Category Archives: Summer Programs

Message from the Director: At the Edge of Knowledge, What do Students Need?

The needs of gifted students come from their strengths, not their deficits. 

I’m paraphrasing, slightly, what Executive Director of Western Kentucky’s Center for Gifted Studies, Professor Julia Link Roberts, expressed last month during Denver University’s annual Gifted Education Conference.  This simple yet elegant statement captures the essence of the Belin-Blank Center’s model for serving gifted and talented students from grade 2 through college.  Our strength-based model features various systems for discovering domain-specific talent and then developing that talent.  A strength-based model is synonymous with talent development.

Although highly effective, there is one critical group of educators who neither implement nor advocate for a strength-based model in which talents are developed.  The group is comprised of the vast majority of faculty in colleges of education across the country; the same individuals who prepare future teachers and counselors.  

This was the situation decades ago when I was preparing to be a science teacher, and it remains true today.  For example, students with strengths in science reasoning need to be able to do what scientists do – create hypotheses, conduct research, experience success…and fail, and start all over again. It’s the rare science classroom where students with strengths in scientific reasoning have regular opportunities to experience “science” during the school day.  The same is true for individuals with talent in mathematics. 

To some extent, the lack of emphasis on talent development in schools explains the popularity of university-based summer programs among parents and students.  Every summer, tens of thousands of elementary, middle, and high school students across the country take advantage of myriad programs and courses that build on their strengths and nurture the development of their talent.  The Belin-Blank Center’s programs are among these. Our students explore their interests and stretch their intellectual muscles in the Blank Summer Institute, the Perry Research Scholars Institute, the Secondary Student Training Program, Summer Art  Residency,  and Summer Writing Residency and find respite from the lack of challenge during the school year.

Educators who participate in the Belin-Blank Center’s summer professional development can observe talented pre-college students in programming that is uniquely strength-based and talent-development focused.  Our hope is that by observing a strength-based classroom, educators will see the importance of taking this model into their own classrooms during the academic year.  This is one of the most critical lessons from their professional development experience because for every student who attends a summer program in a university setting, there are several others who are equally talented but don’t have this opportunity.

Education doesn’t have to be strengths vs. deficit.  In fact, every program we offer, including outreach programming such as the STEM Excellence program, now in its sixth year of implementation in nine rural schools across Iowa, is an excellent example of a thriving strength-based program that aims to develop the math and science talents of middle-school students.

Our work in twice-exceptionality offers additional evidence that understanding a student’s strengths is as important as understanding their challenges.  Individuals with a diagnosed disability or disorder face challenges (deficits) that can – and must – be addressed. However, this should be done in alignment with developing their strengths.

The strength-based approach is the essence of our collaborative twice-exceptional research agenda with our Iowa Neuroscience Institute partners. This work uses an unprecedented amount of data from our Assessment and Counseling Clinic to better understand the relationship between high ability and challenges in learning, social-emotional development, or behavior. Indeed, understanding the role of cognitive strengths within the context of learning and social-emotional difficulties is a critical aspect of the research we are conducting.  It is only with a sample of twice-exceptional individuals, who have both intellectual strengths and cognitive challenges, that each of these can be controlled for, allowing researchers to examine their effects both independently and combined.

We are looking forward to bringing together researchers, clinicians, educators, and parents to learn about the research on twice-exceptionality at the Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality this July. We invite you to join us in discussing new, unprecedented studies of twice-exceptionality, the future of research in this field, and the possibilities available for collaboration among institutions, gifted education organizations, and talent development centers in order to advance our understanding of this unique population and their strengths and challenges.

The needs of gifted students – and the professionals who are involved in their education – come from strengths not deficits.  Yet, for the foreseeable future, deficit models in education will likely dominate our thinking – and funding.  I recommend that we “lean into” the current deficit model and use it as a platform to reveal the many advantages to including a strength-based approach in gifted education and talent development.  We will continue to share our perspective and research findings, and we hope to see you at one of our events or programs soon.

New 2020 Summer Program for Students!

Two of our previous programs, Blast and the Junior Scholars Institute, have joined forces to create the Junior Scholars Academy (JSA)! Students from 2nd to 8th grade with a deep curiosity, a love of learning, or a lot of talent in a particular area will feel right at home in this program.

JSA is a summer commuter program designed specifically for bright elementary and middle school students who want to thoroughly explore a topic – all while having fun with other kids who share their enthusiasm for learning. Students get to choose one class to focus on all day, for a full week – and these aren’t just any regular classes! With past options like Harry Potter, STEAM, Mixed Media Art, Virtual Reality, Programming (and more!), we’re sure to have something for any curious kid.

Applications open December 15th and will be reviewed by a selection committee composed of Belin-Blank Center faculty and staff. Program acceptance is based on a review of the student’s strengths and interests. The selection committee works to ensure that the class is a good academic fit to nurture the student’s potential. Participation in a school’s gifted education program is not required.

Grade bands for JSA will be 2nd-3rd, 4th-5th, 6th-8th, with the structure consisting of four 1-week sessions. Choose any one (or more!) that works best for you:

  • Session 1 is June 15-19
  • Session 2 is June 22-26
  • Session 3 is July 6-10
  • Session 4 is July 13-17

Find more information here: www.belinblank.org/jsa.

Looking for a residential opportunity for 7th and 8th grade students? The Blank Summer Institute (BSI) is a prestigious one-week residential summer program for 120 of Iowa’s most talented 7th- and 8th- grade students, nominated by their schools.

Applications for all of our student summer programs open December 15th at belinblank.org/summer. Please email us at summer@belinblank.org with any questions!


We hope to see you this summer!

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.

Message from the Director: Welcome Home!

Our June newsletter coincides with the start of six weeks of amazing energy and enthusiasm for our myriad pre-college and professional development programs.

Our elementary (Blast) and junior high students (Junior Scholars Institute, Blank Scholars Institute) will be challenged in their areas of interest and strength, digging into an advanced course during the day, all while having fun with other bright kids who share their level of interest and ability. Junior high and high school students also get to experience life on a college campus, living in the residence halls and hanging out with new friends at cultural and recreational activities in the evenings.

Our high school students will experience life-changing opportunities for personal and academic growth. Our summer programs include a behind-the-scenes look at research careers and the ways and places we discover new knowledge on many different topics (Perry Research Scholars Institute); an intensive, highly selective, STEM research experience (Secondary Student Training Program); and art and writing residencies (Summer Art Residency, Summer Writing Residency) here at the University of Iowa, one of the premier arts campuses in the US, also home to the famed Iowa Writers Workshop.

This summer, educators will be making progress toward their TAG endorsements, maintaining their license requirements, or pursuing career advancement through a variety of online and on-site courses and workshops or Iowa Licensure Renewal Units. We will also have the pleasure of spending time with many who join us on campus! Some will be here for the Chautauqua program, which carries the benefit of enabling educators to earn half the credits they need for a TAG endorsement in just two weeks! Others will become qualified to teach Advanced Placement (AP) courses, increasing the number of subject acceleration opportunities for gifted students across the country, at our AP Teacher Training Institute.  Still others have been admitted to the prestigious Belin-Blank Fellowship, which aims to help teachers new to gifted education understand the qualities and needs of gifted individuals so they can better teach and develop the potential of those students.

This month, “welcome” is the most often-used word in my vocabulary, as I meet dozens of students and educators new to the Center.  I greet returning students, families, and educators with a warm “welcome home!” Expressing both of these words — welcome and home — sparked my curiosity about the etymology of each.  That curiosity, in turn, led to a few reflections about the next six weeks of summer programming.

“Welcome” comes from the Old English, wilcuma, “a wished for guest.”  Indeed, we absolutely wish for individuals to join us in our programs. We spend months preparing for them to ensure that they will have an engaging and energizing experience.  We know that for many participants their time on the UI campus in a Belin-Blank Center program offers a pivotal, often life-changing, experience.  We never tire of hearing these stories, and now that we are entering our 31st year of programming, we have heard from people who had that experience 10, 20, or 30 years ago! 

We also “welcome home” past participants and use the word “home” with great warmth.   As a noun, home, comes from the Old English, ham, and implies a “dwelling place.”  That is exactly how we want everyone who attends our programs to feel.  We want them to know that we have created a place that inspires them to reach beyond their current level of performance, where they can inspire others to extend their reach, and assure them that professors, residence advisors, and Center staff are dedicated to their well-being and happiness.   Attaining that goal is an indicator that we truly have welcomed our newest participants and welcomed home those who have returned. 

Here’s to the start of a great summer that concludes in late July!  We would love to welcome you at two very special events at the conclusion of the summer program. 

Even if you can’t join us in person this summer, be sure to connect with us by following along on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and our blog. However, if you are joining us this summer, welcome home!

Advanced Placement Teacher Training Institute (APTTI)

Are you starting to make summer plans? Don’t forget to add the Advanced Placement Teacher Training Institute (APTTI) into your summer schedule! This professional development opportunity takes place at the University of Iowa campus on June 25-28, 2019. Registration is now open!

APTTI is a College Board approved Advanced Placement Summer Institute (APSI). AP Summer Institutes provide subject-specific training for teachers who are interested in teaching an AP course. Summer Institutes can also support current teachers of AP courses seeking to develop their skills, or gain familiarity with the course.

“It [APTTI] not only provided me the opportunity to gain an understanding of AP-teaching, but I gained resources and new ideas that I now apply to all of my classes. “

“The training was invaluable…I find myself continually going back to my notes, looking at the resources I obtained at the training, and even emailing the facilitator who still quickly responds to me even though it has now been 2.5 years. I would not be as successful in my classroom had it not been for this training.”

Funding

The Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) offers the AP Institution Grant, a grant to support Iowa teachers in attending APTTI. (Participation in IOAPA not required.) This grant will cover $450 (more than 80%) of the $550 registration fee.  Click here to learn more and click here to access the grant application. This application is due June 1st, 2019. 

Academic Credit

Teachers who register for APTTI may pursue additional opportunities for graduate-level academic credit and/or Iowa licensure renewal units (additional fees and registration required). University credit is NOT included in the cost of APTTI. Click here to learn more about academic credit options!

Apply today here, and email us at aptti@belinblank.org with any questions or concerns.

Must-See Summer Enrichment Classes for Middle School Students

If you’re still looking for summer programs for curious middle school students, look no further! Our Junior Scholars Institute (JSI) still has limited seats available in some amazing classes. Check them out before it’s too late!

Robot Theater: Exploring with Cozmo

The focus of this class is to learn the basics of dramatic storytelling that incorporate robot technology (Cozmo, created by Anki) as part of the story. If you have written a script, story, or poem that you have been dreaming of seeing performed on stage, then this class is for you—our Cozmos will be your actors. If you have an interest in robotics and want to work with sophisticated technology, then this class is for you—Cozmo will introduce you to the world of robotics. No previous experience with writing, puppetry, theatre, or working with robots is required.

Environmental Engineering

Students will be exposed to real-world environmental challenges Iowans face with an emphasis on flooding and access to clean water. Through an interactive learning environment, students will connect with professionals from a variety of related fields to learn how we prepare for, respond to, and recover from disaster events, but then also mitigate for future disasters to build community resilience. Classroom learning will be mobile and designed to engage the students in career settings providing opportunities for practicing professional development skills.

Mixed Media Workshop

Are you ready for an exciting week of action-packed art adventures? If so, this class is for you! Our week will be an exciting exploration of several different kinds of art making. You will try your hand at a variety of studio projects throughout the week. The two-dimensional art portion of the class will involve some printmaking, drawing, and painting. The stop motion animation segment will introduce you to the basics of stop-motion in the making of an awesome animation that you will shoot, edit, and create music and sound effects. You will work on individual pieces, as well as work in small groups. Exploring collaboration in small groups will allow us to put our brains together to come up with unique, creative solutions. We will go on a couple of field trips to get ideas for work and look at other artists’ work. Bring your adventurous spirit and creative brain. It’s going to be a great week of getting a little messy, learning some new techniques, getting your creative juices flowing, and challenging yourselves.

Archaeology: Discover the Past!

Ever wonder how archaeologists know where to find ancient sites? Or how rocks and bones provide them clues about how people lived? Archaeologists are scientific detectives, studying people from the past and the objects they left behind. In this course, you will learn to think like an archaeologist using scientific inquiry. We will study real artifacts in the research labs at the Office of the State Archaeologist and participate in hands-on lessons and activities to learn about Iowa’s archaeological past, from the Ice Age to the first Europeans. You will also learn how today’s Native American communities work with archaeologists to strengthen our understanding of their cultures. Part of this course will take place at an outdoor classroom at the Macbride Nature Recreation Area, where we will learn archaeology field techniques to document a real archaeological site!

Other open classes include Leadership for Students Who Want to Make a Difference, Women in Engineering, and Project Discovery: Finding Your Writer’s Voice.

Participation in your school’s talented and gifted program is not required. Payment plans and financial aid are available. If you think JSI sounds like a good fit for your student, be sure to check it out at www.belinblank.org/summer or contact Ashlee Van Fleet at summer@belinblank.org!

Summer Enrichment for Middle School Students

The Belin-Blank Center specializes in academically talented kids. If you have 6th-8th grade students who show a deep curiosity when a topic sparks their interest, a love of learning, or a particular talent in an area, they will feel right at home in our Junior Scholars Institute (JSI)! JSI is a summer program designed specifically for bright students who want to take a deep dive into a topic – all while having fun with other middle school kids who share their level of interest and ability. 

Students get to choose one class to focus on all day, for a full week – and these aren’t regular classes! With options like Archaeology, Women in Engineering,  Mixed Media Art, Leadership for Students Who Want to Make a Difference, Robot Theater (and more!), there’s sure to be something for your inquisitive kids. Class sizes are small, and they take place on the University of Iowa campus, giving students access to valuable university-level resources and experts.

JSI students also get to experience a taste of college life by staying overnight in the dorm with their peers for the week! Plus, they get to hang out with their new friends and attend plenty of fun cultural and recreational activities in the evenings.

We understand that many bright students may also have a disability or impairment that can present behavioral, emotional, social, or learning challenges. Our experts in twice-exceptionality offer specialized social and academic support for these students.

Payment plans and financial aid are available. Participation in your school’s talented and gifted program is not required. If you think JSI sounds like a good fit for any of your students, be sure to recommend that they check it out at www.belinblank.org/summer or contact Ashlee Van Fleet at summer@belinblank.org!