Meet the 7-Year-Old Acing Algebra I

September 13, 2016

A smiling Isaac Nikolayev-Stair, one very gifted math student who at only seven years old is now studying Algebra I.

While most of his peers are still mastering addition and subtraction, Isaac Nikolayev-Stair—one very gifted math student from San Antonio—has already moved on to Algebra I. Find out what makes him so special in this new profile.

*Editor’s note: Isaac’s mother, Polina Nikolayev-Stair and grandfather, Dr. Viktor Nikolayev, were interviewed for this blog post at the beginning of the 2015-16 school year. Their statements about Isaac reflect his activities and interests at that time.

Isaac Nikolayev-Stair is a seven-year-old from San Antonio, Texas—but far from a typical one. An always-eager-to-learn student, Isaac is so far ahead in his studies that his teachers and family spend much of their time trying to challenge him and keep up with his interests. Math is a particular specialty, and Isaac—at the age at which one normally studies addition and subtraction—is now studying Algebra I.

“He’s at a charter school that goes through the 8th grade,” Polina said, referring to Eleanor Kolitz Hebrew Language Academy. “He’s taking Algebra I and 6th-grade language arts courses. My dad is studying Algebra II with him at home.”

Isaac first caught our attention after finishing the entire Reasoning Mind Foundations program—a comprehensive math curriculum covering grades 2–5—in a single year, before he’d even officially started school.

When he was three years old, he started working through the Foundations curriculum – and he loved it. “It was very engaging,” Viktor said. “He liked the characters. They were very friendly, and he loved the fact that they would encourage him. That was really nicely done…it helps kids get relaxed.” Viktor particularly liked Foundations’ structure; he found the content rigorous, but explained in a way that made it easy to navigate as a parent.

Of course, Isaac’s rapid progress in school is probably best attributed to his hard work ethic (he’ll focus on something he’s interested in for hours), his sharp memory (he can remember a 20-digit number a month later), and the simple fact that he’s what his mom likes to call a “knowledge vampire” (he’ll find a subject he’s interested in and suck out every bit of information that he can). When I interviewed Polina and Viktor, Isaac’s current subject of choice was maps. “He has this map of San Antonio,” Polina said – San Antonio is where Isaac and his family live. “Honestly, by this point, I think he knows every single street.”

The "knowledge vampire" and gifted math student, Isaac Nikolayev-Stair, gets ready to do gymnastics with his younger brother.

Isaac and his younger brother, above, enjoy doing gymnastics on the weekends.

When I asked Polina and Viktor what was next for Isaac, they said they’d been talking about a lot of different possibilities: AP courses from Stanford in Algebra I or II, dual enrollment in a community college – Isaac had even brought up a school for intellectually gifted children in New York City that he’d been reading about. One thing both Polina and Viktor said they wanted from Isaac’s next schooling opportunity was for him to be really challenged.

“The schools [Isaac has been going to] have been amazing in coming up with instruction ideas that suit his needs,” Polina said.

“Yes,” Viktor agreed, “but they don’t always teach him how to think hard.”

Polina said one of the difficulties she feels they’ve encountered has been a simple lack of resources in many schools; teachers often don’t have the time to push excelling students even further. “If you’re a student who’s ahead, you’re kind of on your own. And it’s sad.”

Still, even as they’ve worried that Isaac hasn’t been challenged consistently in school, they’re starting to see him encounter more material that tests his abilities. Polina recalls one particular assignment where Isaac had to write a movie review. “He basically wrote a plot summary,” she said. “I told him, ‘You need to analyze. Talk about the lighting, whether you liked it or not, and why…”

Even as Isaac soaks up every factoid from every subject he encounters, he still enjoys his fair share of hobbies and pastimes. He likes to travel, he and his brother love doing gymnastics on the weekends, and he enjoys reading the Torah – according to his mom, he’s very spiritual. He and his little brother love playing soccer games on their Xbox Kinect, which is the family’s preferred gaming system for the kids, since it gets them to move around. But through it all, Isaac remains a scholar.

We at Reasoning Mind are excited to see where you go next, Isaac – let us know if you’re ever interested in taking a job at Reasoning Mind!

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