The High Flyer

Alicia Cotabish

Science is just cool. Plain and simple. You can find science at play in all our surroundings. Whether one recognizes it or not, science can explain everyday encounters like music being heard from an instrument to more obvious interactions like combustion of materials. Because of these natural occurrences, classroom teachers have the opportunity to demonstrate science in action through everyday examples. Historically, science was taught in isolation using traditional pedagogical practices. Over the last twenty-five years, teachers of science have embraced hands-on types of science activities, and integrated forms of technology (e.g., graphing calculator, probes, and the like) to increase engagement and bring relevant experiences to the science classroom. More recently, the Next Generation Science Standards have influenced how we approach the teaching of science; however, students have redefined the definition of engagement.

Today’s generation of students are living in a world of immersive technology. They prefer to receive news and information through Facebook or Instagram, and are highly engaged in self-directed learning using YouTube. Their utilization of these platforms requires teachers to reexamine their own interpretation of student engagement and hands-on learning. These types of self-directed, interest-based student activities are surely a call-to-action for all educators to seek out...

Maryann Woods-Murphy

I am a gifted and talented specialist for a school district in New Jersey. It is my job to make sure that students receive the proper level of acceleration and enrichment in elementary school.

But every single day, I fail at my job.

I pull students out for challenging lessons or guide them through academic competitions and enrichment experiences, but it is not enough.

They seek me out, even in crowded hallways. “I’m studying botany now,” said one fifth-grader as he lugged his backpack to class, making sure to keep in a straight line. “I’ll let you know how it goes.” I remind him that he can check in on our Google classroom to get feedback on his project and I feel confident that his classroom teacher will be interested in listening to his ideas.

The teachers I work with are magicians at differentiating instruction, creating online folders and spaces for students to go when they are finished early with their regularly scheduled work. Still, they too admit that they can never do enough for their gifted, talented, and advanced learners.

In recent years, the need for extreme differentiation has become even greater, as knowledgeable parents load their children’s...

Advocates for gifted and talented education will always face an uphill struggle. Garnering support for policies that, by definition, benefit a small subset of students is hard—and harder when so many people assume that these kids will do fine regardless.

The inevitable—but foreseeable—result is the emaciated condition of programs designed to serve such children in U.S. public schools: scarce, often thin, and frequently staffed by ill-trained educators.

Weakness in gifted education undermines the country’s long-term prosperity. It’s also inequitable and bad for social mobility. The students most harmed are able pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, who depend far more than upper-middle-class students on the public education system to support them.

One partial remedy for this neglect is to ensure that policies that focus on all students truly benefit high achievers, too. Properly crafted, such policies can be significant boons for bright, motivated pupils, while sidestepping the “elitist” label that too often gets applied to gifted-centric initiatives.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) presents just such an opportunity for broad-gauged policy improvement at the state level—and it’s heartening that most of the new state accountability plans for schools under that statute are likely to do some good for...

Noel Jett

So, you’re considering radical acceleration. You’re running out of education options, and you miss the feeling of actually being challenged with your school work. I started community college when I was thirteen and transferred to Texas A&M when I was fourteen, so I feel your struggle. Now, I’m working on my Ph.D. in Gifted and Talented Education and I am happy to tell you both my experience and the research conclusions are positive. Radical acceleration is safe, healthy, and viable so far!

But I have bad news, too: There is one major con to this option, one that the research doesn’t fully grasp. The more intelligent someone is, and specifically the more advanced they are in school, the higher the likelihood they will have sworn themselves to secrecy about it. This is not completely without purpose: I find it quite fair to say that people constantly drawing attention to their own strengths are narcissistic. However, what is truly upsetting is the fact that it quickly becomes taboo to even tell someone the truth as a radically advanced child. Even if you never refer to yourself as intelligent, just plainly state that you are not in middle school but enrolled full-time...

Roy Ghosh

How do we become famous? And can gifted students, or math and science whiz kids ever attain fame? What do Selena Gomez, Shawn Mendes, and Emma Watson have that young, gifted students do not? Their work is appreciated, or more so, adored by their community. Their fans motivate them to do more, to make more music, to star in more movies. It is hard to imagine budding scientists experiencing anywhere near the same level of acceptance, awareness, or inspiration from their peers. I obviously believe that they should—why shouldn’t they? They could save millions of lives, cure diseases, and solve the world’s most significant problems.

Yet, most people would laugh at this next statement: Young science nerds need to be as famous as athletes, singers, and YouTubers.

Why is this absurd? Because people get more excited watching sports games, having their hearts beat until the last second of the match. They become engrossed watching crazy people doing hilarious things. Yet reading a long research paper with scientific jargon, even if it discusses the cure to cancer, is quite boring for most.

