Which School for Kids Who Like Math & Science?

Parent Q&A

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  • Which school for science-loving kid?

    (1 reply)

    I would love to hear about families' experiences with Piedmont Unified, Head Royce, and / or Hillcrest. I'd appreciate perspective about the quality of education as I look ahead for a mid-elementary child who is an independent, creative thinker. I am also interested in hearing about the culture of the school communities, both of families and faculty. My child genuinely loves science (and used to love art, though that's waned recently) and thrives when challenged academically, and we would like an environment where the students and teachers are engaged in learning, but ideally not a teach-to-test or pressure-cooker environment. I don’t need opinions on getting into any of these schools or on where to live, but am interested in hearing about what the academic and social experiences have been like for families who have recently been enrolled. I've read all the BPN posts on these various schools, almost all pre-Covid, but if anyone is able to compare any of the schools all the better. Our preference in many ways is for public school, but we are open to private starting in 6th. Thank you in advance for any responses!

    If you join the Piedmont community you are in for a facilities treat.  A new high school STEAM building was completed last Fall and it is supported by a very large and advanced local maker community.  The new high school theater building is scheduled for completion by this Fall.  I think at least one more high school building will be rebuilt from the ground up, following the current project.  In parallel to all this activity, the community pool facilities are expected to be redesigned and rebuilt by 2024.

    Piedmont elementary could do a better job of supporting its advanced learners but there are notable if infrequent efforts to group students briefly for differentiated tasks in math during regular school hours.  In spite of this, our daughter was still bored.  There is no district support for putting advanced learners in a separate track at the elementary level.  On the one hand this could be viewed as a disservice to advanced learners.  On the other hand, these kids are spared the parental pressure of getting into certain tracks.  If you value mental health, Piedmont is a good place to be at any grade level.  I reached out to PUSD's Dr. Wozniak years ago with questions before we moved and she was very receptive then.  You might consider calling or emailing her with any specific questions.  A lot will depend on her workload of course and how much extra work my little comment here generates.  :)

    We've had our kids in private schools prior to Piedmont and there's really no substitute for small class sizes (<16) and high co-teacher to student ratios (1:10 or less).  Co-teaching is definitely better than teacher + aide, and some private schools have two co-teachers plus an aide in each classroom of <16 students.  Differentiation works well in small classes because they can track groups of students and still keep them together.  Piedmont's classes are not the largest but they are not private school sized either.

    As long as expectations for Piedmont (or any public school district) are reasonable, your family will probably be pretty happy.  One interesting dynamic is that the recently passed proposition for more flexibility in carrying a lower property tax basis to a new home may be generating more home sales in Piedmont.  With more tax revenue and a potentially growing base of families with school-aged children, we could be on the cusp on a new golden era in community support of public schooling, as strong as it already is now.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Middle School Advice for Advanced Math Kid?

Oct 2014

There is some good advice on BPN on schools for math kids, but it is a little dated. I have a 10-year-old child who is doing Algebra 1 right now and loves Berkeley Math Circle. He loves math (but not just math...he loves all subjects) and so I would like to find a middle school that will allow him to continue at his own pace in math, but also will provide great guidance in other disciplines (history, writing etc.). Socially, my son is really 10 years old and not precocious. He is an active athlete so a school that has the numbers to field teams etc. would be a plus. I would especially like to hear from parents of similar kids, and also from parents who have had trouble finding a good fit for their math kid, who have gotten ''push back'' from schools when they want their child to be advanced in math, but not advanced in grade level per se. We are open to public and private, and live in Berkeley in the Willard Middle zone. Also would love to hear from parents of similar kids who are of high school age and beyond. Where did your middle school lead you to high school? I hear that BHS math students who finish the curriculum there can go to UCB for classes. Anyone with experience doing that? Any experience with classes in high school through the online Global Academy? Thanks! Math Mom

If your child is advanced in math you should check out GATE Academy in San Rafael. Every child works at their own level in math. There are several who are advanced in math and it is a place where your child will not be held back or given busy work. Some middle schoolers do calculus and more! We commute from the east bay and love it for the differentiation and challenging academics that have made my kids motivated to learn. Super happy

At all of the public middle schools incoming students take a math placement test. If/when the school can't accommodate his level he should be able to take the next level at BHS. This is really a better option than private school. Willard should have several students each year testing out of grade level math so your son won't be the only one at all. Willard also has several sports teams and band. don't worry

My daughter, now in ninth grade at Berkeley High, sounds similar to your son in most ways (academically and socially, though she's not athletic). She's been in Berkeley public schools all the way (King before Berkeley High), as well as a BMC participant for several years. We've dealt with the issues you mentioned at both King and now at BHS.

