Tag Archives: gifted students

Adventures in the Sky with Bessie Coleman and Amelia Earhart

We’ve heard your requests for online versions of the enrichment opportunities you love from the Belin-Blank Center! We’ve designed our new Enrichment Expeditions program to reconnect bright children with each other and to explore their interests, both online and offline.

These are not your typical Zoom class! Our expert instructors combine hands-on learning with high-quality, live, online sessions that follow a depth and pace that keeps bright students engaged. We send a customized fun kit straight to your door, containing all the necessary supplies. There’s no need for shopping, ordering, or gathering items around your house.

“Adventure is worthwhile in itself.”

Amelia Earhart 

Adventures in the Sky

Grades 2-4
December 6, 9:00 am – noon (Central)

Airplanes revolutionized our ability to travel to new places around the world. Believe it or not, they are a fairly new technology. Two aviators – Bessie Coleman and Amelia Earhart – were some of the first to explore the skies using airplanes. 

In this class, you will learn about these two amazing women’s adventures, and the sometimes-mysterious stories told about them. This class mixes writing and STEM! We will spend half of our time exploring the structure of airplanes and how well they fly. We will spend the other half learning how to write a good story with narrative writing. When we’re done, you’ll get to continue the fun with your own copy of the Bessie Coleman and Amelia Earhart issue of the beautiful Bravery magazine. Writers, builders, explorers, and all lovers of adventure are encouraged to join!  

Photo by Ömer Aydın from Pexels

Python Programming for 4th-6th Graders

It’s not too late (yet) for your child to join the Coders’ Lab!

Our new Coders’ Lab class, called Explorations in Coding I, will teach students how to code “for real” using the Python programming language. It will also help them discover how they can make a difference in the world through computer science!

How it works

Students will meet twice weekly with one of our best teachers and other curious and highly capable kids. They will also have independent time to work through modules and develop projects on their own. Classes at this level are typically recommended for middle school students, but bright and motivated students in grades 4-6 will feel right at home. We think your child has what it takes! No prior computer science experience is necessary.

“Learning to write programs stretches your mind, and helps you think better, creates a way of thinking about things that I think is helpful in all domains.” 

-Bill Gates

Help your child become 21st century-ready

This class will help your child grow in problem-solving, critical thinking skills, creativity, collaboration, and communication – all from the comfort of your home. So, what are you waiting for? Hurry, class starts November 2nd!

How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse

We’ve heard your requests for online versions of the enrichment opportunities you love from the Belin-Blank Center! We’ve designed our new Enrichment Expeditions program to reconnect bright children with each other and to explore their interests, both online and offline.

These are not your typical Zoom class! Our expert instructors combine hands-on learning with high-quality, live, online sessions that follow a depth and pace that keeps bright students engaged. We send a customized fun kit straight to your door, containing all the necessary supplies. There’s no need for shopping, ordering, or gathering items around your house.

How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse

Grades 6-8
December 5, 1:00 – 4:00 pm Central

Do you have the skills needed to survive in a world full of Zombies? Using your Zombie Survival Kit, you will navigate in a world without GPS, build a primitive tarp shelter, and learn some basic first aid. Our expert guide will teach you some of the essential skills needed to survive a Zombie Apocalypse. These skills are also very useful for wilderness and/or backyard activities like hiking, camping, scouts, geo-caching, scavenger hunts, adventure races, but more likely… surviving a zombie apocalypse! 

Online Neuroscience Class for Middle Schoolers

We’ve heard your requests for online versions of the enrichment opportunities you love from the Belin-Blank Center! We’ve designed our new Enrichment Expeditions program to reconnect bright children with each other and to explore their interests, both online and offline.

These are not your typical Zoom class! Our expert instructors combine hands-on learning with high-quality, live, online sessions that follow a depth and pace that keeps bright students engaged. We send a customized fun kit straight to your door, containing all the necessary supplies. There’s no need for shopping, ordering, or gathering items around your house.

