Belin-Blank Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality

Thank you to Bethany Erickson for this guest post about her experience at last month’s Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice Exceptionality. If you would like access to the recorded event, register by July 1 at belinblank.org/summit.


After attending the Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality, I am in awe and inspired.

I am in awe of the professionals who spoke: their expertise, experience, research and heart that came through their presentations. As a classroom teacher, I didn’t really know anything about neuroscience before this summit. Now, I wonder how can teachers be teachers without knowing more about how the brain works and learns.

The adage that ‘you don’t know how much you don’t know’ comes to mind. While learning from the presenters, three themes stood out to me over the course of the two days of lectures: the need for more collaboration, more research and more awareness to benefit twice-exceptional learners at all ages.  

Collaboration came up in almost every session.

So many of the presenters graciously gave credit to their teams and showed gratitude for the work they are able to do together. Parents talked about collaborating with educators. Students talked about the help they needed and received from their parents, medical professionals, and educators. Educators that work at the Belin-Blank Center, spoke to the importance of effectively communicating with each other as colleagues but also with parents and patients.

I was struck by several things during the student panel.

One student seemed to have had appropriate supports and interventions early on to help him cope with and understand his diagnosis. Another student didn’t find out about Autism Spectrum Disorder until later and had a harder path with fewer and later support services. Even so, both have found success and a way to overcome their difficulties by using their strengths and talents, which was another clear message from many sessions.  

I was impressed with how much these students could bravely tell us and it reminded me of the importance of knowing each individual.

I will be working with high school students for the first time next school year, and hearing the student panel reminds me that they are just looking for someone to listen and see them as a person, not just their diagnosis.

Another lesson on the importance of collaboration came from the parent panel.

The three moms on the panel gave such heartfelt and honest advice that I, as a teacher, will not forget. I wish more teachers could hear their stories. It stuck with me when they agreed that some of their most helpful teachers were the ones who admitted to not knowing about twice-exceptionality (2e), but being willing to learn along side them and see their child for more than just their behaviors or diagnosis.

I was so moved by the mom who explained what it felt like to drop off her son at a Belin-Blank Center summer program, and how it felt for her to know, for the first time, that he would be okay there without her because of the supports in place.

It made me think how much more school systems need to do for 2e students and parents to make school a safe place for them as well. A safe place where they can trust educators to be accepting of their talents and their challenges.

For students and parents to find schools as a welcoming and supportive environment for twice-exceptional students, teachers need to be made aware of 2e characteristics, talents, needs and challenges. It came up in the parent and student panel that they wished more people knew 2e students existed. As a teacher looking back, I can now think of several former students that were likely twice-exceptional, but I didn’t have the knowledge or resources at the time to help them.

This summit has given me an awareness that I am so grateful for.

The need to bring awareness to educators was mentioned in the student and parent panels. It was interesting to hear from the two teachers who were on the parent panel, as they shared how much they didn’t know as teachers until experiencing 2e as a parent. I wonder how many behavior issues could be prevented or diminished by addressing the needs of the students that are not being met due to undiagnosed neurodevelopmental disorders.

Before the summit, I was aware that students could have multiple diagnosed disabilities, but I didn’t know the symptoms, characteristics, talents and challenges. 

The research shared during the summit was so above and beyond what I expected.

An abundance of statistics, charts, graphs, and studies that all represent individual people and families, as one presenter pointed out.  Even in the midst of so much research, the case was continually made for how much more research is needed, all the things scientists still don’t know and want to know in order to better serve and accommodate for neurodiverse learners.

I was moved by how many presenters shared stories of their own children who have been diagnosed as twice-exceptional, and how that personal connection motivates their work.  

As I evaluate how this summit will affect my role as an educator, I hope it is by improving my collaboration with others – parents, students, colleagues, medical professionals, etc. I also hope it will affect my role as a talented and gifted teacher by granting me an awareness to help me see students that may need special education and gifted education services. Or notice characteristics of students that may come from having an indivisible disability and helping them to feel seen.

Experiencing this summit will help me bring an awareness back to my coworkers of what twice exceptionality is and how we can work together to find ways to support those learners and their families.

Research Study for Academically Talented Students

We understand that COVID-19 has affected everyone in many ways, and that, particularly as a family with a gifted and talented child, things may have changed dramatically for you over recent months. The Belin-Blank Center is conducting a research study to assess how COVID-19 is affecting families. We would like you and your child to participate in the study by completing this electronic survey. If you have more than one child, please make sure to select a child who is at least in 6th grade and if you still have more than one, please take the survey once for each child. 

Sharing your experiences, both negative and positive, will equip us with information that can help us be more efficient and effective in preparing and allocating future resources that can help families like yours. The survey will take about 5 to 10 minutes for you and about 15 minutes for your child to complete. It is completely voluntary. Your identity or any other identifying information will not be linked to the survey. Whether or not you participate in this survey will have no bearing on your standing with any of our programs.

SURVEY LINK: https://uiowa.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_3qNkTWbi8XPmA5f

We encourage you to consider sharing your experiences through this survey. We are so proud of all the ways that we have seen families respond with resilience and adaptiveness to the challenges of this pandemic. And, as always, if there are ways that we can help support you during this time, please let us know by reaching out to us.

Thank you, and stay well.

Brandon LeBeau

Belin-Blank Center

Social Skills Group for Adolescents

Our colleagues at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital Center for Disabilities and Development are starting a social skills program for adolescents with high functioning autism.

This 14-week intervention aims to assist teens (and their parents) who are interested in learning new ways of making and keeping friends.

If you are interested in participating, check out the information below and contact Matt Kressin at 319-353-6140 or matthew-kressin@uiowa.edu.

Message from the Director: Blue Sky Beyond

Susan Assouline

by Dr. Susan Assouline, Belin-Blank Center Director

“Even when the sky is filled with clouds, the sun still shines above.”

Janet Donaghy

This sentiment strikes me as an apt description of our personal and professional lives during the past year.

We experienced literal clouds with the August 2020 derecho. We saw the figurative dark clouds of social injustice through systemic racism and health and economic disparities.  Yet, our university’s campus leadership steered our students, faculty, and staff through the clouds of the past year.

Through it all, they never lost sight of the notion that the sun still shone above.

We discovered not only blue sky beyond the clouds of lockdown but many silver linings.

We stayed connected through Zoom meetings. We stepped up with creativity and resiliency to convert our on-site services and programming to online opportunities. We collaborated to create new, innovative programs and services.

Last April, it seemed daunting to sustain our mission without one of our most visible services: summer student programs.  Yet, our team of creative and dedicated professionals committed to providing students the specialized programming for which the Belin-Blank Center is known.

