Strengths-Based Assessment to Better Understand Your Student’s Unique Needs

The Belin-Blank Center’s Assessment and Counseling Clinic is pleased to partner with Bridges 2e Center for Research and Professional Development to facilitate access to their Suite of Tools for our clients.

The Suite of Tools is a strengths-based, talent-focused tool that brings together several different types of assessments to help parents and educators celebrate the unique gifts of a particular student and bring their eclectic profile into better focus. The Suite of Tools (2016) was originally developed by Dr. Robin Schader and Dr. Susan Baum at the Bridges 2e Center for Research and Professional Development, and is built on the theme of C.L.U.E.S.: a process of Collecting information, Looking for connections, Uncovering patterns, Exploring options, and Seeking joyful learning.

The first assessment in the Suite of Tools is “My Learning Print,” which explores ways in which students prefer to learn, their specific interests, conditions that enhance understanding, fun hobbies, and family experiences outside of the classroom. The second assessment is called the “Quick Personality Indicator,” which asks participants to rank descriptive statements and then helps students to tally these outcomes to decipher whether they are most like a People Person, Learned Expert, Creative Problem Solver, or Practical Manager. A third tool is the Teacher Feedback form, which offers classroom educators the opportunity to reflect on the core abilities of this student. After a parent interview, each of these CLUES is brought together into a PowerPoint presentation by a seasoned educational therapist who highlights the findings of the Suite of Tools for your distinctive student, and then offers suggestions and direction for talent development opportunities that can enhance this student’s social-emotional growth and promote their intellectual potential. The Suite of Tools is especially helpful to include as an additional lens of insight along with a psychoeducational evaluation, when a learning team is crafting a 504 Plan, or for exploring options of optimal learning during an IEP Meeting.

Bridges Academy case manager Sandra Clifton, supported by her colleague Amy Clark, will be offering these services to interested Assessment and Counseling Clinic clients. For more information, please email sandra.clifton@bridges.edu.

Sandra Clifton

After earning her Masters in English Education and serving over a decade as a high school teacher, Sandra Clifton earned credentials as a professional coach and joined the RULER Team at Yale University to guide teachers in a program of Social-Emotional Learning.  She then opened her own private practice: the Clifton Corner, a safe space of learning to support overwhelmed students who struggle with issues of perfection, motivation, organization, learning differences, and self-esteem. For the past fifteen years, Sandra has worked to promote self-discovery and personal accountability to help young people transform their identity through the tools of mindfulness, creativity, leadership, and positive psychology as a Board Certified Educational Therapist.  Sandra shares a special affinity with both athletes and artists who shine with strengths outside of school–but may encounter challenges with time management, confidence, and/or academic insecurities in the classroom–often identified as gifted, sensitive, and/or twice-exceptional students. Sandra also guides parents through curriculum decisions and school transitions to create more joy in the journey of learning. She is currently working to earn her doctorate in Cognitive Diversity at Bridges Graduate School and is thrilled to be serving as an intern at the Belin-Blank Center.

Amy Clark

Amy Clark is a doctoral student at Bridges Graduate School, a solutions innovator, and a mom. She found her love of twice-exceptional education through the creation of Chestnut Ridge Academy, which she founded to serve her son by creating highly customized experiences for gifted and exceptional minds. In addition to her daily role as a tiny-school leader, she supports families on their own unique journeys. She guides parents to better understand their exceptional children and to uncover strategies for both educating and parenting differently through her company, Exceptionally Engaged. Her decades-long career in research and design at some of the world’s most creative companies has helped millions of people to feel empowered with tools that become part of their everyday lives. She continues to impact lives as an education, neurodiversity, and design consultant to those looking to discover the magic that lies at the intersection of technology and learning. 

Save the Date for Summer

Don’t miss any exciting opportunities for students, families, and educators at the Belin-Blank Center!

An icon of a calendar

For Educators

  • Professional Learning Courses / TAG Endorsement:
    • The Integrated Acceleration System: Making Decisions About Grade-Skipping: February 26, 2022
    • Topics in Teaching and Learning (Teaching Outside the Lines: Developing Creativity in Every Learner): February 16, 2022
    • Prog/Curr for High Ability Students: March 7, 2022
    • Curriculum Concepts in Gifted Education: March 21, 2022
    • Practicum: March 21, 2022
    • Practicum: April 18, 2022
    • Continuing Education Individual Study (Connecting to Align Gifted Programming and Services): April 25, 2022
    • Intro to Educating Gifted Students: May 16, 2022 and June 13, 2022
    • Academic Acceleration: June 6, 2022
    • Senior Honors Project: June 13, 2022
  • Summer Programming for Educators:

For Students & Families

Academic Year

Summer Programs

Early Entrance to College: Are You Ready?

With special thanks to Jan Warren for co-authoring this post

Fifteen-year-old Sophie was in Spain as a high school sophomore living with a host family when she decided to apply to college as an early entrant.  Her family lived in a small, rural town in the Midwest.  

 After being accepted to the early entrance program, Sophie received Pell Grants, scholarships, and additional financial aid to cover the cost of attendance. She entered the university as a psychology major at age 16.  She intended to transfer to a more well-known university after her first year but decided against it after becoming engaged both academically and socially. Inspired by seeing a political rally on campus, she declared a Social Justice major. Because of her interest in human rights and policy issues, she added a pre-law designation. Sophie was known for her outspokenness, quick sense of humor, loyalty, and ability to bring everyone together. 

Sophie graduated with honors at age 20. She currently is working in Fairbanks, Alaska through AmeriCorps and is applying to Law School. Sophie says,

“Although I grew up fairly normal, I was always that one ‘nerd’ who went home after school and continued to research in-depth about the topics we were learning about. However, growing up in such a small town never gave me many opportunities to be surrounded by people who enjoy learning and knowledge as much as I do. I put up with this vague feeling of suffocation caused by lack of stimulation until my sophomore year, when I found a study abroad program that would not only unite me with intellectuals and other cultures but also reignite my love for learning and my curiosity about the world. At this moment, I do not want to stop my exploration of the world when I return [to my state].”

Early entrance to college is a great option for students like Sophie who are ready. What do we mean by ready? Students who demonstrate academic ability, who have already taken many of the challenging courses available in their high school, demonstrate maturity, and are ready to live away from home may be prepared for the challenges of entering college early. These students might enter college early on their own, while others might participate in a formal program designed to support young students entering college.

For example, the Bucksbaum Early Entrance Academy at the University of Iowa is designed for students who have completed 10th or 11th grade. Early entrants live in a cohort on the University of Iowa campus in the honor’s residence hall and attend classes with other college students. Supports offered to the students include a first-year seminar designed to build self-efficacy skills, weekly one-on-one meetings with a graduate student, activities and events designed to challenge and support them, and all types of advocacy and encouragement. After successful completion of the two-year program, nearly all students go on to finish their degrees at the University of Iowa.

Parents might be especially concerned about the idea of early entrance to college. They can be reassured by the body of research supporting early entrance; students have been entering college early for decades, in both formal and informal programs. As a group, they are highly successful. Linda Brody and Michelle Muratori (2015) provide an excellent summary of what we know about early entrance to college. As a group, early entrants achieve at higher levels in college, complete their college degrees and often go on to graduate school, publish professional papers, and earn higher incomes than matched peers who do not enter college early. Socially, this group also performs well – many researchers have concluded that, as a group, early entrants thrive in their new environment.  The research indicates that most participants in these programs are successful in developing satisfying social relationships. Overall, they do well.

Some studies have indicated that a few individuals may encounter social or emotional challenges and find it difficult to adjust to early entrance to college. An important goal at the Bucksbaum Academy is to help identify the students who would find the program a good match—students who are ready for the independence and intellectual challenge of college life.  The application process includes letters of recommendation from two teachers, a series of student essays, parent essays, high school transcripts, and standardized test scores.  All students are required to attend an information session about the Academy and semi-finalists attend a personal interview with their parents/guardians.

Some suggestions for students considering early entrance include:

  1. Take challenging courses in high school. These include honors and accelerated courses, and also the Advanced Placement (AP) courses many high schools provide. AP courses are designed to offer high school students college level material, and they help to prepare students for the challenges of college courses. Talk with your counselor about your interest in leaving high school early so they can assist you in choosing the courses which will best prepare you for life as a university student.
  2. If the high school doesn’t provide enough challenging options, consider attending academic summer programs or online learning courses.
  3. Attend a residential summer camp for the experience of being away from home for an extended period of time. It can be an academic program, a sports camp, or any other summer camp offered on a college or university campus.
  4. Seek out opportunities to develop study skills and time management skills, which will help students be ready for advanced classes and the challenge of managing the independence of a college schedule. For example, students who are used to managing several activities or a job while in high school are better candidates for early entrance because they know how to juggle their time and prioritize tasks.
  5. Talk with your guidance counselor about how your school and community will handle local scholarships for you—will you need to apply as a sophomore? Or wait until your first year at the university, which would have been your junior year in high school?
  6. Recognize that early entrance to college is not the best match for all intellectually talented high school students.  If early entrance isn’t the best match for a particular student, other options can be considered, such as subject acceleration, dual enrollment in high school and college, and academic summer programs. Students might also opt for completing college in 3 years instead of 4, if they are able to get credit for work completed before matriculating in a college.

Resources

Brody, L.E., & Muratori, M.C. (2015). Early entrance to college: Academic, social, and emotional considerations. In S. G. Assouline, N. Colangelo, J. VanTassel-Baska, & A. Lupkowski-Shoplik (Eds.), A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses That Hold Back America’s Brightest Students, Vol. 2 (pp. 153-167). Iowa City, IA: Belin-Blank Center. Access this chapter by downloading the entire publication at www.nationempowered.org

Early Entrance to College page, Acceleration Institute website

Bucksbaum Early Entrance Academy, University of Iowa

AP Exam Scholarships for IOAPA students

The Belin-Blank Center is pleased to continue offering AP exam scholarships for low-income current IOAPA students from rural schools.

We are now accepting applications for AP exam scholarships for IOAPA students! IOAPA principals, site coordinators, and mentors can apply for this funding opportunity until March 17, 2022! 

To complete the application, click here.

The purpose of this funding is to increase the number of students taking AP exams from rural schools in Iowa. If schools are already paying for AP exams, they should not request this funding. Funding for this application is only available for students who are taking IOAPA Advanced Placement (AP) courses in the 2021-22 school year. Funding is limited to only one AP exam per student.

Eligibility

  • Students who qualify for the free/reduced-cost lunch program will receive preference. Low-income students not meeting FRL guidelines will be considered, if funding is still available.
  • Low-income students in non-rural schools will be considered, if funding is available.
  • Students must be enrolled in an IOAPA Advanced Placement course during the 2021-2022 school year. Priority will be given to students taking one-semester spring courses.
  • Funding is to be used for the exam associated with the IOAPA course the student is taking during the 2021-2022 school year, not a different exam.

Funding is limited. Not all eligible students may receive funding.

A Person Wearing a Smart Watch while Holding a Pencil

The per-exam cost for the 2021-22 school year is $62 for students eligible for free/reduced cost lunch. Schools that receive funding should plan to pay the $62 per student to the College Board. These schools will then need to submit an invoice to the Belin-Blank Center after students have taken the AP exams along with documentation showing they have paid the College Board for these students’ exams. There will be no reimbursement if a student does not take the exam. More information about this will be provided in the acceptance letters that are sent to site staff.

Awards will be announced by March 24, 2022. Also as a reminder, the deadline to order all one-term, spring semester AP exams is March 15, 2022.

Please email us at ioapa@belinblank.org with any questions!

Professional Learning at the Belin-Blank Center

Nelson Mandela is credited with saying, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” At the Belin-Blank Center, we are among those who believe that this is true. Our tagline, after all, is Nurturing Potential – Inspiring Excellence.

We also know that these years of the pandemic have included the most difficult days for any teacher today. We are committed to providing professional learning to support the needs that teachers of the gifted have, both as they earn the TAG endorsement, and after they are working with students’ evolving needs.

The Belin-Blank Center offers traditional three-semester-hour classes throughout the academic year, and one, (Academic Acceleration, PSQF:4123:0EXW), in the summer. We also offer one-semester-hour classes in a workshop format throughout the year, including the winter session and over the summer.

Workshops provide educators an opportunity to focus on one topic (“Thinking Skills” or “Gender Issues”), and they last for three weeks. Workshops have no additional fees added to the tuition, providing some savings. Some educators find it advantageous to register with Distance and Online Education as non-degree-seeking undergraduates, even though they obviously have degrees, in order to save tuition dollars. Many others prefer to register as graduate students so they can count the hours toward other opportunities in their district.

This summer, the Belin-Blank Center will collaborate with various departments in the College of Education to offer sufficient hours to complete the State of Iowa Talented and Gifted Endorsement. Participation in Chautauqua provides six of the required hours. Fully online classes, including the individualized practicum experience, provide the additional hours.

Over the next two weeks, we will update our professional learning schedule with the classes available this summer. You can also get started this spring to free up some time to relax over the summer! Visit belinblank.org/courses to see what is currently available.

Get Registered

To participate in our classes, you must register one time each year with Distance and Online Education as a non-degree seeking student. Once you have your HawkID and password, you can follow the directions to register for the courses that interest you the most. Follow belinblank.org/educators/reg. All of our classes fulfill the strands required for endorsement.

Questions?

Contact us at educators@belinblank.org!

Advanced Placement Summer Institute and Belin-Blank Summer Fellowship

Summer has traditionally been a season for teachers to refuel and refresh. Many times, the “refueling” portion centers on acquiring new learning through professional development. The Belin-Blank Center will be offering multiple learning opportunities in Summer 2022. Two excellent examples are our Advanced Placement Summer Institute and the Belin-Blank Fellowship. You are invited to both!

