Space Program Is Ultimate Problem-Based Learning

Space Program Is Ultimate Problem-Based Learning

The film First Man has recently come through theatres and tells the story of how Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon. Of course, this event is the very ending of the movie. Prior to this are all of the things that had to come before this great accomplishment could be achieved. The most eye-opening thing for me was in seeing all of the failures of the mission. There is failure by Armstrong when he is test-piloting a plane. Failure as the astronauts are subjected to a device where they are spun in all sorts of directions and have to make it stable before passing out, often times throwing up at the end (that would not be good in a space helmet).

The tragedy of the crew of Apollo 1 dying in a fire was certainly not a success. There was the time Armstrong was testing the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle and had to eject moments before it would have killed him. It seems like there are far more failures than there are successes. But then that’s the point of it all, isn’t it? Like Armstrong himself says in the movie, “We need to fail. We need to fail down here, so we don’t fail up there.” A failure up there results in lives being lost. A failure down here is a learning opportunity…

10 Myths of Gifted Kids

10 Myths of Gifted Kids

There is a myth that surrounds the gifted child. That they are super smart, that they can figure out anything, that they have all the answers. The problem with these representations is that that giftedness becomes like a gimmick, so when we are faced with a real gifted child, we expect them to do unrealistic, amazing things like some sort of parlor trick. 

There are many myths about gifted children but here are ten of the more common ones:

1.) Gifted children will succeed in life no matter what

This one can be problematic because if one believes this, as many do, the thinking becomes that gifted children do not need any specialized education aimed at their abilities. What then happens is the gifted child becomes bored because he is not being challenged and becomes turned off by school. 

2.) Gifted children love school and get high grades

What it should read is gifted children love to learn. The problem is that sometimes, what children want to learn and what school is offering can be two very different things. If a child is not willing to play the game of school, the grades might not reflect his ability.

The Game of School: Are There Unnecessary Hoops Students Are Expected to Jump Through?

The Game of School: Are There Unnecessary Hoops Students Are Expected to Jump Through?

I was having a conversation with a fellow educator the other day and she was commenting on how teaching has changed in the last fifteen years. I thought about it for a minute and asked her, “how has it changed?” Her response what the easy, go-to change that society, in general, has gone through in the last twenty years; the breakneck pace of new technology. Now instead of blackboards, we have SMART boards, instead of overheads we have LCD projectors, instead of going to the library or getting a set of encyclopedias, students can access the internet. These are indeed changes to teaching, but are they really? Each of those new pieces of technology basically do the same thing their predecessor did before them, it just might be faster, or more easy to manipulate, or cooler, but it is the same basic premise. 

I have been in education for over twenty years. In that time I have seen lots of reforms come along. The outcomes-based education, the inclusion movement, small schools, STEM, and a host of others, but when you wipe away the veneer from these shiny new initiatives, you are left with the same elements of school there has always been. Bell rings, kids move to a subject-specific classroom, bell rings again, they go to another one. In each of these classes, students are taught material that has been laid out for them and then they must show mastery of said material in some kind of assessment. This usually comes in the form of a grade. If a student receives an A, it indicates she is doing pretty well, a C would show she is having some struggles while an F would mean something is seriously amiss. 

This is how school was when my parents went, it is the same as when I attended, it is the way it is now that my children are going to school, and if we are not careful, it is how it will be for our next generation of children. The question is, why haven’t things changed that much? 

Acceleration or Enrichment? - Which one is better for gifted kids?

Acceleration or Enrichment? - Which one is better for gifted kids?

When it comes to challenging gifted students, there is that age old debate of which is better; acceleration or enrichment?  Both are used to challenge students that are capable of higher levels of learning, but is one more effective than the other?

Before we can begin the debate, it is important to understand what each of these terms entails. Acceleration, just like its namesake, means going faster. In the classroom that can take on a bunch of different forms. It could mean compacting the curriculum so that students are getting multiple years of content in a single year. It could mean grade skipping, where a student who is a 5th grader is moved up to the 6th grade because she shows the ability to handle this next level. Sometimes this acceleration can be a single subject. What this means is that 5th grader might take 5th grade ELA, Social Studies, and Science, but goes to the 6th-grade class for math. It could also be early entrance to kindergarten or graduating from high school early. No matter what the method, the essential idea of acceleration is to allow students to learn at the speed and level that best matches their academic abilities (Davis & Rimm, 2004). Sometimes this means skipping content, but the idea is that this student already understands the content enough and should not have to repeat it anyway.

Enrichment on the other hand “refers to richer and more varied educational experiences, a curriculum that is modified to provide greater depth and breadth than is generally provided” (Davis & Rimm, 2004, p.120). This means rather than going faster; you actually slow down a little.

