Category Archives: In the news

Computer Science Education in Iowa

At the end of April, then-Governor Branstad signed Senate File 274 into law, establishing goals for expanding computer science education opportunities for Iowa students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Read more about the bill here. These goals include: offering at least one CS course in each high school and offering basic and exploratory computer science instruction in each elementary and middle school.

The bill also created a work group to make recommendations for meeting these goals by July 1, 2019. The Computer Science Education Work Group released their final report last week. The report includes detailed recommendations for using CS courses to satisfy graduation requirements, integrating CS courses into a career and technical education (CTE) pathway, ensuring equitable access by offering courses in a number of settings, developing a scope and sequence for CS education, and using the CS professional development fund to meet goals. It will be exciting to see these recommendations turn into actions to expand CS education access to all students in Iowa.


Through the Iowa Online AP Academy, high-ability Iowa students in 6th through 12th grades can access above-level CS coursework, and teachers can take advantage of professional development opportunities. Registration for our spring-semester Introduction to Computer Science course for students in 6th-9th grades is available now; visit our website for more on courses and registration.

Message from the Director: Words Matter

Words matter. No, it’s not the current political discourse that prompts this understated opening to my message; rather the publicity around a recent presentation here on the University of Iowa campus by a newly-minted sociologist invited to guest lecture for a seminar on inequality.

The publicity promoted the following topics: “the nature-nurture debate, social inequality in gifted education programs and experiences of the — so called — gifted students.”

Ironically, the presenter claimed to “not challenge the concept of giftedness in general”; rather, to “disprove key ideas of gifted education scholars…[and] discuss the theoretical frameworks which [sic] question the social category of giftedness.”

The two words that concern me most are “so-called.” Unfortunately, I could not attend this seminar due to a conflict, i.e., work.  Nevertheless, I felt it important to contribute to the dialogue, even if not in that particular forum, because, as a “gifted education scholar,” my work, and that of dozens of colleagues, is being targeted.  I have three points:

First, qualifying the term “gifted” implicitly judges individuals who, through no fault of their own, have academic and social-emotional needs that are not typically met in the regular classroom.  The psychological concept of individual differences forms the theoretical foundation underlying the vast range of research and programs for gifted students.  The Belin-Blank Center is but one of several gifted education centers that address research and programming for gifted students as well as professional development for their teachers.  Formative evaluation of these programs (not judgment) is ongoing and necessary for program improvement.  All university-based centers engage in this evaluation.  Research conducted throughout the world is available in peer-reviewed journals and supports these efforts.

Second, professionals and parents who advocate for gifted students should always search for ways to eliminate geographic and psychological barriers.  Ironically, the very students who are likely to be overlooked for needed accommodations are the ones who would most likely be disadvantaged if the concept of giftedness were questioned and associated programming were eliminated.

Third, discourse around these topics, especially social inequality and conceptualization of giftedness, are welcome and necessary – especially with professionals outside of the fields of education and psychology.  However, honest inquiry is difficult when conclusions have been predetermined and fundamental respect for the needs of the individual are ignored.

Those two words created ire; however, they also forced me to reevaluate my own values.  I concluded that the Center’s commitment to programs and services for gifted and talented students and their educators is unwavering. Therefore, we will continue to look for ways to address the needs of our most vulnerable students (e.g., economically vulnerable or twice-exceptional students).  Furthermore, we always will champion the interventions that promote the development of talent in students and their teachers.   Because how else can we “nurture potential and inspire excellence” so that we make this world a better place?


SSTP Mentor’s Graduate Student Lands a NASA Fellowship

Check out this great story about a graduate student who works with a mentor for the Secondary Student Training Program, one of the Belin-Blank Center’s summer programs.  Congratulations, Jake!

Not only do our mentors guide SSTP students in the summer, but they are also overlooking the work of graduate students in their labs. Randall McEntaffer is an associate physics professor with a research interest in x-ray astronomy and instrumentation. He currently mentors Jake McCoy who has recently received a NASA fellowship. Read more here at Iowa Now!

Source: SSTP Mentor’s Graduate Student Lands a NASA Fellowship

A Familiar Face on The Today Show

We recently spotted ITP alum Julius Carter on The Today Show!Julius


Check out the performance:


Have You Seen Our February Newsletter?


