A college math student might grapple with this topic in an advanced elective. Ryan was stretching his elementary-school mind at MathPath, perhaps the nation’s toughest summer camp for numerical prodigies.
Math camps are multiplying in part because families are seeking an edge in competitive college admissions and worry about the quality of U.S. math instruction. Last summer, parents paid $280 million to send 120,000 children to academic summer camps, with math among the most popular subjects, according to Eduventures, a Boston research firm, which estimates enrollment is climbing 10% a year. Sylvan Learning Centers, the big tutoring company, says participation in summer math programs, including day camp, jumped 23% last year — twice the rate of other subjects.
The American Mathematical Society counts two dozen “challenging summer math programs” — twice as many as seven years ago. Most focus on high-school students. MathPath caters only to middle-school kids, age 10 to 14. It is also smaller — and more selective — than some better known programs.
About 80,000 kids in second through eighth grade, for example, take part in the annual “talent search” run by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth. Through the search, about 70% qualify for summer camps across the country and some 10,000 enroll in a given year.