The student programming team re-imagined opportunities for K-12 students, which have been available throughout this past year. To do our part to help end the COVID-19 pandemic, we have moved our signature high-school residential programs online this summer. While a bit different from our traditional on-campus experiences, our team has worked hard to create impactful programming that students will remember for a lifetime.

Our excellent Assessment and Counseling Clinic professionals continued to see clients through telehealth technology.

As soon as they were able, with appropriate safety protocols in place, they resumed in-person assessments and have been conducting these for nearly a year.  We have even added new services and hired two new licensed psychologists, Dr. Amanda Berns and Dr. Katie Schabilion.

Professional learning opportunities had already transitioned to online learning over the past several years and were well-positioned to continue. In addition to the many courses and workshops planned, we will host an online Advanced Placement Summer Institute. Additionally, individuals attending the upcoming Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality can earn a semester hour of credit for the course associated with it.

By being online, the Summit will share crucial research with many more people throughout the world. Because we will record each presentation, a broader group of people will have access to the knowledge for a longer time.

Photo by Sunsetoned on Pexels.com

During this year of unprecedented challenges, UI President Bruce Harreld and his leadership team demonstrated excellent governance. The College of Education (our academic home) also offered significant leadership during the pandemic.

President Harreld’s service to the campus and the state gained admiration because he fostered transparency and shared governance. People appreciated his service as a staunch supporter of public universities, recognizing their importance at both a state and national level. President Harreld has served our campus for five years. When he announced last fall that he planned to retire, new clouds of uncertainty about the future appeared on the horizon.

Now those clouds have dissipated.

The University of Iowa expects to announce its 22nd President later today (update). We are looking forward to working with new leadership to move into the future. We also wish President Harreld and his wife, Mary, the best as they embark on this next phase of their lives.

Today, the sky is blue.

Opportunities for students, educators, and families seem unlimited.  We know there will be clouds again, but we will find new opportunities to be supportive and collaborative when they appear.

We will remember that there are silver linings and blue sky beyond.

Mark Your Calendars for Summer!

Summer means sun, fun, and summer programs at the Belin-Blank Center! Check out our many classes and events for educators, students, families, and gifted education researchers.

FOR EDUCATORS

Professional Learning Courses / TAG Endorsement:

  • Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality
    • May 17 – 18, 2021
  • Neuroscientific Implications for Gifted: Neuroscience of Twice Exceptionality
    • May 20 – June 10, 2021
  • Math Programming for High Ability Students
    • May 25 – June 14, 2021
  • Counseling and Psychological Needs of the Gifted
    • June 7 – 25, 2021
  • Reading for High Ability Students
    • June 14 – July 2, 2021
  • Academic Acceleration
    • June 14 – August 6, 2021
  • Belin Fellowship
    • June 21 – 25, 2021
  • AP Summer Institute (online); credit option will be available
    • June 28 – July 2, 2021
  • Teacher Training for Advanced Placement Courses
    • July 1 – 22, 2021
  • Family Issues in Giftedness (Chautauqua)
    • July 5 – 23, 2021
  • Differentiation at the Secondary Level
    • July 6 – 26, 2021
  • Topics in Teaching and Learning: “Talent Development: Arts, Academics, Athletics”
    • July 7 – 27, 2021
  • Topics in Teaching and Learning: “Serving Visual/Spatial Learners in Gifted Ed”
    • July 9 – 29, 2021
  • Creativity: Issues and Applications in Gifted Education (Chautauqua)
    • July 12 – 30, 2021
  • Chautauqua: Week I
    • July 12 – 16, 2021
  • Programming/Curriculum for High Ability Students: Real World Problem Solving
    • July 14 – August 3, 2021
  • Chautauqua: Week II
    • July 19 – 23, 2021

FOR RESEARCHERS

FOR STUDENTS & FAMILIES

Professional Learning in Summer 2021

Author Jenny Han said, “Everything good, everything magical, happens between the months of June and August.”

Photo by Simon Berger on Pexels.com

We have plenty of courses available for anyone working toward the 12 required hours for the State of Iowa Talented and Gifted Endorsement.

We do begin in May, with two wonderful workshops. Teachers can earn academic credit with a 50% tuition scholarship* at our Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality (PSQF:4128). We are also offering Math for High Ability Learners (EDTL:4022). After that, we packed the summer months with classes that will increase your understanding of giftedness.

Join us for the magical professional learning opportunities this summer!

Serving Underrepresented Students

Gifted education programs focus on ways to identify and serve underrepresented gifted learners.

In June, we offer a book study about Excellence Gaps in Education (Plucker & Peters, 2016). This class focuses on strategies we can use to eliminate achievement gaps among the highest-performing students (EDTL:4096:0WKD).

The Belin-Blank Chautauqua, taking place online this summer, will also address the needs of these students. We are offering two new classes about meeting the needs of a broader range of gifted learners. Talent Development: Arts, Academics, and Athletics (EDTL:4096:0WKB) focuses on preparation for gifted performers. Serving Visual/Spatial Learners discusses ways to identify talent beyond mathematical and English/Language Arts abilities.

Belin-Blank Chautauqua

The Belin-Blank Chautauqua offers six classes in a fast-paced (accelerated) format. (Learn more about acceleration in Academic Acceleration (PSQF:4123:0EXW), a three-semester-hour class offered from June 14 – August 5.) The first two days of each Chautauqua class include time for participants to get to know each other on Zoom. Each class lasts for three weeks.

Chautauqua Week 1 includes:

  • Family Issues and Giftedness (RCE:4119)
    • Jul 5, 6 – 23 (Psychology strand)
  • Talent Development: Arts, Academics, Athletics (EDTL:4096:0WKB)
    • Jul 7, 8 – 27 (Programming)
  • Serving Visual/Spatial Learners (EDTL:4096:0WKC)
    • Jul 9, 10 – 29 (Programming)

Chautauqua Week 2 includes:

  • Creativity (RCE:4129)
    • Jul 12, 13 – 30 (Psychology)
  • Programming: Facilitating Student Research Projects (EDTL:4073:0WKA)
    • Jul 14, 15 – Aug 3 (Programming)
  • Evaluation of Gifted Programs (EPLS:4111)
    • Jul 16, 17 – Aug 5 (Administrative)

Scholarships for the cost of one class are available to those who enroll in three classes in either week. Those who take all six classes over the two weeks receive a full scholarship for the cost of one class each week*.

Online and Asynchronous Classes

Our online classes offer educators many options for better understanding their gifted and talented students. These classes take place over three weeks, but they have no scheduled synchronous meetings. These are designed to help you with your hectic schedule!

