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On EPGY...

What is EPGY?

K-8 Program by Draper Kauffman, Doctor of Education and parent

Pre-Calc Program by Kit Finn, parent

K-8, A Different Perspective by Trindel Maine, parent

EPGY / Academic Systems / DestinationMATH, Johns Hopkins style by Carolyn K., parent

What is EPGY?

Educational Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY) is the original distance learning math software for grade K-8 children, offered by Stanford University.  EPGY has more recently been offered by Johns Hopkins' Center for Distance Education and Northwestern University's Center for Talent Development as well.  EPGY software from Stanford continues through the Algebra sequence, and into advanced mathematics, computer science, and science courses at the high school and college level.  Eligibility for these distance education math courses varies by sponsoring University.

Meanwhile, Johns Hopkins offers a different flavor of math software following EPGY K-8 arithmetic, for the Algebra sequence, called Academic Systems.  After that series, Johns Hopkins Math Tutorials program continues with higher level math software by ThinkWell.

In addition, Johns Hopkins offers enrichment problem solving software at various levels called DestinationMATH.  This software, while not a complete math course in itself, provides excellent and fun reinforcement and problem solving, for use after the specified levels of EPGY or Academic Systems math software.

K-8 Program
by Draper Kauffman, Doctor of Education

Morgan's 2nd grade teacher was awful with math. For her, learning arithmetic was entirely procedural, like the steps to a dance. She simply does not understand the why of anything. To her, any shortcut or deviation from the prescribed steps is just as wrong as if a ballet dancer had walked across the floor from the starting point of a dance routine to the ending point, and then claimed to have done the dance correctly because she ended up at the right spot. She drove Morgan crazy.

In desperation, we had Morgan tested last spring for EPGY admission and for leverage in dealing with the school. His scores on the various scales ranged from mid-80's to 99.9th percentile. The top scores were in vocabulary (essentially adult level) and abstract reasoning (ditto). Arithmetic and memory were in the middle of the spread, explaining why a 7 year old who could solve advanced logic puzzles and understand algebra had trouble doing 6x8 reliably.

He started EPGY math around the 1st of August, with an initial placement of 5.45, which turned out to be quite accurate. It took 4 weeks to finish 5th grade and 6 weeks to finish 6th grade. (Big celebration when he finished!)

The management system tracks the student's progress in detail in each of 16 strands, making it easy to keep the teacher informed and reassured about the student's rate of progress. It also reports the total time and number of sessions, making it easy to figure out how long each chunk of content took.

6th grade math took Morgan a total of 15 hours of work, in daily 20-minute chunks. This was a serious, rigorous course in fractions, decimals, sets, multi-digit multiplication and division, science applications, problem solving strategies, number concepts, and on and on. It's considerably more thorough than the 6th grade math book used here. Six weeks ago, he would just have stared at the problems he zipped through on Sunday; he wouldn't have had a clue how to tackle them.

The same math course normally takes 9 months of school, though most 6th grade teachers wouldn't cover the whole course. Assuming, conservatively, 120 50-minute math classes (i.e., 100 actual hours of instruction) in 180 days of school, and about 50-100 hours of homework, that's 150-200 hours of work for a "normal" math course. No wonder Morgan prefers to learn it in 15 hours!

Some kids won't go through the CD-ROM as fast as Morgan is (so far), and some will go through it even faster. The software doesn't care. It adapts almost perfectly to each individual's pace in each of the different strands and skills.

We saw this with long division -- problems like 73 into 18469 -- where Morgan just didn't want to make the push to get good at it. He knows how to use a calculator perfectly well, thank you. :) So the division strand stayed at grade-level 6.6 for weeks, until it was the only thing keeping him from finishing 6th grade. When he finally got serious and pushed, he brought it up to 7.0 in 3 days. The software's patience and sensitivity to actual levels of competency is really quite good.

About EPGY, Morgan says: "I'm really glad that we have it, that's for sure. It's got good problems and I'm learning a lot. You don't have to learn everything over and over again. If you don't know how to do the problem, there's an "owl" you can click for tutorials and a question mark if you just don't know. And different kinds of problems are mixed together. I hate doing homework handouts with 20 problems that are all the same. B-o-r-i-n-g!!

"Regular math is too simple. It drives me nuts. EPGY is a real challenge and I don't have to do tons of questions I already know how to do. And it's fun zooming ahead. It's like doing a good painting or winning a basketball game. You get to feel proud.

"What I don't like about it is that it sometimes gives word problems with bad answers, that aren't true in the real world. And some problems don't let you fix typos. If you hit just one wrong key by mistake in the middle of a long problem, BAM!, you get the whole problem wrong right there. It's supposed to give you fast feedback when you make a mistake, but that's TOO fast! And you shouldn't get the whole problem wrong if it's just a step in the middle, not an answer, that's wrong. Also, sometimes you have to type numbers from left to right and sometimes from right to left and I forget, and then BAMMO! And sometimes I'm really tired after school and my head gets foggy and that's when I get a brand-new kind of problem.

"But it's mostly really neat stuff! My teacher this year likes math and she thinks that EPGY is neat, too. She lets me read or do homework or write in my journal during math time, but sometimes she has the class do interesting projects and I join in and that's fun, too. I don't feel left out, but I don't have to waste time on stuff I know. She's a great teacher! I really like her!"

(That was dictated over my shoulder after he read this letter.)

Summary: EPGY is WONDERFUL! It's not for every kid. It takes either a lot of commitment or a lot of innate aptitude, or a fair amount of both. It is an incredible time-saver and frustration-saver for the kids who fit the program. If your son is bored and frustrated with the normal math, and the school just won't help, it is definitely the way to go.

However, it is important that the school doesn't make your child do the standard math as well as the EPGY math. That feels too much like punishing a kid for being smart. We were prepared to go to court if we had to to win on that one. Fortunately, we had no problem at all after showing the school his EPGY progress reports.

The Mac K-8 software Morgan used is no longer used by EPGY. It is produced by CCC and the intro screen indicates that it is part of their "Success Maker" series. The Mac software was less sophisticated mathematically than the new EPGY K-8 software for Windows. We now have a PC, and are getting used to the new system. The new software does appear to be an improvement. The on-screen "lectures" are definitely better than the "Sets and Numbers" workbooks that Morgan hardly touched.

I hope this helps those who are trying to make a decision. IMHO, any kid should at least try EPGY if s/he is seriously interested in math, or is just bored by the slow pace of the regular math in school. If s/he has no other alternative to the regular classroom, I think it would be worth almost any price to get the self-pacing and ease of learning that EPGY provides.

As we discovered, the EPGY software makes learning math much more efficient, allowing kids to make more rapid progress with much less total effort. It can make the difference between a bad, tense, frustrating year for a gifted kid, and a happy, successful one. Although it is far from perfect, and the people at Stanford do occasionally seem overloaded, EPGY has been so much better than classroom math for Morgan that it's hard for us to compare the two experiences.

A final note: EPGY does give scholarships. If your child's school won't pay all or part of the cost, and you're in a position where $1600+ per year would be a hardship, then by all means apply for one. The process is fairly simple and the scholarship can make the difference between affordable and not.


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Pre-Calc Program
by Kit Finn

Bridget hasn't been doing EPGY long and we only have experience with the Precalculus course. She absolutely loves it. I would say that it is perfect for a certain type of child. There is no attempt made to -catch- the student's attention and no sound effects or dancing graphics to reward a correct answer. It doesn't even say good, it just goes on to the next one.

You get a couple of CD-Roms and some mimeographed handouts - homework assignments and minimum pace etc. You have to buy a textbook separately. Some of the courses use no textbook and some include it from EPGY. If you leave your child alone with the course, which we basically do, the responsibility level is much like college.

Each lesson starts with a short lecture. You seem to be looking at a whiteboard and you hear a voice talking and stuff appears on the screen in handwriting as if you are watching him draw it - but you never see hand or pen. You even hear the scratching of the pen. Bridget thinks it's neat and has spent some time wondering how they do that. Nothing reminds you to read the text or do the homework, though periodically they do have a homework check where you have to enter the answers to selected questions. Nothing triggers you to take the tests either. You are simply told in one of the handouts that there is a test for each chapter in the book. Tests are partly enter into the computer and partly done on paper and mailed in.

Tests are a separate part of the program and do not pop up automatically the way the homework checks do. You are supposed to email a progress report weekly. This is the only part she isn't good about doing and I have to remind her. I suppose I could do it for her but she doesn't want to give me her password.

The software is not as reliable as most stuff you can buy. Twice we have had it all come to a crashing halt with a message that we have just performed an illegal operation. These bugs are easily worked around but I must say they rather shook my daughter.

The phone support is very good and every so often you get a report in the mail showing how well the kid is doing in terms of both speed and accuracy. These reports are sent to the kid, so adolescent turf battles could happen. Bridget showed it to me quite happily, but I have another child who would have insisted it was her mail and none of my business. They sent the bill to Bridget too.


P.S. We tried Socorro on pre-calc last year and she hated it. Flatly refused to do it after the first week. So my take is that a kid will either love it and fly with it or hate it and refuse to do it at all.

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K-8 Program, A Different Perspective
by Trindel Maine

Deneb only tried EPGY during the summer quarter between kindergarten and 1st grade (2 years ago). During that summer she whizzed through the 1st grade and 2/3 of the 2nd grade material. However we concluded that at least until she was somewhat older that it wasn't a good approach for her. I think VERY highly of the programs general scope and sequence. I will probably try it again when she is a little older.

She found the format not only 'not fun' but actually intrinsically quite pressured. We quickly turned off all the time pressure options but she nonetheless felt under pressure especially as the material got harder. She was amazingly adept at getting 'RIGHT' answers without understanding what she was doing and getting in way over her head before she started getting wrong answers. At that point the only way out of the hole seemed to be for me to turn off the computer and spend some off-line time with her and rebuild the concepts from more basic levels. The program seemed to have no mechanism for going back and rebuilding concepts particularly if another approach was needed. We also found the user interface pretty hard to deal with in the geometry units, extremely careful and fine mouse positioning was often required.

For now she still seems to really appreciate her math being embedded in fun activities with lots of hands on work. As I said above we are likely to try it again later, but it doesn't seem to be the right answer for her right now.


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EPGY / Academic Systems / DestinationMATH,
Johns Hopkins style
by Carolyn K. director, Hoagies' Gifted Education Page

We've done Johns Hopkins Math Tutorials with our daughter since she was in 1st/2nd (that was one year). That year she completed EPGY 1st-3rd grade arithmetic in 6 months, with little effort (sometimes 3x a week, sometimes only 1, not regular - and she still blasted through!). Then we took a (financial) break. We did 4th the last marking period of 3rd grade, for one quarter, to prepare her more thoroughly for skipping 4th grade math in school... which never happened - they lost all records of her IEP goals!

Then she was tested (summer between 4th and 5th) at JHU at the school's expense - they expected to find she should be held back, but... that's not quite what the tests showed. She skipped EPGY 5th, and went straight to 6th, which she aced with a 97% final exam in less than 1/2 school year, doing it only 20 minutes a day, 3-4 days a week. She did 6th EPGY and Pre-algebra AS in school, at school expense.

Note: as the grade levels increase, the EPGY software gets buggier. Last I checked, Stanford continues EPGY through 7th and 8th; Johns Hopkins now has new stuff, Academic Systems, and kids who ace 6th skip 7th and go directly to Academic Systems (AS) Pre-algebra, and then Algebra I. Geometry isn't in place yet, so they go next to Algebra II, and then Calculus.

She'll start Algebra I in school this year, probably progressing to DestinationMATH and Algebra II, but without a supervising teacher. There will be a teacher of the gifted in the room, but with other students, so she'll be pretty much on her own. Not sure how that will work... we're waiting to find out. We found out: it's not great, they decided to hire an aide and move her to the library for a more studious environment, but it's been several months and that hasn't happened. Even without supervision, she does much better when she's challenged!

