Some Stuff I Picked Up at Elite: Math

Hi, I’m Nicolas.

My brother Ethan is a teacher at Elite, and the summer before last I attended Summer Boot Camp at Elite of Northridge. I’m studying screenwriting in college right now, and since I’m a writer (or at least I plan to be), my brother invited me to write a bit about my experience at Elite. So this isn’t me, like, selling the program – I’m not getting paid or anything – this is my way of thanking Elite for teaching me some really good stuff. So here goes:

Some Stuff I Picked Up at Elite: Week One (Math)


In most of the math classes I’ve been a part of, the teachers’ approach has been to find all relevant equations and throw all of them at us students in the hopes that we’d catch as many as possible. Some of the equations helped and others, not so much. It was like being given a chest full of weapons – some of them sharp, others less so.

But working with Mr. Wang at Elite was different. Instead of just a whole bunch of assorted weapons, I felt like Mr. Wang strengthened my muscles, broadened my awareness, and taught me how to feint, lunge, and parry. In the end, the only weapon I needed was in my head all along – my brain.

To put it simply, my Elite instructor taught me how to think math, not just to learn math’s equations. The math problems we used as examples in class weren’t about learning to approach problems with equations. They were about learning to approach problems with principles.

Mr. Wang would often start class with a single problem – it may or may not have been all that difficult. But after going through the steps of solving it, he would start over, using a different approach – and then another approach, and another, and another. Eventually I would look at the clock and realize that we’d spent twenty minutes on a single practice problem. Sound like a waste of valuable classroom time? That's what I thought at first, too. But once we were ready to move on to a more difficult problem, Mr. Wang would write it up on the board and wait for our responses. Within seconds, hands would go up all over the classroom, ready to give the answer.

The key was to learn around the problem, rather than just learning how to get from point A to point B.

Quick example (and if you’re not math-inclined, please feel free to skip this part):

“Find the sum of the following set of integers (3, 4, 2, 3, 9, 10, x, 10, 6, 5), given that the mean is 5.5.”

First, Mr. Wang writes the typical equation for mean on the board: “mean = (sum of the known integers + missing integer) ÷ the number of integers.” Mr. Wang also suggests another option: simply plug in integers for x until you can solve for 5.5. He warns us that that route is usually the longest, but if we ever have extra time, we should consider it.

I work the first equation out on paper, solve for the missing number, and after a minute or so, get a sum of 55. The correct answer! Nailed it!

Mr. Wang looks at the class and smiles. “Too slow! That clock is ticking!” he says, “Let me save you some time. All of those numbers are there to distract you. All the information you need is in the question: the number of integers (10 integers) and the mean (5.5).” He writes on the board: "10 x 5.5 = 55."

Ah-ha! That makes sense. The sum of the integers in any given set is always going to equal the number of integers times the mean. This is just another (quicker) way of looking at the equation for mean.

Looking at math from this new angle was like looking inside a watch to see the inner workings, or like using a map rather than... Well, you get the idea. :)



Written by Nicolas S. – Nicolas is currently majoring in creative writing and minoring in film on a full scholarship at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. He’s an aspiring screenwriter whose greatest passion in the world is writing in a way that honestly reflects the world around him. His favorite color is yellow.