We ended up having her work at her own pace in math outside of school (with the Stanford Educational Program for Gifted Youth plus BMC and math summer camp) in elementary and middle school. At the time, King allowed advanced students to accelerate one year in math starting in seventh grade; they may have stopped that with the advent of Common Core. We tried when she entered King to have her accelerate in math, but she was not allowed to do that, even with the strong support of her fifth-grade teacher.

Before entering BHS, she took the math placement test and was moved ahead another year in math, so she's now in Honors Math Analysis (precalculus/trigonometry). I recently talked to one of the BHS math teachers about the possibility of moving her further ahead this year, to AP Calculus BC; he acknowledged that she could do the work but discouraged it for various logistical reasons. We've been told that BHS students can and do take math classes at both Berkeley City College and UCB. She's on track to do that officially her junior year, and she may start taking UCB math classes through UC Extension on her own before that.

There have been some compromises, but by and large the Berkeley public schools have been great for her, though not always academically challenging, especially in math. She's had many excellent teachers. Starting in middle school, especially, she's had interesting and varied writing assignments and been exposed to a lot in science, history, literature and social studies.

Good luck with your search. R

The Berkeley Math Circle is ideal for kids who love math.

Meeting every Tuesday evening, from 6 to 8 on the 7th floor of Evans Hall, at UC/Berkeley. 3 groups, roughly 4th-6th grade, 7-9th, and 9-12th graders. (There may be a younger group as well)

This is not for homework or schoolwork; rather it's math topics from grad students and math professors. It used to be mainly Berkeley kids; it now attracts students from all around the bay - Hayward up to Marin.

During the meetings, many parents chat in the hallway. It's a great place to compare notes with other parents (that's where I heard about summer math camps and which high schools have the strongest math programs).

My son attended the Berkeley Math Circle from 5th grade until the end of high school; he's now a math major at University of Chicago.

Contact Dr. Zvezdelina Stankova at UC/Berkeley or see their webpage at mathcircle.berkeley.edu - Cliff

Check out the maths program ''Firecracker'' with both weekly sessions and summer camps: http://firecrackerforum.org/math/

Both Firecracker and the Berkeley Maths Circle build on rich experience from Eastern European Mathematics training. Exciting problem solving that attracts children, teaches them analytical skills and builds their confidence.

An essential difference is that Firecracker runs small groups (about 4-8 kids), while Berkeley Maths Circle operates with larger groups (about 40 in a classroom). Julia


Bay Area schools that use Singapore Math?

March 2013

We're looking for schools using Singapore Math. Does anyone know the names of Bay Area primary or middle schools (public or private) using Singapore Math or something similar? All responses or comments about Singapore math are appreciated.

Tehiyah Day School in El Cerrito uses Singapore Math. Tehiyah Parent

At my child's school in Berkeley, The Academy (a K-8 school in Elmwood), all of the teachers are currently being trained in Singapore math methods and they've already incorporated aspects into their curricula. The school's approach to math is to teach one year ahead in the standards (i.e., in K they teach the 1st grade math standards, in 1st grade they teach 2nd grade, and so on). We've been very impressed by the quality of the math instruction and how the kids respond to the challenge, and we're very happy with the school overall.

Tehiyah Day School adopted Singapore Math some time ago, and Pacific Boychoir Academy has also switched to Singapore Math. The Academy has plans to use some Singapore Math materials to supplement the main text they use (the public school text). A staff member at The Academy has told prospective parents that the school was switching to Singapore Math, but that is not what the head of school, the board, as well as the lower school dean, who is in charge of the Math curriculum, have told families currently at the school. Singaporean


Kindergarten for a Math Geek

Nov 2010

We have a kindergartener who is gifted in math and science but a bit socially awkward and not much interested in drama or performing for others. We have toured Park Day and are particularly drawn to its focus on social skills and strong social justice curriculum. Do you think a math geek would be comfortable and accepted by other students at Park Day? patty

My son, now in 6th grade, has been at Park since kindergarten and I have so much respect for the math curriculum. My kid loves math, but so do most of the kids in his grade -- I remember sitting in on the first day of 2nd grade when my son's teacher asked each kid to say what they liked best about school. ''Math.'' ''Math.'' ''Math.'' ''Math.'' It was hilarious.

