Eleven soon-to-be seventh-graders crowded around a small inflatable pool as Cooper Guidry launched his aluminum foil sailboat in the shallow water, watching as the penny-filled boat glided to the other side in seven seconds, the fastest time for any of the boats Thursday at Abbeville High School.
Guidry, 12, is one of about 220 middle school students chosen to attend the Advancing Mathematics Achievement Camp, a camp dedicated to high achievers in mathematics who attend low-performing elementary schools.
“I just used the tin foil because the cardboard is heavier and makes it slower,” Guidry said. “And I did the nose to split the water.”
“And what did that do? What have we been talking about?” Guidry’s teacher asked.
“It changed the surface area and made it go faster,” Guidry replied.
The camp pairs the students with 17 master teachers handpicked for the program and 12 University of Louisiana at Lafayette students who intern under the master teachers.
“My goal was to match up students who have exhibited high ability with master teachers, and in this case, these students’ elementary schools were low-performing, even though the academic achievements were exceptionally high,” said Peter Sheppard, a UL-Lafayette professor who helped organize the camps. “We wanted to build upon their existing knowledge, and eventually, we hope this will become one of those things that inspires them to want to become more interested in mathematics and science fields.”
The camp this week was held in three areas: Lafayette Parish students attended the camp at L.J. Alleman Middle; Iberia Parish students at Sugarland Elementary; and Vermilion Parish students at Abbeville High.
“One of the problem areas we see across the country is that high-ability students who attend lower-performing schools sometimes do not get consistent high levels of instruction,” Sheppard said. “So we sort of wanted to fill that gap by ensuring that these students’ potential is still constantly fostered, regardless of where they attended school.”
The camp themes differ between the grade levels: superheroes for incoming seventh-graders and the Olympics for incoming sixth-graders.
“None of the topics the students are discussing this summer are things they’re learning already. It’s all concepts they will be learning the next year,” Sheppard said. “It gets (the kids) to appreciate the connection between mathematics and things they may be interested in, like the Olympics or the superhero theme. We try to match all those things together.”
The National Science Foundation funded the camp.
“My goal is simply that we make sure to tap into the talented mathematics students and teachers that we have here so we can change the perception of our state,” Sheppard said at Abbeville High School, outside a classroom that housed a “Super city” the kids built proportionate to the superheroes assigned to them. “I think we have a wealth of mathematical and science talent in the state. We just need to do a better job of cultivating that talent.”