Reigniting Math: Connections Over Corrections and the Embrace of Wonderment

by Ben Koch

Easily, the most successful course I’ve developed over the last few years is one called Mathacadabra: The Magic of Math*. In it, students trace the mythological magic square from ancient China to Ben Franklin, use Fibonacci and the Golden Ratio to see if they’d have cut it as an Olympian supermodel in ancient Greece, test their common-sense view of reality with topology and the Moebius strip, and learn all order of mental math agilities, including an exploration of the “memory palace” method espoused by both Sherlock Holmes and U.S. memory champion Ron White. Bear with me…this post is not a bragfest on my curriculum writing skills. Rather, I’m hoping my passion and enthusiasm for this Math-based content is coming across clearly, because I need to contrast it with its stark opposite: my past self.

Were there a magic thread I could trace back through time, perhaps I could identify that moment, or at least a cascade of micro-moments, when I broke from Math and began to identify it–at least subconsciously–in the same life category as “Novocaine shots into my gums” and “soggy green beans.” As a young boy with the “gifted” label and some of the learning opportunities that entailed, I had consistent opportunities to embrace Math, to see beyond its facade of empty numerals and operations. But somewhere along the way, I’d failed to connect Math to my already voracious curiosity about things like the composition of the rings of Saturn, the concept of infinity, the physics of black holes, or even my obsession with LEGO construction and fascination with breaking new speed records on my Big Wheel.

“I’m not a math person.” As Mindset author Carol Dweck has highlighted, this phrasing and self-conceptualization can become a misguided badge of honor. But it isn’t only struggling students who create such a shield to protect themselves from the perceived slings and arrows of the most taken-for-granted of our core subjects. Over the years, I’ve seen that our brightest students are just as likely to see math as the dark cloud of their school day, to be endured like a perfectly timed and predictable bout of bad weather.

For me, that disconnect persisted well into adulthood, driving me as deep into the refuge of the humanities as possible, where I pleaded for sanctuary from the cold, heartless reach of Math at the feet of Keats, and Steinbeck and an entire lineage of poets and philosophers who seemed to share my seething resentment for the dark art of repetition and red-marked worksheets. Instead of seeing Math as a layer to my understanding of the world, I’d come to associate it with a tedious attention to a circular system of numerals and symbols with no real connection to things beyond its oppressive logic. I wish I could say that revolutions in Math education have identified, diagnosed and bridged this chasm, but I’m afraid this Math disconnect is prevalent and will continue for many otherwise highly curious and bright young students. The problem, in essence, is that rather than embracing the origin of curiosity in the arts and humanities, most Math curriculum takes the pretentious stand that it legitimately exists in isolation of the arts, as a final and authoritative anchor of STEM. If you don’t want to lose more students like me to the S.S.M.H.E.M (Secret Society of Math-Hating English Majors), here’s what we must do: broaden our conceptualization of “Math” to include, and in fact begin from, the intersection of the world and our sense of wonderment about it.

This approach to Math, which I call “Connections Over Corrections” for its ability to incite curiosity and deepen our appreciation of an interconnected universe of beings, objects, and ideas, has a couple simple premises:

Allow Math to arise organically in an environment of open, passion-based inquiry, not in isolation:
Drill and kill approaches to math create a false, insular understanding that mastering math for math’s sake is some kind of academic achievement. Math mastery is an achievement only when used as a tool for more holistic goals: solving an engineering problem, coordinating angles and lines in a wall-sized mural, calculating imperceptible light shifts in the hunt for exoplanets. Don’t worry, no one is denying there’s a basic foundation of math concepts and skills to be grasped and even mastered–heck, there’s even a place for flash cards! But when the next skill to be learned and mastered arises organically out of the problem at hand, CONNECTION is inevitable, and a long-term grasp of why that skill is important is encouraged.

Emphasize Math as yet another LANGUAGE with which to understand phenomena, not a “pure” reductionist explanation stipped of all mystery:
The Math of my childhood classroom, especially in secondary school, came across as the antithesis to my unnatural passion for poetry. If someone had shown me the interaction between Math and Poetry (“Hey, let’s try a Fibonacci sonnet!”), perhaps that would have provided an opening just wide enough to let Math back in.

While developing a growth mindset can play a huge role in encouraging and re-engaging “lost” or reluctant mathematicians, I argue there is a more powerful (and much more challenging) approach. Let’s leave space in our curriculum for organic connections to reinforce curiosity and drive problem solving, and allow wonderment – raw, childlike amazement with the universe – be the fuel that energizes, and ultimately reignites, our learning of math.


 

We are proud this post is part of the March Math Blog Hop on Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page!

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Blog Hop graphic by Pamela S Ryan – click above for more Blog Hop posts!


