What is BYOM, and how is it different from "Russian Math"?
BYOM is "Russian Math." Only, it's not the "Russian Math" that parents in the U.S. usually think of when they hear those words. One of the achievements of the Soviet Union was that they took math and math education very seriously, and they developed a well-deserved reputation as having some of the best mathematicians in the world. What is usually presented as "Russian Math" in the U.S. is not the famous program that produced so many great mathematicians but rather a program that has been watered down over the last 20 years by other math traditions, modified to be more like different U.S./UK-based curriculums. There is very little of the authentic "Russian Math" left. In truth, the current programs taught in schools in Russia today suffer from the same ailment. Therefore, many parents in Russia enroll their children in after-school programs, where teachers are free to teach what they want and what they have determined is the best program for students.
Our program BYOM brings U.S. students the genuine "Soviet Math," first conceived by great Soviet Educators like Andrey Kiselev and Georgy Dorofeev. BYOM is one of the most advanced programs used as the primary program for extra-curricular math. It was developed over 50 years by the top Soviet and Russian mathematicians, who sent the first man into space!
One of these mathematicians is Lyudmila Georgievna Peterson, who developed the "Build Your Own Math" program.
Who is L. G. Peterson, and what is the essence of her system?
Lyudmila Georgievna Peterson is a teacher-methodologist and doctor of pedagogical sciences. She was born in 1950, and since 1975, under the guidance of leading Soviet mathematicians such as Naum Vilenkin and Georgy Dorofeev, she has been developing a course of continuous mathematics education. The first manuals are intended for three-year-old children; the last – is for ninth-grade students. In the 1990s, the technique began to be widely used in kindergartens and grade schools.
Unlike the traditional method, the Peterson system understands that a child must realize mathematics on their own. There is no place for the standard scheme, where a teacher explains a topic, the children memorize the steps to "solve" problems, take a test and move on. At first, we present the students with a more difficult task than they can solve; they must independently develop their ideas and opinions about what to do. In the end, under the guidance of a teacher, they rediscover mathematical principles on their own. Through this approach, children acquire essential skills: they learn to overcome difficulties, go beyond ready-made solutions, invent their own, and critically evaluate information. Afterward, the student can be proud of their discoveries and successful solutions, and the hard-earned knowledge they discovered for themselves is much harder to forget.
How does it work?
In a traditional school, multiplication takes place like this: the teacher writes an expression, for example, 5 + 5 + 5, and then he says that it can be written more simply, introduces a new sign, the concept of multiplication, and explains the rules.
The Peterson system works quite differently: "A school has 856 students. The school decided to buy each student a book for 120 dollars as a holiday gift. How much does the purchase cost?" Students try to write 120 + 120 + 120 ..., but quickly realize that this will not work (it takes too long) and that they need to figure out another way to write an expression in which there are many identical terms. They search on their own for a better way and eventually reinvent the idea of multiplication—the principle "not a student for mathematics, but mathematics for a student" works. The child not only masters the school curriculum but develops the ability to think for themselves.
It sounds simple, but what about the results? How do students who learn this way compare to those who studied mathematics the traditional way? According to statistics gathered by the center "School 2000", which prepares teachers to work according to the Peterson method, children show promising results in the final exams. For fourth-graders, the success rates were from 82% to 100%. For school children who took the standardized test, 71% to 85% scored above average. Many participants in Math Olympiads at various levels studied in elementary or high school using Peterson's textbooks. For example, more than half of its members studied in a Peterson program on the Russian National Math Team.
Is this system just for gifted children? What if my child has average abilities?
The Peterson program is often used in specialized mathematics schools or classes, but the author of the method is sure that it is suitable for everyone. Such developmental activities are even more critical for children who do not show exceptional innate talent in mathematics. Those considered lagging in traditional programs often level out and become strong. Students are presented with tasks up to the most difficult, but they are only required to achieve a certain minimum, acceptable level. Thus, gifted students have an opportunity to undertake a more significant workload to maximize their mastery of the subject, but everyone achieves at least a reasonable minimum.
What do parents say?
If the technique is followed, it is not difficult for children —they are fascinated by it. Children often find that their mathematics homework is more exciting and enjoyable than other subjects.
It sometimes happens that teachers in regular fifth-grade classes do not know what to do with children who have studied with the Peterson system: they already know everything they're supposed to know.
The system is well thought out and focused on understanding, not memorization, so children can take a deeper look at math and appreciate its beauty. Classically, mathematics and music education were linked, but in modern schools, most children never learn how math "sounds." Children who study the "Build Your Own Math" program can hear it.
The emphasis in the program is on logic and the development of abstract thinking, which will be helpful in life even beyond STEM. Mathematically skilled children can participate in Olympiads and study at prestigious schools and technical universities that aren't available to the less experienced.
Finally, if a student forgets the solution algorithm in the traditional system, he fails the task. Those who study, according to Peterson, know how to create algorithms and deduce the formulas on their own. This is not just about mathematics. It is all about understanding and learning to think for themselves, possibly the most valuable life skill a person can have.