Category Archives: Academic Year Programs

Adventures in the Sky with Bessie Coleman and Amelia Earhart

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

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

“Adventure is worthwhile in itself.”

Amelia Earhart 

Adventures in the Sky

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

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

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

Photo by Ömer Aydın from Pexels

Python Programming for 4th-6th Graders

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

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

How it works

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

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

-Bill Gates

Help your child become 21st century-ready

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

How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse

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

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

How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse

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

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

Online Neuroscience Class for Middle Schoolers

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

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

Getting to Know Your Brain: A Crash Course in Neuroscience

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

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

Online Math Class: Master Mathematicians Battle Round!

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

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

Master Mathematicians Battle Round

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

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

Online RBG Class

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

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

The first class is on November 1st!

Bravery: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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

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

New Online Student Programs!

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

Enrichment Expeditions 
Grades 2-8 

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

Coders’ Lab
Grades 4-6 

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

Coding with Python 
Grades 7-9 

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

Enrichment Classes are Back – Online!

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

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

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

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

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

Start your expedition today at belinblank.org/enrichment!  

Coming Up at the Belin-Blank Center

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

For Educators

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

For Students & Families

For Researchers

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

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

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

– Salman Khan

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

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

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

Bill Gates

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

Your Writing Community is Waiting

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

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

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

Join the community

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

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

– Summer 2020 student writer

Get your seat at the table

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

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Stay Tuned for New Online Opportunities for Kids!

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

Invent Iowa…Online!

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

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

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

The free National Invention Convention curriculum can be accessed here.

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

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

New Requirements for IOAPA Middle School Courses

As you may know, the Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) and the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS) have teamed up to provide identification and programming services, and to help Iowa teachers find talented students and develop their abilities. There are extraordinary benefits in identifying students who are in need of an additional challenge, and we at the Belin-Blank Center and IOAPA want students to experience these full benefits. According to research, above-level testing is one of the best methods to make these identifications.

After examining previous years’ completion and passing rates for IOAPA middle school courses, the Belin-Blank Center is implementing a new policy regarding IOAPA middle school courses. Beginning in the 2020-2021 academic year, all students taking an IOAPA middle school course as a 6th grader* will be required to have completed the I-Excel assessment. All students taking an IOAPA middle school course as a 7th or 8th grader will be required to have completed the ACT.

By requiring these above-level assessments, we are hoping to provide teachers with an effective tool to identify students who would benefit from advanced coursework through IOAPA.

Students must have taken I-Excel or the ACT in the past two years or will need to sign up for testing in order to register for the Fall 2020 IOAPA courses.  Teachers need to begin the above-level testing process now. Registration for Fall 2020 IOAPA courses will be open April 1 – August 15, 2020. Below we discuss the two different above-level assessments and the process of signing up.

I-Excel

  1. Find the students who are ready for additional challenge. Typically, students who have earned scores at or above the 90th percentile on grade-level standardized tests, such as the Iowa Assessments or ISASP, are strong candidates for above-level testing.
  2. Notify the students identified in Step 1 and their families about the opportunity to participate in BESTS.
  3. If you have 6th-graders*, contact assessment@belinblank.org as soon as possible to set up testing after reading through the details at belinblank.org/inschooltesting. 7th-9th grade students in need of above-level testing will be taking the ACT, and there are specific deadlines for registration; visit belinblank.org/act for specific information. I-Excel testing sessions for current 4th-6th graders are more flexible to schedule, but it’s important to reach out soon to ensure that the process can be completed in time for your desired test date(s) and IOAPA spring registration. Please allow approximately 6 weeks from the time of registration to having the assessment results in hand.
  4. Inform students and parents about test results and the recommended course of action following testing.
*If next year’s incoming 6th graders are currently in a separate building, please feel free to share this information with the appropriate person in that building.

I-Excel Costs

The cost of I-Excel in Iowa is $45 per student if groups of 4 or more students are tested. The cost is $22 if the student is eligible for free/reduced cost lunch. For students test individually, the cost is $90 ($45 for those receiving free/reduced cost lunch). If students test on the University of Iowa campus in June at our testing session on campus (June 11, 2020), the fee is $70 ($35 for those receiving free/reduced cost lunch).

After testing, eligible students may sign up for an IOAPA course, and IOAPA covers the course fee (up to a $700 value).

ACT

The ACT is a test that many students take in 11th or 12th grade as part of the college admissions process. The ACT has also been used since the 1980s to discover younger students who are ready for greater academic challenges. Students testing through the Belin-Blank Center are provided with the individualized report mentioned above. Scores on the ACT can be used to qualify students for a wide variety of academic programs, including IOAPA courses.

Registration / Test Date Process

To make this process easier, parents can sign their child up for the ACT through our BESTS program. Click here for more information on this process. In doing so, we remove the guesswork from the registration process, we file the registration paperwork with ACT, and we also send you a coupon for a free IDEAL Solutions for STEM Acceleration report that provides an extensive interpretation of your child’s scores.

The ACT test dates are less flexible than I-Excel testing dates. Below are the available test dates through May 2020 (Note: we do not offer the July or September ACT test date through our registration system).

Test DateInitial Deadline (Late fee after this date)Final Deadline
Saturday, April 4, 2020Wednesday, February 26, 2020Wednesday, March 11, 2020
Saturday, June 13, 2020Wednesday, May 6, 2020Wednesday, May 20, 2020

ACT Cost

The fee for ACT testing is $70 ($35 for students who qualify for Free/Reduced-Cost Lunch). If the reduced fee for qualifying students is still too great a financial burden, the Belin-Blank Center will work with the family to make a financial arrangement that allows the student to participate. Registrations not paid as of the initial deadline will incur an additional $30 fee.

After testing, eligible students may sign up for an IOAPA course, and IOAPA covers the course fee (up to a $700 value).

For more detailed information about this new requirement of above-level testing for IOAPA middle school courses, check out our recent IOAPA-BESTS blog that highlights the most common FAQs. Please do not hesitate to contact us at ioapa@belinblank.org if you have any questions.

Not Your Ordinary Science Fair

Conducting original research projects will spark students’ curiosity. Through research processes, students develop 21st-century skills and meet Next Generation Science Standards. Ok, you’re convinced. You’re ready for students to work on research projects. But how do you take student research out of the classroom and into the world? 

The Iowa Junior Sciences and Humanities Symposium (JSHS) is a high school science research competition, grounded in engaging students in unique research experiences. The uniqueness of Iowa JSHS begins with students submitting a symposium proposal in the form of a scientific article. (See how to write a scientific article.) The symposium proposal is an authentic audience for whom students write. Students put their work out into the world, and a panel of experts reviews each submission for potential inclusion in the symposium. 

The premier event of Iowa JSHS is students listening to presentations of research that has been conducted by their peers. Presenting at Iowa JSHS is an exciting experience, but for students in the audience, seeing what is possible through near-peer mentorship is an impactful experience. Yet, Iowa JSHS is more than students presenting research. Time is provided for the students to socialize, forming impactful connections resulting in life-long friendships. Iowa JSHS also enables students to experience a research-intensive university first hand. Through laboratory tours, students get a backstage pass to world-class labs and the professional scientific community. 

Any school in Iowa can bring five students to attend Iowa JSHS free of charge, thanks to the generous sponsorship of the Tri-Services and the Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development. Iowa JSHS truly is an experience that goes beyond the ordinary science fair. If you’re interested in learning more, send us an e-mail at jshs@belinblank.org and check out our website

How We’re Supporting Academic Talent in Rural Iowa

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation recently published a new report on rural education programs that develop academic talent. The report, “Small Town, Big Talent: Identifying and Supporting Academically Promising Students in Rural Areas”, highlighted the work that is being done across the state of Iowa through the STEM Excellence and Leadership program, administered by the Belin-Blank Center.

The program takes place extracurricularly in rural school districts throughout the state. Teachers identify talented middle-school students with interests in math and science, increase their aspirations, and engage them in advanced, in-depth coursework to prepare them for STEM opportunities at the highest levels.

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s report makes the following recommendations for organizations and educators working with rural schools. Here’s how Iowa’s STEM Excellence and Leadership program realizes these 9 ideals. 

  1. Use quantitative testing appropriately. We believe that every child deserves to learn something new every day, including the ones that ace every test. It’s often the case that bright students are ready to learn things beyond the level of the grade they are in—but how can you tell what level would be more appropriate for a particular student? One way, called above-level testing, is to give a younger student a test that was developed for older students. In the STEM Excellence and Leadership program and at the Belin-Blank Center, we use above-level testing to uncover information about a student’s academic abilities and learning needs, helping parents and teachers discover what that student is ready to learn. Learn more.
  2. Use educator and community feedback. The STEM Excellence and Leadership program is grounded in the philosophy of place-based learning and provides support for educators to have agency in shaping their local programs around the needs and interests of their students and communities. This means that each program implements a unique curriculum that leverages local strengths, opportunities, and needs. Local districts have strong voices in their programs, which have incorporated prairie restorations, algebra, rocketry, butterfly gardens, probability, robotics, statistics, and invention conventions.
  3. Use student interviews. We gather feedback from STEM Excellence and Leadership students by visiting classrooms, conducing focus groups, and sending out surveys. Understanding how students experience our programs is key to living up to our ideals and knowing the extent to which we are truly inspiring excellence and nurturing potential.
  4. Pay special attention to underserved populations. Research shows that rural students have fewer STEM educational opportunities, are less likely to attend a four-year college, and less likely to major in STEM than their urban and suburban peers. We believe talent is not bound by zip code and neither should be opportunities for advanced STEM learning.
  5. Expose promising rural students to people and opportunities outside their home communities and connect talented students with older, near-peer role models cultivating a robust peer community. Students who participate in the STEM Excellence and Leadership program come together in the spring to attend a Student Research Conference at the University of Iowa. There, they learn about research conducted by undergraduate students from rural Iowa communities and hear presentations from Iowa high school students conducting original research. Scholarships sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation are also available to support STEM Excellence and Leadership students in attending Belin-Blank Center summer programs, where they spend their days taking a deep dive into a topic of their choice with like-minded peers. Through these summer programs, students have access to valuable university-level resources and experts. They also live in a residence hall with their classmates and get a taste of life as university students. 
  6. When possible, provide consistent engagement throughout the year. STEM Excellence and Leadership is a year-long program with a fall and spring session. With programming before school, after school, on the weekends, and during the summer, STEM Excellence and Leadership programs create bountiful STEM opportunities for rural students throughout the year.
  7. Encourage professional development in schools. A hallmark of the STEM Excellence and Leadership program is that communities of teachers from a variety of disciplines come together to learn about the identification of STEM talent, the needs of gifted learners, and principles of math and science education. Summer professional development programs create communities that understand and support the development advanced STEM learning ecosystems within and across districts.
  8. Provide acceleration and enrichment opportunities. Through administering the STEM Excellence and Leadership program, we are able to support educators across the state in creating STEM ecosystems that provide acceleration and enrichment opportunities for rural students.