June

  • Counseling / Psychological Needs (RCE:4125)
    • Jun 7 – 25 (Psychology strand)
  • Reading for High Ability Students (EDTL:4026)
    • Jun 14 – Jul 2 (Programming)
  • Academic Acceleration (PSQF:4123:0EXW)
    • June 14 – Aug 5 (3 semester hours: 1 in Psychology, 1 in Programming, 1 in Administrative)
  • Topics: Excellence Gaps (EDTL:4096:0WKD)
    • Jun 22 – Jul 12

July

  • Advanced Placement credit for those participating in the University of Iowa Advanced Placement Summer Institute (APSI, formerly APTTI) :
    • (2 s.h., EDTL:5080)*
    • Jul 1 – 22 (Programming)
  • Differentiation at the Secondary Level (EDTL:4074)*
    • Jul 6 – 26 (Programming)
  • Leadership Skills for G/T Students, K-12 (EDTL:4029)
    • Jul 13 – Aug 2 (Programming)
  • Current Readings/Research in Gifted (EDTL:4085)
    • Jul 20 – Aug 6 (strand determined by readings)

Practicum

Those earning the State of Iowa Talented and Gifted Endorsement must have at least one semester hour (s.h.) in each of the four strands (Psychology, Programming, Administrative Issues, and practicum). Workshops vary over the two years teachers can use to complete their endorsements. We offer practicum every semester (EDTL:4189 for one s.h. and EDTL:4188:0EXW for two or three semester hours).

Registration

To take part 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 or benefit you. Follow belinblank.org/educators/reg. All our classes fulfill strands required for endorsement.

Questions? Email educators@belinblank.org!


*Classes with an asterisk provide an automatic scholarship for those registered as graduate students.

National Center for Research on Gifted Education Surveys on Acceleration

Our colleagues at the National Center for Research on Gifted Education are providing an opportunity for teachers to be involved in research on academic acceleration. Parents/Caregivers are invited to participate in a separate survey about their child’s school experience.  

Please see the official announcements below: 

Teachers

Are you an elementary teacher (K-6)? If so, the National Center for Research on Gifted Education is looking for educators like you to complete a survey on teachers’ perceptions about acceleration. The survey should take about 10 minutes to complete. The survey is anonymous and will help us better understand what factors related to acceleration are important to teachers. For more information visit ncrge.uconn.edu/teacher-survey.

Parents/Caregiver

Are you the parent/caregiver of a child in 2nd – 5th grade? If so, the National Center for Research on Gifted Education is looking for people like you to complete a survey on parent perceptions of their child’s school experience. The survey should take about 15 minutes to complete and will ask you questions about your perceptions of your child’s academic challenge, academic success, academic placement, and social well-being. The survey is anonymous; however, at the end of the survey you will have an opportunity to have your child complete a related survey on their attitude toward school (this is optional). If you elect to have your child complete a short survey about their attitudes towards school, you will be asked for an email where we can send the link for your child’s survey. For more information visit ncrge.uconn.edu/parent-survey.

Congratulations to Dr. Katie Schabilion!

We are proud to share that our Assessment and Counseling Clinic’s Dr. Katie Schabilion has successfully completed her postdoctoral training and is now a Licensed Psychologist and Health Service provider in Iowa! 

Dr. Katie Schabilion is an Iowa native who earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, Education Specialist in School Psychology, and Doctor of Philosophy in School Psychology from the University of Iowa. During her graduate training, Dr. Schabilion gained experience supporting students through their school districts, outpatient assessment clinics at the University of Iowa Center for Disabilities and Development, and the Grant Wood AEA Early ACCESS Autism Resource Team.

portrait of Dr. Katie Schabilion
Dr. Katie Schabilion, Licensed Psychologist

Dr. Schabilion completed a practicum experience at the Belin-Blank Center Assessment and Counseling Clinic and spent 5 years as a graduate assistant at the Belin-Blank Center in various roles. She worked with the Acceleration Institute, provided administrative support during the publication of A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students, assisted students and teachers involved in the Iowa Online Advanced Placement Academy (IOAPA), and served as a graduate teaching assistant with Belin-Blank Center Director Dr. Susan Assouline.

Dr. Schabilion completed her predoctoral internship at the Avondale Elementary School District in Avondale, Arizona, before returning to Iowa and the Belin-Blank Center to complete her dissertation investigating factors related to diagnosis of specific learning disorder in writing among high ability students. She remained on staff at the Belin-Blank Center Assessment and Counseling Clinic as a postdoctoral scholar, providing clinical assessment and counseling services to gifted and twice-exceptional students and supporting the Center’s twice-exceptional research agenda. Dr. Schabilion is excited to continue conducting twice-exceptional evaluations and providing counseling services in her new role as a Licensed Psychologist. She is also involved in Belin-Blank Center events such as the Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality.

Congratulations, Dr. Schabilion!

Career Assessment Services at the ACC

The Belin-Blank Center’s Assessment and Counseling Clinic offers a range of assessment and therapy services to help high ability and twice-exceptional students access opportunities and achieve their goals. Our career assessments are a useful tool in helping an individual explore their interests, abilities, personality characteristics, and personal values to assist in exploring potential careers.

You may wish to consider our career assessment if your child is:

  • Overwhelmed by the possibilities of the next stage of life and desires guidance to narrow the options.
  • Looking for information about the suitability of different career paths based on individual factors like interests and personality factors.
  • Seeking greater self-understanding but do not have a need for a comprehensive educational or diagnostic evaluation.
Photo by mentatdgt on Pexels.com

During a career assessment at the Belin-Blank Center, a student would participate in a brief interview with our counseling staff. Afterward, the student would complete computerized and paper-and-pencil rating scales to provide information relevant in making career choices. Our psychologists would then discuss the results and their implications with the student. Following the assessment, the student and their parents are provided with a report detailing the results and our recommendations.

The cost of a career assessment is $250. Because career evaluations are not medical in nature, fees for these services cannot be submitted to insurance for reimbursement.

In addition to career assessments, available clinic services include educational evaluations (to assist with academic planning), twice-exceptional evaluations (for psychological diagnosis), and therapy with licensed psychologists or trainees.

Could a career assessment be beneficial for your child? You can request an appointment through our online intake form.

Strength-Based, Talent Focused Learning

Thank you to Marcy Dann, M.A. for writing this guest post!


Families who have been provided with assessment services at the BBC in the past year may also be interested in a supplemental service that is being offered temporarily at a reduced rate through the Bridges 2e Center, where the motto is “Educating the Exceptional”.

The Suite of Tools™ is an assessment process to discover, organize, analyze and prioritize information for strength-based, talent focused learning. The evidence-based tools that are used have been refined at Bridges Academy, an independent school for the twice exceptional student population. These tools can lead to big changes in motivation and achievement.

