“What we need to work on in this country is getting comfortable with struggle in learning, with the discomfort that comes from not knowing something.”
Amanda Ripley, author of “The Smartest Kids in the World”

“I believe the BASIS.ed culture prepares students for life because it teaches them that learning is cool, learning is essential, that you don’t always know the answers, but you know how to find the answers and you’re not going to give up until you find the answers. BASIS.ed will prepare you to never stop learning.”
Porter MacDonald, BASIS.ed art teacher

 As we enjoy our first year as a school community, we very much seek out opportunities to connect with fellow educators and educational programs, both near and far. Earlier this month, BASIS Independent McLean hosted Richard Ruscyzk, co-author of the wildly popular Art of Problem Solving (AoPS) textbooks. For those who did not attend or who may not have heard of this rock star math teacher, Richard is leading what Peg Tyre in The Atlantic dubbed “the math revolution.”

The AoPS textbooks and approach to learning have sparked an online school and community of 160,000 strong that includes the International Math Olympiad students and just about every math enthusiast on the planet. This year the AoPS team launched two brick and mortar schools, one in Morrisville, North Carolina and the other in Vienna, Virginia. I imagine they will spread like wildfire up and down the east and west coast.

As the growth in popularity of BASIS.ed schools is also proving, there is a growing demand for this kind of accelerated education in America, where students are not limited by their grade level in math, where there are no ceilings on learning. Like AoPS, we hire teachers who have deep knowledge about their subject matter and who are passionate about what they teach, teachers like Vern Williams who The Washington Post’s Jay Mathews calls “one of the best math teachers in the country,” and Marizza Bailey, who just received the 2016 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.  

At the heart Vern’s pedagogy and the AoPS approach is the idea that we are teaching humans how to think, not training robots how to compute. The traditional approach of solving for "X" over and over again just doesn’t apply anymore. The world is changing really fast. Five, ten, 15 years from now, reality will be something we’ve never seen before. Today’s students have to be prepared for that reality, whatever it is. They have to be able to think, to reason, to wonder why. In short, they have to be good problem solvers.

So, how do we create good problem solvers? The short answer is that we teach our students to be kids again. Young children are great problem solvers as Richard pointed out, but “somewhere between being three and being 19, we’ve lost the resiliency.” Learning is hard work and making mistakes is important. You’re not learning anything if it’s easy and you already know the answer. It’s in the struggle, in the effort of trying something different when what you’ve tried before doesn’t work, that learning happens.

What can we as parents do to help our children? Teach them to ask questions, lots of questions. The only dumb question is the one you don’t ask. Let them know that making mistakes is okay. Failure is a natural part of the learning process. Lastly, never give up. Keep on trying. Break the problem down. Look at it a new way. Eventually your child will get there, and in that struggle, she will have learned something new.

This video, “What can people do to get better at learning?” from The Atlantic sums up some things that we have been saying for years, concepts that Richard also instills in his students.

Thank you, Richard, for coming to visit us a BASIS Independent McLean!

Were you at the AoPS event? Let us know how it went: