Tuesday, December 21, 2010

eCybermission Part I

Attention students!!! Those of you who are working on an eCybermission Mission Folder should make sure you're asking yourself the following questions as you select a Mission Challenge and begin designing your experiments:

1. What community PROBLEM are we trying to solve? Designing a science experiment is fun and intellectually stimulating, but remember this is a problem-solving competition.

2. How does our EXPERIMENT address our chosen problem and support finding a real solution (or part of a solution)? Make sure your experiment(s) are directly related to the problem at hand.

3. What MATERIALS will we need for our project? Special note: if your experiment will involve animals of any kind (including invertebrates), you must design your experiment and clear it with me before moving forward so as to avoid potential ethical problems.

There will, of course, be more pieces of advice as we move forward, but this is it for the early phases. Have a great break!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Jay Mathews has it wrong!

Washington Post education blogger Jay Mathews' post this morning was completely off the mark. With a title like "Why urban schools don't need gifted programs", I couldn't exactly stand by and say nothing. See his post and my reply (as username aec7c) here.

Please comment on his post! Make sure he knows he's dead wrong and gifted programs ARE necessary in all districts!

Monday, December 6, 2010

For your enjoyment (and frustration)...

This past summer, Virginia Senator Mark Warner proposed the elimination of the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program, currently the only source of federal funding for gifted education and research. A classmate of mine recently composed a poem (in the style of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas) drawing both silly and serious attention to the crisis of funding for gifted children. With her permission, I've reprinted her entire post:

During this “Season of Giving,” I know we are all busy with holiday traditions. Some are worried about finding the perfect gift, and others are busy monitoring their bank accounts so that they have enough to give and get by. It’s also a good time to think about the children who look to us with that sparkle in their eyes as they enjoy the season themselves. For a moment, if we could turn our attention away from our traditions, it is those children who are suffering due to the huge crisis facing our educational system. The government has worked for years to “raise” the bar so that children who were not achieving can achieve. This movement of No Child Left Behind has been successful for those struggling students, but in the fury of change, our gifted and talented population has been forgotten and neglected. But, in the spirit of the holidays, my poem should make you all aware of the steps that need to happen so that ALL of our children can reach their greatest and fullest potential.

‘Twas a Gifted Funding Crisis

‘Twas the day before class, when all through the schools
Not a teacher was smiling, a budget was balanced by fools.
The posters were hung by the doorways and such,
But the funding for gifted, there was nothing to touch.

All children would sit lined up in their seats,
While teachers felt sorry for the “learning elite.”
And Johnny, in his boredom, and Suzie’s blank stare,
But the teacher was instructed, “The low kids - prepare.”
(Mary Jordan, “Gifted Pupils Bored, Study Says”)

When out in the halls there arose such a noise,
A look out the door showed a small number of young girls and some boys.
Away to a private school soon they would go,
For the budget only supported kids who were average or low.
(Video “One Size Fits All Doesn’t Fit All Learners”)

Oh, and the football team, too, they were not ignored.
For in their new field house,beautiful new uniforms were stored.
And don’t forget the nice raises some people saw,
“We are obligated to provide some educational benefits…”or so says the law.
And yet, what about those who are talented, you wonder!
(Kristen R. Stephens, “Gifted Education and the Law”)

"Now Peter! Now, Sarah! Don’t forget twins Ben and Bryan!
Come on, Judy! And Claudia! And Rebecca and Ryan!
To the top of your class is where you belong
All you ever wanted was for your curriculum to be strong."

And then, in a rush, we heard from the Super,
“We think we may have found, in our budget, a blooper,”
As I looked at him gladly and was starting to dream,
“Yes, we have found extra money to start a new golf team!”
(Philip Walzer & Susan E. White, “Are Students Being Shortchanged?”)

So our smartest of smart continue to languish and slide,
To the lowest of low, on this sad budget ride.
We’re ranked last as compared to other like nations,
Just because some do not know the value of great educations.
(Mary Jordan, “Gifted Pupils Bored, Study Says”)

In a regular class, the gifted yearn to fit in,
The teacher, while nice, is not trained to teach them.
These children who require more to school than what’s there,
Acceleration, AP classes, independent study, or even a science fair.
(Sandra S. Jowers, “Gifted is Special Education”)

AYP was successful but ignored a small group,
The gifted and talented, test scores took a swoop.
And with no differentiation year after year,
Those artists and doctors are now your cashiers!