 

*Mathacadabra: The Magic of Math course title and syllabus are the intellectual property of NuMinds Enrichment.

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“Poke the Box”: Inviting Students to Wonder and Initiate

by Ben Koch

In his 2011 book, Poke the Box: What was the Last Time You Did Something for the First Time?, prolific marketing and business expert Seth Godin implores us to reclaim the curiosity that drives INITIATION. Simply put, initiation is the will, the habit, the discipline, and the audacity of starting things. New things. Risky, untested things with a pretty good chance of failure. His metaphor of “poking the box” invokes that unique mix of boldness and insatiable wonder that drives the doers of the new economy. When you poke the box, you are curious enough to want to manipulate, analyze, and maybe even reverse engineer it, despite the high risk of failure. How’s that thing work?! This, says Godin, is the true path to innovation.

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Click to view book on Amazon.

While the book invigorated and inspired the entrepreneur in me, it was the educator and parent in me who began to mentally overlay Godin’s vision onto the world of schools and classrooms. I asked: are there not just opportunities, but in fact invitations to “poke the box” in the learning environments we create for students?

I asked: are there not just opportunities, but in fact invitations to “poke the box” in the learning environments we create for students?

Poking the box is so crucial, asserts Godin, because “without the ability to instigate and experiment, you are stuck, adrift, waiting to be shoved” (p.4). Hmmm. I think back to the hundreds of classrooms I’ve seen, and I realize I’d never thought of the classroom environment in quite that metaphorical light–how is a classroom that values compliance and linear, pre-ordained objectives like a BULLY that shoves students into submission?

Godin frames this desire to initiate in terms of types of capital. There can be financial, network, intellectual, physical, and prestige capital, for instance. All crucial to some degree for success. The most important capital, though, the one difference-maker, says Godin, is Instigation Capital: The desire to move forward. The ability and the guts to say yes. “The ability and the guts.” I like that his definition includes guts, because guts imply courage, and courage implies risk. Are our learning environments creating students willing to take risks? Because that’s the key stepping stone, the primal ingredient for developing students into adults who later possess instigation capital.

If set expectations and the fear of failure are the gravity that keep us in an orbit of the familiar, than I like to think of curiosity as the one force strong enough to break us free from that orbit. The rocket fuel to leave the atmosphere of Planet Status Quo. Indeed, in his mini chapter Where Did Curious Go? Godin laments the fade of true, insatiable curiosity, that hungry, hellbent drive to just KNOW: “Not the search for the right answer, as much as an insatiable desire to understand how something works and how it might work better.” (p. 24). He’s careful, though, to distinguish between the merely creative person, and the person with initiative: “The difference is that the creative person is satisfied once he sees how it’s done. The initiator won’t rest until he does it” (p. 24).

In the context of the business world, Godin highlights the contrast between that which is  “allowed and not-allowed.” Invariably, employees can rattle off a running list of what’s not allowed at work. But who knows what IS allowed? Why not focus on that, on the realm of the possible? Godin feels we “might be afraid of how much freedom we actually have, and how much we’re expected to do with that freedom.” (p. 37) I immediately applied this filter on the classroom. Pick a random student and ask her to list off all the rules of what not to do to avoid getting in trouble. Now ask the same student what IS allowed. She’s likely to give you a most befuddled look. Classrooms are about constriction and control, not about expansion and possibility.

If set expectations and the fear of failure are the gravity that keep us in an orbit of the familiar, than I like to think of curiosity as the one force strong enough to break us free from that orbit. The rocket fuel to leave the atmosphere of Planet Status Quo.

Three years ago, after over a decade in the public school classroom, I walked away to launch my own education company with a friend and business partner. I didn’t have the vocabulary to articulate it at the time, but looking back now, I see the classroom as a box, slowly but surely becoming a hermetically sealed cube, not to be tampered with. The quest for correct answers driven by high-stakes testing has created a system which values conformity and douses curiosity like a dangerous torch. By upper elementary, most students have complacently accepted the “A, B, C or D world” and stopped wondering about the off-the-page option, let alone how to initiate it.

So, through our company, we started poking all kinds of boxes, seeing what OTHER ways we could enrich the students who needed it most. What types of programs and curriculum and learning environments, when “unshackled” from the constraints of mainstream schooling objectives, really work? Turns out, having the freedom, the curiosity, and the guts, to see education with new eyes, as a system to POKE, has been extremely fruitful.

