Making Research-Backed Educational Placement Decisions During a Pandemic: IOAPA and Other Opportunities

Spring is coming, and that means it’s time to start planning for next year. In a typical year, this is when we would recommend having students participate in above-level testing. Above-level testing helps educators to determine which students might need advanced programming, such as subject acceleration, because it measures students’ aptitudes in specific subjects. Using an objective measure such as an above-level test helps us to make informed decisions. During the challenging year brought upon us by COVID-19, we might have wondered if it was possible to conduct this sort of testing in a school setting. The good news is, yes, it can be done!

Over the last few months, the Belin-Blank Center has assisted numerous educators throughout the country, including in Iowa schools, to conduct above-level testing with their 4th-6th grade students using I-Excel. We require an in-person proctor, so that means testing sessions have had fewer students spread apart in a classroom with other appropriate safety precautions in place. When considering your options for testing, please make sure to consult local and national public health guidance. Schools that typically test large numbers of students have provided the testing in several different sessions, so there were fewer students in each group. Schools have then been able to use the test results to inform decisions about placing students in advanced programing, such as IOAPA.

IOAPA, a longstanding online accelerative program for students in Iowa, has an impressive record of student success. Middle and high school students take advanced online courses in a program administered by the Belin-Blank Center and in cooperation with local school mentors. The IOAPA program was created especially for students in rural Iowa schools who do not have access to advanced courses in their home schools. They work online, with the support of a local teacher/mentor. We have found that one of the best predictors of success in IOAPA courses is the objective information gleaned from above-level testing, where we measure a student’s aptitude in specific subjects.  Currently (due to the pandemic), we do not require above-level testing. However, we highly recommend it. The data provided by I-Excel testing can help educators determine which students would benefit from the rigors of the IOAPA program. If at least 10 students from a particular school or district have participated in testing, educators receive an aggregate report that helps them to see how students’ scores compare to each other and assists them in making these decisions.

In some cases, parents are interested in having their children tested individually, so they can learn more about their child’s aptitudes. They can set up individual testing with the assistance of a local educator who serves as the test proctor. After the testing, parents receive an individual student report, which they can share with educators at their child’s school.

It has indeed been a challenging year. It is good to know that, in spite of the challenges, we still have a systematic process in place for assisting educators and their talented students to find the academic opportunities that they need.

Message from the Director: Doing No (Educational) Harm

Susan Assouline

by Dr. Susan Assouline, Belin-Blank Center Director

The famous medical phrase, “do no harm,” has been echoing in my mind. Specifically, I consider the potential for harm when well-meaning educators or parents believe that the best academic intervention is to maintain the status quo. In other words, to do nothing.

Students with high cognitive ability need advanced and challenging educational experiences in order to be engaged in the learning process. Doing nothing is harmful because it may cause these students to disengage. If high-ability learners drop out from learning, both the student and society suffer the loss.

The Belin-Blank Center is a leader in research on twice-exceptionality and academic acceleration. Twice-exceptional students, as well as students who need academic acceleration, are equally at risk of disengaging from the learning process if their unique needs go unmet. Appropriate educational interventions, informed by research findings, keep them engaged. Below, I describe a few ways that the center supports parents and educators in supporting twice-exceptional students and students who need academic acceleration.

Practitioners in gifted education know much about high cognitive ability and the necessary interventions to help high-ability students. Educators with a background in special education have excellent training in supporting students with a diagnosed learning or social-emotional disorder. However, traditional assessment and intervention approaches often do not detect when a student has high cognitive ability plus a diagnosed learning or social-emotional disorder. In other words, they miss twice-exceptional students, which jeopardizes those students’ engagement in the learning process.

We continue to learn more about identifying and supporting twice-exceptional students. We’ve uncovered unique patterns of strengths and difficulties for twice-exceptional students through our collaborative research with the Iowa Neuroscience Institute (INI). These patterns have important implications for educational interventions. We are excited to share these findings as part of the inaugural Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality, held virtually on May 17 and 18. All registrants can access the live sessions and the recording of all presentations after the event.

Our work in academic acceleration encompasses a broad set of services, including above-level testing, student programs such as Advanced Placement coursework through the Iowa Online Advanced Placement Academy, and reliable resources through the Acceleration Institute. These resources enhance awareness about academic acceleration, guide advocates in creating acceleration policy, and help child study teams make decisions about various forms of acceleration.

The Integrated Acceleration System, our newest resource, is an online, interactive system. This tool integrates the necessary information for deciding whether acceleration is an appropriate intervention for a particular student. The Integrated Acceleration System synthesizes the data and generates a report with recommendations specific to that student. When it comes to academic acceleration, parents and educators need no longer assume that doing nothing is the best way to “do no harm.”

Educators and parents are essential advocates for appropriate placement and services for high-ability and twice-exceptional students. Taking action through tailored intervention is the best way to ensure that we do no educational harm and actively engage students in the learning process.

Springing into More Professional Learning

Dr. Laurie Croft, Associate Director for Professional Development

“Spring semester” began long before spring, and a few of our classes are already under way, but we have several classes coming up. The 19th-century Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy, said, “Spring is the time of plans and projects.”  We want your plans to include professional learning with the Belin-Blank Center!

The Center, in partnership with the University of Iowa College of Education, offers both “extension” classes and “workshops.”  The “extension” classes, usually either 2 or 3 semester hours, have course numbers that end with something like 0EXW, and they unfold over several weeks.  The “workshops,” either 1 or 2 semester hours, have course numbers that end with something like 0WKA, and they are scheduled over three-week periods. Everything is fully online, and most workshops tend to be completely asynchronous, while most extension classes tend to be organized so that work is required each week.

The next extension class available to you is EDTL:4066:0EXW, Curriculum Concepts in Gifted Education (3 semester hours; Mar 22 – May 14); one of my favorite classes (and I get to teach this one), Curriculum Concepts explores various curriculum models, curriculum needs of gifted learners, and introduces options for differentiation.

Our upcoming one-semester-hour workshops address issues we know are important to you:

The following workshops are considered summer term at the University, so enrollment has to be for summer rather than for spring:

  • PSQF:4128:0WKA – Neuroscientific Implications for Gifted Ed: Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality (May 20 – Jun 10)
  • EDTL:4022:0WKA – Math Programming for High-Ability Learners (May 25 – Jun 14)

Practicum is available every semester; email educators@belinblank.org for permission to enroll.

Get Registered

To participate in our classes, you must register one time each year with Distance and Online Education as a non-degree seeking student.  For the State of Iowa Endorsement in Talented and Gifted Education, you may register as either a graduate or undergraduate student, regardless of your professional status; if you won’t benefit in other ways from the graduate credit, you can save tuition dollars.  Once you have your HawkID and password, you can follow the directions to register for the courses that interest you the most at belinblank.org/educators/reg.  All of our classes fulfill strands required for endorsement.

Questions?

Email educators@belinblank.org with questions about any of our upcoming classes.

Autism, Gender and Sexual Identity Conference

Looking for opportunities to learn more about autism?  The Autism Society of Iowa (ASI) will be hosting a one-day online seminar on Autism, Gender, and Sexual Identity.  Attendees will have the opportunity to:

  • Increase their understanding of the role that Autism might play in the consolidation of gender identity.
  • Enhance their knowledge base of environmental and psychological factors that play central roles in adolescent identity formation in all adolescents, and the distorting impact of STIGMA leading to psychopathology.
  • Review the emerging data base supporting a higher rate of gender diversity (GNC/GE/etc.) in youth with autism, and vice versa.

For more information or to register, click here.

Mark Your Calendars!

Although it may be cold outside, we are already gearing up for spring and summer at the Belin-Blank Center! We are offering many exciting online opportunities for educators, students, families, and gifted education researchers. Mark your calendars with these upcoming dates.

FOR EDUCATORS

FOR RESEARCHERS

FOR STUDENTS & FAMILIES

A New Face at the Belin-Blank Center

We are excited to welcome a new staff member!

Dr. Amanda Berns is a Licensed Psychologist who is joining the clinical staff in the Assessment and Counseling Clinic. She attended the University of Iowa while obtaining her Bachelor of Science in Psychology, Education Specialist, and Doctor of Philosophy in School Psychology. Dr. Berns gained experience working in schools, outpatient clinics at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, the local homeless shelter, and children’s homes through the Early Access Autism Resources Team at Grant Wood Area Education Agency. She also completed an iLEND fellowship and externships at Nisonger Center and St. David’s Center.

Dr. Amanda Berns, Licensed Psychologist at the Belin-Blank Center’s Assessment and Counseling Clinic

For two years in graduate school, Dr. Berns held an assistantship providing mentorship to talented and gifted college students at the Belin-Blank Center, as well. Dr. Berns attended a predoctoral internship at Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health and a postdoctoral fellowship at The Counseling Center of Nashua. She also worked in public schools as a traveling school psychologist and Autism Consultant, and outpatient settings at Wisconsin Early Autism Project (WEAP).

Besides having a wealth of clinical experience across these settings, Dr. Berns has particular expertise in assessment and intervention services for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In particular, her research background is in the social-emotional experiences of those who are twice-exceptional. She is excited to join the Belin-Blank Center’s Assessment and Counseling Clinic, where she is conducting twice-exceptional evaluations and providing counseling services.