We would like to acknowledge the support of the Jack Kent Cook Foundation for a Rural Talent Initiative grant and a Talent Development Award that have supported the implementation of the STEM Excellence and Leadership program and the Student Research Conference. Additionally, a National Science Foundation Advancing Informal STEM Learning grant supports current STEM Excellence and Leadership programming and research and rural STEM talent development.

Scholarships for High School Students Conducting Research

Interested in doing research, but worried about the costs? Looking for an outlet to share your ideas, that may lead to college scholarships? We’ve rounded up a helpful list of funding sources and prizes for you!

Iowa students who conduct research related to pigs, pork, pig production, swine care, or in a related subject area will be eligible to receive a $200 scholarship for their project from the Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation. This scholarship can assist in the development of a project, be used to purchase supplies to conduct or present research, or for travel to one of Iowa’s science competitions like the Iowa Junior Science and Humanities Symposium! The deadline for application is February 1, 2020.

For students seeking creative solutions to environmental problems, check out the International Young Eco-Hero Award. This award is offered by Action for Nature and recognizes students between the ages of 8 and 16 for environmental action. Students can receive up to a $500 cash prize for creative and independent environmental research projects. The deadline for application is February 28, 2020.  

The Regeneron Science Talent Search is one of the oldest national science competitions for high school seniors. To enter, students complete an online application that includes a research manuscript describing their original research. Around 2,000 students submit the application each year with 300 of them becoming scholars receiving $2,000 each; each of the scholars’ schools receive $2,000 as well. The top 40 scholars are selected to travel to Washington D.C. to present their research and compete for one of the top ten awards ranging from $40,000 – $250,000. The deadline for application has passed for this fall but be sure to check them out next year! (And consider submitting a project to the Iowa Junior Science and Humanities Symposium to prepare for next year’s Talent Search competition.)

The Davidson Fellows Scholarship has been named one of the ten biggest scholarships in the world and is available to extraordinary young people 18 and under, who have completed a significant piece of work. The Davidson Institute awards scholarships in categories of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, Literature, Music, Philosophy and Outside the Box. The Davidson Institute denotes on their website that this award is for students whose projects are at, or close to, the college graduate level with a depth of knowledge in their particular area of study and not geared toward students at the novice level. Applying to this scholarship is worth the time as the winners are awarded $50,000, $25,000, or $10,000 and are honored with a trip to Washington D.C. for some congressional meetings and a special reception. The deadline for application is February 12.

Even though it is not a requirement for an applicant to conduct high school research for the National Institutes of Health NIH Undergraduate Scholarship Program, we thought this would be of some interest to students who love research. This scholarship program offers up to $20,000 per year in aid and summer research training at the NIH! High school students must be in the top 5% of their class, from a disadvantaged background, and enrolled in a University committed to a career in biomedical, behavioral, or social science – health related research.

The Iowa Junior Science and Humanities Symposium is supported by the Army Educational Outreach Program, which hosts a variety of apprenticeships that create opportunities for high school students to conduct research with scientists and engineers. They also have a variety of scholarships and grants.

With these and other scholarship opportunities, publicly available data sets, and ways for teachers to incorporate student research into their regular curriculum, it’s never been easier for high school students to contribute brand new knowledge to the world. And if you’re still unsure, be sure to check out this guide to getting started on a research project. We hope you’re inspired to get out there and start researching!

How Student STEM Research Can Help Teachers…and their Students

One of the common characteristics of gifted students is a deep curiosity about the topics they are interested in. They may spend hours scouring Google for more information, ask complex questions in class, or observe how the topic relates to one they learned about in another class.

As a classroom teacher, this level of interest can be exciting to witness. However, it may also present logistical challenges when trying to simultaneously maintain curriculum standards and balance the various learning needs of a classroom full of students.

High school student STEM research can help solve both of these challenges. These projects offer a way to implement the Science and Engineering Practices of the new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and help students develop 21st-century skills, while also naturally differentiating instruction through inquiry and student choice.

The performance standards of the NGSS emphasize the role of students actively generating conceptual understanding while engaging in the practices of science. In this way, the NGSS reflect the idea that understanding the practices of science is just as important as the content knowledge itself. Research projects also help students develop important skills necessary for success in the 21st century. According to P21, essential life and career skills needed today include flexibility and adaptability, initiative and self-direction, social and cross-cultural skills, productivity and accountability, and leadership and responsibility. Student research projects offer a chance to practice each of these skills.

Student research also helps the classroom teacher engage students in science content by allowing them to pursue an individual inquiry into a problem or generate new knowledge about a topic of their choice. Having the opportunity to choose an individual project exposes students to design and problem solving skills, as well as hands-on, minds-on, and collaborative learning.

Teachers can differentiate instruction for students who are enthusiastic about diving even deeper into their topic by encouraging them to submit their projects to various high school student research competitions.  These offer students an authentic audience to which to present their work and a chance to win accolades, prizes, and even college scholarships for their work. Competing for a prize adds a level of student engagement by having a real, tangible benefit to completing their projects and putting together a well-written research paper and presentation.

Research competitions, such as Iowa’s regional Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS), provide students an opportunity to engage with experts who will critique their work, and valuable experience presenting and communicating science to a broad audience. These events often offer students a chance to interact with STEM professionals, listen to presentations on other students’ research, or go on tours that expose them to real-world research environments and various STEM careers. This connects students to the STEM community and exposes them to the culture of science.

Iowa’s regional JSHS allows teachers to bring non-competing students as delegate attendees. Students who attend as delegates have the opportunity to see the top projects presented, attend lab tours, and interact with research professionals and other student-scientists from around the state. The top presenters advance to the national competition, where they join student researchers from around the nation to compete for substantial scholarships. There are also opportunities for hands-on workshops, panel discussions, career exploration, research lab visits, and student networking events. Last year, Iowa high school students took home a 1st place win at the national competition and more than $20,000 in scholarships! Next year, it could be your student.

Iowa student Cheryl Blackmer won 1st place at Nationals in 2018!

And for those students who are interested, be sure to check out other opportunities for student research, such as the Perry Research Scholars Institute, Secondary Student Training Program, Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, Google Science Fair, and opportunities through the Army Educational Outreach Program.

How IOAPA Mentors Can Support Students

The end of the semester can be a busy time for both students and teachers! Here are some quick tips for how to continue to support your IOAPA students through December and in future semesters.

  1. Check in frequently. Even if students don’t need anything immediately, knowing that the resource is there and available can be reassuring. The University of Minnesota’s mentor guidelines note that by checking in frequently, the mentor builds trust with their mentee and can identify areas of concern more quickly because the relationship is established.
  2. Connect students with AP resources. As mentors, you are not expected to provide all the answers to students, but knowing where they can go for additional support or helping them communicate with their instructor can be hugely beneficial. More suggestions for how to help students when they are struggling can be found here.
  3. Familiarize yourself with College Board offerings. The College Board administers the AP program and has a wealth of resources: helping students succeed in classes, learning how college credit might be applied, and preparing for exams in the spring. Visit their website.
  4. Provide feedback in a meaningful way. When students receive helpful and appropriate feedback, it can facilitate their learning. For instance, feedback should be informative and educational, given in a timely manner, specific, and genuine. Check out more helpful tips for giving effective feedback to students here.
  5. Check in with other mentors about their strategies for student support. The IOAPA mentor support network (more information can be found in the IOAPA Mentor Handbook) is a great way for new and veteran mentors to connect and provide suggestions to each other. Other mentors who have experienced Iowa Online AP Academy courses can be great resources for how to talk to students and provide them with support! Email us at ioapa@belinblank.org if you would like to be put in contact with an experienced mentor.
  6. Encourage a practice of breaks and relaxation. Everyone sometimes needs a reminder to take breaks and prioritize what is important, and students are no different. There are lots of different ways that mentors can creatively promote stress management and healthy habits. For students, this list can be a good place to start.

SAR Bookmaking 2018-3

IOAPA: Spring Registration Opens Soon

Spring registration for Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) courses open November 1st and will close December 7th, 2018, or when seats fill, whichever comes first. There are limited seats in each course, and we expect them to fill up fast. Be sure to register as soon as you can! 

As a reminder, IOAPA courses are intended for cases in which the course can not currently be offered through the school district (or, in the case of middle school students, the course is not offered at the student’s grade level). Schools that offer a course on-site are not eligible to offer that course through IOAPA.

Available courses for high school students for spring 2019 include: AP Macroeconomics, AP Microeconomics, AP Psychology, and AP US Government. 

Available courses for middle school students for spring 2019 include: Creative Writing, Introduction to Computer Science, Probability and Statistics, Psychology, and Honors U.S. History to the Civil War.

SSTP Musselman Lab 2018-5

For guidance in making course selection decisions, check out our high school and middle school course infographics here!

To register on November 1st, visit our website! 

Specifics: 

  • If your school registered with IOAPA in the fall, there is no need to re-register the school. Just click “Enroll Your School” on our website, and you will be redirected to the student nomination step.
  • Students enrolled in year-long classes will be automatically enrolled in the second semester of their course, unless they inform us that they would like to drop, or receive a failing grade for the fall term. For a step-by-step registration guide, check out this post.
  • Middle school students interested in enrolling in IOAPA courses should take an above-level test to determine eligibility: 6th graders can take I-Excel; 7th and 8th graders can take the ACT. For eligibility guidelines, see the Requirements page. For more on above-level testing in general, see this page and this post.
  • Our website includes helpful information about IOAPA courses and registration. Visit the Getting Started page first, and click around to find the IOAPA handbook, information about how to talk to administrators and students about IOAPA. 

Stay connected with us!

  • Subscribe to our blog for more on IOAPA courses and other topics relevant to IOAPA teachers, parents, and students.
  • Follow us on Twitter @belinblankIOAPA
  • Email us at ioapa@belinblank.org 

Making Defensible Decisions About Subject Acceleration

Blast Electric Art 2018-4.jpgThe school year is just getting started, and it’s a good time to think about opportunities for your academically talented students.  Maybe some of your students have already mastered the classroom curriculum, and you’re not sure how to keep them challenged and engaged. Perhaps your district is trying to identify students who are ready for additional challenge. Maybe some students are interested in taking advanced courses, but you’re not sure if they would qualify, or what classes they should take. Above-level testing can help with all of these scenarios. It is a defensible, objective, research-based method of identifying students for academically challenging opportunities.

