With record high temperatures for this time of year in Austin already occurring, it’s clear that summer is just around the corner. Final exams are underway, and pretty soon students will be free for the summer. While it’s important for students to take a mental break after a grueling 9-month academic tour de force, it’s also beneficial for students to continue developing their academic skills over the summer.
The balance between doing too much and doing nothing over the summer can be tricky. Trying to fit academic activities in along with summer camps, vacations, community service, and just plain-old hanging out may not give students the break they need and deserve. So, when it comes to academic activities over the summer, what should the priority be?
I’ve previously written on the importance of reading over the summer, and many schools require summer reading and summer assignments for middle- and high-school students. While reading and writing skills are certainly critical to student success, much research exists suggesting that another subject is much more important to develop over the summer.
According to one study, on average, students lose 2.6 months worth of knowledge in math over the summer. That is the equivalent of half a semester! And, perhaps most important, the article claims that “it’s actually easier for kids — from all socioeconomic backgrounds — to forget what they learned in math over the summer than it is for them to lose reading skills.” The reason, according to the article, is that reading and writing skills are embedded in everyday life, whereas advanced math skills are not typically used on a day-to-day basis.
So what is the solution? I actually had this exact conversation with a rising 11th grade student and his mom just the other day. She wanted her son to enroll in an Algebra 2 online summer class so he could get a head start on the Algebra 2 course he will take in the fall and “preview” the material ahead of time. While her idea in theory was a good one, it was flawed for one good reason…
In a 2017 study by Kathleen Lynch and James Kim, they found that simply enrolling students in a summer online math program without any additional support was as effective as the control group who did absolutely nothing over the summer. Their study suggests that without some sort of additional support or incentive to engage in the math program, students can expect minimal, if any, results. These programs appear to be a waste of time without the proper instruction and support.
So, back to my rising 11th grader…what was my advice to him? Well, after considering all options, I suggested that he work with a math tutor over the summer for a handful of sessions to review key Algebra 1 topics and begin previewing the beginnings of Algebra 2. A tutor can use find plenty of good free resources to use during the sessions, such as Kahn Academy. Our Algebra 2 teacher actually has his own Youtube channel that offers free tutorials for its subscribers. Many schools, especially private schools, will give families access to a class syllabus so students can see what topics will be covered in the new school year. I actually suggested that this particular student talk with our Algebra 2 teacher before he leaves for summer break to get input on what to study over the summer. That way he will establish a relationship with his future teacher and get the information directly from the man himself. This is an easy (and cheap) way to make sure students are studying the correct information.
The two important takeaways from this post are:
1) Students lose math skills over the summer.
2) In-person tutoring or mentoring during the summer is the most effective way to minimize the loss.
I strongly suggest students read over the summer. I still feel that this is the most important skill students can develop. However, based on research, it is also important that students continue working on their math skills over summer. Using a math tutor is the most efficient way to accomplish this task. Talk to your math teacher today or see your counselor for recommendations on how you can best prepare over summer.