Why Do So Many Gifted Kids Think They Don’t like Math?

by TIStaff on Sun, 2011-12-04 14:15

Why do so many bright and gifted kids think they don’t like math? Experience and the reading of lots of research leads me to believe that boredom, under-instruction and poor instruction throughout elementary and middle school lie behind the problem.

My best girlfriend since high school is a math teacher north of Philly. We’ve talked about this a lot. She and I are both aware that our own math instruction lacked a lot. As I give IQ tests, too, I see something that I thought many people would be interested to know. As those who have read the work of Benbow and Lubinksi, among others, know, math-reasoning ability has a huge ability spread among individuals of the same age. Even when kids are ability grouped, there tend to be outliers—people who are truly math geniuses compared to other really bright kids—in the top group. My friend Pam and I were not math outliers but we were 99th percentile people in math. Having an outlier in your class is a problem for self-esteem and confidence related to math. What I see really missing in math instruction for high ability kids who aren’t outliers is twofold:

1. Their route through math during their school years is way too slow and easy for the first 8 or 9 years and then they’re slammed with stuff that is really challenging and for which they aren’t prepared;

2. They don’t get nearly enough practice on “story problems,” that is, how to recognize what needs to be done so they can set up the proper sequences and steps for solving the problems. There is far too much time spent on memorization of how to solve problems that are laid out for you (memorization of math facts, for example), and really bright kids who aren’t outliers quickly become overwhelmed and conclude they aren’t good at math as they see the smarter kids “get it” so quickly.

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