Be sure to check out all of the clinical services we provide in our Assessment and Counseling Clinic. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment or requesting more information, you can do so here!

Who Makes the Decision about Academic Acceleration?

It shouldn’t be left to one person to make a decision about academic acceleration, especially whole-grade acceleration (also called grade-skipping). It takes a team to consider all the relevant information and implement a plan.

At the Belin-Blank Center, we recommend that this child study team include:

  • at least one parent or guardian,
  • a facilitator (often a gifted coordinator),
  • the child’s current teacher, and
  • the “receiving teacher” in the higher grade with whom the child would be placed.

An administrator, such as a principal, might also participate in the team meeting. Additional individuals who might be consulted during the process include other teachers, the school counselor, the school psychologist, and the gifted education teacher.

Of course, the student needs to be included in the discussions in an age-appropriate manner, although not in the final meeting where the data are discussed and the decision is made.  

You might wonder about which teacher would be considered the “current teacher” if a student has different teachers for different subjects. Consider selecting a teacher who knows the student well. It is certainly appropriate to request feedback from any teacher who is currently working with the student. More than one might participate more actively in the process and attend meeting(s) about the student. For receiving teacher, consider asking several teachers who would have that student in the future to participate in the discussion.

One person on the team (often the gifted coordinator) serves as facilitator and gathers appropriate information such as test scores and feedback from other team members. Once the information is gathered, the facilitator schedules a team meeting to discuss the “fit” of acceleration and to make a decision. Finally, the facilitator helps to develop and implement a transition plan, so the move from one grade to another is smooth.

The Belin-Blank Center is in the process of developing the new Integrated Acceleration System, which will help educators and families investigate the “fit” of subject acceleration, grade-skipping, and early entrance to kindergarten or college for their student, with special considerations for twice-exceptional students.

If you’re interested in learning even more about academic acceleration, the Belin-Blank Center will offer a 3-semester-hour graduate course on academic acceleration this summer. The course will be taught entirely online from June 7- August 6 by Dr. Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik, one of the co-authors of the Iowa Acceleration Scale and the new Integrated Acceleration System. Contact educators@belinblank.org for details about the class and about enrollment.

And be sure to check back for the upcoming launch of the Integrated Acceleration System or click here to be notified when it is released.

Free Live Sessions with STEM Experts

A free adventure for all Iowa high school students and their teachers!

We are excited to announce a very exciting day of live online sessions with STEM experts from Iowa and around the world! Through our 2021 Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, Iowa teachers and students can register and attend for free! Join us online March 1-2, 2021.

Keynote presenter photo and title "Secrets of the Mind - Revealed by Magic Tricks & Psychology Research.

You’ll learn from a University of London researcher, Alice Pailhès. Alice studies free will and the illusion of control. Her presentation will present various original experiments using magic tricks, as well as their surprising results.

Photo of presenter with title "Dive Under the Sea with a Shark Expert"

Travel to Cape Town, South Africa, and meet Lesley. Find out how this researcher went from being called Shark Bait to the Shark Warrior when she met an extraordinary shark named Maxine. Join Lesley for a virtual underwater dive to meet sharks! Learn about these amazing animals, the threats they face, and why we need to save our sharks.

Photo of presenter and title "Open a Beehive with a Beekeeper"

Travel to Lisbon, Portugal, and meet Joana. She will take you out to visit her beehives! Joana is a 4th generation beekeeper, and her passion for bees began when she was seven, and her grandfather took her to an apiary. She rescues wild bee colonies!

Picture of the presenter with the title "Uncover Pompeii with and Archaeologist"

Travel to Pompeii, Italy, to meet Roberto and go back into Roman times! Discover the ancient history and beauty of Pompeii, the famous site buried by the Vesuvius eruption in 79 AD. Learn the city’s history, from the beginning to the eruption and then to the discovery of the remains. Roberto is an archaeologist and an authorized guide of the Campania Region. He has worked as an archaeologist all around the Mediterranean Sea.

After a world tour, come home to Iowa and meet some local STEM experts.

Meet biochemist Dr. Maxwell J. Holle. Maxwell evaluates unique antimicrobials used to kill the harmful bacteria in cheese! These chemical substances can improve cheese safety by killing and hindering the growth of the bacteria that cause the illness so that everyone can eat them. He grew up in Oskaloosa, IA, and now he is an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Iowa.

Walkthrough a patient case with a Carver College of Medicine medical student and work together to diagnose a patient. Ask any questions you have about being a medical student and becoming a doctor!

Meet a University of Iowa rocket scientist and an engineer on NASA rocket and satellite missions. Suman Sherwani has an engineering degree from the University of Iowa and went to rocket school in Norway. Yep, rocket school is a thing! Join this Q & A session to get a backstage pass to engineering school, landing a dream internship, going to an international rocket school, and working on NASA missions.

You will also have an opportunity to learn from high school students conducting their own original research!

Hurry! The Writers’ Room Starts Soon

Let us bring our UNESCO City of Literature and the Writing University to your home with the Writers’ Room

The Writers’ Room is a collection of online creative writing classes for students in grades 6-12. Challenge yourself by exploring form, discussing creative writing fundamentals, and completing stimulating assignments. Receive thoughtful feedback of your work from world-class faculty and graduates of the University of Iowa’s famed writing programs. Learn how to give and receive artist-centered feedback with your peers and enjoy the benefits of building a community with other inspired young writers. 

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Join the community

Our community of student writers is impressive and welcoming. Check out this digital anthology of past students’ work. You could be next!

“I really enjoyed the fact that the teachers seemed to be so engaged, and that I was able to make friends, even online. My confidence as a writer has been so strengthened by this experience.” – 2020 student writer

Get your seat at the table

Submit your application to the Writers’ Room today to make your writing stand out from the crowd. Don’t wait – time and space are limited! The program starts February 14th. Apply before it’s too late!



Message from the Director: Humility, Gratitude, and Optimism in 2021

by Dr. Susan Assouline, Belin-Blank Center Director

Like a long-awaited visitor we thought would never arrive, 2021 is almost here! My colleagues and I are ready to greet the new year with humility, gratitude, and optimism. Humility counters the pride with which we entered 2020 and the assumptions that we held about the format of our programs and services. That self-assuredness blinded us to the crises lurking in the shadows that came out in full force to affect our health, economy, climate, and sense of social justice.

These crises-imposed restrictions resulted in new ways of collaborating to find creative ways to provide programs, deliver services, and conduct research. I am grateful for the continued assessment and counseling services our licensed psychologists offered through a hybrid format. The student program team re-imagined several new opportunities for students. I am also appreciative of the continuation of our many professional development opportunities for educators.  

There are many reasons for which I am optimistic about 2021. The teachers and students participating in our grant-funded services displayed astounding resilience, despite the learning format’s unpredictability. We started a new collaboration with colleagues at the National Center for Research on Gifted Education, housed at the University of Connecticut; our focus will be on academic acceleration. Our research collaboration with the Iowa Neuroscience Institute continues, and we are looking forward to a re-imagined Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality in a virtual format.

The Integrated Acceleration System’s development team completed the online interactive product designed to produce a report that offers information about the appropriateness of academic acceleration for individual students.  

These are just a few of the reasons why we will enter 2021 with humility, gratitude, and optimism. I am humbled by the Belin-Blank Center staff’s efforts and those of our colleagues in the College of Education. I am awed by the continued support of our Advisory Board. Their commitment to the Belin-Blank Center’s mission, and the students, families, and educators we serve, has never wavered despite the many obstacles experienced.  

May 2021 be a year in which we continue to seek social justice and address racism. May we find new ways to tackle our many climate challenges, observe improvement in our economy, and realize an abatement of the pandemic. We look forward to seeing you in 2021, in person and virtually. Happy New Year!

Annual National Association for Gifted Children Convention: Reimagined for 2020

Written by Dr. Laurie Croft

This is information that was reported to the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children (WCGTC) newsletter as part of the current report from the United States. Dr. Laurie Croft is one of the three U.S. delegates to the WCGTC.

NAGC hosted the 67th annual convention as a “reimagined” and virtual event—and a very successful professional development and networking opportunity with almost 4,300 participating.  Attendees came from 48 U.S. states and the District of Columbia (D.C.), as well as 13 additional countries, and benefited from almost 300 presentations.  The first fully virtual convention featured many familiar elements, including educational pre-conference workshops, keynote presentations, choices of invited and concurrent sessions, posters, and NAGC Network and Special Interest Group (SIG) meetings; the reimagined convention included new ways of participating in events, as well as new opportunities:  an expanded timeline, from four to six days for the convention; virtual lounges to drop in and visit with others; Table Talks, sponsored by Networks; and access to all of the concurrent sessions and posters, available on demand—through the end of May 2021.   

Having access to presentations for six months is an extraordinary benefit to busy teachers, counselors, administrators, families, and university faculty who advocate for gifted and talented learners.  For keynote and special sessions, participants could type in questions during the session that presenters addressed, and they could discuss content with each other, using a chat feature provided by the platform. Presenters for concurrent sessions took advantage of a platform provided by NAGC to capture their sessions, complete with PowerPoints, comments, and often, handouts.  Even Poster sessions had recordings to amplify their content.  While participants must choose among an array of interesting sessions when attending an in-person convention, participants now have access to all the sessions!   

