Universal Themes and Essential Questions for the Gifted
This is a topic that I keep revisiting because I feel that it is the very essence of gifted education.
Teachers are often accused of delivering curriculum that is not relevant to today’s students. If we teach (or have discussions at home) using universal themes, the material presented does become relevant. By using universal themes, you will provide umbrellas under which details become easier to remember, and give students frameworks of understanding that they can carry with them the rest of their lives.
A universal theme is a timeless, broad, abstract idea that can be used to tie together literary works or to understand broad concepts in history. It is a concept to which all people can relate. It transcends race, gender, and creed.
We learn best when we are able to relate new information to previous experiences and to ideas that are familiar. By teaching universal themes/concepts, we help students better understand their past experiences and form “big ideas” that are transferred to future experiences. Themes give a common reason for students to read many different books, including books on different ability levels, which is excellent for differentiation. Universal themes can be used with any subject, but they are especially suited for literature and social studies.
When working with universal themes, it is important to ask essential questions. Essential questions are open ended (i.e. they do not have a single answer). Instead, the question requires a longer, more involved response and causes the respondent to think and reflect. These cause students to think critically instead of simply looking up answers. Essential questions
provoke deep thought
may not have an answer
encourage critical thinking, not just memorization of facts
require students to draw upon content knowledge and personal experience
Universal Theme: Identity--This theme might be used with a literature unit or while studying ethnic differences in social studies.
Identity might be defined as uniqueness, distinctiveness, individuality, or personality. The identity of a person or group is rarely static, but instead is constantly being changed by internal and external forces.
How do we form our identities?
How does what others think about you affect how you think about yourself?
How is identity shaped by relationships and experiences?
What can you learn about yourself by studying the lives of others?
When should an individual take a stand in opposition to an individual or larger group?
One resource that will help you with these topics is Universal Themes and Generalizations
, from DukeTip. In this pdf file, ten different themes are listed along with sample sub-categories for each of those themes.
You may want to refer to previous posts I have written on the topics of universal themes and essential questions. Some of these previous posts provide examples, demonstrating ways these tools can be used in the classroom. Parents, remember that you can always modify classroom suggestions for your discussions at home. Here are the links to the previous posts.
Teaching Gifted Students to Write Well
The ability to write well is one of the major gateways to a successful education and to career advancement later in life. It is also a tool that helps one sort through and analyze personal thoughts, express oneself effectively, and act as a stress reducer when one is faced with difficult physical and psychological issues in life.
Writing is most effectively developed when it is taught across all subjects—not just those in the field of language arts. Unfortunately, not enough teachers are sufficiently prepared to teach writing.
The National Writing Project (NWP) is one resource filled with ideas and opportunities to remedy this situation. There are currently more than 200 university-based writing project sites that provide high quality professional development and leadership opportunities to more than 100,000 K-16 educators every year. Many NWP sites offer special writing programs for children. For tips on helping children learn to write and how to support good writing instruction in schools, click on the Resources tab at the top of the NWP website. Parents, remember that you can also play an important part in teaching your children to write. You will also find many suggestions in the resources listed at the NWP website.
Mark Overmeyer is one person in the NWP network who I know and greatly respect. I have attended some of his writing workshops, which have been excellent. On Mark Overmeyer’s Blog you will see that he is an excellent writer himself. He has published two books about teaching writing and his blog entries are filled with helpful resources.
The 150th Anniversary of the Civil War
This year ushered in the start of a four-year commemoration of the Civil War’s 150th anniversary. Among some groups, there is still a controversy about whether the war was started because of slavery or state’s rights. This might be a good issue to broach with gifted students. There are some excellent websites to help you when studying the Civil War.
The Civil War: 150 Years
(Part of the National Park Service website)—Includes upcoming events, information on more than 70 parks in the National Park System that have resources related to the history of the Civil War, a database of those who served in the war, news stories from the time, and the history of African Americans in the war.
Civil War 150
(from The History Channel)—Offers an interactive experience that provides interesting information about who fought in the Civil War, weapons that were used, how people died, the five deadliest battles, paying for the war, West Point warriors, and other topics too numerous to list.
Pictures of the Civil War
(from the National Archives)—Photographs of civilians and civilian activities; military personnel, equipment, and activities; and the locations and aftermaths of battles. Because wet-plate collodion negatives required from 5 to 20 seconds exposure, there are no action photographs of the war.
Selected Civil War Photographs
(from the Library of Congress)—1,118 photographs of military personnel, preparations for battle, and battle after-effects.
Using Primary Sources with Gifted Students
In school, most students study history using only secondary sources—articles, reference books, and textbooks—all written at some point after the actual event. Secondary sources tend to interpret or analyze historical events.
Primary sources, on the other hand, were created during the time period being studied. They reflect the individual viewpoint of a participant or observer. Primary sources include autobiographies, diaries, e-mails, interviews, letters, minutes, news film footage, official records, photographs, raw research data, speeches, art, drama, music, novels, poetry, buildings, clothing, DNA, furniture, jewelry, pottery, etc. These sources enable the researcher to get as close as possible to what actually happened during an historical event or time period.
Today, the Internet provides access to a wealth of primary resources. In earlier years, one would have had to travel great distances to various libraries and museums to gain access to this information.
The American Library Association’s Reference and User Services Association has posted an article titled Using Primary Sources on the Web
, which can be used as an exercise in critical thinking
. It provides information on
Finding primary sources
Evaluating primary sources (including, among other things, understanding the purpose of the website and the credentials of the person who created the website)
Citing websites appropriately
Repositories of Primary Resources
contains links to Internet sites for primary sources all over the world. Want to find a digitized photo of a street scene in Colorado in the mid-late 1800s? Do you want to find crime reports for the United States in 1935? Do you want to see an original score written by Beethoven? Do enough searching on this site and you will find this information.
The Library of Congress
is in the process of digitizing many of the important documents in American history. As of the writing of this blog entry, they have posted documents from 1763-1877.
These are just some of the many sources for primary resources on the Internet. For a particular topic of interest to you or your students, do an Internet search using the subject of your search (e.g., Civil War women) plus the words “primary source.”
Looking Ahead to Summer Programs for Gifted Kids
It’s that time of year again to begin planning for summer experiences for your gifted students. For some, that may mean lots of free time at home to play, read, relax, and let minds wander. Others may benefit from a specialized experience at a day camp or an experience far from home. Here are some suggestions for places to begin your search if you’re looking for something outside the home. (Note: These are not program endorsements. You will want to do your own investigations of programs to make certain they fit your needs.)
Some summer programs are general and some are specialized. Examples of focused programs include the study of space, inventions, technology, government, music, film, oceanography, math, archaeology, debate, art, foreign languages, and Shakespeare. Search hard enough and you’re likely to find a specialty to meet every need.
Here are some searchable databases where you can begin to look.
Teaching about Propaganda Techniques—Opening the Door to Critical Thinking
As educators and parents, we should teach students how to think, not what to think. We need to present all sides of issues and encourage debate. Propagandists, on the other hand, build the strongest possible case for their views and discourage discussion. Propaganda appeals to its audience in three ways. It
calls for an action or opinion that it makes seem wise and reasonable.
suggests that the action or opinion is moral and right.
provides a pleasant feeling, such as a sense of importance or of belonging.
is an excellent resource for exploring this subject. Aaron Delwiche, the author of the site, holds a doctorate in communications from the University of Washington and a B.A. in political science from the University of California at Berkeley. He is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at Trinity University.
As Delwiche states, "propaganda can be as blatant as a swastika or as subtle as a joke. Its persuasive techniques are regularly applied by politicians, advertisers, journalists, radio personalities, and others who are interested in influencing human behavior. Propagandistic messages can be used to accomplish positive social ends, as in campaigns to reduce drunk driving, but they are also used to win elections and to sell malt liquor."
Delwiche explains the importance of teaching students about propaganda, presents common propaganda techniques and common fallacies, and provides examples of propaganda in both print and video.
The Oracle Education Foundation
, an online learning platform that helps students develop important 21st century skills, including communication, critical thinking, and technology skills. ThinkQuest houses over 7,000 websites created by students around the world who have participated in a ThinkQuest competition. Several of these student-created websites on propaganda are included in the online ThinkQuest library. Here are two.
What is Propaganda?
—Communication that is meant to persuade or change public opinion. While the word often has a negative connotation, it is not necessarily bad. Propaganda is an attempt to change opinions by persuasively presenting new ones. It is important to recognize propaganda techniques and examine the purpose of the propaganda before making decisions.
—Eleven different techniques are listed and explained. The knowledge of these techniques enables students to analyze print and other media. Understanding the techniques opens the door to critical thinking and the ability to analyze information.
Have students collect advertisements and analyze what, if any, propaganda techniques were used.
Apply propaganda techniques to current political discussions or to a unit in history being studied.
Discuss how the use of technology has affected the use of propaganda.
Have students take a stand on a topic of their choosing. Individually or in small groups, have them create an advertising campaign that uses a set of propaganda techniques.
More Online Resources for Gifted Education
In the past, I have listed many excellent websites that contain compilations of resources for gifted education. Recently, several more have come to my attention.
is created and maintained by Stacia Nicole Garland, a national award-winning teacher who worked with gifted children for 16 years. She includes practical, user-friendly information for both parents and educators as well as a long list of links of "Brainy Games."
