Eric Louis Mann, Ph.D.
University of Connecticut, 2005
"As students progress through the educational system their interest in mathematics diminishes. Yet there is an ever increasing need within the workforce for individuals who possess talent in mathematics. The literature suggests that mathematical talent is most often measured by speed and accuracy of a student's computation with little emphasis on problem solving and pattern finding and no opportunities for students to work on rich mathematical tasks that require divergent thinking. Such an approach limits the use of creativity in the classroom and reduces mathematics to a set of skills to master and rules to memorize. Doing so causes many children's natural curiosity and enthusiasm for mathematics to disappear as they get older. Keeping students interested and engaged in mathematics by recognizing and valuing their mathematical creativity may reverse this tendency.
In "Rising Above The Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future" (Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy), 2005) members of the National Academy of Science developed a list of recommended actions needed to ensure that the United States can continue to compete globally. The top recommendation was to increase America's talent pool by vastly improving K-12 mathematics and science education (pp. 91-110).
One of the strengths of the United States economic growth has been the creativity of its citizens. Inherent in the recommendations above is the need for growth and innovation, both of which are fueled by creativity. This study investigates several means of identifying mathematical creativity as a first step in identifying and nurturing this talent.
As students progress through the educational system their interest in mathematics diminishes. The U.S. Department of Education (2003) reports that 81% of fourth graders have a positive or strongly positive attitude towards mathematics but four years later only 35% of eighth graders share that attitude. At the post-secondary level less than 1% of degree-seeking baccalaureate students choose mathematics as their major field of study (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2005). Current emphases on convergent thinking and rapid response have failed to reverse the trend. Limiting the use of creativity in the classroom reduces mathematics to a set of skills to master and rules to memorize. Doing so causes many childrenÄôs natural curiosity and enthusiasm for mathematics to disappear as they get older, creating a tremendous problem for mathematics educators who are trying to instill these very qualities (Meissner, 2000).Keeping students interested and engaged in mathematics by recognizing and valuing the mathematical creativity may reverse this tendency.
It is hoped that by finding simpler ways to identify creative potential an increase in the recognized talent pool of future mathematics can be achieved at a younger age. It is also hoped that identifying mathematical creativity in students will encourage teachers to nurture this aspect of mathematical talent; an aspect that is perhaps the most important one for mathematicians who will make significant contributions to the field.
This chapter provided a rationale for this study and identified the research questions that guided the investigation. The negative trend in individual interest in mathematics was noted, as was the failure of traditional classroom emphasis on convergent thought and computational speed in reversing this trend. An understanding of mathematics is needed in almost every occupation and the need to find and develop talent is in the best interest of both the individual and society as a whole. The rationale for expanding the effort to find mathematical talent beyond those who are academically gifted was discussed."