Well, here are 4 well-wrought and tested pieces of experience-wisdom from these last 3 years of creating “alternative” learning spaces. Am I sharing these to get your kid into one of our programs? While that would be swell, my real motive for sharing is because I sincerely believe these lessons can be applied in virtually any learning environment. Whether you’re a radical unschooler or still teaching in a traditional classroom, there are degrees to which the following can spark up your learning environment to increase initiation capital for your students:

1 Create Mixed-age Learning Interactions

Research on asynchronous development tells us the arbitrary “date of birth” metaphorically stamped on your gifted child’s behind might just be the least important thing to consider (watch a thought-provoking animation of this from Sir. Ken Robinson’s Changing Paradigms talk), and yet our entire industrialized school system hardly wavers from that one organizing principle. We thought, “well, they say intellectual peers are key for gifted kids, so let’s open up the environment to let those connections happen organically.” Nearly all our programs, from our flagship summer camp to our after school enrichment courses, are mixed age, open to grades 1-8. Parents are encouraged to let students gravitate to a course based on their passion. Because where there’s passion, there’s curiosity, and where there’s curiosity, there’s…you guessed it, the drive to initiate!

2 Take Leaps of Failure

Some of the greatest moments of discovery over the last 3 years have taken place when I, as the teacher, stood at the brink of an unknown step right alongside a student. “Will this work? I don’t know! What’s gonna happen? No idea. But is it right? Who cares?!” True, sometimes these mystery steps ended up as face plants onto academic concrete. But many times these moments of unknowing revealed wildly unforeseen solutions and pathways that, had I been the “expert,” we never would have facilitated. Our notion of teacher as “sage on the stage” was so exploded, in fact, that we had to invent a new term to describe our role with students: inspirator. Part educator, part inspirer. An inspirator drives ahead with the same curiosity of his student, and willingly takes leaps of failure.

3 Remove the Burden of Grades

We create academically rigorous, interdisciplinary courses designed to push kids through their zone of proximal development. This ain’t fluff, folks. And we’ve never offered a single numerical/letter grade. Yet students carry through to the very end, digging deep, creating elaborate final projects, and beaming with excitement for the “next step.” How do we do it? Why do students even care? Turns out there’s life after the carrot and stick! Remember when you were 6 and you spent 5 solid hours building a LEGO universe, because your whole being was invested in it? When students meet authentic, passion-driven curriculum that aligns with their own curiosity, there’s a chemical reaction of which the by-product is intrinsic motivation. It’s a thing! And no it can’t be bottled!

4 Embrace Creative Play

Many of our programs are based on the concept of creative play–that students “open up their minds to what’s possible, take chances, solve problems, collaborate and become better creative thinkers and doers” (see the Imagination Foundation).

One event, for example, is inspired by the remarkable story of Caine, the (then) 9 year old boy who transformed his dad’s parts shop into a “maker” arcade of cardboard, tape, and trinkets. I’m still overcome with emotion every time I see it. We host an annual event (like many others around the world with the encouragement of the Imagination Foundation) called the Cardboard Challenge, in which students show up and are presented with one simple challenge: “Here’s a bunch of random stuff, mostly cardboard. By the end of the day, we need a functioning arcade game. Go!” In the beginning, we worried about perception. Would parents see value in this? On the surface it appears loose and unstructured–few see the hours and hours of prep that had gone into creating this open learning environment. Then, at that first event, we saw magic happen. Real, intense, mind-bending alchemy of extraordinary imagination, creativity and problem solving. By not placing boundaries with expectations, young INITIATORS searched for their own boundaries. My first thought, to be honest, was lamentation over the years of wasted opportunities in my classrooms when I’d had too little faith in the organic power of creative play.

You don’t have to be a zany “edupreneneur” like us to approach your gifted students’ learning in this way. Wherever you are–a homeschooling mom, a Middle School principal, a 3rd grade public school teacher–poke that box! Initiate a new learning situation. See what happens.

References

Godin, S. (2011). Poke the box: When was the last time you did something for the first time? Irvington, N.Y.?: Portfolio/Penguin.

We are proud to include this post in the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum blog hop!

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5 Apps to Declutter Your Mind and Open Up Creative Headspace

by Ben Koch

In my role as an enrichment specialist (one of many hats I wear as Co-Founder of NuMinds), I’m often called upon to help guide the mind of a brilliant but scattered student who just might solve the enigma of unified field theory, crank out a cure for cancer, or even crack the Beale Cipher by breakfast if only he could manage some of the basics of self-management and organization to extract some of that gold from a scattered, overwhelmed mind. Ironically, even with the power of 10 personal assistants at their fingertips, most digital natives have not even begun to tap the organizing power of smart technology in order to declutter their minds and open up space for creative productivity.

Instead, it seems us GenXers (OK, with some help from Millennials) who straddle the paper and digital ages have best learned to transfer the productivity tools of an earlier era into the reign of the smart phone. This is just a philosophical side note, but could it be that productivity apps are easier for paper natives to connect with because the analogs are meaningful? For example, the concept of the “To Do” list presupposes its paper and pencil forebearer. When you don’t have that concept to transfer into its digital equivalent, why WOULD it be intuitive? This is not a lamentation, just a recognition that new, more indigenous forms will emerge from the tech era.

