Children of STEAM: Our Future

We started Camp Pursuit because we’re passionate about education and we believe that passion can lead to a great many things. Our vision is to give students a curiosity-fueled platform to explore different aspects of STEAM in a fun and thoughtful environment where they have the chance to dive into the many different creative outlets that come along with science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. A choice-based learning environment driven by high-interest themes, rather than arbitrarily designated subject areas, exposes students to key concepts and skills ACROSS the aspects of STEAM. Aside from the benefits learning new skills give children, it also builds the desired skill sets CEO’s are looking for in the long run.

When asked, CEO’s said “Approximately 60% of job openings require basic STE[A]M literacy and 42% require advanced STE[A]M knowledge. Nearly two-thirds of job openings that require STE[A]M skills are in manufacturing and other services.” Unless your kids start a business as their first job and entrepreneurship becomes their career, a CEO in their future will look to them to have a knowledge of STEAM. If they end up being super successful as an entrepreneur, they’re going to need to know enough STEAM to keep up with the demand of our culture.

It’s not just CEO’s who we look to for answers when it comes to the children we work with and their future. In our research, we found that non-STEM careers have a projection of 9.8% growth whereas STEM careers reach 17% projected growth. In 2010, STEM workers made up 1/18th of the workforce and earned about 26% more than those who didn’t work in STEM. These numbers are rapidly growing and are expected to grow even more in the future.

So why is it so important for your kids to attend Camp Pursuit? Your kids are our future. STEAM education teaches them to work with others, have patience, not give up, look outside of the box, and create something new. We want a future where your kids are equipped for growth. STEAM is growing, and your kids are growing in a parallel path.

Overthinking: Weakness or Strength?

by Emily VR

Some children (and adults) seem prone to making quick, impulsive decisions.  At the other extreme, some seem to be held hostage by choices, evaluating and reevaluating options long past the point most of us would consider helpful.

For adults somewhere between, watching a child “overthink” can trigger frustration.  Parents and teachers may worry about a child’s stress, delays, and possibly sleeplessness as a result of runaway thinking.  Adults may not know how to provide help.

Consider this: in some cases, what if a student’s tendency to “overthink” might be a sign of an unmet need for higher-level analysis?  A sign of advanced, untapped problem-solving ability, ready to be channeled and harnessed?

Below are a few resources for helping students (or adults) feed a hunger for problem-solving, some of which may help guide deep thinkers toward constructive analysis.  Though perceived overthinking is not limited to children with gifted-level cognitive needs, they are sometimes described as exhibiting this behavior, so GT-friendly strategies are included below.

Teaching about Thinking

Critical thinking can be taught, both at school and in home.  Educators continue to develop new and innovative ways to incorporate Bloom’s Taxonomy, critical thinking skills, and other ways to “think about thinking” (metacognition) in the classroom.  Simply developing an awareness that humans move through different processes in our thinking – and that to some extent, we can deliberately control those processes – may bring peace of mind to some children who worry about their thinking.

Blooms

Image: Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.  Creative Commons Attribution license.

Teachers can create assignments that help develop thinking skills and awareness of the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning, strategies for validating information, methods to compare and contrast, and ways to sequence and prioritize information (Cash, 2011).  For more ideas about teaching critical thinking, please see the resources below.

Habits of Mind

The Habits of Mind were developed to help students “appreciate the value of and to develop the propensity for skillful problem solving using a repertoire of mindful strategies applied in a variety of settings” (Costa & Kallik, 2008).  In a district in my area, the GT program includes the “Habits of Mind” in the curriculum, providing instruction on deliberate skills to help students overcome or compensate for social-emotional challenges such as perfectionism, masking, and impostor syndrome.  Some of these strategies may help all students to develop analytical skills and to make better use of their thinking.  The Habits include Thinking Flexibly (“putting on a different kind of thinking cap for the moment”), Applying Past Knowledge to New Situations, Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision, Finding Humor (may help ease stress, if worry is a trigger), and Taking Responsible Risks, among others.  The authors of Learning and Leading with Habits of Mind outline ideas for teaching the Habits in the classroom, as well as strategies for creating a “mindful language of learning” that parents can try at home (Costa & Kallik, 2008).

Affective Curriculum

Talking with other students who share their challenges, particularly with the guidance of an adult, may help students “self-reflect, reflect about others, learn expressive language, explore careers, self-regulate, make decisions, and progress with developmental tasks” (Peterson, 2016).  An affective curriculum is designed to address the well-being of students, and it may help with some of the social and emotional needs that can sometimes lead to perceived overthinking.  For ideas on how an affective curriculum can be used in a “lunch bunch” setting for gifted-identified students, check out The Lunch Bunch: Affective Curriculum for Elementary Gifted Students (Johnson, 2017).

Differentiation and Acceleration

Teachers: does your curriculum go beyond rote memorization, providing opportunities for cross-curricular analysis?  Does it allow students to dive deeper into topics of interest, and/or to explore and compare additional examples of a concept?  Do students have choices in assignments and opportunities to respond in ways that tap into their individual strengths?  Are pre-testing, curriculum compacting, or other acceleration strategies used for students that already know the material?

If the answers are negative, consider pursuing campus or individual professional development on differentiation strategies, including research-proven strategies for modifying the curriculum for gifted learners.  For more information on differentiation and curriculum modification, please see the resources below.