Above-level testing occurs when a bright young student takes a test developed for older students. Taking a test above level gives the young student an opportunity to showcase his or her aptitudes and provides a better assessment of the student’s readiness to learn advanced material. Thus, above-level testing is useful for making placement decisions, such as accelerating into an advanced math or science course.

Why above-level testing? High scores on grade-level tests demonstrate that students have mastered grade-level material, but they don’t tell us how much additional challenge the students need. Above-level tests can help us identify the extent and types of challenge each student requires.

Which Students Benefit from Above-Level Testing?

The Belin-Blank Center provides above-level testing using I-Excel for bright 4th-6th graders or the ACT for bright 7th-9th graders. We recommend nominating students who earn scores at or above the 95th percentile on grade-level standardized tests for above-level testing.  (If your school uses eITP, check out this great tool for an easy way to find these students!)  Students do not need to be labeled “gifted” in order to participate in above-level testing. In fact, research shows that about half of the students who participate in this type of testing are not in their school’s gifted program.

Using the Results

What can we learn from the results of above-level testing?  Some students earn low scores on the test, some earn scores in the middle of the range, and some earn very high scores. The Belin-Blank Center developed guidelines that help educators and parents determine what educational options might be most appropriate for the student, based on their performance on the above-level test. For I-Excel, educators receive an Aggregate Report summarizing students’ performance, which helps educators make decisions about placement changes and adjustments to curriculum.  The detailed Individual Report (provided for both I-Excel and the ACT) can be shared with parents and provides detailed information about students’ strengths in math, science, English and reading and helps support data-driven decisions about individual students’ academic needs.

The outcome of participation in I-Excel or ACT testing? Students and parents who are better informed about students’ academic strengths, and educators who confidently provide curriculum tailored to those strengths.  Making data-based, objective decisions results in students who are consistently challenged in school.

Costs

The cost for I-Excel for the upcoming school year is $45 per student for group testing; this fee is discounted to $22 per student for students residing in Iowa.  Please note, the Belin-Blank Center no longer has grant funding to provide I-Excel testing at no cost to Iowa 5th graders.  However, Iowa schools using I-Excel for the first time in 3 years can request up to 20 free student test registrations so they can try out I-Excel with their students.

Individual ACT registration is $70.  This includes both the testing fee and the talent search fee, and students are provided with the individualized report mentioned above.

For both I-Excel and ACT, fee reductions are provided for students eligible for the free/reduced cost lunch program.

For more information, see:

The Best-Kept Secret in Gifted Education: Above-Level Testing — This post offers an overview of the theory and research behind above-level testing.

I’m Ready to Set Up I-Excel Testing for This Year: Where Do I Start?— Specific steps for setting up I-Excel are included in this post.

Have Your 7th-9th Graders Registered to Take the ACT? — This post includes useful information about using the ACT as an above-level test for 7th through 9th grade students. Current information about fees, test session dates, and registration deadlines can be found at www.belinblank.org/talent-search.

Still have questions? 

Visit belinblank.org/talent-search for more information, or email assessment@belinblank.org.

 

 

 

Professional Learning in Fall 2018

Are you attending the Iowa Talented and Gifted (ITAG) Association Conference in October?  The Belin-Blank Center is offering two different credit options, and you can take advantage of one or both of these opportunities.  ITAG’s annual fall conference is focused on “Teaming for Gifted: School-Home-Community,” October 15 – 16, Des Moines, IA (at the Airport Holiday Inn).  Educators can enroll in PSQF:5194:0WKB for either one or two semester hours; the Belin-Blank Center provides a 50% tuition scholarship for the cost of graduate tuition.  Contact Dr. Laurie Croft or Haley Wikoff at educators@belinblank.org for special permission to enroll (guaranteeing that all those who enroll understand that conference attendance is required for this credit).  For educators NEW to gifted education, we invite you to enroll in RCE:5237:0EXW TAG: You’re It! (Seminar in Gifted Education, 2 semester hours, starting at ITAG, online, October 22 – December 7).

ITAG is offering a second professional learning opportunity on Sunday, October 14, and the Belin-Blank Center is offering another credit specifically to facilitate more extended learning related to the Multi-tiered System of Supports (MTSS) and the Advanced Learner.  Educators can enroll in PSQF:5194:0WKC for one semester hour; this credit also provides a 50% tuition scholarship.  Contact educators@belinblank.org for special permission to enroll.

Many Iowa educators and others in the Midwest are looking forward to attending the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) Convention in Minneapolis, MN, from November 15 – 18 (pre-convention sessions on November 14 and the morning of November 15 are not required but are wonderful opportunities). The theme for #NAGC18 is recognition of 65 years of commitment to the support of gifted children, and educators can enroll in PSQF:5194:0WKA for one or two semester hours (receiving a 50% tuition scholarship—contact educators@belinblank.org for special permission to enroll).

Wallace 2014

Fall semester 2018 also includes three-semester-hour classes; enroll ASAP; very limited space:

  • EDTL:4137:0EXW Introduction to Educating Gifted Students (online, August 20 – October 15);
  • EDTL:4067:0EXW Conceptions of Talent Development (new, online, October 15 – December 14);
  • PSQF:4120:0EXW Psychology of Giftedness (online, 16-week fall semester).

The practicum experience is available each semester; contact educators@belinblank.org for details.

Visit belinblank.org/educators for general information about credit options, including additional classes offered in the “workshop” online format (three weeks for one-semester-hour).  Workshops will also be announced on the gifted-teachers listserv, a valuable resource for advocates for gifted/talented learners.

The Belin-Blank Center has provided professional development opportunities for almost 40 years; we look forward to supporting your learning needs.

 

 

IOAPA for Middle School – Advice From Current Mentors

A recent question on the Belin-Blank Center’s email listserv for gifted education teachers sparked a conversation about various success stories and best practices from experienced IOAPA mentors. With their consent, I have gathered that advice into a blog post so more teachers can benefit from their experiences.

Importance of Frequent Face-to-Face Connection
Several mentors indicated the necessity of face-to-face interaction with students to monitor performance and promote progress. Deann Scearce (Mount Vernon Middle School) indicated that her 7th and 8th grade students are scheduled into her classroom every other day for their IOAPA class. IOAPA requires courses to be scheduled as part of students’ regular school day, and recommends that the mentor be available during scheduled work time. Kelley Grothus (Madrid Middle School) schedules her students for 1.5 hours each day (including lunch). She says, “Sometimes we sit together to go through the material or just so they can talk through their quiz prep and have someone listen to them. Through lunch, I make them the teacher and have them explain what they are learning to me.” Marcia Powell (Oelwein Middle School) uses her mentoring time to “have a conversation if [students] are lagging and to encourage them or reward them with smiles, high-fives, or something else.”

In addition, Kelley noted the benefit of developing an online learning community. IOAPA permits schools to register up to 6 students per course, and Kelley uses that to her advantage by offering specific courses each semester (i.e., creative writing one semester, and psychology the next). She reported that “this allows that kids to work together & discuss rather than learn in isolation.” Similarly, Marcia recommends that students “enroll in groups of two or three so they can bounce ideas off of one another.” These opportunities for collaboration with peers, as well as the mentoring component included in the IOAPA model, establish a platform for success in online learning.

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Benefits of the Online Curriculum
Our mentors appreciate the benefits of these self-contained online classes. Michelle Kavars (Lewis Central Middle School) touted the fact that “there is no real need to ‘teach’ lessons as there are videos, exercises, self-checks, and quizzes along the way.” Each course is a little different, and includes different instructional modalities specifically designed to address the course content; however, this mix of videos, readings, assignments, and quizzes is common, and content expertise is not necessary for IOAPA mentors as all the necessary content for our middle school courses is taught by the online instructor. Kelley attested that “the content is well-organized, sequenced, & managed for you, allowing me to expose the students to a variety of content that matches their strengths and interests.”

Significance of Purposeful Planning
IOAPA allows schools to make courses available to students based on their unique needs and interests, when doing so in person would be resource-prohibitive. However, as many of our mentors reported, purposeful planning is key to success in online learning. Kelley strives to give her students “an authentic & personal connection to the online content.” Our other mentors indicated similar efforts to overcome skepticism often associated with online learning through intentionally establishing ways to connect with students.

This planning is also essential when determining what IOAPA courses to make available to students. Taking advantage of courses offered in person, even if at another grade level, is valuable; according to Kelley, “when there is an in-person expert to teach [students], we utilize that.” IOAPA prohibits schools from using our online courses to help with scheduling conflicts; schools are only permitted to offer those courses that are not already available to students through the school. In the case of middle school courses, if transportation or other issues prevent students from accessing an appropriately challenging course within their district, IOAPA courses may be used to address those needs. For example, if an 8th grade student requires geometry, but the course is only available at the high school level, they would be permitted to enroll in the IOAPA Geometry course. We would still recommend prioritizing in-person classes if it is feasible to do so.

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When offering IOAPA middle school courses, one of the most frequent conversations you’ll have with parents and administrators will concern credit. It will be essential to discuss with middle school and high school administrators how credit will be assigned for IOAPA middle school classes, which are high school level courses offered out-of-level to younger-than-typical students. You can see our previous blog post on this issue. Deann’s school follows a unique credit policy: Students review their final grade and decide if they want to receive high school credit – with the grade they earned going on their high school transcript and affecting their high school GPA.

Finally, planning cannot end with the current school year. Marcia indicated the importance of considering each student’s course progression through high school, and considering alternative courses that could supplement learning in a content area (i.e., offering online computer science or statistics to a math-talented student, in addition to challenging math curriculum), especially if sufficiently advanced courses in the content area are likely to be unavailable later in the student’s academic career.

Conclusion
Overall, our mentors express satisfaction with the IOAPA program, and we know that this program would not be successful without the tireless work they put in each day to support students. If you’re interested in making these classes available to your students, visit belinblank.org/ioapa. Contact ioapa@belinblank.org with questions, and stay tuned to the blog for more advice from students and mentors this summer.

Last-Minute AP Exam Tips

With just over a week until AP Exams begin, high school students across the country are frantically completing their coursework and preparing for the big day. In this blog post, we’ll share a few tips to aid in last-minute studying, as well as some reminders for Exam Day.

Study Tips
A quick internet search of terms including “AP exam,” “study,” “review,” and “tips” yields millions of results. Below are some of the most common tips from AP experts.