The problem is not that scientists should be getting millions of Twitter followers or appearing on the Tonight Show...

Tim Marzullo

I remember a meeting when Backyard Brains was just beginning in early 2009, when we were receiving guidance from the Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan. We were just finishing up graduate school and learning the actual mechanics of forming a startup company, something very new to us—the basic things: how to incorporate, how to find customers, how to scale a prototype into a product, and how to raise funding with government technology grants or venture capital. We were two recent PhDs with a couple prototypes, some cockroaches, a bit of presentation chutzpah, but not much else than that.

During a meeting on ideas to formalize the business and begin sales, an engineering advisor said, “I love the cockroach, but you guys need a better logo. Engineers are not creative, so hire a design student to help you with it.”

Working with designers to develop a logo is useful and certainly uncontroversial advice, but the comment that “engineers are not creative” hit me like a punch, and I remember little else that occurred in that meeting.

Engineers are not creative? And this was an engineer saying this?! Any time I look at any machine that does its function...

Scott J. Peters

Any educator or parent who has interacted with the field of gifted and talented education has probably come across the “bright vs. gifted” or “bright child vs. gifted learner” checklist. It seems to have first appeared in a 1989 article by Janice Szabos in Challenge Magazine, but was likely around in similar forms long before that. This checklist seems to be one of the most ubiquitous publications related to gifted education. It is included in formal district gifted education plans and even posted to state department of education websites with the implicit endorsement of it and its key distinction as best practice.

The overall suggestion seems to be that as a teacher or even as an educational system, educationally useful information comes from knowing if one of your students is “just bright” as opposed to being “truly” gifted. In other words, if two children are otherwise identical in their level of achievement, aptitude, creativity, and so on, they should still be treated differently if one is “truly” gifted and one is “just” bright. A few years ago, a senior scholar in the field of gifted education, was handed the form as a rationale for why his kindergartener (who...

A recent New York Times analysis suggests that a generation of policies meant to bring racial proportionality to our selective colleges has failed. “Even after decades of affirmative action, black and Hispanic students are more underrepresented at the nation’s top colleges and universities than they were 35 years ago,” declared the authors.

In 2015, black and Hispanic students made up 15 and 22 percent of the U.S. college age population, respectively, but just 8 and 14 percent of the enrollments at top universities. Those gaps are wider today than in 1980—and, in the case of Hispanic students, the gap has tripled over that time.

Yet these higher-education problems are a consequence and symptom of a systemic ailment that is typically caught as soon as students of color enter the classroom. Some, of course, have been immunized before they get there and some were hit well before kindergarten. For many, however, the K–12 system is where trouble begins. “Elementary and secondary schools with large numbers of black and Hispanic students are less likely to have experienced teachers, advanced courses, high-quality instructional materials and adequate facilities,” writes the Times, citing data from the Office for Civil Rights.

These school-level deficiencies...

Kevin D. Besnoy

In 2015, two agencies (Mathematica Policy Institute and the Center for Research on Education Outcomes) published separate findings about the impact of online charter schools on students’ academic growth. The purpose of both reports was twofold: first, to inform local education agencies and policy makers about the growth of the online charter school movement, and second, to engage the general public in an in-depth discussion about the role that online schools should have in K–12 education. In short, both publications report disappointing academic growth for students enrolled in online schools. While they did not address the growth of gifted students enrolled in those schools, their findings must be further researched through robust empirical studies.

Most gifted students enrolled in public schools who are taking online classes are not classified as full-time virtual students, meaning that they are attending a traditional brick-and-mortar school and taking two or less online classes. This hybrid approach is a viable option for gifted programs unable to hire teachers with specialized expertise, too few gifted students identified in the school to justify a teacher for advanced classes, or programs looking to offer a curriculum that meets gifted students’ needs. Whatever the reason for leveraging online classes...

M. René Islas

As the ink dries on the recently enacted gifted education law, Public Law 17–82, Connecticut has the opportunity to lead the nation in empowering local school administrators and teachers in how to best serve our gifted and talented students.

The field of education knows what works to serve gifted and talented students, including how best to identify these students, how to appropriately use acceleration strategies and how to best prepare teachers to work with this population. Best practice guidelines called for in the law will offer direction and clarity to districts on gifted education practices; guidance many practitioners lack today.

To move this forward, we encourage state officials to follow three important steps.

First, they should remove policy barriers to learning and establish a sound statewide policy on acceleration. Research demonstrates that acceleration strategiessuch as advancing students an entire grade or in certain subjectsare one of the most effective approaches to help ensure all children, regardless of background, receive quality gifted and talented programing.

Acceleration strategies allow students to access advanced content, skills, or understanding before their expected age or grade level. Rather than load students up with more content they have already mastered, acceleration helps truly challenge these...

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