While 96 Essential Sites & Blogs for Gifted Homeschoolers
is designed for homeschoolers, it also contains some great websites for children who are more traditionally educated. If you are looking for ideas that support or supplement your student’s interests and abilities, you will find many ideas here. Topics include
Related Gifted Education Web Sites
, from the American Psychological Association has an extensive alphabetical listing of gifted associations, programs, university connections, schools, research organizations, and publications.
Top 10 Gifted Education Blogs
, from OnlineDegrees.org, lists links to the best blogs in gifted education. I’m pleased to say that Prufrock’s Gifted Child Information Blog
is included in the list.
Immigration Studies for Gifted Students
Gifted students will find the controversial and relevant topic of immigration especially interesting. I have tried to find Web sites on the subject that are politically neutral and offer more facts than opinion. These sites are divided into historical immigration and current immigration.
More than 12 million immigrants arrived at Ellis Island in New York Harbor between 1892 and 1954. Now you can hear first-person accounts of their ocean journeys, daily life in their home countries, and experiences at the federal government’s former processing station. Ancestry.com
is a subscription genealogy Web site that contains an incredible amount of information. Some information is free, including more than 1,700 taped interviews with immigrants.
gathers together a multitude of research items. You will want to spend time clicking through the various resources on the left side of the page.
The Urban Institute
offers much statistical information on current immigration, including where immigrants are settling and information about children of immigrants.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
is the official Web site to check when wanting to enter the United States legally. Readers will discover the various ways that a person can enter the U.S. and how the application process works.
Possible Questions for Study
Why do people immigrate to other countries?
What factors are considered when immigrants choose a destination country?
In what ways has immigration been a positive influence?
In what ways has immigration been a negative influence?
How has the view of immigration changed or stayed the same over the years?
Gifted Kids Blogging about Academics
Recently I came across two blogs written by students who are "into" academics. These blogs are fun for others to read and may inspire young people to launch blogs to share their own passions.
Daphne’s Word Blog
is written by a logophile
, a person who loves words. Each entry discusses a word or words that the author finds fascinating.
Ivan’s Number Blog
includes interesting information about number patterns and problems that require time and thought to solve.
Each of these bloggers encourages readers to submit their own words, problems, and solutions.
You may want to use these two blogs with students who have an interest in vocabulary and in math, and/or you may want to use the blogs as examples of what your own young people might create. Students could construct blogs in any area of interest (e.g. The Civil War, butterflies, favorite books, creative writing, fire engines, dinosaurs, kites, careers, famous composers, etc.). Entries may be added as time permits or a routine schedule for posts can be established to encourage self-discipline.
Mentors for Gifted Students
On several other occasions I have written blogs about the virtues of finding mentors for gifted students. See
The importance of mentoring is worth revisiting over and over again. Some students have such esoteric interests that it is only through one-on-one coaching and support that they can get the intellectual nourishment that they need. So I want to bring this academic option to your attention once more with some other links available on the Internet.
Summer Activities to Do at Home
Are you looking for some fun summer activities to do with your kids? Here are some ideas.
—Professor Copper Giloth at the University of Massachusetts Amherst teaches Introduction to Computing in the Fine Arts. She assigns her students the task of illustrating the traditional Aesop's fables alongside their own retellings of the fables in a modern setting. This website showcases their work and can be used in several ways. You and your child can read the fables, you can compare the fables with versions found elsewhere, or you can use the student work as incentive for your children to illustrate stories or poems.
Neuroscience for Kids
—Learn about all aspects of neuroscience in a format that uses helpful graphics. Try the many experiments that make use of games and activities. View questions that have been submitted and then answered by basic and clinical neuroscientists from around the world. Search the numerous links provided, sign up for the free newsletter, and much more.
—Brought to you by the Amateur Entomologists' Society, this website helps the visitor identify bugs, learn about bugs, find out how to care for bugs as pets, and many other interesting things about insects and invertebrates. There is also information on how to become an entomologist.
U.S. Department of the Treasury for Kids
—Here there are links to government websites especially for kids. Links lead to the White House, the U.S. Mint, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the Official Kids' Portal for the U.S. Government, and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
Brain Teasers, Optical Illusions, and Logic Links
—Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page provides a very long list of links that will engage students in mental gymnastics. There are also links for rebuses, wacky wordies, frame games, and visual puns. Enjoy working some of these puzzles as a family.
Teaching Tolerance to the Gifted
We are a nation of many skin colors, religions, types of family units, economic levels, languages, physical and mental abilities, political persuasions, ethnicities, customs, and so forth. It is important that young people learn to understand those who may not look, act, or think the same as they do. That does not mean that they always need to agree with those who are different, but it also doesn’t mean that they should belittle or bully people who are not the same. Instead, kids need to discover what they can learn from one another. By incorporating tolerance at home and at school, we develop environments where young people feel safe and appreciated. We also open up their minds to different cultures and ideas. All of this enhances general learning.
There are some excellent websites that help both parents and educators teach kids tolerance. Here are a few.
Teaching Your Child Tolerance
—Explains to parents why their own discomfort with the subject of tolerance should not get in the way, why tolerance is important, and how it can be taught at home.
—A wealth of information is provided to use with students of all ages. The current featured activity is Discrimination on the Menu
. Discrimination on the Menu
provides lesson plans for grades 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. Discussion questions are challenging and thought provoking for even your brightest students. In other sections of the website, you will find articles from past issues of Teaching Tolerance
magazine, classroom activities, teaching kits, and recommended resources.
RaceBridges for Schools
—This website provides videos, theatre games, lesson plans, and resources that build relationships and promote understanding of many different ethnicities. Be sure and scroll to the bottom of the first page of the website and click on “Other RaceBridges Projects” for even more ideas.
Teachers who are beginning to plan for the next school year will find many community-building activities at these websites. The activities are valuable no matter what your teaching environment may be—regular classroom, gifted classroom, or gifted pullout.
Explore Firefighting with Gifted Kids
Firefighting has always fascinated young children. Firefighters dress in special clothes, ride in special vehicles, and perform unusual tasks. They save people and structures. They are our heroes at a time when there is an absence of heroes. If your child is interested in this subject, there are many ways you can help him or her learn more.
There are firefighter museums all over the country. Do an Internet search for “firefighter museum” in your hometown or any place where you plan to travel. Visit these sites and see if they have any special programs for kids.
Local fire stations often allow visitors to tour the facility, talk with firefighters, and find out what their days look like. Schedule a visit with your young people.
Find out about firefighting worldwide
. How is firefighting managed differently and how do the jobs of firefighters vary in different countries?
has many videos
that you can watch about firefighting. You can search on firefighter training, firefighting tools, forest fire, fire fighting airplanes, and fire boats to name a few. (Notice that firefighting can be spelled as either one or two words, so try both with your searches.) If you have young children, screen the videos to make certain that they are appropriate.
Branch out and think of subjects related to firefighting—clothing, vehicles, tools, types of fires, types of firefighting, famous fires, fire departments, layouts of fire stations, life at a fire station, special training for firefighters, ways to keep your home safe, what to do in case of a fire, ways to put out different types of fires, and how firefighters protect themselves. Brainstorm as many ideas as possible.
Encourage kids to make their own creations focusing on firefighters. Perhaps they could make a book or develop a game to teach others about firefighting. Or, they might draw pictures and write stories.
Entrepreneurship for Gifted, Low-Income Students
Make learning relevant. That’s one of the battle cries of American education today. The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE)
makes education relevant by helping young people from low-income communities build skills and unlock their creativity while emphasizing individuality, initiative, and community. The organization partners with schools and community-based organizations to link the educational and business worlds in the classroom and beyond. NFTE currently has programs in 21 states and 12 countries.This is one of many avenues that has the potential to encourage and allow underprivileged students to demonstrate their otherwise undiscovered gifts.
NFTE was founded in 1987 by Steve Mariotti (a former business executive and entrepreneur) while he was a public high school teacher in New York City’s South Bronx. Mariotti discovered that when low-income youth are given the opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship, their innate “street smarts” easily develop into “academic smarts” and “business smarts.” Through entrepreneurship, youth discover that what they are learning in the classroom is relevant to the real world.
NFTE’s programs teach entrepreneurship using a curriculum, which can be purchased. There are versions for both middle school and high school. The curriculum may be used in a semester- or year-long entrepreneurship course, integrated into an existing course, or used for an after-school program.
Students learn business concepts, practice skills such as negotiation and pricing, and work on plans for their own individual businesses. Business plan competitions are held at local, regional, and national levels. Winning students at the national level receive a trip to the annual awards dinner in New York City and a grant to apply toward their business or college expenses.
BizCamp is a 2-week, intensive entrepreneurship summer program for students, ages 13-18. The day camp includes field trips and guest speakers focused on providing students with a solid understanding of business. At the end of the camp, students compete for cash awards to fund their businesses.
At the NFTE website, you can find information about the organization’s locations and licensed partners. You also can find out how to become involved with the organization or how to start one in your area.