But in the meantime…when I am coaching students in getting a grip on organization in order to increase productivity and performance, one of my first steps is to see what type of tech intervention from currently available apps might be effective and appropriate. Each of the apps below is a piece of the toolkit. Some stick and are life-changers, some just eat up precious megabytes that could be holding pics. Either way, they’re free, at your fingertips, and worth a try. The technical literacy of your child/student will determine how well each app will fly. Oh, and nothing is stopping YOU from taking it up a notch either. Yes, this list is just the tip of the iceberg. How could one guy possibly capture all the productivity apps in one blog post? My filter here is these are ALL apps I use personally and can confidently recommend to students in the appropriate circumstances. I strongly encourage other recommendations and insights in the comments. (For those REALLY wanting to crank up productivity, see the list of apps used by “4-Hour Work Week” author Tim Ferris.)


 

  • WunderlistWunderlist
    Wunderlist is a “To-Do” list on steroids! You can create multiple lists with sub-items, notes, attachments and due dates. Star priority items and set up notifications on your device on specific due dates. From a parenting point of view, lists can be SHARED and it’s easy to track the progress of tasks and projects.


  • EvernoteEvernote
    Ever wish you had a vast, searchable, personal database? Evernote can do that. Create “notes” that document anything you need to save/remember: photos, links, files, and more. Then sort the notes into notebooks and tag them up with categories and labels. For students, this is an excellent way to organize notes and information across various classes and subjects.


  • RewireRewire-Androtrends-2
    Based on the philosophy that new habits are formed from “streaks,” Rewire allows you to create habits and track them day to day. Define goals by category and personalize to your weekly schedule, then start tracking.


     

  • Goodreads
    A dream app for the super reader in your life. Create your own virtual goodreadsbookshelf and start rating every book you read/have read. Based on your ratings, Goodreads will recommend other books you might enjoy. You can also connect with “friends” and follow loved authors, tag books on your “to read” list, and give/receive recommendations to/from friends. Never dip into existential depression again whilst browsing at the bookstore (is that just me?). Have your Goodreads app open and scan in those books to your future reading list.


  • Moodmetermzl.yzodvmhd.512x512-75
    A stunningly visual interface allows you to log mood based on some simple parameters, then focus in on an appropriate descriptor. Builds emotional intelligence by developing self-awareness and an emotional vocabulary.


I feel compelled to add a note of counterbalance here. Lest I give the impression that I believe “success” is a desperate search for shortcuts and lifehacks enabled by technology, I want to emphasize the importance of simple, long-term determination and the satisfaction that often comes from taking the long road. Nowhere is this better articulated than by ultra-athlete Rich Roll in his admonition to invest in the journey. But if a few apps at your fingertips can clear distractions from that long road, they just might be invaluable travel companions.

Uncharted Territory: Early Milestones and Educational Planning

by Emily VR

When parents watch developmental milestones, they usually think about delays.  If a baby seems to be on track, or even hits milestones early, parents breathe a sigh of relief.  One less thing to worry about… right?

Imagine, for a moment, that parenting books carried the following warning:

If your child reaches milestones significantly ahead of schedule, contact your pediatrician for a referral.  Some early milestones may be normal, but they may also be signs of a condition known as “giftedness,” which can cause educational and emotional challenges if not addressed.  If identified early, accommodations may increase chances of optimal development, and may decrease risks of negative outcomes.    

How might our views of education change?

Not all experts agree on how to define or measure giftedness, but a number of psychologists have studied early signs of advanced development.  In Deborah Ruf’s book, 5 Levels of Gifted, characteristics are provided for each level, including some signs thought to be present shortly after birth.  For example, before school entry, children in levels two and three were found to demonstrate strong memories, advanced vocabulary, and comprehension significantly ahead of typically developing children (Ruf, D. L., 2009).  There is disagreement on the reliability of IQ testing in preschoolers and in diverse populations, but in general, most experts in the field seem to agree that children later identified as gifted demonstrate early signs of advanced, rapid development.  Unfortunately, according to child development theories still taught when many classroom teachers received their degrees, toddlers and preschoolers were said to be incapable of grasping some of the advanced concepts now known to be demonstrated by gifted children — and few if any exceptions were noted (example: Berk, L. E., 1989).

Today, for those parents who notice early differences and know what to research, no shortage of material exists. Risks from the fictional warning above are cited in numerous sources. Still, this information does not always reach mainstream books or training for the people on the front lines, often unaware of what they are missing: the majority of parents and teachers.

