Message from the Director: Springtime Renewal Extends to Gifted Education through Javits Grants

Conducting research focused on gifted education and talent development is central to our mission. The Belin-Blank Center’s Acceleration Institute, featuring A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students (2015), is a prime example of how gifted education research assists educators and policy makers in better understanding and developing the talents of bright students. While gifted education research has had many advocates, there were perhaps none whose reach has extended quite as far as Jacob K. Javits.

Q: Who was Jacob K. Javits and what does he have to do with gifted education?

A: In 1988, the U.S. Congress passed the only federal legislation for gifted and talented education. It was named in recognition of its primary advocate, Jacob K. Javits, a long-serving Congressman (R-NY, 1947-1954) and Senator (R-NY, 1957-1981). As the National Associated for Gifted Children explains, the “purpose of the Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act is to orchestrate a coordinated program of scientifically based research, demonstration projects, innovative strategies, and similar activities that build and enhance the ability of elementary and secondary schools to meet the special education needs of gifted and talented students.” Javits grants typically focus on students who are traditionally underrepresented in gifted and talented programs, and the Javits Act provides opportunities to better understand best practices in gifted education.

Q: How does the Javits Act fit into current federal legislation for education?

A: Federal legislation for education has existed for more than 50 years (first passed in 1965 as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, ESEA; currently known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, ESSA). Ten years later, special education programs became mandatory with the 1975 passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (re-authorized and re-named the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA, in 1990). The original IDEA legislation was an essential mandate to ensure that every student had the right to a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. IDEA protects society’s most vulnerable individuals, which is essential to any society.

Q:  What does ESSA or IDEA have to do with gifted students?

A: Importantly, when the 1990 IDEA was re-authorized in 2004, there was – for the first time – recognition that gifted and talented children may also have diagnosed disabilities or disorders. These students are referred to as “twice-exceptional.” Shortly thereafter, when the 2005 request for proposals for Javits Grants was issued, the Belin-Blank Center and the Iowa Department of Education submitted a proposal to further investigate a specific group of underrepresented students, those who are twice-exceptional. That proposal was funded, thus launching our work in the area of twice-exceptionality and significantly impacting the field.

Q:  Has the Belin-Blank Center been awarded other Javits grants? 

A: Yes! We were awarded a second Javits grant in the late 1990s to investigate gifted and talented students attending alternative schools. Most recently (2017), the Belin-Blank Center and the UI College of Education were awarded a third Javits grant to explore the effects of a talent development model along with a career intervention program on underrepresented gifted students.

Q:  How much funding is available from the Javits Act?

A:  The short answer is, “not that much.” This is a true statement in absolute terms, as well as relative to other education initiatives. Since 1988, annual funding has varied from $5 million to $12 million, which is about 1 to 2 cents for every $100 spent on education. In 2013, no funding was available and in 2011 and 2012, there were no new awards presented. It is important to know that, even at the modest levels at which monies are allocated, Congress must reauthorize funding for the Javits Act each year.

Every year, the Javits funding is tenuous. However, the impact of Javits awards on participating students, teachers, and schools is far from tenuous. We have experienced the positive impact first hand.

In addition to the Javits demonstration and scale-up grants awarded to states, there is periodic funding for a national gifted and talented center. The original Javits legislation funding in 1988 resulted in the establishment of the National Research Center on Gifted and Talented ([NRC/GT]; 1990-2013), housed on the University of Connecticut campus.  After the funding was re-established in 2013, the National Center for Research on Gifted Education (NCRGE), also on the University of Connecticut campus, was established. Current Javits funding supports the NCRGE, which offers a prolific research agenda. Most recently, researchers presented an impressive study investigating the (mis)alignment of identification for gifted programming and the content of the programming. This NCRGE research project, in addition to three other relevant projects, was reviewed in a recent Education Week article, “4 Ways Schools Help or Hinder Gifted Students,” by Sarah D. Sparks.

