Avoiding the Summer Slide


As a math educator who battles Fortnite daily for the attention of young children, it amuses me greatly that most of my summers were spent hiding from the Michigan heat.

My friends and I would camp out in the basement for days at a time playing Super Nintendo. “I feel like I’m feeding half the neighborhood,” my dad would grumble as he opened the fridge to find an empty milk jug and the frozen crumbs of a Pizza Rolls 90-Pack. We will have proof that karma does not exist if my first child turns out to be well-behaved.

Those days really were some of my fondest, so as I contemplate the data from national Summer Slide studies and from our own community, a small part of me protests that perhaps the lost knowledge and months of review each fall are worth it. Why force them to do stuff they don’t want to do?

That is the crux of it: A lot of students feel like summer is a well-deserved break. Since I loathe depriving them of the summers I think of so fondly, the remedy is to change the calculus. How can you make math compete with the stuff they really want to do? A tall order indeed, but what a reward! Students get double the benefit in summertime. As his buddies are losing months of math competency in dark basements, he is gaining two to three months. What a boon come August!

One reason psychologists believe video games are so addictive is that games are just challenging enough to keep a child coming back for more but not so hard that they eventually give up. Video game makers brilliantly design games to gradually increase in difficulty.

Unfortunately for a lot of our students, math class is a lot like learning a new video game while starting on the last level. Without the time and opportunity to practice necessary skills, kids often rightfully deduce that whether they try or not will have little effect on the outcome.

The solution then is to make math look a bit more like a video game. Meeting a student where they are at in math and giving them an opportunity to build and master skills will strengthen their confidence. They will see for themselves that there is a correlation between their hard work and their success.

Without the stress of a long school day and the demands of homework, summer is the perfect opportunity for kids to reset their brains and start believing they can be just as talented in math as they can be in Fortnite.

About Alex Guppy

Alex Guppy is the owner of Mathnasium of Chattanooga, Mathnasium of Hixson, and Mathnasium of Brentwood. Between his three centers, he is responsible for the education of over 200 students in Hamilton County and now Williamson County who attend nearly 2,000 individualized math lessons per month. In his free time, he enjoys rock climbing, drinking oolong tea, and reading.