Advanced Placement Summer Institute

Who: Middle School & High School Teachers; Gifted Coordinators

What: APSI is 30 hours of content-rich training. It is designed to strengthen both instruction and core curriculum. While it seems to target new or current AP teachers, the strategies will bolster the teaching repertoire of middle school teachers and gifted coordinators. Academic credit is available and includes a 50% tuition scholarship.  Contact educators@belinblank.org with questions.

When: There are two options! The Summer 2022 on-campus session is June 28 – July 1; the fully online session is August 1 – 5.

Where: The on-campus courses are held at the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City. The online classes allow you to learn from anywhere with an internet connection.

Why: The Belin-Blank Center is committed to professional development for educators!

For more information about the AP course content offered and the Iowa teacher grant scholarship):

belinblank.org/apsi

Belin-Blank Summer Fellowship

Who: The program, in its 42nd year, is designed for educators with limited expertise working with gifted and talented students. This summer, priority will be given to those in instructional coaching roles in a school.

What: The Belin-Blank Fellowship is a unique opportunity for a select number of educators, nominated by their schools, to receive professional learning in gifted education through a five-day summer residential workshop at the University of Iowa. The program aims to help educators new to gifted education (especially those in an instructional coaching role) understand the characteristics and needs of gifted individuals so they can better teach and develop the potential of gifted and talented students.

When: The Summer 2022 Fellowship will be held June 20 – June 24.

Where: The Belin-Blank Fellowship Program will be held on the campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City.  Room, board, and materials are provided as part of the Fellowship; academic credit is available and includes a 50% tuition scholarship.  Contact educators@belinblank.org with questions.

Why: The Belin-Blank Center has been committed to professional development for educators since 1980, even before the Center became a center!

The application process will be open by Monday, February 14th.

For more information:

belinblank.org/fellowship

Belin-Blank Chautauqua

The Chautauqua Institution is truly a national treasure. It is a place for contemplation and a place for reflection, a place where platitudes and slogans can be set aside and be replaced by thoughtfulness and introspection.  (E. Spitzer)

As someone who taught U.S. History for several years, I always loved talking about the Chautauqua movement popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Chautauqua was an adult education movement, and people from all over the country would gather to learn about a wide variety of topics. Chautauqua was loved as a social movement as well as an educational opportunity.

The Belin-Blank Center was the first TAG endorsement program in the State of Iowa to offer sufficient online course offerings to allow candidates to complete the entire program. As fewer and fewer opportunities exist for teachers to collaborate in professional learning in a face-to-face format, the Center decided to offer its own version of the Chautauqua (belinblank.org/Chautauqua).

For several years, the Belin-Blank Center has dedicated two weeks in July to an accelerated professional learning format. By participating in Chautauqua, a teacher can complete half of the State of Iowa Talented and Gifted Endorsement one year and complete the second half the next summer.

The Belin-Blank Chautauqua offers a full scholarship for one class each week to anyone who enrolls in all three classes during one week (or for two classes to anyone who enrolls in all six classes during the two weeks)

This summer, Chautauqua begins on July 11, and each of the six one-semester-hour classes that begin during Chautauqua has a unique format.

The first class meets from 9:00 am – noon and 1:00 – 4:00 pm (Central Daylight Savings Time) on Monday, July 11, and Tuesday, July 12. The format will include a Zoom option. Some instructors may Zoom in for the class, and at least some of the participants may Zoom in for those meetings, too. Although this was fully face-to-face on campus in the past, we’ll be flexible about the meeting time this summer and, perhaps, in the future! The workshop will last for three weeks (July 11 – July 29), with all the work that follows those first two days taking place online, via our ICON online course platform. The additional work typically includes readings, one or two additional questions for online discussion, and a final project.

The second class meets from 9:00 am – noon and 1:00 – 4:00 pm on Wednesday, July 13, and Thursday, July 14. The class continues on ICON after that for three weeks (July 13 – August 2).

The third class during Week I of Chautauqua meets on Friday, July 15, and Saturday, July 16. The class continues on ICON after that for three weeks (July 13 – August 4).

Week II looks much the same!

Over the course of the two weeks of Chautauqua, no classes are repeated from the previous summer, ensuring that the endorsement can be completed. Over the two weeks, classes are offered from each of the strands required for the endorsement.

Chautauqua is a wonderful option for those who want to take one workshop on a new subject, useful for their school. It’s an equally terrific option for those who want to complete their endorsements over two summers. We’ll be updating the schedule soon.

We look forward to seeing you in July 2022!

Congratulations to the 2022 Virtual JSHS Region Winners! 🎉

Congratulations to all who participated in the Virtual Region of the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium! Students competed for scholarships and recognition by presenting the results of original research projects. The following students will be advancing to the National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

A panel of experts judged 10 impressive oral presentations, and the finalists are: 

  • 1st place:  Jacqueline Prawira (Mountain House High, CA) — “Cyclo.Plas 2: A Dual Focus Development as Alternative Materials to Plastic by Upcycling Fish Scale Waste Components” 
  • 2nd place: Michelle Park (Solon High School, OH) — “The Search for Dark Matter Through Soft Unclustered Energy Patterns at CMS” 
  • 3rd place: Jordan Prawira (Mountain House High, CA) — “Spira Aer: A Novel Hurricane-Inspired Logarithmic Spiral Fan Design for HVAC System Applications” 
  • 4th place: Aryan Jain (Amador Valley High, CA) — “Using Deep Learning to Estimate Greenhouse Gas Emissions via Satellite Imagery”
  • 5th place: Henry Yao (Lynbrook High, CA) — “From Food Waste to Food Guard: Creating A Novel Chitosan Bioplastic Using Nanoparticle Coating and Its Unique Effect in Food Packaging and Preservation” 

See you in Albuquerque!

Farewell to Professor Miraca U. M. Gross

by Dr. Susan Assouline, Belin-Blank Center Director

Un seul être vous manque et tout est dépeuplé. 

This French saying, loosely translated as “one sole person is gone, and everything is amiss,” captures my sentiment when I learned that my dear friend and colleague, Professor Emerita Miraca U.M. Gross, passed away on Friday, January 28, 2022.

(L to R) Dr. Susan Assouline, Director of the Belin-Blank Center; Professor Emerita Miraca Gross; Ms. Bronwyn MacLeod

My mind overflows with 30 years of memories, I think of her in my solid Midwestern English, but when I “hear” her, it is always in her lovely Scottish brogue, modestly accented with Australian. Miraca lived on three continents. She started her life in Edinburgh, Scotland; she earned her Ph.D. from Purdue University; and she lived most of her adult life in Australia. She was a professor of Gifted Education at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

She traveled the world sharing her wisdom about gifted children and their profound educational and social-emotional needs, but her academic home was the University of New South Wales (NSW) School of Education. Early in her career at UNSW, she founded the Gifted Education Research, Resource, and Information Center (GERRIC), which in many ways was a sister gifted education center to the Belin-Blank Center.

My heart is heavy, but that heaviness is lightened when I think of how her life’s work, truly an oeuvre, continues to change the lives of children, their families, educators, and researchers. Tributes have been flowing on various education listservs, and Dr. Ann Robinson’s observation that “she moved a continent” soundly resonates. Hundreds, if not thousands, of adults are making a difference in the world because Dr. Miraca Gross advocated at the individual, school, and policy level for their educational and social-emotional well-being.

Miraca was a paradox. In addition to the memorable Scottish accent, she was also petite, almost diminutive, in stature. She often used herself as an example when individuals would put forth the excuse of a student being “too small” to be considered for acceleration. By those standards, she would argue, she would still be in first or second grade. As a scholar, she was a giant.

In 2005, Dr. Gross received the National Association for Gifted Children’s Distinguished Scholar Award, the only international recipient of this prestigious award. In 2008, Miraca was inducted into the Order of Australia, an honor that was of tremendous significance to her.

I was first introduced to her scholarship through my postdoctoral mentor, Dr. Julian Stanley, who had just read Miraca’s enormous dissertation at the recommendation of Professor John Feldhusen of Purdue University. If Dr. Stanley was impressed, then I knew that there was good reason to pay attention to what was in that dissertation, which was published in 1993 under the title of Exceptionally Gifted Children. For decades, I would continue to learn from her.  I still do.

Professor Gross was a strong advocate for acceleration. One of the most delightful writing experiences I had was co-authoring with Miraca and Dr. Nicholas Colangelo the watershed publication, A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students. Although the publication focused on schools in the United States, it was widely disseminated in Australia and around the world. This publication was the core of what would become the Belin-Blank Center’s Acceleration Institute and served as the impetus for the 2015 publication, A Nation Empowered:  How Evidence Trumps Excuses that Hold Back America’s Brightest Students. Dr. Gross and her colleague Professor Jae Jup Yung co-authored the excellent chapter for Nation Empowered on radical acceleration.

Dr. Gross was instrumental in advancing gifted education in the whole continent of Australia, but especially in the state of New South Wales. I had the good fortune to meet her early in both of our careers at one of the Belin-Blank Center’s very first Wallace Research Symposia on Talent Development. She was a regular at our symposia and always had something new to say. I was particularly impressed with her work on the social-emotional development of exceptionally gifted students. It is not an exaggeration to say that she followed in the footsteps of Leta Hollingworth, one of gifted education’s pioneering scholars focused on social-emotional development in extraordinarily gifted children.

Dr. Gross and her brilliant husband, John, did not have children of their own. I vividly recall one evening, after a day of teaching in the teacher education program she founded. Miraca softly shared that even though they did not have children, they did have their beloved cat. She was quick to say, “Of course, he’s not like a child or anything…” John, who always quietly supported and steered her, said, “Like hell! He is exactly like a child.”  The tenderness they showed to living creatures – be they four-legged, furry, and precocious, or two-legged, furless, and precocious — nurtured the lives of hundreds of children around the world.

I miss her, and the world of gifted education seems amiss knowing that she is gone. I see her in my daily work and know that her legacy will continue to be felt in the Belin-Blank Center and around the world.

Fois dhut.

Making Decisions About Grade-Skipping: The Integrated Acceleration System

Figuring out whether to accelerate a child is a major decision; accounting for all the relevant information can feel overwhelming. The Belin-Blank Center has developed an online system that helps educators and families gather the correct information, targets the essential factors, and produces a report which recommends whether acceleration is a good fit for a particular student.  

The Integrated Acceleration System, an online tool developed by leading researchers in gifted education, guides participants through integrating information about acceleration. 

On February 26, we will be hosting an online professional development session about using this new tool when considering a grade skip. The session will focus on: 

  • Best research-based practices in using academic acceleration,  
  • How to use the online Integrated Acceleration System, and 
  • Suggestions to coordinate communication among the relevant team members and support the student’s transition to acceleration.  

Informed by decades of research, the Integrated Acceleration System includes all the significant factors to consider and produces a report about readiness for one of the many forms of acceleration, including grade-skipping, early entrance to kindergarten, subject acceleration, and early entrance to college. The Integrated Acceleration System is designed for users in the United States. However, the flexible framework can be applied to international educational systems. 

This online session will focus on grade-skipping. Future online presentations will focus on early entrance to kindergarten, early entrance to college, and subject acceleration. 

  • Presenters: Dr. Susan Assouline, Dr. Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik, and Dr. Randy Lange  
  • Session fee: $79. Includes one access code to the Integrated Acceleration System (valued at $59). 
  • Date/Time: Saturday, February 26, 2022; 10:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Central Time (The last 30 minutes is an optional question/answer segment.) If you cannot attend the live session, the session will be recorded. 
  • Location: Online, via Zoom. Registrants will receive location details via email. 

Understanding Autism

We don’t know enough about autism – that’s why we need your help.

The Belin-Blank Center partners with many units across campus including our colleagues in the Iowa Neuroscience Institute. Our colleague, Dr. Jacob Michaelson, Roy J. Carver Associate Professor in Psychiatry and Neuroscience, directs the University of Iowa site for the SPARK study, the largest genetic study of autism ever.

Photo by Ann H on Pexels.com

SPARK is building the nation’s largest research community of individuals with autism and their families.  Participants are asked to share medical and genetic information with scientists and agree to be contacted about future research studies. All it takes is to register, complete a few questionnaires online, and provide a saliva sample via a kit mailed to your home. In return, you will receive a gift card valued at up to $50. You will also contribute to a better understanding of autism and help provide meaningful information and resources to individuals with autism and their families.  

Please consider participating if you are able!

Social Skills Intervention Group

It’s not too late (yet!) to inquire about participating in a social skills intervention group through our Assessment and Counseling Clinic.

Eligible students will be in grades 7 through 9 and demonstrate high cognitive and/or academic ability as well as social skills challenges (either due to Autism Spectrum Disorder or another diagnosis). Students will join 12 weekly hour-long virtual group sessions beginning in February through April of 2022.

Contact Amanda Berns, PhD at bbc-clinic@uiowa.edu for more information and to express interest in participating.

Message from the Director: Talent Scouts Not Deficit Detectives

by Dr. Susan Assouline, Belin-Blank Center Director

“Be a Talent Scout, Not a Deficit Detective” 

University of Connecticut National Center for Research on Gifted Education

This slogan, courtesy of our colleagues at the University of Connecticut National Center for Research on Gifted Education (NCRGE), appeared on large buttons at the November 2021 National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) annual conference. I made sure to display mine prominently. Although the Belin-Blank Center refers to discovering talent rather than scouting for talent, either verb captures the essence of the Center’s daily work. Discovering talent in partnership with families and colleagues worldwide and in our home state is essential to developing thattalent. 

Below are a few examples of ways in which we partner with schools and families to discover and develop talent: 

STEM Excellence and Leadership is a long-running partnership between the Belin-Blank Center and rural middle schools in Iowa, funded by NSF grants and recently featured in the Phi Delta Kappan’sspotlight on rural education (December 2021/January 2022). STEM Excellence and Leadership focuses on increasing the achievements andaspirations of bright rural middle-school students to better prepare them for advanced coursework in high school. 