Working with Perfectionism

While perfectionism can cause stress, and can sometimes lead to perceived overthinking or “paralysis,” some experts note that it can also bring “intense satisfaction and creative contribution, depending on how it is channeled” (Schuler, 2002).  It has been noted that in gifted students, research shows “a lack of challenge may contribute to the development of perfectionism,” which calls “for an increase in challenging curriculum that support for curriculum compacting, acceleration, enrichment, and teaching at a more conceptual level” (Neumeister, 2016).  In writing about gifted children, authors Jim Delisle and Judy Galbraith offer a strategy that can help all perfectionists:  instead of aiming for perfection and constant success, children (and adults) can shift thinking toward a “pursuit of excellence.”  This might involve the celebration of trying new things (despite temporary failure), a deliberate choice between activities (rather than focusing on the absence of equal talent in everything), and the decision to focus on trying again, if desired (Delisle & Galbraith, 2002).

Enrichment

If school hasn’t (yet) satisfied a student’s need for knowledge and exploration, consider enrichment opportunities, either online, locally, or at home.  A wealth of parent ideas can be found through gifted parents’ blogs (such as those in Hoagies Blog Hops), and your area may offer classes and clubs in your student’s areas of passion.  Local universities sometimes offer summer camps geared toward students with special interests and learning differences.  For more information about STEAM-based, passion-based learning through NuMinds Enrichment (founders of this blog), check out their mission here.

Final thoughts:

Adults may want to consider whether an overthinking child is actually overthinking.  Some types of decisions require careful analysis and the anticipation of all likely (and less likely) outcomes.  Is overthinking causing the child stress?  Does it have a negative impact on his/her quality of life?  Or is it leading to better, more carefully considered decisions?  If a child feels happier with detailed analysis, in some situations, could that be a strength?  (We certainly appreciate that architects and aerospace engineers anticipate ways things might fall down…)  With the conflicts and deep differences in our world, more and more, we need problem-solvers able to consider a multitude of perspectives.  For your student, could you seek out and provide guidance on selecting pursuits where his or her strengths are needed and valued?

Please remember to take children seriously.  When adults listen, children may be more receptive to learning which information might be helpful to consider in detail and which might require less attention.  If a child is suffering, please seek expert help (beyond the scope of this post) – but in some cases, careful thinkers may need guidance, not repair.  We may discover that our children and students can come up with innovations and solutions that work better than our own.

overthinking

This blog article is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on Overthinking.  Our blog is proud to participate in Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page Blog Hops!  Please click on the graphic above (created by Pamela S Ryan–thanks!) to read other Hoagies’ Blog Hop posts!

 

References and Further Reading

Cash, R. M. (2011).  Advancing differentiation: thinking and learning for the 21st century.  Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.

Costa, A. L. and Kallick, B. (2008).  Learning and leading with habits of mind:  16 essential characteristics for success.  Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Delisle, J. and Galbraith, J. (2002).  When gifted kids don’t have all the answers.  Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.

Neumeister, K. S. (2016).  Perfectionism in gifted students.  In M. Neihart, S. I. Pfeiffer, and T. L. Cross (Eds.), The social and emotional development of gifted children: what do we know? Second Edition.  A Service Publication of the National Association for Gifted Children.  Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Johnson, R. (2017).  The lunch bunch: affective curriculum for elementary gifted students.  The Gifted Education Review, 4, 1-3.

Peterson, J. S. (2016).  Affective curriculum: proactively addressing the challenges of growing up.  In K.R. Stephens and F. A. Karnes (Eds.), Introduction to curriculum design in gifted education.  Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Schuler, P. (2002). Perfectionism in gifted children and adolescents.  In M. Neihart, S. M. Reis, N. M. Robinson, and S. M. Moon (Eds.), The social and emotional development of gifted children: what do we know?  A Service Publication of the National Association for Gifted Children.  Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Stephens, K. R. and Karnes, F. A. (2016).  Introduction to curriculum design in gifted education.  Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Roberts, J. L. and Inman, T. F. (2015).  Strategies for differentiating instruction: best practices for the classroom.  Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

 

** I would like to thank Monica Simonds, M.Ed., for making me aware of the benefits of and instructional strategies for the Habits of Mind, for incorporating them in the GT curriculum, and for her work to nurture the social-emotional needs of students.

 

To Thine Own Self Be True, Except During Testing

A guest post by Rebecca Gray

It’s spring and standardized testing is in full bloom. The poppies of the classroom, gifted students, are often overlooked during this time of assessment. Advocates for GT learners can ensure the diverse breadth of gifted students are accommodated before and during high stakes testing.

Once testing season rolls around, anyone with a learning anomaly faces increased anxiety and scrutiny as administrators, teachers, parents, and legislatures begin the process of accountability to the state. Gifted students may be seen as an asset or as a liability at this time. It all depends on their giftedness. High achieving GT students make schools, administrators, and teachers look good with their commended scores that surpass the norm. A different story emerges, however, when the twice exceptional student enters the picture. The intensities, hyperactivity, inability to sustain attention during a prolonged silent 4 hour test, anxiety and overanalysis of simple, easily answered questions becomes a liability for all stakeholders who stand a chance to gain or lose based on outcomes of high stakes testing.