We’ve got news, details about our summer programs, an exciting new blog, and more!  Visit to get the latest news from the Center.

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Iowa Online AP Academy in the News

Recently, the National Journal published a piece describing the Iowa Online Advanced Placement Academy (IOAPA) and how it is increasing the opportunities available to Iowa high school students. The article discusses how IOAPA works with school districts to provide additional avenues for learning that might be difficult to implement in traditional formats. Check it out here!

If you or your school is interested in learning more about IOAPA, visit our website at

Message from the Director – Excellence and Literacy: Complement or Paradox?

Readers of this newsletter already know the response – complement. In fact, it makes more sense to consider these terms as points on a continuum of developing excellence and even eminence. That is exactly what we hope to accomplish with the help of a Talent Development Award from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation for Iowa STEM Excellence and Literacy (SEAL).

Philosophically, we recognize that excellence and literacy — at times –must be treated as independent goals. We must demonstrate respect for the diverse populations that require a focus on one or the other, while never losing sight of the ways in which literacy and excellence can enhance each other. If we consider literacy and excellence as points on a continuum of performance and achievement, then educational stakeholders, which would be all of us, will not be forced into making choices based upon the false assumption that literacy and excellence represent a dichotomy – especially in STEM.

The concept of a continuum of expertise struck me about a month ago when I had the opportunity to present very briefly to University of Iowa College of Education colleagues, Iowa Department of Education (DOE) officials, and local state legislators concerning the STEM excellence programs of the Belin-Blank Center. There were multiple presentations that morning and several featured the reading literacy program jointly operated by the DOE and the College of Education. During our time together, we also learned about a science writing heuristic being implemented in elementary classrooms across the state. This science writing program has the potential to improve performance across content areas. I was delighted to be part of the entire morning. I especially liked learning that science writing in elementary schools has been formalized because decades ago, in my first professional life as a science teacher, my junior high school students completed lots of writing in my science classes.  I collaborated with the language arts and social studies teachers well before interdisciplinary was in vogue. Fast forward four decades to Belin-Blank Center programming. Our STEM classes for elementary students build upon our research demonstrating that only 1 in 10 very bright students will be challenged in their elementary science class. We are implementing a STEM excellence program for middle-school students that has a proven record of improving achievement and aspirations of students. Our capstone STEM program, the Secondary Student Training Program (SSTP) program, during which high school students spend five weeks on the University of Iowa campus doing graduate level research with some of the UI’s premier researchers, is the essence of excellence. The five-week SSTP program culminates in a poster fair that epitomizes excellence in STEM literacy.

What’s next in the area of STEM excellence? The Belin-Blank Center administrative staff, along with the College of Education and the UI President’s and Provost’s offices, are working very hard to realize a Belin-Blank STEM academy. Such an academy will be an important addition to the Belin-Blank Center’s programs and, by extension, to the university and state. We are grateful that the College of Education and the University of Iowa have stepped up in support of this effort. The question that remains: will the state of Iowa step up?  Stay tuned for more about the STEM academy, the SEAL program, and other Belin-Blank Center advances in STEM.

In closing, I want to thank the Belin-Blank Center staff for their commitment to ALL of the programming that we provide. Our students, parents, and colleagues are well-served by the many dedicated staff members.

Changes to the SAT: Implications for Younger High School Students

The Iowa Online Advanced Placement (APTM) Academy allows Iowa students to take APTMclasses online. The Iowa Online AP Academy is especially meant for rural schools that do not have the resources to support APTM classes. Educators can learn more here.


College Board reported in early March changes will be made to the SAT. Key changes include cutting obscure vocabulary words, ending penalization for guessing wrong, and making the essay optional. The changes will come into effect in 2016, affecting current high school freshmen.

The changes instated by David Coleman, president of the College Board, have been a long time coming—in fact, Coleman was considering an overhaul months before he officially took over as president. One of the changes that emerged from these early discussions was a reconsideration of the essay. Whereas the old essay required students to cite their own experiences or values in response to a statement—an exercise that critics have shown to be correlated more with length and number of details rather than substance—the new essay will require to analyze evidence in their response to a prompt. Another important change is that College Board will soon team with Khan Academy as a means of providing free support to students preparing to take the SAT.

