Category Archives: Academic Year Programs

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.

Support Materials for IOAPA

IOAPA mentors, site coordinators, schools, and students often have questions about IOAPA’s policies and procedures, or are looking for guidance regarding student eligibility or course selection. We’ve compiled answers to many of these questions on the “Support Materials” section of our website. Presented below is a sampling of the information you’ll find.
  • IOAPA Handbook: All policies related to IOAPA can be found in the handbook. In addition, the handbook offers information about supporting IOAPA students, seeking additional help, and a Student Readiness Checklist. This is essential information for new IOAPA mentors, and a useful reference for all mentors and site coordinators.
  • Middle School Questions: Answers to common questions about IOAPA for middle school can be found in our collection of blog posts, linked directly from this page. There is some especially useful information from previous mentors about how to solve logistical challenges, such as assigning credit.
  • Info Night Presentation: This resource can be used to share information about IOAPA with school personnel, parents, and students who might be interested in offering and/or enrolling in IOAPA courses. Now is a great time to consider hosting an Info Night, while parents and students have time to consider signing up for fall courses before the end of the school year.
  • Infographics: Also on this page, you’ll find infographics presenting course data and recommendations. These can be used to inform course selection for students. In some cases, such as the computer science course graphics, they also offer tips for mentors.
To find this information, navigate to www.belinblank.org/ioapa and click on the Support Materials link. Still have IOAPA questions? Get in touch with us at ioapa@belinblank.org.

Reflections on First Semester of Computer Science with Edhesive

We are excited to share a collection of data and advice based on student and teacher experiences with IOAPA’s Edhesive Computer Science courses in the Fall 2016 semester. Similar to previous semesters, we have compiled the information into an easy-to-understand infographic format. This information will be especially useful for students and mentors considering the options for enrollment in IOAPA courses in 2017-2018 and beyond. See our middle school and high school infographics for guidance regarding our other courses.

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Best Practices for IOAPA Mentors

Mentors are a key component of the Iowa Online AP Academy model. These individuals may or may not have expertise in the content areas their students are studying, and in most of our courses, mentors are not expected to provide instruction on the course content. (The mentor’s role for AP Computer Science Principles is slightly different; future posts will address this, or you can contact IOAPA staff with questions.) Instead, IOAPA mentors provide support and encouragement for students, assist them in determining where and how to seek help, and monitor progress in course materials and intervene when necessary.

What should I do to be an effective mentor?

  • Build positive relationships with students. According to the University of Minnesota’s mentoring model, checking in with students frequently can promote strong relationships.
    • One study cited in a research synthesis found that “facilitators that are directly working with students day by day are key to the success of the program” and that the physical presence of mentors can motivate students to engage (cited in Borup & Drysdale, 2014).
  • Connect students with resources. Mentors are not expected to have all the answers for students’ questions, but helping them determine where to find support, or how to ask for help, can be beneficial. Check out our blog post on supporting struggling students for more info.
    • This may include serving as a “communication link” between students and their course instructors (Borup & Drysdale, 2014).
  • Communicate with other mentors. Whether for emotional support or professional guidance, your fellow IOAPA mentors are a great resource for new and veteran mentors alike. Check out the IOAPA mentor support network information in the IOAPA Handbook.
  • Encourage healthy work habits. We all need occasional reminders to take breaks and prioritize, and IOAPA students are no exception. Mentors can help students set priorities, schedule time for relaxation, and promote stress management. The University Counseling Service at the University of Iowa developed a list of stress management strategies that may be useful.

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Do you have suggestions for other IOAPA mentors? Share them with us in the comments or on Twitter using #IOAPA. Also, look out for our mentor survey at the end of the semester to share your thoughts!