  • Use practice questions and exams. The types of questions on the AP Exam may be unfamiliar to you, and knowing the material is not necessarily enough to earn a high score on the exam. The College Board offers practice questions on their website, including actual questions from previous years’ exams, and many test prep books and websites have developed their own practice questions.
    • In addition to using these materials to test your knowledge and familiarity with content and question types, you can set up a “mock exam” experience with timing, breaks, etc. so you’re more comfortable on Exam Day.
  • Review the Course Description document for details about the exam and the evaluation rubric. Each AP Course has its own Course Description; for example, see the AP English Language Course Description. Each Course Description can be accessed from the relevant subject’s Course page. This document also contains additional practice questions!
    • The Exam description within this document can also help you focus your studying — it’s not important that you know every single fact you learned in class; instead, you’ll want to master the topics that are emphasized on the exam. Especially in the Free Response section, exam readers will be looking for synthesis of big concepts rather than just regurgitation of facts.
  • Study selectively. At this point, you definitely don’t have time to review every single topic covered over the course of the year. However, I bet there are topics you feel pretty confident about, as well as areas in which you struggle. For your last-minute studying, focus primarily on those areas of weakness. See this US News article for more tips.

Exam Day Reminders
Just like the ACT or SAT, AP Exams are strictly monitored and there are important rules of which to be aware.

  • Know what you can (and cannot) bring into the exam. Carefully review these lists to make sure you are following the rules. Also check out the calculator policy for relevant courses (including most math and science courses).
  • Review the Bulletin for AP Students and ParentsBefore you can take the AP Exam, you’ll be asked to sign your answer sheet indicating agreement and compliance with the policies and procedures outlined therein. It also gives you an idea of what to expect when you arrive for your exam.
  • Eat a good breakfast! Most exams take two to three hours, and they require mental and physical endurance. Prepare yourself the best way possible by fueling your body and mind.
  • Answer all the multiple-choice questions. You won’t be penalized for incorrect answers, so it is to your benefit to take a guess if you’re not sure on a question. By answering, you give yourself a chance to get it right — usually a one-in-four or better!

You have worked hard over the past year, and now’s your chance to demonstrate what you’ve learned and possibly earn some college credit in the process. Simply taking the AP Exam is a great experience, and if you take advantage of these tips you’ll set yourself up for success!

Congratulations, JSHS Student Researchers!

Last month, students from across the state of Iowa attended the Iowa Regional Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS), hosted by the Belin-Blank Center at the Marriott Hotel in Coralville, Iowa.

JSHS is a collaborative effort with the research arm of the Department of Defense and is designed to challenge, engage, and publically recognize high school students conducting scientific research in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM).  JSHS aims to prepare and support students to contribute as future scientists and engineers – conducting STEM research on behalf of, or directly for, the Department of Defense, the Federal research laboratories, or for the greater good in advancing the nation’s scientific and technological progress.

Students completed an original research project and submitted a research paper to the regional competition. The authors of the top 18 papers were invited to compete for scholarships and recognition by presenting their results before a panel of judges and an audience of their peers.  Students also toured various labs and facilities at the University of Iowa to hear about cutting edge research, potential career paths, and student opportunities.

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After an intensive day of presentations, the judges had the difficult task of selecting five finalists based on their research papers and presentations:

1st place: Megan Ertl (Beckman Catholic High School) – “Quantification of Muscle Accelerations to Interpret Individual Fatigue as an Industrial Application

2nd place: Cheryl Blackmer (Ballard  High School) – “Development of a LAMP Assay for the Detection of Powassan Virus”

3rd place: Pranav Chhaliyil (Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment) –  “Metagenomics Analysis of Bedtime Oral Cleaning by the Novel GIFT Method, Shows a Reduction in Dental-Damaging Bacteria”

4th place: Aaron Wills (Central Lee High School) – “Engineered Environmental Containment: “Using Lemna minor L. to Reduce Nitrate Levels in Aquatic Environments”

5th place: Brianna Cole (Valley High School) – “Cumulative Effects of Recurrent Amygdala Kindled Seizures on Respiratory Function”

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Additional presenters, who were winners by virtue of having their papers accepted, included Allison Brasch (Waterloo West High School), Mason Burlage (Beckman Catholic High School), Ava Depping (Madrid High School), Serenity Haynes (Central Lee High School), Sean Kluesner (Beckman Catholic High School), Pearl Krieger Coble (Winfield-Mt. Union High School), Kayla Livesay (Van Buren High School), Kathryn McCarthy (Sioux City East High School), Evylin Merydith (Keokuk High School), Tyler Montgomery (Kennedy High School), Elizabeth Smith (Waterloo West High School), Laura Stowater (Algona High School), Shelby Westhoff (Beckman Catholic High School).

The top five finalists will attend an expense-paid trip to the JSHS National Symposium next month in Hunt Valley, MD to present their research and compete for additional prizes.

To see all the fun we had, including tours of the IIHR – Hydroscience & Engineering, Iowa Flood Center, and Additive Manufacturing-Integrated Product Realization Laboratory (AMPRL) in the University of Iowa Department of Mechanical & Industrial Engineering, check out our full photo album! Congratulations to all, and good luck at Nationals!

 

IOAPA Fall 2018 Registration Now Open

Registration for Fall 2018 Iowa Online AP Academy courses is now open! We are excited to continue to offer above-level courses to high-ability Iowa students at no cost.

Courses are available in a variety of subjects, including science, math, language arts, social studies, computer science, and Spanish language. See our full course catalog for specific availability.

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For high school students (grades 9 through 12), 15 unique AP courses are available. These courses use a College Board-approved curriculum that aligns with the material covered in introductory-level college courses. Students have the opportunity to earn college credit for these courses by earning a qualifying score on the end-of-year AP Exam.

Students in grades 6 through 8 have the opportunity to enroll in high school level courses, including Introduction to Computer Science, Creative Writing, Honors Biology, and Honors Spanish I. Also see our previous blog post on the new math courses available for 2018-2019!

Relevant information and policies can be found on our website (www.belinblank.org.ioapa). It is especially important to take note of the eligibility requirements for schools and students, and to review the Getting Started section prior to registering your school and students. In addition, please keep in mind that these courses are intended for students who would have no other way to take them. They are NOT intended to solve scheduling issues at schools who already offer the course(s) of interest.

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If you’re interested in offering on-site AP courses at your school, the AP Teacher Training Institute (APTTI) provides instruction and certification to teach AP courses. This summer’s institute will occur on the University of Iowa campus June 26-29, 2018. We are offering workshops in the following subjects: AP Biology, AP Calculus, AP Chemistry, AP English Language, AP English Literature, AP Physics, AP US Government, and AP US History. Iowa teachers are eligible for a grant to reduce the cost of attending APTTI. With questions about APTTI, contact aptti@belinblank.org.

For additional information about IOAPA, stay tuned to the blog and follow us on Twitter @belinblankIOAPA. With questions, contact ioapa@belinblank.org.

Encouraging Students to Take AP Exams

Around this time of year, AP teachers across the country frequently hear the following question: “Why should I take the AP Exam?” This blog post will provide some responses to that question, and some tips for AP teachers to encourage their students to take AP Exams.

Why Should Students Take The Exam?
First off, AP Exams are the only way to earn college credit for AP courses. This can be a strong motivation for students, as one of the advantages of AP courses is that they provide opportunities to earn college credit while in high school, and achieve ‘advanced placement’ upon entering college.

Second, the experience of taking AP exams is beneficial for students even beyond the exposure to advanced material presented in the course. One study found that students who took one or more AP Exams were more likely to enroll in college than students who did not take any AP exams (Chajewski, Mattern, & Shaw, 2011). Students who took both an AP course and exam outperformed students who took an AP course only with regard to both college achievement and graduation (Hargrove, Godin, & Dodd, 2008). Research findings generally suggest that AP course participation yields benefits beyond non-AP courses, and that AP Exam participation compounds those benefits.

Finally, the AP Exams are a socially appropriate way of “showing off” what you’ve learned, and students who participate and succeed on a high number of AP Exams can earn recognition in addition to college credit. There are several opportunities to earn special recognition, and they are detailed on the AP Awards and Recognition page of the AP Students website.

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How Can Teachers Encourage Students Who Are On The Fence?
A personal conversation with students about their goals for taking AP coursework is a good first step. If their goal is to earn credit for college, they must take the exam in order to achieve it. If they entered the class with a different goal, the AP Exam may or may not be necessary. In general, it is recommended that all students who complete an AP course take the corresponding exam.

Some students may be worried about underperforming on the AP Exam. Mentors can discuss these concerns with students and reassure them that tthere is no penalty associated with low AP Exam scores. The exam is separate from the course grade, so course grades will not be negatively impacted by a low AP Exam score, and low scores will not have an impact on college admission decisions. Students can also control how and to whom their AP Exam scores are reported if they are concerned about college admissions.

Some students may be worried that they won’t be prepared for the AP Exam. There are a lot of great resources available to determine readiness for AP Exams. The College Board provides sample questions on their website and many independent publishers offer books aimed at helping with AP Exam preparation. Making these tools available is an excellent way to help students feel prepared and motivated to take the AP Exam.

What Else Should We Know?
For information on 2018 AP Exam dates, ordering, and other details, review our previous blog post. You can also visit the College Board website for relevant school preparation and Exam Day information. As always, feel free to contact ioapa@belinblank.org with questions, and stay tuned to our blog for more AP Exam tips!

References
Chajewski, M., Mattern, K. D., & Shaw, E.J. (2011). Examining the role of Advanced Placement Exam participation in four-year college enrollment. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 30(4), 16-27.
Hargrove, L., Godin, D., & Dodd, B. (2008). College outcomes comparisons by AP and non-AP high school experiences. (College Board Research Report No. 2008-3). New York: The College Board. Retrieved from: http://research.collegeboard.org/rr2008-3.pdf.

AP Exam Reviews Through IOAPA

UPDATE: All of our AP Exam Reviews have now been spoken for. As mentioned below, we had an extremely limited number this year, due to increased enrollments in courses. If schools and/or families would like to purchase the reviews on their own, directly from Apex Learning, we would be happy to send you information about that. Contact ioapa@belinblank.org.


The Iowa Online AP Academy is pleased to announce that the AP Online Exam Review will again be available to all Iowa AP students and teachers. Students in IOAPA AP classes are automatically set up, and students in your on-site AP classes are eligible to sign up for AP Exam Review.

AP Exam Review is available through Apex Learning for the following 13 AP courses: AP Biology, AP Calculus AB, AP Chemistry, AP Environmental Science, AP English Language and Composition, AP English Literature and Composition, AP Macroeconomics, AP Microeconomics, AP Psychology, AP Spanish Language and Culture, AP Statistics, AP U.S. Government and Politics, and AP U.S. History.

