Tag Archives: research

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!

I Think My Child Needs to Skip a Grade

Recently, we received this email:

My son just finished second grade. I think he needs to skip a grade and start fourth grade in the fall.  We are looking for help in requesting a whole grade skip.  I have learned that acceleration is not mandated in my state. How should we start? Is there a formal way of putting in my application?

The Belin-Blank Center doesn’t provide a formal application for acceleration that will work in every state, but we can give you some direction to get you started.

First, learn about the policies in your state and your school or district. Are there policies regarding acceleration on the state or local level?  A good place to begin is the policy page on the Acceleration Institute website.

Gather some information about acceleration, so you have an understanding of the research and how acceleration can be used with gifted students. Over the last 70 years, an impressive body of research has been built up that demonstrates that acceleration is an effective tool for challenging gifted students. An excellent place to start learning about that is A Nation Empowered. Volume 1 includes an overview of acceleration and is suitable for sharing with busy administrators and others who might be looking for a summary on acceleration. Volume 2 includes the research behind this option.  This research demonstrates that acceleration helps gifted students to maximize their academic potential; it also shows that acceleration does not cause a negative impact on social/emotional development.

Keep the lines of communication open. Meet with your child’s teacher, gifted coordinator, and/or principal. Learn about the options in your school. Share with them your concerns about ensuring your child is challenged in school. Understand that these professionals might not have been exposed to much information about acceleration in their training, so some of the information you have discovered might be new to them.

Go through the decision-making process. If a student is a candidate for a whole-grade skip, we advocate using the Iowa Acceleration Scale. This tool was developed specifically to address this question and helps families and educators to work together to consider aspects of development that are important in a decision about grade skipping. These include the student’s ability, aptitude, and achievement, as well as developmental factors, physical and social development, and support from the school and family.

Alternatively, or perhaps in addition to a conversation about a whole grade skip, you might think about subject acceleration. Moving ahead in one or more subjects might be the best alternative for a student who isn’t ready for a whole grade skip or has already skipped a grade, but needs additional challenge in a particular subject. An important tool for this discussion is above-level testing.

No discussion of acceleration is complete without considering social development—this is typically the first concern people mention when we start discussing any type of acceleration, especially grade-skipping.  Research shows that carefully selected students who accelerate do just fine socially. There might be a short adjustment period for the student, but the students typically adjust just as well socially or somewhat better socially than their chronologically older grade-mates. These students fit in just fine.

After collecting the appropriate data and participating in thorough discussions with educators and administrators, you should come to a consensus about what is the best decision for your child. Whatever the decision is now, remember that you might need to revisit it again in the future. A student who skips a grade now might need additional acceleration at some later point, or a student who isn’t accelerated now might need acceleration in the future. Also, remember that acceleration doesn’t solve all issues around challenging talented students.  Your child might still benefit from academic summer programs, additional enrichment in school, concurrent enrollment, individually-paced instruction in a strength area, etc. The goal is to challenge the student systematically throughout the school years.

Resources

Assouline, S. G., Colangelo, N., VanTassel-Baska, J., & Lupkowski-Shoplik, A. (2015). A nation empowered: Evidence trumps the excuses holding back America’s brightest students. Iowa City, IA: Connie Belin and Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development. www.nationempowered.org 

Assouline, S. G., & Lupkowski-Shoplik, A. (2011). Developing Math Talent (2nd ed.). Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

See www.accelerationinstitute.org for more evidence. 

Message from the Director: Springtime Renewal Extends to Gifted Education through Javits Grants

Conducting research focused on gifted education and talent development is central to our mission. The Belin-Blank Center’s Acceleration Institute, featuring A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students (2015), is a prime example of how gifted education research assists educators and policy makers in better understanding and developing the talents of bright students. While gifted education research has had many advocates, there were perhaps none whose reach has extended quite as far as Jacob K. Javits.

Q: Who was Jacob K. Javits and what does he have to do with gifted education?

A: In 1988, the U.S. Congress passed the only federal legislation for gifted and talented education. It was named in recognition of its primary advocate, Jacob K. Javits, a long-serving Congressman (R-NY, 1947-1954) and Senator (R-NY, 1957-1981). As the National Associated for Gifted Children explains, the “purpose of the Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act is to orchestrate a coordinated program of scientifically based research, demonstration projects, innovative strategies, and similar activities that build and enhance the ability of elementary and secondary schools to meet the special education needs of gifted and talented students.” Javits grants typically focus on students who are traditionally underrepresented in gifted and talented programs, and the Javits Act provides opportunities to better understand best practices in gifted education.