More Online Learning for Gifted Students
Teachers and parents alike often turn to online learning options in order to supplement and/or accelerate gifted students' learning. Does your young person have a strong interest and ability in mathematics, physics, computer programming, literature, writing, history, or foreign language? Does she want to take Advanced Placement (AP) classes that are not offered at her local high school? Or, does your student need a flexible schedule because of family circumstances, work responsibilities, or health issues?
Are you in a school district where your young person’s needs and abilities surpass the available curriculum? Do you homeschool your child, either full-time or part-time, and, as a result, need solid educational resources? Or, do you have a student who doesn't necessarily want to earn credit for extracurricular classes, but instead just wants to expose himself to different topics in order to see if any really interest him? If so, then you may want to introduce your student to the wide range of opportunities available through online learning.
For years, I have been writing about the virtues of distance learning for gifted kids. Over the past few years, the distance learning field has continued to expand. As the technology becomes more sophisticated, many distance learning programs are beginning to use not only computers for their programs, but also everyday technologies, such as cell phones.
Kids are often more comfortable with these technologies than adults. This may be one reason why traditional schools are often unable to adjust to and incorporate these new technologies into the traditional classroom. Adults (both parents and teachers) sometimes lack the expertise that young people have already learned at an early age and use every day. Perhaps it is time for adults to stop fighting these new developments and, instead, embrace them and incorporate them into student learning. Online learning is one good way to start.
If you are interested in learning more about the opportunities available to gifted kids, there is a great deal of information available at the Davidson Institute for Talent Development website and at the Distance Learning Programs page of Hoagies’ Gifted Education website.
Focused Interests for Gifted Kids: One Example
Decades ago, I used to edit an antiques and collectibles tabloid. The publication mainly consisted of interviews with people who studied and collected specialty items. I always was amazed at several things: the items that wound up in these collections, the groups of people who became passionate about their areas of interest, and the amount of information that could be learned from trivia that may have seemed meaningless to the rest of society. One man’s house was filled with bells of all sizes. Another person’s basement was filled with display cases of pencils. Still others collected vintage buttons. Each of these people could cite all kinds of historical facts about his collection. A visit to eBay also will reveal the number of people who collect various items and have special interest items for sale. These are not hoarders. These are people who genuinely get excited about a specialty category and then learn everything they can about it.
Young people also may find areas of specialty and use those as a focus for learning and collecting. Really being able to “get into” a subject builds traits that may transfer to other areas of learning and work in the future. Some of these traits include:
networking with others of like minds,
pride in one’s accomplishments, and
setting and working toward goals.
While there are many hobbies, collections, and special interests from which a child may choose, I will use trains as an example to illustrate my point. As parents and educators, we want to encourage young people to pursue their passions. Here are some possible ways to do that with trains.
Museums: When you’re traveling, take time to visit railroad museums. For a list of railroad museums across the nation and throughout the world, visit RailMuseums.com
Train Stations: Click here
for a list of train stations around the world. Some have historic architectural significance and some are very modern.
Build a Model Railroad: Building one’s own model railroad is a fantastic way to enhance creativity, work on fine motor skills, manage money, learn to read and understand detailed instructions, and plan. Such hobbies often begin in childhood and continue long into adulthood. For learning all about building a model railroad, check out Building Your Model Railroad
Books: Want to learn about the history of trains and railroads and the people who were most influential in creating them? This information will help a student to understand the development of transportation and help put general history in perspective. One also can learn about today’s high-speed trains and commuter systems, the future direction of rail travel, and how that might influence societal trends. For a list of railroad books, go to sites such as RailroadBookstore
Train Clubs and Organizations: Clubs and organizations are a great place to not only learn about your hobby, but also to meet other people with the same interest. Adult members may act as mentors to young people, providing encouragement and expertise. For a list of model railroad clubs, go to RailsUSA
and search by your state.
Take a Ride: Consider a vacation by rail or just a ride downtown on a commuter train. See listings at TrainTraveling
. Search local transportation systems such as light rail, subways, and elevated trains at local public transportation sites.
You can take any subject in which your child shows an interest and brainstorm all of the possible ways to support that interest. You never know where it may ultimately lead. If you need help, e-mail me (see the e-mail link under my biography on the left-hand side of the page). If I think others also may be looking for ways to encourage the same interest in a child, I will use the idea for a blog entry in the future.
Maritime History for Gifted Kids
The study of maritime history is a great vehicle for weaving together an understanding of the history of ships, as well as an understanding of how inventions and discoveries enabled explorers to travel farther and farther from home. It also helps students understand the motivations for explorers to travel to different parts of the world, whether it was for political, economic, or personal reasons. There is excellent information on the Internet that will enable students and teachers to study this subject. Below is just a sampling:
The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia has created an Age of Exploration On-Line Curriculum Guide
. The curriculum guide, which is designed for grades 3-12, addresses maritime discovery from ancient times to Captain Cook's 1768 voyage to the South Pacific. The website includes visual images, text, and materials that can be downloaded or printed for transparencies, presentations, or reports. It also includes lesson plans, vocabulary, links to related websites, and guides to other reference materials.
The National Maritime Historical Society has created a site titled Sea History for Kids
. At this site, you will find a variety of informational pages and activities, including vessel types, the commerce of historical shipping, famous mariners, underwater archaeology, professions and occupations of the sea, the historical stories of kids who went to sea, games, and puzzles.
The BBC presents A History of Navigation
, charting the course of maritime navigation "from the days of rough reckoning to the ground-breaking technological advances of the late 1700s." An animated slide show is used to present the information.
Revisiting Bloom’s Taxonomy for the Gifted
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy was widely used (and often misused) in classrooms. It was misused when educators assumed that if they taught the highest levels on the taxonomy, then all of the needs of the gifted would be addressed. It was also misused when educators assumed that they could jump right to the highest levels, negating the importance of the lower levels. For example, an educator might ask a student to read a book and evaluate the character's actions, but not ask the student to support his or her conclusions with evidence from the book.
Bloom’s Taxonomy was eventually updated, or revised, in 2001.Whether you apply the original version or the revised version, Bloom’s Taxonomy is still a good tool when used appropriately because it encourages higher level thinking skills. Some websites that are helpful when trying to understand and use Bloom’s Taxonomy include:
Bring Speakers (Based on Student Interest) Into Gifted Classrooms
Bringing weekly speakers into the classroom broadens the interests of gifted students and encourages individual passions. It also makes it possible for some students to find an exciting new area of passion. By inviting speakers to your classroom, you will:
expose your students to a wide range of subjects and people,
show them that their interests and ideas are valued, and
help them to begin their career education at an early age.
The classroom is also a much more intimate and valuable setting than a school assembly.
Here are a few examples of speakers that I used at the elementary school level in the Denver, CO, area:
Student interest: Astronomy
Speaker: A female scientist from The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) brought a wonderful slide show on solar flares and explained their many effects to students.
Student interest: Animation
Speaker: The owner of a local animation company brought in a short video about his company, presented some animation production cels, showed the kids how to make flip books using their own animations, talked about jobs in animation, and explained the education that one should have in order to follow a career in animation.
Student interest: Snakes
Speaker: A member of the local herpetological society brought in some live snakes and talked about his own personal interest in the animals, their life habits, and what we should all know and understand about snakes.
Because it can be very time consuming for teachers to find speakers, parents can play a vital role with the teacher's guidance. Here are some suggestions for setting up a similar program:
Survey students to find out areas of interest that they would like to learn more about. Do not give them a list of possibilities to check off. Instead, just have each child write on a piece of paper at least three things that he or she would like to explore. These ideas do not have to be academic.
Have a small group of volunteer parents sort through the students' ideas and try to group them. Are there some recurring themes?
Have the same group of parents brainstorm about places where they might find speakers that would address student interests.
After discussing their ideas with you first, parents can begin making contacts.
Once schedules are set up for speakers, ask parents to contact the speaker again a week or two in advance to confirm the date and time and find out if there is anything special that the speaker will need.
Make sure that parents keep you informed of any communication that occurs between them and the speakers.
Locating Potential Speakers
Start close to home. Are there people you know personally that would match a student's interest?
Are there parents at the school that have a strong personal interest or profession that would match another student's chosen topic?
What are some of the companies in your community that might have individuals that could present? Many larger companies actually have speaker bureaus.
What about people who work at museums, theaters, orchestras, or universities? Or, what about individuals who work as mathematicians, authors, or cartographers? No matter what the interests of the students may be, you can probably find a speaker nearby if you live in a large metropolitan area.
Don't be afraid to approach people. They can always say no, but I think you will be surprised by the people who say yes.
Setting Up Guidelines for Speakers
Decide what day and time you would like to have the speaker. (I always chose Friday afternoons, because it was a nice end-of-the-week activity.) We tried to have a speaker every week that it was possible.
Be clear about exactly what time you need the speaker to start, the physical condition of the classroom, the types of students that they will be working with, and whether or not you want the talk to be interactive. Sometimes those outside the school system don't understand the difficulties that are presented when an expected person doesn't show up right on time, and so be careful to explain all of that.
Making the Speaker Feel Welcomed
Make certain that the class has reviewed appropriate behavior for honoring a guest in the classroom. Remind them that this is a special occasion and a privilege.