Gifted students encompass much more than one test can marginalize. Academic giftedness, in its many forms, shares a broad swath across a diverse educational landscape. In many school districts, gifted students receive services based on identification of need just as students on the opposite end of the same bell curve receive accommodations based on their identified learning differences. Accommodations on one end of the bell curve should be well balanced with accommodations on the other end as well.

Proponents and advocates of gifted students expect accommodations to be made for GT students in the self contained GT classroom. The same must be said for standardized testing as well as in the preparation for state mandated assessment. Allowing the accelerated learner to bypass often onerous review exercises, frees up opportunities to explore curriculum geared toward the GT student’s special interest and intellect level. In addition, targeted accommodations may be made to ensure gifted students test in an environment conducive to success.  The test setting can be accommodated and the test proctored by a teacher or administrator well versed in the intensities and exceptionalities of GT students. For a testing administrator, it would not be beyond the realm of possibility to allow the simple testing accommodation of small group testing for identified GT students.

Gifted students cannot turn off intensities and exceptionalities with the flick of a switch. High achieving GT students have the capability to bring high scores to the standardized testing table. Accommodations geared toward the needs of the diversity of gifted learners allow them to achieve favorable outcomes on state mandated assessments. Allowing students a testing experience conducive to success should be a right, not a privilege, for all.


Rebecca Gray is a mom of two gifted girls, an educator, and advocate for gifted learners. She can be reached at rebeccaminergray@gmail.

Recovering From a No-Good, Very Bad Year

by Emily VR

Dear Parents:  You aren’t alone.

Among families with learning disabilities, gifted needs, or other special needs, it seems nearly everyone has had a no-good, very bad year.  Sometimes more than one year.

Perhaps your child was excluded by peers, or perhaps he or she just had trouble making friends.  Perhaps he or she has a disability, and at the time, no one knew.  Perhaps symptoms were misinterpreted as bad behavior, and everyone was frustrated.  Perhaps there was unkind treatment by other children, or, though rare, by an educator.  If your child is identified as gifted, especially in a special population, perhaps his characteristics and needs were misinterpreted and/or not considered in his/her work level.  Perhaps her degree of need was discovered because of underachievement, perfectionism, anxiety, or negative behavior.  Perhaps your child has a diagnosis that isn’t well understood, or you discover disagreement between experts.  Perhaps it’s difficult for educators and specialists to keep up with changing research on your child’s diagnosis.

Perhaps your voice, as a parent, was not heard.

A bad school year is hard on a child’s entire family.  Unlike the routine bumps in the book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, a hard school year can have a lasting impact on a child, and sometimes, on parents.  From my experience connecting with parents and assisting with parent workshops, below are some parent-to-parent thoughts to consider.

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Professional Help

If a child shows signs of possible depression or anxiety, do not hesitate to get help.  If a child’s arm looks broken, parents get X-rays; if a child seems to have a mental health need, please talk to a professional.  Though parents worry about misdiagnosis, and in the case of gifted children, intensity can be mistaken for other diagnoses – if your child’s happiness and quality of life are decreasing, or if you see other warning signs of depression, don’t wait.  In teens, professionals say that signs can be easy to miss, and it’s a good idea in general to learn about the social and emotional wellness of children and teens.

If parents experience anxiety themselves, they should not be embarrassed to get help, either.  Dealing with a child’s special needs and school advocacy are incredibly stressful experiences for anyone.  Some counselors and psychologists have experience in advising and counseling parents of children with special needs, including gifted needs.  For gifted needs, Gifted Homeschoolers Forum, Hoagies Gifted Education Page, and SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) each maintains a list of mental health professionals.  Additional counselors and psychologists with expertise in your family’s specific challenges may be available in your area.

Connect With Other Parents… and Children  

Numerous online and local groups support families with all types of special needs and learning differences.  While reaching out can be frightening, other parents can be wonderful sources of tips and resources targeted to your child’s specific challenges and interests.  Some online communities offer closed discussion groups for increased privacy, and many communities offer local support groups for a variety of special needs.

Your child, too, may benefit from connecting with others who share his or her experiences.  Consider checking locally for museum or movie theater events for special needs, such as “sensory-friendly” days or screenings.  For children with high-ability needs, local enrichment courses may offer a chance to meet intellectual peers and explore their areas of passion (one mission of the teachers who founded NuMinds Enrichment and this blog).

Prepare for Positive Advocacy

Beware of using the word “fight” in connection with school needs!  Solutions to school challenges require listening, learning, positive communication, and collaboration.  Learn what you can about your child’s diagnosis and specific needs, and seek additional evaluations if you feel they are warranted.   Share your child’s story with future teachers, and search for advice about positive advocacy.  If you find yourself facing a roadblock, the book Getting to Yes offers negotiation guidance that prioritizes preserving relationships (critical in schools) and may help in addressing everyone’s concerns.

Make Friends With and Support Teachers

A wise teacher friend once said:  “remember, nobody goes into teaching for the fabulous pay.”  Educators have stressful jobs, and bad years can result from miscommunication or factors outside their knowledge or control.  The vast majority of educators work long, hard hours, love children, and dedicate their lives to doing the best they can to teach every single student in their classes.  They worry about their students at night and on weekends, and for years after their students leave their classes.  Once a parent makes a connection with even one teacher who truly understands their child, that teacher can be one of the most important advocates in a child’s education.  Learn about the challenges facing teachers, work to help them, and let them know how much you appreciate their care for your child.