The announcement acknowledges that previous changes to the SAT have been ineffective and seeks to align the test better with academic expectations in high school and college. Some critics question whether the changes go far enough and whether these changes are important in a time when colleges are becoming increasingly “test-optional” in admissions. However, a recent publication by the New York Times described the influence SAT and ACT scores can continue to have on success even after high school. For better or for worse, these scores—the significance of which have been debated for decades—sometimes act as simple screening tools for employers.

The debate will likely rage on with respect to the SAT and ACT, but for the time being, many of our college-bound school students will need to take these exams. With the changes to the SAT, we hope that the shift to more practical concepts and a collaboration with free test preparation will improve the test-taking process for our students.

Black Male Achievement Week Spurs a Necessary Dialogue

The Iowa Online Advanced Placement (APTM) Academy allows Iowa students to take APTM classes online. The Iowa Online AP Academy is especially meant for rural schools that do not have the resources to support APTM classes. Educators can learn more here.

The goal of APTM is to challenge students and to better prepare them for higher education. Yet this program and others like it traditionally underrepresent students who are Black, Hispanic, American-Indian, and low-income, despite an awareness of these inequities and efforts to expand educational access.* Examining the 2013 graduating student cohort, only 28% of young black men who demonstrated potential for success in APTM took one or more APTM courses in high school (see College Board and American Promise infographic here).

Black Male Achievement (BMA) Week took place last week, drawing attention to barriers that prevent young black men from accessing APTM programming in addition to a host of other societal supports and opportunities. To incite conversation on this topic, the award-winning American Promise, a documentary examining the experiences of two friends at a prestigious private school as they move from kindergarten through high school, is now available for streaming online.

Events will continue through February and March (e.g., a Teach for America and American Promise Google Hangout on Tuesday, 02/11), bringing people together across the country to better understand these issues and what can be done to bring about change. Be a part of this conversation, and become a stronger advocate for your students, peers, and/or self.

*To read more about the high-end achievement gap and recommendations to help combat these inequities at a district- and school-level, download The Education Trust’s “Finding America’s Missing AP and IB Students” here.

Message from the Director: Remembering James Gallagher

Un seul être vous manque et tout est dépeuplé

(One single person is gone and the loss is collective)

Such is the case for professionals in the fields of gifted AND special education, as we acknowledge the passing of Professor James J. Gallagher, a world-renowned leader in both special education and gifted education, who passed away on the 17th of January.  His obituary addresses the highlights of Professor Gallagher’s legacy in special and gifted education and offers a personal and professional lesson in life for all of us.

In 2008, the Belin-Blank Center honored Professor Gallagher as the 4th Julian C. Stanley (JCS) Lecturer at the H.B. and Jocelyn Wallace International Research Symposium on Talent Development.  The 11th Wallace Symposium will take place March 23-25, in Washington, D.C.  Dean Nicholas Colangelo (Director Emeritus of the Belin-Blank Center) will deliver the JCS lecture this year on March 24, and we will honor Professor Gallagher’s legacy at that time.

Professor Gallagher also was a contributor to the watershed publication, A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary in September 2014.  We are very busy preparing the next edition of the publication and hope to reveal additional details of the forthcoming publication at the Wallace Symposium.  We can tell you that the format will be similar (an edited volume that is comprised of updated and new chapters from experts across the field) and an abridged volume that is based upon the chapters in the edited volume.  Both volumes will be available electronically, just as Volume 1 of Nation Deceived is available – at no cost – through the iTunes store.

Speaking of digital resources, we have now published a revision of our Packet of Information for Professionals, which is an extensive resource for professionals and parents of gifted students with a disability (twice-exceptional because they have ADHD, or Specific Learning Disabilities, or Autism Spectrum Disorders).  These materials were originally developed to facilitate the efforts of Belin-Blank faculty and staff who work with twice-exceptional students.  We continue to update the materials so that we can provide the best service possible to all of our students.

Finally, please check out two recent special newsletters from the Belin-Blank Center:  the University Programs Newsletter and the SSTP Newsletter.  Both of these newsletters give you a glimpse into student life at the University of Iowa, and also demonstrate how the Belin-Blank faculty and staff work year round to provide programming for students. To see the smiling faces of those students, click here.