The process involves having the child complete My LearningPrint™ and the Quick Personality Indicator (QPI™).  A team meeting, moderated by Marcy Dann, is held online with the parents to explore the results of their child’s Belin-Blank Center psychoeducational assessment. The meeting will include an in-depth discussion about the child’s strengths, talents and interests.

Parents will also receive a summary report with a personalized talent plan to supplement a student’s IEP, 504 Plan, folder and/or recent Belin-Blank Center evaluation. The report will include insights into when and how a particular student performs optimally, challenges to address, essential elements for learning, and the environmental conditions conducive to his or her development.

For more information, please contact Dr. Doobay at alissa-doobay@uiowa.edu.

Marcy Dann, M.A.

Marcy Dann, M.A. is a board-certified educational therapist who has been in clinical practice for over 35 years using a strength-based approach with school aged clients and their families and is a consultant at Bridges Academy, a school for twice-exceptional students in Los Angeles, California.  She relies on the parents’ perspectives when listening carefully to the vignettes they share about their child. She recognizes the academic, cognitive, social-emotional, creative and physical issues that must be addressed for students to access the curriculum and to show what they’ve learned in school and at home. Dann is currently collaborating with the Belin-Blank Center Assessment and Counseling Clinic (BBC) by providing strength-based assessments.

Congratulations to the 2021 Junior Science and Humanities Symposium Winners!

In March, the Belin-Blank Center hosted students from across the state to compete at the premier high school science competition in Iowa, the 2021 Iowa Regional Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS). Students competed for scholarships and recognition by presenting the results of original research projects.

A panel of experts judged 10 impressive oral presentations, and the finalists were: 

  • 1st place: Meena Ramadugu (John F Kennedy High School) — “Comparison of nickel chelator to current standard triple antibiotic therapy to treat Helicobacter pylori infection” 
  • 2nd place: Kayla Livesay (Van Buren High School) — “Analyzing the effectiveness of nutrient placement on crop production and soil fertility: A study of the law of limiting factors” 
  • 3rd place: Shreya Khullar (Iowa City West High School) — “Dendrochronological data analysis to measure climate sensitivity and to develop climate reconstructions”  
  • 4th place: Claire Gu (Valley High School) — “Predicting harmful algal blooms in Iowa’s green valley lake using a machine learning model”  
  • 5th place: Karshana Kalyanaraman (Johnston Senior High School) — “Novel miRNA and gene enrichment associated with cardiac function in athletes”

In addition to scholarships, these five students qualified to compete at the 59th Annual National JSHS in mid-April. 

Approximately 160 high school students from all over the world attended the National JSHS to compete for scholarships and recognition in the fields of environmental science; life sciences; biomedical, cellular and molecular sciences; medicinal, behavioral and health sciences; engineering; mathematics and computer science; physics; and chemistry and material sciences. 

For the fourth consecutive year, Iowa regional finalists placed at the national competition! Kayla Livesay (Van Buren) and Meena Ramadugu (Cedar Rapids) both took home 3rd place in their respective divisions of the prestigious oral presentation competition, along with $4,000 scholarships.

This year marks the first time two Iowa regional finalists placed at National JSHS! It is also the first year an Iowa finalist has placed at National JSHS for a second time.

In 2019, Kayla earned third place in the Life Science division of the poster competition for her project, “Accelerating plant growth to improve crop production and soil fertility: analyzing the effects of macronutrients and mycorrhizal fungi for Zea mays: Phase III.” This year, Kayla earned third place in the Environmental division of the oral presentation competition.

Congratulations to all who participated in both the Iowa Regional and National Junior Science and Humanities Symposia! For more information on getting started with student research or the JSHS program, visit: 

Transition Planning for Grade-Skipping

Photo by CDC on Pexels.com

An important part of the discussion concerning skipping a grade includes considering how the transition to acceleration might occur. Grade-skipping happens after careful discussion and planning, with contributions from a team that includes teachers, administrators, and parents. These team members play an important role in developing the transition plan.

Some schools have a formal transition plan document that the team completes as part of the discussion.  If there is not a specific form to complete, below is a list of items that can be included in the transition planning discussion.

  • Answering the receiving teacher’s questions. This teacher might be uncertain about how to support the accelerated student, if the teacher has no previous experience with grade-skipping. The student’s current teacher might meet with the receiving teacher to make suggestions about ways to support the student, specific strengths, concerns the student has, etc.
  • Opportunities for the student to visit the new classroom and meet the new teacher before the acceleration occurs.
  • Other transition activities might include a tour of the school (if the student will move to a new building), learning about the cafeteria system, learning how to use a locker, and other activities that might help the student to become more comfortable in the new environment.
  • Support for the student, and a go-to person (such as the school counselor) if the student wants to chat about any concerns.
  • Identifying and filling in any academic gaps. Diagnostic testing will help to document gaps. The student might need time to meet individually with a teacher to learn new content, have questions answered, and clear up any misunderstandings about the content. It should be noted that the beginning of the school year is often a time for review for all students, and this review period will also help fill in the student’s gaps, if the acceleration will occur early in the year.
  • Trial period. Educators often plan for a trial period of 4 to 6 weeks before the decision to skip a grade is finalized. This amount of time allows the student to adjust to new routines and the new level of challenge. It is common for a student to feel somewhat overwhelmed or discouraged at first. Those feelings are normal.
  • Regular check-ins with the student. These might occur weekly or even daily at first.
  • Regular communication with the family.
  • Someone specifically assigned to monitor the transition. This is often the person who facilitated the team meeting in which the grade-skipping decision was made. This individual would be responsible for any follow-up and check-ins with the student as well as others who need to be made aware of the student’s progress and the success of the acceleration.
  • After the student has moved into the new grade, it will be helpful for the student and parents to meet with the school counselor to discuss the acceleration as well as how it might have an impact on course scheduling now and in the future.
Photo by Katerina Holmes on Pexels.com

Indicators of a successful acceleration include:

  • The student is motivated and enthusiastic about the acceleration and is challenged (but not overly frustrated) by the new academic work.
  • The student makes new friends but keeps old friends.
  • The student has a positive attitude about school.

Ohio provides examples of Written Transition Plans that help you to consider factors to include in the transition plan. Michigan also provides some guidance about the transition to acceleration.

You might be interested in learning more about the recently-launched online Integrated Acceleration System, which facilitates a discussion about four forms of academic acceleration (grade-skipping, early entrance to kindergarten, early entrance to college, and subject acceleration). Sign up here to receive updates about this new online system and more information about academic acceleration. We post a blog about acceleration approximately twice a month.

