Mathematical abilities and mathematical memory during problem solving and some aspects of mathematics education for gifted pupils

Sammanfattning: This thesis reports on two different investigations.The first is a systematic review of pedagogical and organizational practices associated with gifted pupils’ education in mathematics, and on the empirical basis for those practices. The review shows that certain practices – for example, enrichment programs and differentiated instructions in heterogeneous classrooms or acceleration programs and ability groupings outside those classrooms – may be beneficial for the development of gifted pupils. Also, motivational characteristics of and gender differences between mathematically gifted pupils are discussed. Around 60% of analysed papers report on empirical studies, while remaining articles are based on literature reviews, theoretical discourses and the authors’ personal experiences – acceleration programs and ability groupings are supported by more empirical data than practices aimed for the heterogeneous classroom. Further, the analyses indicate that successful acceleration programs and ability groupings should fulfil some important criteria; pupils’ participation should be voluntary, the teaching should be adapted to the capacity of participants, introduced tasks should be challenging, by offering more depth and less breadth within a certain topic, and teachers engaged in these practices should be prepared for the characteristics of gifted pupils.The second investigation reports on the interaction of mathematical abilities and the role of mathematical memory in the context of non-routine problems. In this respect, six Swedish high-achieving students from upper secondary school were observed individually on two occasions approximately one year apart. For these studies, an analytical framework, based on the mathematical ability defined by Krutetskii (1976), was developed. Concerning the interaction of mathematical abilities, it was found that every problem-solving activity started with an orientation phase, which was followed by a phase of processing mathematical information and every activity ended with a checking phase, when the correctness of obtained results was controlled. Further, mathematical memory was observed in close interaction with the ability to obtain and formalize mathematical information, for relatively small amounts of the total time dedicated to problem solving. Participants selected problem-solving methods at the orientation phase and found it difficult to abandon or modify those methods. In addition, when solving problems one year apart, even when not recalling the previously solved problem, participants approached both problems with methods that were identical at the individual level. The analyses show that participants who applied algebraic methods were more successful than participants who applied particular methods. Thus, by demonstrating that the success of participants’ problem-solving activities is dependent on applied methods, it is suggested that mathematical memory, despite its relatively modest presence, has a pivotal role in participants’ problem-solving activities. Finally, it is indicated that participants who applied particular methods were not able to generalize mathematical relations and operations – a mathematical ability considered an important prerequisite for the development of mathematical memory – at appropriate levels.

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