Q: How does the Javits Act fit into current federal legislation for education?

A: Federal legislation for education has existed for more than 50 years (first passed in 1965 as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, ESEA; currently known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, ESSA). Ten years later, special education programs became mandatory with the 1975 passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (re-authorized and re-named the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA, in 1990). The original IDEA legislation was an essential mandate to ensure that every student had the right to a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. IDEA protects society’s most vulnerable individuals, which is essential to any society.

Q:  What does ESSA or IDEA have to do with gifted students?

A: Importantly, when the 1990 IDEA was re-authorized in 2004, there was – for the first time – recognition that gifted and talented children may also have diagnosed disabilities or disorders. These students are referred to as “twice-exceptional.” Shortly thereafter, when the 2005 request for proposals for Javits Grants was issued, the Belin-Blank Center and the Iowa Department of Education submitted a proposal to further investigate a specific group of underrepresented students, those who are twice-exceptional. That proposal was funded, thus launching our work in the area of twice-exceptionality and significantly impacting the field.

Q:  Has the Belin-Blank Center been awarded other Javits grants? 

A: Yes! We were awarded a second Javits grant in the late 1990s to investigate gifted and talented students attending alternative schools. Most recently (2017), the Belin-Blank Center and the UI College of Education were awarded a third Javits grant to explore the effects of a talent development model along with a career intervention program on underrepresented gifted students.

Q:  How much funding is available from the Javits Act?

A:  The short answer is, “not that much.” This is a true statement in absolute terms, as well as relative to other education initiatives. Since 1988, annual funding has varied from $5 million to $12 million, which is about 1 to 2 cents for every $100 spent on education. In 2013, no funding was available and in 2011 and 2012, there were no new awards presented. It is important to know that, even at the modest levels at which monies are allocated, Congress must reauthorize funding for the Javits Act each year.

Every year, the Javits funding is tenuous. However, the impact of Javits awards on participating students, teachers, and schools is far from tenuous. We have experienced the positive impact first hand.

In addition to the Javits demonstration and scale-up grants awarded to states, there is periodic funding for a national gifted and talented center. The original Javits legislation funding in 1988 resulted in the establishment of the National Research Center on Gifted and Talented ([NRC/GT]; 1990-2013), housed on the University of Connecticut campus.  After the funding was re-established in 2013, the National Center for Research on Gifted Education (NCRGE), also on the University of Connecticut campus, was established. Current Javits funding supports the NCRGE, which offers a prolific research agenda. Most recently, researchers presented an impressive study investigating the (mis)alignment of identification for gifted programming and the content of the programming. This NCRGE research project, in addition to three other relevant projects, was reviewed in a recent Education Week article, “4 Ways Schools Help or Hinder Gifted Students,” by Sarah D. Sparks.

There is no shortage of excellent research in the field of gifted education, and we are grateful that the Javits Act has advanced the field in significant ways over the past 31 years. We are also grateful that we have had a role in that advancement. We look forward to continuing to contribute to a broad research agenda and collaborating with teachers to improve programming for gifted students.

Hope springs eternal for continued funding to support this important research!

Iowa Students Attend the 57th Annual National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium

In March, students from across Iowa competed at the 2019 Iowa Regional Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS). A panel of experts judged 15 impressive oral presentations, and the finalists were:

  • 1st place: Pooja Kasiviswanathan (Ames High School) — “Farming on Mars: potential strategies for sustainable agriculture in Martian conditions”
  • 2nd place: Isabella Hoeger-Pinto (Iowa City West High School) — “Examination of plasma etch rate on silicon substrate with photoresist mask”
  • 3rd place: Radha Velamuri (Valley High School) — “Involvement of the AhR in reproductive function with exposure to PCB 126”
  • 4th place: Kayla Livesay (Van Buren Community High School) — “Accelerating plant growth to improve crop production and soil fertility: analyzing the effects of macronutrients and mycorrhizal fungi for Zea mays: Phase III”
  • 5th place: Amara Orth (Lewis Central High School) — “What is honey? A comparison of honey from Iowa beekeepers versus national store brand honey using pH, pollen, and chemical composition analysis”
Winners of the 2019 Iowa Regional Junior Science and Humanities Symposium

In addition to scholarships, these five students qualified to compete at the 57th Annual National JSHS in Albuquerque, New Mexico last week.