The concurrent sessions this year are identified as “On Demand,” and the majority of these feature topics selected through a blind review process conducted by volunteers for each Network.  These sessions provide a wide variety of topics, from encouraging artistic expression and critical and creative thinking to “speed geeking” and virtual reality; from cultivating psychosocial skills among advanced learners to building better educator capacity to recognize and develop talents; from tips for parents to successful advocacy at local, state, and national levels.  All categories of presentations featured sessions that highlighted the critical importance of equity in gifted programming and the need to identify and serve underrepresented populations of gifted children in the United States as well as enhance best practices for talent development for all children. 

College Board Scholarships for AP Summer Institute

This summer, the University of Iowa’s Belin-Blank Center will be hosting an online Advanced Placement® Summer Institute (APSI). (formerly known as the AP Teacher Training Institute or APTTI). APSI is designed for teachers who want to learn to teach AP® courses, current AP® teachers, and educators who wish to strengthen their school’s core curriculum. The event will take place June 28 – July 2, 2021, and all courses will be offered fully online. Check out our website for more information and registration details.

The College Board offers the following two scholarships that support teachers in attending an APSI. Both applications are open now and are due February 17, 2021

  • AP® Fellows Program: For teachers at schools serving majority underrepresented minority and/or low-income students 
    • Scholarship Amount: $1,000 – for cost of tuition and lab fees (when applicable) 
  • AP® Rural Fellows Program: For teachers at schools serving rural areas
    • Scholarship Amount: $1,500 – for cost of tuition and lab fees (when applicable) 

Another funding opportunity is the AP® Summer Institution Grant, offered by the Belin-Blank Center’s Iowa Online AP® Academy. More information and a link to the application can be found here, under the heading “Financial Aid”. The deadline to complete this grant application is June 1, 2021. 

  • AP® Summer Institution Grant: For Iowa-licensed middle school or high school teachers  
    • Award Amount: $450 – for cost of tuition plus funding for materials (when applicable) 

AP® Exam Scholarship Winners!

Congratulations to our AP Scholarship Exam recipients! The purpose of this funding is to increase the number of students taking AP exams from rural schools in Iowa. Funding is still available for Fall and Spring IOAPA AP students! If you have students that are eligible, please apply for this funding by the final deadline of February 26, 2021. Please click here for access to this online application.

Online Experiences Designed for Gifted Kids

We’ve heard your requests for online versions of the enrichment opportunities you love from the Belin-Blank Center! We’ve designed our new Enrichment Expeditions program to reconnect bright children with each other and to explore their complex interests, both online and offline.

These are not your typical Zoom class! Our expert instructors combine hands-on learning with high-quality, live, online sessions that follow a depth and pace that keeps bright students engaged. We send a customized fun kit straight to your door, containing all the necessary supplies. There’s no need for shopping, ordering, or gathering items around your house.

Don’t miss the last class of the session, coming up in January!

Bravery: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Grades 2-4
January 24, 9:00 am – noon (Central)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Supreme Court Justice for 27 years, passed away this year. As a lawyer and a judge, she used her voice to fight for equal rights for all people – regardless of race, gender, or ability. In this class, you will learn about Ruth Bader Ginsburg (or RBG as many call her) and her work fighting for our rights. We will focus on the writing and speaking strategies that help others want to listen to us. From writing to speaking to history and even a little bit of art, this class will cover it all! You’ll also get to continue your expedition after class ends with the Ruth Bader Ginsberg issue of the beautiful Bravery magazine. Be ready to channel your inner RBG and speak up!

Save the Date for the Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality

In January 2020, members of the Belin-Blank Center and the Iowa Neuroscience Institute were eagerly preparing for a summer Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality (2e). We planned to invite researchers, clinicians, and educators to the University of Iowa campus to discuss and advance the field of 2e research. Like many other large gatherings scheduled for this year, the COVID-19 pandemic led our team to reimagine the event as a virtual experience. We are excited to invite you to join us online this spring! 

The virtual Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality will occur May 17-18, 2021, and registration is available now! This event aims to advance research in the area of twice-exceptionality by sparking conversation and collaboration across disciplines. Both days will feature presentations from prominent scholars highlighting the potential for collaboration among neuroscience, gifted education, psychology, and special education. Attendees will have the opportunity to hear from experts at the Belin-Blank Center, including Dr. Susan Assouline, Dr. Megan Foley-Nicpon, and Dr. Alissa Doobay, as well as members of the Iowa Neuroscience Institute, including Dr. Jake Michaelson, Dr. Ted Abel, and Dr. Thomas Nickl Jockschat. We’re also proud to welcome Dr. Sally M. Reis from the University of Connecticut, Dr. James Booth from Vanderbilt University, and Dr. Marjorie Solomon from the University of California-Davis. More information about all of our speakers is available on our website.  

Everyone is welcome to register. The content will be most relevant for people interested in learning about research developments on the topic of twice-exceptionality, pursuing or informing future research, and applying research findings to better understand and support twice-exceptional individuals. We hope you will join us for this exciting interdisciplinary event! 

Coming Up at the Belin-Blank Center

As the year comes to a close, we are looking forward to the many exciting online opportunities for educators, students, families, and gifted education researchers that are happening at the Belin-Blank Center in 2021! Mark your calendars with these upcoming dates.

For Educators

  • Professional Learning Courses / TAG Endorsement:
    • Program Models in Gifted Education
      • January 25 – March 22, 2021
    • Identification of Students for Gifted Programs
      • January 26 – March 22, 2021
    • Administrative and Policy Issues in GE
      • February 2 – April 30, 2021
    • Curriculum Concepts in Gifted Education
      • March 22 – May 14, 2021

For Students & Families

For Researchers

Subject Acceleration: What Are the Issues?

Subject acceleration is one way to match the curriculum to high-ability students’ needs and ensure that they are appropriately challenged. A common method of subject acceleration is moving a student from one grade to another for a particular subject in which the student has strong abilities. For example, a second grader might move to the third-grade classroom for math, then move back to their second grade classroom for all other subjects.

A number of issues are associated with subject acceleration. There is no single right answer to the questions raised by these issues, but it is important to consider them.

  • Scheduling. Will the student miss a class in a different subject? Some schools have solved this issue by scheduling core subjects at the same time. For example, Northside School District schedules math at the same time for every grade across the district. Alternatively, a middle school student might begin the day early at the high school for science, then go to the middle school at the regular start time for all other classes.
  • Transportation. The middle schooler in the example above might need to be bussed from one building to another. Some school districts will provide transportation; others expect the parents to drive the student.
  • Gaps. If the student moves up a grade for a particular subject, how do we know whether the student has any important knowledge gaps? The simple solution is pre-testing to determine where these gaps are, and then spending some time tutoring the student on the missing information. It may take just a few short tutoring sessions to fill in gaps and ensure placement in a challenging course for the whole school year.
  • Credit. Granting credit and recording that on a transcript helps prevent the student from being asked to repeat the course at a later time. There are questions related to credit, however. For example, should middle school students taking high school courses receive middle school credit, high school credit, or both? Related to that, should the middle school students have those course grades applied to their high school transcripts? This becomes an issue if the student earns a grade that would lower the high school GPA or class rank.
  • “Running out of” classes. Sometimes students are prevented from subject acceleration because of concerns about running out of courses in the future. It is never appropriate to withhold medicine from a sick child because we think we might not have enough medicine for that child in 5 years. Similarly, it is not appropriate to withhold a challenging academic opportunity from a student now because we might not have the appropriate resources in our building a few years down the road. If the needed course is not available in our building, our task becomes finding ways to get the advanced content to the student. After exhausting the high school math curriculum, and advanced student might take an online or in-person college course.
  • Long-term planning. Although concerns about transportation or scheduling issues several years in the future shouldn’t stop us from accelerating a talented student now, we should take the time to consider the long-term impact of this decision and use that time to communicate with administrators, future teachers, and families to be sure we are outlining a smooth path through a challenging curriculum for the student.

Talking through these questions and issues is helpful for the development of school and district policies related to academic acceleration. Devising clear and fair policies helps all students to have access these opportunities, not just those with active parent advocates. The Belin-Blank Center and the National Association for Gifted Children produced Developing Academic Acceleration Policies: Whole Grade, Early Entrance, and Single Subject to help educators, policymakers, and parents to think through these issues for their local schools. The Belin-Blank Center is also in the process of developing the new Integrated Acceleration System, which will help educators and families make informed decisions about subject acceleration, grade-skipping, and early entrance to kindergarten or college.  

Why Am I an Advocate for Academic Acceleration?

The short answer to this question is that I am tired of gifted students being under-challenged in school. They need the intellectual stimulation that comes from rigorous courses taught at a reasonably advanced level, and acceleration can provide that stimulation. The longer answer is, I am familiar with the research (over 70 years of research, to be precise!). Academic acceleration has more research support than any other educational option for gifted students. In other words, the research is clear and unambiguous: Acceleration works. The research tells us that gifted students benefit from acceleration and are not negatively impacted socially if they are moved up a grade or advanced in a particular subject. As a group, gifted students who accelerated grow up into higher-achieving, higher-paid adults. In other words, the effects of acceleration are positive in the short-term and the long-term.  So why wouldn’t I be an advocate for academic acceleration?