There is no shortage of excellent research in the field of gifted education, and we are grateful that the Javits Act has advanced the field in significant ways over the past 31 years. We are also grateful that we have had a role in that advancement. We look forward to continuing to contribute to a broad research agenda and collaborating with teachers to improve programming for gifted students.

Hope springs eternal for continued funding to support this important research!

Iowa Students Attend the 57th Annual National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium

In March, students from across Iowa competed at the 2019 Iowa Regional Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS). A panel of experts judged 15 impressive oral presentations, and the finalists were:

  • 1st place: Pooja Kasiviswanathan (Ames High School) — “Farming on Mars: potential strategies for sustainable agriculture in Martian conditions”
  • 2nd place: Isabella Hoeger-Pinto (Iowa City West High School) — “Examination of plasma etch rate on silicon substrate with photoresist mask”
  • 3rd place: Radha Velamuri (Valley High School) — “Involvement of the AhR in reproductive function with exposure to PCB 126”
  • 4th place: Kayla Livesay (Van Buren Community High School) — “Accelerating plant growth to improve crop production and soil fertility: analyzing the effects of macronutrients and mycorrhizal fungi for Zea mays: Phase III”
  • 5th place: Amara Orth (Lewis Central High School) — “What is honey? A comparison of honey from Iowa beekeepers versus national store brand honey using pH, pollen, and chemical composition analysis”
Winners of the 2019 Iowa Regional Junior Science and Humanities Symposium

In addition to scholarships, these five students qualified to compete at the 57th Annual National JSHS in Albuquerque, New Mexico last week.

Approximately 230 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.

Iowa representatives at the 57th Annual National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Like the Iowa finalists, these impressive students qualified for the symposium by submitting and presenting original scientific research papers in regional symposia held at universities nationwide. Approximately 130 high school teachers, mentors, university faculty, ranking military guests and others also attended to encourage the future generation of scientists and engineers and celebrate student achievement in the sciences.

Students had the opportunity to tour labs such as the Air Force Research Laboratory, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Sandia National Laboratories—Security Technologies, and the University of New Mexico’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, School of Engineering, and School of Medicine—Emergency Medical Services.

Students participated in round table discussions on topics such as ocean trace elements, agile aerospace, energy and shear stability, academic STEM careers, and engineering satellite thermal systems. Students also had the opportunity to listen to an array of distinguished keynote speakers, including Dr. William Swartout, the Chief Technology Officer of University of Southern California’s (USC) Institute for Creative Technologies and Research Professor in the USC Department of Computer Science. Dr. Swartout shared his involvement in research and development work based on his interest in virtual humans and the development of new Artifical Intelligene architectures through the Shoah Foundation and the New Dimensions in Testimony project. Together they are creating a unique collection of interactive historical biographies that allow people to converse with pre-recorded video images of Holocaust survivors.

For the second consecutive year, an Iowa regional finalist placed at the national competition! Kayla Livesay (Van Buren Community High School) won second 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.” Congratulations to Kayla, as well as her teacher, Amanda Schiller (a former JSHS competitor herself)!

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:

Belin-Blank Chautauqua

Chautauqua (Shuh-taw-kwuh) was a popular movement during the late 19th and early 20th centuries; President Teddy Roosevelt called Chautauqua “the most American thing in America.”  Because it focused on adult education through summer classes, it seemed the perfect name for an opportunity for educators of the gifted to get together to complete some of their coursework for the State of Iowa Talented and Gifted Endorsement.

Chautauqua classes are aligned with national standards in gifted education, including the Pre-K to Grade 12 Gifted Education Programming Standards(essential to ensure best practices in our programs) and the Teacher Preparation Standards in Gifted Education(guiding professional learning goals as beginners—or as practicing professionals). 

The Belin-Blank Center TAG Endorsement program is aligned with the Faculty Standards for Teacher Preparation Programs in Gifted & Talented Education, developed by NAGC to ensure that educators learning about the field participate in research-based classes taught by highly-qualified professionals.