Students from rural communities are less likely to attend college and, if they do, they are 60% less likely to enroll in STEM majors. This discrepancy may be partly because under-resourced rural schools typically cannot offer the same advanced math or science courses that well-resourced urban and suburban schools have available to their advanced students. Positively, rural areas are often very desirable places to live because of their strong sense of community. In general, smaller school systems are typically less bureaucratic, and educators and administrators often have more flexibility in creating specialized opportunities for advanced students. These upsides enable the STEM Excellence and Leadership program to make a difference in rural schools. 

Academic accelerationis a broad topic, encompassing everything from minor adjustments to the curriculum to grade skipping. The Belin-Blank Center offers a wide variety of information about acceleration through our Acceleration Institute website and more individualized advice with the Integrated Acceleration System tool. Through our collaboration with the NCRGE, we’ve reached an even broader audience on the benefits of appropriate acceleration. For the next few weeks, educators have an opportunity to indicate their interest in participating in an upcoming NCRGE academic acceleration study, which will provide free professional learning, universal screening, and stipends for participating educators. Watch a two-minute informative video to learn more about the study and how partnering with the NCRGE can benefit gifted students in your school. More details are available on NCRGE’s website.  

Finally, we are in the final stages of developing a Graduate Certificate in Talent Development, an online 14-semester-hour graduate certificate for full-time professionals, non-degree students, and degree-seeking students. Coursework spans multiple theories and perspectives across several talent domains (e.g., art, writing, sports) and culminates with an independent capstone exploration. We expect coursework to be available in Fall 2022. Stay tuned for more about this graduate certificate in the coming months! 

There are only a few more weeks remaining in 2021.  I hope you are inspired to join us in discovering and developing talent in the coming year.  

Best wishes for a safe, healthy, and happy 2022. 

Metaphors for Gifted and Talented Students

In a recent one-semester-hour class about Differentiated Instruction strategies, members of the class shared their similes and metaphors for their gifted and talented students; the way they perceive their students powerfully impacts the way they provide appropriate differentiation in the classrooms (Godor, 2019).

Here are their ideas, lightly edited for length.

Gifted/talented students are like lichen

They are unique organisms that come in many different varieties, are a combination of two worlds, are equally hidden as they are noticeable, and are sensitive to their environment.

I try to use this umbrella as much as possible when I refer to GT student services. There isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to serving students under the GT umbrella…Like lichen, the variety and specific needs for a GT student to grow and remain connected are vast. 

When talking with colleagues about GT students, I often notice the lack of awareness about their unique needs…I hope to create an environment where lichen thrives, and our entire ecosystem is enhanced.  

In differentiating for gifted and talented students, it’s important to remember more work doesn’t equal differentiation. With each student being in a different space under the umbrella, it’s essential to understand how there may be support for each enrichment. 

Gifted/talented students are cheetahs

Most cheetahs have many easily identified characteristics, but they possess many other traits that are not as easily identified.   If cheetahs are not provided the proper environment to thrive and fully reach their potential, then many of their strongest talents–speed and agility, for example–may only partially develop.  Like cheetahs, students with gifts and talents need the proper environment and the proper “diet” of challenging instruction to fully develop their abilities. 

As educators, it is our responsibility to develop the skills and potential of gifted/talented students.  Differentiated instruction–beginning in the earliest stages of education–is an essential piece of the puzzle for these students. 

I cannot take credit for this metaphor; however, I feel that the article titled Is It A Cheetah?  (Tolan, 1996) accurately describes the experiences that many gifted students encounter when they enter the school system. 

I see gifted/talented students as geodes.

A geode is a rock that might look very similar to those around it, yet when it is cracked open has a crystal-like formation on the inside. Sometimes, I think it is easy to view a classroom of students as the same… a group of 30 second graders, for example, and in this metaphor, that would be like seeing a bed of rocks. This, however, is not accurate. Each rock is different and possesses various characteristics that make it unique.

Geodes can sometimes be difficult to crack open. However, once the inside is exposed, it is beautiful. In terms of differentiation, I think it is important to recognize that each student may need various support to succeed in school. It is vital that gifted students are challenged academically and receive the support necessary in order to develop their crystal-like gifts and talents.

Square pegs that don’t fit in round holes.

A few years ago, I attended a workshop led by Rick Wormeli. He mentioned that we need to stop trying to fit students into the round peg and instead need to let them be the square peg. I think this is the perfect metaphor for gifted/talented students. They’re definitely the square/star/diamond/dodecagon/etc. that we try to force into theround hole. They think in different ways, and instead of adapting our activities and instruction to their ways of thinking, we just try to make them fit our way. If we modify and differentiate our instruction, they can find a way to better fit into our pegboard without us forcing them to modify their way of thinking and what they need from us. This will help them to not stagnate but instead blossom into what they were meant to be.

Godor, B.P.  (2019). Gifted Metaphors: Exploring the Metaphors of Teachers in Gifted Education and Their Impact on Teaching the Gifted. Roeper Review, 41(1), 51-60. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/epub/10.1080/02783193.2018.1553219?needAccess=true.

Coming Up at the Belin-Blank Center

Mark your calendars for upcoming opportunities for students, families, and educators at the Belin-Blank Center!

An icon of a calendar

For Educators

  • Professional Learning Courses / TAG Endorsement:
    • Current Readings and Research in Gifted Education: December 20, 2021
    • Program Models in Gifted Education: January 18, 2022
    • Identification of Students for Gifted Programs: January 18, 2022
    • Admin and Policy in Gifted Education: January 24, 2022
    • Curriculum Concepts in Gifted Education: March 21, 2022
    • Practicum: March 21, 2022
    • Practicum: April 18, 2022
    • Belin Fellowship: June 19-24, 2022
    • AP Summer Institute (On Campus): June 28 – July 1, 2022
    • AP Summer Institute (Online): August 1-5, 2022

For Students & Families

Save the Dates for Professional Learning

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SAVE THE DATES! The Belin-Blank Center will host several professional learning opportunities for educators in Summer 2022.

The Belin-Blank Fellowship Program is a unique opportunity for a cadre of educators to learn more about the area of gifted education, through a five-day summer workshop. Its purpose is to help teachers learn better methods for working with gifted children in their classrooms. The program is designed to help educators provide an appropriate program for gifted students, develop in students a heightened sense of social responsibility in the use of their talents, and provide leadership in gifted education. For Summer 2022, priority will be given to those in instructional coaching roles. The dates for Summer 2022 are June 20-24. Applications will be available on our website in mid-February.

Want to prepare for teaching an AP class? The Belin-Blank Center will be hosting BOTH on-campus and online Advanced Placement Summer Institutes (APSI). The on-campus APSI will be held at the University of Iowa in Iowa City from June 28 – July 1. The online APSI will take place from August 1-5.

The planned ON-CAMPUS classes are:

Biology, Calculus AB, English Language & Composition, English Literature & Composition, Government & Politics, Human Geography, Psychology, US History, and World History

The planned ONLINE classes are:

Computer Science Principles, English Language & Composition, English Literature & Composition, Physics I, Psychology, Spanish Language & Culture, and Statistics.

Stay tuned for more professional learning opportunities in spring and summer 2022. We hope you will plan to join us!

Free Day Camp for 2e Students

Twice-exceptional (2e) students experience co-occurring high ability and disability that can make it difficult to access appropriate services for both their strengths and their challenges. The Belin-Blank Center’s Assessment and Counseling Clinic is excited to introduce several new programming options for twice-exceptional students in 2022. This post is the second in a series detailing these opportunities. Be sure to check out the other posts in the series:


This summer, the Belin-Blank Center is excited to build upon our collaboration with the Iowa Neuroscience Institute by inviting twice-exceptional (2e) high school students to the University of Iowa campus for a one-day neuroscience experience.  

2e students currently in grades 8 through 11 with an interest in neuroscience careers are invited to spend Monday, July 25, 2022, in the Carver College of Medicine interacting with University of Iowa faculty and graduate students. Participants will also get to complete a neuroscience laboratory experiment under the supervision of research staff. 

There is no cost to participate in this program, but spaces are limited. Contact the Belin-Blank Center’s Katie Schabilion, Ph.D., (katherine-schabilion@uiowa.edu) for more information on the program and the registration process. 

Social Skills Intervention Group for 2e Students

Twice-exceptional (2e) students experience co-occurring high ability and disability that can make it difficult to access appropriate services for both their strengths and their challenges. The Belin-Blank Center’s Assessment and Counseling Clinic is excited to introduce several new programming options for twice-exceptional students in 2022. This post is the second in a series detailing these opportunities. Be sure to check out the other posts in the series:


The Belin-Blank Center’s Assessment and Counseling Clinic is pleased to invite students grades 7 through 9 who demonstrate high cognitive/academic ability and social skills challenges (either due to Autism Spectrum Disorder or another diagnosis) to inquire about participation in a social skills intervention group, based on the UCLA PEERS Curriculum.  

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

The UCLA PEERS Curriculum is an empirically supported curriculum that has been shown to increase social knowledge and social engagement for adolescents with ASD through group social skills instruction and parent support. Students will learn skills to support appropriate social interactions, such as building conversations with others, entering or exiting conversations, and using humor, as well as learn ways to manage teasing or bullying. Parents will support students to complete weekly assignments, such as helping students identify a social group to join, encouraging their participation in the group, and practicing newly learned social skills. 

Participation will involve 12 weekly group sessions conducted virtually, each 60 minutes in length, beginning in February through April of 2022. Parent support is required for participation. While the services are provided virtually, all clients must reside in the state of Iowa to participate in the intervention, due to Iowa licensure laws. Questions about the social skills group should be directed to Amanda Berns, Ph.D., at bbc-clinic@uiowa.edu . Please send inquiries by January 24th to be considered for participation.

Preparing for an Acceleration Meeting: What’s an Educator to Do?

Photo by Mikhail Nilov on Pexels.com

One of the students in your school is being considered for acceleration, and you are facilitating this discussion. You have talked about this with the family and other teachers, strategized with administrators, gathered the data, and scheduled a meeting. What are the final steps you need to complete as you prepare for this meeting?

The regular classroom teacher who is invited to attend the meeting may not have had any significant training in gifted education or academic acceleration, but they would have been exposed to surface level concepts such as academic rigor, Bloom’s Taxonomy, or the wide variability among their students in terms of their academic abilities; these ideas direct our thinking to considering options such as acceleration for individual students. Resources such as Volume 1 of A Nation Empowered and the educator page of the Acceleration Institute website will provide an introduction to acceleration and answer basic questions about the short-term and long-term impact of acceleration.  Parents or guardians and school administrators would also benefit from similar introductory materials (e.g., see the parent’s page).

The team of individuals who come together to talk about acceleration for a particular student generally includes the parent or guardian, an administrator, the current classroom teacher, receiving (future) teacher, gifted teacher or coordinator, and others who have information and knowledge relevant to the discussion. Whether you’re using the Integrated Acceleration System or another tool to help guide you through the process of making decisions about acceleration, you’ll want to consider these items before the team meets:

  1. Answer team members’ questions through individual meetings or via email/phone. Make sure they have informative resources such as the ones listed above.
  2. It is likely the current classroom teacher has already been talking with gifted education staff about the student concerning strategies and options for meeting the student’s needs. Your support might be needed in these discussions.
  3. Determine the purpose of the meeting. Is it to introduce acceleration as an option or to make a decision about acceleration?
  4. It is important to present to the parents the options that have already been made available to their student. These might include special projects the student has completed, distance learning options, and/or flexible grouping for high-ability readers. Highlighting strategies that have already been in place starts the meeting off on a positive note.
  5. Pre-plan possible options. For example, consider what additional supports might be offered to the student and regular classroom teacher if the decision is not to accelerate the student. Consider when and how the student will be advanced to the next grade, if the decision is made to accelerate. Consider how subject acceleration might be implemented if that is the option chosen for the student.
    • Key “If We Grade Skip” questions might be: What scaffolding might be needed? What coordination (e.g., desk in the room, name added to classroom charts, consumables acquired) needs to be addressed? What closure might be needed in the current grade? Which grade level state testing will be administered? Who will be the receiving classroom “buddy”?
    • Key “If We Do NOT Grade Skip” questions might be: What are the student’s key strengths and areas requiring growth? Is the student a candidate for subject acceleration? What classroom differentiation as well as outside of school enrichment opportunities might be appropriate? How might the parents/guardians be assured that the student will be challenged in school?
  6. Make a list of topics to be discussed at the meeting, such as:
    • Discuss the data that were collected, including standardized testing results and informal information about what the student does in the classroom and at home.
    • Discuss the student’s approach to something novel and challenging.
    • Give stakeholders the opportunity to share what they know about the student.
    • Prepare questions that will get the family involved in the discussion, such as “Tell us about your child?” “What do you see at home?” Ask what they might have observed from the past year or previous years.
    • What does the student do outside of school? These might include online opportunities, community activities, museum visits, public speaking opportunities, and/or mentorships.

Sample Team Meeting Agenda

11:00 AM – Introductions and brief general overview of the tool used, the Integrated Acceleration System, and its purpose

11:10 AM – Overview of Integrated Acceleration System Sections A-D.

11:15 AM – Discuss items of interest from previously completed sections.

11:25 AM – Discuss achievement, ability, and aptitude testing information. Consider strengths and opportunities for growth.

11:35 AM – Discuss Questions for the Meeting from the Integrated Acceleration System.

11:45 AM – Review the email list of who will receive the student report. Generate the report. Read the recommendations and discuss them. Make a decision.

12:00 PM – Plan next steps (including any additional data that needs to be collected)

12:15 PM – Determine who will monitor the transition, if the decision is to accelerate the student.

Special thanks to Randy Lange for a productive discussion that informed this blog.

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

A Summer Research Program That Boosts Your College Applications

Do you want an in-depth insight into university-level research? Check out the Secondary Student Training Program (SSTP) for students in grades 10-11. Applications are open now!

SSTP is an intensive summer research program that connects high-achieving high school students with world-class faculty research mentors from the research-intensive University of Iowa. SSTP offers rare access to elite opportunities that help students realize their academic and professional goals. Students participate in classes and events that will stretch them as researchers and scholars. They have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to explore their interests, enhance their academic skills, and make meaningful friendships with intellectual peers.