Here are two things that I think are relevant to your question. One is that kids at Park are taught from kindergarten on to honor and respect each other for who they are, and the result is kids who feel free to like what they like, whatever it is, and be who they are, whoever that is. My son and his (large group of) friends proudly call themslelves ''nerds'' because they like math and science and technology and music and books. But it's a name they chose for themselves, not one that anyone would have called them otherwise.

The second thing is that the math they've learned isn't just a series of equations. Kids at Park are challenged to find multiple ways to solve problem, and the math curriculum includes lots of discussion and writing about math in addition to the equations. DS

I so emphathize with your dilemma and your search! Our daughter just transferred from Park Day to The Berkeley School (for 2nd grade), and while we loved aspects of Park Day, we didn't think it was the best fit for our daughter, who was often overwhelmed by the social energy of her peers at Park Day. We moved to The Berkeley School because we were so impressed with their commitment to a truly supportive social environment (the size and layout of the school support this, as well as the on-site school psychologist) within the context of what they call ''a rigorous progressive school.'' Rigor, in this context, doesn't mean testing, but allowing children to move within and across the double-grade classrooms with curriculum that really lets children learn at their own pace. In addition, if the two-year range isn't enough, I know of kids who are in the upper elementary classes for math, but in their own lower elementary class for everything else. This isn't weird or awkward (the way it was when I was in elementary school) but just part of the culture. Feel free to contact me if you have any specific questions. mrk

I can't speak to Park Day, but your son sounds like my daughter, so I wanted to reply. Our daughter has always loved math (one of her favorite preschool pastimes was adding huge numbers in the calculator on my husband's IPhone and then solving the problems on paper before pressing ''='' to see if they matched) and science (we have a ''science lab'' in our garage, her 5th Bday party was a science party, etc). However, ever since toddlerhood, she was a bit socially awkward. She was always the one on the sidelines at birthday parties and group playdates; she played by herself or sometimes with just one or two good friends at preschool; she never liked ''being in the spotlight'' and shied away from situations where she had to perform publicly or call attention to herself. After looking at a VAST number of k-8 public and private schools, we chose Montessori Family School (MFS) in El Cerrito and couldn't be happier. The Montessori curriculum is extremely strong in Math, and with the individual, child-led approach to learning, the kids can take it as far as they want to go. My daughter's Kindergarten teacher gave her a long division problem as a challenge last spring, and using the materials in the classroom, she solved it--beaming proudly as she did! However, in addition to the strong academic curriculum, the focus on social skills and justice is one of the main reasons we chose Montessori Family School. The slogan of the school is ''Education for Peace'', and they live and breathe that throughout the school. They have a zero tolerance policy of exclusion and bullying--and it is enforced by the kids. They use Jane Nelson's ''Positive Discipline'' approach, holding weekly classroom meetings to co-create rules and solve problems together as they arise. The teachers all treat the kids with respect, valuing their individual talents and challenges, and from what I've seen, the kids do the same with one another. My daughter is now in her second year at MFS, and the change we've seen in her since she started there is dramatic. The small class size and individual attention she received last year allowed her to feel safe, take risks and make friends in a way she has never before. This led to a developing sense of confidence in social situations that extends beyond the classroom. Just the other day, we went to a birthday party where she only knew one other child. Instead of sitting back and watching the kids from the side as she used to, she immediately dove in and started playing with all the kids. Also, this year, she signed up for the children's theatre program at Contra Costa Civic theatre, and actually auditioned for (and got) a part, singing by herself, in front of everyone! She would NEVER have done that before. Anyway, I know this post doesn't really answer your question, but if you are interested in a school with a strong academic curriculum (that can truly customize work based on a child's skills) AND a strong social curriculum, I encourage you to give Montessori Family School a consideration, or feel free to email me with any additional questions. Good luck in your search! Happy MFS Mom