Chautauqua I and II feature an energizing array of one-semester-hour classes and an opportunity to meet face-to-face with colleagues.  Just as we know it’s important for gifted students to have some time to spend with true peers, Chautauqua provides gifted teachers time to spend with their true peers!  You can read more about this opportunity at belinblank.org/chautauqua.

Classes are offered in a “hybrid” format, meeting for two days on campus in Iowa City, and providing additional time online for readings, reflection, and submission of final projects.  Those who enroll at the graduate level for all three workshops in either week—or both—receive an automatic tuition scholarship from the Belin-Blank Center for one of three classes (e.g., three workshops for the cost of two; six for the cost of four).

Chautauqua I (July 8 – 13)

  • EDTL:4096:0WKC    Topics: Design Innovation: Talent Development in the 21st Century, inspiring your awareness of design principles at the heart of the way we live and work so you can ready your gifted learners for the unknowns that their futures will bring;
  • EDTL:4096:0WKD    Topics: Writing for High-Ability Learners, featuring ways to develop creative writing skills among gifted students, enhancing both interpersonal and intrapersonal skills critical for their success in any professional field;
  • EDTL:4072:0WKA    Thinking Skills: Skills for Lifelong Learning, sharpening your awareness of the factors involved in teaching thinking skills;

Chautauqua II (July 15 – 20)

  • RCE:4129:0WKA      Creativity: Issues and Applications in Gifted Education, including an overview of definitions of and activities that serve as catalysts for student creativity;
  • EDTL:4096:0WKE    Topics: Bibliotherapy for the Gifted,  readying  participants to select appropriate materials for students to help them deal with the challenges of growing up gifted (videotherapy is also considered);
  • EPLS:4113:0WKA    Staff Development for Gifted Programs, preparing educators to lead professional development/learning in their own schools and/or districts in order to provide the best programming possible.

Each class is described in more detail at belinblank.org/courses.

Limited housing will be available at Currier Hall, near Blank Honors Center, for those enrolling in all three workshops during either Chautauqua (or both). Contact Rachelle Blackwell by email or at 800-336-6463 for registration information.  Single rooms are available for $312 for Sunday – Friday night (additional charge of $52/night for those staying Saturday and Sunday between the two weeks).  Reservations, including payment, are due by Thursday, June 6th, 2019.

Free music performances are available in downtown Iowa City every Friday evening.  Other extracurricular opportunities will be available for Chautauqua participants.

The Belin-Blank Center also offers the Advanced Placement Summer Institute in Iowa (June 25 – 28), providing teachers the comprehensive preparation required to develop and teach an AP course.  An optional two-semester-hour class, EDTL:5080:0WKA, Teacher Training for Advanced Placement Courses, is available for participants; participants receive an automatic 50% tuition scholarship (based on the cost of graduate tuition); participants can choose to register for two Iowa Licensure Renewal Units as part of their participation. 

In addition to Chautauqua, the Center is offering online only professional learning opportunities throughout the summer, from May through August.  PSQF:4123:0EXW Academic Acceleration is a three-semester-hour class, focused on the most effective but most underused intervention for many gifted learners.  Eight additional one-semester-hour classes are available, each lasting three weeks and focusing on topics significant to your gifted learners.  Details are available at belinblank.org/educators/courses.

We look forward to working with you this summer; we appreciate your commitment to the needs of gifted and talented learners!

MORE Just-in-time Online Professional Learning for Summer

The Belin-Blank Center is committed to supporting your professional learning needs throughout the year!  We offer classes in a variety of formats, but everything we offer applies to the State of Iowa Talented and Gifted Endorsement.  We collaborate with many Iowa educators, but we also have the opportunity to work with educators from around the country—and even from other countries!  All of our classes are aligned with national standards in gifted education, including the Pre-K to Grade 12 Gifted Education Programming Standards(essential to ensure best practices in our programs) and the Teacher Preparation Standards in Gifted Education(guiding professional learning goals as beginners—or as practicing professionals).