Results of the research are summarized clearly and succinctly in the comprehensive publication, A Nation Empowered.  It’s time to put that information to work.  There are at least 20 different types of acceleration, including grade-skipping, subject matter acceleration, online learning, and dual enrollment in high school and college. Since there are so many forms of acceleration, we can tailor accelerative opportunities to the needs of individual gifted students. Acceleration means allowing gifted students to move ahead in school, at a pace appropriate to their needs. Acceleration can be implemented individually, in small groups, and in large groups. Each type of acceleration can be used to match the level, complexity, and pace of the curriculum to the readiness and motivation of the student.

Educators and parents do not have to be afraid of implementing acceleration. Tools are available to help them make well-informed decisions. These tools include the book already mentioned, A Nation Empowered, as well as the Iowa Acceleration Scale (developed to help the team consider important aspects of acceleration, including academic development, social development, physical development, and school and parental support for the decision), IDEAL Solutions (developed to assist educators and parents as they consider subject matter acceleration in STEM subjects), and university-based talent search programs, which help identify students and give them challenging courses they can take in the summer or school year or via online learning opportunities. The Belin-Blank Center is also developing a new, online tool called the Integrated Acceleration System to help guide the discussion about different forms of acceleration, including early entrance to kindergarten or college, grade-skipping, and subject acceleration, all while taking into account special considerations for twice-exceptional students.

If you are interested in advocating for acceleration for an individual student or you’re attempting to change policies in your school or district, start with the Acceleration Institute website. It includes the tools already mentioned, and many more. Don’t miss the PowerPoint presentation on acceleration, which you can download and share with other educators and families. Educational policy enthusiasts will be interested in the document, Developing Academic Acceleration Policies. Researchers will enjoy perusing the annotated bibliography.

We have the research and the tools to help us make good decisions about implementing acceleration for academically talented students. Now, we need the courage to act.

Let’s Talk 2e Virtual Conference for Educators

Please join us at the Let’s Talk 2e virtual conference for Educators launching January 25, 2021 and then remaining EVERGREEN allowing you forever-access. To register click here.

The conference brings together expert speakers addressing topics for teachers to utilize in their virtual, hybrid and in-person classrooms within four strands:

  • Understanding 2e
  • Classroom Strategies
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Clinical Considerations

Our own Drs. Megan Foley-Nicpon, Alissa Doobay, and Katie Schabilion will be among the presenters!

If you’re a parent – this conference is an excellent teacher gift!

Along with 25 presentations attendees will enjoy:

  • Free Gifts from every speaker
  • A Companion Conference Planner
  • A Full Exhibitor Hall (with opportunities for prizes)
  • Community Building and Live Events in our Facebook “Teachers’ Lounge”
  • The Opportunity to earn Credit and Contact Hours from various states, schools and associations

We hope you’ll join us! https://www.withunderstandingcomescalm.com/~access/a1c1076f/

Visual Guide to IOAPA High School Courses


To aid in decisions about spring enrollment, we are excited to share the IOAPA High School Course infographic. This infographic uses data from 2019-2020 IOAPA students. This, along with our middle school infographic and other useful information, can be found on our website. On this page, you can also find our course catalog and more information about individual course options.

Visual Guide to IOAPA Middle School Courses

To aid in decisions about spring enrollment, we are excited to share the IOAPA Middle School Course infographic. This infographic uses data from 2019-2020 IOAPA students. This, along with our high school infographic and other useful information, can be found on our website, in the “Being Successful” section of the page. On this page, you can also find our course catalog and more information about individual course options.

Adventures in the Sky with Bessie Coleman and Amelia Earhart

We’ve heard your requests for online versions of the enrichment opportunities you love from the Belin-Blank Center! We’ve designed our new Enrichment Expeditions program to reconnect bright children with each other and to explore their interests, both online and offline.

These are not your typical Zoom class! Our expert instructors combine hands-on learning with high-quality, live, online sessions that follow a depth and pace that keeps bright students engaged. We send a customized fun kit straight to your door, containing all the necessary supplies. There’s no need for shopping, ordering, or gathering items around your house.

“Adventure is worthwhile in itself.”

Amelia Earhart 

Adventures in the Sky

Grades 2-4
December 6, 9:00 am – noon (Central)

Airplanes revolutionized our ability to travel to new places around the world. Believe it or not, they are a fairly new technology. Two aviators – Bessie Coleman and Amelia Earhart – were some of the first to explore the skies using airplanes. 

In this class, you will learn about these two amazing women’s adventures, and the sometimes-mysterious stories told about them. This class mixes writing and STEM! We will spend half of our time exploring the structure of airplanes and how well they fly. We will spend the other half learning how to write a good story with narrative writing. When we’re done, you’ll get to continue the fun with your own copy of the Bessie Coleman and Amelia Earhart issue of the beautiful Bravery magazine. Writers, builders, explorers, and all lovers of adventure are encouraged to join!  

Photo by Ömer Aydın from Pexels

Python Programming for 4th-6th Graders

It’s not too late (yet) for your child to join the Coders’ Lab!

Our new Coders’ Lab class, called Explorations in Coding I, will teach students how to code “for real” using the Python programming language. It will also help them discover how they can make a difference in the world through computer science!

How it works

Students will meet twice weekly with one of our best teachers and other curious and highly capable kids. They will also have independent time to work through modules and develop projects on their own. Classes at this level are typically recommended for middle school students, but bright and motivated students in grades 4-6 will feel right at home. We think your child has what it takes! No prior computer science experience is necessary.

“Learning to write programs stretches your mind, and helps you think better, creates a way of thinking about things that I think is helpful in all domains.” 

-Bill Gates

Help your child become 21st century-ready

This class will help your child grow in problem-solving, critical thinking skills, creativity, collaboration, and communication – all from the comfort of your home. So, what are you waiting for? Hurry, class starts November 2nd!

How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse

We’ve heard your requests for online versions of the enrichment opportunities you love from the Belin-Blank Center! We’ve designed our new Enrichment Expeditions program to reconnect bright children with each other and to explore their interests, both online and offline.

These are not your typical Zoom class! Our expert instructors combine hands-on learning with high-quality, live, online sessions that follow a depth and pace that keeps bright students engaged. We send a customized fun kit straight to your door, containing all the necessary supplies. There’s no need for shopping, ordering, or gathering items around your house.

How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse

Grades 6-8
December 5, 1:00 – 4:00 pm Central

Do you have the skills needed to survive in a world full of Zombies? Using your Zombie Survival Kit, you will navigate in a world without GPS, build a primitive tarp shelter, and learn some basic first aid. Our expert guide will teach you some of the essential skills needed to survive a Zombie Apocalypse. These skills are also very useful for wilderness and/or backyard activities like hiking, camping, scouts, geo-caching, scavenger hunts, adventure races, but more likely… surviving a zombie apocalypse! 

Online Neuroscience Class for Middle Schoolers

We’ve heard your requests for online versions of the enrichment opportunities you love from the Belin-Blank Center! We’ve designed our new Enrichment Expeditions program to reconnect bright children with each other and to explore their interests, both online and offline.

These are not your typical Zoom class! Our expert instructors combine hands-on learning with high-quality, live, online sessions that follow a depth and pace that keeps bright students engaged. We send a customized fun kit straight to your door, containing all the necessary supplies. There’s no need for shopping, ordering, or gathering items around your house.

Getting to Know Your Brain: A Crash Course in Neuroscience

Grades 6-8
November 10 (Part 1) and November 17 (Part 2) , 5:00-6:30 Central
OR November 14 (Part 1) and November 21 (Part 2) , 5:00-6:30 Central

Take a peek between your ears and get to know your beautiful brain! The brain helps us experience everything in our world. From information coming in from our environment to internal memories of a fun day that happened years ago – your brain is what makes you “you”! In this class, you will explore how the brain processes sensory information and learn how different parts of the brain communicate with each other. Then, you’ll use this knowledge to build your own “ideal” brain. 

Online Math Class: Master Mathematicians Battle Round!

We’ve heard your requests for online versions of the enrichment opportunities you love from the Belin-Blank Center! We’ve designed our new Enrichment Expeditions program to reconnect bright children with each other and to explore their interests, both online and offline.

These are not your typical Zoom class! Our expert instructors combine hands-on learning with high-quality, live, online sessions that follow a depth and pace that keeps bright students engaged. We send a customized fun kit straight to your door, containing all the necessary supplies. There’s no need for shopping, ordering, or gathering items around your house.

Master Mathematicians Battle Round

Grades 4-6
November 15, 3:00 – 6:00 pm (Central)

Are you ready to outwit your friends and become a mathematics problem-solving master? Get your brain and buzzer set for a fun, game-filled session of math challenges and competitions. This class will teach you some of the best math problem-solving strategies and challenge you to think outside the box. You’ll get your own copy of Edward Zacarro’s fun book, ”Becoming a Problem Solving Genius.”  We’ll use it to help you master math using logic, “Think 1”, algebra, functions, and more. The best part…you’ll practice your new skills in several live-action games with buzzers, whiteboards, and lots of FUN! 

Online RBG Class

We’ve heard your requests for online versions of the enrichment opportunities you love from the Belin-Blank Center! We’ve designed our new Enrichment Expeditions program to reconnect bright children with each other and to explore their interests, both online and offline.