Getting to Know Your Brain: A Crash Course in Neuroscience

Grades 6-8
November 10 (Part 1) and November 17 (Part 2) , 5:00-6:30 Central
OR November 14 (Part 1) and November 21 (Part 2) , 5:00-6:30 Central

Take a peek between your ears and get to know your beautiful brain! The brain helps us experience everything in our world. From information coming in from our environment to internal memories of a fun day that happened years ago – your brain is what makes you “you”! In this class, you will explore how the brain processes sensory information and learn how different parts of the brain communicate with each other. Then, you’ll use this knowledge to build your own “ideal” brain. 

Online Math Class: Master Mathematicians Battle Round!

We’ve heard your requests for online versions of the enrichment opportunities you love from the Belin-Blank Center! We’ve designed our new Enrichment Expeditions program to reconnect bright children with each other and to explore their interests, both online and offline.

These are not your typical Zoom class! Our expert instructors combine hands-on learning with high-quality, live, online sessions that follow a depth and pace that keeps bright students engaged. We send a customized fun kit straight to your door, containing all the necessary supplies. There’s no need for shopping, ordering, or gathering items around your house.

Master Mathematicians Battle Round

Grades 4-6
November 15, 3:00 – 6:00 pm (Central)

Are you ready to outwit your friends and become a mathematics problem-solving master? Get your brain and buzzer set for a fun, game-filled session of math challenges and competitions. This class will teach you some of the best math problem-solving strategies and challenge you to think outside the box. You’ll get your own copy of Edward Zacarro’s fun book, ”Becoming a Problem Solving Genius.”  We’ll use it to help you master math using logic, “Think 1”, algebra, functions, and more. The best part…you’ll practice your new skills in several live-action games with buzzers, whiteboards, and lots of FUN! 

Online RBG Class

We’ve heard your requests for online versions of the enrichment opportunities you love from the Belin-Blank Center! We’ve designed our new Enrichment Expeditions program to reconnect bright children with each other and to explore their interests, both online and offline.

These are not your typical Zoom class! Our expert instructors combine hands-on learning with high-quality, live, online sessions that follow a depth and pace that keeps bright students engaged. We send a customized fun kit straight to your door, containing all the necessary supplies. There’s no need for shopping, ordering, or gathering items around your house.

The first class is on November 1st!

Bravery: Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Grades 2-4
January 24, 9:00 am – noon (Central)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Supreme Court Justice for 27 years, passed away this year. As a lawyer and a judge, she used her voice to fight for equal rights for all people – regardless of race, gender, or ability. In this class, you will learn about Ruth Bader Ginsburg (or RBG as many call her) and her work fighting for our rights. We will focus on the writing and speaking strategies that help others want to listen to us. From writing to speaking to history and even a little bit of art, this class will cover it all! You’ll also get to continue your expedition after class ends with the Ruth Bader Ginsberg issue of the beautiful Bravery magazine. Be ready to channel your inner RBG and speak up!

New Online Student Programs!

Experience the classes you have come to love from the Belin-Blank Center, from the comfort and safety of home.  

Enrichment Expeditions 
Grades 2-8 

Enrichment Expeditions are evening and weekend online classes that explore fun topics like aviation, female role models, problem-solving strategies, neuroscience, survival skills, and more! 

Coders’ Lab
Grades 4-6 

Our Coders’ Lab classes will teach you programming and help you discover how you can make a difference in the world through computer science. No prior computer science experience is necessary. 

Coding with Python 
Grades 7-9 

Learn the Python programming language at your own pace, wherever you want, without worrying about class times or the pressure of grades. No prior computer science experience is necessary. 

Enrichment Classes are Back – Online!

Are you looking for joyful and engaging online learning experiences? Do you know a bright elementary or middle school student who would like a chance to connect with other like-minded kids? Our Enrichment Expeditions program is a new way to experience the classes you have come to love from the Belin-Blank Center. Shake up your pandemic routine with bite-sized lessons that will cultivate interests, spark curiosity, and enhance learning!   

Enrichment Expeditions are 1-3 hour online experiences built around topics that kids don’t often have a chance to learn about in school. Each class includes:

  • Live instruction from vetted teachers who can work with bright students. 
  • Curriculum developed or approved by our gifted education experts.
  • A fun supplies kit with everything you’ll need to support the hands-on activities. No shopping, ordering, or hunting around your house! 