Research areas include:

On-Campus

  • Biochemistry
  • Biology
  • Biomedical Engineering 
  • Business Analytics
  • Chemistry
  • Civil & Environmental Engineering
  • Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Environmental Science
  • Genetics
  • Health & Human Physiology
  • Industrial Engineering
  • Internal Medicine
  • Mathematics
  • Molecular and Cellular Biology
  • Neurology
  • Neuroscience
  • Obstetrics & Gynecology
  • Orthodontics
  • Pediatrics
  • Pharmacology
  • Physical Therapy and Rehab Science
  • Physics & Astronomy
  • Psychiatry
  • Psychology

Online

  • Biology
  • Business Analytics
  • Chemistry
  • Civil & Environmental Engineering
  • Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Environmental Science
  • Genetics
  • Industrial Engineering
  • Mathematics
  • Neurology
  • Obstetrics & Gynecology
  • Orthodontics
  • Pediatrics
  • Pharmacology
  • Physical Therapy and Rehab Science
  • Physics & Astronomy
  • Religious Studies

Applying to college? This program can help your application stand out. Also, students in SSTP can earn 3 hours of university credit. 

Check out the SSTP website for more information on SSTP and the application process. Start your application today!

2e at the B-BC: New Academy for Twice-Exceptionality

Twice-exceptional (2e) students experience co-occurring high ability and disability that can make it difficult to access appropriate services for both their strengths and their challenges. The Belin-Blank Center’s Assessment and Counseling Clinic is excited to introduce several new programming options for twice-exceptional students in 2022.  This post is the first in a series detailing these opportunities. Be sure to check back soon for the next installment!


Many individuals who identify as autistic also have exceptional gifts and talents.  When cultivated, these gifts and talents contribute to great advances across a variety of domains in society.  However, many individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may also experience difficulty with a variety of skill areas, like executive functioning and adaptive skills that are necessary for flexibly navigating everyday life.  While many individuals who identify as autistic may have been supported within their primary and secondary education, there has been a proverbial “cliff” described for the significantly fewer services and supports they receive after leaving high school.  The Belin-Blank Center is bringing a new program to the University of Iowa to support college students who otherwise might have come upon such a cliff.  This program is called the Academy for Twice-Exceptionality.   

The Academy for Twice-Exceptionality is for University of Iowa college students who are on the autism spectrum or identify as autistic and have high cognitive ability and/or academic achievement.  Such students are also known as “twice-exceptional” (2e), given their exceptionality in both their cognitive ability and/or academic achievement, as well as in their neurodevelopment that results in a disability.  Participants in the Academy for Twice-Exceptionality will be supported through weekly meetings with a graduate assistant, organized social events, and a weekly seminar, where they can identify goals, as well as gain knowledge and skills to support their adjustment to campus life and the increased expectations for greater independence. Additionally, professional staff at the Belin-Blank Center will communicate and work closely with parents to support their student’s success.   

The Academy for Twice-Exceptionality is currently in a pilot year, supporting 2e University of Iowa students who identify as autistic.  Activities include individual goal setting, and assistance navigating and adjusting to campus life.  Emily (Emmy) Kuhlmann, a graduate assistant for the Academy for Twice-Exceptionality, meets with students on a weekly basis, to encourage their overall well-being and offer information regarding ways to seek appropriate supports if needed, either on- or off-campus.  She described her work with the students: “I have been working with students on individual goals to ease their transition into college student life. Some students wish to discuss organization and time management, others want to discuss stress and imposter syndrome. All are hoping to work on their goals to be successful college students – beyond the classroom.” Additionally, she added, “Goal setting and adjusting are a big part of my work. I want students to feel they can set big goals. I also encourage them to take smaller steps to reach their goals or adjust their timeline or approach if it’s not going well.” 

One current participant in the Academy for Twice-Exceptionality shared how they have found meeting with the graduate assistant to be helpful.  They shared, “Emmy helped me get through college with ideas and suggestions for what I can do better or improve on for exams, projects, and life in college, overall.”  This U of I student identified organized social events as helpful in introducing them to new people on campus, as well. 

Emmy also described the importance of a strong working relationship with students.  She stated, “with my background in counseling, I have learned that the most successful growth and change comes through the support of a strong working relationship. With each student I am working with, I try to build relationships to really get to know the students – their interests, their strengths, and their needs. It is only by understanding more of who they are that I am able to assist with individualized support to work towards their goals. This has also been the most enjoyable part of my job, as I now know many wonderful students!” 

In addition to these invaluable relationships and weekly meetings, which are supervised by a licensed psychologist, weekly seminars are designed to support University of Iowa students who are in the Academy.  More specifically, seminars were developed with input from University-wide stakeholders who share expert knowledge regarding the needs of college students who identify as autistic.  Seminars were designed by Belin-Blank Center experts in education and clinical psychology to provide instruction aimed at building important knowledge and skills for independence, social-emotional maturity, effective communication, and career readiness, Belin-Blank Center professional staff and faculty also utilize instructional strategies and accommodations to help twice-exceptional students understand the importance of gaining and using new skills, such as instruction with visuals, support in perspective taking, and peer-mediated instruction.  “It has been such an honor to be a part of developing this much-needed service,” shared Dr. Amanda Berns, a clinical psychologist at the Belin-Blank’s Assessment and Counseling Clinic, with expertise in supporting twice-exceptional individuals who identify as autistic. An integral team member in the development of the Academy for Twice-Exceptionality, Dr. Berns also indicates, “I am so excited to see the impact the Academy will have in so many young autistic people’s lives!”  

The Academy for Twice-Exceptionality is currently accepting applicants for the 2022-2023 academic year.  If you or someone you know is interested in attending the University of Iowa and participating in the Academy for Twice-Exceptionality, more information about the academy and the application can be found on the Belin-Blank Center’s website: belinblank.org/2eacademy. Questions can be sent through the website or via email at 2eacademy@belinblank.org . 

Research Opportunity for Autism Study – Recruiting Participants With and Without Autism

Check out this research opportunity from our friends in the Kliemann Lab! If you are interested in more information, please reach out to PBS-kliemann-lab@uiowa.edu or 319-467-3161. 


Researchers in the Kliemann Lab of the Psychological and Brain Sciences Department at the University of Iowa are currently inviting participants for a study investigating social behavior in individuals with and  without autism. You may be eligible if you:

  1. Are between 18 – 50 years old.
  2. Are fluent in English.

For interested participants with autism, you may be eligible if you fill the above criteria and you:

  1. Have been diagnosed with autism or Asperger’s syndrome.

This study consists of completing one or more of our ongoing experiments in this study. These range from simple behavioral tasks, to measuring where participants look at during a task using noninvasive eye-tracking, to questionnaires assessing social behavior, to a research brain scan.

 The specific parts (behavioral, eye tracking, and/or MRI) you participate in will depend on the current needs of the study, your eligibility for each procedure, and your desire to participate in each procedure. You may choose to participate in one, multiple, or none of these procedures upon our further correspondence and confirmation of your eligibility. These procedures will take between 1-3hours each and can be spread over multiple days.

Participants receive a compensation amount of $10 to $15 per hour depending on which procedures you are eligible for and choose to participate in.

If you are interested in participating, please email our lab at PBS-kliemann-lab@uiowa.edu, or call us at 319-467-3161. 

Message from the Director: Thinking Again

by Dr. Susan Assouline, Director of the Belin-Blank Center

Longer nights, cooler days, and brightly colored falling leaves signal that the school year is well underway, and it’s time to start planning for summer! Yes, that’s right, summer is very much on our minds, and we look forward to implementing all that we’ve learned over the past year and a half. 

Recent director’s messages have addressed the collaborative efforts of the fantastic Belin-Blank Center faculty and staff to re-imagine our services and programming during the pandemic. However, I hadn’t discussed how we adjusted our thinking, accepting a new level of ambiguity and change. This message offers a glimpse into that process.  

Late November afternoon light illuminating the Pentacrest.

A colleague recently discussed Adam Grant’s newest book, Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, with our first-year Bucksbaum Academy students. It’s been many years since I was a first-year student; however, we all get a fresh start at the beginning of each academic year. Because “thinking again” seems to dominate my thoughts these days, I  downloaded the book and was captivated from the start. There are many takeaways from Grant’s book, but two crucial words capture its essence: “humility” and “flexibility.” 

Humility has many dimensions, but at its core, it is the acknowledgment that even if we know a lot, we don’t know everything. As knowledge in all fields increases exponentially, there is little hope of keeping up entirely. Grant suggests that if “knowledge is power, knowing what we don’t know is wisdom.” 

Flexibility, too, manifests itself in multiple ways. The consequences of showing cognitive flexibility – or inflexibility – can be far-reaching. If my colleagues at the Belin-Blank Center were not cognitively flexible, our services and programs would no longer be relevant. Thankfully, they have demonstrated cognitive flexibility in spades and our services and programming are more relevant today than ever. We also understand the process is continuous.  

The combination of intellectual humility and cognitive flexibility leads to progress. We are not only thinking about summer when the days will be longer and hotter, and we will look for shade under lush green trees. We are “thinking again” well beyond summer 2022.  

To be the first to know about the many exciting things to come, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and follow @belinblank on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Important Dates for Student and Educator Programs

Mark your calendars for upcoming opportunities for students, families, and educators at the Belin-Blank Center!

For Educators

  • Professional Learning Courses / TAG Endorsement:
    • Differentiation Instruction for Gifted: October 25 – November 12, 2021
    • Empowering Underrepresented Gifted Students: November 22 – December 14, 2021
    • Leadership in Gifted Education: NAGC Convention: November 17 – December 9, 2021
    • Practicum in Gifted/Talented Education: October 25 – December 3, 2021 and November 8 – December 3, 2021
    • Conceptions of Talent Development: October 18 – December 17, 2021

For Students & Families

Introducing the Academy for Twice-Exceptionality

The college experience is an excellent opportunity for academic and personal growth. It is also a time that comes with unique challenges for first-year students. Academic expectations, time management, prioritization, staying healthy, and feeling disconnected are just some of the potential struggles. These areas can be more amplified and burdensome for twice-exceptional students. Twice-exceptional students have the potential for high achievement and also have one or more learning disabilities.

Twice-exceptional students are arguably an underrepresented population in gifted and talented education. Too often, this unique population is missed or denied access to programs and services for advanced learners. Experts at the Belin-Blank Center found that more than 50% of the twice-exceptional students in one study would have benefited from acceleration in school. As the number of students with learning disabilities attending the University of Iowa increases, resources and services to assist and support this population become very important.

Using its expertise in twice-exceptionality, the Belin-Blank Center is collaborating with other UI offices, including Student Disability Services, to establish the Academy for Twice-Exceptionality for individuals with high ability and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or who identify as Autistic. Too often, the school experience for twice-exceptional students is laden with walls and barriers.

The recent emphasis on inequity and injustice in schools has resulted in courageous conversations about the underrepresentation of specific populations in programs and services for advanced learners. Many times, individuals addressing the need for positive change in schools use a metaphor of mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Two goals of the Belin-Blank Center’s Academy for Twice-Exceptionality are to support twice-exceptional students (an underrepresented population) and to tear down the walls and barriers facing these students, replacing them with mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors.

Mirrors (Finding Community)
The Academy for Twice-Exceptionality aims to dispel any sense of not belonging. A group living situation in one of the campus residence halls is crucial to fostering relationships with others like themselves. Through a weekly meeting with other Academy students, individuals have a place to “see” others who are like them and are reaching for the same goal – success in college. The feelings and perceptions regarding the collegiate experience will undoubtedly be different for twice-exceptional students. Through discussions facilitated by the Belin-Blank Center staff, students will learn with and from one another about ways to address issues that arise.

Windows (Learning Opportunities)
As a world-class institution, the University of Iowa seems to have limitless possibilities for its students. The numerous options include programs and degrees, extracurriculars, campus services, fitness and wellness, and student research. With this incredible breadth of opportunities, students can become overwhelmed, especially twice-exceptional students. The Academy for Twice-Exceptionality includes individual sessions with a staff member to assist students in better navigating a large university by pointing them in the right direction.

Sliding Glass Doors (Support for Reaching Goals)
The Belin-Blank Center established the Academy for Twice-Exceptionality with one fundamental purpose. We aim to provide better access for success at the University of Iowa for students with high ability and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or who identify as Autistic. Twice-exceptional students can do great things, especially with support. The support features that are unique to this Academy help to “slide” open the door of access to all that the University of Iowa offers. Specific areas targeted include adjustment to campus life, communication, creating a sense of community, living independently, organization, self-advocacy, and setting goals. Through this Academy, we are committed to opening the University of Iowa’s “door to possibilities” and walking alongside students through it.

We are confident that the Academy’s combination of well-planned support structures and regular communication with families converts the goal of success in college to reality for twice-exceptional students. Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors are commonly found in a home. This Belin-Blank Center Academy strives to create a “sense of home” for twice-exceptional students at the University of Iowa.

Are you interested in finding out if the Academy for Twice-Exceptionality is the right match for you? The Belin-Blank Center would love to share more with you. Contact us today to connect and start the conversation.

STEM Research Mentorship Opportunities for Students & Teachers

We are pleased to share two fantastic opportunities for high school student researchers and their teachers!

Mentorship for High School Student STEM Researchers

JSHS is offering a virtual mentoring program for high school students involved in STEM research.

Is this mentorship for me?

Any student who starts a research project and intends to submit their research at the regional Junior Science and Humanities (JSHS) competition can participate. This resource is free for students and supported by JSHS.

How can mentors help?

  • Mentors share their expertise and advice to help guide and encourage you throughout your research.
  • Mentors can provide assistance and feedback on your original research concepts.

How will I work with my mentor?