The answers are simple, but someone must act,
You are armed with some knowledge and many a fact!
Do not ignore what’s happening in your very schools,
Your future needs funding, not a new swimming pool.

But the teacher spoke not a word, and went straight to his task,
Overflowing young minds with the basics of Math.
And Moms and Dads, and Grandparents, too,
Didn’t advocate for change for this talented crew!
(Joyce Van Tassel-Baska, Ph.D. “Basic Educational Options for Gifted Students in Schools”)

Go to your school board, and Senators, and Congress and more,
And fight for the rights in this educational war.
For “little is much” we often do jest,
But it’ll be a teacher who can use a little money the best.

R. Rakow

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

AOS Application Part I Due TODAY!!!

Attention eighth-graders: the first part of the Academy of Science application is due online by 11:59pm tonight. Since midnight will technically be tomorrow, YES, YOU MUST SUBMIT IT BEFORE THEN NO MATTER HOW SILLY THAT SEEMS!!!

Submitting your application on time will automatically register you to take the PSAT on October 16th at Dominion High School, so you don't need to worry about signing up separately.

Good luck!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Motivation: The Blame Game 1

This series on under- and selective-achievement will not be posted consecutively due to the start of school and important information for my own students, but eventually I'll get to all of them. Fair warning: these posts will be on the serious academic side, with proper APA citations and everything. Prepare yourself.
Neumeister and Hébert (2003) identified four categories of factors which influence under- and selective achievement by gifted students: individual, family, school, and social. This post will focus on several aspects of the “individual” category, and subsequent entries will tackle additional individual factors as well as the other three categories. The final post in this series will address specifics of what we (students, peers, parents, teachers, administrators, counselors, and other influential adults) can do to address the problems of low motivation and underachievement.
Boredom is, of course, a major problem for gifted students, and it is created by a combination of individual (personality, psychology) and school (content, instruction, learning environment) factors (Kanevsky and Keighley, 2003). A second central issue is perfectionism or unrealistic expectations. In other words, if students are overly self-critical or set goals which are unreasonably high, they set themselves up to fail at the present task and to underachieve in the future in order to avoid making the same mistakes (Frey, 2002; Siegle, 2006).
Hébert (1998), in his research on underachievement by black male students, focused on psychological factors. In his summation of Ford’s 1996 research, he noted her emphasis on adults’ ability to recognize giftedness as it is influenced by “cultural, racial, economic, and linguistic backgrounds”; it logically follows that educators’ failure to make these connections results in a school experience that is “less relevant and less personally meanintful [sic]”.
These factors could be viewed as being “the student’s fault” since they certainly incorporate elements of personality and personal responsibility for learning, but we must also recognize our own responsibilities as educators. Should we not be making the participatory experience of “school” relevant for our students? Why do we expect them to care if we are not providing them with real, significant, and applicable information and skills? Cross (2002) asked an interesting question: “What if we put the well-being of the individual student (including gifted students) first in planning and carrying out school activities?” Students surely must bear some responsibility for creating a meaningful and useful school experience, but we must also do our part in crafting the environments, materials, and relationships that will be models for their future interactions.

Cross, T. (2002). Putting the well-being of all students (including gifted students) first. Gifted Child Today, 25(4), 14-17.

Frey, C. (2002). Dealing with the needs of underachieving gifted students in a suburban school district: What works!. The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, Spring.

Hébert, T. (1998). Gifted black males in an urban high school: Factors that influence achievement and underachievement. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 21(4), 385-414.

Kanevsky, L. & Keighley, T. (2003). To produce or not to produce?: Understanding boredom and the honor in underachievement. Roeper Review, 26(1), 20-28.

Neumeister, K. & Hébert, T. (2003). Underachievement versus selective achievement: Delving deeper and discovering the difference. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 26(3), 221-238.

Siegle, D. (2006). 10 tips for breaking the underachievement cycle. EduFest presentation.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"Fireflies" in ASL

My students are currently finishing an ASL unit, and we've been using this video in class. The featured signer is neither deaf nor completely fluent in American Sign language, but this video still helps kids connect ASL to popular culture: not to mention that they also think it's really cool to be able to sign along with the radio.

And, by the way, I LOVE TeacherTube :)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Myths About Gifted Education – Part 1

**This will be a two-part post because I'm in the process of moving and changing our internet setup, so it will take awhile to get the whole thing finished.