Each expedition introduces students in grades 2-8 to advanced level topics and other bright kids their age. Plus, these engaging online classes are limited to 10 students, giving children room to enjoy their instructor’s unique talents and hands-on experiences with their classmates. Our current classes explore aviation, female role models, problem-solving strategies, neuroscience, survival skills, and more! Students do not have to be in a gifted and talented program to participate.

We are creating a variety of evening and weekend Enrichment Expeditions to fit any schedule. With the addition of new classes throughout the academic year, we aim to have something for everyone! If you or a child in your life has an idea for an expedition, let us know, and we’ll do our best to create the experience. 

Start your expedition today at belinblank.org/enrichment!  

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 added to 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 is currently developing a new online 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. This will all be done in an interactive online system designed to help educators and families gather the appropriate information and weigh the necessary factors in making these decisions. To sign up to receive more information about the new Integrated Acceleration System,  click here!

Resources

A 21st-Century Superpower You May Not Be Learning in School

Do you like logic, puzzles, or putting things in order? Are you creative? Do you want to make a difference in the world? Are you interested in learning how to code? If any of these describe you, check out the Belin-Blank Center’s new online coding courses!

We need more of our children to learn computer programming skills, regardless of their future profession. Along with reading and writing, the ability to program is going to define what an educated person is.” 

– Salman Khan

Our Coders’ Lab program currently offers a class called Explorations in Coding I for talented students in grades 4-6. (More are on the way!) This class will teach you how to code using the Python programming language. It will also help you discover how YOU can make a difference in the world through computer science! Sometimes, you will meet with the instructor and other curious, smart kids about your age. Other times, you will have independent time to work through problems and develop projects on your own. Class starts on November 2nd. 

Coding with Python is a self-directed online learning experience for bright and motivated students in grades 7-9. Through a series of interactive online modules, you will learn computer science using the Python programming language. This isn’t just any online course, though. You will have access to an exclusive student forum where expert coders are standing by to answer your questions or help you debug your code. (Don’t worry, parents, it’s moderated!) You will learn how to think computationally, solve complex problems, and be prepared for advanced computer science courses. Start anytime, and enjoy access to the content through June 30th, 2021. 

Learning to write programs stretches your mind, and helps you think better, creates a way of thinking about things that I think is helpful in all domains.” 

Bill Gates

No matter what your future goals are, coding will be an essential skill for your career. At the Belin-Blank Center, we know that you’re not too young to start learning. And the best part? There are no grades to worry about, and no prior computer science experience is necessary! Join us to unlock your superpowers and build your future your way.

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Stay Tuned for New Online Opportunities for Kids!

Staff members of the Belin-Blank Center are busily preparing several new online opportunities for students. At the time this newsletter was published, we weren’t quite ready to launch the registration process, but we wanted to give you a heads up! Do you have a student in elementary, middle or high school? Make sure you are on our newsletter list by signing up here, and indicate your student’s grade level. We will be sure to send you the latest news about our new online programs as soon as possible!

Acceleration During a Pandemic?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Since many students were working remotely from home this spring, parents had the unique opportunity for an up-close view of what happens in school on a regular basis. Perhaps you are one of those parents who was surprised by how quickly your child grasped new material being taught, and now you have a nagging question in the back of your mind:  “Will my child be adequately challenged by his or her school placement in the upcoming school year?”

If you suspect the answer may be “No,” the next question is what would challenge your child appropriately?  Does he or she need to skip a grade?  Move ahead in math?  One of the best tools for gathering evidence for acceleration decisions like these is above-level testing.  We’ve shared the secret of above-level testing here before; briefly, it involves administering a test designed for older students to bright young students in an effort to discover exceptional academic talent. This information helps us to understand what a student is ready to learn and if he or she is ready for the academic challenges presented by a grade skip or subject acceleration.

How do we get started? The Belin-Blank Center and many other university-based talent searches provide above-level testing. Students in 4th-6th grade take I-Excel. Even if your school isn’t currently offering group testing, your child could participate in individual testing using I-Excel. Details about this option are found here. Parents first identify a teacher who is willing to proctor the test, and begins the registration process using this form.  The Belin-Blank Center also provides ACT testing for 7th-9th graders in a group setting. Once the above-level testing is completed, families receive a detailed eight-page report from the Belin-Blank Center explaining the test results and providing additional resources useful in making acceleration decisions.