The Belin-Blank Center TAG Endorsement program is aligned with the Faculty Standards for Teacher Preparation Programs in Gifted & Talented Education, developed by NAGC to ensure that educators learning about the field participate in research-based classes taught by highly-qualified professionals.

We have classes available for those working on their endorsement, addressing the required strands—or for those who just want to add to their “professional toolkits.” For the summer schedule, we offer an array of opportunities to ensure that anyone new to gifted education can begin their position in the fall with confidence, and to allow the most experienced teacher of the gifted to choose from the wide variety of choices that we offer, strengthening gifted programs in the school and/or the district.

This summer, Dr. Ann Lupkowski Shoplik will offer the newly revised PSQF:4123:0EXW Academic Acceleration, from June 10 – August 1. This three-semester-hour class ensures that educators of the gifted understand the powerful research underpinning acceleration as one of the most important strategies for high-ability learners, are aware of the multiple types of acceleration available, reflect on the reasons why many teachers hold negative attitudes, and have confidence in implementing acceleration in their schools.

The summer opportunities below are one-semester-hour workshops; these classes allow educators to focus on specific topics that are beneficial to their gifted and talented learners. These are described in more detail at belinblank.org/courses:

  • EDTL:4096:0WKA   Topics: Teaching Outside the Lines, exploring the book by the same name to enhance creativity in the classroom;
  • EDTL:4096:0WKB   Topics: Common Core State Standards for Gifted/Talented:  English Language Art, utilizing a NAGC publication about  strengthening standards developed for general education to provide differentiated learning for meaningful experiences in ELA for advanced learners;
  • EDTL:4029:0WKA   Leadership Skills for G/T Students, K – 12, focusing on developing leadership skills (one of the categories referenced in the definition of “gifted” in Iowa and many other states);
  • RCE:4125:0WKA    Counseling and Psychological Needs of the Gifted, essential for understanding unique student concerns about socio-emotional development, career development, and attitudes toward achievement;
  • EDTL:4074:0WKA   Differentiation at the Secondary Level, emphasizing the importance of differentiation rooted in content areas, including specific strategies to strengthen secondary courses;
  • EDTL:4096:0WKF   Topics:  Common Core State Standards for Gifted/Talented:  Mathematics, utilizing a NAGC publication about strengthening standards developed for general education to provide differentiated learning for meaningful experiences in math for advanced learners (participants do NOT need a background in mathematics to understand the needs of their mathematically gifted youth);
  • EDTL:4085:0WKA   Current Readings & Research in Gifted Education, allowing educators to focus on the topics the most need to master for their students, schools, and districts (the credit may be applied, depending on readings, to the Psychology, Programming, or Administrative strand for endorsement);
  • RCE:4119:0WKA    Family Issues in Giftedness, the last of the summer classes, designed to allow teachers to be ready to work with parents in the new school year, better understanding their concerns and planning effective ways to communicate with parents as the school year begins.

The Belin-Blank Center also offers six classes in a hybrid format that includes two days on campus with online opportunities for reflection, reading, and final projects submitted online.  You’ll find more about these at our page about the Belin-Blank Chautauqua (belinblank.org/chautauqua) in July.

We look forward to working with you this summer; we appreciate your commitment to the needs of gifted and talented learners!

A Powerful In-Classroom Practice for Supporting Your Goals for Students

As a teacher, we know you have many goals for your students. First and foremost, you are helping your students develop an understanding of your discipline’s fundamentals. But we know that you do so much more than that! You work to create opportunities for students to be creative and curious, effectively identify and solve problems, think critically, set goals, make decisions, communicate well, express confidence, and actively participate in their communities.

