Author Archives: belinblank

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!

Must-See Summer Enrichment Classes for Middle School Students

If you’re still looking for summer programs for curious middle school students, look no further! Our Junior Scholars Institute (JSI) still has limited seats available in some amazing classes. Check them out before it’s too late!

Robot Theater: Exploring with Cozmo

The focus of this class is to learn the basics of dramatic storytelling that incorporate robot technology (Cozmo, created by Anki) as part of the story. If you have written a script, story, or poem that you have been dreaming of seeing performed on stage, then this class is for you—our Cozmos will be your actors. If you have an interest in robotics and want to work with sophisticated technology, then this class is for you—Cozmo will introduce you to the world of robotics. No previous experience with writing, puppetry, theatre, or working with robots is required.

Environmental Engineering

Students will be exposed to real-world environmental challenges Iowans face with an emphasis on flooding and access to clean water. Through an interactive learning environment, students will connect with professionals from a variety of related fields to learn how we prepare for, respond to, and recover from disaster events, but then also mitigate for future disasters to build community resilience. Classroom learning will be mobile and designed to engage the students in career settings providing opportunities for practicing professional development skills.

Mixed Media Workshop

Are you ready for an exciting week of action-packed art adventures? If so, this class is for you! Our week will be an exciting exploration of several different kinds of art making. You will try your hand at a variety of studio projects throughout the week. The two-dimensional art portion of the class will involve some printmaking, drawing, and painting. The stop motion animation segment will introduce you to the basics of stop-motion in the making of an awesome animation that you will shoot, edit, and create music and sound effects. You will work on individual pieces, as well as work in small groups. Exploring collaboration in small groups will allow us to put our brains together to come up with unique, creative solutions. We will go on a couple of field trips to get ideas for work and look at other artists’ work. Bring your adventurous spirit and creative brain. It’s going to be a great week of getting a little messy, learning some new techniques, getting your creative juices flowing, and challenging yourselves.

Archaeology: Discover the Past!

Ever wonder how archaeologists know where to find ancient sites? Or how rocks and bones provide them clues about how people lived? Archaeologists are scientific detectives, studying people from the past and the objects they left behind. In this course, you will learn to think like an archaeologist using scientific inquiry. We will study real artifacts in the research labs at the Office of the State Archaeologist and participate in hands-on lessons and activities to learn about Iowa’s archaeological past, from the Ice Age to the first Europeans. You will also learn how today’s Native American communities work with archaeologists to strengthen our understanding of their cultures. Part of this course will take place at an outdoor classroom at the Macbride Nature Recreation Area, where we will learn archaeology field techniques to document a real archaeological site!

Other open classes include Leadership for Students Who Want to Make a Difference, Women in Engineering, and Project Discovery: Finding Your Writer’s Voice.

Participation in your school’s talented and gifted program is not required. Payment plans and financial aid are available. If you think JSI sounds like a good fit for your student, be sure to check it out at www.belinblank.org/summer or contact Ashlee Van Fleet at summer@belinblank.org!

Summer Enrichment for Middle School Students

The Belin-Blank Center specializes in academically talented kids. If you have 6th-8th grade students who show a deep curiosity when a topic sparks their interest, a love of learning, or a particular talent in an area, they will feel right at home in our Junior Scholars Institute (JSI)! JSI is a summer program designed specifically for bright students who want to take a deep dive into a topic – all while having fun with other middle school kids who share their level of interest and ability. 

Students get to choose one class to focus on all day, for a full week – and these aren’t regular classes! With options like Archaeology, Women in Engineering,  Mixed Media Art, Leadership for Students Who Want to Make a Difference, Robot Theater (and more!), there’s sure to be something for your inquisitive kids. Class sizes are small, and they take place on the University of Iowa campus, giving students access to valuable university-level resources and experts.

JSI students also get to experience a taste of college life by staying overnight in the dorm with their peers for the week! Plus, they get to hang out with their new friends and attend plenty of fun cultural and recreational activities in the evenings.

We understand that many bright students may also have a disability or impairment that can present behavioral, emotional, social, or learning challenges. Our experts in twice-exceptionality offer specialized social and academic support for these students.

Payment plans and financial aid are available. Participation in your school’s talented and gifted program is not required. If you think JSI sounds like a good fit for any of your students, be sure to recommend that they check it out at www.belinblank.org/summer or contact Ashlee Van Fleet at summer@belinblank.org!