We understand that these are challenging times, so we want to add that we aren’t trying to put additional stress on families or educators. Instead, we wanted to make sure that those of you who are ready to think about these issues have the tools you need to help inform your decisions. Our goal is to support you.  

You will find much more information and links to decision-making tools and research about acceleration on the Acceleration Institute website, which is provided by the Belin-Blank Center.  The Belin-Blank Center has been a catalyst for research and programming on academic acceleration for the past 30 years. We’re currently working on a new product, the Integrated Acceleration System, which will assist educators and families in working through the process of making decisions about grade-skipping, subject acceleration, early entrance to kindergarten, and early entrance to college. Sign up here if you would like more information about the Integrated Acceleration System as it becomes available.

Trying to Make Decisions about School Placement or Acceleration for Next Year?

We might be able to help!  Above-level testing is a useful tool for gathering data needed for decisions such as: Does my student need additional challenge in a particular subject? Is my child ready to skip a grade?

I-Excel testing will be available this summer. Bright 4th-6th graders can take the test individually or in small groups (supervised by a proctor). I-Excel is an online test, so we are able to offer testing even if schools have not yet reopened. Parents and relatives are not allowed to proctor the test, so testing cannot occur until the stay-at-home guidance is no longer in effect. Licensed educators may proctor the test.

More information can be found in these links:

Are you interested in learning more about I-Excel testing for your child or students in your school? Contact us at assessment@belinblank.org.

We at the Belin-Blank Center are happy to support parents and students in whatever ways we can. Our primary concern is the safety and health of all involved. We recommend that you follow the guidance provided by your governor and local authorities in terms of meeting with people outside your family any time in the next few months.

Social and Emotional Support for Gifted Learners during Covid-19

Our thanks to Wendy Behrens for sending this information to us. Wendy is the Gifted and Talented Education Specialist, Minnesota Department of Education

Throughout the world, people are experiencing anxiety about the Covid-19 outbreak. Children are not immune to worry and many young students are concerned about missing school and friends and confused by changing schedules and responsibilities. Older students may also be concerned about testing, college applications, completion of courses, credits, missing final school events and more.

Image by ambroo from Pixabay

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) reminds us that during these uncertain times, children look to adults for guidance on how to react. As our anxiety rises, so does the anxiety of our children. NASP recommends, “Parents reassure children that health and school officials are working hard to ensure that people throughout the country stay healthy. However, children also need factual, age appropriate information about the potential seriousness of disease risk and concrete instruction about how to avoid infections and spread of disease. Teaching children positive preventive measures, talking with them about their fears, and giving them a sense of some control over their risk of infection can help reduce anxiety.”

Resources for Consideration  

Cultivating Calm Amidst a Storm. Blog from Nicole A. Tetreault, Ph.D., on how to calm our mind, body, and nervous system in the presence of a global health crisis. (March 18, 2020)

Helping Your Child Manage Stress Through Mindfulness by Michele Kane, Ed.D. Parenting for High Potential, Dec 2017. This article, written directly to teens and tweens, helps gifted adolescents understand mindfulness and the formal/informal pathways to mindfulness. Includes apps, books, and online resources for kids.

Just for Kids: A Comic Exploring The New Coronavirus 
A resource for children about coronavirus, what it is and how to protect oneself.

Management of Anxiety Begins at Home by Sal Mendaglio, Ph.D., Parenting for High Potential, Summer 2016. General article that focuses on the sources of anxiety in gifted children and what parents can do to help reduce anxiety at home.

Parent/Caregiver Guide to Helping Families Cope With the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (PDF, 144KB) 
This resource provides information for parents and caregivers about outbreaks, how they can prepare to reduce stress and anxiety, how it may affect your family both physically and emotionally and ways to cope.

Resources for Supporting Children’s Emotional Well-being During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Guidance, recommendations, and resources provided by child trauma experts at Child Trends and the Child Trauma Training Center at the University of Massachusetts.

Talking to Children About COVID-19 (Coronavirus): A Parent Resource 
A resource for parents on how best to talk to children about the coronavirus.

Talking to Teens and Tweens About Coronavirus 
This article details advice from experts on how parents can help teens be prepared and have the right information about the coronavirus.