Onward with AP in Spite of the Polar Vortex

The Iowa Online Advanced Placement (APTM) Academy allows Iowa students to take APTM classes online. The Iowa Online AP Academy is especially meant for rural schools that do not have the resources to support APTM classes. Educators can learn more here.

Alas, the bitter cold has returned. With the plummeting wind chill comes school closures—and unstructured time for students. However, regardless of whether Iowa schools extend the academic year into July, APTM students must take exams the weeks of May 5th and May 12th. What steps can online APTM students stranded at home take to avoid falling behind?

Accept the test dates as set in stone. With a few exceptions, APTM exams are generally not rescheduled. Cross your fingers all you like, but wishful thinking will not change this.

Create a schedule with short- and long-term goals. Given the flexibility of online courses, students benefit from the use of schedules, a topic we have discussed previously, particularly to reach completion of short- and long-term goals. For some students, this is as simple as following the syllabus each week. For others, it may help to break down assignments further and to set specific hours aside each week for each course assignment. These schedules should be followed as closely as possible to avoid overwhelmingly busy weeks later in the term.

If you have Internet access at home, continue to make progress in your courses. Yes, school is closed, and your friends may be taking it easy. However, remember the challenge you gave to yourself when you signed up for APTM or other honors courses. The grit needed to accomplish larger goals requires that you maintain goal-directedness, motivation, and self-control every week. If you have access to your coursework, continue to make progress on assignments and lectures. Watching daytime television and scrolling through Reddit will lose its appeal relatively quickly anyway.

Keep in touch with classmates during strings of snow days. Form a group with classmates, and share your short- and long-term goals for the semester. Encourage one another toward goals. Taking an online course can be an isolating experience, but having a peer group to hold you to the expectations you set for yourself will motivate you to push ahead.

Facilitating Success in Students of Military Families

The Iowa Online Advanced Placement Academy allows Iowa students to take APTM classes online. IOAPA is especially meant for rural schools that do not have the resources to support APTM classes. Educators can learn more here.

When it comes to AP programming, we are always looking to learn about innovative ways to better support students (e.g., our recent iPad initiative). In this pursuit to enhance our programming, we sometimes come across instances of schools excelling at this mission. A Maryland high school’s dedication to improving educational opportunities and increasing student success is one such example.

Students of military families who move frequently face the challenge of trying to maintain quality, consistent educational experiences. The National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI), which seeks to improve student performance in STEM areas, has responded to this concern. Specifically, NMSI has teamed with White House programs to target teenagers of military families—and students of other backgrounds traditionally underrepresented in AP—with its Comprehensive AP Program. Participating schools receive incentives to encourage student AP involvement and teacher and student supports to promote ongoing success in AP courses.

Maryland’s Aberdeen High School has recently received attention for its great successes under the Comprehensive AP Program. Students of military families at Aberdeen High report highly positive experiences. Moreover, students across all backgrounds at the school have shown large gains in passing scores on the AP exam, particularly in math and science. Congratulations, Aberdeen High, and thank you for setting a great example!

Message from the Director: Research in All of Its Forms

2013 is winding down, and we are gearing up for spring and summer 2014!  We are in the period known as the calm before the storm; nevertheless, a lot will occur before the spring semester begins, and you can read all about it in this issue of Vision.

Support for the Belin-Blank Center’s efforts in the STEM arena seems to be coming from multiple sources.  The December 2013 issue of the American Psychological Association (APA) Monitor (V.44, 1, p. 36-38) featured research conducted by several of our colleagues on the importance of specialized STEM experiences.  As stated on p. 36, “Among the study’s most significant findings: Students are more likely to stick with STEM education when they participate in research in high schools, get ongoing mentoring from STEM professionals, have a strong motivation for problem-solving or have a parent in a STEM field.”  The Belin-Blank Center is proud to support opportunities for these kinds of STEM experiences through the Secondary Student Training Program (SSTP) and the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS). We were especially excited to see that the research featured in the Monitor’s article was conducted by our close colleague, Dr. Rena Subotnik, Director of APA’s Center for Gifted Education Policy, and funded by the National Science Foundation.