5 Things High Schools Can Learn from Kindergarten

5 Things High Schools Can Learn from Kindergarten

A recent study commissioned by the non-profit Defending the Early Years, reached an alarming conclusion about kindergarten classes in Massachusetts. What they discovered is schools are scaling back on child centered activities such as free play, rest, recess, snacks, and lunch. There are a lot more activities where students are sitting passively in their seats while the teacher directs all of the learning, much of which is scripted, and students are being given instruction centered around test prep. 

This is troubling for a couple of reasons. First off, young children need to be active. Studies have shown that sitting for too long can have the same health effects as smoking. On average, a middle-aged adult sits for 12.3 out of 16 waking hours. Based on a study of 8000 adults, there is direct relationship between the amount of time spent sitting and your risk of early death. Why do we want to start them sitting still at such an early age?

Secondly, kids should be allowed to be kids. The more and more schools are around, the more and more we want kids to grow up faster. It used to be children were allowed to take their time learning, mastering the simple concepts at a natural pace. By the time a child reached kindergarten, they may have some basic understanding of things such as numbers, colors, and shapes, but if they did not, it would be taught to them. Now we expect children to come into kindergarten being able to have all of this already. In Finland, who frankly is kicking everyone’s butt in the education game, children do not start formal schooling until age 8. Before this, the focus of learning is either on playtime or social skills. 

In essence, schools are making kindergarten more like high school. I would make the strong argument that it ought to be the other way around; we should be making high schools more like kindergarten…

The Dishonor of Honors Courses

The Dishonor of Honors Courses

Many high schools across the country offer what they term to be honors courses. For example, a school might offer Algebra but also have an Honors Algebra course. As a gifted services coordinator, the idea of honors classes is one I’m completely on board with. Offering more challenging courses to students who are able to handle such rigor is just another form of differentiation and gives students who are gifted another option for meeting their needs. But much like communism and the balk rule, it looks good on paper, but actually successfully executing it is something else entirely. There are three fundamental questions many schools are not answering which makes it difficult to have an honorable honors class. 

  1. How are students chosen for this honors course?

  2. How is it determined who teaches the honors classes?

  3. What is the difference between the honors class and the regular one?

The first question is how are students selected for this honors course? Some schools might have criteria such as you had to have a certain grade in the previous course, or it might be based on teacher recommendation. Unfortunately, many of these criteria can be subjective. Teachers might hold being compliant as a higher quality than having high-level thinking skills. If teachers are not well trained on what qualities high ability students have, they might misinterpret a natural curiosity as being a troublemaker. Grades are also subjective in that one teacher’s A might be a B in another teacher’s class. Because there is no uniformity to grading, there is a lot of gray areas.   

Many times, the students who are in the honors classes comes down to whoever signs up. Students who maybe want a little more of a challenge or who want to have their transcript look good to colleges might sign up for the honors…

Op-Ed: Teen Suicide

Op-Ed: Teen Suicide

This is in response to a recent June 8, 2018 article in The Washington PostSuicide: How schools should approach the subject with students. With the tragic deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, the topic of suicide is front and center in the national news. The logical question is, why hasn’t it been there all along? Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. In fact, there are twice as many suicides per year than there are homicides. In other words, we are more a danger to ourselves than others are. Why aren’t we talking about this more?

One of the most logical places for these conversations to happen is at school. Schools are supposed to be a safe haven. A place where children can go and feel protected physically. Why should we not offer a place where they can be afforded the same feeling mentally?

This is all very well and good in theory and one that I would advocate for, but with the way schools are currently set up this is very difficult to accomplish for a couple of reasons:

Teachers are already being asked to do more than they signed on for. Most teachers enter into the profession thinking their primary job is to teach children academics. But in my 20 plus years in education, I have seen a shift to school being responsible for life skills as well. Teaching kids manners, how to socially interact with others, and how to be socially responsible. Where before these skills were handled at home…

Why Gifted Parents Are Such Advocates for their Gifted Children

Why Gifted Parents Are Such Advocates for their Gifted Children

I have worked with parents of gifted children over twenty years in my career as an educator. I have had many good conversations, with an occasional bad one. When the bad ones do occur, it is usually not something personal against me that has this parent riled up. It is because at its root, gifted parents, like most parents, simply want what is best for their child.

Think about it from the parents’ perspective for a moment. Here is this little soul they have cultivated and cared for however many years the child has been around. They have interacted with this child more than anyone else on the planet, seen the good, the bad, the ugly. They are also probably more aware of this child’s potential than anyone else. They have seen what this child is capable of and want him to be put into an environment in which that potential can be reached. They want what is best for their child and why shouldn’t they. I’ve always maintained that if you cannot advocate for your own child, who can you advocate for…