Logarithms, vectors and parabolas. For most students, these aren’t the things that come to mind when asked about their identity. But for freshman Max Novak, they’re what make him stand out from the crowd.
When Novak was in fifth grade, he took the Great Explorations in Mathematics (GEM) test. After scoring in the top 5 percentile of Broward County, Novak was offered the opportunity to participate in the new program Elements of Mathematics: Foundations (EMF). Created by the Institute for Mathematics and Computer Science (IMACS), the program places a greater emphasis on mathematical proofs and how formulas are derived, rather than learning through repetition.
“I liked [EMF] so I gave it a chance and I did it for all of middle school,” Novak said.
By the time Novak left Pioneer Middle School, he had already completed Algebra II. Now, to continue this accelerated math program, Novak is dual enrolling online at the University of Florida (UF).
Rather than having a class period devoted to mathematics at school, Novak is taking one math course per semester through UF. After having completed Precalculus, Novak has now moved onto Calculus I. At this rate, Novak will complete Calculus II and III in his sophomore year and Differential Equations and Linear Algebra in his junior year.
“There’s nobody else [in the school] that really does this. It’s kind of my thing.”
“There needs to be motivation and it’s a little bit lonely at times,” Novak said. “I’m totally fine with that because it’s what I enjoy doing. There’s nobody else [in the school] that really does this. It’s kind of my thing.”
Most juniors at CCHS are just starting to think about college. In about two years, when Novak wraps up his 11th grade courses, he’ll already be done with college math.
Despite what most of his peers would believe, Novak hasn’t always seen himself as a math genius. In early elementary school, he lived in England and struggled with the math curriculum there.
“I wasn’t the best at math in my class [in England],” Novak said. “I was always the one who was left out from the special people who did the most work.”
After moving to the U.S., Novak found the math here much easier to comprehend. Now that he has demonstrated his knack for STEM, Novak is considering pursuing biomedical engineering. In his senior year of high school, he hopes to continue dual enrolling online at UF and begin taking their engineering courses.
“[My dad] never babied me or sat me down and did my homework with me.”
If he doesn’t get a scholarship to attend a prestigious university in the states, he would consider studying engineering in Europe. The cultural barriers that one might experience by studying abroad won’t include language for Novak. Because his father is from the Netherlands and his mother from Brazil, Novak speaks Dutch and Portuguese in addition to English.
“I would really like to do engineering because I think it’s not only the most fun, but what I could see myself doing when I grow up,” Novak said.
For many students, the idea of completing rigorous math courses online is daunting. It’s difficult enough to understand polar coordinates within the walls of a classroom, so having the self-motivation to log on to a mathematics course and teach oneself the material can seem extraordinary. Novak attributes this ability to push himself to his father.
“[My dad] never babied me or sat me down and did my homework with me,” Novak said. “He doesn’t check for everything that I’ve ever done or really keep track of my grades. He trusts me enough to check them myself [and] to be independent enough to do that. When I report to him like, ‘Hey, I didn’t do so well on a test,’ he motivates me to work for it [and] work harder next time.”
“He’s super talented in the classroom as well as on the field.”
Next year, Novak plans to take four AICE or AP classes in addition to his two UF math courses. Some students with such a demanding schedule might feel pressured to devote all of their time to academics. But Novak stresses that he doesn’t want to spend all of high school with his nose in a book— or his eyes glued to a computer screen.
“I’m not a guy who will solely study,” Novak said. “I like to balance my academics, my social life and how much satisfaction I get from life.”
This balance is vital because Novak commits a huge chunk of time to athletics. As a freshman, he is already playing on the CCHS varsity soccer team and is captain of the boys’ under-15 soccer team for Kaptiva Sports.
Freshman Brian Allen has been friends with Novak since they were both in 5th grade. Now, as they play on the school soccer team together, Allen has been able to watch Novak excel academically as well as athletically.
“He’s super talented in the classroom as well as on the field,” Allen said. “He’s just a Dutch genius, simply.”
Photo by Alexa Jaspan