Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Middle-Secondary Education and Instructional Technology

First Advisor

Christine D. Thomas - Chair

Second Advisor

Kezia R. McNeal

Third Advisor

Karen A. Schulta

Fourth Advisor

David W. Stinson


Promoting Mathematical Understanding Through Open-Ended Tasks; Experiences of an Eighth-Grade Gifted Geometry Class by Carol H. Taylor Gifted students of mathematics served through acceleration often lack the opportunities to engage in challenging, complex investigations involving higher-level thinking. This purpose of this study was to examine the ways mathematically gifted students think about and do mathematics creatively as indicators of deep understanding through collaborative work on four open-ended tasks with high-level cognitive demand. The study focused on the mathematical thinking involved in students’ construction of mathematical understanding through the social interaction of group problem solving. This case study used ethnographic methodology within a social constructivist frame with gifted education and sociocultural contextual influences. Participants were 15 gifted students in an 8th-grade gifted geometry class. Data collection included field notes, student artifacts, student journal entries, audio recordings, and reflections. Transcribed audio recordings were segmented (Tesch, 1990) into phases of interaction, coded by function, then coded by levels of exhibited mathematical thinking from observable cognitive actions (Dreyfus, Hershkowitz, & Schwarz, 2001; Williams, 2000; Wood, Williams, & McNeal, 2006), and analyzed for maintenance or decline of high-level cognitive demand (Stein, Smith, Henningsen, & Silver, 2000). Interpretive data analysis was connected to data analysis of transcribed recordings. Results indicated social interaction among students enabled them to talk through the mathematics to understand mathematical concepts and relationships, to construct more complex meaning, and exhibit mathematical creativity, inventiveness, flexibility, and originality. Students consistently exhibited these characteristics indicating mathematical thinking at the levels of building-with analyzing, building-with synthetic-analyzing, building-with evaluative-analyzing, constructing synthesizing, and occasionally constructing evaluating (Dreyfus et al., 2001; Williams, 2000; Wood et al., 2006). The results of the study support the claim of a relationship between mathematical giftedness and the ability to abstract and generalize (Sriraman, 2003), provide evidence that given the opportunity, students can construct deep mathematical understanding, and indicate the importance of social interaction in the construction of knowledge. This study adds to the body of knowledge needed in research on gifted education, problem solving, small-group interaction, mathematical thinking, and mathematical understanding, through empirically assessed classroom practice (Friedman-Nima et al., 2005; Good, Mulryan, & McCaslin, 1992; Hiebert & Carpenter, 1992; Lester & Kehle, 2003; Phillipson, 2007; Wood, Williams, & McNeal, 2006).


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