Math and the Gifted Learner

It might be the nature of the discipline or the way it is taught, but math is one of those subjects where if a student is really good at it, it generally gets noticed. So now what? In my years of coordinating gifted programming, this is the area that has called for the most intervention and while the answer can appear simplistic, that is not always the case. There are several questions that we ask in our program to guide us through the process.

Is math actually an area of strength? On more than one occasion I have had requests to accelerate students who in fact were not good candidates. (A gifted code does not guarantee giftedness in all disciplines.) How do we determine this? In our district we use math specific achievement tests. It is important to complete this before any accelerated programming takes place. In several cases where a student had been informally accelerated by their teacher, we found that while the achievement test showed us excellence at the current grade level, they were not working above their grade level and the acceleration was not successful. When accelerating a student into a higher level of math they must continue to achieve excellence at the higher level. To move them from a level of high achievement into one where they perform poorly is not recommended.

Is this an area of passion? There are many students who excel at math but it is not an area of passion. They are able to grasp concepts easily and finish work quickly, but the last thing they want is more math. In cases such as these, the approach has been to compact the curriculum to free up time to work in an area of passion. For some this has meant in depth research while others have gravitated towards science projects or even learning another language.

What is the nature of the passion? Even when math is the area of passion acceleration is not always the route favored by students. Some like to “play” with the concepts in larger math projects in some broader contexts. Numeracy tasks, like the ones available at Peter Liljedahl’s website have provided enrichment for many students in our district. There are also some fantastic math competitions that students enjoy preparing for which include: Kangaroo Math (available internationally), CEMC Competitions, Virtual Mathematical Marathon as well as the International Mathematical Olympiad. These are just a few.

Should we accelerate?  What do we do when all of our questions and assessments point to math as a strength as well as a passion area? There are a number of things to consider. Is the student going to be working alone or is it possible for them to attend math with another grade? While it is possible to work alone and be successful, many students need the conversations that push their thinking ahead as well as the companionship and  motivation to challenge difficult tasks that comes from working with others. Sitting in with another grade has worked very well in our district, but it means a yearly juggle with scheduling to make sure that the student can continue in this way and there will be years where there is no higher grade to go to if you are in the highest grade offered at your school. Driving between schools demands another level of commitment from everyone, not to mention the additional juggling that takes place. While it is possible and can be worth the effort, it is important to consider these factors before you begin!

The beauty of math is that there are so many resources available online to support math learning and math passions…it’s just a matter to taking the time to explore. For more perspectives on gifted math learning click on the link below!



11 responses to “Math and the Gifted Learner

  1. I enjoyed reading your thought process. Thank you!

  2. Such good insights on math acceleration. Particularly on things to consider when looking at acceleration and the possibility of working alone.

  3. Such a thorough look at the complexities of acceleration for kids who excel at math.

    • Thanks Gail. The teachers and gifted students in my district were so flexible and helpful as we made our way through finding what works and what doesn’t.

  4. Our district doesn’t offer math individualization until 4th grade. My 6yo tested for the gifted program but it requires a lot of independence. I don’t feel like he would excel because of a few asynchronous development issues. He absolutely LOVES math and has always had an aptitude for numbers. He asks me math questions randomly and actually wanted me to ask math questions at bedtime instead of read stories. My question is, is it difficult for a district to allow a younger student to go in with the 3rd or 4th graders for additional math enrichment? I don’t want to put him in a situation where he gets bored and discouraged with math in school. Thank you!

    • Hi Jess,
      Putting him a grade ahead for enrichment is essentially acceleration as it means that when he gets to that grade he will already know that curriculum and he will definitely be bored. What has happened in our district with some of the asynchronous students is that the school has paired the younger student up with an older student and they have worked on enrichment activities like chess or coding together. Some schools will run also run multi-age math clubs for additional enrichment and there is a lot of information online about how to set one up. I know some universities will run math clubs for precocious math students as well. I am working on the math instructors at our local college to set one up and I think we are getting close. I hope this helps!

  5. Pingback: Acceleration Considerations | Gift-Ed Connections

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