Message from the Director: Moving the Needle Beyond the Status Quo

For nearly 30 years, my spring semester has begun with the Identification of Giftedness class.  I enjoy the students, the topic, and the opportunity to stay current on the advancements in the broad field of gifted education.  One example of advancement includes the gradual paradigm shift from the generally gifted individual to include a new paradigm of talent development, in which specific talent domains are recognized and developed along a trajectory of novice to excellence and even eminence. A second advancement involves the recognition of twice-exceptionality — that is, high cognitive ability along with a learning disorder or social impairment, such as an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), that impedes realization of the full academic potential of an individual.  Yet, despite advancements over several decades, both the process for identification of students and the programs for delivery of curriculum and services remain largely the same. How do we move the needle beyond the status quo?  An initial step is increasing awareness of the issues. In this first message of 2019, I will review three issues and recommend an approach.  

Issue #1 Defining Giftedness:  Nearly every textbook addresses this very broad topic first, as do I, probably because we have to arrive at the very critical point that giftedness is a social construct and as such, it defies definition.  True, many educators will label students as gifted, but giftedness is not a “state of being” despite the fact that there is a label. We cannot measure talent or giftedness, but we can measure aspects of cognitive development that are associated with giftedness, including verbal reasoning, nonverbal reasoning, processing of information, and short-term memory.  We can also measure aptitude or potential in specific domains of talent such as math, reading, music, and sports, to name just a few.  As well, we can affirm that there are students in every classroom and in every school who, as described in the current federal definition of giftedness:

“give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities.”

In class, after we finish the section on the definition vs. non-definition, we move immediately into the areas that relate to the “evidence,” of high achievement, intelligence, creativity, etc. I always start with intelligence – another social construct — and more specifically, cognitive ability, because in most schools the gifted program for elementary students is based on identifying students with high cognitive ability and high achievement.  It is with the words “evidence” and “high,” which imply measurement and comparison or judgment, where we have controversy in the field.  Sometimes that controversy is quiet and simmers just below a surface of collegial cordiality. Other times, vociferous arguments threaten to divide the field.

Issue #2 Use of Tests to Identify Students: One significant area of controversy relates to testing and the use of the tests – intelligence tests in particular – for determining eligibility for programs.  In fact, the words “intelligence,” giftedness,” and “genius,” which are each a social construct, are inextricably intertwined and have been for a century, since Lewis Terman, developer of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales, launched in 1921 a longitudinal study that would be published over many decades and volumes.  The first of five volumes of Genetic Studies of Genius appeared in 1926 and the last, by Terman and M.H. Oden, Genetic Studies of Genius: Vol. V.  The Gifted Group at Mid-Life was published in 1959.

But let’s take a step back to the early 1900s when French psychologists Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon completed a commissioned scale, called the Binet-Simon Scales, to help educators differentiate among individuals who needed specialized interventions to be successful in schools.  Shortly thereafter, Lewis Terman, a psychologist at Stanford University, adopted and revised the Binet-Simon Scales for use in the U.S. as the Stanford-Binet Scales. In just a few short years, Terman and his student-turned-colleague, Maud Merrill, co-developed subsequent revisions of the Stanford-Binet.  Around the same time, Leta S. Hollingworth, who reportedly never met Terman, although they shared mutual respect for each other’s work, was conducting her own studies of individuals who achieved exceptional scores on the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test.  Hollingworth focused on using the information from the test to develop educational strategies for her students.

Terman is sometimes considered the “father” of gifted education and Hollingworth the “mother.” I prefer to think of them as early pioneers in the field. More important than a moniker signifying their contributions to the origin of a field is the observation that these two pioneers diverged with respect to their basic assumptions, specifically with respect to heritability of intelligence.  Hollingworth recognized that heritability is a factor in cognitive ability; however, she was more interested in the environment and educational needs of individuals with extraordinary intelligence as measured by intelligence tests.  Terman’s focus on genetics, made obvious by the title of his five-volume oeuvre, coupled with some very early-career and philosophical decisions — in particular the unacceptable and offensive promotion of eugenics — has resulted in vilification and consideration that anything related to Terman or his work should be censured. 

Issue #3 Is there a contemporary application of lessons from decades past? Historians, educators, and psychologists have written extensively about Terman’s work, especially as it relates to testing and gifted education.  A 2019 publication in Gifted Child Quarterly, v. 63, 5-21by Russell Warne offers an extremely thoughtful perspective on this question.  The title of Warne’s article, “An Evaluation (and Vindication?) of Lewis Terman: What the Father of Gifted Education Can Teach the 21stCentury,” hints at his comprehensive discussion of the criticisms underlying recent condemnations and offers helpful recommendations for today’s researchers and practitioners.

Recommendations to move the needle from the status quo? A relatively simple change is to broaden our conceptualization of the issues.  Understanding the needs of the “generally gifted” as revealed by an intelligence test should include talent development.  There also must be recognition that cognitive development is often uneven, which is an aspect of twice-exceptionality.  Another change is to be intentional in considering criticisms of Terman and his work. I am particularly sensitive to the valid condemnation that relates to Terman’s early-career promotion of the eugenics movement (he later dissociated from this movement).   There is NO equivocation on my part; any connection to eugenics is NEITHER appropriate NOR desirable.   

