Category Archives: Academic Year Programs

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. Contact the Belin-Blank Center to set up a testing date.
  3. Invite them to participate in above-level testing using I-Excel.
  4. Administer I-Excel during a school day or on the weekend (depending on what works best for your situation).
  5. 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.
  6. 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.