Teacher, Interrupted: Leaning into Social-Emotional Learning Amid the COVID-19 Crisis by Christina Cipriano and Marc Brackett, Ed Surge. Psychologists from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence offer social and emotional learning (SEL) evidence-based practices to help educators, parents, and students get through these difficult times. (March 18, 2020)

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Suddenly Homeschooling: Resources for Parents of Gifted Children

Suddenly, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, parents are navigating new territory–teaching their children at home while also trying to work from home and maintain some semblance of normal family life. Here are a few resources that might be helpful to your and your gifted child during this time.

Image by khamkhor from Pixabay

The National Association for Gifted Children has published a list of resources tailored to gifted students and their families. We picked out a few to highlight:

Gifted Pathways provides a blog with simple activities you can do with your kids today.

Distance Learning Resources from the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian provides access to millions of digital resources from across the Smithsonian’s museums, research centers, libraries, archives, and more. See especially the sections on Resources for Caregivers and Resources for Tweens and Teens. Also note that there are scheduled live chats with experts.

The list of Amazing Educational Resources is, well, amazing! It provides a list of education companies offering free subscriptions due to school closings and is updated often.

Leave Your Sleep for Education. Free online curriculum platform that offers literature, theater, music and dance, art, history, and science applications using poetry and music to engage students. This is an excellent resource for April’s National Poetry Month. Recommended by our friends at the Gifted Support Center in San Mateo, CA.

Sage Publishing is providing free access to Coronavirus research. These might be especially appropriate for high school students as well as some middle schoolers.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The National Association of School Psychologists provides a list of health crisis resources for various audiences (including parents) who are now navigating the COVID-19 virus.

Finally, Lisa Van Gemert (some of you know her as the Gifted Guru) is in the midst of a truly amazing experience as the country’s English teacher. We will simply end this little article with her words: “When faced with difficult times, focusing on what we can give, rather than worrying about what might be taken away, is food for the soul. You’ve got something worth sharing. Share it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New 2020 Summer Program for Students!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


We hope to see you this summer!

Meeting Your Goals for the Precocious Teens in Your Life with Real-World Data Sets

You can create engaging learning experiences for teens by making it possible for them to conduct original research and connect with a larger scholarly community through citizen science. While collecting original data has tremendous merit, sometimes barriers to the necessary equipment or resources for effective data collection are challenging to navigate. Publicly available real-world data sets are one way to circumvent these obstacles and get teens researching—for real.

Did you know that there are more than 244,000 data sets publicly available to anyone on data.gov? This website has data from a wide variety of sources from agriculture, climate, and ecosystems, to manufacturing, energy, and finance. Looking at the available data, you and your teen might wonder how public parks might affect a neighborhood’s resilience to natural disasters. With a research question in mind, teens are ready to learn how to design their investigation and then dig into those data!  

Perhaps you have teens interested in developing a deeper understanding of how life in the United States compares to life around the world.  Through international datasets from the United Kingdom (https://data.gov.uk), Australia (https://data.gov.au/), Singapore (https://data.gov.sg/), for example,  teens can mine data to answer specific questions and better understand international relationships and trends. Many teens are passionate about global and social justice issues. UNICEF publishes data on the lives of children from around the world, and the World Health Organization publishes global human health data. Societal viewpoints can be analyzed using data sets available from the Pew Research Center.

If economics and mathematics are where a student’s interest lies, then have them check out the international financial data released by the International Monetary Fund, weekly Dow Jones Index data, or sales datasets from stores such as Walmart.

Our technology-based lives generate datasets that may surprise teens! There are publicly available data on reddit user comments and Airbnb worldwide locations even challenges its users to “Discover what insights lie hidden in our data.” Wikipedia, Google, and Amazon make their data available, too.

Student research doesn’t have to involve a lot of expense or fancy equipment. With nothing more than a laptop and an internet connection, students can produce high-quality original research from their bedrooms or the classroom. Publicly available data sets abound and they can be the spark that ignites a lifetime of STEM curiosity.

For more information on student research, be sure to check out our other posts on this topic!