What happens when young children with unusually advanced cognitive development enter school?  Teachers without support and training can have a difficult time keeping these students busy and learning. Some gifted education experts, in fact, consider young gifted children to be a special population needing identification and assistance (Karnes, F. A. & Stephens, K. R., 2008). Meanwhile, parents coping with unusual development and intensity (another characteristic of giftedness) may have already searched frantically through child developmental books, such as this resource (otherwise excellent!), without answers:

AAP Book
  one of the author’s oft-used reference books 

To further complicate matters, gifted-identified children often exhibit asynchronous development:  the same 6-year-old who likes division and reads 4th grade chapter books may struggle with writing.  She may also wear out her parents with typical 6-year-old behavior.  In school, many gifted children do not thrive when faced with lessons a year or more below their level.  At best, they may fail to develop skills needed for future challenges – at worst, they can disengage and develop negative coping strategies, confusing parents and teachers.

Awareness of potential ability/curriculum mismatch can better prepare parents and teachers to find solutions.  In states where gifted services can vary significantly between districts or schools, early awareness can help parents make better informed school choices.  Since advanced development exists in all populations, and since care must be taken to avoid missed identification in diverse populations, all teachers of young children need awareness to identify needs.

In states with large classes and inadequate school funding, educators must triage.  Federal requirements help protect students with identified disabilities, but students with advanced, asynchronous development receive few to no accommodations in some states.  Researchers have repeatedly demonstrated that contrary to popular myth, these students will not “be fine” on their own, and without intervention, face increased risks during their teen years.

The needs of children with all learning differences must be taken seriously.  Just as we must provide an environment in which children with disabilities can learn, we need better access to information about preventing typical problems faced by young children with advanced development.  Twice-exceptional children have both advanced development and an area of disability, and they suffer when either area is overlooked.

From a parenting perspective, whether a child is exhibiting advanced development or developmental delays, identifying and supporting a child’s unique strengths is critical for self-esteem and motivation.

Looking beyond IQ:  how might early identification of additional abilities benefit parents and teachers of all children?  Psychologist Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences includes strengths in a wide range of areas:  linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalist, and existential (Karnes & Stephens, 2008).  Parents may discover and develop some talents without having heard of Gardner – and most experts agree that preschool children need play more than anything else – but when children do enter school, better awareness of strengths can help educators keep students engaged.

Children with advanced development are found in all populations, and public school is the only option for many families.  For all children to receive a free, appropriate public education, we must embrace differences which can be identified before school entry.  To avoid gaps in meeting needs, parents and teachers must know what to watch for, which strategies should be used, what might go wrong, and where to get help.  Information about both strengths and needs can be used in supporting and developing the individual abilities of all students, regardless of academic aptitude.

If we can better equip parents and teachers, we can better identify learning differences in all students. When we see the world through the eyes of students — including students with differences — we can better reach and inspire all children.

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We are proud this post is part of the Ages and Stages Blog Hop on Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page!

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Author note:  This discussion is not in any way intended to make light of struggles faced by parents of children with special needs, the experiences of parents investigating milestone delays, or the continuing need for improvement in services for children with disabilities.  My hope is that increasing numbers of advocates for gifted education will include Special Education and learning disabilities in their efforts. Working together, I believe we can improve the education of all children with differences.

Sources and Further Reading

The nonprofit SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) offers publications and brochures designed to raise awareness about advanced development needs.  Several are free for download or order, and can be provided to pediatricians or schools:  http://sengifted.org/resources/seng-publications

Farmer, D. (1996).  Parenting Gifted Preschoolers.  Agustega Information Services:  Davidson Institute for Talent Development.  Retrieved from http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10106.aspx

Francis A. Karnes Center for Gifted Studies (2015).  Gifted Preschooler.  Retrieved from  https://www.usm.edu/karnes-gifted/gifted-preschooler

Gardner, H. (2011).  Multiple Intelligences (web). Retrieved from http://howardgardner.com/multiple-intelligences/  

Karnes, F. A. and Stephens, K. R. (2008).  Achieving Excellence: Educating the Gifted and Talented. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson.

Neville, C. S., Piechowsky, M. and Tolan, S.  (2013). Off the Charts: Asynchrony and the Gifted Child.  Unionville: New York.

Renzulli, J. S. (2002).  Giftedness and High School Dropouts:  Personal, Family, and School-related Factors.  The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented: University of Connecticut.  Retrieved from http://www.gifted.uconn.edu/nrcgt/reports/rm02168/rm02168.pdf

Ruf, D. L. (2009).  5 Levels of Gifted.  Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Ruf, D. L. (2009).  Preschool Behaviors in Gifted Children.  Minnesota Council for the Gifted and Talented.  Retrieved from http://mcgt.net/preschool-behaviors-in-gifted-children

Shelov, S. P. and Altmann, T. R. (2009).  Caring For Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5, Fifth Edition.  American Academy of Pediatrics: Bantam Books.

Berk, L. E. (1989).  Child Development, Fourth Edition.  Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Ode to a Rush-Free Childhood

by Pia K. Ruda

As parents, we are constantly playing catch up in several fields at once, trying to keep up with the others. Almost two months before the new school year started, I was already too late to sign up for library duty at my son’s school.  More efficient and organized parents had taken the shifts, on the first day of sign ups.  To get the optimal time slots for piano lessons, tennis, or art classes, you have to be on it.  I am an outcast in this game.  In fact, I am growing to celebrate it.

I’ve seen many kids pushed into too many activities by perky parents, but especially by parents of endlessly curious, high ability children (code for gifted).  These parents sigh that their offspring is “just so interested in everything.”  They say that their kids insist on being a part of all those activities.  Gifted children do often have natural abilities in several areas:  sports, acting, music, or art, to name a few. Luckily, many fields can be explored in unstructured ways that do not require long-term commitments.  A pursuit does not always have to give your child a certificate of achievement or a medal at the end.  

Luckily, many fields can be explored in unstructured ways that do not require long-term commitments.  A pursuit does not always have to give your child a certificate of achievement or a medal at the end.

Choosing the rush-free path can be especially hard with the multi-talented gifted child. What if he could be the next big thing in something that we rule out?  What if he misses out, if he doesn’t reach his potential?  Well, then, I guess we will never find out – and I choose to take comfort in that.  I believe that true passions are not so easily silenced, and that they will thrive even in less optimal conditions.  I believe that they will grow, much like resistant wildflowers between the rocks, without all that top-of-the-line fertilizer and weeding.  Boredom makes healthy wrinkles and cracks in our kids’ perfect lives.  Through those cracks, creativity and new ideas flourish.

I believe that they will grow, much like resistant wildflowers between the rocks, without all that top-of-the-line fertilizer and weeding.  Boredom makes healthy wrinkles and cracks in our kids’ perfect lives.  Through those cracks, creativity and new ideas flourish.

Having moved to the U.S. a little over a decade ago, it has been interesting to observe parental roles and expectations in this country.  Here, filling a child’s life with as many structured activities as possible seems to be one of the key measuring sticks of successful parenting.  Families aim for perfectly planned and balanced schedules with a great variety of activities.  These tightly packed days start in toddlerhood.  I remember watching my boys’ classmates getting hastily transported to activities after Pre-K, shoving down a snack in the car.   They ran to karate, ballet, violin, baseball, art, or gymnastics – a different activity each day.   “You want them exposed,” parents would say.  “You want to give them all these choices.  You don’t want them to miss out.”

But what if they miss out on their own childhood?

A gifted child, especially one with the perfectionism monster lurking on his shoulder, can get anxious with the pressures and demands. Some gifted kids base their self-worth on their achievements, on what they measurably do.  Especially for these children, it can be beneficial to consciously shift the focus towards celebrating learning itself.  They need awareness of their own discoveries, their new connections and thoughts, and the feelings found within themselves, through the exploration of a new field. In order to give room for character development, I firmly believe in allowing our children breathing room.  They need space to discover who they are, and what is truly important to them.  They need unstructured time, to discover their inner world, without too much push-and-pull and direction.  

Social-emotional growth and well-being need both time and space.

Cultural reflection is where I spend a lot of my own time.  From my perspective, I see this game – scheduling and programming our children and youth – in the revealing Arctic light.  In my native country, little Finland, things are different.  We have no school sports teams, no cheerleaders, and no prom queens or kings.  In Finland, college admissions are solely based on academic success in high school, as well as subject specific entry exams.  As a result, the kids are not required to have inhumane numbers of recorded achievements from a variety of extracurricular activities.  In Finland, kids spend their afternoons playing, with a hobby of their choice, or sometimes just getting bored.

We Finns are a nation of complete slacker parents compared to the U.S. – yet Finland has gained positive publicity over the past years, shining at the top of international comparisons of learning results. Critical thinking is valued high.  You can’t analyze if you are over-scheduled – with too little time, you just take information in, without digesting it.  I see the rush-free childhood as a right, much like recess and school lunches.  These are children’s rights, not privileges.  For me, this is closely linked to “instinct parenting,” which gives the parents the right to follow their own safe instincts when parenting their own children, instead of religiously following the manual of the moment.

We Finns are a nation of complete slacker parents compared to the U.S. – yet Finland has gained positive publicity over the past years, shining at the top of international comparisons of learning results. Critical thinking is valued high.  You can’t analyze if you are over-scheduled – with too little time, you just take information in, without digesting it.

So, I’ve decided it is just fine not keeping up with it all, and I think we’re still going to be just fine in the end.  I have never heard an adult complain bitterly that he had too much time to play as a kid, or that he spent too many hours reading books and riding his bike.  I have, however, heard bitter adults share memories of parents making them play a certain sport, or practice an instrument for which they themselves felt no passion.  

