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STLCC’s Virtual College Course Provides Acceleration for Gifted High School Students

January 05, 2015

Three mornings a week this past fall, Chris Mahan, math professor at St. Louis Community College-Wildwood, taught Calculus II, a challenging math course for students who have already progressed past College Algebra and Trigonometry. However, 20 of his students had not even graduated from high school yet. In fact, they were not even on the campus for the class.

Thirteen students from Eureka High School and seven students from Lafayette High School accessed Mahan’s classroom remotely via an internet connection, where they joined college students in the classroom at Wildwood. The students asked questions and contributed to class discussions via the computer. They also were able to visit campus to review tests and assignments with Mahan during his office hours.

The innovative partnership between STLCC and the high schools allows high school students who are gifted in math to continue their studies. These students typically begin an accelerated math program in elementary school and may be well ahead of their peers in math by the time they have finished middle school.  By the time they reach junior or senior year of high school, they already have taken the highest level of math available through the school district.

“Calculus II was the next appropriate class for me to take following AP Calculus. I didn’t want my math skills to stagnate or regress,” said Eureka student Makoto Sullivan. 

Fellow student Blake Ruprecht agreed. “It was the next option in my math career. I didn’t want to waste a year doing nothing.”

The “dual enrollment” program is not new. Since STLCC-Wildwood opened its doors in 2007, 1,500 high school students have earned college credit before graduating from high school by attending classes at the campus. Some students earn as much as one or two full semester’s worth of credits that they can transfer to the four-year institution of their choice or apply to a degree at STLCC. However the calculus class is the only STLCC class that Rockwood students take “virtually” as a group from their own high schools. Students who pass Calculus II in the fall semester and Calculus III in the spring will earn 10 college credits; five for each class.

At Eureka, the students are in a computer lab together, and each student individually logs on to the learning platform. At Lafayette, a moderator logs on to the learning platform on behalf of the entire class.

Besides college credit, students gain insight to the similarities and differences between high school and college courses without having to leave their high school campuses.

“I get to know what a college Calculus II class is like and gain knowledge before I got to college. I also get to see what a college professor is like and how communicating with them outside of class works,” Jared Lovemark said. 

“The format really prepares the students for what they will see at college and beyond in terms of remote participation,” said Katie Martin, coordinator of outreach and school relations at STLCC. “Students will have
experience with online and hybrid (combined classroom and online) learning before they even start college. These kinds of presentations are used in universities across the country, but are also now being used by businesses for professional webinars, presentations and conferences.”

“I teach to the same level as I always do,” said Mahan, the instructor who also has taught at Washington University.
“The only challenge with this class is that I can’t rely on visual clues from the students if they don’t understand. So I have the students work on examples during class to check in and see if they understand the concepts I’m presenting. It works well.

“I found that the high school students were very motivated and engaged,” Mahan added. “They did all of the assignments and extra work they could do. Their teachers have done an excellent job of preparing them to take the class, and they have a solid knowledge of math. They did really well.”