Private Middle School for a math enthusiastic son

Dec 2009


My son is still 4th grade and it might sound too early to talk about middle schools. I am starting research on private schools and particularly interested in schools in El Cerrito, Berkeley or North Oakland areas which have strong academic curriculum, especially in math for him. He has been very strong academically since K. Now he is in 4/5th combo class and thriving in terms of his academic performance and behavior. In the past few years, he was called to the principal's office for several times in result of his naughty behaviors. This year, his teacher is giving enough challenges, therefore he is very occupied and no time for misbehaving, which makes us really happy. As many of you, parents know that middle school time can be very difficult. I appreciate any school recommendations or advices regarding middle school choice. Anonymous

For middle school, my son attended Black Pine Circle School in Berkeley. All of the academics at BPC are strong. Kids are challenged and engaged. The math program is stellar. There is a very active math club and a really strong classroom program. The school wins competitions and awards for math performance. Many of the kids test into honors programs or advanced math in high school. I would strongly recommend that you check it out. Former BPC parent

The public middle schools should let your son test into 8th grade math while a 7th grader, and when he is in the 8th grade take 9th grade math at the high school. -- mom who has seen it happen

Our child started school at Windrush Middle School in El Cerrito this year and we have been very pleased with both the strong math program and the excellent math/science teacher. The math program is academically comprehensive, with a great deal of individual attention. We love the fact that our child is learning math skills in such an engaged and supportive environment. We are extremely happy with all other aspects of Windrush Middle School as well -- it has been a great place for our child. New Windrush Mom

We have a math enthusiastic 5th grader and are in the process of looking at middle schools. We have been most impressed by Black Pine Circle and Athenian School's math programs. They seem best able to teach math to kids of all abilities.

Dear parent of ''math enthusiastic son'',

As a parent of a bright 12 year old 7th grader (a girl) with many interests, who enjoys math and science, and needs constant academic challenge, I would suggest you take a strong look at Windrush School in El Cerrito for your son. Windrush is a K-8 school with a separate middle school that goes from 6th to 8th grade. My daughter is my second child to attend Windrush middle school. My son (now a freshman at a private university on the east coast) was much like your son -- if not intellectually challenges could becom mischievous. Fortunately, the teachers and the curriculum at Windrush kept him engaged academically and helped him channel his energies in positive ways.

As far as math goes, Windrush has a great program. The two math teachers are engaging and have deep math knowledge. They make math fun my daughter reports (I hear there's food involved sometimes to keep math real). There's a math club for kids who are really into it. Across the curriculum there is an emphasis on project-based learning, problem-solving, and critical thinking. All teachers use some form of differentiation in their classroom to support and inspire all students to higher levels of learning.

As private schools go, Windrush is growing in its diversity. (We are an African American family). That diversity -- racial, social, economic -- adds to the richness of the community teachers, students, and parents create. Our family has really enjoyed being part of that community.

I would encourage you to take a tour or attend one of the upcoming middle school information sessions. You can check the website for upcoming dates and more information about the school at www.windrush.org Feel free to email me if you'd like more details of our experiences at Windrush.

Good luck in finding the right place for your son, Zaretta


Have you found a good program for a kid gifted in math?

Nov 2007


Is anyone who has a child who is gifted in math pleased with how their school is teaching their child math? What is your school? What are they doing that you like? How old is your child? Has anyone found any non-school programs that they like teaching math to gifted kids? THANKS! Math Mom

For kids age 9 to 18 who love math, check out the Berkeley Math Circle at http://mathcircle.berkeley.edu/

It meets every Tuesday evening at the UC/Berkeley Math department, and each 2 hour sessions is run by professional mathematicians - professors, researchers, and grad students. Kids meet others who love math and learn novel mathematics ... and get challenged by novel math problems. Last week was the math of a Rubik's cube; coming up are sessions on geometry and Pascal's triangle.

The best part of the math circle is that nobody will understand everything from a Tuesday night, but everyone comes away excited!

