Why would anyone want to teach calculus to a 7-year-old!?!?!

The professor yelled when he asked this question.  I’m used to people being boggled at the thought of young people learning calculus.  I’m used to the blank stares, buggy eyes and puzzled looks, but this was a first.

I was at a math technology conference in Fall 2008, attended by professors, teachers, school administrators and tech coordinators.  Everyone was interested in what new software and hardware could be useful in their classrooms.  I was in a small slice of math geek paradise!

We were sitting down to lunch.  I already knew Dr. Richard Delaware (University of Missouri at Kansas City) and Carolyn Anderson (Park University, Parkville, Missouri).  Dr. Delaware was one of my husband Joe’s professors while he pursued his Masters in Statistics.  Carolyn Anderson is an Associate Professor and has referred students to us for years.  Both are excited about our kid’s calculus program and think kids ought to learn hard subjects.

We introduced ourselves to those we didn’t know and vice versa.  After I said who I was and what I did, “I’m the owner of Mathhead Tutoring.  I’m a math and calculus tutor and I teach calculus to kids 7-years-old and up”, the unnamed professor bellowed, “Why would anyone want to teach calculus to a 7-year-old!?!?!  I want Johnny to be able to do ‘2+2 is 4. 4+4 is 8’!”.  (Cue record scratch).  Profs. Delaware, Anderson and I turned to look at him.  Everything stopped for exactly 2.3 seconds.  We couldn’t understand why he would be angry about someone else teaching calculus to kids.

After I saw the looks on Profs. Delaware and Anderson’s faces I got so tickled.  I tried not to laugh.  I imagined how my young students would react if he said that to them.  They would probably shrug their shoulders and go back to what they were doing.

I teach calculus to kids because I can, because they are smart enough to learn it, because it gives them confidence and alleviates their fears about math.  They love learning what the “big kids” are learning. The calculus gets them excited and they say to me,  “Miss Lori, teach me THIS!!”  In the process they get to do lots of fractions and decimals.  They get to practice arithmetic without realizing it’s arithmetic and always come back for more.  What’s bad about that?  Nothing.  The kids and I are having a blast.  I know he’ll never have as much fun at his job as I do!  I won’t stop as long as I can see the looks of delight on their faces when they discover something new.

I love your idea!
I have always loved calculus but I always hated fractions and percentage and all that. Math is like a cool game when you learn to use letters instead of numbers.
I think one of the reasons some people hate math is because it gets too boring at the beginning.

We need more people like you!

I liked your answer “I teach calculus to kids because I can, because they are smart enough to learn it, because it gives them confidence and alleviates their fears about math. They love learning what the “big kids” are learning.”
Keep up the good work!

2 Apr 2009, 5:35am
by Michelle

Great post! That teacher obviously has the closed-minded view of calculus as a lot of people do. But not me anymore! (yay!) 🙂

I only encountered Calculus when I went to university and then it was in a very mechanical way. (It has since been incorporated into secondary schools in South Africa)

It is the magic fibre of maths- why not teach the kids magic from a young age!!!!

I applaud you!

You are so kind. Thank you!

6 May 2010, 10:54pm
by marshall_catts

I’ve been teaching calculus (and other traditional “teenage” maths topics) to Year 1 children (6-7 year olds) here in eastern Australia since the late 1990s. Most of the kids love being able to do what the big kids do and to say to amazed relatives, “Mr Katz is teaching us calculus.”rnrnMy only regret is that I didn’t do this earlier in my primary/elementary teaching career which started in 1975.rnrnWell done, Lori. I never imagined I was the only one doing this but I was pleased to find your posting about your excitement at sharing the same experiences.

I’m wondering how much knowledge is required before you can teach calculus. They need to know the basic number system and what else?

Knowledge of geometry, algebra, trigonometry and calculus would be a good start for anyone who wants to teach either at home or in an institution. Of course the credentials required depend on the particular place of learning.

To be great at teaching calculus, I think Don Cohen’s Calculus By and For Young People: Worksheets is mandatory.

21 Feb 2013, 8:55pm
by Donald Brown

This is brilliant.

Sidebar: For some reason I got curious about child math prodigies and searched “teaching calculus to 7 year olds”. I’m amused that I found this since I didn’t have any known stimuli for my search.

Cheers and thanks!

When I was in high school, my little sister was 8 years old. She wanted to see what I was doing so I told her I was taking derivatives. She wanted to try it. I taught her how to take a derivative and what it could do. She doesn’t seem to have any negative lifelong issues due to it and she’s 35 now:)


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