Have someone meet the speaker at the front door of the school building. This could be a parent and/or student (depending on the grade level). Let the speaker know how much the class is looking forward to the presentation.
Have the student or students who chose the area of interest briefly explain to the class why they selected that particular topic.
Decide on a way to thank the speaker for taking time to come to the classroom. Students may write letters, draw pictures, create something to send to the speaker, or anything else that you feel suits the situation.
It takes quite a bit of time and organization to set up a program like this in a classroom, but I know that you will find it well worth the effort.
Justice as a Theme for Critical Thinking
Harvard University professor and noted political philosopher, Michael Sandel, has taught his legendary moral reasoning course, Justice, for nearly 30 years. Now, Harvard has made this excellent course available (free) over the Internet.
This course is a real exercise in critical thinking. Sandel prods his students to not only think deeply about some of the thorniest moral dilemmas that humans face, but to also rethink their positions from an alternative perspective. After all, important moral questions are "never black and white."
As noted on the website:
"Sorting out these contradictions sharpens our own moral convictions and gives us the moral clarity to better understand the opposing views that we confront in a democracy. . . Professor Sandel believes the process of thinking one's way through the difficult moral questions of our day—figuring out what we think, and why—helps make us better citizens."
If gifted students are mature enough to discuss deep moral dilemmas and examine their own thinking, then this course will be well worth their time. The course also presents an excellent opportunity for gifted students to engage in challenging discussions, both at school and at home.
The Internet version of Justice includes 12 very interesting lectures. During the lectures, Professor Sandel engages his students at Harvard by calling upon them in class and asking for responses to the dilemmas that he presents.
Before viewing a lecture, students can read a synopsis on the website. Then, after viewing the lecture, they can create a private Discussion Circle online and invite their peers to post answers to Sandel's questions. For those who want to extend their learning even further, several of the lectures offer additional readings that can be found right on the website—no need to buy books or search for materials—in addition to interactive quizzes and discussion guides for beginning and advanced students.
If you know of a mature, gifted student who would benefit from this course, I highly recommend that you take a look at all the materials available. The Justice lecture series also can be found on some public television networks.
Increasing Depth and Complexity in Curriculum for the Gifted
I have always been a big fan of Sandra Kaplan at the University of Southern California. She has created wonderful techniques for increasing depth and complexity of curriculum—attributes that are at the core of gifted education.
Kaplan’s chart, Facilitating the Understanding of DEPTH and COMPLEXITY
, presents teachers with easy-to-follow prompts, key questions, thinking skills, and resources that provide ideas for differentiating curriculum. These ideas can be applied to many subjects including language arts, science, social studies, and math. The prompts and key questions are very helpful when developing universal themes. A few examples include:
What are the reoccurring events?
What elements, events, ideas, are repeated over time?
What was the order of events?
How can we predict what will come next?
·Determine relevant vs. irrelevant
·Discriminate between same and different
Other chronological lists
What dilemmas or controversies are involved in this area/topic/study/discipline?
What elements can be identified that reflect bias, prejudice, and discrimination?
·Judge with criteria
How are the ideas related between the past, present, and future?
How are these ideas related within or during a particular time period?
How has time affected the information?
How and why do things change or remain the same?
View the entire chart at the link above and use it as a guide when developing curriculum for the gifted or when differentiating lessons in the regular classroom.
If you have used Kaplan's material in developing units or lessons, please share them through comments at this post.
News Sites for Gifted Kids
Kristin Hokanson (elementary teacher turned high school tech coach) maintains The Connected Classroom Web site. Hokanson understands the growing importance of technology in our lives and urges teachers and parents to incorporate technology into their children’s learning experiences. Connected Classroom contains many interesting sections. Today, I’d like to tell you about News Sites for Kids.
News Sites for Kids offers a comprehensive list of links to news that kids can understand. Many of these links also offer lesson plans or teaching ideas such as the following listed on The New York Times Learning Connection:
In the novel "To Kill a Mockingbird," Atticus Finch tells Scout, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view-until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." And the Buddha is supposed to have said, "You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger." Choose one of these quotations or find another expression about human nature by searching an archive of quotations, such as About.com's Quotations page or Bartleby.com. Then read The New York Times for a week, looking for articles that support (or refute) the expression you chose. Good starting places are the Opinion, N.Y./Region and U.S./National sections. Then write an essay that explains the degree to which the expression seems to be true, backed by the examples you found.
As always, teachers should check sites out first to make certain they are appropriate for the learning levels of their students.
Links for the younger set include:
For upper elementary and older:
Hokanson has including additional links to visual sites using world maps to organize the day's headlines, world newspapers, commercial newsites, and sites that help teachers develop lesson plans about current events and the nature of journalism.
Summer Apprenticeship Program for Gifted Students
The Institute for Educational Advancement (IEA) offers three- and four-week summer apprenticeship programs for gifted high school students. Each year, the program places high school freshmen, sophmores and juniors in challenging, hands-on learning experiences provided by an esteemed group of participating mentors in various professions. This year's participants are located at several sites in Southern California and include the Los Angeles Superior Court, Art Center College of Design, and the Japanese American National Museum.
The programs run from July 12 through August 8. During this time, apprentices spend weekdays working with their mentors on pre-arranged projects. At the end of the program, they will present their work to fellow participants and other interested parties. Apprentices live on the Occidental College campus and IEA staff transport the students to and from apprentice locations. In addition, IEA will provide enriching evening and weekend activities, as well as other general opportunites for apprentices to socialize with their intellectual peers. Past program participants rave about their experiences and many have gone on to attend prestigious universities.
The original application deadline for this program has past, but there are still some spaces available. Call 626-403-8900 if you are interested in applying. IEA will continue to accept applications until all spots are full.
Specific information on the program, including apprenticeship sites and participating mentors can be found here. Financial aid is available.
This truly sounds like a wonderful opportunity. I urge you to explore this program.
School Options for Gifted Kids—Where to Begin
I experienced another interesting conversation yesterday while traveling to the airport in a shared van. The woman sitting next to me was flying to Tennessee to watch two of her children compete in the Global Finals for Destination ImagiNation
(DI). DI is an exciting, creative enrichment program that engages kids in critical thinking, teamwork, time management, and problem solving. She told me about the wonderful enrichment teacher who works at their neighborhood school. Each year, the teacher is able to recruit parents who are willing to make the necessary time commitment to work with teams of youngsters who compete in Destination ImagiNation. What a wonderful experience for the students at this neighborhood school.
We then went on to have a general conversation about education, gifted education, parenting, etc. She told me that next year two of her children will attend a magnet/charter school that focuses on international studies. There, they will have a choice of languages on which to focus. Her children have decided to concentrate on Chinese. This woman had really done her research and was a very positive advocate for her kids, finding educational options that fit their needs.
My question to this fellow traveler was, “How do parents find out about the various choices in their school district?” It was then I realized that the shuttle driver had been listening intently to our conversation. When I asked my question, he laughed. He indicated that he had several children at home, was not pleased with their school situation, and did not realize that he had choices. He, too, had wondered how one finds out about opportunities.
So often, parents feel that their children are trapped in whatever educational program is closest to their home. They often cannot afford to move to a “better” neighborhood and don’t realize that there are alternatives.
So, I want to present you with some information. I also hope that others will comment on this blog entry, sharing possibilities that I have not listed. Right now, I will just talk about actual physical (as opposed to virtual) schools that might be available to you in your area. In my book, Raising a Gifted Child: A Parenting Success Handbook
I discuss many more educational options.
Situations vary from state to state and from district to district. You often won’t know if these possibilities exist unless you ask.
The Education Commission of the States (ECS)
provides an online database for open enrollment. To one degree or another, open-enrollment policies allow a student to transfer to the public school of his or her choice. There are two basic types of open-enrollment policies: intradistrict and interdistrict. The Web site cited here is an excellent resource. In many cases, students are not locked in to attending their neighborhood or even their district schools.
The U.S. Department of Education
provides information on charter and magnet schools across the country. Charter schools
are public schools that operate with freedom from many of the local and state regulations that apply to traditional public schools. Some of them have very innovative philosophies. Magnet schools
are designed to attract students from diverse social, economic, ethnic, and racial backgrounds. They focus on a specific subject, such as science or the arts; follow specific themes, such as business/technology or communications/humanities/law; or operate according to certain models, such as career academies or a school-within-a-school. Once you understand the general concepts of charter and magnet schools, you can search the Web sites of your local school district and surrounding districts to see what is available.
It is important to know how the students in your school and in schools you are considering perform on state tests. Look at sites such as SchoolMatters
where you can search for information by school or state. This Web site is also able to list schools within a state from highest scoring to lowest scoring in reading and in math. It will be much easier for your child to perform at a high level if he attends a school where the norm is to perform well.
Please feel free to share additional information by hitting the “Comment” button at the top of this blog entry.
Journalism for Gifted Students
The way in which we get our news is morphing, with a heavy emphasis on technology. As journalism changes, newspapers remain important primary document resources. Archives of print media help us trace trends and ideas in history. There are numerous resources available to teach students about the value of journalism and how to be critical consumers of news. Here are a few.
is an interactive museum in Washington D.C. that offers five centuries of news history. There are also links at the Newseum Web site that have good teaching tools. Under the Education
link, the section titled Teacher Resources has some great lesson plans for grades 6-12 that highlight the headlines and front pages of newspapers. Today’s Front Pages
is a very interesting section where you will find the day’s front pages from 767 newspapers, across 72 countries.
