Ph.D Thesis

Ph.D StudentRachel Hess-Green
SubjectInteractions between Learning, Identity and Community
Expressed in a Mathematical Camp for Gifted
DepartmentDepartment of Education in Science and Technology
Supervisors Full Professors Hazzan Orit
Dr. Heyd-Metzuyanim Einat
Full Thesis text - in Hebrew Full thesis text - Hebrew Version


Research on learning of gifted students has gained momentum in recent years. While numerous studies focus on cognitive aspects, presupposing that these aspects comprise the mainspring of giftedness, few focus on social aspects. This study follows a mathematical camp for high schoolers and examines it from a socio-cultural perspective. The study focuses on academic institutions that offer mathematics programs for gifted students, and how these institutions enable and accelerate the entry of their students into the academic mathematics community .

The conceptual framework is based on Schein’s organizational culture layers (2010): hidden values, espoused values, ​​and artifacts. To examine the characteristics of mathematical participation by students, and to tie it with the students’ identity and the camp’s values, I relied on the commognitive approach (Sfard, 2008). This approach is useful since it provides both tools to analyze participation in mathematical discourse; and tools to study the learner’s identity .

The present study challenges the cognitivist framework of giftedness by studying processes in which the identity of the gifted, as well as its participation in a community, are related to the development of her mathematical skills. The setting is Tomba - a mathematical camp for high school students dealing with number theory and also containing social activities. The study included semi-structured interviews, filming in the classroom, and in social activities.

The main findings of this study are the espoused and implicit values ​​that were found in staff discourse, and the manifestation of these values in ​​the discourse of students. In these camps, the espoused values ​​were belonging to a mathematical community, standard mathematical writing and dealing with difficulties. The implicit values included mathematics for its own sake and mathematical talent.  

Overall, the values ​​found in the camp, both espoused and hidden, guided students towards participation that was explorative in its nature (Sfard & Lavie, 2005; Heyd-Metzuyanim, 2015). In the practice of explorative mathematics, the purpose of such participation is to produce narratives that can be endorsed and labeled as true in the mathematical community, regardless of their impact beyond that sphere of mathematics (such as achieving high grades or appreciation). The fostering of explorative participation was also found in values that had social or emotional qualities. The values ​​above, derived from the staff discourse, found an echo in the discourse of students.

The contribution of this study is theoretical and practical. Theoretically, the study further clarifies the interaction between modes of participation in a math learning community on the one hand, and the identity of students on the other. It does so by analyzing the culture of the community, mainly its espoused and hidden values, and by examining how students adjust to these values. On a practical level, the study provides insights into the creation and enhancement of experiential learning frameworks of mathematics, simultaneously with cognitive-mathematical aspects.