Interested in learning even more about 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 June 14-August 6 by Dr. Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik, one of the co-authors of the Iowa Acceleration Scale and a co-developer of the new Integrated Acceleration System. Contact educators@belinblank.org for details about the class and about enrollment. 

We would like to thank Wendy Behrens and Dr. Randy Lange for helpful discussions contributing to this article.

Introducing the Integrated Acceleration System

We are excited to announce the launch of the Integrated Acceleration System!

Making decisions about whether to accelerate a student can seem intimidating. We can help. 

The Integrated Acceleration System is an interactive online tool that integrates all the relevant information to help you decide if acceleration is a good fit for your student. It generates a complete, multi-page report that offers an evidence-based recommendation, provides resources, and helps the student, parents, and educators better understand the students’ academic needs. 

What do educators say? 

“The Integrated Acceleration System is exactly the tool all districts need to do the right thing for a student. I found it to be comprehensive and easy to use. Once our team experienced the depth of data included in the Integrated Acceleration System, they felt comfortable in the process to determine the appropriateness of a grade skip…. An excellent tool!”

Dr. Randy Lange, Talent Development Services Program Coordinator at LaGrange District 102, Illinois  

We’re celebrating with introductory pricing!

We are offering the Integrated Acceleration System for $59 (regularly $79) to celebrate its launch. This introductory pricing ends with the 2020-21 academic year, so reserve yours today!

Congratulations, Invent Iowa Winners!

On April 19, the Belin-Blank Center announced the 2021 Invent Iowa State Invention Convention winners who will advance onto the National Invention Convention. Young inventors from schools across Iowa submitted their inventions to the state competition. We were impressed to see so many creative inventions to everyday problems!

Winners qualified to compete at the virtual National Invention Convention. The Belin-Blank Center awarded the top 5 inventions with all expenses paid to advance to the next level of competition. Check out this Google Earth tour of the winning inventions!

Congratulations to our 2021 Winners:

1st place: The B.O.S.S. (The Beneficial On-Site Skin Scanner) by Charles Smith from Ottumwa

Firefighters have a higher risk of cancer because they are exposed to carcinogenic chemicals in fires.  There is not an on-site method to locate the toxins on the skin, which greatly increases their cancer risk.  The B.O.S.S. (The Beneficial On-Site Skin Scanner) is a dermal scanner that will allow firefighters to locate the carcinogenic chemicals quickly, enabling them to remove the toxins while on-site.  This helps decrease the chemical absorption through their skin, which would reduce their cancer risk and could save lives.

2nd place: SSS (Smart Sensing System) by Sujan Vijayraj Shadrak from Marion

The SSS is a system that can be used in an automatic sliding door. The SSS runs through a Rasberry pi 4 and is coded in NODERED. The SSS will use Artificial Intelligence and human image detection to first take a picture of the person standing outside, then process it, and if the picture resembles a human the door will open. This invention will prevent animals from entering public places and can also act as a filter by tracking who enters and leaves the area. We have made the SSS prototype along with a visual example of a sliding door.

3rd place: Ring Around the Dog Collar by Carolyne Jorgenson from Treynor

Leather dog collar that has multiple D-rings for easier leash attachment.

4th place: Aqua Cleaner by Manasvi Devi Reddy from Marion

It solves the problem of oil spills making the oceans and rivers clean. This in turn helps the ecosystem.

5th place: Reptile Pedicure by Mason Smith from Dyersville

The purpose of the Reptile Pedicure is to make it easier to get the toe shed off your reptile’s toes.  This allows your reptile to be comfortable during the process and the owner to have more control.  Those that own reptiles know that the shed on the toes is the hardest for the reptile to get off on their own.  This results in deformities and their toes to fall off.  It also changes their walking pattern.

Finally, we want to say a big thank you to our generous sponsor McKee, Voorhees & Sease, P.L.C. Congratulations to all who competed, and keep inventing, Iowa!

Registration Open for AP® Summer Institute

Registration is now open for the University of Iowa’s AP® Summer Institute (APSI), hosted by the Belin-Blank Center! APSI will take place online from June 28 – July 2, 2021.

“Even if you are not going to teach an AP® class, the content and methods from the APSI at the Belin-Blank Center open up a myriad of teaching possibilities. I admit it—I was so energized about content after attending APSI!!”

-Jill Schany, APSI participant from Emmetsburg High School

APSI workshops offer online professional learning for these AP® courses:

  • 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
Photo by Katerina Holmes on Pexels.com

AP® courses introduce high school students to academically challenging material and offer a chance to earn college credit by taking AP® exams. APSI prepares teachers to develop and teach an AP® course.

College Board-endorsed AP® consultants instruct each workshop. APSI participants will discuss questions about AP® subject-area content and receive an overview of the Advanced Placement program®. They will also learn how to complete the College Board’s required AP® Course Audit. 

Participants can also earn academic credit (with a 50% scholarship!) or Iowa Licensure Renewal Units for successful completion of an APSI workshop. Grants of $450 are available to Iowa teachers through the Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA).  

Click below to learn more or register today!

IOAPA Registration is Open for Fall 2021

The Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) offers Iowa students free access to online advanced course offerings for students who would otherwise be unable to find these courses offered in their school district.

Additionally, the Belin-Blank Center provides AP exam scholarships to eligible IOAPA students each semester, in an effort to increase the number of students taking AP exams from rural schools in Iowa.

IOAPA registration for Fall 2021 classes is now open! This includes full-year courses, as well as one-semester fall courses. Registration for Spring 2022 one-semester courses will open in November.

Visit our website for a wealth of helpful information, including our course catalog, important dates, registration, and information about getting started along with support materials designed to help you and your student make decisions about course selection.

COURSES OFFERED

  • 15 AP courses are available to high school students. 
  • 14 courses are available to middle school students. These courses are designed for high school students and made available to students in grades 6-8. While not yet required, we still recommend above-level testing as the best method in identifying students for advanced coursework. When in doubt, you can also review our guidelines here.

Course descriptions and syllabi for each course can be located by clicking “Learn More” on the course’s entry in our Course Catalog.

REGISTRATION DETAILS

To begin, visit our website (belinblank.org/ioapa) and review the Getting Started information. When you are ready to register, navigate back to belinblank.org/ioapa and click Register.

Step-by-step course registration instructions are included below:

  • Register your school and assign a site coordinator and mentor. The first step is for principals to register their schools. They can do that on our website (belinblank.org/ioapa) by clicking on Register. As part of this step, schools assign a site coordinator and a mentor. They can be the same person or different people; however, the mentor needs to be a certified teacher at the school.
  • Nominate the student(s) taking IOAPA course(s). Completing the school registration page sends the principal an automated email with a link in it to nominate the student. The principal either needs to complete the nomination or forward the link to the site coordinator or mentor to complete.
  • Confirm that student has self-enrolled in the course. Once the student has been nominated, an email will be automatically sent to the student to enroll himself/herself in the actual course. Be sure to have students check their junk mail folders, as the automated emails sometimes get filtered there. Students should complete this process and be sure to click submit when they’re done.