High School Journalism: Lesson Archive
is sponsored by the American Society of News Editors. Here you will find lots of ideas to teach about advertising, bias, copy editing, critical thinking about the media, decision-making, design, diversity, editing, editorial cartoons, editorial writing, entertainment journalism, features, First Amendment, graphics and design, interviewing, journalism ethics, journalism history, libel, news values, online journalism, photography, reporting, story ideas, and more. If you truncate the URL as I have here
, you will find even more great information.
The New York Times Daily Lesson Plan
is an archive of lesson plans that blends daily news with higher-level thinking skills. There are some excellent ideas for teaching students to analyze what they read and see.
As always, remember that very bright students are capable of working beyond the suggested grade levels of lesson plans. The Web sites here are designed for teachers, but parents will also get many ideas for working with young people at home.
Is your student interested in a career in journalism? Have him check out some of these sites.
Free Curriculum on Investigating Systems
In past blog entries, I have talked about the importance of teaching universal themes and using essential questions. (Use Search Entries button on the right to find and read these previous entries.) I continue that discussion here.
Marion Brady who, over the span of his career, has been a teacher, administrator, and author, is a person with strong ideas about what our educational system should look like. He feels that traditional curriculum is fragmented, emphasizing the need to "cover the material," without providing an umbrella under which students can understand and apply their learning. Brady offers this umbrella through his curriculum titled, Investigating Systems
In the spirit of the current movement to offer open sourceware (free classroom materials online), the author provides IS for download. (You do have to register, listing personal identification information, to be able to download the curriculum.)
To give you an idea of the content of the curriculum, I am including its Table of Contents.
Organizing Information (Investigating Patterns, Investigating Relationships, Analytical Categories)
Analyzing Systems (Systems with Human Components)
Major Human Systems: Societies
Investigations of Structure
Investigations of Environment
Investigations of Patterns of Action
Investigations of Shared Ideas
The Dynamics of Change
Change and Stress
Constructing New Knowledge
In addition to the free curriculum, there is also a place for online comments and discussions. Rather than viewing this curriculum as fully finished, Brady sees it as a work in progress; therefore, input from those who use the material is valued.
Whether you are a teacher or a parent, whether or not you choose to use the curriculum in its entirety, you will find that this curriculum will help you better understand the concepts of universal themes and essential questions and how to use these in the education of students at home and at school.
Integrated Curriculum for Gifted Students
Curriculum is meaningful when students can relate it to other aspects of their lives. This is more likely when material is taught using themes that integrate many subjects.
organizes education so that it links together the humanities, natural sciences, mathematics, social studies, music, and art. It views learning and teaching in a holistic way, reflecting the real world and prepares children for lifelong learning. Integrated curriculum includes
A combination of subjects
An emphasis on projects
Sources that go beyond textbooks
Relationships among concepts
Thematic units as organizing principles
Flexible student groupings
Teachers often learn the theory behind good curriculum development, but they are too often expected to create their own materials. It is difficult to find enough time to keep “reinventing the wheel.” There are a couple of very good resources for integrated curriculum that contain already-developed teaching units that target gifted students.
In my blog, I have frequently mentioned the units developed by the Center for Gifted Education at The College of William and Mary. These units contain in-depth activities that develop high-level thinking skills and encourage students to relate the material to their own lives. I have personally used several of these units and know teachers who have used others. The material is excellent! Units are available for elementary through high school. Titles include The Weather Reporter, Spatial Reasoning, Patterns of Change, and Defining Nations: Cultural Identity and Political Tensions.
The units developed by the Ricks Center for Gifted Children at University of Denver use critical thinking, problem finding, problem solving, and evaluating as an overlay for the content areas included in each topic. Multiple teaching strategies are used to address specific learning styles, individual needs, and intellectual abilities. Units are available for pre-kindergarten through grade 8. Titles include Arctic/Antarctic, Architecture, Natural Disasters, and United Nations.
Questioning Techniques for the Gifted
As parents and teachers, we want to stimulate the thinking of gifted kids by posing open questions and teaching students how to create their own open questions. A closed question is one that can be answered with either a single word or a short phrase (i.e., "How old are you?" or "Where do you live?" or any question that can be answered with either "yes" or "no"). An open question, however, requires a longer, more involved response and does not have one correct answer; instead, it causes the respondent to think and reflect.
There are several resources available for teachers to create open questions in the classroom. Parents can use these same resources to guide interesting conversations with their children and promote good problem-solving skills.
Open questioning techniques include essential questions and critical thinking questions.
This Web site lists seven key components that essential questions have in common.
Examples of essential questions include:
- What are the ramifications of cloning?
- What is intelligence?
- Are we really free?
- Where does perception end and reality begin?
- Does history really repeat itself?
- Are there any absolutes?
- Are there other more pressing issues that deserve consideration before space exploration?
- What was the greatest invention of the 20th Century?
Although the information provided at this site is designed for college students, most gifted students are fully capable of using the techniques. I especially like the generic questioning stems, such as:
- What are the implications of …?
- How does … tie in with what we have learned before?
- Do you agree or disagree with this statement? What evidence is there to support your answer?
There are also very good suggestions for using critical thinking in student writing. The act of writing requires students to focus and clarify their thoughts before putting them down on paper.
Questioning in the Classroom
Although this Web site was developed specifically to identify questions to be asked in science or math, the concepts can easily be transferred to many other subjects. Questions are divided into four groups: direct information, relational, divergent, and evaluation. Questions are also posed to reflect critical thinking.
What can you change to try to make ____ work/happen?
Where have you seen something like this before?
How can you use what you’ve learned?
The form at this Web site can be used to generate essential questions to be used in class.
Archaeology for Gifted Kids
Archaeology is the scientific study of the history of human cultures. It can be a compelling topic of interest for gifted kids and is often not included in school curriculum. Below are Internet links for students of all ages.
Archaeology is the publication of the Archaeological Institute of America. This site includes articles, reviews, information on local shows, interviews, breaking news, a blog, interactive digs, and videos.
Search for “Archaeology” and you will find a few good links on becoming an archaeologist as well as an interview with Tristan Barako, the senior researcher for the NOVA/PBS documentary, The Bible's Buried Secrets. A link is provided to watch all 13 episodes of this program on your computer.
Located in southwestern Colorado, this center has a wonderful reputation for education. Click on Archaeology Adventures and you will find information on middle school and high school summer camps.
Created by Cobblestone Publishing Company, this site offers information on this magazine, which is designed for the younger set. There is also information—state-by-state—of archaeological activities and a section titled Ask Dr. Dig where readers can ask questions of a real archaeologist.
Written by a museum teacher at the Royal Ontario Museum, the author tells how to pursue the field of archaeology as a profession, beginning in elementary school.
Another site designed for younger kids, students are guided through games, puzzles, and a virtual archaeological tour to understand how people at a farmstead survived 150 years ago.
A newsfeed on the ancient world, including articles, photos, and videos.
Search for “Archaeology” for all kinds of information related to the high- quality programs that appear on the PBS program, NOVA.
Search for “Archaeology” and you will find all kinds of free lesson plans.
Black History Month—Engaging Educational Choices
Here is a good Website that will help teachers to highlight February, which is Black History month. There are many possibilities here for higher level thinking skills. While the activities are designed for the regular classroom, they are also open-ended. With proper guidance, groups of gifted students could take the concepts to a much deeper level.
AT&T’s Patchwork of African-American Life
contains Websites that integrate the Internet into classroom learning around the subject of African-American life. In addition to learnign about Black History, students are asked to draw their own conclusions about specific situations and defend them. Each bulleted item below presents Black history in a different way. Some activities are inidividal, some are group activities, and some suggest working with other schools.
- Black History Hotlist—These links can be used as a jumping off point for independent research or to support an area of focus that the teacher chooses to emphasize.
- Black History Past to Present—Here you will find an interactive treasure hunt and quiz. Web sites that provide appropriate ways to find answers to the quiz are included. At the end of the exercise, students are asked to compose a thesis and essay stating what they feel are the most important aspects of African-American history.
- Sampling African America—This section engages students by helping them to feel personally connected to African-American history. It attempts to connect the student emotionally, thereby enabling him to feel that the subject is personally important.
- Little Rock 9, Integration 0—Through this WebQuest, students learn about nine African-American students who, back in 1957, chose to attend an all-white high school in Little Rock, Arkansas.
- Tuskegee Tragedy—In this WebQuest, students explore the issues of the Tuskegee Study and question the comparisons some people make to the study and such topics as abortion, gun control, and concentration camp experiments. By the time the study was exposed in 1972, a number of men had died of syphilis, others were dead of related complications, wives had been infected, and children had contracted the disease at birth.
Using Universal Themes to Promote Higher Level Thinking
The use of universal themes has been discussed in this blog on a couple of occasions:
The topic is so important for gifted students and so sought after by parents and teachers that I want to visit it again.
In education, we are often accused of delivering a curriculum that is not relevant to today’s students. If we teach (or have discussions at home) using universal themes, the material presented does become relevant.