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Significantly fewer AP Exam Reviews are available this year than in years past, due to extremely high interest in our ever-expanding course offerings. In light of these limitations, we ask that schools carefully consider their students’ need for and interest in this modality of support before signing students up for AP Exam Review through Apex. Please make this opportunity available to students who will make use of the support, and especially to students who may lack access to other resources.

The process for schools to register students for AP Exam Review differs from the registration for online AP courses. Please read the following instructions carefully. If you have questions about signing students up for AP Exam Review, you can contact Lori Hudson at ioapa@belinblank.org, 1-800-336-6463, or 319-335-6148.

There are two ways for schools to set up users.

Option 1:
The first option is for the Site Coordinator to create a Classroom through their IOAPA account (use the Classroom Tab). Site Coordinators may then add students to each AP Exam Review subject class they create. To add or edit a Classroom for AP Exam Review, please sign in to http://ioapa.apexvs.com/ApexUI/ and click on the Classroom tab. The Exam Review should be the only class showing. Click on the “Add a Classroom” button on the right and follow the prompts to add the class, select the exam review content, and add students. Add a classroom for each Exam Review content area you want to access.

Do not enroll mentors through this Classroom tab; instead, add them as staff in the Staff Tab. They can then select the Exam Review areas they need.

Option 2, to be used if you will be enrolling 25 or more students:
The second option is for the school to send a completed Excel file (contact ioapa@belinblank.org for template) to Support at Apex Learning. Apex Learning Support staff will register the students for your school if you have more than 25 students per review. Given the limited number of AP Exam Reviews available this year, this option will be very rarely needed.

Option 2 Instructions: List each student on a single line. Indicate which AP Exam Review course(s) by product code the student should be enrolled in. Product codes are listed in the Product Code tab on the bottom of the AP Exam Review File form. If a student wants to be in multiple exam review, list each course on the single line and separate each course product code with a comma. If you have more than 25 users to enroll, please contact the Apex Learning Support team for information on bulk registration/enrollment. Please attach your completed Excel file to an email addressed to support@apexlearning.com. Use the email subject line: IOAPA – {Your School Name} AP Exam Review Student List.

We’re excited to make this resource available to Iowa students! Contact us at ioapa@belinblank.org with any questions.

Online Professional Learning Opportunities Still Available this Semester

Some really exciting professional learning opportunities are still available this semester.  You can always find what we’re offering by visiting belinblank.org/educators and following the link to “Schedule.”  The classes below are listed chronologically by start date and are fully online.  Classes listed are one-semester-hour options, unless otherwise noted.

 

EDTL:4153:0WKA Gifted & General Education Collaboration

Gifted teachers know that gifted students often need differentiated learning experiences throughout the school day. This workshop will examine how classroom teachers and the gifted/talented resource teacher can collaborate to provide appropriate instructional services to gifted students.  Participants will examine collaborative models, planning process, and recommendations for both direct and indirect services.  Teams of classroom and gifted education teachers are encouraged.  [Programming strand]

  • Instructor: Gerald Aungst
  • Dates & Time: March 13, 2018 – April 2, 2018

 

EDTL:4066:0EXV/EDTL:4066:0EXW Curriculum Concepts in Gifted Education

Analyzing and refining understanding of curriculum in context of: needs of gifted and talented students, rationale for and implementation of curriculum differentiation, and curriculum principles for and applications to gifted and talented; designed for preservice and inservice educators, as well as those interested in curriculum development, design, and delivery.  (3 s.h.)  [Programming strand]

  • InstructorLaurie Croft, Ph.D.
  • Dates & Time: March 19, 2018 – May 11, 2018 (8 week format)

 

EDTL:4096:0EXW Topics in Teaching and Learning: Giftedness 101

This class will focus on an analysis of Giftedness 101  by Linda Silverman. What IS giftedness? Exploring common myths and misunderstandings, this book helps participants understand the meaning of giftedness and the importance of well-articulated programs to support these students, going beyond the general education experience. (2 s.h.) [Psychology strand]

  • Instructor: Laurie J Croft, Ph.D. and Gwen Livingstone Pakora, M.A.
  • Dates & Time: March 19, 2018 – May 07, 2018

EDTL:4073:0WKA Programming/Curriculum for High Ability Students: Real World Problem Solving

High ability learners synthesize both content understanding and methodological applications by tackling real-world problems. Participants will learn about complex instruction, problem-based learning, and ill-structured problems; and they will practice methods to seek answers to their own “real-world problems” within the context of gifted education. This graduate-level workshop in gifted education is designed to assist pre-service and in-service educators as they develop and refine their understandings of the value of problem-solving approaches in the teaching/learning process, particularly important in the context of the academic and socioaffective needs of gifted and talented students.

  • Instructor: Kristine Milburn, Ed.D.
  • Dates & Time: April 9, 2018 – April 27, 2018

 

RCE:5238:0WKA Advanced Seminar in Gifted Education:  Wallace Research Symposium on Talent Development

Attendance at the Wallace Research Symposium, April 29 – May 1, 2018, Baltimore, MD, is required, as is a synthesis of major themes and an evaluation of the relevance of conference themes to the participant’s role in gifted education.  Participants will propose a possible future research project sparked by participation in the Wallace Research Symposium on Talent Development.

  • Instructor: Laurie Croft, Ph.D.
  • Dates & Time: May 7, 2018 – May 25, 2018

 

If you have any questions, please contact Laurie Croft (laurie-croft@uiowa.edu) or Haley Wikoff (haley-wikoff@uiowa.edu).

Expanding IOAPA’s Above-Level Math Pathway

We at the Iowa Online AP Academy are excited to announce the addition of two new courses for the 2018-2019 school year!

Both courses expand the existing above-level math pathway, allowing students to access additional high school math courses during middle school. Our current offerings, Algebra I (Honors) and Geometry (Honors), can now be followed by Algebra II (Honors) and Precalculus (Honors). All courses in this sequence are available for students in grades 6 through 8 who do not have access to a comparable in-person course.

Algebra II (Honors) builds on the concepts addressed in Algebra I, and develops skills necessary for future advanced math courses. Due to the reliance on Algebra I concepts, students are strongly encouraged to complete an Algebra I course or demonstrate mastery of Algebra I concepts prior to enrolling in Algebra II.

Precalculus (Honors) introduces students to concepts that integrate their previous learning with new skills to prepare students for Calculus and beyond. Prior to enrolling in Precalculus, students should successfully complete Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry or demonstrate mastery of relevant concepts.

There are a number of ways in which schools and students can choose to handle the sequencing of these courses.

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When planning advanced course sequences for students, it is important to consider what comes before and after the main sequence. For example, if bright students have access to Algebra in 6th grade, might they also have access to Pre-Algebra during 5th grade? Additionally, if students are completing a number of high school math courses during middle school, what math courses will they take in high school? Will the courses taken in middle school count toward high school graduation requirements? If not, how will students have access to sufficient math coursework to meet those requirements once they reach high school? Planning is essential to ensure that high ability students continue to learn new things throughout their educational careers.

Registration for fall courses opens the week of March 19. Stay tuned to the blog, our website, and our Twitter for updates. Don’t forget to get started with above-level testing for middle school course eligibility. As always, contact us with questions at ioapa@belinblank.org.

Your 7th-9th Graders Can Take the ACT

pexels-photo-220320.jpegYour 7th-9th graders have a unique opportunity to take the ACT through the Belin-Blank Center; this test is usually given to 11th and 12th graders during the college admissions process. Bright younger students can take it as a way of demonstrating their academic abilities, becoming eligible for academic recognition such as the Belin-Blank Recognition Ceremony, and becoming eligible for educational opportunities (such as summer and weekend programs) and scholarships.

Eligible 7th-9th graders will have earned a score at the 95th percentile or above on a core subject of a grade-level test (such as the Iowa Assessments).  Those students have already demonstrated high achievement on grade-level tests and are ready to show what they have learned or are ready to learn by taking an “above-level” test, or one that is designed for older students. A disadvantage of grade-level tests is that they do not accurately measure highly-able students’ abilities; think of it like a yardstick that is too short to measure the extent of their talents. The above-level test essentially lengthens the yardstick and helps us to know more about the students’ abilities and to make sound educational recommendations for them.

The cost for ACT is $70. The next test session is April 14th, and the deadline is March 7th (a late fee is added for those who register after that date).

We encourage educators to let their students know about this unique opportunity.  For more information, visit www.belinblank.org/talent-search.

Everything You Need to Know About 2018 AP Exams

With the spring semester well underway, many AP students and teachers are beginning to count down to the big exam. This post will present information about AP Exam logistics, including the schedule, ordering and costs, and exam accommodations. Stay tuned to the blog for a future post on motivating students to take AP Exams.

The Schedule

A full AP Exam schedule is available on the College Board website. A summary of exam dates for IOAPA courses is presented below. All morning exams begin at 8:00am, and all afternoon exams begin at 12:00pm unless otherwise indicated.

AP Biology: Monday, May 14 – Morning
AP Calculus AB: Tuesday, May 15 – Morning
AP Chemistry: Monday, May 7 – Morning
AP Computer Science A: Tuesday, May 15 – Afternoon
AP Computer Science Principles: Friday, May 11 – Afternoon
AP English Language and Composition: Wednesday, May 16 – Morning
AP English Literature and Composition: Wednesday, May 9 – Morning
AP Environmental Science: Thursday, May 10 – Afternoon
AP Macroeconomics: Wednesday, May 16 – Afternoon
AP Microeconomics: Friday, May 18 – Morning
AP Psychology: Monday, May 7 – Afternoon
AP Spanish Language and Culture: Tuesday, May 8 – Morning
AP Statistics: Thursday, May 17 – Afternoon
AP US Government and Politics: Thursday, May 10 – Morning
AP US History: Friday, May 11 – Morning

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Exam Ordering and Costs

Students (generally with advice from teachers, parents, school counselors, or other school personnel) are responsible for deciding whether to take AP Exam(s) for the courses in which they enrolled. Schools are responsible for ordering those exams from the College Board for all students who indicate intent to complete exams. The priority deadline for ordering AP Exams is March 30th. All AP Exams must be ordered no later than April 20, 2018. Orders placed after April 13, 2018, will incur late fees. More information about specific procedures for ordering exams is available from the College Board.