To answer most questions: originally she did it at night, as an unrelated supplement to school (review) math. Starting last year, thanks to ... it's a long story, she did it in place of school math. She was still forced to do much of the chapter math, but from 6th and 7th grade texts instead of 5th. Starting last year, the school also paid for it. This would not have happened had there not been a major mistake... The administration remedied the situation immediately, by adding EPGY (site unseen!) and hiring a teacher to supervise her math and teach her 6th grade science (the other subject tested at JHU).

Does EPGY pretest? Yes, both EPGY and AS do. It's easier to see what's going on, and to make choices (review this unit anyway, as you struggled with the pretest even though you eventually got the right answers). EPGY is more ... computer-based. The computer makes the decisions, and you just do what it presents. Another reason I like AS as soon as it's available for your courses. AS has chapters (6 for pre-algebra) and then units in each chapter, each with a pre-test and post-test and exercises. Plus there's an Adobe Acrobat file "book" to print from and do homework from, as appropriate. This teacher did the evens or odds thing when she used that, or any homework. And also used the 'hardest first' approach sometimes. Great teacher! The AS Algebra I book is a real, thick, paperback text book. Great resource!

Johns Hopkins assigns a staff tutor, who works with the child on-line (e-mail) or by phone. Each tutor has different hours. Folks on the east coast who are doing this after school / evening often prefer Stanford, because the hours are better, but JHU has evening hours, too. Depends on the tutor. Only one tutor (Pre-algebra) was a problem - we couldn't get answers from him, and it took months to receive her completion certificate and test results. We did get an oral confirmation of her midterm and final grades, but the school wanted to see (a copy of) the graded exams. Can't blame them.

Credit depends on the child's home school. Our daughter's getting 'credit' for the previous courses only in the fact that she doesn't have to repeat them. Starting with Algebra I, she gets high school credit for all the higher level math, by district policy - she'd get that credit whether she took it in middle school or through JHU. And then are prepared and willing to give her credit for two classes / year if she completes them, as she did last year, Algebra I and II. Or more, if she does it.

The younger levels of EPGY (through 3rd, at least) have a separate drill program that she didn't mind. At first we used it such that she answered and I typed, to get the speed. Later she did it herself. And did respectably! You can change the speed (low, regular, high) and the style (race cars or swim race, she liked them both) and the color of your person, and the types of competitors. It was really kind of nice, encouraged the speed without pushing too hard. 1st / 2nd was addition and subtraction in all sorts of forms (forwards, backwards, fill in the answer, fill in the missing number from the problem). 3rd / 4th was multiplication. We never got one that included division, but I believe there is one - our use of EPGY was broken up over several years, which didn't help.

I do recommend the written homework (print the assignments). We skipped them for her grades 1-3, and should have had her at least doing some of them for writing practice. Again, they are not required.

Regardless of what software you're running (from JHU), and how much material you cover, you pay by the quarter. There is new stuff called DestinationMATH that they recommend after 5th, after Pre-algebra, and after Algebra I(I think that's the sequence). It's fun, animated, all problem solving. Can you apply what you just learned? No grade, but fun, and a great way to review / reinforce the stuff in real life problems that our kids can relate to (and slow them down if they are doing too many grades a year). Our daughter really liked the first two - she was a beta tester, and we're planning to use the third level after Algebra I because she'll be taking math every day this year, so she could easily finish more than two years worth, and this will sandwich between nicely. It features an animated character called Digit, does some animated review, and then asks problems - there's a basketball player, and comparing his two salary offers, which team should he go with? Digit's house (a triangular prism) needs wallpaper, how much does he need? Stuff like that. And all animated. Good explanations if you need them (press a button, optional, useful if the student doesn't get it right). Good stuff.


Educational Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY) Stanford
Center for Distance Education Johns Hopkins
Center for Talent Development Northwestern University

Distance Learning Program for gifted students, begins with K-8 math and includes higher level math, physics and writing courses. Offered jointly by Stanford and Johns Hopkins Universities

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