Chronus is a virtual mentoring platform that houses the JSHS virtual mentorship program. Through Chronus, you will be able to:

  • View mentor profiles and find mentor matches based on shared interests.
  • Connect with mentors for flash (one-time consultation) or long-term mentoring (on-going mentoring) year-round.
  • Receive valuable resources that help you get the most out of your mentorships.
  • Set up virtual meetings, ask questions, and manage your mentorships online or through the Chronus app.

How do I sign up?

Visit https://virtualmentoring.jshs.org/chronus to register today or reach out at admin@JSHS.org!

Mentorship for High School STEM Teachers

For STEM teachers, the Advancing Science Research Teaching (ASRT) program is accepting applications for their free, in-person, educational outreach program. This program is designed to equip high school teachers with the knowledge, insights, and activities to increase the amount, type, and scope of science research projects for their high school students.

Is the ASRT program for me?

The ASRT program is customized to help high school teachers who provide science research opportunities within a traditional STEM classroom setting, or helping those with a small, growing research program/club, or even helping those with more established Science Research Programs/Clubs. High school teachers may apply individually or as a group.

How are participants selected?

Applicants will be evaluated by a committee from Regeneron and/or ZEISS, based on a number of different criteria including, but not limited to:

  • Their interest in increasing the number of activities that build understanding & critical thinking, technology-based skills, networking skills, presentation skills, and lifelong skills.
  • Their interest in increasing the number of high school students who carry out projects and participate in regional, state, national and international science fairs.
  • Their interest in increasing the quality/level of the projects that their high school students are involved in.
  • Their interest in increasing the types/categories of the projects that their high school students are involved in.
  • Their level of support from the school community and their administration for creating science research/STEM opportunities for high school students.

How do I apply?

Visit https://forms.gle/W3335h1vRFP6aojVA to apply by November 14, 2021. The FAQ section of the www.ASRTprogram.com website has additional information.

Computer Science for Talented Students

We are hard at work creating new computer science opportunities for academically talented students! We can’t wait to show you what we’ve been up to. In the meantime, check out these popular options. Registration is open!

Advanced Computer Science
4th – 6th grade students,
Starts November 1st

Advanced Computer Science currently has one course open for registration. Explorations in Computer Science is an introductory course based on Project STEM curriculum that empowers students to engage with computer science as a medium for creativity, communication, problem solving, and fun. Through a series of real-world scenarios, projects and challenges, students are introduced to foundational concepts that they will return to repeatedly throughout the course.


Computer Science Python Fundamentals
7th – 9th grade students
,
Self-paced; start anytime

Computer Science Python Fundamentals is an entirely self-directed learning experience to complete whenever and wherever you want. Computers are simple. They do only what you tell them. Through a series of interactive online modules, with built-in support from experienced programmers, you will learn to talk to computers using the Python programming language. You can progress through the modules at a pace that is just right for you, with access to an exclusive expert forum to have your questions answered along the way. During the course, you’ll learn more about programming, create programs of your own using Python, and have a lot of fun along the way. And, who knows, you may end up writing the next big program!

Welcome to Another Year of Invention!

Are you a teacher who works with students during the invention process? Invent Iowa will return in a virtual format on April 18, 2022. Now is a great time to make sure your budding inventors and entrepreneurs are getting started on their projects!

We are excited to announce a new platform from our colleagues at Invention Convention WorldwideInHub is a collection of professional development, curriculum resources and information about experiences and field trips. This is a free resource to learn and share with other inventive educators and students. 

If you are a student or have a student who would like to participate in Iowa’s State Invention Convention, be sure to mark your calendars for these important dates:

  • January 20, 2022: Registration opens
  • February 22, 2022: Competition materials are due
  • March 22, 2022: Students are notified of their qualification status
  • March 28, 2022: Qualifying students must commit to State Convention
  • April 18, 2022: State Invention Convention

For a helpful overview of the Invention Convention program, be sure to check out this helpful How-To Guide. Happy inventing!

Professional Learning Continues this Fall!

Photo by Max Andrey on Pexels.com

In Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery declared, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” (Anne of Green Gables is a great read for young gifted readers, as well as for you, if you haven’t read the classic!)  We look forward to collaborating with you this October and beyond!

October brings the midway point in the fall semester, but we have more offerings coming up than classes that are ending.  If you have at least one other person from your school/district interested in taking a class with you, in the spirit of a Professional Learning Community (PLC), contact us at educators@belinblank.org, and we’ll give all the members of your PLC a 50% tuition scholarship (applied to graduate tuition, so $290/hour).

For those who are interested in continuing their professional learning about gifted education (whether earning the State of Iowa Talented and Gifted Endorsement or not), consider some of these options, all critical for your practice. (All credits apply to one of the strands for the endorsement.)

Workshops

For these options, the cost is tuition without any technology fees.

Programming Strand

EDTL:4153:0WKA Gifted and General Education Collaboration (1 semester hour)
October 11 – 29
Instructor: Gerald Aungst
What is more important than collaboration to ensure the best for our gifted students?

EDTL:4025:0WKA Differentiated Instruction for Gifted (1 s.h.)
October 25 – November 12
Instructor: Debra Judge
One of the foundations of gifted education, especially since all educators have a responsibility to differentiate for gifted learners (e.g., see MTSS for Advanced Learners)

EDTL:4096:0WKB Empowering Underrepresented Gifted Students (1 s.h.)
November 22 – December 14 
Instructor: Antonia Szymanski
HOT off the press, from Dr. Joy Lawson Davis, to help empower students who have been overlooked for gifted programs.

Administrative Strand

PSQF:5194:0WKB Leadership in Gifted Education:  ITAG Conference (1 or 2 s.h. )
October 21 – November 10 
Instructors: Laurie Croft & Randy Lange
Those interested in Iowa Talented and Gifted Conference credit, email educators@belinblank.org to override the enrollment restriction.  Automatic 50% tuition scholarship (applied to graduate tuition, so $290 / hour).

PSQF:5194:0WKA Leadership in Gifted Education: NAGC Convention (1 or 2 s.h)
November 17 – December 9 
Instructors: Laurie Croft & Randy Lange 
Those interested in NAGC credit, email educators@belinblank.org to override the enrollment restriction.  Automatic 50% tuition scholarship (applied to graduate tuition, so $290 / hour).

Practicum Strand

EDTL:4189:0WKA Practicum in Gifted/Talented Education (1 s.h.)
November 8 – December 3 
Instructor: Laurie Croft
Those interested in practicum, email educators@belinblank.org to override the enrollment restriction.  You can get started as soon as you enroll!

Extension Classes

The cost of these classes is tuition plus technology fees.

EDTL:4067:0EXW Conceptions of Talent Development (3 s.h.)
October 18 – December 17  
Instructor: Laurie Croft
Psychology strand (2 sh); Programming (1 s.h)
This credit applies to both the Psychology and the Programming strand, exploring issues that are important to the focus on talent development in our field.

RCE:4188:0EXW Practicum in Gifted Education (1, 2, or 3 s.h.)
October 25 – December 3
Instructor: Laurie Croft
Practicum strand
Those full-time students or those interested in more than one hour of practicum, email educators@belinblank.org to override the enrollment restriction.  You can get started as soon as you enroll!

The current schedule of courses is available at belinblank.org/courses; specifics about the State of Iowa Talented and Gifted Endorsement are available at belinblank.org/endorsement.  Visit our website for instructions about registering with Distance and Online Education to take coursework as a non-degree-seeking student.  Share questions with us at educators@belinblank.org or give us a call at 319-335-6148!  We look forward to collaborating with you this fall to provide the best possible programming for gifted/talented children!

How Do We Prepare a Student for Academic Acceleration?

Josie is a 3rd grade student who gets high grades, has several good friends, and is in the school’s gifted program. It’s obvious to her parents and teachers that she is not challenged by the 3rd grade curriculum. The team of parents, teachers, and administrators met several times to talk about acceleration for Josie. They decided to move Josie up to 4th grade. BUT WAIT. Nobody has talked with Josie about this.

Let’s do a rewind and set this transition up for success.

At the beginning of the school year, Josie’s parents met with the gifted coordinator, Mrs. Fernandez, and talked about the possibility of acceleration for Josie. Mrs. Fernandez talked with Josie’s parents about discussing acceleration with Josie, and she made a plan to talk with Josie as well.

How might Mrs. Fernandez approach Josie with the idea of a possible grade skip?

  1. It’s helpful for both the parents/guardians and a teacher to have one or more conversations with the student before a formal meeting discussing acceleration.
  2. Change can be hard, even when we really want that change. The student might need some extra time to think about and discuss the change, even if she’s been complaining bitterly about not being challenged in school.
  3. How do educators talk with the student about acceleration? If you ask a student, “Do you want to leave your class and go to another one?” the tendency is to say no. It’s more helpful to ask broad questions, such as “What do you like about school?” and “What parts could be better?” or “If you were in charge of the school, what would you change for yourself?”
  4. Think about how much we should tell students before any changes are made, so they understand they are being considered for acceleration. Younger students need less information. Older students need more. Ask the student what he or she thinks about the possibility of subject acceleration or moving up into a higher grade.
  5. In conversation, you might ask the student if he or she knows older kids inside or outside of school (maybe older cousins or older kids in the neighborhood). Help them to realize they already know some older students and can build relationships with them.
  6. It’s helpful to let the student know that there are many ways to think about offering additional challenge, and academic acceleration is one of them. Let them know that you are having a meeting to talk about this possibility and to gather more information. 
  7. Answer the student’s questions. Let them know, “We want to make sure this is the right decision for you, and we are finding the right place for you.”
  8. If you ask, “What worries you?” the answer might be going into a room with a new teacher or being uncertain if they will know any of the other students in the new class. The student might be concerned that “The older kids will laugh at me.” What is a big issue to a 6-year-old isn’t necessarily a big issue to adults. But to this student, it is a big deal, so it should be addressed as a legitimate question or concern.
  9. Before the team meeting occurs, it’s helpful to prepare the student for different possibilities. If the decision is made not to skip a grade or move ahead in a certain subject, it doesn’t mean the student failed. It’s all about finding the right match for the student.
  10. No matter what the outcome, someone needs to talk to the student after the meeting to let him or her know (in age-appropriate terms) about any decisions made.
  11. If the student is accelerated, an educator should be assigned to the student to help with the transition for acceleration. This special teacher has the opportunity to develop a relationship with the student and be viewed as a trusted person who can help out on a hard day. Additionally, it’s important to consider what specific skills the student will need in order to make a successful transition to acceleration. These skills might be learning how to work a locker, figuring out lunchroom routines, or doing three-digit addition. A thoughtful transition period plan is key to success.
  12. Students will be reassured if they learn that other students have already done this successfully. It might even be helpful for the student to have a phone conversation with an older student who accelerated previously.
  13. Parents will also appreciate the opportunity to talk with other parents who have experienced acceleration with their children. If it isn’t easy to make these parent-to-parent connections,  they might enjoy reading some of the stories of acceleration included in Volume 1 of A Nation Empowered.
  14.  Acceleration decisions must be the result of a team approach. The adult members of the team need to remain student-focused during the process. This is best employed through open communication with the student, including during the transition period.

Integrated Acceleration System

Experts at the Belin-Blank Center have developed a tool to help you through the acceleration decision-making process. The Integrated Acceleration System is an interactive online tool that brings together all the relevant information to help you decide if acceleration is a good fit for your student. It generates a multi-page report that offers evidence-based recommendations, provides resources, and helps the student, parents, and educators better understand the student’s academic needs.

Sign up here to receive updates about this new online system and more information about academic acceleration. We post a blog about acceleration approximately twice a month. If you have questions, contact us at acceleration@belinblank.org.

We’re planning an online professional development session about the Integrated Acceleration System in Spring 2022. Send an email to acceleration@belinblank.org if you would like to be notified about the date of that session.

Who is Ready for Early Entrance to Kindergarten?

How do we know which children might be ready to start kindergarten early? We hear lots of stories from parents about children who seemed to learn to read spontaneously – one parent said her 3-year-old started reading the back of the shampoo bottle in the bathtub. Other parents notice their child demonstrating an early interest in time (“Grandpa, only 17 minutes until we leave for the playground!”) or a facility with numbers and sophisticated vocabulary. These anecdotes might lead us to wonder if a child is indeed ready to enter formal schooling at an age younger than typical.

Before getting into this process, it’s really helpful to learn about the policies concerning early entrance to kindergarten in your state. Some states actually prohibit early entrance to kindergarten in public school. (Note: families might work around that by sending their child early to a non-public school for a year or two, then transferring to public school later.) Learn about your state’s early entrance to kindergarten policies here.

We’ve mentioned some of the characteristics of young, bright children: early reading, facility with numbers, and advanced vocabulary. Typically, researchers have found that the best candidates for early entrance are at least 4 ½ years old. Other characteristics include long attention span, extraordinary memory, and an ability to generalize and make connections between different areas of learning.

Won’t early entrants “burn out” on academics or become social outcasts? In a meta-analysis of  research studies focusing on acceleration, including early entrance to kindergarten, researchers found that students did very well academically and were better adjusted socially and emotionally compared to older students. In other words, as a group, students who entered kindergarten early did just fine socially, putting to rest our concern about accelerated students becoming social “misfits.”

When thinking about making this important decision, we might weigh the pros and cons. On the “pro” side, students entering school early won’t experience the social disruptions or concerns about gaps in their educational background that we would have for students skipping a grade at a later time.  The biggest negative is probably centered around the fact that 4-year-olds don’t have much of a track record in school; since we don’t have much school history to analyze, we tend to be cautious and recommend early entrance to kindergarten for only those students who are clearly ready. It seems prudent to wait and consider acceleration later for others.

The decision about early entrance to kindergarten can be made after collecting objective test data as well as measures of psychosocial functioning.  The Belin-Blank Center Assessment and Counseling Clinic uses a full intellectual battery (WPPSI-IV or Stanford Binet-5) and full achievement test (Woodcock Johnson-IV). Achievement test results should be calculated using grade level and above level (usually one to two years) norms. This information can then be entered in the Iowa Acceleration Scale, 3rd edition, which is a tool designed to help educators and families make effective decisions regarding a grade skip. Families and educators need to work together to discuss the results of the assessment and collaboratively discuss appropriate strategies for meeting the child’s needs. The final decision must be made between the family and the school.