Consider Educational Options

Public schools should (and for children with disabilities, must by law) provide access to a free, appropriate public education.  In some cases, however, parents may find another option to be best in the short or long term for their specific child.  While public schools should provide appropriate level learning and follow evidence-based practices for gifted children, not all states have gifted education laws.  Parents considering homeschooling for gifted and twice-exceptional reasons can check out the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum for an online community and other great resources.  (GHF resources can be helpful for anyone with gifted and 2e needs, and the site is not limited to homeschoolers!)

Take Lemons, Make Lemonade

The experiences of parents and children can drive lasting, positive change to help others, and activism can help with both existential stress and situational stress.  Consider getting involved with a nonprofit dedicated to your child’s needs.  Your child may even wish to help make things better for other children like himself/herself, or may discover a passion for helping people suffering from greater trauma, such as refugees.

Look for a Silver Lining

Though it is little comfort right after a traumatic year, in the long run, difficult years can result in better understanding of a child’s needs.  Challenges in school can lead to diagnoses and knowledge about modifications and accommodations that can make future years – including a child’s high school, college, and career experiences – far easier.

A “no-good year” can also provide an opportunity to help children and teens overcome absolute, all-or-nothing thinking.  While some memories may seem irredeemable, recalling positive experiences from the same year may help provide perspective.  Remember the P.E. teacher who went out of her way to say something positive, or that one classmate who watched out for your child?  Even in times of fear and disaster, as Mr. Rogers wisely advised, looking for the helpers can help us maintain hope.

Focus on Joy

You may see it in her face after encouragement from a summer camp counselor, or when she gets a hug from next year’s school or enrichment teacher, who will love her.  You may hear it when he sees mountains for the first time, builds a sand castle on the beach, or visits a museum exhibit about his passion.  You may decide to create it with a mom-and-me (or dad-and-me) date or with a camping trip.  Seeking opportunities to experience joy can help with healing, not only for your child, but for your family.

Hang in there, take care of yourself, and give your child a big hug.  We’re all in this together.  Kids are resilient, and your child has the best possible advocate in his or her corner: you.

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Dear Teachers:

When a child or parent first enters your classroom after a hard year, they may be carrying baggage.  Negative experiences at school can be terrifying for both children and parents.  In difficult situations, please try to see things from the perspectives of students and their parents.  Please seek advice from a school specialist if a situation is confusing, or if it upsets the student or parents.  If you find yourself frustrated with a student, please search for causes and solutions rather than blaming the student or dismissing a parent’s concerns.  Yes, we all know some parents are easier than others, but they can bring information needed for their children to succeed.  Take a deep breath, be patient, try to learn more, and seek help.  Remember: each parent trusts you with the most important person in his or her universe, and a single teacher can make the greatest positive difference in the life of a vulnerable child.  Please be that teacher.

Thank you for all you do.

GHF March 2017 hop

Our blog is proud to participate in Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hops!  For more posts, please visit the March 2017 GHF blog hop about The Difficulties of Being Gifted.

Disclaimer:  This post is not medical advice.  As noted above, please seek professional guidance regarding any mental health or behavioral concerns.  

3 “Messy” Tensions to Challenge Our Thinking on Learning and Productivity

by Ben Koch

There’s an unspoken truism most of us adults have internalized that goes something like this: “If only I were more organized with my time, more focused on my goals, and more disciplined with my tasks, I’d finally achieve X.” Around New Year’s each year, this guilt-infused mantra is the fuel for many a well-intentioned resolution involving elaborate new systems of organization and task management.  In Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives, Tim Harford turns this assumption on its head.  In his book, Hartford probes people, organizations and events which demonstrate how embracing disorder, uncertainty, and messiness can be the catalyst for amazing achievements and unforeseen breakthroughs.

Although geared toward leaders, innovators, and thinkers in the world-at-large, I found the book full of insights for parents, teachers and edupreneurs as we guide and nurture our students. Here I choose 3 binary tensions highlighted by Harford and connect them directly to issues relevant to our interactions with learners.

Hyper-Focus vs. Distractibility

We often assume great successes are the result of sustained, laser-like focus on a problem.  As Harford points out, however, “distractible brains can also be seen as brains that have an innate tendency to make … useful random leaps” (p 17) which lead to creative or innovative breakthroughs. And there is research to back up a correlation between distractibility and higher creativity. Harford cites a Harvard study in which researchers measured the ability of students to filter out unwanted stimulus. The weak filter students scored higher on all kinds of creative measures (p 17).

What we infer from this study reaffirms my own observations regarding the “6 Gifted Profiles,” as delineated by George Betts and Maureen Niehart (1988).  “Type 2” profile students, The Creatives, are often perceived as uncouth, distracted, and associative thinkers with a lower threshold for sustained focus. Could it be they are simply selective consumers, choosing to follow the trail of deep, non-obvious connections being triggered by their learning environment? A Creative’s penchant to process the world holistically makes her more distractible, but indeed makes her predisposed to draw fantastic insights from apparently disparate information.  Teachers: have you ever felt you’ve been suckered into a tangent by a Creative student making an elaborate observation, only to find that somehow, it winds right back to the topic, which is now afforded a new level of depth and complexity?  

