Why do some kids put themselves in the “support” category when they are gifted at maths?

This question has been plaguing me a lot lately.

In the last week two students have been playing on my mind.  Today I taught a year eight girl who thought she was really bad at maths.  She proceeded to make some of the most creative thirds that I have ever seen.  Check out the picture below. They are actually remarkably accurate!

She really lacked confidence in her own ability, but looking at what she produced I really have to wonder why.  Is it that that her way of thinking is so different to school maths that it just doesn’t fit?  Just what are we doing to these students to convince them that they are so poor at maths?

While this girl in year eight concerned me, an even scarier situation was a boy I encountered in year three last week.  In a class of roughly 25 students, this boy was the only student who could correctly locate 100 on a number line between one and 1000.  Yet in spite of this success, he continually put himself in the support group for maths.  He chose to work on creating a number line to 10 when he clearly understood much larger numbers.  How is it that by year three, he had convinced himself that he didn’t understand maths?  His intuitive grasp of number was quite phenomenal – far beyond that of his peers.  Yet when I pointed this out to his teacher she was shocked.  He hadn’t shown up in their previous testing.  He had been placed in support maths.

So what do we do about this?  I really don’t know.  But I can say that for the record that I have found students in every class who hide their mathematical ability, or perhaps simply don’t know it exists.  Watch out for them because they are probably hiding in your class too.

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