Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Davidson Fellows Award Ceremony and the Career Education of Gifted Children


Last night I had the privilege of attending a reception at the Library of Congress honoring the 2005 Davidson Fellows. These gifted young people received $10,000, $25,000 and $50,000 scholarships for their original works, courtesy of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development (I co-wrote Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting Our Brightest Young Minds with Jan and Bob Davidson, DITD’s founders).

The winners were a varied bunch. The Davidson Fellow Laureates (who received $50,000 scholarships) included Karsten Gimre, an 11-year-old who won for a musical composition, “Conversation Without Words,” and Tiffany Ko, a 16-year-old who did a technology project: “Designing a Capacitance-Based Security System Employing the MC33794 E-Field Sensor Chip.” A young man named Marc Yu (age 6) stole the show with his discussion about his “Performance Selections for Piano,” which won a $10,000 scholarship, and his thoughts on how societies should support their brightest young people.

I was mulling over the same topic last night, and it’s one I’d like to discuss with parents of gifted children. How we can help gifted children go from all this potential, and from these frighteningly precocious projects like I heard about last night, to solid, productive careers in their chosen professions? Even when you do great scientific research (such as Milana Zaurova’s “Gene Therapy Meets Chemotherapy: Exposure of Malignant Glioma Cells to Transgenic Embryonic Stem Cells and Temozolomide”) the path to becoming, say, a tenured science professor with the right equipment and grants at the best university for you isn’t straightforward. Few composers earn a living at their craft. How can we guide them into choosing work that supports their craft, or at least leaves them time to pursue it? As a writer, I can testify that I have seen many grown-up gifted children who were amazing writers struggle with the publishing industry and learning how to establish themselves in positions where they can write what the muses are telling them to write.

What should parents and schools (including colleges) do to help gifted children’s career development? Or is there much they can do? - Laura

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Magic of Boarding Schools

I have a column in Monday's USA Today about boarding education for gifted students. It is available online at:

http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2005-09-25-vanderkam-edit_x.htm

Welcome to those who saw the URL for this blog in the column!

The gist of the piece is that despite America's love of Harry Potter and Hogwarts, his boarding school, we're not sending our own children to boarding school. There's a wizard's brew of factors at play, including high tuition, and a general lack of awareness. But also, today, more parents who might see boarding education as an option are interested in keeping their kids home and becoming closer to them during their late teen years.

I say this is too bad, because boarding education, done right, can concentrate the brightest kids from a broad geographic area, and create an environment that values learning. This is what I experienced at the Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics and Humanities. To do boarding education right, schools need to provide more scholarships, states need to build more public residential schools for the gifted, and policy makers can recognize that when gifted kids' needs can't be locally met, they may still be entitled to a free and appropriate education elsewhere (governments pay tuition for 17,111 disabled students at private residential schools or facilities around the country when their needs can't be met locally).

But obviously others disagree -- maybe parents can provide the best environment for gifted students. Maybe 15 or 16 is too young to live away from home, even if the educational environment is better. I'm curious to hear what people think- Laura

Sunday, September 25, 2005

What happens to gifted children when they grow up?

Well, some become gifted researchers at America's best institutions. For the past few years, Popular Science has been choosing a "Brilliant 10" list of scientists whose work will change our perception of the world in the near future. Read about them here:

http://www.popsci.com/popsci/science/09a7dd9a0cc36010vgnvcm1000004eecbccdrcrd.html

(from the September issue)

Among the more fun ones: Maryam Mirzakhani, a 28-year-old mathematician at Princeton, is working on calculating the volumes of moduli spaces of curves. Nathan Wolfe, 35, of Johns Hopkins, does field work in Cameroon to study how viruses emerge.

While there's plenty to fret about concerning the declining number of engineering and science PhDs being awarded to Americans, it is good to see US-based researchers still producing plenty of quality work. - Laura

Friday, September 23, 2005

Welcome to Gifted Exchange! We are still tweaking the site, so please check back often.

Today’s post: Remember middle school? For many gifted kids, it’s a time for talent searches, MathCounts and other great things, but a new study from Cheri Pierson Yecke, “Mayhem in the Middle” says American schools are not taking these critical years as seriously as we could. In the past few decades, she writes, a new philosophy has seized education thought leaders, one called “middle schoolism.” This philosophy holds that the early teen years are best devoted to socialization, learning to get along with other people, and learning one’s place in the world – not academics.

Anyone who’s lived through middle school knows that the young teen brain is developing on all those social fronts. But Yecke points out that it’s still developing on the academic front, too, and this country pays a terrible price for not demanding rigorous work from middle school students. While American 4th graders do as well as the rest of the world on TIMSS scores, American 8th graders lag behind. Are middle schools to blame? Maybe we need a bit less mayhem, and a bit more mindfulness.

-Laura