Category Archives: Academic Year Programs

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.