The Scoop on Summer Programs at the Belin-Blank Center

If all the recent school closure days have you thinking ahead to how you’re going to keep your children occupied over summer vacation, now is a great time to start planning! At the Belin-Blank Center, we specialize in bright kids. Whether or not they participate in their school’s gifted and talented program, if your child shows a deep curiosity when a topic sparks their interest, a love of learning, or a particular talent in an area, they will feel right at home here!

Our summer programs are designed specifically for students in grades 2-11 who want to take a deep dive into a topic while having fun with other kids who share their level of interest and ability. Students get to choose one class to focus on all day, for a full week – and these aren’t just any regular classes!

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

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

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

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

How Student STEM Research Can Help Teachers…and their Students

One of the common characteristics of gifted students is a deep curiosity about the topics they are interested in. They may spend hours scouring Google for more information, ask complex questions in class, or observe how the topic relates to one they learned about in another class.

As a classroom teacher, this level of interest can be exciting to witness. However, it may also present logistical challenges when trying to simultaneously maintain curriculum standards and balance the various learning needs of a classroom full of students.

High school student STEM research can help solve both of these challenges. These projects offer a way to implement the Science and Engineering Practices of the new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and help students develop 21st-century skills, while also naturally differentiating instruction through inquiry and student choice.

The performance standards of the NGSS emphasize the role of students actively generating conceptual understanding while engaging in the practices of science. In this way, the NGSS reflect the idea that understanding the practices of science is just as important as the content knowledge itself. Research projects also help students develop important skills necessary for success in the 21st century. According to P21, essential life and career skills needed today include flexibility and adaptability, initiative and self-direction, social and cross-cultural skills, productivity and accountability, and leadership and responsibility. Student research projects offer a chance to practice each of these skills.

Student research also helps the classroom teacher engage students in science content by allowing them to pursue an individual inquiry into a problem or generate new knowledge about a topic of their choice. Having the opportunity to choose an individual project exposes students to design and problem solving skills, as well as hands-on, minds-on, and collaborative learning.

Teachers can differentiate instruction for students who are enthusiastic about diving even deeper into their topic by encouraging them to submit their projects to various high school student research competitions.  These offer students an authentic audience to which to present their work and a chance to win accolades, prizes, and even college scholarships for their work. Competing for a prize adds a level of student engagement by having a real, tangible benefit to completing their projects and putting together a well-written research paper and presentation.

Research competitions, such as Iowa’s regional Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS), provide students an opportunity to engage with experts who will critique their work, and valuable experience presenting and communicating science to a broad audience. These events often offer students a chance to interact with STEM professionals, listen to presentations on other students’ research, or go on tours that expose them to real-world research environments and various STEM careers. This connects students to the STEM community and exposes them to the culture of science.

Iowa’s regional JSHS allows teachers to bring non-competing students as delegate attendees. Students who attend as delegates have the opportunity to see the top projects presented, attend lab tours, and interact with research professionals and other student-scientists from around the state. The top presenters advance to the national competition, where they join student researchers from around the nation to compete for substantial scholarships. There are also opportunities for hands-on workshops, panel discussions, career exploration, research lab visits, and student networking events. Last year, Iowa high school students took home a 1st place win at the national competition and more than $20,000 in scholarships! Next year, it could be your student.

Iowa student Cheryl Blackmer won 1st place at Nationals in 2018!

And for those students who are interested, be sure to check out other opportunities for student research, such as the Perry Research Scholars Institute, Secondary Student Training Program, Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, Google Science Fair, and opportunities through the Army Educational Outreach Program.

Gifted Education Awareness Month: Academic Acceleration

This month, we’re bringing back some of our most popular blog posts to celebrate Gifted Education Awareness Month! Today, Dr. Ann Shoplik, Administrator for the Acceleration Institute, explains why it’s so important to advocate for academic acceleration! “Acceleration” can be an intimidating word for some, but did you know that there are at least 20 different forms of academic acceleration?

20 Forms of Acceleration

The word “acceleration” actually refers to over twenty different educational interventions! (Source: A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students*)

 


Why am I an Advocate for Academic Acceleration?