You can hear Dr. Subotnik and several other featured speakers – Chester Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and Nick Colangelo, UI College of Education dean – at the 11th Wallace Research & Policy Symposium on Talent Development.  In total we will have seven keynote/featured speakers, nine invited presentations, and several dozen concurrent presentations.  The symposium, held in collaboration with the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), will be especially practitioner-friendly this year, with single-day registration available as well as special sessions that focus on the interplay of research, policy, and best practice in gifted education.  We encourage you to register early for the symposium so that you can get the early-bird registration discount and be assured a sleeping room in the symposium hotel.

Just as I was putting the finishing touches on my “Director’s Message,” the editorial, “Even Gifted Students Can’t Keep Up” by the New York Times Editorial Board came across my email.  The editorial elevates many of the issues that confront gifted education and gifted students today including the impact of the absence of federal funding and leadership as well as inconsistencies of programming by states. While these are issues familiar to professionals in the field of gifted education, they are not commonly addressed by educators in general as well as the public.

Furthermore, the New York Times editorial specified the importance of special programming and interventions needed by gifted (advanced) students such as online AP classes for rural areas, college-level experiences while still in high school, and early entrance to college. The substance of the editorial aligns well with some of the programs already at the Belin-Blank Center. The Iowa Online Advanced Placement Academy was specifically developed to offer AP opportunities to the many rural schools in Iowa. SSTP provides very high-ability high school students with intense and high-level college experiences while they remain in high school. And the National Academy of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering (NAASE) is a successful early entrance program founded on the premise and research support that there are some students in our high schools that have the ability, motivation, and maturity to begin college (in this case, the University of Iowa) early rather than spending senior year symbolically treading water.

The New York Times editorial came just a few days after University of Iowa President Sally Mason presented her strategic initiatives as part of Governor Branstad’s open hearings at the capitol in Des Moines, IA.  As mentioned in the UI Hawkeye Caucus Newsletter, “the UI proposal would launch a STEM residential academy on campus that allows Iowa’s high-ability STEM students to complete their final two years of high school simultaneously in their first two years at the UI. This will allow these high achieving students the opportunity to graduate from the UI two years earlier while giving them a leg up on their future.”

As we wrap up 2013, I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that a full year has passed by since I became the director of the Belin-Blank Center.  What a wonderful privilege it is to work with the fantastic Center staff and faculty.  Each and every one of them makes a special contribution to the Center to ensure that the programs for students and teachers are top-notch. I also thank the University of Iowa’s central administration for their enduring support and commitment to the Center, as well as the members of our advisory board.  They are generous in their advice and private giving, and both groups are an inspiration. It was a great 2013 and 2014 holds much promise.  Stay tuned!

What Creates Genius?

Dean Keith Simonton, author of Genius 101 and a professor of psychology at the University of California-Davis, will visit the University of Iowa this week.  One of his areas of research is the accomplishments of historical figures.

There will be multiple events related to Simonton’s visit this week, and all lectures are free and open to the public.

  • Interested persons are invited to a discussion of Simonton’s book Genius 101 prior to his visit. The discussion will take place Tuesday, Oct. 22, from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at Prairie Lights Bookstore.
  • “Diversifying experiences and creative development,” 101 Biology Building East, Wednesday, Oct. 30, at 7 p.m.
  • “Creative thoughts as acts of free will: A two-stage formal integration,” C125 Pappajohn Business Administration Building, Friday, Nov. 1, at 3:30 p.m.

More information is available through the University of Iowa’s IowaNow article on the events.

Response to Boston Marathon Bombings

Our deepest condolences go out to the families and loved ones affected by the senseless bombings at the Boston Marathon. It is difficult for many of us, our children included, to try to make sense of events such as these, where innocent lives are taken or irrevocably altered. It is especially difficult when we see the loss of a child. Gifted children can show a heightened sensitivity to these types of issues due to an interest in following current events and a strong sense of fairness and justice. As others have wisely noted, now may be an opportune time to reflect on the good in the world—the acts of kindness, heroism, and compassion that we see occurring in response to tragedy. These are the true faces of humanity that we should value, nurture, and encourage in our society.

There are several resources available to assist parents in answering the questions posed by their children and to help them cope with tragedy and trauma:

We hope that you find these resources helpful. If you have concerns about a child’s response to these events, please contact an appropriate mental health professional, either through the child’s school or in the community, for support and guidance.