Bonding Social Capital vs. Bridging Social Capital

When a group or team needs to accomplish a major task, it makes sense for them to bunker down, remove all infringements of the outside world, and one-pointedly push through, right? Maybe not. Harford highlights the distinction between “bonding social capital” and “bridging social capital.” On a team wired for bonding social capital, you seek to “Minimize disruptions, distractions, obstacles; identify what you have to do; focus your energies on doing it as effectively as possible” (p 39). So what could be missing? As it turns out, the sparks of inspiration that can come from interactions across groups and teams–known as bridging social capital–may be what allow the team to make the leap from good to great. Harford cites examples in the world of collaborative mathematicians and in the video game industry, where “a great computer game is like a great mathematics paper. It requires bridging: the clever combination of disparate ideas” (p 41).

The benefits of sparking exchanges outside of a student’s usual, closed, tight-knit group is one reason why my company, NuMinds Enrichment, designs all our programs as mixed-age learning experiences. I still remember our first summer camp several years ago when I walked into a classroom to find a 1st grader and 8th grader co-presenting on a project. Think the benefits go only one way? Think again. We find the older students are just as likely to benefit from the sparks generated by the “disparate ideas,” genuine curiosity, and the beginner’s mind exhibited by younger students.

Careful Planning vs. Improvisation

When you need a project management certification to keep a grip on a child’s weekly schedule, you know we live in an an era of hyper-managed and overscheduled students. Parents feel compelled to leave nothing to chance, and this desire to control outcomes has crept into the classroom in the form of perfectionism and anxiety

What if, by not occasionally relinquishing control, we are missing out on surprising creative results and rich, unforeseen experiences? Harford cites numerous extraordinary examples of history-making moments that were the result of moments of improvisation, from MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech to the ground-breaking “Kind of Blue” album by Miles Davis.

But examples need not be extraordinary to be revealing. That very first week of NuMinds summer camp, we had planned an elaborate, musical, technology-infused series of morning assemblies. It was part of our morning “shock and awe” plan to get campers excited for a day of passion-based learning (it’s summer, after all, and they often need a little help). We rolled into the venue the weekend before to get set up, and, major obstacles: no projector, malfunctioning microphone system, and no way to send music through the speakers. Plan B. Wait, there was no plan B! This situation forced us into an improvisational state of mind and, lo and behold, being forced to go low tech and intimate with our morning assemblies ended up defining the spirit of Camp Pursuit. Sure, we’ve got mics and flashy visuals now, but to this day, the “fireside chats,” puppet shows, and acoustic sing-alongs we developed that first week–because a messy situation forced our hand–are integral pieces of the Camp Pursuit experience.

Harford cites three clear benefits of an improvisational approach to managing a project (p 98):

  1. Speed
  2. Economy
  3. Flexibility

In other words, when compared to meticulous and calculated planning, embracing or even seeking a little messiness will not only drive improvisation but can take less time, cost less, and by its very nature will be more responsive to uncertainties.

But, let’s face it: millions of students in the U.S. and around the world, including refugees whose lives have been torn asunder by world conflicts, don’t have the luxury of worrying about over-planned and scripted lives. For them, improvisation isn’t an experiment, it’s survival. Perhaps there is much we can learn from their resilience about coping with a disordered world.

It’s hard to imagine a “messier” situation than poverty, but we can take heart that even in circumstances like this, curiosity, persistence and incredible improvisation can propel education. If we can appreciate and learn from this Indian school under a freeway, perhaps we can all find ways to improvise heartfelt teaching and learning, even when the promise and principle of our public education system seems under assault. Not to excuse that students or teachers or our very own public schools should ever be asked to perform miracles with lack of resources, funding, and support, but the innovative resilience we develop while continuing the fight for fairness, justice, and equity will only increase our effectiveness as we move closer to those ideals.

Harford highlights many more tensions we can utilize to explore our notions of learning and productivity, including groupthink vs. cognitive diversity, hard vs. soft spaces, the paradox of automation, “neats vs. scruffs,” and organized play vs. informal play. In an era of uncertainty and flux, if we can reconsider our ingrained assumptions and attachments to order, structure and predictability, we may find “messiness” a valuable impulse.

Sources

Harford, Tim. Messy: the power of disorder to transform our lives. New York: Riverhead , 2016. Print.

http://photoblog.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/11/09/15036358-a-free-school-under-a-bridge-in-india

https://u.osu.edu/pressuretobeperfect/truth-about-perfectionism/

https://thefissureblog.com/2015/08/01/gifted-101-the-6-gifted-profiles/

 

 

How an Umbrella Helped Me Become a Better Teacher

How an Umbrella Helped Me Become a Better Teacher… and Other Tips on Homeschooling a Gifted/2e Child

Parent perspectives by Nikki C.

Like many homeschooling parents of gifted kids, I was a reluctant, last-resort homeschooling mom. It was frightening to leave the familiarity of the public school system and disheartening to learn that other schools weren’t a good fit, either. Once the initial shock was over, however, homeschooling became so much more than just the best of the inadequate options I had thought it would be. It was exactly what my child needed to thrive, and we haven’t looked back since.