These are not your typical Zoom class! Our expert instructors combine hands-on learning with high-quality, live, online sessions that follow a depth and pace that keeps bright students engaged. We send a customized fun kit straight to your door, containing all the necessary supplies. There’s no need for shopping, ordering, or gathering items around your house.

Don’t miss the last class of the session, coming up in January!

Bravery: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Grades 2-4
January 24, 9:00 am – noon (Central)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Supreme Court Justice for 27 years, passed away this year. As a lawyer and a judge, she used her voice to fight for equal rights for all people – regardless of race, gender, or ability. In this class, you will learn about Ruth Bader Ginsburg (or RBG as many call her) and her work fighting for our rights. We will focus on the writing and speaking strategies that help others want to listen to us. From writing to speaking to history and even a little bit of art, this class will cover it all! You’ll also get to continue your expedition after class ends with the Ruth Bader Ginsberg issue of the beautiful Bravery magazine. Be ready to channel your inner RBG and speak up!

New Online Student Programs!

Experience the classes you have come to love from the Belin-Blank Center, from the comfort and safety of home.  

Enrichment Expeditions 
Grades 2-8 

Enrichment Expeditions are evening and weekend online classes that explore fun topics like aviation, female role models, problem-solving strategies, neuroscience, survival skills, and more! 

Coders’ Lab
Grades 4-6 

Our Coders’ Lab classes will teach you programming and help you discover how you can make a difference in the world through computer science. No prior computer science experience is necessary. 

Coding with Python 
Grades 7-9 

Learn the Python programming language at your own pace, wherever you want, without worrying about class times or the pressure of grades. No prior computer science experience is necessary. 

Enrichment Classes are Back – Online!

Are you looking for joyful and engaging online learning experiences? Do you know a bright elementary or middle school student who would like a chance to connect with other like-minded kids? Our Enrichment Expeditions program is a new way to experience the classes you have come to love from the Belin-Blank Center. Shake up your pandemic routine with bite-sized lessons that will cultivate interests, spark curiosity, and enhance learning!   

Enrichment Expeditions are 1-3 hour online experiences built around topics that kids don’t often have a chance to learn about in school. Each class includes:

  • Live instruction from vetted teachers who can work with bright students. 
  • Curriculum developed or approved by our gifted education experts.
  • A fun supplies kit with everything you’ll need to support the hands-on activities. No shopping, ordering, or hunting around your house! 

Each expedition introduces students in grades 2-8 to advanced level topics and other bright kids their age. Plus, these engaging online classes are limited to 10 students, giving children room to enjoy their instructor’s unique talents and hands-on experiences with their classmates. Our current classes explore aviation, female role models, problem-solving strategies, neuroscience, survival skills, and more! Students do not have to be in a gifted and talented program to participate.

We are creating a variety of evening and weekend Enrichment Expeditions to fit any schedule. With the addition of new classes throughout the academic year, we aim to have something for everyone! If you or a child in your life has an idea for an expedition, let us know, and we’ll do our best to create the experience. 

Start your expedition today at belinblank.org/enrichment!  

Message from the Director: Clarity During Confusing Times

The director’s message typically offers a brief reflection of the recent past and hints about the near future. However, as I write this October message, the observation that hindsight is 20/20 looms large. As is true for every one of us, the reality of 2020 contrasts sharply with the ambitious vision I suggested one year ago.  This observation led me to question whether clarity is possible when the times appear confusing.

Below is a snapshot of four goals I had anticipated the Belin-Blank Center would achieve by this time in 2020. 

  1. An abundance of opportunities for educators, students, and families.
  2. Expansion of commuter programming to 8th graders.
  3. Experience of a dynamic in-person summit on the neuroscience of twice-exceptionality.
  4. Extensive scholarship related to our comprehensive research agenda.

Did the confusion caused by the ongoing health, economic, social, and environmental crises obscure those goals?   

Not exactly. I discovered an essential filter through which I now view the future: the “optimism” filter. Through this filter, I can see the unwavering hopefulness and collective energy demonstrated by our very talented faculty and administrative, clerical, and graduate staff.  Our professional team never lost sight of the need to stay safe and healthy to continue focusing on our primary aim of nurturing potential and inspiring excellence.  

Did the confusion caused by the ongoing health, economic, social, and environmental crises enhance our focus?   

Yes, to some extent. These crises have been, and likely always will be, a part of our reality. The experiences of the past months have made clear that some issues must remain central to the Belin-Blank Center’s vision for our programming, services, and research.  We will stay dedicated to addressing them through all aspects of our work.

As a Belin-Blank Center staff member for three decades, I can draw upon experience to remain optimistic about the near future. In the coming weeks and months, we will: 

  1. Continue to offer meaningful opportunities for educators, students, and families, thanks to technology;  
  2. Utilize our decades of online learning experience to create new online elementary, middle, and high school programs; 
  3. Host a dynamic virtual summit on the neuroscience of twice-exceptionality; 
  4. Make our scholarship more relevant to the most significant crises facing us today and in the future.  

We already have many exciting developments on these fronts. This fall alone, we have created an unprecedented four brand-new student programs designed to accommodate learners both during the pandemic and afterward. (Check out the Writers’ Room, the Coders’ LabCoding with Python, and Enrichment Expeditions!) In the spring, we will add a host of online student competitions. Keep an eye out for news on Invent Iowa, the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium

We have an extensive catalog of online professional learning courses for educators and those seeking a TAG endorsement. Planning for our online Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality is well underway, and we are looking forward to lively discussions of research and networking opportunities in May.  

Though life remains unpredictable and often confusing, every crisis holds opportunity. We hope you will join us in the new opportunities we are creating for you. 

Coming Up at the Belin-Blank Center

Mark your calendars for the many exciting online opportunities for educators, students, families, and gifted education researchers that are happening at the Belin-Blank Center this year!

For Educators

  • Professional Learning Courses / TAG Endorsement:
    • Bibliotherapy: October 12, 2020
    • Academic Acceleration: October 12, 2020
    • Conceptions of Talent Development: October 19, 2020
    • Practicum section: October 26, 2020
    • Creativity 101: November 2, 2020
    • Practicum section: November 9, 2020
    • Leadership in Gifted Education: NAGC Conference: November 12, 2020
  • AP Summer Institute
    • June 28 – July 2, 2021

For Students & Families

For Researchers

Who is Ready for Early Entrance to Kindergarten?

How do we know which children might be ready to start kindergarten early? We hear lots of stories from parents about children who seemed to learn to read spontaneously – one parent said her 3-year-old started reading the back of the shampoo bottle in the bathtub. Other parents notice their child demonstrating an early interest in time (“Grandpa, only 17 minutes until we leave for the playground!”) or a facility with numbers and sophisticated vocabulary. These anecdotes might lead us to wonder if a child is indeed ready to enter formal schooling at an age younger than typical.

Before getting into this process, it’s really helpful to learn about the policies concerning early entrance to kindergarten in your state. Some states actually prohibit early entrance to kindergarten in public school. (Note: families might work around that by sending their child early to a non-public school for a year or two, then transferring to public school later.) Learn about your state’s early entrance to kindergarten policies here.

We’ve mentioned some of the characteristics of young, bright children: early reading, facility with numbers, and advanced vocabulary. Typically, researchers have found that the best candidates for early entrance are at least 4 ½ years old. Other characteristics include long attention span, extraordinary memory, and an ability to generalize and make connections between different areas of learning.

Won’t early entrants “burn out” on academics or become social outcasts? In a meta-analysis of  research studies focusing on acceleration, including early entrance to kindergarten, researchers found that students did very well academically and were better adjusted socially and emotionally compared to older students. In other words, as a group, students who entered kindergarten early did just fine socially, putting to rest our concern about accelerated students becoming social “misfits.”

When thinking about making this important decision, we might weigh the pros and cons. On the “pro” side, students entering school early won’t experience the social disruptions or concerns about gaps in their educational background that we would have for students skipping a grade at a later time.  The biggest negative is probably centered around the fact that 4-year-olds don’t have much of a track record in school; since we don’t have much school history to analyze, we tend to be cautious and recommend early entrance to kindergarten for only those students who are clearly ready. It seems prudent to wait and consider acceleration later for others.

The decision about early entrance to kindergarten can be made after collecting objective test data as well as measures of psychosocial functioning.  The Belin-Blank Center Assessment and Counseling Clinic uses a full intellectual battery (WPPSI-IV or Stanford Binet-5) and full achievement test (Woodcock Johnson-IV). Achievement test results should be calculated using grade level and above level (usually one to two years) norms. This information can then be added to the Iowa Acceleration Scale, 3rd edition, which is a tool designed to help educators and families make effective decisions regarding a grade skip. Families and educators need to work together to discuss the results of the assessment and collaboratively discuss appropriate strategies for meeting the child’s needs. The final decision must be made between the family and the school.

The Belin-Blank Center is currently developing a new online system to help schools and families make decisions about various forms of acceleration, including early entrance to kindergarten, subject accelerationearly entrance to college, grade-skipping, and acceleration with twice-exceptional students. This will all be done in an interactive online system designed to help educators and families gather the appropriate information and weigh the necessary factors in making these decisions. To sign up to receive more information about the new Integrated Acceleration System,  click here!

