When practice needs more research: the nature and nurture of mathematical giftedness

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The educational literature often includes debate over the nature and nurture of mathematical giftedness. The varied schools of thought reflect discrepancies between views, which are to a large extent functions of philosophical, political, and economic considerations. To address this debate, in the context of the current ZDM Special Issue, I attempt to analyze research and practices linked to mathematical giftedness in the Soviet Union in 1960–1980. I also look at the continuation of these Soviet-era practices, and to their influence on practices internationally. Particular attention is paid to the literature devoted to reaching a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of mathematical giftedness and of ways of nurturing this giftedness. The analysis starts with the discussion of domain-specific and domain-general characteristics of mathematical giftedness that have to be taken into account in educational environments for the mathematically gifted. It continues with a review of practices in special mathematical schools and classes in the Soviet Union, and a comparison to similar settings around the world in the twenty-first century. There is also an overview of enrichment mathematical activities, with a focus on mathematical circles, mathematical competitions and Olympiads, accompanied by a description of specificities of the mathematical content employed for the promotion of mathematical giftedness. Finally, the paper focuses on the question of what characterizes an excellent teacher of mathematically gifted students and on new educational technologies that are changing the education of these students worldwide. Following this analysis, I suggest some open questions for future research on the education of mathematically gifted students.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1579-1589
Number of pages11
JournalZDM - International Journal on Mathematics Education
Issue number7
Early online date31 May 2021
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, FIZ Karlsruhe.


  • Activities for mathematically gifted
  • Enrichment accelerations and deepening in mathematics
  • Mathematical giftedness
  • Mathematics competitions and circles
  • Specialized mathematics schools

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • General Mathematics


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