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Tips for Teaching Math to Gifted First Graders

written by: Elizabeth Wistrom • edited by: Linda M. Rhinehart Neas • updated: 1/4/2012

Want to challenge your gifted math students? There may be more options than you think.

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    What can regular education and special education teachers do when they find that a gifted student's educational needs are not being met by the available math curriculum? The ideal response is to provide individualized instruction. Unfortunately, finding programs that provide math acceleration or enrichment for gifted students in the lower elementary grades can be difficult. Further complications arise when considering the amount of time and preparation necessary to provide the differentiation. Here are several ideas for teachers for first grade gifted students which can be implemented with very little prep work and minimal time commitment.

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    Math Enrichment

    Sunshine Math Depending on the child's academic performance, the teacher may determine that a math enrichment program is the best course of action. One to consider is the Math SuperStars program, also sometimes referred to as Sunshine Math. Conceived by the Florida Department of Education's Mathematics Department, Math SuperStars is available for students in grades Kindergarten through Eighth.

    The program is based on a systematic approach to curriculum enrichment, and all necessary materials are provided in the form of grade-level worksheet packets. The worksheets focus heavily on problem-solving skills, and are designed to be completed by the student independently over a week's time. At the end of the week, the problems are checked for accuracy and problem-solving strategies are discussed - either one-on-one with a teacher or in a small-group setting with other students who are also enrolled in the Math SuperStars program. For this reason, Math SupStars can be easily integrated into the regular education classroom for gifted first grade students.

    The Math SuperStars program may be purchased by visiting the Panhandle Educational Consortium Clearinghouse, or individual grade-level sheets can be found online.

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    Math Acceleration

    Saxon Math 

    When math enrichment activities are not sufficient to meet a child's academic needs, curriculum acceleration may be warranted. Using a higher grade-level version of whatever text the school is currently using in the regular education setting is one option. Another option is to employ an entirely different method for delivering curriculum.

    One highly recommended program is Saxon Math, published by Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt. Saxon is an incremental approach to mathematics instruction that provides a balanced approach between independent and guided activities. Saxon Math is an ideal solution to curriculum acceleration for the gifted first grade student, because it provides scripted lessons which can be administered in the regular education setting, special education resource room or even at home via the popular Home School edition.

    Grade-level packets are sold in a kit containing all of the materials needed to teach - including manipulatives. Lessons are short and can be self-paced for optimal benefit. Keep in mind, however, that Saxon's intended use is as a regular math curriculum. If you intend to use the program for math acceleration, you will need to use materials intended for a higher grade level.

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    The Best of Both Worlds

    Opportunities for math enrichment and acceleration are both served by the Cognitively Guided Instruction approach to mathematics, which is often referred to as CGI Math. CGI is not a traditional curricular program. Instead, the theory encourages a teacher to use what the child already knows about solving problems to guide instruction.

    CGI is based on 20+ years of research conducted by Thomas Carpenter, Megan Franke, Linda Levi, Susan Empson and Victoria Jacobs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Teachers trained in CGI understand the various developmental stages of mathematical thinking, and use this framework to extend and enhance learning. Like the Math SuperStars program, problem-solving is the main focus, with story problems taking center stage. Since the approach does not require expensive materials, teachers are free to utilize Cognitively Guided Instruction for any problem type and at any instructional level without concern for budgeting approval.

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    Each of the programs and approaches listed above are appropriate for use in a special education setting, or as activities integrated into the regular education classroom. Parents will appreciate that each can also be used at home or for "after-schooling." If you have math ideas for teachers for first grade gifted students, please share them in the section below. As always, your comments and suggestions are appreciated!

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    About the Author

    Ms. Wistrom has an extensive background in writing mathematics curriculum, teaching math in the elementary grades and conducting in-service training in math instructional practices for elementary teachers. Ms. Wistrom has successfully implemented each of the programs mentioned above in her own classroom, and enthusiastically recommends them for use with both gifted and regular education students!

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