Resources

Join a National Research Study on Acceleration

The National Center for Research on Gifted Education (NCRGE) has several innovative research projects underway, and you are invited to learn more about participating in two studies: the National Study on Improving Acceleration Practices (https://ncrge.uconn.edu/acceleration/) and the National Study on Improving Identification (https://ncrge.uconn.edu/identification/).

Academic acceleration is the intervention for advanced learners that has shown the greatest effect on student achievement. Participants in the acceleration study will receive (a) free professional learning opportunities around what acceleration actually is and how it can be used, (b) a universal screening process to assist in determining which students should be considered for acceleration, and (c) resources and training that will help you implement grade acceleration decisions for those students who wish to accelerate. 

Consider joining the identification study if your school/district uses universal screening with a teacher rating scale as part of identifying students for gifted services. The team at NCRGE would love to talk with you about participating in one of our new studies. Participating schools and districts will have hands-on support to review and improve their district’s identification system for increased equity and efficiency.

Don’t Miss NAGC’s Convention Reimagined

by Dr. Laurie Croft

“I’ve been a big fan of attending conferences as a great way to learn, network, socialize and enjoy a new environment. It’s always refreshing to get out and see a whole new world.”  So said author Mark Skousen, and I completely agree!

The excitement is building for the 2020 NAGC convention!  NAGC20 has been Reimagined in a way that will re-ignite the passion that we all have for the future of gifted and talented education.  NAGC’s “67th Annual Convention Reimagined!” will be held November 12-17, 2020, bringing together thousands of professionals from around the world who are dedicated to supporting the needs of high-ability children.  I hope you’ll join us at NAGC’s first virtual national convention.

The NAGC20 convention experience will be like no other…. it’s accessible anytime and anywhere you are in the world. “Reimagined!” offers attendees access to 200+ live and on-demand sessions, table talks, Q&A sessions, and opportunities for networking.  Participants can attend sessions live or at their own pace throughout the convention.  And if you can’t participate in a session during the convention time, not to worry.  Attendees have a 6-month all-access pass to all 200+ sessions.

Also new in 2020, schools/districts may purchase a site license for $5,995 so that an unlimited number of professionals can attend. This can be your chance to show your colleagues the meaningful presentations for the ages they teach or the content they share.  NAGC20 offers hundreds of hours of professional learning at your fingertips. These can be used for faculty retreats, all-staff professional learning days, group and/or division training, and weekly staff meetings. You can build an ongoing professional learning curriculum for the entire team and the entire school year using the school site license option.  Contact Adriane Wiles (awiles@nagc.org) to register.

The Belin-Blank Center is pleased to offer either one or two semester hours of credit for those who participate in the NAGC convention.  “Continuing Education Individual Study: Leadership in Gifted Education” (PSQF:5194:0WKA) can apply to the “Administrative Strand,” and because you are having to pay to register for the convention itself, we provide an automatic 50% tuition scholarship for those enrolled at the graduate level (a smaller scholarship for those enrolled at the undergraduate level).  Although teachers earning the State of Iowa Talented and Gifted Endorsement need semester hours from an accredited university, some of you might benefit from the CEU’s that NAGC has arranged (see bit.ly/NAGC20ceu).

Those working on the endorsement through the Belin-Blank Center should contact educators@belinblank.org for information about student registration costs (50% of the above), student membership costs (only $59 for the upcoming year), and for information about getting registered for the academic credit!

To register, go to http://bit.ly/Reimagined20CM (or contact awiles@nagc.org).  Registration fees are $345 for members or $495 for non-members. Membership includes 1-year access to bonus content, including free issues of Gifted Child Quarterly, Teaching for High Potential, and Parenting for High Potential

AP Summer Institute: Online!

Belin-Blank Center staff members are making plans to host a summer program to prepare teachers to teach Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Those of you who have been following the Belin-Blank Center for some time will remember the professional development program was known as the AP Teacher Training Institute (APTTI). This year, we have a new name! The program is now called the University of Iowa AP Summer Institute, or APSI for short.

The Belin-Blank Center will host our APSI from June 28– July 2, 2021 (Monday through Friday). Classes will meet during the day. All courses will be taught online. Courses will include:

  • Calculus AB
  • Computer Science Principles
  • English Language and Composition
  • English Literature and Composition
  • Human Geography
  • Physics 1
  • Psychology
  • Spanish Language
  • Statistics
  • US Government & Politics
  • US History
  • World History

We are excited to offer APSI online for summer 2021. We look forward to including people from all over the nation in our courses, which will be taught by content experts endorsed by the College Board.

More information can be found here. The new information for 2021 will be updated on the website in the coming weeks.

A 21st-Century Superpower You May Not Be Learning in School

Do you like logic, puzzles, or putting things in order? Are you creative? Do you want to make a difference in the world? Are you interested in learning how to code? If any of these describe you, check out the Belin-Blank Center’s new online coding courses!

We need more of our children to learn computer programming skills, regardless of their future profession. Along with reading and writing, the ability to program is going to define what an educated person is.” 

– Salman Khan

Our Coders’ Lab program currently offers a class called Explorations in Coding I for talented students in grades 4-6. (More are on the way!) This class will teach you how to code using the Python programming language. It will also help you discover how YOU can make a difference in the world through computer science! Sometimes, you will meet with the instructor and other curious, smart kids about your age. Other times, you will have independent time to work through problems and develop projects on your own. Class starts on November 2nd. 

Coding with Python is a self-directed online learning experience for bright and motivated students in grades 7-9. Through a series of interactive online modules, you will learn computer science using the Python programming language. This isn’t just any online course, though. You will have access to an exclusive student forum where expert coders are standing by to answer your questions or help you debug your code. (Don’t worry, parents, it’s moderated!) You will learn how to think computationally, solve complex problems, and be prepared for advanced computer science courses. Start anytime, and enjoy access to the content through June 30th, 2021. 

Learning to write programs stretches your mind, and helps you think better, creates a way of thinking about things that I think is helpful in all domains.” 

Bill Gates

No matter what your future goals are, coding will be an essential skill for your career. At the Belin-Blank Center, we know that you’re not too young to start learning. And the best part? There are no grades to worry about, and no prior computer science experience is necessary! Join us to unlock your superpowers and build your future your way.

Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Launch Today!

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards are the nation’s longest-running and most prestigious recognition program for creative teens in grades 7–12. The Belin-Blank Center serves at the affiliate for art and writing for both the state of Iowa and the Midwest Region-at-Large.

Get started early!
Submissions are only open from September 1 through December 1, but it’s never too early to get started! Students, save the work you’re creating over the spring and summer…even if you’re creating it from home.

Sign up!
Submissions open for the 2021 Scholastic Awards on September 1, 2020 on our website at belinblank.org/scholastic. On this date, students can create an account to upload their work. If you are an educator, create your account on September 1, 2020, to register your students.

We can’t wait to see what you create!

Message from the Director: When the School Bell Rings

A ringing school bell has special meaning this year. I realized this during an early morning walk a few weeks back when I passed our neighborhood elementary school just as the bells were ringing, preparing for the opening of the school year. Immediately, I felt joy at hearing these bells, abruptly silenced for so many months. It felt like the school was exercising its vocal cords for the first time after a long and troubled sleep. Joy quickly succumbed to the complex feeling of uncertainty at the realization that the buildings and playgrounds had been silent and empty for an important reason, to ensure the students’ and staff’s safety. Finally, uncertainty yielded to optimism, thanks to the knowledge that educators and administrators at all levels, pre-K through graduate school, worked assiduously during the summer months to prepare for a variety of fall opening day scenarios, and a variety of possibilities throughout the 2020-2021 academic year. These preparations aimed to simultaneously respect schools’ and universities’ educational mission while upholding the primary value of safety for all.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

My colleagues and I realize that the most crucial aspect of the Belin-Blank Center’s preparation is to uphold our primary value of our students’ and staff’s safety. We will do this while striving to maintain – to the extent possible – programming and services for students and teachers and pursuing our active research agenda. For safety, during the fall semester, the majority of the Belin-Blank Center staff and faculty will continue to work off-campus. Others have shifted to a hybrid approach to doing their work. No matter what the arrangement, we are all fully present to serve you.

Each area of the Belin-Blank Center is adapting to the many changes that this school year brings. Our programming and services for students and teachers have shifted online. We replaced the cancelled Summer Writing Residency with the Summer Writing Online Experience for high school students. Program evaluations indicated that this was a wonderful experience for all involved. We also introduced a new online summer writing class for junior high students, the Workshop for Young Writers, which started at the same time as a derecho approached our location in eastern Iowa. Despite the physical and humanitarian devastation from this natural disaster, including extreme technology challenges due to electricity loss, the Workshop for Young Writers was a success. We are now developing comprehensive online writing opportunities through a new program, the Writers’ Room.

The ever-changing nature of this time calls for many pivots and timely updates to keep you informed. Therefore, last month, we published the first special issue of the Belin-Blank Center newsletter to distribute information about new opportunities for students and teachers. We will continue to offer special editions as needed to announce new pandemic-safe initiatives as they arise.

The Assessment and Counseling Clinic rose to the challenges of working off-site by offering their services online during the pandemic’s early months. When the campus commenced a phased re-opening in early July, the Clinic resumed in-person services with COVID-19 precautions in place. So, too, the professional development program for teachers seemed not to skip a beat during the summer. Check out the many opportunities that await teachers during this coming year.

