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.

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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?

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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?

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

Want to be the first to hear news from us?  Subscribe to our newsletter!

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 belinblank.org/ioapa.

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.