After registering, be sure to complete any College Board requirements for offering AP courses:

  • Register your school with the College Board.
  • Complete the AP Course Audit process for Online/Distance Learning courses by the end of January in order to be able to label courses as “AP” on students’ transcripts.
  • Encourage high school students to take the AP exam, and order all AP exams by the College Board’s deadline.

As always, please feel free to reach out to us at ioapa@belinblank.org with any questions or concerns.

Apply for the Belin-Blank Fellowship in Gifted Education

This summer, the 41st Belin-Blank Fellowship Program in Gifted Education will be a virtual event.  Launched in 1981, the Fellowship is one of the oldest professional leadership programs in the United States, and the Belin-Blank Center welcomes teachers, school counselors, school psychologists, and administrators to apply.  Because the Fellowship is virtual, educators who would find travel to Iowa difficult can dedicate the time for this program from their home computers.

More than ever, all educators need to know more about the unique needs of gifted and talented students—and about how to meet those needs—because of today’s ever greater challenges.  This professional learning opportunity facilitates professional understanding about best practices in serving advanced learners, including those who traditionally have been overlooked for gifted programs. Participants will interact virtually with others who have a commitment to understanding more about research-based strategies that promote authentic talent development among your school’s most capable students.   

Participants will need to be fully present throughout the week because the presentations, activities, and extended discussions will inspire your thoughtful engagement with new ideas and approaches.  For an overview of the program, please download a brochure (safe to open). Educators should review the program at belinblank.org/fellowship and apply online.  Selection of the 12 Belin-Blank Fellows will be based on a review of applications, as well as a review of the statements of support from administrators (also completed online).  

This unique Fellowship was originally designed for the general education teacher—the individual who spends the greatest amount of classroom time with gifted and talented learners. In recent years, we also have welcomed teacher leaders, school counselors, school psychologists, and administrators, knowing they work closely with teachers to ensure best practices for all students. 

An endowment covers the cost of opportunities to interact with nationally recognized experts in gifted education; it will also cover other costs associated with the program, including access to the online University library and a 50% tuition scholarship for two semester hours of credit (if credit hours would be useful for you). This year, when the program is a virtual one, we are waiving the request that the district support its participant(s) through a payment of a $250 resource fee.  You will leave the program with extensive resources that will enrich you and your district.

Please share this information about the Fellowship with those in your building. Encourage general education teachers, school counselors and psychologists, and administrators to apply online. Each applicant is responsible for completing the application process by April 15; must ask for a brief statement of support from you, the Superintendent, or another district administrator, also submitted online by April 15.

All of us at the Belin-Blank Center are confident this summer will continue a tradition that prompted one participant to relate:

“This is a game changer for me. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

If you have any questions about the Fellowship or the application process, please contact Dr. Laurie Croft, Associate Director for Professional Development at educators@belinblank.org or 319-335-6148. We look forward to having an educator you know join us this summer!

Research Opportunity for Autism Study – Recruiting Participants with and without Autism

Our friends in the Kliemann Lab are currently recruiting participants for a research study on autism. Please consider reaching out if you are interested! Details below.


Researchers in the Kliemann Lab of the Psychological and Brain Sciences Department at the University of Iowa are currently inviting participants for a study investigating social behavior in individuals with and without autism. You may be eligible if you:

  1. Are between 18 – 50 years old.
  2. Are fluent in English.

For interested participants with autism, you may be eligible if you fill the above criteria and you:

  1. Have been diagnosed with autism or Asperger’s syndrome.

This study consists of completing one or more of our ongoing experiments in this study. These range from simple behavioral tasks, to measuring where participants look at during a task using noninvasive eye-tracking, to questionnaires assessing social behavior, to a research brain scan.

The specific parts (behavioral, eye tracking, and/or MRI) you participate in will depend on the current needs of the study, your eligibility for each procedure, and your desire to participate in each procedure. You may choose to participate in one, multiple, or none of these procedures upon our further correspondence and confirmation of your eligibility. These procedures will take between 1-3hours each and can be spread over multiple days.

Participants receive a compensation amount of $10 to $15 per hour depending on which procedures you are eligible for and choose to participate in.

If you are interested in participating, please email our lab at PBS-kliemann-lab@uiowa.edu, or call us at 319-467-3161.

Conversations on Autism Diagnosis and Assessment

Written by Dr. Alissa Doobay, Supervisor for Psychological Services at the Belin-Blank Center’s Assessment and Counseling Clinic.


Last fall, I received an email from Emily Kircher-Morris asking if I would be interested in recording a podcast. Emily is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Missouri. She is perhaps best known as the host of the thought-provoking and informative Neurodiversity Podcast (previously called Mind Matters Podcast). Her podcast focuses on the development of gifted and twice-exceptional (2e) people throughout the lifespan. 

I always feel more comfortable expressing myself with a keyboard than a microphone. Still, I felt deeply honored by Emily’s interest in my work. I quickly grew excited for the opportunity to be a part of such a fantastic resource for families. A few short weeks later, I found myself chatting easily with Emily over Zoom while sitting in a very professional-looking recording studio, courtesy of the University of Iowa.

Emily asked that I present on the topic of autism assessment in the twice-exceptional population. We discussed the obstacles families face in getting gifted children evaluated for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). We also talked about differences in the presentation of ASD symptoms in the high-ability population, ASD in high-ability girls, and advice for parents seeking an assessment for their child. The information I share on the podcast comes from my 15 years of research and direct clinical work with 2e learners and neurodiverse students at the Belin-Blank Center’s Assessment and Counseling Clinic

My experiences at the Belin-Blank Center –first as a student, later as a licensed psychologist, and now as the supervisor of psychological services–shaped my current knowledge and expertise. I am exceedingly grateful to the families with whom I have worked over the years who have shared their stories and were willing to put their confidence and trust in me. I am continually awed by the kindness, tenacity, bravery, and resilience of these families. All of them share a goal of improving understanding, services, and support for their loved ones and the broader twice-exceptional community.

If you have not already done so, I encourage you to listen to Emily Kircher-Morris’s Neurodiversity Podcast. You won’t be disappointed! If you are interested, you can listen to our discussion on episode 70, “Understanding Autism Diagnosis and Assessment.”

Is Grade-Skipping Right for Your Student?