The goals you have for your students are abstract, so you create actual experiences in your classroom to help students develop and demonstrate these behaviors. But you’re busier than ever, and resources are scarce. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way to promote the many goals you hold for them through a single project?

The good news? There is. It’s student research.

When you support students in conducting original research projects, you are creating an environment for them to be curious and identify problems that spark their interest. You are requiring that they think critically about what questions are fruitful to ask and evaluate what can be investigated given their constraints. You are expecting them to solve problems that arise while designing and implementing their methods, determine how they will collect and analyze data, generate conclusions that make sense and determine the extent to which those conclusions are trustworthy.

Designing and implementing a research project helps students accomplish many of your goals, but presenting their work empowers students to really bloom. Many avenues are available for Iowa high school students to present their research projects, including the Iowa Junior Sciences and Humanities Symposium (Iowa JSHS).

When students participate in Iowa JSHS, they write scientific papers detailing their investigations. Any high school student in the state of Iowa can submit a research paper to Iowa JSHS at no cost. Each one is evaluated by a panel of judges at the University of Iowa, creating an authentic audience for whom students must develop a written product. The paper submission deadline also creates authentic space that imposes the need for students to set continual goals throughout their research project.

All students who submit papers are invited to attend the spring Iowa JSHS competition. The top 15 finalists are invited to deliver oral presentations to a panel of judges and a ballroom full of their teachers and peers. This differs from all other regional- or state-level science competitions, where students typically present a poster to individuals or small groups. Teachers tell us that the oral presentation component of Iowa JSHS deepens their students’ understanding of their project and helps them develop strong communication skills and confidence in their own abilities.

It’s not all business at Iowa JSHS, though. Research is a collaborative experience, so we work to foster a sense of community. Students in attendance have the opportunity to meet trained researchers, from undergraduates to professors, during presentations and University lab tours. They also have a chance to get to know other high school student researchers through meals together, swimming in the hotel pool, and even a trivia night! Students tell us that they value developing friendships with peers from other districts who are also interested in STEM and research. In these ways, Iowa JSHS invites students to actively participate in their newfound community.

While you are planning for next year, be sure to consider how implementing student research into your classroom can help your students reach the goals you have for them. (Bonus: It also aligns wonderfully with the new Next Generation Science Standards [NGSS] and helps students develop 21st-century skills!) It doesn’t have to be a huge endeavor – students can mine open data sets that already exist, find a problem to solve on their family farm, or work with a local expert. Whatever their project, we guarantee that you will see growth in leaps and bounds.

2019 Iowa JSHS student researchers

For more on Iowa JSHS, visit belinblank.og/jshs or contact jshs@belinblank.org.

Invent Iowa Showcases Student Inventors Statewide

On April 15, the Belin-Blank Center hosted the 2019 Invent Iowa State Invention Convention. It was a day full of energy and excitement as young inventors from schools across Iowa advanced from their local invention conventions to the state competition. We were pleased to see so many creative solutions to the everyday problems that students noticed in the world around them!

Our generous sponsors included McKee, Voorhees & Sease, P.L.C. and Integrated DNA Technologies. Representatives from each – Christine Lebron-Dykeman and Mark Behlke, respectively – delivered keynote presentations to inspire Iowa’s next generation of innovators. Fourth-grader Manasvi Devi Reddy from the Linn-Mar Community School District won the McKee, Voorhees & Sease, P.L.C. Agricultural Invention Award for her “Environmental Saver.” Her invention uses farming by-products to make paper, thereby reusing discarded materials and reducing the number of trees being cut down.

Inventors competed in two divisions: Kindergarten – 5th grade, and 6th – 8th grade. Winners qualified to compete next month at the National Invention Convention at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. The Belin-Blank Center awarded first place winners from each division an expense-paid trip to the national competition.

