Seminar with Bharath Sriraman

On Thursday, we had a very nice seminar with Bharath Sriraman, or rather we had him as a visitor at University of Stavanger for the whole day! Bharath is professor of mathematical sciences at the University of Montana. He is also founder and editor of The Montana Mathematics Enthusiast, a great online journal within the field of mathematics education research, and editor of numerous other journals, book series, etc.

When he visited us on Thursday, he held a lecture with a focus on gifted students, one of his specialties. Here are my notes from the lecture:

Gifted students – presentation by Bharath Sriraman

How do we figure out if a student is gifted? Nature versus nurture – is it genetic, or is it due to upbringing. Why is it okay for a child to be talented in sports and not so much so in a subject like mathematics?

When it comes to funding, little money is spent on gifted education. (Less than 1% of the funding for special needs education – giftedness is viewed as a special need!)

In the U.S. there is an east versus west debate. Why are they doing so much better in the eastern systems? The western system is viewed as fostering creativity and freedom, but why is it that so many of the prodigies are from the eastern part of the world?

In the U.S., public schools are poorly funded, teachers are not held in high regard or paid well, etc.

Interesting fact:  U.S. has the highest prison population proportion in the western, developed world – 30% of the prisoners are high school dropouts.

In the Asian countries, there is a lot of focus on moral, hard work, perseverance, etc. Exams are very competitive! In the East, the point of an exam is to stratify the society. Late bloomers do not have a chance within the Eastern system! The U.S. (and Western) system, however, allows for a second chance.

As a teacher, there is always the potential conflict between equity and excellence! This could be seen as a false dichotomy! Alternative perspectives:

  • The Hamilton tradition stressed elitism,
  • whereas the Jacksonian tradition suggests that everyone is equal no matter what
  • The Jeffersonian tradition stresses that you should give people equal opportunities, and then it is up to them to use these opportunities

Mathematical intelligence is considered as:

  • a strong indicator of general intelligence
  • numerical and spatial reasoning is part of the IQ score

The construct of intelligence is controversial in many ways since the psychometric testing. History of IQ-test: Binet-Simon tests –> Stanford-Binet tests, etc. The modern Stanford-Binet test is very much like a mathematical test, and you don’t take into account socio-cultural and environmental variables. Still, it is very much used as a test for giftedness.

There are, however, some alternative views when it comes to discussing giftedness. Usiskin (Uni. Chicago) tried to classify the mathematical talent in the world in a hierarchy of Level 0 to Level 7.

  • Level 0 – no talent. Adults who know very little mathematics
  • Level 1 – culture level. Adults who have some number sense (comparable to grades 6-9), and they have learned it through usage
  • Level 2 – represent the honors high school student
  • Level 3 – the “terrific” student, those who score 750-800 on the SAT.
  • Level 4 – the “exceptional” students, those who excel in math competitions
  • Level 5 – represents the productive mathematician
  • Level 6 – the exceptional mathematician
  • Level 7 – the all-time greats, Fields medal winners in mathematics
Krutetskii’s book is very nice – about gifted students!

Problem: a pole is 15 meters tall, another one is 10 meters tall. You have a rope from the top of one to the bottom of the other, and vice versa. How tall is the crossing point of the ropes from the ground?

There is a difference between Creativity and creativity (everyone has the latter, the former is related to being creative within a certain field).

There are lots of way to adapt the curriculum so that the gifted students get what they need.

Research shows that there are no harmful effect on early college admission – the students manage well, and they adapt well.

In the U.S. there is a lot of emphasis on the modeling-based curricula nowadays, and this gets a lot of funding. Several programs are made which are based on real-world situations. (one from Montana!)

After this interesting lecture, he gave a presentation of a new book that he has been editing together with Lyn English: Theories of Mathematics Education: Seeking new frontiers. The book is published by Springer, and has just been released. Bharath told that the book took him five years to finish, and it is definitely going to become an important contribution to our field!

Thanks a lot for the visit, Bharath, and for sharing this day with us! Hopefully, this is only going to be the first in a series of visits to Stavanger!

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