IMACS’ Director of Curriculum Development, Dr. Ted Sweet, discusses the importance of challenging the gifted and talented student in order to reach his or her full potential and to avoid common pitfalls. Ted is a graduate of Project MEGSSS, a predecessor program to IMACS. He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Miami and his Ph.D. in mathematics at UCLA. Ted joined IMACS in 1998.
Burt Kaufman, one of the foremost American mathematics curriculum developers of the last half-century (and my high school mentor), once made an observation that resonates with many educators of bright and talented children. It was that good grades obtained through little or no effort ultimately led to poor study habits and general intellectual laziness.
Even parents of children enrolled in “gifted” programs of the type currently in favor with many public school systems sometimes complain that their child is “coasting” at school.
Unfortunately, students that solve every problem with ease often get out of the habit of focusing and thinking systematically, skills they will need if they are to reach their full potential. Not surprisingly, it can be a challenge for parents to explain to their bright children that getting an ‘A’ may not be enough to ensure their future academic success.
Bright students whose mental agility and intuitive cognitive abilities are not sufficiently challenged can start to develop problems during elementary school. These may manifest themselves in the form of so-called “careless errors” when doing arithmetical problems, for example. And talented students who have not been stretched intellectually will typically “give up too easily” when they finally encounter challenging problems that require careful analysis. In extreme cases, behavioral problems may start to develop.
The question of how to satisfy the intellectual needs of bright and talented children has been studied in depth by the professionals at IMACS. Our research demonstrates that bright students who are exposed to curricula that foster the careful, logical analysis of significant math problems benefit in many fields outside mathematics. A student who learns to truly think does not leave that skill in the classroom.
What classes that you coasted through do you wish had been more challenging for you?