The Belin-Blank Center has recently developed the new online Integrated Acceleration System to help schools and families make decisions about various forms of acceleration, including early entrance to kindergarten, subject accelerationearly entrance to college, grade-skipping, and acceleration with twice-exceptional students. The grade-skipping form of acceleration has already been launched. Early entrance to kindergarten and the other forms of acceleration will be coming soon. The Integrated Acceleration System provides an interactive online system designed to help educators and families gather the needed information and weigh the necessary factors in making these decisions. To sign up to receive more information about acceleration and the new Integrated Acceleration System,  click here!

Resources

Using BESTS for IOAPA Decisions

As you may know, the Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) and the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS) team up to provide identification and programming services to help Iowa teachers discover talented students and develop their abilities. For more on how BESTS and IOAPA work together, check out our IOAPA-BESTS blog roundup. Starting in the 2022-2023 school year, IOAPA will require 6th or 7th grade students to have taken I-Excel in order to be eligible for IOAPA courses. We highly recommend using the ACT to inform eligibility for older students to take IOAPA courses. Testing is not required for students registering for Spring 2022 courses, although it is recommended.

In order to use this year’s above-level testing scores to inform eligibility for next spring’s IOAPA courses, now is the time to begin the above-level testing process. (Spring registration opens November 8, and we expect seats to fill quickly.) You may also use above-level test results from this academic year to decide which students you will register for fall 2022 classes, when that registration is available. There are four basic steps for participation in BESTS.

  1. Find the students who are ready for additional challenge; these are the students who will be recommended for participation in BESTS. Typically, students who have earned scores at or above the 90th percentile on grade-level standardized tests, such as the Iowa Assessments, are strong candidates for above-level testing.
  2. Notify the students identified in Step 1 and their families about the opportunity to participate in BESTS.
  3. Contact assessment@belinblank.org as soon as possible to set up testing. We have two options for testing, one for 7th-9th graders, and one for 4th-6th graders.
  4. 7th-9th graders take the ACT. Due to the pandemic, ACT has been prioritizing testing 11th and 12th graders. We plan to offer above-level testing for our 7th-9th grade students later this academic year. If you would like to be notified when testing is available for 7th-9th graders, visit belinblank.org/talent-search for specific information and email assessment@belinblank.org to be added to the notification list. ACT testing is not required, but it is highly recommended.
  5. 4th-6th graders take I-Excel. I-Excel testing sessions for current 4th-6th graders are flexible to schedule. However, it’s still important to reach out soon to ensure that the process can be completed in time for your desired test date(s) and IOAPA spring registration. Please allow approximately 6 weeks from the time of registration to having the assessment results in hand. I-Excel testing will be required for students interested in taking 6th-7th grade courses next school year, so we highly recommend testing eligible 5th and 6th graders this year.
  6. Inform students and parents about test results and the recommended course of action following testing.

Costs

  • The cost for ACT registration will be announced at a later time. Students testing through the Belin-Blank Center will receive access to individualized reports explaining their test results and comparing them to other talented students in the same grade.
  • The cost for I-Excel is $45 per student when groups of 4 or more students are testing.  Iowa schools using I-Excel for the first time in the past 3 years can request up to 20 free student test registrations to try out I-Excel with their students. Schools receive group results as well as individual student reports following I-Excel testing. Families also receive the individualized report.
  • For both I-Excel and ACT, fee reductions are available for students eligible for the free/reduced cost lunch program.

For more information, see:

What’s the Best-Kept Secret in Gifted Education? Above-Level Testing — This post offers an overview of the theory and research behind above-level testing.

An Easy Way to Learn More About Your Students’ Needs— Specific steps for setting up I-Excel are included in this post.

Have Your 7th-9th Graders Registered to Take the ACT? — This post includes useful information about using the ACT as an above-level test for 7th through 9th grade students. Current information about fees, test session dates, and registration deadlines can be found at www.belinblank.org/talent-search.

Update on IOAPA’s Computer Science Courses

This year, there are some changes with IOAPA’s computer science (CS) courses. Our curriculum for these courses is now provided by a non-profit organization called ProjectSTEM.

So, what will this transition look like for IOAPA students and mentors?  Much of the experience will be the same as before. The course material is the same, but there are some slight differences within the platform. You can find helpful information for navigating ProjectSTEM’s website on their help center or reach their support team at info@projectstem.org.

Below are some helpful notes about this transition:

  • Be sure to keep an eye out for emails from Project STEM. This includes adding emails from the projectstem.org domain to your safe sender list.   
  • Our middle school course formerly called Introduction to Computer Science is now called CS Python Fundamentals.  
  • The CS Python Fundamentals course is only offered as a full year course. A one-semester option is not available.

A common question about our CS courses is what does “more mentor involvement” look like? Mentors do not need to have any previous CS teaching experience or knowledge to facilitate a course within ProjectSTEM. The curriculum and lessons for these courses are already prepared. Additionally, the majority of assignments are assigned grades automatically as your students submit them. This is particularly true in the CS Python Fundamentals and AP Computer Science A courses.

The AP Computer Science Principles course requires the most mentor involvement, as has always been the case. This course requires students to submit some essay questions that need to be graded by mentors. However, these assignments have a rubric in the Teacher Resource Sidebar, which gives mentors the information they will need to accurately grade the essays. Additionally, mentors and students can ask ProjectSTEM’s Teacher Assistant team questions in their forums. While teacher assistants cannot make grading decisions, they can provide guidance and answer specific questions mentors may have about the content.

For more information about ProjectSTEM, visit their help center. If you have more specific questions, contact their support team at info@projectstem.org. And as always, please feel free to reach out to the IOAPA team with any questions or concerns at ioapa@belinblank.org

Message from the Director: First Days and Next Steps

by Dr. Susan Assouline, Belin-Blank Center Director

“It’s not up to you to finish the task… neither are you free to ignore it.”  –Ethics of our Fathers (and Mothers) 

The first bell of a new school year signals a fresh start for millions of families, students, and teachers. Beginning a new year is a natural moment of transition and reflection as well as a shared human experience that evokes many emotions. 

Our first-year Bucksbaum Academy students arrived last week, a momentous first day for them. A week later, our upper-class students returned to campus. It is energizing to have students and their fresh approach to learning in our midst. 

As an educator for over four decades, I have experienced many unique and energizing first days. This year, my professional first day of school coincided with a personal one. My grandchildren had their first days of preschool, kindergarten, and fourth grade! When the current 4th grader started school four years ago, I was entering my 4th decade as an educator. 

At that time, I offered my wishes for her as she began her academic journey: 

  • Find challenges in learning, both in and out of school. Learners, and those who teach them, know the optimal learning environment contains challenges. Challenged learners are neither bored nor frustrated but empowered. They seek new knowledge and develop further the sense of curiosity with which we are all born. 
  • Build resilience to become an empowered learner. She will need to recognize that there will be favorite subjects and those that are not favorites. She will have good days and days that are not as good. The latter is important to practice bouncing back to enjoy the good days and revel in great days! 
  • Develop leadership skills for a meaningful life and a positive impact on society. Sure, that is a tall order for a kindergartner, but it is an important aspect of learning and becoming. When she looks back on her career someday, I hope she will be able to see how her leadership benefited society. 
  • Hone a sense of humility to be grateful for her opportunities and gifts and mindful of privilege. 

These last four years – like the preceding 40 — have flown.  

This year juxtaposes my own educational path with that of my family’s young learners. They are setting out on their journeys of lifelong learning. My professional journey is nearing the end because, after 45 years as an educator, I will retire at the end of the current academic year.  

Thus, the start of this school year was a momentous first day for me as well.  

I will always be an educator. But with the support of family, colleagues, University of Iowa leadership, and our visionary advisory board, it is time for new leadership at the Belin-Blank Center. Although I will step aside as a professional, I will continue on a new personal path of lifelong learning. 

I am pleased to say I have not “ignored the task,” and I find it reassuring to know that I am not obligated to complete it.  

I am enthusiastic about the opportunities that a new director will appreciate. They will lead an exceptional team dedicated to nurturing potential and inspiring excellence. Together, they will bring a fresh perspective to a well-established center.  

I will always be grateful for my energizing, creative, and dedicated colleagues. They made my career possible, and I look forward to acknowledging and supporting their creative endeavors throughout the year.  

As I look back on a long, yet rapid, journey and ahead to a new one, I have a few more wishes for all lifelong learners. From those starting their educational journey as preschoolers to those nearing the end of a career in education, I hope you will: 

  • Continue to be curious 
  • Keep a sense of optimism  
  • Express gratitude each day 
  • Convey a sense of compassion  

Astute readers note that I focused on the cognitive aspects of learning four years ago but am now placing an emphasis on the psychosocial. The COVID-19 pandemic makes me appreciate their equal importance to a lifelong learner’s educational journey. 

As I embark on the next stage of that journey, I wish you a happy, healthy, and fulfilling year.  

Coming Up at the Belin-Blank Center

Mark your calendars for the many exciting opportunities for students, families, and educators that are happening at the Belin-Blank Center this year! Even more to come soon.

For Educators

  • Professional Learning Courses / TAG Endorsement:
    • Intro to Educating Gifted Students: August 23 – October 18, 2021
    • Practicums: October 3 – December 3, 2021
    • Conceptions of Talent Development: October 18 – December 17, 2021

For Students & Families

10 Reasons to Get Started on JSHS Projects

Now that the school year is underway, it’s time for Iowa high school students and teachers to get started on projects for the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. Your future selves will thank you!

If you are a high school student thinking that you would like to solve a problem, stretch yourself, and stand out – now is the time to get started on an original research project so you can present it at the Iowa Junior Science and Humanities Symposium.

If you are a teacher looking for opportunities for your students to present their work to an authentic audience of experts, explore STEM careers, and build a sense of belonging, start planning for JSHS now

Top 10 Reasons to Join Us at the 2022 Iowa Regional Junior Science and Humanities Symposium:

  1. The symposium is returning to the University of Iowa campus!
  2. Learn how you can use publicly available data sets or working on a citizen science project to conduct research without a lab.
  3. Get hot tips from the brains behind a video series we made to teach you how to conduct a data science project. Check it out!
  4. Get a backstage pass to cutting edge University of Iowa research facilities like the National Advanced Driving Simulator. Since we know you can’t wait, here’s a 360 virtual tour to tide you over. 
  5. Trivia night is back! Geek out with nerds from across the state in a friendly competition. 
  6. Experience the wonders of the newest dining hall on campus where you can have sushi, a made to order burger, a Southwest salad, and pancakes all for lunch.
  7. Be inspired by research presented by students in Iowa who win big scholarships at National JSHS.
  8. Every high school in Iowa can bring 5 students and a teacher for FREE. We sponsor housing, meals, and all activities – including a trip down the lazy river
  9. Five students will win scholarships and an all expense paid trip to National JSHS in Albuquerque, NM.
  10. If we can’t meet on campus, we will meet online for virtual presentations, tours, and activities that span the globe. 

Join us on Monday, March 7 and Tuesday, March 8, 2022. 

The Integrated Acceleration System: Answering Your Questions About Grade-Skipping

Making a decision about acceleration, specifically a grade skip, can be intimidating.

Experts at the Belin-Blank Center have developed a tool to help you through the decision-making process. The Integrated Acceleration System is an interactive online tool that brings together all the relevant information to help you decide if acceleration is a good fit for your student. It generates a multi-page report that offers evidence-based recommendations, provides resources, and helps the student, parents, and educators better understand the student’s academic needs. 

The Integrated Acceleration System includes:

  1. Numerous items that relate to the student’s social-emotional development, which is often a concern when we begin discussions about grade-skipping.
  2. Questions that are asked of the student. 
  3. A question about IEPs and 504 plans. An affirmative response provides access to Belin-Blank Center experts on twice-exceptionality.
  4. Guidance for collecting relevant data about achievement, ability, and aptitude.
  5. A report that is based upon the comprehensive responses of the team.

What are the Differences Between the Integrated Acceleration System and the Iowa Acceleration Scale?

The Iowa Acceleration Scale (3rd edition, 2009, published by Gifted Unlimited) is a paper-and-pencil guide that provides a total score describing where a student fits as a candidate for acceleration. It focuses on students in K-8th grade.

The Integrated Acceleration System, developed by the Belin-Blank Center, is an online, interactive tool that produces a detailed report and a recommendation about the suitability of acceleration as an intervention for the student. The report details the data that were gathered as well as the comments team members made about the data and discussion. It focuses on pre-K through high school students. The Integrated Acceleration System currently examines the suitability of grade-skipping. The Belin-Blank Center team will soon launch modules focused on subject acceleration, early entrance to kindergarten, and early entrance to college.

​The Integrated Acceleration System and the Iowa Acceleration Scale are not the same product, even though they both have the same authors and they both revolve around academic acceleration. The Iowa Acceleration Scale is still a useful paper/pencil guide. The Integrated Acceleration System is entirely online and interactive. It walks educators and families through the data collection process, explains which tests are needed for an acceleration decision, and facilitates conversations about acceleration. The steps of the process include Build the Team, Learn About Acceleration, Gather the Data, Interview the Student, Conduct the Child Study Team Meeting, and Create and Execute the Transition Plan.

What sets the Integrated Acceleration System apart is that it produces a detailed report with recommendations about acceleration and suggestions based upon the team’s responses. It also begins the process of developing a transition plan for the student, if a grade skip is determined to be the best intervention for that student. Additionally, it provides access to the experts at the Belin-Blank Center if the student is diagnosed as twice-exceptional.

An educator serves as the facilitator of the process. Parents are important members of the Child Study team, which also includes the current teacher, receiving teacher, administrators, and others who might have relevant information. Parents reading this article are encouraged to work with their child’s teacher, gifted coordinator, or administrator in starting this process.