This does not mean that every day is filled with sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes we fall into ruts, but because of the inherent autonomy of homeschooling, it never has to stay that way. It’s up to me, and sometimes to my child, to fix it.

Our pitfalls sometimes come from smaller issues pertaining to curriculum or our environment, sometimes from larger issues that require professional help, or sometimes from my own personal issues.  Homeschoolers of gifted kids know that just because something works now, that doesn’t mean that it will work later. When my son and I fall into curricular ruts, I used to blame it on my choices, and I felt the urge to scrap it and start with something new. While this is best sometimes, I learned from my favorite teacher that working with a student’s learning style and making modifications to the environment and curriculum can go a long way.

My mom is a public school teacher and has spent most of the past 30 years teaching children with autism.  She teaches in a centralized structured classroom which has a low student to teacher ratio.   In her class, students receive a truly individualized education. Her dedication to her students has always inspired me, and from her experiences, I have learned some teaching gold.  Years ago, she was working with a student with autism and intellectual disability. She was certain that his abilities were higher than he had shown, but it was challenging for him to focus on their lessons. During a math lesson, my mom was attempting to get her student to engage with her, but every time she asked him a question, his response was “umbrella.” He was fixated on a golf umbrella that was just outside the classroom.

After this had gone on for a while, my mom went to the hallway, got the huge umbrella, opened it, sat down next to her student so that they were both under the umbrella, and said, “umbrella.” She then repeated the math question and he answered correctly. The rest of the lesson went on like this, under the umbrella, where her student was able to focus. An aide in the classroom took a picture of the two of them and shared it with the student’s mother. For Christmas, my mom received a present from her. It was a coffee mug with the picture of her and her student, working together under the umbrella.  On the other side of the mug, a quote from Rita Dunn read, “If the child is not learning the way you are teaching, then you must teach in the way the child learns.”

Having exposure to this style of teaching at an early age helped shaped me into the type of teacher my son needs.  There are numerous ways to personalize the curriculum and environment for homeschoolers (some strategies can work for teachers in traditional classrooms, too!). Of course, we can fine-tune these word problems so that we are comparing Rebel Troopers and Imperial Forces instead of bushels of apples and oranges. Sure, let’s get that huge crash pad, and my son can be upside down on it during read-alouds and discussions. We can work on handwriting in other creative ways at another time. Yes, let’s make a classroom filled with action figures and plushies, and my son can “teach” them to show his understanding of a topic instead of taking a test. In our first months of homeschooling, I didn’t understand why my son couldn’t hear the difference between short vowels and long vowels when he was seated next to me, but he could call them out perfectly when he was jumping in the middle of the room.  Later, I remembered my mom’s mug, and I knew this is what it meant.

When we are in a rut that goes beyond the scope of these smaller modifications, I take a step back to figure out why my child is struggling. Gifted kids are complex kids. Homeschooling one is not easy, and it may require much research when things aren’t going well.

Only a few months into homeschooling, I knew I needed outside help. My son is 2e, or twice-exceptional: gifted with other special needs.  At that point, he had already received an autism and sensory processing disorder diagnosis, but none of the evaluations even touched on the extent of his giftedness. I was struggling to homeschool him because his strengths and weaknesses were extreme. I found an educational diagnostician who had experience with 2e kids. The formal assessments, including IQ and achievement tests, proved to be priceless. This gave me the confidence to do more than modify curriculum.  We needed to move up a few levels… but only in some areas.  I learned how I could accommodate him in areas of weakness without holding him back in others. It would have taken me many painful months to figure this all out on my own.  Another instance when we needed outside help:  my son could read before he turned three years old, but as he was progressing into books with more words per page, he would get upset to the point of tears, saying he was too tired to read after a page or so.  I noticed other issues, too, but I did not know they were related to his reading until I saw parents in gifted groups discussing visual processing disorder.  I recognized many similarities.  After several months of research, I decided a formal evaluation was worthwhile, and sure enough, he was able to benefit from vision therapy. We are in the early stages, but only a few weeks into therapy, he is already starting to read independently again… without me asking him to!  I believe that the more information you have, the better. Yes, gifted kids are asynchronous, but if my gut is telling me there’s more to it than that, I seek professional help and get answers.

While I know that homeschooling is the best fit for my child, that doesn’t mean that I never feel pangs of guilt, worry, or even sadness when I consider the opportunity costs of the choice. When I start to fall into these emotional ruts, what works for me is to stop – just completely stop – and to remind myself of what I truly value, as well as to be grateful for what we do have, instead of worrying about what we do not have. For instance, if I start to worry about what my child will miss out on by not being part of a public school, I remind myself that for every positive aspect of public school that we gave up, we have gained multiple times more on the other side. So, while it’s true that my child isn’t getting to experience the neighborhood kids’ social bond of shared school spirit, he now has an amazing group of friends he met by hanging out at a science discovery center for hours every week during the school day.  Through a gifted homeschool group, he has met friends who he has more in common with, and we have extra time for therapy to support him when he wants help with social challenges.  Another example of an emotional rut involves the loss of my career. Sometimes I daydream about the satisfaction I received in my career: working with peers, career advances, continuing education, and the benefits of increased finances – such as travel and cool new “stuff.” These thoughts can be particularly hard to push aside since this is still the norm for most people in my life. When I was making the decision whether to homeschool or not, one concern was that I would miss my career too much and that I would no longer be marketable when I could return. While discussing pros and cons with my brother, he commented, “No one looks back on their life and regrets spending more time with their kids.” This was powerful to me: I second-guess many of my decisions, but I knew, without any doubts, that this statement would be a guiding truth for me. So, while I might not be booking a European vacation anytime soon, I have been given the gift of time, and I can’t think of anything more valuable to me than that.

