as the initial learning session is followed by a sufficient period of review. Indeed, math-a-thons must be followed by a period of diligent repetition and practice of the learned material or much of it will be lost... but we believe the initial intensive session is actually a great way to learn. Not only is it exciting for motivated kids to see what incredible things they are capable of, but they get to do deep dives on topics, learning them comprehensively all at once, rather than learning little bits every couple days over the course of months. They make connections between disparate topics right away and see the big picture much faster. Ultimately, since math-a-thons are followed by a period of review, students do fully absorb learned material over the longer period of time we all agree is needed.
Can kids handle this level of intensity?
Everyone is different so the answer to this question depends heavily on each individual student. However, we've designed a process that works quite well to soften the perceived duration and intensity of the sessions. Our two-level, 1,000+ square foot space really only needs a few desks and a whiteboard for math so we've filled the rest of the space with break-time activities, currently including air hockey, ping pong, Foosball, Skee-ball, and "Pop-a-shot" basketball. We don't just sit and do math for 8 hours straight. We work out a schedule such as 20 minutes of study/work and then 5 minutes of break-time activity.
Results do vary by student, but the general feeling is that time flies. One student was accustomed to doing 2 hour math sessions with us. In his first math-a-thon, we took a lunch break after 3 hours. I asked how long he felt like he'd been there and he said "less than two hours." The frequent breaks and fun activities really break up the time and make the whole thing much more palatable and less intense than expected.
What is the schedule?
The actual schedule is quite flexible but typically we'll start in the morning and do three 2-3 hour sessions with breaks for lunch and dinner, e.g. 10 AM - 1 PM, lunch, 2-5 PM, dinner, 6-8 PM. There is no required minimum length that must be completed and students can "tap out" at any time when they've had enough, or we can adjust the work/break ratio to make it more sustainable.
Math-a-thons are $1,000 per day but can be split among a pair or small group of students. In the case of a shared session, it is imperative that all students are of very similar capability and motivation, otherwise the more advanced students will be significantly held back by the others.
If you are interested in doing a math-a-thon, please contact us to discuss your specific goals.