COVID-19 restrictions somewhat altered the timeline for activities related to our grant-based research agenda. Nevertheless, we have published the research we conducted over the two years before the pandemic in four recent peer-reviewed articles:

This month, we welcome our students, including the Bucksbaum Academy first-and second-year students, and our graduate assistants to a new and unprecedented year. It is energizing to see students back on the University of Iowa campus and meet virtually with Belin-Blank Center students. It has re-ignited the spark of optimism that comes with the ringing bells ushering in every new school year.

On behalf of the Belin-Blank Center team, we extend each of you our wishes for a safe and energizing start to the new school year. This fall, we may not hear the school bell in person; yet, I hope you feel optimistic with the knowledge that the bell and the schools are still there. Whether virtual, in-person, or hybrid, the school bell represents new beginnings and opportunities to thrive in an educational environment and within various learning and teaching formats. Have a safe and wonderful year!

Your Writing Community is Waiting

Here in Iowa, we know a thing or two about writing.

Let us bring our UNESCO City of Literature and the Writing University to your home with the Writers’ Room

The Writers’ Room is a collection of online creative writing classes for students in grades 6-12. Challenge yourself by exploring form, discussing creative writing fundamentals, and completing stimulating assignments. Receive individual feedback on your work from world-class faculty and graduates of the University of Iowa’s famed writing programs. Learn how to give and receive artist-centered feedback with your peers and enjoy the benefits of building a community with other inspired young writers. 

Join the community

Our community of student writers is impressive and welcoming. Check out this digital anthology of past students’ work. You could be next!

“I really enjoyed the fact that the teachers seemed to be so engaged, and that I was able to make friends, even online. My confidence as a writer has been so strengthened by this experience.” 

– Summer 2020 student writer

Get your seat at the table

Submit your application to the Writers’ Room today to make your writing stand out from the crowd. Don’t wait – time and space are limited! Class starts September 14th (grades 6-9) and 15th (grades 9-12). 

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Stay Tuned for New Online Opportunities for Kids!

Staff members of the Belin-Blank Center are busily preparing several new online opportunities for students. At the time this newsletter was published, we weren’t quite ready to launch the registration process, but we wanted to give you a heads up! Do you have a student in elementary, middle or high school? Make sure you are on our newsletter list by signing up here, and indicate your student’s grade level. We will be sure to send you the latest news about our new online programs as soon as possible!

Acceleration During a Pandemic?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Since many students were working remotely from home this spring, parents had the unique opportunity for an up-close view of what happens in school on a regular basis. Perhaps you are one of those parents who was surprised by how quickly your child grasped new material being taught, and now you have a nagging question in the back of your mind:  “Will my child be adequately challenged by his or her school placement in the upcoming school year?”

If you suspect the answer may be “No,” the next question is what would challenge your child appropriately?  Does he or she need to skip a grade?  Move ahead in math?  One of the best tools for gathering evidence for acceleration decisions like these is above-level testing.  We’ve shared the secret of above-level testing here before; briefly, it involves administering a test designed for older students to bright young students in an effort to discover exceptional academic talent. This information helps us to understand what a student is ready to learn and if he or she is ready for the academic challenges presented by a grade skip or subject acceleration.

How do we get started? The Belin-Blank Center and many other university-based talent searches provide above-level testing. Students in 4th-6th grade take I-Excel. Even if your school isn’t currently offering group testing, your child could participate in individual testing using I-Excel. Details about this option are found here. Parents first identify a teacher who is willing to proctor the test, and begins the registration process using this form.  The Belin-Blank Center also provides ACT testing for 7th-9th graders in a group setting. Once the above-level testing is completed, families receive a detailed eight-page report from the Belin-Blank Center explaining the test results and providing additional resources useful in making acceleration decisions.

We understand that these are challenging times, so we want to add that we aren’t trying to put additional stress on families or educators. Instead, we wanted to make sure that those of you who are ready to think about these issues have the tools you need to help inform your decisions. Our goal is to support you.  

You will find much more information and links to decision-making tools and research about acceleration on the Acceleration Institute website, which is provided by the Belin-Blank Center.  The Belin-Blank Center has been a catalyst for research and programming on academic acceleration for the past 30 years. We’re currently working on a new product, the Integrated Acceleration System, which will assist educators and families in working through the process of making decisions about grade-skipping, subject acceleration, early entrance to kindergarten, and early entrance to college. Sign up here if you would like more information about the Integrated Acceleration System as it becomes available.

Professional Learning in Fall 2020

Born in the late 12th Century, Francis of Assisi lived in very different times from ours, but doesn’t this still capture what we want for our advanced learners?  “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” 

Teachers—and parents—may feel that much of life, and certainly learning, is well described by Francis’ words (translated by someone unknown over the millennia).

Fall 2020 offers three-semester hour courses that both non-degree-seeking students (such as those earning their endorsements in gifted education or interested parents) and degree-seeking students, include as part of their fall learning.  Teachers earning their endorsements in gifted education have registered as distance learners and enrolled for credits this fall (courses with no instructor listed are facilitated by Dr. Laurie Croft):

  • Psychology of Giftedness (PSQF:4120:0EXW), offered over Fall semester. (Dr. Toni Szymanski)
  • The Introduction to Educating Gifted Students (RCE/EDTL:4137:0EXW and 0EXV) has two sections for the first time.  Offered in an accelerated format over the first eight weeks of the semester, the class has enough students for two sections. (Drs. Laurie Croft and Kim Chandler)
  • Academic Acceleration (PSQF:4123:0EXW), offered in the second half of the semester, from October 12 – December 11. (Dr. Ann Shoplik)
  • Conceptions of Talent Development (EDTL:4067:0EXW), offered in the second eight weeks of the semester, from October 19 – December 18.

We also have one-semester-hour classes, offered in the workshop format, available this fall.  These classes have no additional technology fees and focus over three weeks on one topic.  The credit correlated with the NAGC convention can be taken for either one or two semester hours—your choice—and will be based on participation in the fully online convention (the 67th annual convention is completely “re-imagined”!).

  • EDTL:4024:0WKA Differentiating with Technology will feature Dr. Jenelle Miller facilitating an exploration of the best online resources for gifted learners—as well as ways to engage learners without them plugging in for everything.  Dr. Miller’s class will begin on September 21 (through October 29) and will follow a webinar co-sponsored by the Belin-Blank Center and the Iowa Talented and Gifted Association, launching the topic of resources appropriate for gifted learners. (Look for that on our website at belinblank.org/webinar next week!)
  • EDTL:4096:0WKA Bibliotherapy for Gifted Learners is back by demand in October, featuring Dr. Kristine Milburn; Dr. Milburn has the expertise to facilitate your understanding of how bibliotherapy can engage gifted students with the right book at just the right time, and help our gifted/talented learners engage with a protagonist who successfully handles life’s challenges.
  • EDTL:4096:0WKB Creativity 101 Is a book study offered by Anna Payne in November/December providing an exploration of creativity and how we can inspire our students to embrace and develop the creativity we need them to bring to the world today.
  • One or two semester hours are also available for those who take the opportunity to attend the virtual NAGC convention in November.  (PSQF:5194:0WKA Continuing Education Individual Study: Leadership in Gifted Education NAGC 2020).  The convention costs less than ever, provides HUNDREDS of on-demand sessions, and those enrolling for credit get an automatic 50% tuition scholarship from the Belin-Blank Center.

The practicum experience required for the Talented and Gifted Endorsement is available every semester.

Let’s do the impossible together this fall.  Develop your understanding of the nature and needs of high-ability learners, and feel more confident about ways you can meet our students’ needs, whether they are learning in person, online only, or in a hybrid format.  These classes are designed to help you with any setting!

Learn more about the professional learning opportunities available through the Belin-Blank Center, in partnership with the University of Iowa College of Education, by visiting belinblank.org/educators/courses.  Questions?  Email educators@belinblank.org.

Invent Iowa…Online!

Welcome back to another year of inventing, Iowa! We are excited to announce that we will be hosting the Invent Iowa State Convention on April 19, 2021. Due to the ongoing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, students will participate virtually.

Invent Iowa state finalists have a strong track record of going on to win big at the National Invention Convention! For the past four consecutive years, Iowa students have brought home national prizes. Your future inventor could be next!

Our website has been updated to reflect dates and deadlines for the 2020-2021 academic year. If you plan to participate, be sure to mark your calendars for these important dates.

The free National Invention Convention curriculum can be accessed here.

Please feel free to pass along the information below to other educators or parents who may be interested in learning more about invention education.

Questions? We’re here to help at inventiowa@belinblank.org!

Save the Date for the Iowa Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS)

Mark your calendars for March 1st and 2nd, 2021! The JSHS online symposium promises new ways for Iowa students to connect, learn, and share their research.   

If you are looking for research projects that do not require a lab setting, consider using publicly available data sets or working on a citizen science project. And if you’re still unsure where to begin this year, be sure to check out this guide to getting started on a research project. 

We hope you’re inspired to get out there and start researching. For more details, be sure to keep an eye on our website. See you in March!