Homeschooling my 2e child means that many aspects of my life are not remotely similar to many of my friends’ and family’s lives, or to what I had imagined for my own life. We fall into our fair share of ruts, but we don’t have to stay there if we remember to take ownership of this choice and know that we are in control. We must be flexible and creative and know when to ask for help. Most importantly, we must remember to put our energy into what we value most, and to express gratitude for our blessings.

Oh, and don’t forget your umbrella… you never know when you (or your student) might need it.  🙂

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Our blog is proud to participate in Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hops!  For more tips from other gifted homeschoolers, please visit the February 2017 GHF blog hop.

Why Gifted Education Belongs in Public School

by Emily VR, from a guest post on WeAreGifted2

I am a believer in public school.  Growing up, I attended public school from K – 12.  During law school, I explored the history of educational inequality in the United States, including segregation, desegregation, the risks of tracking, and inadequate school funding.  I believe that each of us has a civic and moral responsibility to support and fund public schools, and that we must actively defend the right of every child to access a free public education.  I believe in diversity in education, and in the critical importance of equal educational opportunity for all populations.

As you can imagine, when I had children, I planned for them to attend public school.  When my older son entered first grade, however, we faced a situation not uncommon for children identified by psychologists as gifted: without significant adjustments, the curriculum did not fit his development.  For him to learn in school, we needed help from our district’s gifted specialists.

When a few family friends learned of his learning levels, some made well-intended comments:

“Public school won’t meet his needs.”

“Public schools have limited resources.  They can’t help kids like him.”  

While this may be the temporary reality in some cases, and especially in states without gifted education laws, I would argue that these statements are offensive:  many parents of children “like him” cannot afford alternatives.

As parents and educators, we must work to shift perspectives.

The decision to pull advanced children from public school is common, particularly in areas with inadequately funded schools.  Resigning ourselves to this practice, however, would reveal a terrible bias:  if we fail to hold public schools responsible for meeting advanced learning needs, we assume that (a) children from low-income backgrounds cannot be advanced learners, or (b) advanced learners from low-income backgrounds somehow have less right to learn than students with average academic development.  Experts know that intellectually advanced children are present in culturally, linguistically, and economically diverse populations.  We need increased research to improve methods of identifying giftedness in underrepresented populations, but in the meantime, we can already identify children in families unable to afford alternatives to public school.

If we permit public education to remain underfunded, and if we excuse schools from serving high-ability students, where does this leave gifted children from diverse backgrounds?

For students with any learning difference, flexible strategies and continued monitoring are often needed.  Luckily for my children, our state has gifted education laws, an advocacy organization for educators and parents, and state recommendations for serving gifted children in diverse populations.  We are lucky to live in a district with dedicated gifted specialists and administrators who work hard to identify and meet gifted needs in all populations.  Not all families are so fortunate.

Unfortunately, some education advocates have criticized gifted programs as elitist, unfairly blaming the concept of gifted education for disparities in school quality.  While any strategy can be misapplied or misused, research supports the need for gifted education:  just as children with learning challenges require different interventions, depending on their difference from the norm, children with extreme, advanced differences need curriculum modifications.  As much as we wish it were simpler, schoolwide approaches, in isolation, may not succeed with some learning differences.  Students with extreme differences – including the ‘gifted’ – exist at all income levels.

To succeed in our commitment to equity and the needs of all students, education advocates must find common ground.  As educators, parents, researchers and lawmakers, we must advocate for improvement in public education as a whole, and we must increase efforts to better identify students with learning differences in diverse populations.  At the same time, we have a duty to advocate for programs, professional development training, and interventions needed for students with all types of special needs and differences – including gifted needs.

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by Emily VR, written as a guest post for WeAreGifted2, the blog of Joy Lawson Davis, Ed.D.   Many thanks to Dr. Davis for permission to repost.  Dr. Davis currently serves on the NAGC Board of Directors and is the published author of several chapters and three books, including her most recent book, Gifted Children Around the World: Diverse Needs, Exemplary Practices and Directions for the Future.

 

This post has been added to the Hoagies Gifted Education Page Blog Hop for March, 2017.  The Fissure Blog is proud to participate in blog hops from Hoagies!  For additional posts about Educational Options, please click on the below image (credit Pamela S. Ryan).

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Being Sam

by Emily VR

In June, filmmaker Ken Burns delivered a powerful commencement address at Stanford University.   Among other words of advice, he urged graduates to serve their country, to “insist that we support science and the arts,” and to be active in solving challenges facing our nation.  After the presidential election, one Stanford graduate wrote Burns to confess regret about her initial negative reaction to his speech, and to ask his advice on moving forward post-election.

Burns told the Washington Post that it took “a while to write her back.”  After the election, he said, he felt like “Frodo in Mordor.”  (For those not familiar with The Lord of the Rings, in the last half of the trilogy, Frodo and his companion, Sam, struggle through enemy territory on a near-hopeless mission to save Middle Earth.)