The Berkeley Math Circle is one of the finest in the country; few other communities have a program in the same league. Cliff

Bentley's lower school (grades 1-8) has a great math program, especially for middle schoolers, who take two years of Algebra (7th & 8th) from two extraordinary teachers, Saul Gerry & Nick Grener. Bentley isn't for every child, but it is fabulous for the academically gifted child, especially those who excel in math. mom of gifted child

Anyone with a gifted child should know about this web site: http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/gifted_101.htm You'll find lots of suggestions that are specific to math, and all kinds of other resources, too. Lorelei

I've looked at many private schools (and checked out the Piedmont public schools) since my older son is mathematically- inclined and the curriculum at the private school he attended until 2nd grade was dismal and not challenging at all for him.

In my opinion, there's no other school that can teach math as thoroughly as Berkeley Montessori School (where our kids have been enrolled for the past 6 years). While other schools teach children how to get the right answers (with schools boasting superior math curriculum teaching FASTER ways, often shortcuts, to the right answers), BMS teaches math in a way that gives students a really deep understanding -- the students truly internalize the math concepts (what's behind the concepts, how to expand on them, etc.). The challenging math curriculum and the superior teaching tools and method are the main reasons why we came to BMS (although, now that we're here, we realize that the amazing social curriculum is also a boon).

Another avenue for you.....somewhere in Palo Alto, Johns Hopkins University holds a math summer camp for gifted children. I've never researched it because it's far away and our kids are getting such a rich curriculum at our school. I can find out, though, since our Middle School math teacher has taught there for the past few summers -- please let me know and I can ask her for you.

Good luck, Agnes


Schooling a child who is very advanced in math

June 2007


Hello, Our son is in a high-ranking public elementary school and his 3rd grade teacher just reconfirmed for us that he is several grades ahead in math and has a great interest in science. (He is GATE identified, but that doesn't mean much - if anything in our school).

We are beginning to wonder what type of middle school we should consider. At this point, we are open to public and private, but not necessarily to homeschooling (I admire homeschoolers....I just don't think it is a lifestyle for us). What school in the east bay would you recommend for a child who loves to learn, particularily math and science? thank you in advance

My sixth grade child, also very advanced in math, has had a great experience at Berkeley Montessori School (BMS). The individualized approach and curriculum allows children to explore interests such as math, as far as they want to go. The incredible teachers encourage them and will go out of their way to meet their needs, not only academic, but also social and emotional. And my child has had great peers with similar interests and abilities to share this passion with. My child still loves to learn and loves going to school (not true of friends at more traditional schools). I would encourage you to check out the BMS middle school at http://www.bmsonline.org. Mom of a math child

Black Pine Circle School (http://www.bpcweb.net) in Berkeley has one of the strongest middle school math programs in the East Bay, if not the entire Bay Area. BPC students regularly place in the top of math competitions, but even more importantly, math is valued at BPC and the school works hard so that every middle schooler learns math at the appropriate level for that individual student. There are also after school math clubs that middle school students at BPC may join for extra math activities. BPC also hosts the ''Making Math Real'' program (http://www.makingmathreal.org), which is focused on different ways children learn math. As for science, the Director of BPC has a Marine Biology degree, and one of the middle school science teachers has a Ph.D. Science is highly valued at BPC. Due to space limitations, there is not currently a full-blown science lab, but the school is looking into options for further developing their science program. Still, they are creative with the space they do have. For example, just yesterday the first grade class dissected squids with the help of the lower school science specialist. I have two children at Black Pine Circle School and highly recommend BPC for your child who is advanced in math and loves science. Check it out; it might be a good fit! BTW, BPC also has very strong programs in art, music, and drama throughout all grades (K-8), so there are plenty of creative outlets as well. - Sharon

If you live in Berkeley and your child is in middle school, I'd recommend the honors classes in the BUSD middle schools. Generally those kids do best in Honors Math at BHS -- maybe because they've learned how to learn in a larger class, or because the public school curriculum is more comprehensive. There are also a number of strong summer programs beginning with Lawrence Hall of Science, and ATDP; COSMOS (through the UCs) for older kids. Martin Gardner's books of puzzles/recreational math are good for gifted students. Try the LHS bookstore for supplemental materials. a math teacher

Middle Schools with a strong math/science department

February 2003

I would like recommendations for East Bay middle schools that have excellent math and science depts., and offer advanced classes in these areas for gifted children.

Recommendations received: