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!

AP Exam Reviews

AP exam reviews are a great resource for students to prepare for AP exams. The Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) offers online AP Exam Reviews to Iowa AP students at no cost.

AP Exam Reviews are will soon be available for the following courses: AP Biology, AP Calculus AB, AP Chemistry, AP Environmental Science, AP English Language and Composition, AP English Literature and Composition, AP Macroeconomics, AP Microeconomics, AP Psychology, AP Spanish Language and Culture, AP Statistics, AP U.S. Government and Politics, and AP U.S. History.

Due to increased interest in our ever-expanding course offerings, along with changes in the University of Iowa’s budget, there are significantly fewer AP Exam Reviews available this year than in previous years. In light of these limitations, we ask that schools carefully consider their students’ need for and interest in this modality of support before signing students up for AP Exam Review.

Please make this opportunity available to students who will make use of the support, and especially to students who may lack access to other resources. 


AP Exam Reviews will be available by March 22nd. Please watch this page for more details. For instructions on ordering AP Exam Reviews, email us at ioapa@belinblank.org

Congratulations to AP Exam Scholarship Winners

Earlier this year, the Belin-Blank Center announced a new opportunity for IOAPA teachers and mentors to apply for AP Exam funding for their students. We are pleased to announce the teachers that have been awarded these scholarships for their students! Congratulations to the following teachers:

Kelley Grothus, Madrid High School

Barbara Edler, Keokuk High School

Donna Bohlmann, Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont Junior/Senior High School

Hollie Weber, Central Lee High School

Trish Hartman, Crestwood High School

Courtney Cook, Graettinger-Terril High School

Karla Robison, HLV Junior/Senior High School

Cheryl Smith, Saydel High School

Kelly Carey, Shenandoah High School

The purpose of these scholarships is to pay for the cost of AP exams for low-income students in rural schools who are currently participating in IOAPA courses. We want to thank these teachers for their dedication to providing resources and opportunities to their students!

As funds permit, we will continue to offer these AP exam scholarships. Keep an eye out for more information on next year’s application process this fall!

Message from the Director: Moving the Needle Beyond the Status Quo

For nearly 30 years, my spring semester has begun with the Identification of Giftedness class.  I enjoy the students, the topic, and the opportunity to stay current on the advancements in the broad field of gifted education.  One example of advancement includes the gradual paradigm shift from the generally gifted individual to include a new paradigm of talent development, in which specific talent domains are recognized and developed along a trajectory of novice to excellence and even eminence. A second advancement involves the recognition of twice-exceptionality — that is, high cognitive ability along with a learning disorder or social impairment, such as an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), that impedes realization of the full academic potential of an individual.  Yet, despite advancements over several decades, both the process for identification of students and the programs for delivery of curriculum and services remain largely the same. How do we move the needle beyond the status quo?  An initial step is increasing awareness of the issues. In this first message of 2019, I will review three issues and recommend an approach.  

Issue #1 Defining Giftedness:  Nearly every textbook addresses this very broad topic first, as do I, probably because we have to arrive at the very critical point that giftedness is a social construct and as such, it defies definition.  True, many educators will label students as gifted, but giftedness is not a “state of being” despite the fact that there is a label. We cannot measure talent or giftedness, but we can measure aspects of cognitive development that are associated with giftedness, including verbal reasoning, nonverbal reasoning, processing of information, and short-term memory.  We can also measure aptitude or potential in specific domains of talent such as math, reading, music, and sports, to name just a few.  As well, we can affirm that there are students in every classroom and in every school who, as described in the current federal definition of giftedness:

“give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities.”

In class, after we finish the section on the definition vs. non-definition, we move immediately into the areas that relate to the “evidence,” of high achievement, intelligence, creativity, etc. I always start with intelligence – another social construct — and more specifically, cognitive ability, because in most schools the gifted program for elementary students is based on identifying students with high cognitive ability and high achievement.  It is with the words “evidence” and “high,” which imply measurement and comparison or judgment, where we have controversy in the field.  Sometimes that controversy is quiet and simmers just below a surface of collegial cordiality. Other times, vociferous arguments threaten to divide the field.

Issue #2 Use of Tests to Identify Students: One significant area of controversy relates to testing and the use of the tests – intelligence tests in particular – for determining eligibility for programs.  In fact, the words “intelligence,” giftedness,” and “genius,” which are each a social construct, are inextricably intertwined and have been for a century, since Lewis Terman, developer of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales, launched in 1921 a longitudinal study that would be published over many decades and volumes.  The first of five volumes of Genetic Studies of Genius appeared in 1926 and the last, by Terman and M.H. Oden, Genetic Studies of Genius: Vol. V.  The Gifted Group at Mid-Life was published in 1959.

But let’s take a step back to the early 1900s when French psychologists Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon completed a commissioned scale, called the Binet-Simon Scales, to help educators differentiate among individuals who needed specialized interventions to be successful in schools.  Shortly thereafter, Lewis Terman, a psychologist at Stanford University, adopted and revised the Binet-Simon Scales for use in the U.S. as the Stanford-Binet Scales. In just a few short years, Terman and his student-turned-colleague, Maud Merrill, co-developed subsequent revisions of the Stanford-Binet.  Around the same time, Leta S. Hollingworth, who reportedly never met Terman, although they shared mutual respect for each other’s work, was conducting her own studies of individuals who achieved exceptional scores on the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test.  Hollingworth focused on using the information from the test to develop educational strategies for her students.

Terman is sometimes considered the “father” of gifted education and Hollingworth the “mother.” I prefer to think of them as early pioneers in the field. More important than a moniker signifying their contributions to the origin of a field is the observation that these two pioneers diverged with respect to their basic assumptions, specifically with respect to heritability of intelligence.  Hollingworth recognized that heritability is a factor in cognitive ability; however, she was more interested in the environment and educational needs of individuals with extraordinary intelligence as measured by intelligence tests.  Terman’s focus on genetics, made obvious by the title of his five-volume oeuvre, coupled with some very early-career and philosophical decisions — in particular the unacceptable and offensive promotion of eugenics — has resulted in vilification and consideration that anything related to Terman or his work should be censured. 

Issue #3 Is there a contemporary application of lessons from decades past? Historians, educators, and psychologists have written extensively about Terman’s work, especially as it relates to testing and gifted education.  A 2019 publication in Gifted Child Quarterly, v. 63, 5-21by Russell Warne offers an extremely thoughtful perspective on this question.  The title of Warne’s article, “An Evaluation (and Vindication?) of Lewis Terman: What the Father of Gifted Education Can Teach the 21stCentury,” hints at his comprehensive discussion of the criticisms underlying recent condemnations and offers helpful recommendations for today’s researchers and practitioners.

Recommendations to move the needle from the status quo? A relatively simple change is to broaden our conceptualization of the issues.  Understanding the needs of the “generally gifted” as revealed by an intelligence test should include talent development.  There also must be recognition that cognitive development is often uneven, which is an aspect of twice-exceptionality.  Another change is to be intentional in considering criticisms of Terman and his work. I am particularly sensitive to the valid condemnation that relates to Terman’s early-career promotion of the eugenics movement (he later dissociated from this movement).   There is NO equivocation on my part; any connection to eugenics is NEITHER appropriate NOR desirable.   

Taking advantage of 21st-Century scientific advancements, however, is crucial; the collaborative efforts between the University of Iowa’s Belin-Blank Center and the Iowa Neuroscience Institute includes both a neuroimaging and a genomics component.  As we progress in our nascent Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality research project, we recognize the importance of carefully analyzing our data prior to postulating a particular stance.  Furthermore, we affirm that both the neuroimaging and genetic components of our project are designed to integrate basic science and education. 

The Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality is a big research project, and we are thrilled to announce that we have received a Provost Investment Fund award to develop a better understanding of the neural and genetic mechanisms underlying twice exceptionality. Until now, we have used a singular psychoeducational perspective to prove the concept in educational and clinical settings.  Using a multifocal approach that combines multiple disciplines including psychology, education, genetics, and neuroimaging will help us understand the paradox of twice-exceptionality.  We just might move the status quo needle a little. 

Just-in-Time Professional Learning

The Belin-Blank Center is committed to supporting educators’ professional learning needs throughout the year! We offer classes in a variety of formats, but everything we offer applies to the State of Iowa Talented and Gifted Endorsement. We collaborate with many Iowa educators, but we also have the opportunity to work with educators from around the country—and even from other countries! All of our classes are aligned with national standards in gifted education, including the Pre-K to Grade 12 Gifted Education Programming Standards (essential to ensure best practices in our programs) and the Teacher Preparation Standards in Gifted Education (guiding professional learning goals as beginners—or as practicing professionals).

The Belin-Blank Center is one of the only programs in the state that is aligned with the Faculty Standards for Teacher Preparation Programs in Gifted & Talented Educationdeveloped by the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) to ensure that educators learning about the field participate in research-based classes taught by highly-qualified professionals.

We still have classes available for those working on their endorsement—or for those who just want to add to their “professional toolkits.”  

  • If teachers in Nebraska or western Iowa (or anywhere else within driving distance) can benefit from the credit hour(s), we offer Leadership in Gifted Education (course number PSQF:5194:0WKB; 1 or 2 semester hours) for those attending the NAG 2019 Conferenceon February 21 – 22. Automatic 50% tuition scholarship.
  • NEW FLOW experience (webinar format) on February 27. FLOW stands for Focused Learning On your Work. For the inaugural session, we are featuring Dr. Shelagh Gallagher discussing Problem-Based Learning, one of the best learning opportunities for gifted/talented students. Visit belinblank.org/webinar for more details and to register. Those who register for or watch the live event via another registered computer (e.g., district or Area Education Agency) can enroll in Programming/Curriculum for High Ability Students: Problem-Based Learning (EDTL:4073:0WKA; 1 semester hour)Automatic 50% tuition scholarship. If the time doesn’t work for you, you can register to receive the link for the recording that will be available following the webinar ($45 to register a computer for either the live event or the link).
  • Curriculum Concepts in Gifted Education (EDTL:4066:0EXW) is a three-semester-hour class beginning on March 11 through May 10. Only three seats left in this thorough review of curriculum models, as well as best practices in the implementation of differentiated curriculum for high-ability learners.
  • Topics: Developing Curriculum for Gifted Learners (EDTL:4096:0WKC; 1 semester hour) provides an excellent opportunity to focus on the principles essential for the new units you want to offer to your gifted/talented learners.

The Connie Belin & Jacqueline N. Blank Fellowship Program in Gifted Education

Do you know someone who would like to learn more about the nature and needs of gifted learners? Someone who could help advocate for your district’s high-ability learners and the school’s gifted/talented program?  Encourage them to look at the information about the Belin-Blank Fellowship Program in Gifted Education (Belin-Blank Fellowship), one of the nation’s longest running professional development programs.  Applications are being accepted for this summer’s Fellowship, to be held on the University of Iowa campus from June 23 – 28, 2019!  

2018 Belin Fellows

For almost 40 years, the Fellowship has been offering educators, school counselors, administrators, and others, the opportunity to learn more about best practices in supporting the needs of gifted learners.  The program admits 12 educators who want to: 

  • Learn effective new ways to recognize gifted/talented students and meet their unique affective needs.
  • Enhance their abilities to meet the different academic needs of gifted/talented students.
  • Act as an effective resource in gifted education for other educators in their schools and districts.
  • Review their new knowledge and skills for applications to ALL youngsters in their classes.
  • Nurture the sense of social responsibility in the use and development of talents among gifted students. 

The Belin-Blank Center provides full room and board near the Blank Honors Center, where participants hear from leaders in gifted education, and have the chance to ask questions about identifying gifted learners and developing the talents of their highest-ability learners.  Participants receive an extensive collection of professional materials, and those who choose to enroll for two semester hours of graduate credit receive an automatic 50% tuition scholarship.

2018 Belin Fellows learning about best practices in teaching gifted students.

This program is not designed for those who are already taking coursework to complete an endorsement in gifted education; it IS intended to develop the understanding of others in your school who will develop their own skills to work effectively with gifted and talented students, as well as support school and district goals to maximize learning for allstudents, including those who are ready for more.

Educators can apply online; as well, all applicants must have an administrator provide a statement of support for their participation.  Districts are asked to pay $250 toward the cost of materials. Visit belinbelin.org/fellowshipfor more information.  The application period ends on March 11, 2019.

The Scoop on Summer Programs at the Belin-Blank Center

If all the recent school closure days have you thinking ahead to how you’re going to keep your children occupied over summer vacation, now is a great time to start planning! At the Belin-Blank Center, we specialize in bright kids. Whether or not they participate in their school’s gifted and talented program, if your child shows 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 here!

Our summer programs are designed specifically for students in grades 2-11 who want to take a deep dive into a topic while having fun with other 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 just any regular classes!

For example, grade school students can choose from classes such as Harry Potter, STEAM, Mixed Media Art, Virtual Reality, and Programming in our Blast program. Middle school schools students can apply for our Junior Scholars Institute (JSI) to explore Leadership, Women in Engineering, Archaeology, 3D Printing, or a Mixed Media art workshop, among many other options. High school students can learn about the research process and just what is involved in creating new knowledge in our Perry Research Scholars Institute (PRSI). Class sizes are kept small (a maximum of 16-20, depending on age group), to ensure that each student has a positive experience learning something they enjoy.

The programs take place on the University of Iowa campus, giving students access to valuable university-level experts and resources. Our instructors are vetted professionals, including classroom teachers, local artists, and professors who have the expertise to delve into a subject at an advanced level, while keeping it accessible for the age group. Classes utilize specialized spaces and equipment, such as research laboratories, the Van Allen Observatory, 3D printing facilities, the National Advanced Driving Simulator, art studios, maker spaces and the university library.

We understand that many bright students may also have a disability or impairment that can present behavioral, emotional, social, or learning challenges. Our staff are experts in gifted education and talent development, and we offer specialized social and academic support for these twice-exceptional students.

If you think our programs sound like a good fit for your child, be sure to check them out at www.belinblank.org/summer. Payment plans and financial aid are available. With options for students from elementary to high school, covering a wide range of topics, we’re sure to have something for you and your family. We can’t wait for you to join us this summer!