The Seven Components of Successful Programs for Mathematically Gifted Children
What do I do with the third grader who spends his evenings computing baseball statistics? How do I challenge the sixth grader who loves to talk about the big ideas in math and always seems to finish her work before her classmates? Many elementary and middle school teachers find themselves with one or more students in their classroom who are gifted in mathematics. It can be difficult to determine the most effective way to provide programming for these children. Although there is no one perfect program, these guidelines, based on years of experience and study, are designed to help your advanced students experience challenge and enjoyment in math.
1) Challenge and frustration are a part of learning and life. They should both be viewed as a normal part of the learning process.
While most mathematically gifted children enjoy challenging material, some children find the experience of challenge and frustration to be quite stressful because it is a foreign concept to them. Teachers of mathematically gifted children have the sometimes unpleasant task of helping these students understand that limiting their academics to an intellectual box where there is no struggle or frustration is not healthy and leads to a life that is not as fulfilling or as rewarding.
For example, I share with my students many experiences where adults have made mistakes, including many of my own such as rappelling off a cliff without checking to see if the rope was long enough to hit the bottom. (It wasn’t and I was forced to jump 15 feet.) I also have students work on problems where mistakes are frequently made, like those in the box at right, so they can have the experience of making a mistake and seeing that life goes on.
2) Math is often taught as all scales and no music. Children must have the opportunity to see the exciting and interesting parts of mathematics.
The goal of many programs for mathematically gifted children is to move students through the curriculum as quickly as possible. This approach can lead to a loss of interest in the subject because it does not nurture a child’s passion for mathematics. An alternative approach is to keep gifted children with their same age peers, but give them an opportunity to experience the parts of mathematics that are not only challenging, but also very interesting.
When children first see the wonders of math and science, it is as if they stepped into a room that they didn’t know existed. When they are provided with the opportunity to work with algebra, trigonometry, and physics, children are in awe of what mathematics allows them to do. Examples include:
- Using simple geometry to see how the circumference of the earth was determined for the first time almost 2500 years ago,
- Using their knowledge of the speed of light to realize that looking at stars is looking back in time a hundred, a thousand, or even a million years,
- Finding the distance a ship is from shore through the use of trigonometry (Yes, gifted children in elementary school can work with trigonometry), and
- Finding the height of a tree by measuring its shadow and then using ratios.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Association for Gifted Children. ©2008 National Association for Gifted Children.
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