Yes, my boys are missing out on so many activities in which they could potentially shine.  But I would rather have them not miss out on their own childhood.  I want to give them space to find themselves, and not force-feed the ingredients of the ideal overachiever. That is where my priority lies. With the long American school days, and excessive amounts of homework, it is hard — but I try to give my sons the leading parts in their childhoods. Now is the time, for there won’t be any dress rehearsals.

Gifted 101: The 6 Gifted Profiles

Help for both parents and teachers — free parent resources also below!

by Emily VR

The situation:  It’s the first month of school. You’re a teacher, and your class includes a few gifted-identified children. You’ve worked hard to plan and differentiate your lessons.  All of your students seem engaged, except… one of your gifted students. He’s not doing his work, and you don’t know why. Another of your gifted students won’t attempt challenges – it’s like she’s hiding her ability. One more gifted student shows incredible insight during discussions, but he seems to struggle with reading and writing. (You’re surprised that he qualified for gifted program services.) At least one of your gifted students is wonderful – she gets straight As, and it seems like she doesn’t need anything from you!

Can all of these children be gifted? How do you cope with their mysterious differences?

Thankfully, in 1988, two leaders in gifted education provided some answers for both teachers and parents.  In their “Profiles of the Gifted and Talented,” George Betts and Maureen Neihart identify six profiles of student behaviors, helping adults to better understand student feelings and needs.  A child may fit more than one profile at once, and can change profiles over time, depending on internal and external factors. No profile is limited by gender or family background, though some characteristics can occur more frequently in certain populations.

Let’s examine the profiles and help some students!

Type One: Successful

This student does well in school! She rarely gets in trouble. She may be a perfectionist, and she is “eager for approval from teachers, parents and other adults.” She is sometimes perceived as not needing anything special. If she is not challenged, however, she may learn to put forth minimal effort – and may not learn the skills and attitudes needed for future creativity and autonomy.

Recommendations for Successful-type students include opportunities for challenge, risk-taking, mentorships, and independent learning, as well as time with intellectual peers.

Type Two: Challenging / Creative

This student is creative, stands up for his convictions, and may question rules. If he isn’t challenged and engaged, he can exhibit inconsistent work habits, boredom, and impatience. Teachers may feel frustrated with him, and he can have low self-esteem. If his abilities are not understood and supported, he “may be ‘at risk’ for dropping out of school, ‘drug addiction or delinquent behavior if appropriate interventions are not made by junior high.'”

Creative students need tolerant adults, support for creativity and strengths, placement with appropriate teachers, in-depth studies, and opportunities to build self-esteem. In 2010, Betts and Neihart renamed the “Challenging” profile to “Creative,” reflecting these students’ potential.

Note: Though the curriculum is designed to challenge the majority of students, typical differentiation may not reach levels needed by some gifted students, holding them back in subjects or entire grades.

Type Three: Underground

An “Underground” student may start as Successful, but she later conceals or denies her abilities. Looking for social acceptance, she may drop out of her gifted program, resist challenges, struggle with insecurity, and allow her grades to decline. She may be a middle-school aged girl, may belong to a population facing added obstacles, or could be any student facing pressure not to achieve in school.

Recommendations for this type require balancing. Underground students “should not be permitted to abandon all projects or advanced classes,” but may benefit from permission to take a break from G/T classes. These students need to be “accepted as they are.” Adults can provide alternate ways to meet academic needs, the freedom to make choices, and help with college/career planning.

Type Four: At-Risk

An “At Risk” student may feel angry, resentful, depressed, and/or explosive. He may have a poor self-concept, act out, and have poor attendance, yet he may have interests and strengths outside of school. He may feel “angry with adults and with [himself] because the system has not met [his] needs for many years.” School may feel irrelevant and hostile to him, and he may feel rejected.

Recommendations include individual counseling, family counseling, out-of-classroom learning experiences, mentorships, and a “close working relationship with an adult they can trust.”

Prevention of the “At Risk” profile is one goal of meeting the needs of other profiles, especially the Creative profile.

Type Five: Twice-Exceptional

The Twice-Exceptional (“2e”) student is gifted, but she also has other special needs. She may have a learning disability, autism, a processing disorder, ADHD, or another area of disability. She can feel powerless and frustrated, and may have inconsistent, average, or below-average school work. She often feels confused or upset about her struggles, and others may see only her disabilities, not her strengths.

To avoid low self-esteem and achieve their potential, these students need emphasis on and challenge in their areas of strength.  They also need advocacy from parents and teachers, risk-taking opportunities, and support for their disabilities.

To meet gifted needs, they may further benefit from G/T support groups, opportunities for exploration and investigation, and alternate learning experiences.