The short answer to this question is that I am tired of gifted students being under-challenged in school. They need the intellectual stimulation that comes from rigorous courses taught at a reasonably advanced level, and acceleration can provide that stimulation. The longer answer is, I am familiar with the research. No educational option for gifted students has the research support that academic acceleration has. In other words, the research is clear and unambiguous: Acceleration works. Gifted students benefit from acceleration. Gifted students are not negatively impacted socially if they are moved up a grade or advanced in a particular subject. Gifted students who accelerate turn out to be higher-achieving, higher-paid adults. In other words, the effects of acceleration are positive, short-term, and long-term.  So why wouldn’t I be an advocate for academic acceleration?

Now that we have the information that is summarized so clearly and succinctly in the comprehensive 2015 publication, A Nation Empowered, it’s time to put that information to work.  There are at least 20 different types of acceleration, including grade-skipping, subject matter acceleration, distance learning, and dual enrollment in high school and college. There are many forms of acceleration, and that means that we can tailor accelerative opportunities to the needs of individual gifted students. Acceleration means allowing gifted students to move ahead in school, at a pace appropriate to their needs. Acceleration can be implemented individually, in small groups, and in large groups.  Each type of acceleration can be used to match the level, complexity, and pace of the curriculum to the readiness and motivation of the student.

Educators and parents do not have to be afraid of implementing acceleration. Tools are available to help them make well-informed decisions. These tools include the book already mentioned, A Nation Empowered, and they also include the Iowa Acceleration Scale (developed to help the team consider all aspects of acceleration, including academic development, social development, physical development, and school and parental support for the decision), IDEAL Solutions (developed to assist educators and parents as they consider subject matter acceleration in STEM subjects), and university-based talent search programs, which help identify students and give them challenging courses they can take in the summer or via online learning opportunities.

If you are interested in advocating for acceleration for an individual student or you’re attempting to change policies in your school or district, consider starting with the information found at the Acceleration Institute website. It includes the tools already mentioned in this article, and many more. Don’t miss the PowerPoint presentation on acceleration, which you can download and share with other educators and families.

We have the research and we have the tools to help us make good decisions about implementing acceleration for academically talented students. Now, we need the courage to act.

Originally posted by Ann Lupkowski Shoplik on March 22, 2016

*Southern, W.T. and Jones, E.D. (2015) Types of Acceleration: Dimensions and Issues. In S.A. Assouline, N. Colangelo, J. VanTassel-Baska, and A. Lupkowski-Shoplik (Eds.), A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students (pp. 9-18). Cedar Rapids, IA: Colorweb Printing

Gifted Education Awareness Month: We’re Sharing the Best-Kept Secret!

In Iowa, October has been declared Gifted Education Awareness Month! To celebrate, we’ll be sharing some of your favorite posts from the blog all month long. Today, we’re sharing the time our own Dr. Ann Shoplik spilled the beans about the best-kept secret in gifted education!

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(Spoiler: It’s above-level testing, and we can help with that.)


The Best-Kept Secret in Gifted Education: Above-Level Testing

The secret of above-level testing is really not much of a secret. It’s used extensively at universities that have centers for gifted education.  Unfortunately, it’s not used much by schools. This secret is hiding in plain sight!

What is above-level testing and how can it be used?  Let’s answer the second question first. 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. Deciding whether or not a student is ready for subject-matter acceleration
  4. Deciding whether or not a student is ready 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, Explore (recently discontinued), and I-Excel. Unfortunately, above-level tests are not used extensively in typical school gifted programs; 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 that accurately using only the 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 testingThe advantages of above-level testing include differentiating between “talented” and “exceptionally talented” students. In the figure above, the bell curve on the left shows a typical group of students. A few students earn very high scores (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 we give that group of students 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 and helps us to differentiate the talented from the exceptionally talented students.

What 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 another student benefit from grade-skipping? Organizations such as the Belin-Blank Center who have used above-level testing for years 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, which allows us to make good recommendations about the types of educational challenges the student needs.

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. We encourage educators to let their students know about this unique opportunity.  For more information, visit www.belinblank.org/talent-search.

Originally posted by Dr. Ann Lupkowski Shoplik on October 6, 2016

Professional Learning Opportunity to Better Understand Gifted Learners

Chautauqua was an adult education movement in the United States from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.  A Native American (Iroquois) word, it may be hard to pronounce, but it’s the right name for the six face-to-face classes designed to help educators better understand the nature/needs of gifted learners, and how to meet those needs.