We are excited to share this new tool with you!

We are offering the Integrated Acceleration System at an introductory price of $59 (regularly $79) to celebrate its launch. We invite educators to reserve yours today! If you have questions, you are welcome to contact us at acceleration@belinblank.org.

Sign up here to receive updates about this new online system and more information about academic acceleration. We post a blog about acceleration approximately twice a month.

An Easy Way to Learn More About Your Student’s Needs

talent-search-bridge-to-opportunity

It’s time to make a plan for testing your 4th-6th grade students using I-Excel. Why I-Excel? This test offers an opportunity for talented students to demonstrate their capabilities. Receiving scores helps educators and families to make better-informed decisions about their students’ education. Scores provide information useful for placement decisions, acceleration discussions, and gaining a better understanding of a particular student’s academic abilities.

I-Excel is considered an above-level test. It contains 8th grade content, but it is administered to high-ability 4th – 6th graders. Students scoring at the 95th percentile or higher on any subject of the grade-level test (such as the Iowa Assessments) have reached the ceiling of that test. An above-level test raises the ceiling, measures the student’s aptitudes more accurately, and can inform parents and educators about readiness for advanced curriculum. More information and a video about above-level testing can be found at this link.

For Educators Testing Groups of Students

I-Excel can be used to screen students for a gifted program or an opportunity in a specific subject, for example, for discovering students who would benefit from an advanced math class.

We recommend the following steps for educators:

  1. Look at the results from the standardized testing routinely administered at your school (for example, the Iowa AssessmentsStanford Achievement TestsTerra Nova, etc.).
  2. Select the 4th, 5th, or 6th graders scoring at or around the 95th percentile or above on at least one of the core content areas (such as reading, math, language, science, etc.).
  3. Invite those students to participate in I-Excel testing. We suggest that the students take all four subtests of I-Excel (Math, Science, English, and Reading) to get the most comprehensive information.
  4. Use the I-Excel information in combination with other information you have available to select students for your gifted program and/or other appropriately challenging programming.
    1. You might focus on only one area; for example, if you are seeking students in need of additional opportunities in math, you’ll want to look most closely at the Math subtest of I-Excel to identify high-performing math students.
    1. Once your students test using I-Excel, educators will have access to an individualized interpretation of the test scores as well as a group interpretation (if 10 or more students tested). This information is designed to help you make informed decisions about the types of programs to provide for challenging your students.
    1. For example, in a given school with a comprehensive TAG program, educators might decide to use all four subtests of I-Excel to identify students for the gifted program. In another school, where the TAG program is more focused on advanced science and mathematics, educators might use only the Science and Math subtests of I-Excel as part of their larger identification process. Students with very high scores on the English or Reading subtests may be ready for more advanced material in language arts.

I-Excel is useful for helping educators determine which students have specific talents in one area (for example, Science), and which students demonstrate high ability across the board (Math, Science, English, and Reading). Gifted programs and other advanced opportunities can be designed with the students’ varying strengths in mind, and different schools will choose different approaches to challenge their students. Get started here: https://belinblank.education.uiowa.edu/students/bests/.

Parents Can Set Up Individual Testing

Parents interested in learning more about their student’s capabilities can set up an individual testing session for their child. Families receive above-level test score reports and an extensive interpretation of results. This interpretation includes recommendations for curriculum readiness. Testing can be arranged at a convenient date, time, and location. Families can set up individual testing with the assistance of a local educator who serves as the test proctor. After the testing, parents receive an individual student report, which they can share with educators at their child’s school. See detailed information about Individual Testing.  If you have questions, email us at assessment@belinblank.org.

Using I-Excel for Acceleration Decisions

Because I-Excel is an above-level test, it can be used as an indicator of specific aptitude when making decisions about acceleration in school. I-Excel scores can be used for the aptitude section of the Iowa Acceleration Scale as well as for the Indicators of Performance in the Next Grade for the Integrated Acceleration System.

Have other questions?  Visit www.belinblank.org/talent-search for more details or email us at assessment@belinblank.org.

Please note: If you’re interested in having your 7th-9th graders take the ACT, we are in the process of working out the details for this year. Due to the pandemic, ACT was prioritizing testing 11th and 12th graders. We plan to offer testing for our students later this academic year. If you would like to be notified when testing is available for 7th-9th graders, email assessment@belinblank.org

Global Principles for Professional Learning in Gifted Education

The World Council for Gifted and Talented Children (WCGTC) hosted a virtual conference over the summer, and one of the most exciting things shared was the new “Global Principles for Professional Learning in Gifted Education.” 

In the United States, the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) has provided sets of standards to help define best practices in Pre-K – Grade 12 Programming, Teacher Preparation in Gifted Education (in collaboration with the Council for Exceptional The Association for the Gifted [CEC TAG], and Knowledge and Skills in Gifted & Talented Education for All Teachers. The new WCGTC principles suggest the 10 most important concepts for professional development in gifted education, to strengthen local and regional practices on behalf of gifted children around the world.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Several scholars involved in the development of the principles share a presentation available to the public. A poster with the 10 global principles is available to download and share or post. The full document, with research-based rationales that could be of interest to educators anywhere, is available at https://world-gifted.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/professional-learning-global-principles.pdf.

The last of the 10 principles, Empowering, is one of the most important to the Belin-Blank Center. The Center has long committed its professional development opportunities to empowering the gifted community, and throughout the academic year, educators can enroll in a variety of classes, including three-semester-hour coursework as well as one- and two-semester hour “workshops” that expand understanding about themes significant to identifying and understanding gifted children and their unique needs. Coursework, aligned with NAGC standards, encourages professionals to adopt best practices for meeting the needs of advanced learners, from acceleration to classroom differentiation to homogeneous grouping. Classes also provide insights into programming options that facilitate optimal learning environments.

The current schedule of courses is available at belinblank.org/courses; specifics about the State of Iowa Talented and Gifted Endorsement are available at belinblank.org/endorsement. Visit our website for directions about registering with Distance and Online Education to take coursework as a non-degree-seeking student.  Share questions with us at educators@belinblank.org or give us a call at 319-335-6148! We look forward to collaborating with you to provide the best possible programming for gifted/talented children!

What’s the Best-Kept Secret in Gifted Education? Above-Level Testing.

We have said it before: the secret of above-level testing is really not much of a secret. It’s used extensively by university-based centers of gifted education.  Unfortunately, it is under-utilized by schools. This secret is hiding in plain sight!

What is above-level testing and how can it be used? Above-level testing is useful for decisions about:

  1. Identifying a student for a gifted program
  2. Determining what a student is ready to learn next
  3. Informing decisions about subject-matter acceleration
  4. Informing decisions about readiness to skip a grade

“Above-level testing” is exactly what it sounds like:  Give a younger student a test that was developed for older students. 

This idea was pioneered over one hundred years ago by Dr. Leta Hollingworth, sometimes called the “mother” of gifted education.  This concept was fully developed by Dr. Julian Stanley in the 1970s when he devised the “Talent Search” in which 7th and 8th graders took the college admissions exam, the SAT. 

Fast forward to the present day, and above-level testing is used extensively in outside-of-school programs for gifted students. In fact, hundreds of thousands of students around the world take above-level tests each year as part of university-based talent searches, such as the one offered by the Belin-Blank Center.  Some of these tests used are the SAT, ACT, and I-Excel.

Unfortunately, above-level tests are not used extensively in typical school gifted programs, but we would like to change that!

Academically talented students tend to perform extremely well on tests developed for their own age group. They do so well that they get everything (or almost everything) right, and we don’t really know what the extent of their talents might be. 

Psychologists call this “hitting the ceiling” of the test.

Think of it like a yardstick: The grade-level “yardstick” measures only 36 inches. If the student is 40 inches tall, we can’t measure accurately by using only a grade-level yardstick. What we need is a longer yardstick, and a harder test. An above-level test, one that is developed for older students, provides that longer yardstick and successfully raises the ceiling for that talented student.

above-level testing

The advantages of above-level testing include discovering “talented” and “exceptionally talented” students. In the figure, the bell curve on the left shows a typical group of students. A few students (the dark blue portion of the group) earn very high scores. They score at the 95th percentile or above when compared to their age-mates.

These are the students who “hit the ceiling” of the grade-level test. 

If that group of students takes a harder test — an above-level test that was developed for older students — voila! We see a new bell curve (the one on the right). The harder test spreads out the scores of the talented students. Now, we can better see what these students have already mastered and what amount of challenge they are ready for.

Why does this matter? Knowing how students performed on an above-level test helps us to give the students, their families and their educators better advice about the kinds of educational options the students might need.

For example, does this student need educational enrichment? Would that student benefit from moving up a grade level or two in math? Would yet another student benefit from grade-skipping?

Organizations such as the Belin-Blank Center who have used above-level testing for years. We have developed rubrics to help educators and parents understand the student’s above-level test scores and relate them to appropriately challenging educational options. In just one or two hours of testing, we are able to get important information about the student’s aptitudes.

Imagine you are working with two 5th grade students, Jessica and Mary.

Both of them have scored at the 99th percentile on the mathematics portion of their state test when compared to other 5th graders. They are both strong in math, but we don’t have specific information about the extent of their skills.  What should they learn next?

Psychologists say that these students have “hit the ceiling of the test” because they got everything (or almost everything) right on the grade-level test. What we need is a harder test that would more accurately measure their talents and help us to tailor instruction to their specific needs.

Rather than creating a special test for these students, we gave them I-Excel, which contains 8th grade content.  Jessica scored at the 85th percentile when compared to 8th graders, and Mary scored at the 20th percentile when compared to 8th graders. 

Both students have shown on the 5th grade-level test that they are very good at math compared to typical students in their 5th grade regular classroom. But their above-level test scores show that Jessica is ready for much more challenge in math than Mary.

Jessica likely needs acceleration, while Mary may benefit from enrichment. It would have been impossible to see this difference if we had only been using their grade-level scores.

Above-level testing is key to helping us tailor educational programs for gifted students. It helps us to understand a student’s need for challenge in specific subject areas and to act on the information appropriately.

We at the Belin-Blank Center are thrilled to be able to provide educators with specific information about your students via the in-school testing option for I-Excel, an above-level test for talented 4th – 6th graders.

For more information about how this could work in your school, see www.i-excel.org and www.belinblank.org/talent-search, or contact assessment@belinblank.org.

Students in 7th – 9th grade also have an opportunity for above-level testing by taking the ACT through the Belin-Blank Center. Above-level testing opportunities allow students to showcase their talents and help educators and others to make good suggestions about appropriate educational options for these students.

Research Study for Academically Talented Students

We understand that COVID-19 has affected everyone in many ways, and that, particularly as a family with a gifted and talented child, things may have changed dramatically for you over recent months. The Belin-Blank Center is conducting a research study to assess how COVID-19 is affecting families. We would like you and your child to participate in the study by completing this electronic survey. If you have more than one child, please make sure to select a child who is at least in 6th grade and if you still have more than one, please take the survey once for each child. 

Sharing your experiences, both negative and positive, will equip us with information that can help us be more efficient and effective in preparing and allocating future resources that can help families like yours. The survey will take about 5 to 10 minutes for you and about 15 minutes for your child to complete. It is completely voluntary. Your identity or any other identifying information will not be linked to the survey. Whether or not you participate in this survey will have no bearing on your standing with any of our programs.

SURVEY LINK: https://uiowa.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_02pwgvzVHGwYJ4W

We encourage you to consider sharing your experiences through this survey. We are so proud of all the ways that we have seen families respond with resilience and adaptiveness to the challenges of this pandemic. And, as always, if there are ways that we can help support you during this time, please let us know by reaching out to us.

Thank you, and stay well.

Brandon LeBeau

Belin-Blank Center

Message from the Director: Continuity and Change

by Dr. Susan Assouline, Belin-Blank Center Director

In early June, the University of Iowa campus opened, and we returned to our offices at the Belin-Blank Center. The first day back was a little like the first day of school! Things had changed, yet there was a sense of continuity and familiarity.  

Sitting in my office on the 6th floor of the Blank Honors Center, I can see a sweeping view of the campus out my window. I reflect on those contrasting ideas of change and continuity as I look out at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. There, clinical trials of the COVID-19 vaccine occurred. I’m grateful to the frontline professionals and researchers who made it safe to return to campus after 16 months of remote work. They changed our lives and allowed us to continue to serve and pursue our mission in person.  

Shifting my view to the ground below, I see the top of a beloved 150-year-old copper beech tree. This tree suffered tremendous damage during the derecho of August 2020, yet the campus arborists did not give up on it. Although 25% of the tree was gone in an instant, it is full of leaves today. Its branches now represent survival through a challenging year, a metaphor for change and continuity.  

A large copper beech tree in front of the University of Iowa's Blank Honors Center.

The tree reminds us of our connection to the land, made up of the homelands of multiple tribal nations, upon which early Iowans built this campus. We acknowledge this complicated history by sharing the UI Acknowledgement of Land and Sovereignty. “To recognize the land is an expression of gratitude and appreciation to those whose territory [we] reside on, and a way of honoring the Indigenous people who have been living and working on the land from time immemorial.” 

I reflect on the past 16 months, during which we continued our mission by adapting student and educator programming in response to the pandemic. The most recent of these efforts was the inaugural Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality in May. Over the past few months, we also welcomed new staff who will help us continue our dance of continuity and change.  

School is out, and summer is beginning. At the Belin-Blank Center, that means our summer programs have started. We have ongoing online programs for educators and students and the first of our in-person student programs begins again in late July. Our staff, like many people, are easing our way into a changed world. We continue to think about what that means for us.  What will remain consistent, as always, is our commitment to nurturing potential and inspiring excellence.  

Welcome back! 

Dr. Randy Lange Joins Our Staff

Dr. Randolph (“Randy”) Lange was recently appointed as the Coordinator for Professional Development and Curriculum at the Belin Blank Center.