Making the decision for a student to skip a grade involves several steps. A facilitator leads the process; the facilitator might be a gifted coordinator, teacher, or principal, or another building or district administrator. The facilitator helps the team members to learn about acceleration, gathers appropriate data about the student, and leads the team meeting where grade-skipping is discussed. The facilitator might also be responsible for monitoring the student’s transition to acceleration if the decision is made to skip a grade.

Build the Team. Required team members  include the facilitator, parents, current teacher, and receiving teacher. Other team members might be administrators, additional teachers, school psychologists, counselors, other school support staff, local educational agency staff, or coaches or other adults who know the student well.

Learn About Acceleration. Team members, including the parents, might have questions about the efficacy of acceleration and why it is being considered for the student. Over the last 70 years, an impressive body of research has accumulated documenting that acceleration is an effective intervention for challenging gifted students. A Nation Empowered gathers that research into an accessible format; Volume 1 includes an overview of acceleration and Volume 2 includes the research supporting this educational option.  The research documents that acceleration helps gifted students to maximize their academic potential; it also shows that acceleration does not create a negative impact on social/emotional development, which is a frequently mentioned concern.

Gather the Data. Data needed to inform the decision include achievement, aptitude, and ability testing, student behavior, extracurricular activities, social/emotional development, physical development, demographic information, and school history. It is also important to discuss the potential grade skip with the student, answer questions, and discover hesitations or concerns.

The Team Meeting. After collecting the appropriate data and participating in thorough discussions with educators and administrators, the team meets to discuss and decide the best option for the student. If the decision is made to accelerate, it is important to develop a transition plan and determine who will be responsible for follow-up with the student, teachers, and family. No matter the decision, changes might be required in the future. A student who skips a grade now might need additional acceleration at some later point, or a student who is not accelerated now might need acceleration a year or more from now. Additionally, acceleration will not solve all issues around challenging talented students.  Students who have already skipped a grade might also benefit from individually paced instruction in a strength area, academic summer programs, concurrent enrollment, additional enrichment in school, and other educational opportunities.

Three Important Reasons Not to Skip a Grade. (1) Students who have a sibling in the next grade or in the current grade are not recommended for a grade skip. Developers of the Integrated Acceleration System highly recommend against acceleration in this case, due to concerns about family dynamics. For example, if a younger student moves into an older student’s grade, the older student might question his or her abilities and performance in school and possibly will resent the younger sibling. If the age of the sibling is an issue, it is important to devise other opportunities to challenge the student, such as subject acceleration, online courses, and enrichment experiences. (2) The overall ability of the student (as measured by an IQ test, such as the Cognitive Abilities Test, Wechsler Intelligences Scales, or Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales) should be at least one standard deviation above average; students with average or below average ability are not likely to be successful if they skip a grade. (3) If the student is not in favor of acceleration, the acceleration will not be successful. The student needs to be committed to the idea of moving ahead. Even if one of these important reasons is present, it is still often helpful to go through a formal discussion process about acceleration; gathering data and meeting with the team will provide opportunities to discuss different options for challenging the student.

Making the Transition to the Next Grade. If the decision is made to grade-skip a student, the next important task is to discuss a transition plan. This might include establishing a trial period, having the student visit the new classroom and meet the teacher, and regular check-in meetings with a school counselor or other adult who will monitor the student during this time. Including the receiving teacher in these discussions is critical, because of this teacher’s important role in making the grade skip work well. It is also important to keep the lines of communication open between the receiving teacher and the family, so both are alerted to issues or concerns early.

All of the factors discussed above (and more) are considered in the new online Integrated Acceleration System, which facilitates a discussion about four forms of academic acceleration (grade-skipping, early entrance to kindergarten, early entrance to college, and subject acceleration). The Belin-Blank Center anticipates launching the Integrated Acceleration System in mid-April.

Interested in learning more about 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 June 14-August 6 by Dr. Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik, one of the co-authors of the Iowa Acceleration Scale and a co-developer of the new Integrated Acceleration System. Contact educators@belinblank.org for details about the class and about enrollment. 

Need a Spring Break?

We’ve done the work AND saved you money!

Get a full year of access to three gifted kid-tested and parent-approved platforms for less than the cost of one.

Kids will have fun learning:

  • Creative Writing with Night Zookeeper
  • Math with Prodigy
  • Social Science and Humanities with BrainPOP

To Test or Not to Test: Is That the Question?

Written by Dr. Susan Assouline, Director of the Belin-Blank Center

Susan Assouline

We sometimes hear from parents, educators, and students who question the value of standardized tests, particularly as colleges and universities suspend testing requirements due to the pandemic. While there are valid concerns among these questions, I propose that test bias, rather than the value of testing itself, represents the more relevant question.

Test bias is an important topic that merits more significant discussion than is possible in this short blog post. Nevertheless, it’s important to offer guidance on such a complex issue because the many ways we discover talented students include standardized testing.

The test-development industry, state and federal courts, and higher education institutions have considered the complex topic of test bias for several decades. Early in the 20th century, tests contained blatant content, cultural, and ethnic bias. However, the field has evolved and established new standards, guidelines, and principles related to assessments. Now, three decades into the 21st century, the simple response to the question, “Are tests biased?” is, “It’s complicated.” 

Today’s standardized testing industry aims to reduce content bias in test items through the test development process. However, there is still the potential for ethnic and cultural bias during the administration and interpretation process. Moreover, our current education system’s inequitable nature means that not all students receive the same opportunities to learn.

Educators’ understanding of issues of equity in assessment is crucial. Educators can choose a test that research supports as equitable. They can administer the tests fairly, interpret results correctly, and provide the supports and challenges that help students learn and grow to the best of their abilities. 

People often make claims of test bias based on how schools have used tests to exclude students from gifted and talented programming. A common practice is to use standardized tests to limit the number of students eligible for specialized programs and services. The Belin-Blank Center takes the opposite approach. We use standardized tests to discover high-potential learners who need growth opportunities. 

The licensed psychologists in the center’s Assessment and Counseling Clinic rely on tests to better understand individual students’ unique needs. Two of our grant-funded outreach programs, STEM Excellence and Javits Talent Identification-Career Exploration (TICE), use a standardized test called I-Excel as the first step in providing an academic challenge to traditionally underserved students. Because I-Excel administers 8th-grade content to 4th through 6th graders, it serves as an above-level test. The Belin-Blank Center expanded the guidelines to include more students in the above-level testing process. In this way, we discover a broader pool of middle-school students ready for advanced academic challenges.   

To create best-fit interventions that benefit learners, we must use the appropriate tools. In many cases, this includes standardized testing. However, whenever we use tests, we have an ethical responsibility to recognize the ever-present potential for bias. Thus, it’s complicated.

We use tests because we know they can help us better understand learners’ needs. Still, we also know that test results are only one useful tool in a more extensive toolkit. It is essential for those using the results to interpret and supplement them in a manner that accounts for potential bias.

Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality

Co-hosted by the Belin-Blank Center and the Iowa Neuroscience Institute

May 17-18, 2021
Online

Bridging psychology and neuroscience, the Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and the Iowa Neuroscience Institute will collaborate to bring researchers, clinicians, educators, and parents together to address the current state of research on twice-exceptionality. Part of the purpose of this interdisciplinary summit is to form partnerships with other institutions in furthering twice-exceptional research and best practice.

The summit will take place on Monday, May 17 and Tuesday, May 18, 2021. The event will be completely online and feature a variety of keynotes and breakout sessions delving into recent research’s insights into twice-exceptionality. Registrants will have access to the live sessions, as well as recordings of all presentations after the event.

How to Register

Registration is available now!

If you currently attend or are employed by the University of Iowa, email us at summit@belinblank.org to register for free.

Outside of the UI, standard registration is $145 and non-UI current students may register for $45.

A credit option is available to those who participate in the summit through PSQF:4128:0WKA – Neuroscientific Implications for Gifted Ed: Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality (May 20 – June 10). The Belin-Blank Center provides a tuition scholarship equal to 50% of the cost of graduate-level tuition. Whether you choose undergraduate or graduate credit, your tuition for this one semester hour of credit will be $280.). Learn more.

Speakers

We feature speakers sharing research from several different domains, including neuroscience, genetics, gifted education, special education, psychology, and psychiatry.

Belin-Blank Center – Iowa Neuroscience Institute Presenters

Members of the Belin-Blank Center and Iowa Neuroscience Institute collaborative team look forward to sharing their current work with attendees through presentations and panel discussions.

Ted Abel

Edwin G. Abel, Ph.D.

Molecular Mechanisms of Memory Storage

Jake Michaelson

Jake Michaelson, Ph.D.

Genetic Signatures of Twice-Exceptionality

Thomas Nickl-Jockschat, Ph.D.

Disrupted brain growth patterns – a key mechanism underlying autism

Susan G. Assouline, Ph.D., Brandon LeBeau, Ph.D., and Katie Schabilion, Ph.D.

Integration of the Medical Model and Talent Development Model in Understanding 2e Students (Panel)

Alissa Doobay, Ph.D., Megan Foley-Nicpon, Ph.D., Duhita Mahatmya, Ph.D.

From Data to Diagnosis: Complexity of Understanding 2e Students with ASD and Anxiety Disorders (Panel)

Featured University of Iowa Speakers

Lane Strathearn, Ph.D.

Epigenetics and Social Experience in Autism: Discovering Modifiable Pathways for Intervention

Hanna Stevens, Ph.D.

Neurodevelopmental disabilities and striatum: insights from mentoring smart trainees

Dorit Kliemann, Ph.D.

Brain Networks in Autism

Seth King, Ph.D.

Interdisciplinary Collaboration in Research for Individuals with Multiple Exceptionalities

For a full list of speakers and topics, be sure to check out our webpage. We hope to see you in May!

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Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality

Using Achievement, Aptitude, and Ability Tests for Acceleration Decisions

Achievement, aptitude, and ability tests:  What do those terms mean, and how are these three types of tests used in academic acceleration decisions?  Since the words can be a bit confusing, let’s take them one step at a time. 

Achievement testing is common in schools. Achievement tests measure the student’s learning in specific content areas in the student’s current grade. They are called “achievement” tests because they were developed to measure past learning. “Standardized” tests are typically developed to measure the progress of groups of students. All students are tested under similar conditions and the test items are from a specific item bank. They differ from teacher-made achievement tests, which are not subject to the rigorous test item development usually seen in standardized testing. Examples of standardized achievement tests are the state tests such as ISASP in Iowa or STAAR in Texas. Other examples of standardized tests include Terra Nova, Stanford Achievement Tests, or Measures of Academic Progress (MAP). The Belin-Blank Center highly recommends using the Iowa Assessments (available through Riverside Publishing) if other achievement tests are not already available. For acceleration decisions, we recommend using achievement test data from the past year. Achievement testing is important in acceleration decisions to determine if the student has already mastered the material he or she will be skipping. Frequently, students who are considered for grade-skipping have already scored in the 90th or 95th percentile in many subjects compared to agemates. 

Aptitude testing is important for acceleration discussions because these tests provide information about what a student is ready to learn. Aptitude testing is less dependent on specific content (which is why it is in the center position in the graphic above). General aptitude tests are designed to measure an individual’s problem-solving ability that is unrelated to specific instruction in a school setting. Specific aptitude tests are designed to measure an individual’s problem-solving ability for material in a content area that has not yet been formally presented to the learner. One of the best indicators of a bright student’s aptitude in a specific content area is the student’s performance on an above-level test, a test that was developed for older students. These tests include I-Excel, ACT, SAT, and above-level Iowa Assessments (usually two grade levels above the student’s current grade). For purposes of acceleration decisions, aptitude testing should have been completed within the past two years. Students earning scores in the 50th percentile and above when compared to older students might be considered for acceleration in their strength area. These guidelines are intended to help us predict that the student will continue to be successful in the higher grade if accelerated. 

Ability testing rounds out the trio of types of tests. Ability testing tells us about a student’s potential for success in school. An intelligence test (also known as an IQ test or cognitive ability test) is required for acceleration decisions, especially grade-skipping and early entrance to kindergarten. A group or individual test may be used. Measures of verbal ability are highly correlated with performance in school, so verbal IQ scores are especially useful. Tests include: Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT), Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, and the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Cognitive Abilities. Ability testing should have been administered within the past two years for acceleration decisions. The Belin-Blank Center recommends that students considered for grade-skipping would have scored at least one standard deviation above the mean (average) on a cognitive ability test; in other words, the student scores 115 or higher on an intelligence test that has an average score of 100. In contrast, students earning average cognitive ability test scores are more likely to have their learning needs met with grade-level curriculum and at the same pace as their grade-level peers. 

Data gathered from all three of the above types of tests are important in making acceleration decisions. This objective information helps us to compare students to other bright students and to determine if acceleration is indeed in the best interests of a particular student. Other information is important in the discussion about acceleration, including psychosocial factors, school support, and family support. All of these factors (and more) are considered in the new online Integrated Acceleration System, which facilitates a discussion about four forms of academic acceleration (grade-skipping, early entrance to kindergarten, early entrance to college, and subject acceleration). 

Interested in learning more about 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 June 7-August 6 by Dr. Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik, one of the co-authors of the Iowa Acceleration Scale and a co-developer of the new Integrated Acceleration System. Contact educators@belinblank.org for details about the class and about enrollment. 

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!