Approximately 230 high school students from all over the world attended the National JSHS to compete for scholarships and recognition in the fields of environmental science; life sciences; biomedical, cellular and molecular sciences; medicinal, behavioral and health sciences; engineering; mathematics and computer science; physics; and chemistry and material sciences.

Iowa representatives at the 57th Annual National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Like the Iowa finalists, these impressive students qualified for the symposium by submitting and presenting original scientific research papers in regional symposia held at universities nationwide. Approximately 130 high school teachers, mentors, university faculty, ranking military guests and others also attended to encourage the future generation of scientists and engineers and celebrate student achievement in the sciences.

Students had the opportunity to tour labs such as the Air Force Research Laboratory, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Sandia National Laboratories—Security Technologies, and the University of New Mexico’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, School of Engineering, and School of Medicine—Emergency Medical Services.

Students participated in round table discussions on topics such as ocean trace elements, agile aerospace, energy and shear stability, academic STEM careers, and engineering satellite thermal systems. Students also had the opportunity to listen to an array of distinguished keynote speakers, including Dr. William Swartout, the Chief Technology Officer of University of Southern California’s (USC) Institute for Creative Technologies and Research Professor in the USC Department of Computer Science. Dr. Swartout shared his involvement in research and development work based on his interest in virtual humans and the development of new Artifical Intelligene architectures through the Shoah Foundation and the New Dimensions in Testimony project. Together they are creating a unique collection of interactive historical biographies that allow people to converse with pre-recorded video images of Holocaust survivors.

For the second consecutive year, an Iowa regional finalist placed at the national competition! Kayla Livesay (Van Buren Community High School) won second place in the Life Science division of the poster competition for her project, “Accelerating plant growth to improve crop production and soil fertility: analyzing the effects of macronutrients and mycorrhizal fungi for Zea mays: Phase III.” Congratulations to Kayla, as well as her teacher, Amanda Schiller (a former JSHS competitor herself)!

Congratulations to all who participated in both the Iowa regional and National Junior Science and Humanities Symposia! For more information on getting started with student research or the JSHS program, visit:

A Powerful In-Classroom Practice for Supporting Your Goals for Students

As a teacher, we know you have many goals for your students. First and foremost, you are helping your students develop an understanding of your discipline’s fundamentals. But we know that you do so much more than that! You work to create opportunities for students to be creative and curious, effectively identify and solve problems, think critically, set goals, make decisions, communicate well, express confidence, and actively participate in their communities.

The goals you have for your students are abstract, so you create actual experiences in your classroom to help students develop and demonstrate these behaviors. But you’re busier than ever, and resources are scarce. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way to promote the many goals you hold for them through a single project?

The good news? There is. It’s student research.

When you support students in conducting original research projects, you are creating an environment for them to be curious and identify problems that spark their interest. You are requiring that they think critically about what questions are fruitful to ask and evaluate what can be investigated given their constraints. You are expecting them to solve problems that arise while designing and implementing their methods, determine how they will collect and analyze data, generate conclusions that make sense and determine the extent to which those conclusions are trustworthy.

Designing and implementing a research project helps students accomplish many of your goals, but presenting their work empowers students to really bloom. Many avenues are available for Iowa high school students to present their research projects, including the Iowa Junior Sciences and Humanities Symposium (Iowa JSHS).

When students participate in Iowa JSHS, they write scientific papers detailing their investigations. Any high school student in the state of Iowa can submit a research paper to Iowa JSHS at no cost. Each one is evaluated by a panel of judges at the University of Iowa, creating an authentic audience for whom students must develop a written product. The paper submission deadline also creates authentic space that imposes the need for students to set continual goals throughout their research project.

All students who submit papers are invited to attend the spring Iowa JSHS competition. The top 15 finalists are invited to deliver oral presentations to a panel of judges and a ballroom full of their teachers and peers. This differs from all other regional- or state-level science competitions, where students typically present a poster to individuals or small groups. Teachers tell us that the oral presentation component of Iowa JSHS deepens their students’ understanding of their project and helps them develop strong communication skills and confidence in their own abilities.