Type Six: Autonomous

An Autonomous learner exhibits some Successful characteristics, but instead of performing only the work required, he creates opportunities for himself. Self-directed, independent, and generally confident, this student is able to take appropriate academic risks. He may assume leadership roles, but can also suffer from isolation.

Autonomous learner recommendations include opportunities related to the child’s passions, development of a long-term plan of study, friends of all ages, mentorships, and when possible, removal of time and space restrictions for their studies.

Applying the Profiles

As you can see, it can take detective work to support gifted students!  The Six Profiles can help immediately with:

  • Identifying effective interventions, some of which may be new (an underperforming student might actually need harder work!);
  • Increasing empathy for students’ feelings;
  • Bridging communication gaps in student/teacher and parent/teacher relationships;
  • Avoiding harmful comparisons: if parents and educators view giftedness through a single lens, and if they expect all students to behave in a certain way, they may fail to recognize the abilities and needs of students at risk for negative outcomes.

Other factors can alter student behavior, as well: gifted children can struggle with asynchronous development, overexcitabilities, higher levels of giftedness, and obstacles faced by special populations.

Despite all these differences, gifted students do have needs in common: they need opportunities to pursue interests, challenging work, positive relationships, and understanding from adults.

When we can decode their behavior, we gain respect for students’ feelings and perspectives.  As parents and educators, we can also improve the chances that gifted students will stay in school, continue to love learning, and achieve their potential – our goals for all children.


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Have you found the Six Profiles helpful in your teaching or parenting? Do you have success with other strategies?  We would love to hear from you!

Source of Profiles and quoted text:

Betts, G. and Neihart, M. Profiles of the Gifted and Talented. Davidson Institute for Talent Development. Reprinted from Gifted Child Quarterly, National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) 1988. Web. July 2015. http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10114.aspx

Printer-friendly version: http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_print_id_10114.aspx

The updated 2010 matrix of Profiles and recommendations is available online.

Further information:

NuMinds Enrichment offers Professional Development exploring the Six Profiles in more depth, in addition to information about other gifted needs and teaching strategies. For details on NuMinds professional development for teachers, visit http://numien.com/professional-development/

For a free NuMinds vodcast for parents on using the 6 profiles as a tool to better communicate with teachers, see below:

We are proud this post is part of the Gifted 101 blog hop on Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page!

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A Student Poem to Vindicate Our Mission

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Super Camper and poet Alexa with camp directors Ben Koch (left) and Justin Vawter.

by Ben Koch

As part of our NuMinds gig, Justin and I direct a mixed-age, choice-based summer camp.  And, just like Justin and I don’t quite fit the norm, our camp doesn’t quite fit the mold of your everyday camp (CampPursuit.com).  Not being marketing gurus, we try again and again to articulate what makes it such a unique experience for kids:

“It’s like a mini-university–students choose 4 courses from our course catalog each week, based solely on their passions, NOT on their age!”

Or

“Teachers create and teach super specific inter-disciplinary courses that THEY are passionate about, and that passion becomes contagious.”

Yes, we’ve got some descriptive and detailed marketing copy, but nothing quite captures the essence of our camp experience like the testimonies of the students and parents who have experienced it; especially when that testimony comes in the form of a thoughtful, heartfelt poem.  In her words, she “woke up Monday night after camp and couldn’t go back to sleep.”  She “just started writing this poem.”  At Tuesday morning’s assembly, Alexa shared her poem with her fellow campers, and we now share it with the world as the perfect vindication that our mission for a real, inspired learning experience is being realized.

Here’s Alexa’s poem.

Camp Pursuit

Camp Pursuit is number one

Our day is filled with learning fun

I may have bonked my head a little

But Camp Pursuit’s not skittle dittle

From myths and tests and programming

To Egypt, sculptures, and cooking

Swing on in to learn something new

Your blood’s not red; the sky’s not blue

We’re curious we’re big and smart

Our IQ level’s off the chart

Our creativity is put to the test

At Camp Pursuit we never rest

The young ones are smart; don’t let them fool you,

And probably more creative too

From bar to bar we jump in level

We love to learn, explore, and play

I wish that I could be right here

A little mastermind like devil

I wish I could be here all day

Every hour, week, and year

Now this is the final test

To see who is the very best

And while our numbers just keep blooming

We leave our competition fuming

But although we know they try so hard

So when you need a summer camp

Camp Pursuit’s the number one champ

They miss the cutoff by a yard

PS. Curiosity didn’t kill the cat

It was probably just a rabid rat

Brilliant!  Thank you, Alexa, for sharing your poem.  For more information on Camp Pursuit visit CampPursuit.com.  We run year-round programs and are looking to expand our summer camp to new areas in summer 2016.