A universal theme is a timeless, broad, abstract idea that can be used to tie together literary works or understand broad concepts in history. It is one to which all people can relate. It transcends race, gender, and creed.
In good literature, themes are implied rather than directly stated. By looking carefully at a universal theme, students are able to explore what that theme reveals about people, about their relationships, and about life in general. What motivates people to action? What causes a person to change? What human weaknesses and strengths do we see in others? Powerful universal themes explore concepts in depth. For example, rather than just study the facts of war/conflict, it is more interesting and meaningful to figure out how conflict changes the lives of all people involved.
If you visit the previous blogs mentioned above, you will find many ideas for using universal themes as well as many potential concepts that can be used as universal themes. Below are additional possibilities.
Free will vs. fate
Restrictions of society
By using universal themes, you will make learning relevant, provide umbrellas under which details become easier to remember, and give students a framework of understanding that they can carry with them the rest of their lives.
Inauguration—January 20, 2009
Don’t miss the opportunity to introduce your students to the historical significance and excitement of the upcoming presidential inauguration. The following Web sites can be relied on for accurate, in-depth information.
Offers extensive information about all things having to do with the presidential inauguration. The history section is especially detailed and interesting.
Contains the schedule for the days leading up to, through the days following the inauguration. There is a link to the committee’s Flickr page, with lots of related photos.
Information on security at the upcoming inauguration and the role of the Secret Service in protecting government officials.
Where you can read the inaugural address from 54 inaugurations.
Understanding Economics for the Gifted
Well, if nothing else, the financial crisis we’re experiencing is raising our awareness of economics. We’re all trying desperately to better understand what is happening—where we have come from and where we are going. We should view this as a good teaching opportunity, especially for middle and high school students. There are excellent resources that are available to help. Remember that very bright students often can handle content that is intended for older students. Bright middle school students, or even upper elementary children, may benefit from material that is intended for high school. If you look at the Economics Classroom link below and click on resources, you also will find economics lesson plans for students as young as in kindergarten.
The Annenberg Foundation
has created a series of free online videos
for both teachers and students including
—Twenty-eight half-hour video programs that explore the fundamentals of economic history, theory, and practice, including microeconomics and macroeconomics, through interviews with Nobel Prize-winning economists. The series features Milton Friedman, Paul Samuelson, John Kenneth Galbraith, Walter Heller, and others. In each program, case studies of major economic events show how economic theory relates to the real world.
Inside the Global Economy
—Thirteen one-hour video programs offer a multinational perspective on how the global economy and market affect individuals, businesses, and industry. The series features 26 case studies, with follow-up analysis, from more than 20 countries, balancing widely held American views with opinions from around the globe and inviting comparison of the strategies used in international economics today.
The Economics Classroom: A Workshop for Grade 9–12 Teachers
—Eight video workshops and associated print and Web site information is intended to assist high school teachers in developing strategies to effectively teach the fundamentals of economics and personal finance. This site also provides a number of classroom-tested lesson plans and links to a variety of useful additional resources.
Using Universal Themes with Gifted Students
Back in September 2005 I wrote a blog entry titled Universal Themes & Gifted Education
. Universal themes give any unit meaning. Themes give a common reason for students to read many different books, including books on different ability levels, which is excellent for differentiation. Universal themes can be used with any subject, but they are especially suited for literature and social studies.
A Sampling of Universal Themes
Good vs. Evil
Separation and Loss
Innocence and Experience
Customs and Traditions
Activity to Begin a Unit
Upper Elementary through Adult
Divide students into groups of 5–7 and give each a large sheet of paper and markers. Ask the participants to brianstorm everything they can think of about the given theme. (You may want to review the rules of brainstorming
before you begin this activity.) Give them plenty of time and don’t worry about silences.
2. After sufficient time to think and write, ask the students to look at their lists and see if there are ways they can group their comments.
3. Next, have them label each group of comments with a generalization.
4. Have each group of students share results, allowing them time to explain their reasoning.
5. As a class, find some common generalizations that can be used for the entire class.
A number of years ago, I participated in this activity while attending a conference session. At first, I was skeptical, thinking that it wouldn’t be a worthwhile exercise, but in the end, I was amazed at the depth of the discussion.
Next, I tried the activity with a class of gifted fifth graders. The discussions that the students had were phenomenal and gave real meaning to all the reading they did later in the unit. Each day, the kids could hardly wait to come to class to continue the discussions about the theme. I think that one of the reasons that students enjoy learning this way is because there are no right or wrong answers when discussing anything that is related to the theme. Instead, the universal themes and generalizations are used as a framework to help them think and to value their thinking. They do have to be able to support their ideas, which was far more meaningful that just spitting back facts or predetermined answers.
For more ideas about universal themes, check out Universal Themes and Generalizations
. Remember that the generalizations listed here are only suggestions. You and your class may come up with different generalizations.
Presidential Election Curricula for the Gifted
As the excitement builds this fall with the upcoming election, teachers and parents will want to have good resources at hand to help gifted students understand the election process. Here are just a few resourses. If you have other good resources to share, please list them in the comments area of this blog entry.
Rutherford Public Schools in New Jersey has developed curricula for their gifted program, grades 7–8
. The information is very general and includes objectives, course outline, curriculum content standards, assessments, resources, and activities.
One of the resources used in the Rutherford Public Schools curriculum is the Interact simulation The Presidential Election Process
. Interact recommends this curriculum for grades 5–8. If you scroll down on this page, you will see that Interact materials were recommended in my June 28, 2008 blog entry.
Fact Monster from Information Please
explains how a president gets elected. Follow links on the left side of the page to find extensive information on Campaign 2008, presidential conventions, and facts about U.S. elections.
monitors the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases.
rates the accuracy of candidates' statements on their records, attacks on opponents, and organizes statements by issue/topic.
Simulation Curricula for Gifted Kids
Interact is a publisher that offers curricula that is unique and creative. The units often are used as supplements in the regular classroom but can be used in a separate enrichment class. Many of the units involve interaction between students through simulations. I have seen Interact curricula used successfully in classrooms that consist of many different abilities. I knew one teacher who always had an Interact simulation going in his classroom. His students (including the gifted students) were so excited to go to school each day to work on the activities.
Each Interact unit includes a teacher's guide, purpose and overview, daily lesson plans, student materials, time management guidelines, and support materials.
If you do a search on “gifted” at the Interact Web site, results will show curricula particularly suited to high-ability students; however, many of the regular units also work well for students who are academically strong.
Unit subjects include language arts, social studies, math, science, and character building.
A few examples are
Up to 20 hours for preparation, planning, and performance
Description: Welcome to a monthly meeting of the Fairy Tale Advice Council. Led by Rapunzel, a handsome prince, and a recovering wicked witch, the council offers help in character building to folk and fairy tale creatures. In this fun and humorous musical, the Big Bad Wolf learns the Golden Rule, Cinderella gets help in managing her anger at her bullying stepsisters, and Jack and the Giant discover that their differences are cool. Will Humpty Dumpty take responsibility for his fall? Can Baby Bear forgive Goldilocks? And will the magic mirrors tell the evil queen the truth about who is "the fairest of them all?"
A flexible structure allows for lengthening or shortening the time required
Description: Cheatum Swindle is running the Goodwin's game factory into the ground by producing unfair games, and it's up to your students to use their arithmetic skills to save the company! Students work in pairs performing hands-on experiments with spinners, dice, coins, and cards to test the probabilities of Cheatum's games. The flip of a coin or the roll of the die determines the moves they make as they advance through the factory, examining games for fairness. As they find problems, they make modifications and record reasons for their decisions. In the final push to save the company's reputation, student pairs design their own games and present them with an explanation of their fairness.
Advanced Placement Short Story: Challenging Approaches for Honors, Gifted, and AP English Classes
Description: A sophisticated collection of 36 teacher plans and student handouts based on seven short stories (included) by well-known writers. The activities may be used in many ways. They may heighten awareness of how plot, theme, character, setting, point of view, and style interconnect; they may give students practice in answering the sort of multiple-choice and essay questions they will meet on the AP exams; or they may simply illuminate the art of the short story as practiced by some of its masters: E.B. White, Katherine Mansfield, Langston Hughes, Tillie Olsen, Raymond Carver, Sean O'Faolain, and Bernard Malamud. Index. Supplemental reading list.
Up to 15 hours of instruction
Description: Black Gold is a challenging, multi-disciplinary study of petroleum and our reliance upon this vanishing fossil fuel. The science, geography, research, mathematics, and language arts activities center around the global dynamics of petroleum production and consumption. Your students will
- create a map of the world showing the magnitude of petroleum reserves and consumption, and trace major transportation routes and techniques;
- use a variety of research tools, analyze information, and present and defend their conclusion;
- buy and sell crude oil at a commodity market (at their desks or via e-mail); and
- devise techniques to clean up a disastrous oil spill.
African American National Biography: An Incredible Resource for the Gifted
The most extensive compilation of African American biographies ever written has recently become available and promises to be an excellent resource for gifted students who want to learn about the heritage and contributions of this group. This resource is sure to be a treasure trove for independent study, classroom projects, or just plain interesting reading. Watch the ten-minute PBS interview
in which editors Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (both from Harvard) talk about their work on The African American National Biography
(Oxford University Press, 2008). The interview is excellent and will give you a real feel for the project.