The National Association for Gifted Children (
NAGC) condensed this list from a series of pieces, beginning with a 1982 issue of Gifted Child Quarterly, and I have reposted it word-for-word here. I see and hear so many of these myths tossed around by students, parents, and fellow educators, and I often think they are simply rationalizations we use to avoid giving our best to these children and/or expecting them to give their best in our classrooms. We spend a lot of time teaching kids up from the bottom, and not very much time teaching kids up from the top, though every child should have the opportunity to reach his or her highest possible level of academic growth in our public schools, regardless of the starting point.

Italics represent my emphasis, and * represents my additions.


Gifted students don’t need help; they’ll do fine on their own.

Would you send a star athlete to train for the Olympics without a coach? Gifted students need guidance from well-trained teachers who challenge and support them in order to fully develop their abilities. Many gifted students may be so far ahead of their same-age peers that they know more than half of the grade-level curriculum before the school year begins. Their resulting boredom and frustration can lead to low achievement, despondency, or unhealthy work habits. The role of the teacher is crucial for spotting and nurturing talents in school.

*This is such a common attitude! While many students may, indeed, turn out “fine”, they need help cultivating their talents just like everyone else. We’re going for “excellent”, not “fine”.

Teachers challenge all the students, so gifted kids will be fine in the regular classroom.

Although teachers try to challenge all students they are frequently unfamiliar with the needs of gifted children and do not know how to best serve them in the classroom. The National Research Center on Gifted and Talented (NRC/GT) found that
61% of classroom teachers had no training in teaching highly able students, limiting the challenging educational opportunities offered to advanced learners.[1] A more recent national study conducted by the Fordham Institute found that 58% of teachers have received no professional development focused on teaching academically advanced students in the past few years. Taken together, these reports confirm what many families have known: not all teachers are able to recognize and support gifted learners.

*A current education buzzword is “differentiation”: in other words, adjusting content, process, and environment to give students the correct amount and level of work for their intellectual abilities and potential. While most teachers attempt to do this, and some do it quite well, it is often not feasible for students to truly learn at their own paces when those paces are highly accelerated. Unfortunately, many gifted students end up without relevant lesson extensions and, instead, read books for large portions of their classes. Let me emphasize that there is nothing wrong with reading, either at school or at home. However, since high-ability students generally have the capacity to make great academic achievements, we as teachers should be giving them the opportunity to do this during class.

Gifted students make everyone else in the class smarter by providing a role model or a challenge.

In reality, average or below-average students do not look to the gifted students in the class as role models. They are more likely to model their behavior on those who have similar capabilities and are coping well in school. Seeing a student at a similar performance level succeed motivates students because it adds to their own sense of ability. Watching or relying on someone who is expected to succeed does little to increase a struggling student’s sense of self-confidence.
[2] Similarly, gifted students benefit from classroom interactions with peers at similar performance levels.

All children are gifted.

While all children are special and deserving, not all children have exceptional academic gifts that require additional or different support in school. Interestingly, most people readily accept that there are gifted children in performing arts or athletics whose talents are so far above those of others their age that they require additional or different training or coaching. It is important to understand that these same characteristics and differences apply to academically gifted students who need support and guidance to reach their full potential.

Acceleration placement options are socially harmful for gifted students.


Academically gifted students often feel bored or out of place with their age peers and naturally gravitate towards older students who are more similar as “intellectual peers.” Studies have shown that many students are happier with older students who share their interest than they are with children the same age.[3] Therefore, acceleration placement options such as early entrance to Kindergarten, grade skipping, or early exit should be considered for these students.

[1] Archambault, F. S., Westberg, K. L., Brown, S. W., Hallmark, B. W., Emmons, C. L., & Zhang, W. (1993). Regular classroom practices with gifted students: Results of a national survey of classroom teachers (#93102). Storrs, CT: the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.
[2] Fiedler, E.D., Lange, R. E., Winebrenner, S. (1993). In search of reality: Unraveling the myths about tracking, ability grouping, and the gifted. Roper Review, (16), 4-7.
[3] Colangelo, N., Assouline, S. G., & Gross, M.U.M. (2004). A nation deceived: How schools hold back America's brightest students. Iowa City: University of Iowa.


Stay tuned for the rest of the list; there are still six myths to go!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

I love my job because _(insert reasons here)_

And now for the BIG one...

THE reason...

priority NUMERO UNO...

for why I love my job...




I love watching kids learn.

I love watching kids discover something new about themselves.

I love watching them work out their social drama, and I wonder how I ever survived middle school.

I love watching them have debates about the strangest things.