Quill Orth (Lewis Central Community School District), last year’s winner of the 3rd – 5th grade division, went on to compete at the National Invention Convention, where he won the 3M Innovative Materials Award for his “Hotspot Chicken Insulating Cream,” which prevents frostbite on chickens’ combs. Quill shared his story and words of congratulations and encouragement with this year’s inventors.

2019 Winners from the Kindergarten – 5th grade division:

  • 1st place: Kelty Raap & Sadie Takes (4th grade, St. Pius X Catholic School), for their “I C Safety Straw,” a straw made of ice to reduce plastic use.
  • 2nd place: Luke Amaro & Lexi Geiskemper (5th grade, Alburnett Community School District), for their “Absorbo-Rocks.” These are rocks made of absorbent material that will capture excess water in fields and let it back out when the weather becomes hot and dry.
  • 3rd place: Charles Smith (Kindergarten, Ottumwa Community School District) for his “Benge Beacon,” a bright light to mark exits in homes to help firefighters and residents locate them more easily.

Winners from the 6th – 8th grade division:

  • 1st place: Grace Brand & Sara Schutte (6th grade, Pleasant View Community School District) for “The Noise Neutralizer,” a flashing light system to alert people when the noise level is too loud
  • 2nd place: Dylan Hunt, Thomas Nugent, and Rebecca Yanacheak (8th grade, Adel-Desoto-Minburn Community School District) for their “Eazy Shuck,” which makes shucking corn an easier and safer process.
  • 3rd place: Chloe Goedken & Ellie Kronlage (6th grade, St. Francis Xavier Catholic School) for “The Adjust A-Q,” a pool cue that can be adjusted in size to avoid hitting the walls around a pool table.

Congratulations to all who competed, and keep inventing, Iowa!

Are You Thinking about Early Entrance to College? This May Be the Time to Take the ACT

The Belin-Blank Center frequently recommends above-level testing for academically talented students because it gives students the opportunity to “show what they can do” and demonstrate their abilities on a test that was developed for older students. This is a common-sense approach to discovering academically talented students. These students have already performed very well on grade-level tests, and they need a greater challenge to demonstrate their aptitudes fully.

Using a grade-level achievement test to measure the aptitudes of an academically talented student is kind of like using a 3-foot yardstick to measure someone who is 5 feet tall. The grade-level yardstick isn’t long enough to measure the student’s height accurately. By giving a student a test that was developed for older students (an above-level test), we are making our yardstick longer and helping to learn more precise information about the student’s capabilities.

The ACT, the test that many students take in 11th or 12th grade as part of the college admissions process, has been used since the 1980s to discover students who are ready for greater academic challenges. We recommend that 7th-9th grade students who have already performed very well on grade-level achievement tests (such as the Iowa Assessments) be encouraged to take the ACT. They can take this test through any one of the university-based talent searches, including the one offered by the Belin-Blank Center.

What can you do with the information? Scores on the ACT can be used to qualify students for a wide variety of programs, including programs offered by the Belin-Blank Center. An important opportunity selected students might also consider is early entrance to college. The Belin-Blank Center hosts the Bucksbaum Academy, which is an early entrance to college program for students who have completed 10th or 11th grade. We recommend that 9th graders who are interested in considering early entrance to college take the ACT in June or in the fall of 10th grade.

If your student is a 9th grader this year, it’s not too early to think about taking the ACT. Students can take the test in June and receive their scores during the summer. This information can then be included in the admissions packet submitted to the University of Iowa. It’s important to note that applicants to the Bucksbaum Academy must take the ACT or SAT by November of their 10th grade year in order to be considered for some University of Iowa scholarships.

Even if your academically talented 7th-9th grade students aren’t thinking that early entrance to college is in their future, we still encourage them to take the ACT. Taking this test at a young age provides bright students with many advantages: (1) more information about their aptitudes, (2) opportunities to qualify for a variety of summer and school-year programs, (3) the chance to try out a fun challenge, and (4) for students earning outstanding scores, the opportunity to be recognized in a formal recognition ceremony at the University of Iowa.