African American National Biography includes biographies of more than 4,000 African Americans throughout 500 years, dating back to the arrival of Esteban, the first recorded African explorer to set foot in North America. Entries range from Aaron, a former slave without a last name, through Paul Burgess Zuber, a 20th century lawyer and professor. The series includes national heroes and historical figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass. But the biographies also include Sissieretta Joyner Jones, a 19th century opera singer; Richard Potter, a magician, sword swallower, and ventriloquist who owned 175 acres in New Hampshire and died in 1835; and the pistol-packing, fist-fighting Mary Fields, also known as Stagecoach Mary, of the late 19th century.
The entries were written by more than 1,700 contributors in response to a call that was put forth in 2001. In addition to those names published in the printed series, an additional 2,000 names will be included in a forthcoming online database, as part of the African American Studies Center digital archive, available through the Oxford University Press Web site. Gates and Higginbotham have compiled a massive database that includes 12,500 names.
The 8-volume set of African American National Biography is expensive—just under $1,000, so encourage your schools and libraries to make the purchase.
Economics for Gifted Students
Resources for teaching economics to students is not something we hear a lot about, and yet knowledge in this area is something that is vital for one’s entire life. Strategies for teaching this are available for all ages. As a teacher, parent, or student, here are some you might want to investigate.
There’s an article in The Duke Gifted Letter
that reviews two board games for parents who are interested in teaching their children the complexities of the stock market: Bull Market
, by the Great Canadian Game Company Inc. for ages 8 to adult, and Stock Market Tycoon
, by Vida Games LLC for ages 12 to adult.
The National Economics Challenge
is a competition that takes place in 35 different states. There are two different divisions: one for high school students taking Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, honors, college level, or two-semester classes; the other for students enrolled in all other general or one-semester economics classes. There are monetary prizes for both students and teachers.
It is possible for a student to have dual enrollment in high school and college, remaining with his age peers at his home school while taking one or more classes at a local college. You can read about an unusual partnership that was created between an Illinois high school and university to provide duel enrollment courses in economics
that actually took place on the high school campus. Through the school partnership, administrators and teachers recognized that the high school audiences present special challenges for methods used most frequently on the college campus. Through this partnership, economics courses were taught by a tenure-track university faculty member and limited to honors students. Details are provided about the modifications made, especially in regards to disciplinary actions, grading policies, and scheduling.
Black History Month Resources for Gifted Kids
February is Black History Month and there are rich resources available to learn about important African Americans and their contributions to history. With a click of the computer mouse, teachers and students can access audio interviews, music, video, photographs, text, and Internet links from reputable sources. You can read biographies, listen to live performances of spirituals, hear great speeches and discussions about cultural influences, learn about important movements, and view study guides.
Here are just a few of the resources available.
If you are an iTunes user, go to iTunes U and see the free downloads on Black History Month that are available for your computer or MP3 player.
Creative and Critical Thinking for Gifted Students through FPSPI
We all have problems we’d like to solve. Some people aren’t very good at math. Some people have nosy neighbors. Some people go to bed hungry at night. No matter how small or how big the problems are, we’d like to solve them. It’s hard to solve a problem, though, unless we understand the problem very well. Who is involved in the problem? What is the problem? When and where does the problem occur? Why does the problem happen? How does it occur? The first step in successful problem solving is defining and describing the problem.
This is just one type of thinking fostered by FPSPI. The program (for students in grades 4–12) stimulates critical and creative thinking skills and encourages young people to develop visions for the future through both individual and team activities. It nurtures global awareness not only through choice of topics, but by knowing that the same problems are being studied by over 250,000 students annually, including those from Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Russia, and the United States.
Curricular and co-curricular competitive activities, as well as non-competitive activities are offered.
Through FPSPI, students learn to
formulate and attack complex, ambiguous problems
analyze and better understand material
improve in oral and written communication
work together in a team.
You can get an idea of the scope of current and future topics by reading their descriptions at the program’s Web site.
Debt in Developing Countries
Even if your student never participates in the formal program, the organization’s website contains good instructional materials for creative and critical thinking. Materials include both written offerings available for purchase and also links to other Web sites.
Trends in Gifted Education
The NAGC (National Association for Gifted Children)
Convention was held in November. Each year, I like to read through the entire catalog of presentations so that I can form general impressions about categories that were considered important.
Disclaimer: I do not have access to information about presentation proposals that were submitted nor do I have information about how the presentations were chosen. I do not look at this information to make judgments; only to observe trends.
Like everything else in society, certain topics wax and wane. Someone else may interpret this very differently than I do. But, for the record, this is what I see.
Some of the topics that were considered top priorities in the past 10-30 years that I see no longer getting the same attention include
GT resource teachers
Theory of giftedness
Topic trends that I do see increasing are
The integration of technology into the curriculum rather than treatment as a separate subject
Interest of programs on an international level (in fact, at the NAGC convention this year, a strand was added titled “International”)
Special schools and programs
Less talk about specifically meeting the needs of the gifted and more emphasis on the need for an increase in general academic rigor, including the need to let students advance at a faster speed
I would love to hear the ideas of others on these trends. You can always leave a comment at this blog entry or email me if you would prefer that others do not see your comments.
Gifted Students Publishing Historical Academic Papers
When I took my first serious history course in college, the president of the university (a history buff himself) spoke to our class and encouraged us to submit our papers to various journals for publication. Being rather inexperienced, it had never occurred to me to submit anything I had ever written to anyone for publication. In my mind, I was "just" a student and couldn't imagine anyone being interested in what I wrote.
Now it is possible not only for serious college students to publish their work, but for serious high school history students to publish the papers that they have researched. The Concord Review
gives young people this opportunity. The Review
is the only quarterly journal in the world to publish the academic expository research papers of secondary history students. Papers may be on any historical topic, ancient or modern, foreign or domestic, and may be submitted in two categories: short (1,500-2,500 words) and long (4,000-6,000 words).
Many of these young authors have sent reprints of their papers along with their college application materials. Their research has helped them to gain admission to some of the nation’s (and world’s) best universities.
High school teachers also use The Concord Review in their classes to provide examples of good historical writing. What a wonderful opportunity for students to see the work of age peers who have taken their work seriously.
Included on The Concord Review Web site are more than 60 sample essays for both students and teachers to view so they can get an idea of the quality of work accepted.
At this site, you also will find information about The National Writing Board, an independent assessment service for the academic writing of high school students of history. Each submission is assessed by two readers who know nothing about the author. These readers spend more than 3 hours on each paper. Three-page evaluations, with scores and comments, are then sent, at the request of the authors, to Deans of Admissions at the colleges to which they apply.
Social Studies for Gifted Students
Teaching advanced levels of social studies often is sorely neglected until more complex classes are offered in high school. However, teachers should be aware that there are excellent, research-based curricula available developed by the Center for Gifted Education at the College of William and Mary
and made available by Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company
. Every teacher I know who has used any of the units has raved about them. They are not only written at a much higher level than regular curriculum, but they really get kids excited about learning.
- are interdisciplinary;
- use abstract concepts such as systems, cause and effect, and how things change over time;
- place heavy emphasis on higher order reasoning;
- provide historical analysis using primary sources;
- include in-depth study of content; and
- employ the skills of discussion, writing, and research.
There are a couple of cautions. When a grade level is given for a unit, teachers need to understand that it is truly for gifted students at that level. Don’t be fooled into thinking you should get a unit that is at a higher grade level. Also, the units typically provide a list of resources that you will need to purchase elsewhere, so don’t assume that the expense of the curriculum is the entire cost of teaching the unit.
It would be well worth your time to visit the Kendall/Hunt Web site and investigate the units that would be appropriate for your grade level.
Ancient China: The Middle Kingdom
Building a New System: Colonial America 1607-1763
The World Turned Upside Down: The American Revolution
A House Divided? The Civil War: Its Causes and Effects
The 1920s in America: A Decade of Tensions
The 1930s in America: Facing Depression
The Road to the White House: Electing the American President
Defining Nations: Cultural Identity and Political Tensions
Post-Colonialism in the 20th Century
Primary Sources and Historical Analysis
The Renaissance and Reformation in Europe
SAT Exam, Taken at Age 13, Can Predict Career Path of Gifted
A new study from Vanderbilt University finds that the future career path and creative direction of gifted youth can be predicted well by their performance on the SAT at age 13. The study offers insights into how best to identify the nation’s most talented youth, offering opportunities for educators and policymakers to develop programs to cultivate these individuals.
The current study looked at the educational and professional accomplishments of 2,409 adults who had been identified as being in the top 1% of ability 25 years earlier at age 13. Significant differences in the creative and career paths of individuals were found, with those showing more ability in math having greater accomplishments in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, while those showing greatest ability on the verbal portion of the test going on to excel in art, history, literature, languages, drama, and related fields.
The key was to administer the SAT at a young age. When students take the test in high school, the most able students all score near the top, and individual differences are harder to see. Using the test with gifted students at a young age creates the potential to help shape that person’s education.
Overall, the creative potential of these participants was extraordinary, with individuals earning 817 patents and publishing 93 books.