The Belin-Blank Center, in partnership with the University of Iowa College of Education, provides online classes throughout the year.  During the summer, in addition to online courses, we want to offer gifted education advocates an opportunity to enjoy the Blank Honors Center building, to meet the Center’s staff, and to learn from each other.

Chatatqua 2017-11

Chautauqua I, July 9 – 14, including class on Saturday, includes these one-semester-hour classes:

Chautauqua II, July 16 – 21, including class on Saturday, includes these one-semester-hour classes:

Participants may enroll in any of the six classes—or in all of the six!  Those who enroll at the graduate level for all three workshops in either week, or both weeks, receive an automatic tuition scholarship from the Belin-Blank Center for one of the three classes (i.e., three workshops for the cost of two; six for the cost of four).  Each week, on Friday, the Belin-Blank Center hosts a lunch for Chautauqua participants, giving them a chance to interact with some of the same scholars whose work they’ve been reading during classes.

Chatatqua 2017-44

All of the classes fulfill requirements for the State of Iowa Talented and Gifted Endorsement, and each week includes one semester hour from each of three of the required strands; each class, part of a hybrid endorsement program, does require some online work as well as the participation in the two days on campus.  Those seeking endorsement need to complete a total of 12 semester hours, with classes from each strand, and at least one practicum hour.  Teachers can complete practicum during any semester.

More information about the Belin-Blank Chautauqua can be found here:  https://www2.education.uiowa.edu/belinblank/educators/chautauqua/.  Those who are new to the classes can learn more about registering as a University of Iowa Division of Continuing Education student here:  https://www2.education.uiowa.edu/belinblank/educators/courses/registration.aspx.

We look forward to having you join us this summer for Chautauqua!

Message from the Director: Talent Development

“By helping our [highly talented] students, we help ourselves, because they hold in their hands not only their own futures but our shared future, as well.”

(p.113) From Richard Rusczyk’s chapter, “Extracurricular Opportunities for Mathematically Gifted Middle School Students” in The Peak in the Middle, Edited by M. Saul, S. G. Assouline, & L. J. Sheffield (2010).

This issue of Vision features the multiple opportunities at the Belin-Blank Center for gifted students– either in the competitions hosted this past spring (Invent Iowa, Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, Junior Science Humanities Symposium, or American Regions Mathematics League) or programs for this summer, which will begin on the 16th of June. These opportunities are so much more than a summer activity to keep kids busy! Indeed, they are – often – pivotal to the student’s development of his or her talent area. Schools offer a great deal to our talented students, but it would be impossible for any school – or teacher –to do it all, which is why extracurricular programs are so critical to talent development.

Below, I’ve synthesized three benefits of extracurricular activities for highly capable students from the Rusczyk chapter (see p. 103):

  1. Intensive experiences shared with an outstanding peer group;
  2. Interaction with university-level content experts;
  3. Opportunities for immersion in the specified content domain.

If you will be on the University of Iowa campus on July 25, 2014, from 10 am to noon, I encourage you to stop by the Old Capitol Center for the Secondary Student Training Program (SSTP) poster session. SSTP is, in many ways, the culminating experience of the Belin-Blank Center’s summer student programs. During this 5-week program, highly talented high school students from all over the country conduct research with UI researchers in their labs. Students earn 3 semester hours of university credit and, for many students, this is the defining moment in an academic career.

And, speaking of defining moments ….even though teachers of gifted and talented students have just packed away the final papers from this past school year, their commitment to their students is not packed away. Professional development for educators has already commenced and it’s always a joy to see teachers on campus and/or to learn about their “ah-ha moments” from their online experiences. New this summer are the two one-week Chautauquas, which will feature three workshops during each week. Having once been a teacher of junior high and high schools students, I know first-hand just how valuable these experiences are for teachers. Indeed, the same three benefits for highly capable students apply to the teachers who take the time to attend a summer professional development class or classes.

Whether you are a student, parent, teacher, or colleague, I know that you join me in wishing all of the Belin-Blank Center professionals the very best this summer as we dedicate ourselves to living up to our tag line: Nurturing Potential…Inspiring Excellence.