The Institute for Mathematics and Computer Science (memorable acronym: IMACS) has been a Premium Plus GHF supporter since 2014, and we appreciate their longstanding commitment to providing online courses for gifted homeschoolers.
IMACS offered its first online course for talented students in 1998. In fact, several of IMACS’ most talented graduates were homeschooled from a young age.
Current IMACS mathematics and computer science courses include middle and high school math, AP Computer Science A, AP exam prep, mathematical logic, and university-level courses. IMACS has two online programs, both offering advanced curriculum, flexible pacing, and instructors who understand the unique intellectual needs of gifted students.
The Elements of Mathematics: Foundations (EMF) program offers affordable courses in pre-algebra through precalculus, as well as proof-based introductions to abstract algebra, logic, set theory, number theory, and topology.
For university-level and AP studies, eIMACS offers courses in mathematical logic, introductory computer science, AP Computer Science A, and AP exam prep courses.
There are no age restrictions. EMF students generally fall in the 10-14 age group and eIMACS students into 14+, but IMACS does have experience with profoundly gifted students younger than those guidelines. Interested students take one of two aptitude tests, accessible via the links below.
GHF: Can you describe what homework for your online courses looks like?
IMACS: Our eIMACS and EMF online courses are self-paced, so there is no assigned homework. Each course comes with a set enrollment period, and students, with parental assistance if needed, can pace themselves accordingly.
That said, every student enrolled in an eIMACS university-level course gets a syllabus, which is also intended to serve as a pacing guide. All eIMACS students are assigned individual instructors. The instructor monitors your student’s progress and will check in from time to time if the student appears to be falling behind.
GHF: Many resources for homeschoolers focus on the elementary years, so it’s exciting that your online programs are tailored to middle- and high-school students. On the other hand, as your website acknowledges, kids who are not challenged in elementary math can develop poor work habits. (I know my own son certainly did!) Do kids new to your program sometimes take a while to “ramp up” their engagement with the course material?
IMACS: At the start of our courses, students who are unused to truly challenging math can take some time to “ramp up” their learning approach and study skills, but our experience is that they have a near-instant high level of engagement.
Our courses are designed from the ground up to be engaging and innovative for gifted and talented students—they’re not just accelerated versions of standard high school math courses. We let talented students “do math” in a way that is finally interesting and intellectually challenging.
In fact, being able to really stretch their wings tends to motivate IMACS students to improve their learning approach and study skills. Learning skills—like reading explanatory material closely instead of skimming, doing exercises in the order they are presented instead of skipping around, being willing to ask for help from their eIMACS instructor or in the online EMF Help Forum, asking for help clearly and specifically (not just “I don’t get it”), and reviewing before a test—are just some of the things kids who are used to coasting through math learn with IMACS.
As an aside, this is part of why we require an aptitude test for eIMACS university-level courses and strongly encourage the aptitude test for EMF. Our aptitude tests gauge not only mathematical readiness but also readiness to practice these non-mathematical skills.
GHF: How much instructor interaction is there for your online courses? What format does it take: email, live chat, video?
IMACS: In our eIMACS courses, each student is assigned an individual instructor. Instructors monitor student progress, review their work, answer questions, unlock tests at the appropriate time, and periodically initiate contact with students when it’s clear assistance is required. Students can contact their instructors via the built-in online message center, email, or telephone.
EMF is a self-study program, so the amount of instructor interaction depends on how frequently a student asks for help through the online EMF Help Forum. Students post questions that are answered by more experienced students. Question that cannot be answered by other students are filtered up to IMACS instructors who then answer those questions through the help forum.
GHF: Do kids in your online courses interact with each other, or only with the instructor? If the former, how are those interactions monitored?
IMACS: In eIMACS courses, students interact only with their instructors. EMF offers an online chat room where EMF students can interact socially with each other. IMACS staff members/instructors review chat room transcripts daily. Students receive warnings and may be suspended or expelled from the chat room or even the EMF program for inappropriate posts.
GHF: Are there any particular technical requirements—software or hardware—for IMACS online programs?
IMACS: All IMACS courses work with standard internet-capable computers: eIMACS is supported on the free Chrome and Firefox browsers on laptop and desktop computers.
Only one eIMACS course requires additional software. AP Computer Science: Java Programming, which leads to the AP Computer Science A exam, requires students to download a compatible Java integrated development environment (IDE) such as Eclipse or Netbeans, both of which are free.
Like our upper-level courses, EMF is supported on Chrome and Firefox. EMF courses are also compatible with iPads, large Android tablets, and touchscreen computers—although some features are easier to use with a mouse or other pointing device. EMF is not compatible with smartphones.
GHF: Who are your instructors? Retired teachers, graduate students, math majors, PhDs working as adjunct/online instructors? Do they have experience working with gifted students?
IMACS: Our online instructors include a mix of mathematicians, computer scientists, engineers, educators, math majors, and PhDs, all of whom work only for IMACS. Each instructor has additional responsibilities within the company, including teaching classes at our local teaching centers, curriculum development, and educational research.
All of our online instructors have experience working with gifted students. The average time working with gifted students is 20+ years.
GHF: Have you worked with many GHF students/parents?
IMACS: Our online course enrollment forms ask parents how they heard about IMACS. Many have cited GHF, especially since we became a Premium Plus Institutional Sponsor.
GHF: Finally, is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like our audience to know?
IMACS: We often hear parents describe their child as “mathy” or not “mathy.” It has been our experience that when people use the term “mathy,” they typically mean someone who enjoys solving computational problems and can do so at high speed with great accuracy. This may be related to the way most parents were taught math in school and the way math is still taught, Common Core notwithstanding. This limited way of defining “mathy,” which is reinforced by its association with math competitions, unfortunately excludes a whole group of mathematically gifted people.
IMACS and professional mathematicians use a broader definition of “mathy” that also includes individuals who see beauty in the complexity of patterns, who enjoy tinkering with physical and mental puzzles and games, and who like to ponder big, abstract ideas. This type of creative thinker often finds our online courses to be a great fit.