In your role in education, have you ever felt like Frodo in Mordor?

Perhaps you are the only educator or parent trying to follow best practices for a specific student, or the only person advocating to save, start, or improve a district program.  You may be a teacher, a parent, a school administrator, a lawmaker, or an advocate for public education.  You may feel hopeless in your struggle for adequate funding.  You may feel terrified as you fight against proposals and budget cuts that could strip away any real chance of a decent education for students in low-income neighborhoods, or for students with certain special needs and learning differences.

How do you cope with seemingly impossible challenges in the field of education?

Burns responded with advice that can help in many situations, regardless of political beliefs or affiliation, whenever we feel overwhelmed and hopeless.  He encouraged the writer to seek engagement and to start with “awareness and commitment.”  He said: “go forward. Engage. Don’t despair. Find likeminded people — not from your social circle, but everywhere.”

In other words:  look for others who feel like Frodo in Mordor, and become Sam.

In Tolkien’s trilogy, Sam is not always treated with respect, including by Frodo.  Being Sam is not a glamorous job, and Sam is not praised in any minstrel’s song.  Readers don’t often see Sam as the hero of the story – yet more than once, the fate of all Middle Earth rests in his hands.

Sam never seeks glory or recognition, and throughout the tale, he follows his convictions.  It is Sam who chooses to trust and befriend Tom Bombadil and Faramir, saving the quest.  In their most difficult moments, Frodo and Sam face impossible challenges alone – yet they go forward, and they find unexpected allies.  They support one another, and ultimately, they prevail.  Sam does what is needed to further the mission.  He always helps, he works harder than anyone, he keeps going, and he creates the companionship he and Frodo need to survive.  At times, Frodo despairs, but Sam does not give up – and in his loyalty, honesty, creativity, bravery, and determination, Sam discovers that he is stronger than anyone realized.

Not all of us have the resources or connections to be the warrior-king Aragorn – at least, not in every situation, or not yet – but all of us can be Sam, at any time.

At first, you may not see like-minded educators or parents in your neighborhood, in your class, or even in your school district.  They exist.  Keep looking until you find them.  You can collaborate with those who face different challenges but who share your values and ultimate goals. If you search, you may find that reputable organizations are already working to overcome the obstacles you now face.  (Please note that if you are unable to move past despair even with support, professionals and organizations such as NAMI are eager to help – and please feel no shame in being one of the 1 in 5 adults who needs mental health support in any given year.)

Children, too, can face isolation, heartbreaking challenges, and anxiety about the future – and as adults, we struggle to help them cope.  While professional help or therapy is sometimes needed, some adult coping strategies also work for children.  To help existential depression at any age, Psychologist James Webb recommends: “getting involved in causes they believe in is the best remedy to combat feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and questions of life meaning” (Webb, 2013).

Do you know a student who feels alone in her struggles, her worries about the world, her commitment to honesty and truth, or her search for support?  Sam Gamgee might be the literary hero he or she needs to meet.

It is not an easy time to be an educator or a parent.  In our current post-truth reality, as we fight for science, struggle to find reliable news, and weather new attacks on the public education we desperately need for global survival, we need one another.

Whatever role you play in education, small or large, please continue to engage.  Follow the advice of Burns, Webb, and countless others, and do not give up.  For the sake of our children, do not become resigned.

When you need help, reach out.  You are not alone.  We may be in Mordor, but hope is not lost.

We can all be Sam.

 

References

Webb, James T. (2013).  Searching for meaning: idealism, bright minds, disillusionment and hope.  Tucson, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Stanford University News (2016).  Prepared text of the 2016 Stanford Commencement address by Ken Burns.  http://news.stanford.edu/2016/06/12/prepared-text-2016-stanford-commencement-address-ken-burns/

“Post-truth.” The Oxford English Dictionary, OED Online.  Oxford University Press, Dec. 16, 2016.  https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/post-truth

Rosenberg, Alyssa (2016).  A student asked Ken Burns what to do in Trump’s America. He gave her this advice.  The Washington Post, Dec. 15, 2016.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/act-four/wp/2016/12/15/a-student-asked-ken-burns-what-to-do-in-trumps-america-he-gave-her-this-advice/

For an excellent post about discussing climate change with children, please see the EcoScienceGirl blog.

Thank you to Laurie Stein for bringing NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) to the attention of parents and professionals in the DFW area.

5 Lessons for Teachers and Parents from Adam Grant’s Originals [Infographic]

by Ben Koch

Adam Grant’s book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World is a fascinating exploration of the often counter-intuitive principles and practices that drive the world-changers among us. It provides a rich trove of insights for those in business and industry seeking an innovative edge, as well as those in the arts and sciences looking for breakthroughs or pathways toward new paradigms.

As an educator who works with FUTURE world-changers across all industries, I read it with a slightly different filter. I asked myself, “What from this chapter could I tell a teacher at next week’s training or a parent at my next workshop that could help shape tomorrow’s originals?”

In all honesty, my first list was way too long for an infographic. Choosing these 5 concepts feels like a betrayal to the dozen or so I left out, but my hope is they’ll be surprising and impactful enough to prompt you to read it yourself!

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