Taking advantage of 21st-Century scientific advancements, however, is crucial; the collaborative efforts between the University of Iowa’s Belin-Blank Center and the Iowa Neuroscience Institute includes both a neuroimaging and a genomics component.  As we progress in our nascent Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality research project, we recognize the importance of carefully analyzing our data prior to postulating a particular stance.  Furthermore, we affirm that both the neuroimaging and genetic components of our project are designed to integrate basic science and education. 

The Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality is a big research project, and we are thrilled to announce that we have received a Provost Investment Fund award to develop a better understanding of the neural and genetic mechanisms underlying twice exceptionality. Until now, we have used a singular psychoeducational perspective to prove the concept in educational and clinical settings.  Using a multifocal approach that combines multiple disciplines including psychology, education, genetics, and neuroimaging will help us understand the paradox of twice-exceptionality.  We just might move the status quo needle a little. 

Just-in-Time Professional Learning

The Belin-Blank Center is committed to supporting educators’ 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 is one of the only programs in the state that is aligned with the Faculty Standards for Teacher Preparation Programs in Gifted & Talented Educationdeveloped by the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) to ensure that educators learning about the field participate in research-based classes taught by highly-qualified professionals.

We still have classes available for those working on their endorsement—or for those who just want to add to their “professional toolkits.”  

  • If teachers in Nebraska or western Iowa (or anywhere else within driving distance) can benefit from the credit hour(s), we offer Leadership in Gifted Education (course number PSQF:5194:0WKB; 1 or 2 semester hours) for those attending the NAG 2019 Conferenceon February 21 – 22. Automatic 50% tuition scholarship.
  • NEW FLOW experience (webinar format) on February 27. FLOW stands for Focused Learning On your Work. For the inaugural session, we are featuring Dr. Shelagh Gallagher discussing Problem-Based Learning, one of the best learning opportunities for gifted/talented students. Visit belinblank.org/webinar for more details and to register. Those who register for or watch the live event via another registered computer (e.g., district or Area Education Agency) can enroll in Programming/Curriculum for High Ability Students: Problem-Based Learning (EDTL:4073:0WKA; 1 semester hour)Automatic 50% tuition scholarship. If the time doesn’t work for you, you can register to receive the link for the recording that will be available following the webinar ($45 to register a computer for either the live event or the link).
  • Curriculum Concepts in Gifted Education (EDTL:4066:0EXW) is a three-semester-hour class beginning on March 11 through May 10. Only three seats left in this thorough review of curriculum models, as well as best practices in the implementation of differentiated curriculum for high-ability learners.
  • Topics: Developing Curriculum for Gifted Learners (EDTL:4096:0WKC; 1 semester hour) provides an excellent opportunity to focus on the principles essential for the new units you want to offer to your gifted/talented learners.

The Connie Belin & Jacqueline N. Blank Fellowship Program in Gifted Education

Do you know someone who would like to learn more about the nature and needs of gifted learners? Someone who could help advocate for your district’s high-ability learners and the school’s gifted/talented program?  Encourage them to look at the information about the Belin-Blank Fellowship Program in Gifted Education (Belin-Blank Fellowship), one of the nation’s longest running professional development programs.  Applications are being accepted for this summer’s Fellowship, to be held on the University of Iowa campus from June 23 – 28, 2019!  

2018 Belin Fellows

For almost 40 years, the Fellowship has been offering educators, school counselors, administrators, and others, the opportunity to learn more about best practices in supporting the needs of gifted learners.  The program admits 12 educators who want to: 

  • Learn effective new ways to recognize gifted/talented students and meet their unique affective needs.
  • Enhance their abilities to meet the different academic needs of gifted/talented students.
  • Act as an effective resource in gifted education for other educators in their schools and districts.
  • Review their new knowledge and skills for applications to ALL youngsters in their classes.
  • Nurture the sense of social responsibility in the use and development of talents among gifted students. 

The Belin-Blank Center provides full room and board near the Blank Honors Center, where participants hear from leaders in gifted education, and have the chance to ask questions about identifying gifted learners and developing the talents of their highest-ability learners.  Participants receive an extensive collection of professional materials, and those who choose to enroll for two semester hours of graduate credit receive an automatic 50% tuition scholarship.

2018 Belin Fellows learning about best practices in teaching gifted students.

This program is not designed for those who are already taking coursework to complete an endorsement in gifted education; it IS intended to develop the understanding of others in your school who will develop their own skills to work effectively with gifted and talented students, as well as support school and district goals to maximize learning for allstudents, including those who are ready for more.

Educators can apply online; as well, all applicants must have an administrator provide a statement of support for their participation.  Districts are asked to pay $250 toward the cost of materials. Visit belinbelin.org/fellowshipfor more information.  The application period ends on March 11, 2019.