Different states and schools handle exam fees differently. In general, for 2018 exams most students will pay the school $94 per exam. The College Board offers reduced-fee exams for students with financial need; these students generally pay the school $53 per exam. Further information can be found on the College Board website. Additional financial assistance may be available through federal and state funding. Federal funding for AP Exams has changed with the authorization of the Every Student Succeeds Act, with funds previously devoted to the AP Test Fee Program now being consolidated into a new Title IV, Part A block grant. Districts and/or states can use these funds to subsidize exam fees for economically disadvantaged students; check with your school to find out what assistance is available in your district.

Exam Accommodations

Students with disabilities who wish to take AP Exams with accommodations must submit a request to the College Board’s Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD). This process changed slightly last year, and you can visit our previous post on this topic for more details. For 2018 exams, requests for accommodations must be made by February 23.

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As the AP Exams approach, keep an eye on our blog and our Twitter (@belinblankIOAPA) for helpful tips!

 

Getting Started With IOAPA Edhesive Courses

Early in the semester, it can be challenging to know how best to get started with IOAPA courses. We’ve put together step-by-step instructions to help anyone who may be struggling to get started. We’d also recommend saving this post for future reference, as it will be useful at the start of each semester.

  1. Register your students through IOAPA.
  2. Look for an email from Edhesive containing specific instructions on setting up your Teacher account and familiarizing yourself with the course materials.
    1. NOTE: If the person who registered the students is not the person who will be mentoring the course, send an email to info@edhesive.com and CC ioapa@belinblank.org explaining the situation. Be sure to include your name, email, and school name. If you know the Section Token assigned to the course(s) you intend to mentor, include that as well.
  3. After you have created and logged into your Teacher account, visit the Help section and click through the Support materials. You may especially want to look at the suggestions regarding course pacing in the “Customizing YOUR Course” section.
    1. We strongly recommend viewing all the support materials, as they are full of information that will maximize your students’ success with Edhesive courses.
  4. Visit the Teacher Forum and set up your Piazza account. See this post for more information on using the Teacher Forum.
  5. Send the step-by-step instructions for enrolling AND the Section Token (both included in the original email from Edhesive) to the registered students so they can enroll themselves in your section of the course.
  6. Verify with students that they are enrolled and can access the course. Return to your Edhesive teacher account and visit the gradebook to ensure that you can see enrolled students’ progress.

Don’t hesitate to contact us at ioapa@belinblank.org with questions. Other useful sources of information related to IOAPA Computer Science courses include the Edhesive Teacher Forum, the Edhesive blog, our IOAPA Twitter account (@belinblankIOAPA), and the Edhesive Twitter account (@TeamEdhesive). Keep following our blog to stay up to date on all things IOAPA!

 

Making Objective Decisions about Students Taking Advanced Courses

As 2017 comes to a close, you may be starting to think about planning for next year. Maybe you have students who have already mastered the classroom curriculum, and you’re not sure how to keep them challenged and engaged. Perhaps your district is trying to identify students who are ready for additional challenge. Or maybe you have students interested in taking advanced courses, but you’re not sure if they would qualify, or what classes they should take. Above-level testing can help with all of these issues.

Looking back on this year, one of our most exciting developments has been the partnership between the Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) and the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS), our above-level testing program. We’ve rounded up some of the posts we’ve shared over the past several months for use in implementing BESTS and IOAPA for your high ability students.

The Best-Kept Secret in Gifted Education: Above-Level TestingThis post offers an excellent overview of the theory and research behind above-level testing.

Helping Iowa Teachers Discover Students Who Are Ready for Advanced Online Courses — This post summarizes the connection between BESTS and IOAPA and provides steps for implementation.

I’m Ready to Set Up I-Excel Testing for This Year: Where Do I Start? — Specific steps for setting up I-Excel are included in this post.

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My 4th-6th Grade Students are Taking I-Excel Soon: How Do I Help Them Get Ready? — Guidelines for preparing students for an above-level test are discussed.

Have Your 7th-9th Graders Registered to Take the ACT? — This post includes useful information about using the ACT as an above-level test for 7th through 9th grade students. Current information about fees, test session dates, and registration deadlines can be found at www.belinblank.org/talent-search.

Discovering Talented Students: Using Content-Area Scores for IOAPA Eligibility — Specific guidelines for determining eligibility for IOAPA courses are presented here.

Making Sense of Test Scores This post provides an overview of IDEAL Solutions® for STEM Acceleration.

We hope these posts are useful as you begin preparing to implement BESTS and IOAPA for the 2018-2019 school year. Feel free to visit belinblank.org/talent-search and belinblank.org/ioapa for more information on the programs, or email assessment@belinblank.org or ioapa@belinblank.org with additional questions.

ICYMI – When IOAPA Staff are Stretched Thin

As you begin to wrap up one semester and plan for the next, we hope this information, originally published in January 2016, will be useful!

In many rural schools, staff take on multiple roles in order to provide a wealth of experiences to their students. However, this often means that teachers are stretched thin in terms of time and resources available for working with students. In many instances, gifted education programs are hardest hit. Gifted coordinators in rural areas often work with students at all grade levels and may not interact with their students every day given the many tasks they have to complete. For our IOAPA schools, this sometimes presents challenges in terms of monitoring student progress, assessing for concerns or difficulties with courses or technology, and working to build relationships where students can ask for help. How can IOAPA coordinators make their program successful despite these constraints?

  • Develop a learning plan with your students. Although most students benefit from clear goals and plans to accomplish them, a learning plan or contract may be particularly useful for IOAPA coordinators filling multiple roles. The learning plan can be used not only to address content or course-specific goals, but also to ask for student input on how you as a site coordinator can best support them and help them meet their goals. Through development of a learning plan with your students, coordinators can know what student goals are for the course as well as strategies that might be useful for success.
  • Plan for check-in daily (even if not face to face). Although online courses encourage students to work independently, it is often still helpful to know that the site coordinators and mentors at their school are available for support. For teachers who many not interact with their students daily, checking in using technology or planning for a regular status update from your students can help you keep tabs on students who may be struggling.
  • Find someone to support your students on-site while they work. If you aren’t available on-site for your IOAPA students’ courses due to scheduling conflicts, make sure that they have someone available to supervise and ensure they are working on their IOAPA coursework. This can range from arranging for students to sit with other teachers during prep periods or study halls or finding teachers to act as mentors (more on that below).
  • Plan for time when students can ask questions. Another key part of supporting your students is ensuring availability for answering questions and providing support even if you do not interact with them regularly. Site coordinators might implement time before or after school for answering questions for their students on a regular basis. Another tool IOAPA site coordinators might use is setting up progress meetings at set points throughout the semester. Progress meetings will allow for face-to-face contact with your students and will help you identify areas in which they might need additional support.
  • Ask an on-site teacher to act as a mentor. Participation in IOAPA requires the establishment of a designated site coordinator and mentor to provide on-site support to your IOAPA students. Although many schools choose to have only one person in these roles, such as the TAG Coordinator, schools can choose to designate a separate mentor or mentors for their IOAPA students. The TAG Coordinator would then take on responsibilities related to the IOAPA site coordinator position while the on-the-ground work would become part of the IOAPA mentor’s duties. For IOAPA site coordinators who fill multiple roles, this can be a good way for a staff member on-site to build a relationship with your IOAPA students and aid in navigating any challenges that students might experience. We recommend considering mentors for your students who:
    • Are available in some way during your IOAPA student’s class time (this might include having students work independently in the classroom while the mentor teaches so that the mentor can check in on them)
    • Are trusted by the mentee. The student may have already developed a relationship with them from previous courses or activities, which can create a system of accountability.
    • Can contribute meaningfully to their IOAPA course due to shared experiences with the student. Although it is not a requirement that a mentor be an expert in the course subject, mentors who can relate personally to the student as well as aid in learning course material can be beneficial when students are feeling struck.
    • Provide feedback with high expectations and belief in abilities. Mentors often act as one of the primary encouragers to their students—by knowing that the mentors are part of their support network, students may be more likely to persist when coursework becomes challenging.

Other ideas and sources of support for IOAPA site coordinators and mentors can be found in the IOAPA Handbook or through participation in the IOAPA Mentor Network. For more about the IOAPA model, visit our website at belinblank.org/ioapa.

Free Fuel for Aspiring Inventors

We’re excited to announce the STEMIE Coalition, the host of the National Invention Convention and Entrepreneurship Expo, have developed a K-12 Youth Invention Curriculum available for use by Invent Iowa teachers!

This comprehensive online invention and entrepreneurship curriculum has been released in beta version, and will be in development for the next few months. Each week, new lesson plans including videos, alignment to standards, activities, and slideshows are added, with material ranging from lasers to a shark tank styled activity. All resources are freely available for you to adapt to meet the needs of your inventors. You can access the free curriculum here: http://www.nationalinventioncurriculum.org/.

Also, be sure to check out information about the 2018 National Invention Convention and Entrepreneurship Expo (NICEE), that will be held at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan in June 2018! Winners of the Invent Iowa State Invention Convention will have the opportunity to attend the National Invention Convention funded by Invent Iowa. If you have questions regarding Invent Iowa, please email them to inventiowa@belinblank.org.

Course Resources for IOAPA Mentors

The Iowa Online AP Academy consistently strives to provide the best possible support for our mentors, and we are proud to partner with course vendors who share that goal. Both Apex and Edhesive provide extensive resources to facilitate the use of the course platforms and to promote best practices in online learning. Some of these resources, including a new webinar series for AP Computer Science A, will be described below.

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Edhesive
For our computer science mentors, several course functionalities have been discussed in some detail in previous blog posts, like this one and this one. Edhesive has curated course-specific Support sections, available to each coach (a.k.a. mentor) through their Edhesive dashboard. Support materials in this section include information about teaching in blended classrooms, specific information about course tools such as Code Runner, and resources to guide course pacing to facilitate on-time completion of the material.

In addition to these materials, Edhesive recently presented a series of webinars for AP Computer Science A coaches. The three webinars in this series discuss: getting started with AP CSA; tips, tricks, and tools for using Canvas; and suggestions for maximizing use of the forums. These webinars were recorded, and can be viewed by AP Computer Science A mentors by visiting the Help section (as indicated in the screenshot below) and scrolling to the last module.

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Apex Learning
For the rest of our mentors, Apex Learning offers several methods for obtaining support. In Help Home, which can be accessed from the mentor dashboard, mentors will find Getting Started guides for staff and students, which present information on using the course platform. In addition, there are course-specific syllabi and guides to provide an overview of course content and aid in pacing. Finally, in the Help Home section, mentors can find answers to many “How To” questions concerning the course platform.