IOAPA Classes 2020-2021

Welcome to the fall semester for IOAPA courses! During this busy time of year, we don’t want you to forget about some important information related to your IOAPA courses. Here are a few upcoming items for IOAPA.

  • If your students decide the class is not for them, not a problem! Just make sure to drop the course before September 14th to prevent the $350 drop fee. For more information about our drop policies, check out the IOAPA handbook on our website.
  • Check your email for messages from ioapa@belinblank.org. These emails contain important information and deadlines about the upcoming year. If you did not receive these emails, make sure to check your spam / junk folder.
  • Don’t forget: AP Coordinators need to order AP Exams by November 15, 2020! (Click here for instructions and check here for additional deadlines).
  • November 1, 2020: IOAPA spring registration opens. Keep this date in mind, we expect spring enrollment to fill quickly!
  • December 11, 2020: IOAPA fall classes end.

Helpful Tips to Start the Semester

Textbooks: Recommended textbooks for courses on APEX can be found by clicking “Learn more” on the relevant course(s) from the IOAPA course catalog. Edhesive courses do not require textbooks.

Online Support: APEX and Edhesive offer support guides and videos on their websites! Reach out to their customer service with technical questions.

Let’s Talk 2e! Virtual Conference for Parents

Have you heard about Let’s Talk 2e! virtual conference? Launching for FREE on August 19-21, this conference (formerly known as “2 Days of 2e”) is for parents of twice exceptional children to learn about:

  • Managing Transitions
  • Spiritual giftedness
  • Strategies to address and relieve stress
  • Homeschooling
  • Alternative educational placements
  • Education Strategies
  • Identifying learning styles
  • Emotional Regulation
  • Communication
  • Culturally diverse learners
  • Strategies to address trauma
  • Bullying
  • Neurodiversity
  • Giftedness and Autism
  • Connecting personality and learning styles
  • Technology tips for your 2e learner
  • Launching your 2e child

Gain free access for 24 hours and then the option to purchase an ALL ACCESS PASS, which includes speaker gifts for you, audio files, and a live Q/A session with speakers!

Don’t miss our own Drs. Alissa Doobay, Megan Foley-Nipon, and Katie Schabilion’s session, “Twice Exceptionality: The Intersection of Giftedness and Autism” on August 20. And check out the rest of the incredible line-up below.

We hope you’ll join us! Register here.

Message from the Director: The Mission Continues

In April, I acknowledged the Belin-Blank Center’s “Big Pause,” aimed at doing our part to flatten the pandemic curve. We shared that summer coursework for educators and programs for students would not be as we had hoped.  Although programming was paused, the Belin-Blank Center’s mission to serve and empower the worldwide gifted education community was never on hiatus.

This mission requires us to examine our actions related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.  We consistently strive to address gaps in these areas; however, my colleagues and I know that we can do better.  We are stepping up our efforts to educate ourselves about the history and impact of racism, particularly as it relates to education.  We started with introspection, which will continue indefinitely as we also work to increase our awareness through dialogue and new learning.  We remain dedicated to diverse, equitable and inclusive programming that increases access to gifted education opportunities in underserved populations.  Based on our own enhanced awareness of the issues, we will be able to take informed actions to improve our programs and services.  

An important aspect of our approach will be to maintain a local focus while also addressing nationwide issues, including educational disparities that have been made salient through COVID-19.  Educators involved in gifted and talented education are aware of disparities in access to gifted programs, and the only federal legislation concerning gifted education, the Jacob Javits Gifted & Talented Students Education Act, has a singular focus on increasing access to underrepresented populations through funding research-based programming. There are two components to this funding.  First, the Javits Act provides grants to state education agencies.  Our TICE (Talent Identification-Career Exploration) project, which works with rural Iowa schools, was funded by one of these grants. 

The second part of the Javits Act establishes a national research center through a highly competitive proposal process approximately every five years.  Since 1988, the University of Connecticut has been awarded this funding.  We congratulate them on their extraordinary work, which was recently renewed.   We are honored that as part of that renewal, the Belin-Blank Center will be one of their partners. The research will focus on the following important questions:

  • How can we simplify identification systems while expanding participation opportunities for underserved students?
  • What impact do teachers have on gifted students’ academic success?
  • What are the benefits of gifted programs? How do they extend beyond academic achievement?
  • Can universal screening be effectively implemented for acceleration?

In the April newsletter, I shared my perspective that these past few months have created some challenges as we adapted to the changes made necessary by COVID-19.   However, we also recognized exciting new opportunities to grow and advance into the future.  My colleagues are hard at work developing new online programs for pre-college students.   We have long dreamt of increasing access to our programming through online options, and now we are poised to make this possible.  We will have more details on these programs, some of which you inspired with your suggestions, over the coming weeks. 

I hope that you are enjoying the sunshine while staying well and safe.  We will see you soon, online, with new, innovative programming that nurtures potential and inspires excellence.

Online Courses for Teachers

True teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create their own.

Nikos Kazantzakis, Greek writer, early 20th century

The Belin-Blank Center, in partnership with the academic departments in the University of Iowa College of Education, collaborates with educators who work with gifted learners, so that as teachers, counselors, and administrators, they feel confident about being bridges to their students’ futures! 

Teachers who work with gifted/talented learners in Iowa, and in several other states, must earn an endorsement in gifted education.  The State of Iowa Talented and Gifted Endorsement mandates a total of 12 hours in different “strands” that ensure teachers better understand the unique nature of gifted learners (the Psychology strand), how to better meet special needs that arise from being a gifted learner (the Programming strand), administrative kinds of issues that impact gifted education (the Administrative strand), and envision working with the K-12 gifted population (the Practicum experience).  The Center provides choices across the required strands so that earning the endorsement in one summer is possible (belinblank.org/courses).  For those who already have the endorsement, the focused one-semester-hour workshop-style classes are ideal for updating skills. 

Summer classes are fully online (classes are one-semester-hour unless otherwise noted):

  • Cognitive and Affective Needs of the Gifted (PSQF:4126:0WKA), June 29 – July 17 (Dr. Megan Foley Nicpon).
  • Practicum (EDTL:4188:0EXW), June 29 – August 6 (Dr. Laurie Croft, permission required; this section is typically for full-time students and/or those seeking more than one hour of practicum.  For the one required hour for endorsement, see EDTL:4189:0WKA, below)

Online classes continue in July and August:

  • Differentiation at the Secondary Level (EDTL:4074:0WKA), July 8 – 28 (Dr. Kristine Milburn)
  • Practicum (EDTL:4189:0WKA), July 13 – 31 (Dr. Laurie Croft, permission required; this section is typically for those earning their endorsement in gifted education seeking the one required practicum hour. For those wanting more than one-hour of credit, or for those who are full-time university students, see EDTL:4188:0EXW).
  • Special Topics: Giftedness 101 (EDTL:4096:0WKC), July 15 – August 4 (Anna Payne)
  • Special Topics:  The Gifted Brain: Neurodiversity and Gifted/Talented Learners (EDTL:4096:0WKE), July 22 – August 11 (Dr. Antonia [Toni] Szymanski & Dr. Laurie Croft, team teacher)
  • Special Topics:  Personal Learning Plans (EDTL:4096:0WKB), August 3 – 21 (Lora Danker)

The Belin-Blank Chautauqua, named for the popular adult education movement in the early 20th century, is back in July.  This summer, Chautauqua classes will also be online; each will include virtual class times via Zoom on the dates the class would have met at Blank Honors Center, that is, the first two days of each class.  Scholarships for Chautauqua participants will remain the same.  We wrote more about this year’s changes to accommodate an online-only Chautauqua in A 19th-Century Idea Meets 21st-Century Technology.

IOAPA Students Rise to the Challenge

The 2020 spring semester was filled with uncertainty for many students. In response to COVID-19, all Iowa schools closed in mid-March, and all requirements for instructional hours were waived. Public districts could provide online learning options but could not require student participation. In spite of the impact of COVID-19, students who had already been participating in the Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) kept working. Many IOAPA mentors expressed gratitude for IOAPA courses, as their students appreciated the consistency of already-established online courses with specific guidelines, objectives, and goals during a time of uncertainty. We were touched by their statements and wanted to share one with the Belin-Blank Center community. 

One mentor set up a system to allow both the mentor and student to check in, and the mentor also scheduled virtual meetings to stay in contact and proctor exams. This mentor shared, “[The students] are very thankful for something structured and challenging to work on…it is helping them create some structure in their days.”

IOAPA provides free online advanced courses for Iowa students who otherwise do not have access to these courses at their schools. Although continued coursework was not required for Iowa schools, a majority of IOAPA students continued with their online courses, and many continued on to take an AP exam in May. A unique aspect of IOAPA and one of its greatest strengths is the personnel (i.e., the teacher-mentor) in the student’s home school district. Our IOAPA mentors have gone above and beyond to support students and continued to do so virtually during the pandemic. We are proud of our IOAPA students and grateful for our IOAPA mentors, site coordinators, and administrators for their continued dedication to serving students.

Want to Support a Student?

We know that times are hard for many students and their families right now. On this #GivingTuesdayNow, we are grateful that the Iowa way is to support each other.

If you are able and would like to help gifted and twice-exceptional students have their unique needs met, please consider donating at belinblank.org/donate. Your support creates life-changing experiences for the next generation of our most promising minds.