It’s not all business at Iowa JSHS, though. Research is a collaborative experience, so we work to foster a sense of community. Students in attendance have the opportunity to meet trained researchers, from undergraduates to professors, during presentations and University lab tours. They also have a chance to get to know other high school student researchers through meals together, swimming in the hotel pool, and even a trivia night! Students tell us that they value developing friendships with peers from other districts who are also interested in STEM and research. In these ways, Iowa JSHS invites students to actively participate in their newfound community.

While you are planning for next year, be sure to consider how implementing student research into your classroom can help your students reach the goals you have for them. (Bonus: It also aligns wonderfully with the new Next Generation Science Standards [NGSS] and helps students develop 21st-century skills!) It doesn’t have to be a huge endeavor – students can mine open data sets that already exist, find a problem to solve on their family farm, or work with a local expert. Whatever their project, we guarantee that you will see growth in leaps and bounds.

2019 Iowa JSHS student researchers

For more on Iowa JSHS, visit belinblank.og/jshs or contact jshs@belinblank.org.

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.

7 Tips for a Successful SSTP Application

SSTP Extracurriculars 2017-5

Applications are officially open for the 2019 Secondary Student Training Program at the University of Iowa. The fall break is a perfect time to work on your materials, so here are 6 quick tips for making your application the best it can be!

  1. Once you’ve started your application, write down your username and password! The $75 application fee applies for each application account you start on the portal, so be sure you can log back in when it’s time to finish your application later.
  2. Contact your references now! The application requires two references from you: First, the academic reference, which should come from a teacher who can speak to your abilities in your desired research fields; Second, the character reference, which should come from a mentor who can speak to your character and maturity as a person. We define mentor broadly. Past applicants have chosen teachers, coaches, counselors, pastors, rabbis, etc. Just make sure that your mentor is not a friend or family member. Once your teacher and mentor have agree to provide references on your behalf, enter their email addresses into the appropriate field in your application. We will then email them a few short questions. They have until February 1st to send us their responses. Late references cannot be accepted, and it’s your responsibility to follow up and ensure that your references respond on time.
  3. Start yApp5our essays now! We ask for two separate pieces of writing from you: First, a 750-word essay describing your research interests and background; And second, a 750-word essay explaining why SSTP is a good fit for you. We recommend writing and editing your essays in a separate document and pasting them into the application platform once you’re satisfied with your work. Please bear in mind that the essay fields in the online platform will save your essays as plain text, meaning that your formatting will not be kept.
  4. Carefully consider your desired research areas. In the application, we will ask you for top three research areas, and we include a list of research areas that other SSTP students have used in the past. If you do not see your desired field, that’s fine! You may write in research areas that we have not listed. If you’re not sure what’s available, be sure to check out our virtual poster session on the SSTP website, where you can view past students’ work. Although not every research area you see there will necessarily be available in 2019, what you see can give you a good idea of the kind of research that students have been able to do in the past.
  5. You may only submit one set of test scores. We recommend the SAT, ACT, PSAT, or PLAN, but if you have not taken one of those four tests, you may also submit state-administered standardized test scores. Since you may only submit one set of scores, we strongly advise against submitting SATII subject test scores. If you are a non-native speaker of English, no problem! You do not have to submit TOEFLs scores or any other proof of English ability. Your English results from the SAT, ACT, etc., will suffice.
  6. SSTP Buchholz Lab 2018-1Review the costs of the program. For students applying from within the US, the total costs will add up to $6,270. US students may also apply for financial aid within the online application platform. For students applying from outside the US, however, no financial aid may be awarded. Additionally, students applying from outside the US must pay an additional $550 fee to cover the costs of insurance and two additional nights of room and board, bringing the total costs of the program for international students to $6820.
  7. When you’re done, save your application and leave it is as! There’s no “submit button.” Whatever you have on your application as of February 1st will be what we use to make admission decisions. Until February 1st, you may return to your application and make edits as often as you like. Applications are considered on a non-rolling basis, so there are no advantages to finishing early other than peace of mind and the assurance that your application is complete. You will be able to see at-a-glance what sections still need your attention using the little red lights. Once they all have turned green, you’re all set.

If you have any questions, you can contact us at sstp@belinblank.org. During times of high inquiry volume, it may take us up to two business days to respond to your email, so please contact us sooner rather than later to ensure that you receive your response in a timely manner.

We look forward to seeing your application!

SSTP Musselman Lab 2018-13.jpg