Another useful support resource through Apex is the Educator Academy. In this section, you can find video modules and webinars on using different features of the course site, as well as program resources to inform implementation of online learning options at the school level. Some aspects of implementation are guided by participation through IOAPA, but examination of these resources may help guide decisions about school-level policies and practices around IOAPA courses specifically, and online learning in general. In addition, the Educator Academy includes a Community feature in which all teachers of Apex courses can read and pose questions for other teachers and Apex staff.

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We hope the support resources highlighted here can be of assistance. We also have a wealth of support resources on our website, www.belinblank.org/ioapa. Visit the Support Materials section to view the Handbook, our infographics, and other resources for selecting and implementing IOAPA courses. Don’t forget, spring registration for IOAPA opened this week, and classes will fill up quickly. Get the registration process started today!

An Exciting Javits-Funded New Project

We are thrilled to announce that we have received a Javits grant!  The joint project – by co-PIs Professors Susan Assouline, Saba Ali, and Megan Foley-Nicpon, and methodologist Dr. Duhita Mahatmya – consists of a five-year, $2.1 million plan to increase educators’ capacity to identify and provide talented and gifted programming to underrepresented students in Iowa.  Dr. Ali, Associate Dean for Research in the University of Iowa College of Education, and Drs. Assouline, Foley Nicpon, Mahatmya, of the Belin-Blank Center, will use a career intervention Dr. Ali developed, along with I-Excel, a Belin-Blank Center online above-level assessment, to further the goals of this project.

We are fortunate to bring talent and career development opportunities to students with disabilities and students of color living in rural Iowa communities…I look forward to the difference we will make for many students who otherwise would never have been seen or heard.

– Dr. Megan Foley Nicpon

The title of the effort is the “Culturally Responsive Talent Identification and Career Exploration (TICE).”  According to the project abstract, “[u]nderrepresented students, especially students from economically  disadvantaged backgrounds, students of color, rural students, and students with disabilities, are at risk of being overlooked for participation in talented and gifted programs. Project personnel will integrate an expanded talent development model…and a career intervention program…to maximize the identification and development of underrepresented talented and gifted students.”  The Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) will also contribute to this project, broadening the courses available to these students by offering online coursework in the schools.  We look forward to this opportunity to use the experience and knowledge of the Belin-Blank Center and the College of Education from the last several decades to impact bright students who are so often overlooked.

 

Discovering Talented Students: Using Content-Area Scores for IOAPA Eligibility

The partnership between the Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) and the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS) is a great way to connect talented students with appropriate assessment and educational opportunities.

Eligibility for IOAPA middle school courses is determined through use of grade-level (Iowa Assessments) and above-level (I-Excel or ACT) assessments. BESTS recommends nominating students who earn scores at or above the 95th percentile on grade-level standardized tests for above-level testing. (If your school uses eITP, check out this great tool for an easy way to find these students!)

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Scores at or above the 50th percentile on an above-level test are indicative of a need for additional challenge, such as that provided by IOAPA courses. For further discussion of above-level testing and using the scores, check out our past blog posts, especially this one and this one. Above-level assessments can provide individual domain scores specific to each content area measured, and an overall composite score reflecting performance across areas.

IOAPA recommends using content-area scores, rather than overall scores, to ensure that advanced learning opportunities are available to all talented students in their area(s) of strength. I-Excel and ACT both yield scores in Science, Mathematics, English, and Reading. ACT also includes a Writing section that yields its own score. The table below details the relevant content area score(s) for each of our IOAPA middle school courses.

content-area eligibility

In addition to the guidelines in the table above, consideration of course prerequisites can be useful when debating in what subject area(s) students should qualify. This information is available from the IOAPA course catalog by clicking “Learn more.” under the course(s) of interest.

For additional information on BESTS, visit www.belinblank.org/talent-search or email assessment@belinblank.org. For further information on IOAPA, visit www.belinblank.org/ioapa or email ioapa@belinblank.org.

We Love a Good Field Trip

We were lucky enough to tag along when sixth graders from the Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont STEM Excellence and Leadership program visited the University of Iowa State Hygienic Lab (SHL) with their teacher, Maura Young. Their journey started with students investigating a hypothetical zombie outbreak at Iowa county fairs across the state. Through this simulation, students learned about the role of the SHL in disease detection across the state.

Sifting through stream and river samples in search of insects.

Students also had the opportunity to visit the SHL’s limnology lab to learn how Iowa’s waterways are monitored and see some intriguing aquatic invertebrates.

They toured the serology and microbiology labs to learn about how the SHL lab runs the state’s newborn screening and infectious disease testing programs, which featured a memorable peek at a tapeworm.

Specimens that limnologists have taken from streams and rivers in Iowa to study water quality and species trends.

Students learned about new STEM careers they had not considered before and saw some of the many different science disciplines conducted at the State Hygienic Lab that improve Iowans’ quality of life.

It was a great day full of discovery!  We would like to thank our hosts at the SHL for creating such an interesting and informative afternoon.  We would also like to acknowledge the support of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and the National Science Foundation for the STEM Excellence and Leadership program.

Scholarships for Young Researchers

Looking for ways to provide high achieving students with additional opportunity? The Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS) offers substantial scholarships to Iowa students for original high school research.

The University of Iowa invites all students grades 9-12 in the state to present their original research in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) before a panel of judges and an audience of their peers at the regional symposium in Iowa City this March. Five finalists at the Iowa Regional JSHS will be awarded academic scholarships ranging from $750 to $2,750 and will be invited to compete at the 55th National JSHS for scholarships up to an additional $12,000. To apply, students need to submit their papers by January 12, 2018, so it’s not too late to start research projects! On January 24, we will notify candidates if their work has been selected for presentation.

Timeline at-a-glance:

Fall Semester Students conduct original research
January 12 Research paper and application deadline
January 24 Iowa Regional Symposium selection notification
Feb 2 Registration deadline for student delegates, teachers, and chaperones
March 5 & 6 Iowa Regional JSHS in Iowa City
Late April National JSHS

Regardless of whether or not their paper is selected, we encourage all interested students to attend the Iowa Regional Symposium as delegates from their home schools, and we further welcome all STEM teachers in Iowa to attend and bring your students. For more information, please visit the Iowa JSHS website at www.belinblank.org/JSHS. Don’t hesitate to contact JSHS@belinblank.org if the Symposium is of interest to you or your students.

Join Us for Saturday Fun on September 9th!

UPDATE: All seats are now filled for September 9th; however, we do still have availability in our October date for 4th-6th graders and 6th-8th graders, and February classes will be up soon.  You may also join the waitlist for classes that are full – occasionally we have drops and can add students from that waitlist.

Do you have a 2nd-8th grader with an interest and talent in robots, circuits, geography, art, or science fiction?  Check out the classes for our upcoming WINGS date on September 9th in Iowa City!

A variety of classes are available, such as Watercolor Science (grades 2-4). In this workshop, students will use chemistry to create their very own watercolor paints. Using cabbage dye and household items, students will learn about the pH scale and mix their own liquid watercolor palette. Using our homemade watercolors, we will learn about other nifty watercolor tricks and techniques including using salt, rubbing alcohol, and wax to create watercolor works of art!

Another option is Making A World Through Science Fiction Writing (grades 6-8).  Want to build and explore your favorite sci-fi setting in VR? In this course, we’ll talk about what makes our favorite sci-fi worlds so rich and enjoyable.

We’ll try designing and possibly exploring some of these worlds using the virtual reality design program, CoSpaces. Once we’ve spent some time exploring, we’ll work on coming up with ideas for worlds of our own and some stories that could happen there.

And if you already have plans on the 9th, we have several additional WINGS dates coming up, too.

I’m Ready to Set Up I-Excel Testing for This Year: Where Do I Start?

Maybe the first place for educators to start is with thinking about the “Why” of testing. I-Excel (and other above-level tests such as the ACT) provide a way of discovering high-ability students who need additional challenges. Above-level tests provide important information and help us make decisions about the types of programming our talented students need.

BBC students outsideIn a previous blog, we talked about how above-level testing works. Our focus here is on the steps educators can take to set up testing and what happens next.  The purpose is to discover high-performing students and match the curriculum and programming to their needs.

Students who perform well on grade-level tests (such as the Iowa Assessments) are good candidates to begin this process. Educators may take the following steps:

  1. Identify 4th-6th graders scoring at the 95th percentile or above on at least one section of the Iowa Assessments.
  2. Review the information about above-level testing here.
  3. Contact the Belin-Blank Center to set up a testing date.
  4. Invite students to participate in above-level testing using I-Excel.
  5. Administer I-Excel during a school day or on the weekend (depending on what works best for your situation).
  6. Receive detailed interpretation from the Belin-Blank Center. The Aggregate Report compiles information from your group of students to help you make decisions about placement changes and adjustments to the curriculum. The Individual Report (which can be shared with parents) provides detailed information about students’ strengths in math, science, English and reading and helps you make data-driven decisions about individual students’ academic needs.
  7. Make decisions about the students’ educational placement and curriculum. Some students’ test data will inform you that they are in need of academic enrichment, while other students’ data will indicate their readiness for more accelerated work.

What happens to the students as a result of this information? Your school district may already have a variety of opportunities for these students (enrichment programs, accelerated courses, honors courses, etc.). I-Excel might be used to help educators make decisions about which students would benefit from an accelerative math program or a literature-based enrichment program that is already in place or is being developed. Iowa educators might consider the Iowa Online Advanced Placement Academy (IOAPA), which provides online courses during the school day. What makes the IOAPA courses so successful (a 95% completion rate!) is the partnership between the Belin-Blank Center and the local school. IOAPA provides access to the curriculum and the school provides a local mentor who monitors and encourages the student.

The outcome of participation in I-Excel testing? Students and parents who are better informed about students’ academic strengths, and educators who confidently provide curriculum tailored to those strengths.  Making data-based, objective decisions results in students who are consistently challenged in school.  If you’re ready to get started, email assessment@belinblank.org.

Scholarship Program for Young Iowa Researchers

Do you have young researchers in your classroom whose work begs to be recognized? Are you looking for ways to provide your high achieving students with additional opportunities? The Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS) offers substantial scholarships to Iowa students for original high school research.

The University of Iowa invites all students grades 9-12 in the state to present their original research in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) before a panel of judges and an audience of their peers at the Regional Symposium in Iowa City this March. Five finalists at the Iowa Regional JSHS will be awarded academic scholarships ranging from $750 to $2,750 and will be invited to compete at the 55th National JSHS for scholarships up to an additional $12,000. To apply, students need to submit their papers by January 12, 2018, so it’s not too late to start research projects! On January 24, we will notify candidates if their work has been selected for presentation.

