Often, when people consider the subject of math, they think of coloring inside the lines. At the Russian School of Mathematics, an institution that has been recognized by The Boston Globe, TED, NPR, and The Atlantic, those lines disappear and become color themselves. Viktoriya Palamarchuk, Regional Director for the Washington DC area, along with a team of passionate and skilled instructors, shine a light on the beauty and importance of mathematics by presenting it through a conceptual and contextual lens based on the founding principles of Russian mathematics.
According to Palamarchuk, what makes their methods Russian is the idea of using math itself as a tool. In the same way one would use physical exercise to develop and strengthen their body, math must be used to develop and strengthen one’s mind. Mikhail Lomonosov, famous Russian philosopher and mathematician said, “Math brings order to the mind.” This ideology is the determining core for the foundation and inception of the Russian School of Mathematics.
Along with this principle, the immersive, interactive methods are what really differentiate RSM from your standard math program. This has become even more evident since having to relocate to online classes due to pandemic procedures. “We, basically, tried to move the actual physical classroom but just to an online setting.” Palamarchuk explains, “We want it to remain as interactive, as engaging, and as hand on as we can.”
Teachers and students, through zoom, continue an open conversation where every student is encouraged to speak out at any time. This sort of dialogue is something that is missing from the math classes of the public-school system. By communicating openly, building off other’s ideas, it forces students to think critically and develop logically and cognitively. “We really want them to think. So, the idea is we try to build on what the kids already know. We try to inspire for future knowledge. So, we do not drill, we do not make them do repetitive stuff, but rather we want them to develop a logical understanding of what they’re doing. We believe if the child knows how to solve one equation, they can know how to solve any equation.”
Although now solely online, there are 57 locations spanning across 11 states, as well as one in Canada. In the Washington DC region, there are four schools. The first was opened in Reston in 2016, followed shortly by Bethesda, MD and Ashburn in 2017. As of September, the most recent school to open is located right here in Tysons. There was a strong demand in the area to add a new location, yet, RSM is not a franchise. Palamarchuk explains, “we only open a new school when a professional teacher or leader is ready to open the school, and I’m proud of miss Angelica Alekseyev, our principal at Tysons Corner. She brings years of expertise and is a professional teacher that has experience teaching from first grade through college level. She has been with us for three years and is excited to open the branch.”
Other ways RSM is adapting to online transitions is shown by their commitment to celebrating the achievements of the competition winners this year, over 100 in Virginia alone. Just a few of these achievements include the 55 students who won the Math Kangaroo competition, the 73 students who won the National Honor Roll in Noetic Contest, and the 36 students who won the Russian Math Olympiad (RMO.) An annual award ceremony is held at the end of each academic year. However, this year, it was cancelled. So, in its stead, Viktoriya and her team held an online ceremony on Sunday, October 18th.
This online event was only one of many which the Russian School of Mathematics has hosted, and a variety of fun and exciting events—all pertaining to math—are still to come. Every Friday is now “Fun Friday.” These events provide a platform to allow kids to have fun solving brainteasers, riddles, and puzzles all while learning math through a medium which, without realizing, is first and foremost educational. All these events are open to the public and are available to sign up for on the Russian School of Mathematics’ Facebook page.
Fortunately, a majority of RSM alumni and some high school members work as tutors for the program. These individuals serve as an integral part in the development, both planning and executing, of these events. The fact that students continually participate after graduation is proof of the impeccable impact the Russian School of Mathematics has on the development of its students, families, and participating communities.
The first school was founded in 1997 by two immigrants of the former Soviet Union, Inessa Rifkin and Irina Khavinson. These women came to this country with their families and discovered that the math education their children were receiving was wanting. They wanted their children to experience the same understanding of math they were exposed to as children. So, they decided that each Sunday, they would gather their children and their friend’s children, and teach math through an appreciation and perspective otherwise not taught in the average American classroom. That wholesome desire to serve the children in their community spread and is now helping thousands of students across the world.
In totality, ranging from Kindergarten through 12th grade, there are over 45,000 students, or as Palamarchuk put it, “families,” served by the Russian School of Mathematics. She uses the word, “families,” because family is the cornerstone of everything they do and believe at the Russian School of Mathematics. Palamarchuk herself first came to RSM as a mom looking to enrich her son’s math education. Ten years ago, while still living in Massachusetts, she noticed that her son, about to enter fourth grade, was still doing the same repetitive arithmetic for the 5th year in a row. She brought her son to RSM and watched the immediate and impressive results it had on his education and personal development. After that, she enrolled her other son, began teaching, and eventually became vice principal.
The personal connections of teachers and students only works to further the impact of engaging education. Palamarchuk says, “Whenever I hire a new person, I always think, ‘would I want this person to teach my own sons.’ Our school was conceived as a family business and it still remains a family business.” All the teachers at RSM are trained in immersive teaching techniques for a curriculum that is constantly being developed and perfected each year to ensure that students continue growing.
In today’s education system, kids are generally put into one of two categories. Either you’re a math person or an English person. However, Palamarchuk has a different outlook on this subjugated structure, “First of all, we don’t believe that there is such a thing as a ‘math person.’ Everybody can be a math person. That person just probably never had a real math education.”
At RSM, students begin learning algebra in the first grade. Palamarchuk continues, “we believe that kids are capable and are completely ready to think abstractly at an early age. So, they begin reasoning with those abstract concepts in elementary school and by middle school, they’re not only familiar with those essential elements, but they can also easily apply them into problem solving. They learn how to debate, how to compete in a healthy environment, and that prepares them for their future rolls, for their college experiences and their future careers.”
Each grade is split into three, sometimes four, different levels. By structuring it this way, it allows for the optimal success of each individual student. Too often in the standard American math classes, children are either bored, lacking intellectual challenge, uninspired, or they are confused, falling behind, and growing insecure. In both these cases, the child will, on average, simply give up. This system of providing three different levels ensures that each student gets the attention and education they require.
“We always try to show our kids that there is more than one way to solve a problem,” Palamarchuk expands, “we introduce different techniques so the child can pick their favorite, or use all of them, or some kind of combination, because, each child learns differently. Each child has a different perception of all those concepts. So, we want to make sure that each child finds their own way to do it individually.”
Each child is placed in a specific level when they come in for an evaluation. Evaluations can be scheduled on the Russian School of Mathematics website, or by calling the offices directly. During an evaluation, interested parties will sit down with a member of the RSM team to discuss the needs of their specific family and the needs of the specific child. “We want to hear what the child is thinking,” Explains Palamarchuk, “So, for us, the final result is not important. What is important is how that child got to that answer, and why.” Currently, for safety, all evaluations are held online, but the discussion remains just as comprehensive as before.
By presenting this inclusive and immersive structure through a conceptual and contextual lens, The Russian School of Mathematics helps kids expand on personal growth under critical, cognitive, and logical levels. Only once one can begin to view math as a colorful creation, both in and outside the lines, will they truly be able to view the colors that create this world.
Russian School of Mathematics
Call 571-334-8472, or go to RussianSchool.com, to schedule an evaluation today.