I love watching the learning process without worrying about grades or mindless homework.

I love watching a silly song take form, sung by only one at first, but soon joined by the whole class for a chorus or two.

I love watching them make meaningful connections between the material we're studying and the world in which they live.

I love watching kids play with magnetic root word poetry on the grayboard. Octoplatygastrology, anyone?

I love watching one child help another with geometry and hearing the assistee say "Ooooooh, I get it now!"

I love watching kids figure things out without worrying about whether I'm keeping up with the correct Virginia Standards.

I love watching kids attack a project, knowing that every child will come up with a different solution.

I love watching the enthusiasm that results from an assignment with true relevance.

I love watching kids learn.

As this blog gets rolling, I'll get into more specifics for teaching strategies, materials, and creative problem-solving. For the first few posts, though, the focus is going to be on why I'm doing this: Why am I blogging? Why do I teach? Why do I love what I do?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

What *exactly* do I teach?

I don't teach stuff.

I don't give them formulas to memorize or timelines to remember or definitions to copy.

I don't think of my students as blank slates, or imagine myself opening their heads and pouring in knowledge.

Every student has a story, and I want to find out what it is. Even more, though, I want that student to discover his or her own story.

Where did I come from? Why do I think the way I do? Who has the ability to influence me, and why? What roadblocks do I face? When will I discover a passion? How should I follow it?

I'm not teaching them facts; I'm teaching them how to learn.

Not What's the answer?, but What do I use to solve the problem?.

Not Will this be on the test?, but Where can I use this later?.

Not What do I need to know?, but How is this relevant?.

Now, what are my hopes?

I hope someday American culture will get over its need to test, test, test. I hope we come to realize that this leaves behind not only our struggling students, but our high-ability children, too. I hope we start to understand that pass/fail numbers aren't everything, and that critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity are far more important to the future of humankind than an SOL score could ever be.

I hope my students achieve great things.

As this blog gets rolling, I'll get into more specifics for teaching strategies, materials, and creative problem-solving. For the first few posts, though, the focus is going to be on why I'm doing this: Why am I blogging? Why do I teach? Why do I love what I do?

Friday, May 14, 2010

and so it begins...

Why, you may ask, is Mrs. W starting a blog?

And I shall answer you:


Not really, though I DO think it's a *little* bit cool :)

No, I'm starting this blog because I care about the education of gifted kids. And not just any gifted kids...my gifted kids. The students I teach every day are young people who have the ability to change the world in lots of spectacular ways, and if I help even ONE of them reach a little farther, fly a little higher, or run a little faster, I will count my career a success.

This blog is a way to communicate with my students and their families, but also to share ideas with other teachers, both those specializing in gifted education and those just looking for some thoughts about how to stretch their high-ability kids a little more. Many educators know that regular classroom differentiation is usually not enough for these students (more on that in a later post), and I want to help teachers find ways to open new doors for their gifted charges,...

...which brings me to my next point: the name of this blog. Pandora was, according to Greek mythology, the first woman. Her name comes from two Greek words: pan, meaning all, and doron, meaning gift. Now, these words can be combined in English to take several different meanings, but I choose to focus on the image of Pandora as all-gifted. I think of my students not only as people with gifts for music, writing, technology, or science, among many other things, but also as individuals with infinite possibilities for giving to the human race. Just as Pandora gave Epimetheus a box full of things, some good and some not-so-good, my students are and will be capable of altering the world in many ways. I'm here to encourage them to start learning how to search for problem solutions that will improve the human condition.

GATE is a fairly well-recognized acronym for Gifted and Talented Education, so I like the metaphor of a GATEway: doors should be opened for gifted students, not closed. However well-meaning we may be, when our knee-jerk reaction is to squash their ideas or stymie their efforts to think in creative and unusual ways, we discourage them from realizing their full potential.

So, in summary, we have Pandora who has a lot to give, and a fabulous GATEway through which it can be done. I like it.

A word of warning...
I often write similarly to the way I speak to my students, which may or may not be perfect and/or grammatically correct. I may include smiley-faces, non-Oxford-recognized onomatopoeia, and strange punctuation, all of which is done purely for emphasis or to make a particular point. I don't take myself too seriously, and neither should you!

As this blog gets rolling, I'll get into more specifics for teaching strategies, materials, and creative problem-solving. For the first few posts, though, the focus is going to be on why I'm doing this: Why am I blogging? Why do I teach? Why do I love what I do?


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