Regardless of whether or not their paper is selected, we encourage all interested students to attend the Regional Symposium as delegates from their home schools, and we further welcome you and all other STEM teachers in Iowa to attend and bring your students. Student delegates pay just $25 for lodging and the Awards Banquet, and the $50 fee for teachers and chaperones is waived for every five students in attendance from your school (i.e. 10 student delegates = 2 teachers/chaperones).

Timeline at-a-glance

Fall Semester Students conduct original research
January 12 Research paper and application deadline
January 24 Regional Symposium selection notification
Feb 2 Registration deadline for student delegates, teachers, and chaperones
March 5 & 6 Iowa Regional JSHS in Iowa City
Late April National JSHS

For more information, please visit our website at www.belinblank.org/JSHS. Don’t hesitate to contact us at JSHS@belinblank.org if the Symposium is of interest to you or your students. We look forward to reading all the brilliant papers from Iowa’s next generation of researchers!

Furthering STEM Excellence and Leadership

We are delighted to announce a nearly-$2-million-dollar grant from the National Science Foundation that will strengthen our STEM Excellence and Leadership (STEM Excellence) program.

The NSF award of $1.98 million dollars to the Belin-Blank Center is recognition of the Center’s dedication to STEM education for high-ability students who attend under-resourced schools in rural communities.  The four-year grant will permit the research team of Drs. Lori Ihrig, Duhita Mahatmya, and Susan Assouline, who will be assisted by several graduate and undergraduate students, to delve deeply into the experiences and outcomes at districts that implement STEM Excellence.  The program was originally funded by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation (JKCF; funded 2014-2016); early this summer, STEM Excellence also received one of the JKCF’s Rural Talent Initiative awards to expand the STEM Excellence program to grades 8 and 9 over the next two years.  With the JKCF funding to expand the STEM Excellence program for students in ten rural Iowa schools, the NSF award to investigate best instructional practice of the STEM Excellence program teachers, and the Belin-Blank Center’s dedication to researching best practice for students and teachers, the University of Iowa is well-positioned to take the lead in advancing STEM learning in rural settings.

Top Five Reasons to Consider AP

As we begin to approach the start of a new school year, some students may still be deciding whether an AP course is right for them. Here are some reasons to consider AP courses.

5.   Experience college-level work while still in high school. AP students learn what it takes to be successful in college. Taking AP courses can help students develop the time management & study skills, as well as the confidence in their abilities, that will facilitate success once they reach college.

4.   Strengthen college applications. A College Board study found that many colleges and universities look favorably on students with AP experience. Because AP courses are audited and approved by the College Board, post-secondary institutions are familiar with the level of rigor and can assess how the knowledge and skills emphasized in the AP course compare to their own course offerings.

3.   Earn college credit. Many colleges and universities provide college credits for earning a qualifying score on AP Exams. Search for specific schools’ credit policies at https://apstudent.collegeboard.org/creditandplacement/search-credit-policies.

2.   Skip the “101”s. In addition to earning credits for AP, students who achieve high AP Exam scores in high school often find themselves placed into higher level coursework once they reach college. This means that while their peers are sitting through Math 101, AP students can use the time to take higher level courses or electives.

1.   It’s a challenge! AP courses go beyond the basics, giving students access to greater breadth and depth of content while moving through material at a faster pace. This can be the perfect fit for students who need more than a general education class can provide.

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If you or your students want more information about AP, check out https://apstudent.collegeboard.org/exploreap! For more on our IOAPA courses, visit www.belinblank.org/ioapa.

Message from the Director: Summertime is Talent Development Time

Welcome to the Belin-Blank Center’s 29th summer of programs for teachers and students!  While in the midst of serving hundreds of elementary, middle, and high school students, we will deliver TAG courses and workshops to teachers, evaluate clients in the Assessment and Counseling Clinic, and prepare for 2017-2018 fall and spring opportunities.  Dozens of short-term faculty and staff, including program coordinators, teaching assistants, instructors, and residential advisors, assist our permanent staff members in accomplishing our goals for Summer on the Brain.  While many students come from Iowa, we will also welcome students from 28 other states, plus Canada, Hong Kong, China, South Korea, and Turkey!

Saying good-bye at the end of each program is always difficult.  However, everyone can stay connected to the Belin-Blank Center through our newsletter and The Window, a new podcast hosted by Director Emeritus, Dr. Nicholas Colangelo.  As described in the article published in The Gazette, The Window aims to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the listeners and break new ground in our thinking about talent development and our educational systems vis-à-vis the talent development process.

Speaking of talent development, we are thrilled to share that the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation has introduced a new grant program, the Rural Talent Initiative, and the Belin-Blank Center is one of the six grantees.  In 2014, the Center received a $500,000 Talent Development Award from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation for its STEM Excellence and Literacy (SEAL) program for students in grades 5 to 7.  It will use its new grant to expand the program to students in grades 8 and 9 in the 10 rural Iowa school districts currently implementing SEAL. More than 1,000 students and their teachers in these districts will receive direct benefits over a two-year period due to this grant.

One thing we’ve found in nearly thirty years of summer programs is that there is always more to learn.  Even on the sleepiest summer days, students of all ages are at the Center learning exciting new things!

New for 2017-2018: Environmental Science Classes

We are thrilled to present IOAPA’s newest offerings, available now for Fall 2017 registration: AP Environmental Science for high school students and Environmental Science for middle schoolers.

High school students can register for AP Environmental Science to learn about the natural world, identify environmental problems, and examine solutions for resolving and preventing them (College Board). Suggested prerequisites include two years of lab science courses (one year each of life science and physical science) and one year of algebra. This is a two-semester, lab science course, and required materials can be found here. Learn more about this course from Apex Learning.

Students in 6th through 8th grade can enroll in Environmental Science to explore the biosphere, the environment in which organisms live on Earth. This is a two-semester course, and there are no recommended prerequisites. This course includes a lab component, and students and mentors can choose to complete “dry” labs, which do not require additional materials, or “hands-on” labs, which require materials listed here.

For more information and to see all of our course offerings, visit belinblank.org/ioapa.

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2017 Iowa AP Index

This time of year in Iowa signals the arrival of warmer weather, graduation, and the publication of the Iowa AP Index. Every year since 2005, the Belin-Blank Center has recognized Iowa high schools for providing Advanced Placement opportunities to Iowa students.

The Iowa AP Index for a given high school is the ratio of AP exams taken by students (any grade) divided by the number of its graduating seniors. A high AP Index is an indication that a school has developed a culture that is supportive of student participation in AP courses and exams. For more on how the Index is calculated, visit the About the Index page. The 2017 statewide AP Index for all public schools in Iowa is .63, and reflects a .03-point increase in statewide AP participation compared to 2016.

For the 9th consecutive year, George Washington High School in Cedar Rapids is the top-ranked school with an AP Index of 3.31. Rounding out the top 5 are John F. Kennedy High School (Cedar Rapids, 3.03), Valley Lutheran High School (Cedar Falls, 3.00), Roosevelt High School (Des Moines, 2.86), and West Senior High School (Iowa City, 2.42). Visit the AP Index website to learn more view the full list.

Are you curious about how to increase AP participation in your school? Check out our previous post on developing an AP culture and check out the College Board’s resources to start and grow AP. IOAPA can help expand access to AP, especially for rural schools that cannot support in-person AP courses. Visit belinblank.org/ioapa to learn more.

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Is IOAPA Right for Me?

With IOAPA registration opening this week, we wanted to offer some final considerations for students and mentors considering IOAPA courses. The sections below are broken down into considerations for students and considerations for mentors.

Considerations for Students

  • Time: IOAPA courses require more time than typical grade-level courses, because the content is more advanced and students may need time to adjust to the online nature of the course. When considering enrolling in an IOAPA course, students should consider the other demands on their time, including other courses, extracurricular activities, sports, jobs, and anything else they might be involved in. It would be reasonable to expect to spend 5-10 hours per week on an IOAPA course. Will that be possible in your schedule?
  • Independence/Self-Motivation: IOAPA students must be capable of working independently and motivating themselves. Our classes are different from those typically offered in middle and high school, because instead of receiving whole-class instruction, IOAPA students independently access their course materials whenever they choose. This flexibility can be great for many students, but it requires self-motivation to avoid procrastination. If you’re not sure whether you have sufficient skills in these areas, talk to your IOAPA mentor about what they might look like.
  • Eligibility – High School: High school IOAPA students must be able to handle the academic rigor of college-level courses. Each course in our Course Catalog offers suggested prerequisites and/or pre-tests, and these may be used to determine eligibility for individual students.
  • Eligibility – Middle School: IOAPA has more specific eligibility guidelines for middle school students. Students must participate in an above-level test (I-Excel for 6th graders, ACT for 7th and 8th graders) and obtain a score at or above the 50th percentile. Additionally, it is very important that the student performs well on grade-level standardized assessments (such as the Iowa Assessments), with scores at or above the 95th percentile in the course content area. Other considerations for eligibility include prior exposure to relevant coursework to provide sufficient background knowledge and skills, and scores well above average on any other standardized tests students may have taken, such as the CogAT or an IQ test.

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  • Time/Scheduling: As an IOAPA mentor, you will need dedicated time to meet with students, answer their questions, proctor exams, and support them in overcoming any challenges they face. Previous mentors have suggested that routine, face-to-face meetings with students are extremely beneficial. Do you have time in your week to provide that support to students?
  • Student Relationships: Research on mentoring suggests that the relationship between the student and mentor is a key to success. Do you have existing positive relationships with the prospective IOAPA students? If not, do you think you will be able to develop positive relationships early in the year?
  • Content Knowledge: In most cases, mentors are not responsible for teaching course material or answering questions about course content. However, some understanding of basic content will be beneficial in answering students’ questions or providing them with resources. In our computer science courses, content knowledge is especially beneficial, and it is required for our AP Computer Science Principles course, which does require the mentor to provide instruction.
  • School Eligibility: This consideration is for both mentors and site coordinators. IOAPA requires that IOAPA courses are scheduled into the students’ regular school day, and that schools provide a designated time and space within the school building for students to work on their course(s). In addition, the school must provide lab space and equipment for science courses (if applicable), and the necessary technology and textbooks for all courses. The school must be an accredited school in the state of Iowa, the course must not be offered through the school district (or at the student’s grade level, in the case of middle school courses), and the school must not enroll more than 6 students per course. For more information relevant to site coordinators and mentors, please see our Site Coordinator and Mentor Handbook.

Still not sure if IOAPA is right for you? Click around our website to get more information about the courses we offer, the supports we provide, and the requirements for enrolling. If you have additional questions, contact us at ioapa@belinblank.org.