What It Means to Be Gifted in Math

Galois age fifteen, drawn by a classmate.
Galois died at age 19 but produced some of the worlds most amazing mathematics! Image via Wikipedia

Do you ever wonder if your child is gifted in math?

We’ve been having a discussion on gifted children at the Living Math Forum. We’ve discussed a few definitions of gifted.

Here’s my definition (from the thread):

All parents should treat their children like tiny bundles of brilliance. And indeed all children ARE gifted. Right out of the womb. It isn’t until the grownups get to them and try to teach them “reality” that they lose that ability.

Want a gifted child? Treat them as gifted from the get-go.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. Lots of people have responded.

The “official” definition of gifted.

If you’re a classroom teacher or parent, you know about that. You have to differentiate between who is gifted and who isn’t. This ensures the appropriate children get placed in the right learning environment.

A child is “gifted” if the local testing center says he is.

Some kids have “different brain-wiring.”

Another definition that was discussed was of a neurological nature. Many kids just “get” math while some kids struggle.

But that doesn’t mean the strugglers can’t do math. It merely means that they will likely be brilliant writers, politicians and historians, not mathematicians.

This definition makes my thought of “every child is gifted in math” fly out the window. Indeed every child is “special” and everyone thinks in their own ways. But some people are wired in a way that lets them “see” things more easily than the rest of us.

Math intuitives are one of these groups. I’ve recently encountered a couple of math intuitives – people who will “see” an answer to a math problem without having to do any of the work. One of these even can do Sudoku this way (to the frustration of her father).

Others in this group are true child prodigies. I’m not sure if this is merely an intuitive who is nurtured or actually different. But there are children that amaze scientists and mathematicians.

Every child is still gifted!

Regardless of how you look at it, we all do math. Like Daughter’s pediatrician told us: “We’re all potty-trained.” Indeed – we are all potty-trained and we all do math. On some level. It’s natural. It’s intuitive.

And I still hold that if the grownups stay out of the way, the kids will do all the math their brains are built to do!

What’s your definition of gifted? Are your children/students gifted?

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6 Responses to What It Means to Be Gifted in Math

  1. I have to disagree with you. As a mother of a gifted child not everychild is gifted. Gifted children have more going on than thier ability to do advanced work. This is where we fail gifted students. Gifyed students think differently, they act differently a lot of times from thier same age peers. Most times being gifted is a blessing and a curse. I used to think this way too but I started doing more research on gifted learners and how they learn and how thier brains work. Amazing.

    Everyone has special talents but not everyone is gifted.

    • I really hope you’re wrong, but not having done research on gifted kids I can’t actually know for sure.

      I just can’t fathom that kids aren’t born with all the same umph. Perhaps I’m defining gifted differently than you are.

      Daughter is only 2, so there’s no reason to test, suspect, wonder or even doubt that she is gifted. Regardless of definition, I’ll treat her as gifted, brilliant and amazing.

      In the meantime, I’ll be doing research for sure!

      Thanks so much, Cara.

  2. I wish that your post had mentioned that you don’t know anything about giftedness so that people who don’t read your comments would realize that you are unqualified to address this issue. Your point about assuming that all kids can learn math is great, but posts like this reinforce myths about giftedness that do real harm to children.

    I will be unsubscribing as a result of this post.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kate.

      I’m confused as to what myths I’m reinforcing and how that might do “real harm” to children. Can you share some more information?

  3. I was checking the site to learn more about what giftedness means..My son’s school wants to hold a meeting with me because they have been observing my son and did some informal testing -as they phrased it – and they came up with the conclusion that he is gifted in math. I dont know exactly how to tackle this and what to expecct from the meeting. Deep down i know he is different. He does math and mental math in very funny way…he enjoys it and had been an A+ student for 4 years… there is a huge gap between his marks and who comes in 2nd place…on the other hand he is a bit robotic..:) you cannot tell him proverbs or hidden meanings,,it will not ring a bell. He is very weak in writing and only prefers informative writing.. he is just different..but i never told him he is..I only tell him you get high grades because you work hard and passionate. and those who work achieve.. This is the only way I want him to see things.

  4. Inas, check out Mathletics. I have two gifted grandsons in math and they love mathletics. You compete one against another or several for 2 minutes from all over the world. In the spring they have a tournament and 1.25 million kids compete and you will get a placement for your own country and then one for the world. Mine were in the top 1% so I was happy. They love to finish their book math work and head for Mathletics, and now they’ve added Spellodome, which my youngest who is the highest in math, just loves spellodome, which isn’t about competing.

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