With this knowledge, the policy question becomes: How best can we support these individuals, especially during their formative years?
For more information, see:
Using Search Tools on Prufrock’s Gifted Child Information Blog
You may have noticed that the format of this blog changed a bit recently, and I want to make certain readers understand the search possibilities available. This is the 120th weekly blog that has been posted in more than 2 years, so there is a lot of information here. There are two ways to search.
· Categories—In the left column of the web page, you will find a section titled Categories. Within that section, you will see a list of more than a dozen subjects. If you click on any of these, all the articles that fit into that grouping will appear.
· Search—You can also search for words, phrases, or topics you do not see listed under Categories. With the new format of the blog, you will need to sign in to use the search function. There is a section on the upper right where you can register. Your user name and password are case sensitive.
Example—You might want to search on “underachievement.” To do this, click on the word Search either at the bottom of the Categories list or near the top of the page. Once you do this, a number of boxes will appear and you can fill in the appropriate information. (You do not need to fill in all the boxes.) Click on Search, and all of the articles will come up that meet the criteria you entered.
These are great tools, so make sure you take advantage of them.
WebQuests as a Differentiation Tool for the Gifted
As teachers, we need a bag of “educational tools” from which to draw. No one teaching method should be used when working with students: instead, we need a repertoire of techniques from which we can pick and choose according to the individual and circumstance. The use of WebQuests
is one such tool that can be used for differentiation in the classroom either with a small group or for a student to use as an independent study. WebQuests contain a list of teacher-screened Web sites that can be used to do research and complete specific tasks within a defined structure. When using these with gifted students, the tasks should be more complex than with the regular population. WebQuests are most often used with children in upper elementary and middle schools.
There are three different ways that teachers can apply WebQuests:
1. Use a WebQuest that has already been created and is available on the Internet.
2. Take a WebQuest that has been created and modify it to meet the needs of your students.
3. Create your own WebQuest.
For sources of WebQuests that are already created, take a look at
For sources to modify existing WebQuests, see
For help in creating your own WebQuests, check out
Smithsonian Resources for the Gifted
In 1826, James Smithson, a British scientist, drew up his last will and testament, naming his nephew as beneficiary. Smithson stipulated that, should the nephew die without heirs (as he would in 1835), the estate should go “to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.” Since its founding, the Smithsonian Institution has grown to be the world's largest museum complex and research organization. The Internet has enabled the institution to grow even more and avail its resources more readily to people around the world.
A specific area of the institution’s site, Smithsonian Education
, is of particular interest to gifted students, their families, and educators.
The section for educators (my favorite) includes extensive lesson plans and suggestions for uses of technology in the classroom. (Currently, the Web site shows how student podcasting can be used as a learning tool.) Lesson plans are divided into the categories of Art & Design, Science & Technology, History & Culture, and Language Arts. The many lesson plans and resources within each of these categories can be used as wonderful differentiation tools. Individual or small groups can be formed to investigate the various subjects, using primary sources on the Internet. The wonderful part is that it’s free and already developed for teachers.
The family section provides information for those who want to visit one of the museums in person. It has suggestions for before, during, and after activities to make a family visit most enjoyable and educational.
The section for students includes many interactive modules to help young people learn in the areas of Everything Art, Science & Nature, History & Culture, and People & Places. You might want to spend a little time looking at this section. Although there are activities for many different levels of ability, it may take a little hunting to find a section that is most appropriate for your student.
In addition to the Internet resources, Smithsonian Education also offers a free e-mail newsletter that is filled with interesting information. You can view a sample copy before signing up for the newsletter.
This may be one of the best distance learning sites on the Internet.
Exciting History for Gifted Students
I hated history all the way through high school. It seemed like an endless memorization of meaningless names, dates, and battles. When I got to college, freshmen were required to take a basic world history course. That course completely changed my attitude towards history. On our own, we read about the names, dates, and battles, but when we were in class, the professor brought out the “skeletons in the closet” of history. He made history come alive with interesting interactions and the idiosyncrasies of people and places. I could hardly wait to get to class each day. I loved this course so much that I actually decided to major in history.
Making history come alive is what makes it interesting. Joy Hakim
, a former teacher and newspaper woman, decided write about history in the most interesting way for students from 8 to 80. She wrote the 10-book, highly illustrated series A History of US
. These books, which are very well researched and historically accurate, contain the stories that grab students--just like my first college history class grabbed me. The stories are anything but dull. These books can be used as textbooks or supplemental readings for students. Gifted students have a real opportunity to explore in depth with these stories.
Hakim also wrote Freedom: A History of US
, a one-volume book written as a companion to a 16-part PBS miniseries
. This television miniseries is hosted by Katie Couric and features the voices of Paul Newman, Glenn Close, Robin Williams, Tom Hanks, Matthew Broderick, Angela Bassett, Jeremy Irons, John Lithgow, and Morgan Freeman, among others. The series is available on DVD for school and home use.
I would strongly recommend encouraging schools and libraries to purchase these materials. Or, parents may want to purchase them for their own families.
Specific history curricula that teachers/schools should consider has been developed by the Center for Gifted Education
at the College of William & Mary
. Each unit that has been developed is designed to respond to gifted learners’ characteristics of precocity, intensity, and complexity. This is accomplished through advanced content, higher level processes and product development, and interdisciplinary concepts, issues, and themes. Every teacher who I have talked to who has used these units raves about them. The units are available for grades 2-12. Some of the titles include
- A House Divided? The Civil War--Its Causes and Effects
- Ancient China: The Middle Kingdom
- The Renaissance and Reformation in Europe
Many are published through Kendall/Hunt Publishing
. Some are works in progress
and will eventually be published by Kendall/Hunt. Be aware that many different books are needed to support each unit. It is possible to obtain some of these books through one’s library. At the schools where I have worked, we have written grants to obtain materials to support the curriculum.
Geography and Gifted Education
When I started working as a gifted education specialist at one elementary school, I was told that there was a second grader at the school who was a whiz at geography. Peter was a whiz-kid! His father had introduced him to the subject before he ever started public school and he had been devouring it ever since. Ask him to locate any place on the map and he could point right to it. But he wasn’t just good at place names. He could tell you the climate, the animals, and the vegetation of the area. If asked to reason why a certain event might take place in a specific country or city, he would pause and then begin his sentence very slowly with, “Let’s see…” He would then take all the information he knew about the place and reason very logically why that event might have taken place there. He might also add, “But I would also like to know…” Peter was a phenomenal reader. At second grade, he was reading at a 12th grade level. This enabled him to research easily. Peter was gifted in geography.
I often wonder how many other kids might be gifted in geography if they were just exposed to it. After all, a child can’t get excited about something to which he has never been introduced. While most students in first or second grades are learning about their neighborhoods in school, Peter was exploring the world. Peter knew that geography was not a dry subject.
Geography is much more exciting than many people think, involving far more than places and locations. Geography helps us to understand the relationship of places and people. With a little searching adults will find that there are resources available to introduce young people to this subject.
To give you an idea of the scope of geography, check out the definitions
that were compiled from participants at the Geography Summit II which was held at Southwest Texas State University in 1996 and collected by Dr. Ed Fernald of the Florida Geographic Alliance.
Great Resources for Teaching
To help people gain a greater understanding of geography, in 1984 the Joint Committee on Geographic Education of the National Council for Geographic Education (NCGE) and the Association of American Geographers (AAG) developed Five Themes of Geography.
These themes include location, place, human/environment interaction, movement, and regions. Be sure and take a look at this site as it explains each of these themes and lists fun activities to teach them. More activities for teaching the Five Themes can be found at Education World
At the National Geographic Xpeditions
site, you will find not only the U.S. National Geography Standards, but lesson plans, activities, an atlas, and an interactive learning museum.
Want to know if you have a student who is gifted in geography
? The national curriculum of England has actually set up standards.
Finally, if you would like to pursue geography on a competitive basis, take a look at GeoBee Challenge
. This site includes information for kids, parents, and teachers, including information on the National Geographic Bee.
So, have lots of resources available to students, including maps, atlases, and globes. I have a large world map hanging in my kitchen. There’s no need for me to look for it or open it up when I want it. If I read about a place and I’m not sure where it is, I can look it up. If I’m doing a crossword puzzle and one of the questions pertains to geography, I can look it up. Have maps for everything. I live in a sports oriented state, so I have maps of bike trails, hiking trails, ski area trails, and cross-country ski trails. They are fun to study. Also interesting are topographical maps, relief maps, political maps, and weather maps. Each gives different kinds of information.
If you go to the zoo, get a map of the animal locations. If you go to a museum, get a map of the exhibit locations. Have your child make a map of your house. Talk about the arrangement of the rooms and how the present locations function in your house. Then have your child create a map of his ideal house. Have him explain why he placed the rooms where he did. Is it more functional that way?
Use maps when studying history. Observe border changes. Why do they change? How does geography influence where people settle? How does it affect where people move? Discuss geography in relationship to current events. How does geography affect alliances and conflicts throughout the world? Why do the names of countries change?
Teach students how to read legends. Understand longitude and latitude and time zones. How does geography affect climate? Make geography a part of everyday life both at home and at school.