Prior to joining the Center, he served as the Talent Development Services Program Coordinator for Illinois’ La Grange School District 102. There he developed a comprehensive K-8 program that includes: curriculum for accelerated mathematics & language arts, classroom-based differentiation, enrichment offerings (summer, evening and/or weekend), above level testing, mentorships, collaboration with community organizations, grade skipping, and support for families. Before joining District 102, he used his dissertation findings as a catalyst in developing a more equitable identification protocol in his former school district (Indian Prairie School District 204).

Randy has presented at the National Association for Gifted Children Convention, the Illinois Association for Gifted Children Conference, and the Center for Gifted Education National Curriculum Network Conference.  Over his career, he has taught a variety of courses through the Belin-Blank Center and professional development opportunities for educators. He currently serves on the Board of the Illinois Association for Gifted Children. Randy holds a Doctorate (Curriculum & Instruction, Educational Measurement, and Gifted Education) and Masters (Education Administration) from the University of Iowa, and a Bachelors (Elementary Education) from the University of Illinois.

We welcome Dr. Lange to the growing administrative team of the Belin-Blank Center and look forward to the many contributions he will make to programming, services, and research.

Save the Date for Summer

Summer means sun, fun, and learning at the Belin-Blank Center! Check out our many classes and events for TAG educators and gifted students.

FOR EDUCATORS

Professional Learning Courses / TAG Endorsement:

  • AP Summer Institute (online); credit option will be available
    • June 28 – July 2, 2021
  • Teacher Training for Advanced Placement Courses
    • July 1 – 22, 2021
  • Family Issues in Giftedness (Chautauqua)
    • July 5 – 23, 2021
  • Differentiation at the Secondary Level
    • July 6 – 26, 2021
  • Topics in Teaching and Learning: “Talent Development: Arts, Academics, Athletics”
    • July 7 – 27, 2021
  • Topics in Teaching and Learning: “Serving Visual/Spatial Learners in Gifted Ed”
    • July 9 – 29, 2021
  • Creativity: Issues and Applications in Gifted Education (Chautauqua)
    • July 12 – 30, 2021
  • Chautauqua: Week I
    • July 12 – 16, 2021
  • Programming/Curriculum for High Ability Students: Real World Problem Solving
    • July 14 – August 3, 2021
  • Chautauqua: Week II
    • July 19 – 23, 2021
  • Individual Study: Leadership in Gifted NAG/NDE Virtual Conference
    • July 26 – August 13, 2021

FOR STUDENTS & FAMILIES

Summer 2021 Belin-Blank Chautauqua

“The Chautauqua movement pioneered the idea of extending learning opportunities to adults and nontraditional students.”

Scott Howell and Alma McGinn

The Belin-Blank Chautauqua offers a choice of six classes in a fast-paced (accelerated) format.

The first two days of each Chautauqua class include time for participants to interact with each other and the instructor on Zoom. Each class continues online for three weeks of asynchronous opportunities designed by each instructor to maximize the value of each class.

During the Belin-Blank Chautauqua (virtual in 2021), we are offering two new classes about meeting the needs of a broader range of gifted learners:

  • Talent Development: Arts, Academics, and Athletics (EDTL:4096:0WKB) focuses on the preparation required for gifted performers in the fields where these students stand out.
  • Serving Visual/Spatial Learners discusses ways to provide programming for students identified for advanced abilities beyond mathematical and English/Language Arts abilities. More than one educator has acknowledged the importance of identifying traditionally underserved students, but they are not sure what to DO for these students, since traditional programming will not match their strengths.

Chautauqua Week 1 includes:

Family Issues and Giftedness (RCE:4119)
Jul 5, 6 – 23 (Psychology strand)
Dr. Haley Wikoff and Dr. Erin Lane, Team Teachers

Talent Development: Arts, Academics, Athletics (EDTL:4096:0WKB)
Jul 7, 8 – 27 (Programming)
Kathy Green, Instructor

Serving Visual/Spatial Learners (EDTL:4096:0WKC)
Jul 9, 10 – 29 (Programming)
Dr. Vince Moore, Instructor

Chautauqua Week 2 includes:

Creativity (RCE:4129)
Jul 12, 13 – 30 (Psychology)
Dr. Clar Baldus, Instructor

Programming: Facilitating Student Research Projects (EDTL:4073:0WKA)
Jul 14, 15 – Aug 3 (Programming)
Lora Danker, Instructor

Evaluation of Gifted Programs (EPLS:4111)
Jul 16, 17 – Aug 5 (Administrative)”
Dr. Kim Chandler, Instructor

Automatic Scholarships

Scholarships for the cost of one class are available to those who enroll in three classes in either week. Those who take all six classes over the two weeks receive a full scholarship for the cost of one class each week.  

Registration

To take part in our classes, you must register one time each year with Distance and Online Education as a non-degree seeking student.

For the State of Iowa Endorsement in Talented and Gifted Education, you may register as either a graduate or undergraduate student, regardless of your professional status. If you won’t benefit in other ways from the graduate credit, you can save tuition dollars. Once you have your HawkID and password, you can follow the directions to register for the courses that interest or benefit you. Follow belinblank.org/educators/reg.

All our classes fulfill strands required for endorsement.

Questions?  Email educators@belinblank.org!

Excellence Gaps in Education

On June 22, we are offering a three-week book study about Excellence Gaps in Education (Plucker & Peters, 2016). This online class (asynchronous) focuses on strategies we can use to eliminate the achievement gaps that exist even among the students who perform at the highest levels (EDTL:4096:0WKD).  

This is a new class, and if you haven’t read Excellence Gaps, this is the time!  Excellence Gaps won the 2017 Book of the Year award from NAGC, and our need to understand excellence gaps—going beyond achievement gaps—is more important than ever.  The Harvard Education Press posted:

In Excellence Gaps in Education, Jonathan A. Plucker and Scott J. Peters shine a spotlight on “excellence gaps”—the achievement gaps among subgroups of students performing at the highest levels of achievement. Much of the focus of recent education reform has been on closing gaps in achievement between students from different racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic backgrounds by bringing all students up to minimum levels of proficiency. Yet issues related to excellence gaps have been largely absent from discussions about how to improve our schools and communities. Plucker and Peters argue that these significant gaps reflect the existence of a persistent talent underclass in the United States among African American, Hispanic, Native American, and poor students, resulting in an incalculable loss of potential among our fastest growing populations.

This is one of the Belin-Blank Center classes this summer intended to help educators ensure that their districts are doing everything possible to ensure that they are identifying and serving ALL their gifted learners—including those that have been traditionally underrepresented.  The other two classes include 

  • Talent Development: Arts, Academics, and Athletics (EDTL:4096:0WKB), focus in on the preparation required for gifted performers, and 
  • Serving Visual/Spatial Learners, discussing ways to provide programming for students identified for advanced abilities beyond mathematical and English/Language Arts abilities.

To take part in our classes, you must register one time each year with Distance and Online Education as a non-degree seeking student. For the State of Iowa Endorsement in Talented and Gifted Education, you may register as either a graduate or undergraduate student, regardless of your professional status. If you won’t benefit in other ways from the graduate credit, you can save tuition dollars. Once you have your HawkID and password, you can follow the directions to register for the courses that interest or benefit you. Follow belinblank.org/educators/reg. All our classes fulfill strands required for endorsement, and the study of Excellence Gaps can apply to the Administrative strand.

Questions?  Email educators@belinblank.org!

We look forward to having you join us for this one-semester-hour workshop, and for other classes available through June and July.

Art and Writing Summer Programs

High school students, don’t miss your chance to join our summer art and writing programs. Hurry – classes start soon!  

Summer Art Residency
Grades 9-12

High school artists will earn college credit for doing what they love! The University of Iowa houses a nationally ranked School of Art. Our talented faculty have been teaching art online all year long, and they know how to do it right! Students will receive 2 semester hours of graded University of Iowa credit. This will appear on an official university transcript that they can add to their college applications!

Summer Writing Residency
Grades 9-12

High school students will have the unique opportunity to work with world-class writing faculty from the University of Iowa – better known as the Writing University and home to the famed Iowa Writers’ Workshop and landmark Prairie Lights bookstore. Students will receive 2 semester hours of graded University of Iowa credit. This will appear on an official university transcript that they can add to their college applications!

Workshop for Young Writers 
Grades 6-8

Middle school students will meet classmates from across the country and passionate instructors from the “Writing University” to help build a writing community. Accepted students can look forward to developing their writing skills, workshopping their pieces among peers, and expanding their creative abilities.

Belin-Blank Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality

Thank you to Bethany Erickson for this guest post about her experience at last month’s Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice Exceptionality. If you would like access to the recorded event, register by July 1 at belinblank.org/summit.


After attending the Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality, I am in awe and inspired.

I am in awe of the professionals who spoke: their expertise, experience, research and heart that came through their presentations. As a classroom teacher, I didn’t really know anything about neuroscience before this summit. Now, I wonder how can teachers be teachers without knowing more about how the brain works and learns.

The adage that ‘you don’t know how much you don’t know’ comes to mind. While learning from the presenters, three themes stood out to me over the course of the two days of lectures: the need for more collaboration, more research and more awareness to benefit twice-exceptional learners at all ages.  

Collaboration came up in almost every session.

So many of the presenters graciously gave credit to their teams and showed gratitude for the work they are able to do together. Parents talked about collaborating with educators. Students talked about the help they needed and received from their parents, medical professionals, and educators. Educators that work at the Belin-Blank Center, spoke to the importance of effectively communicating with each other as colleagues but also with parents and patients.

I was struck by several things during the student panel.

One student seemed to have had appropriate supports and interventions early on to help him cope with and understand his diagnosis. Another student didn’t find out about Autism Spectrum Disorder until later and had a harder path with fewer and later support services. Even so, both have found success and a way to overcome their difficulties by using their strengths and talents, which was another clear message from many sessions.  

I was impressed with how much these students could bravely tell us and it reminded me of the importance of knowing each individual.

I will be working with high school students for the first time next school year, and hearing the student panel reminds me that they are just looking for someone to listen and see them as a person, not just their diagnosis.

Another lesson on the importance of collaboration came from the parent panel.

The three moms on the panel gave such heartfelt and honest advice that I, as a teacher, will not forget. I wish more teachers could hear their stories. It stuck with me when they agreed that some of their most helpful teachers were the ones who admitted to not knowing about twice-exceptionality (2e), but being willing to learn along side them and see their child for more than just their behaviors or diagnosis.

I was so moved by the mom who explained what it felt like to drop off her son at a Belin-Blank Center summer program, and how it felt for her to know, for the first time, that he would be okay there without her because of the supports in place.

It made me think how much more school systems need to do for 2e students and parents to make school a safe place for them as well. A safe place where they can trust educators to be accepting of their talents and their challenges.

For students and parents to find schools as a welcoming and supportive environment for twice-exceptional students, teachers need to be made aware of 2e characteristics, talents, needs and challenges. It came up in the parent and student panel that they wished more people knew 2e students existed. As a teacher looking back, I can now think of several former students that were likely twice-exceptional, but I didn’t have the knowledge or resources at the time to help them.

This summit has given me an awareness that I am so grateful for.

The need to bring awareness to educators was mentioned in the student and parent panels. It was interesting to hear from the two teachers who were on the parent panel, as they shared how much they didn’t know as teachers until experiencing 2e as a parent. I wonder how many behavior issues could be prevented or diminished by addressing the needs of the students that are not being met due to undiagnosed neurodevelopmental disorders.

Before the summit, I was aware that students could have multiple diagnosed disabilities, but I didn’t know the symptoms, characteristics, talents and challenges. 

The research shared during the summit was so above and beyond what I expected.

An abundance of statistics, charts, graphs, and studies that all represent individual people and families, as one presenter pointed out.  Even in the midst of so much research, the case was continually made for how much more research is needed, all the things scientists still don’t know and want to know in order to better serve and accommodate for neurodiverse learners.

I was moved by how many presenters shared stories of their own children who have been diagnosed as twice-exceptional, and how that personal connection motivates their work.  

As I evaluate how this summit will affect my role as an educator, I hope it is by improving my collaboration with others – parents, students, colleagues, medical professionals, etc. I also hope it will affect my role as a talented and gifted teacher by granting me an awareness to help me see students that may need special education and gifted education services. Or notice characteristics of students that may come from having an indivisible disability and helping them to feel seen.

Experiencing this summit will help me bring an awareness back to my coworkers of what twice exceptionality is and how we can work together to find ways to support those learners and their families.

Research Study for Academically Talented Students

We understand that COVID-19 has affected everyone in many ways, and that, particularly as a family with a gifted and talented child, things may have changed dramatically for you over recent months. The Belin-Blank Center is conducting a research study to assess how COVID-19 is affecting families. We would like you and your child to participate in the study by completing this electronic survey. If you have more than one child, please make sure to select a child who is at least in 6th grade and if you still have more than one, please take the survey once for each child. 

Sharing your experiences, both negative and positive, will equip us with information that can help us be more efficient and effective in preparing and allocating future resources that can help families like yours. The survey will take about 5 to 10 minutes for you and about 15 minutes for your child to complete. It is completely voluntary. Your identity or any other identifying information will not be linked to the survey. Whether or not you participate in this survey will have no bearing on your standing with any of our programs.

SURVEY LINK: https://uiowa.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_3qNkTWbi8XPmA5f

We encourage you to consider sharing your experiences through this survey. We are so proud of all the ways that we have seen families respond with resilience and adaptiveness to the challenges of this pandemic. And, as always, if there are ways that we can help support you during this time, please let us know by reaching out to us.

Thank you, and stay well.

Brandon LeBeau

Belin-Blank Center

Social Skills Group for Adolescents

Our colleagues at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital Center for Disabilities and Development are starting a social skills program for adolescents with high functioning autism.

This 14-week intervention aims to assist teens (and their parents) who are interested in learning new ways of making and keeping friends.

If you are interested in participating, check out the information below and contact Matt Kressin at 319-353-6140 or matthew-kressin@uiowa.edu.