Monday, April 25, 2011

If Not Gifted, What?

There's an interesting discussion going on in the Title Nine post that I thought deserved its own thread. Namely, what word or words should we use to describe giftedness? Many people (including people who advocate for gifted education) don't like the word "gifted" though it's short and, at this point, pretty universally recognized for what it is. The word does invite criticism -- aren't we all gifted in some fashion? Other kinds of giftedness are sometimes qualified, like "athletically gifted" or "musically gifted" or perhaps for the models among us, "aesthetically gifted." Some folks use "intellectually gifted" to qualify it, or "academically gifted" which is probably the least offensive, though it raises questions too. After all, some gifted children aren't actually that good in school.

I've long blogged about using the words "readiness grouping" instead of "ability grouping" to talk about organizing classes into people who are prepared to handle certain material. It has nothing to do with age or innate talents. We all work at different paces and should be challenged to the extent possible. But I'm not sure what word is better than gifted, which is why I use it, and I'm sure many others do, too. I'm curious if people have great suggestions for other phrases that convey the same point.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Title Nine and Gifted Kids

I get lots of catalogs in the mail, one of which happens to be Title Nine, a maker of women's athletic clothing. I opened the current edition to see founder Missy Park listing "My definition of insanity." It was an 8 part list, with such things as "Any diet with one ingredient," and "our tax code" and... "'Gifted' children...How do they know??"

It's a bit puzzling, really. I mean, there are several ways they know. Some children really do exhibit exceptional intellectual abilities, at a very young age. And if that's not enough, there are multiple tests that have been rigorously prepared and studied that can ascertain when someone's IQ is outside the norm and there is a high probability he/she will need accommodations to meet her academic needs.

But of course, I think Park was coming at this from the perspective that it is patently absurd. Who could fathom such a thing as "gifted" children? I am quite curious what she thinks of the comments that several Davidson Institute bulletin board readers left on the online version of the list. I can sympathize to a degree. When I worked for Reader's Digest, writing the "Only in America" section, I once made a mocking list of "Museums Not To Build Your Vacation Around." I included a mustard museum, with the snarky line "thousands of mustards, not a hot dog in sight." Suddenly, there was a letter writing campaign to Reader's Digest from fans of this particular mustard museum. Dozens upon dozens. I kid you not. I was surprised, and I imagine Park is surprised that what she considered a throwaway line drew such ire.

On the other hand, I think giftedness is well enough established in educational research and pedagogy that it doesn't need quote marks around it. I do wonder why a catalog going after women who think it's OK to bust the norm (on the athletic side of things) would insult children who are busting the norm on another side of things. It's as if someone scoffed "Athletic children... how do they know??" Well... look at someone like Tiger Woods. That's how they know.

For AP Students, a New Classroom is Online

The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating article on the rise in online AP classes. The number of students taking Advanced Placement classes has soared -- with just shy of 2 million expected to sit for exams this spring, up more than 100% from 2000. However, not all schools can offer a full slate of such classes, and in an era of budget cuts, AP classes (which are often smaller than others even as the number of interested students has risen) are ripe targets. But given how standardized these classes are, there's no real reason that you have to be in a physical classroom with a teacher. A few states have charter schools that offer online versions of the classes, and there are national companies, the WSJ reports, that also allow students to enroll for a fee: Advanced Academics ($425 for a one-semester AP class), Apex Learning, Aventa Learning, Florida Virtual School, etc.

Online learning is tricky to get right. As reporter Sue Shellenbarger notes, "One potential drawback for socially connected teens: taking an advanced placement course online seems to require advanced placement time-management skills." It's hard to focus when Facebook and Twitter are one click away! Nonetheless, preliminary comparisons find that students who take online classes do just as well as students who take in-person ones.

I think this is a great trend, as the rise in online learning allows students to break through traditional barriers to taking advanced classes. A school system might balk at shuttling a 7th grader over to a high school for AP US History or AP Calculus, but no one can see how young you look online. Virtual learning is a great way for kids in rural areas to take classes that would otherwise be unaffordable for a small high school. And on the margins, it starts to change the notion that school is something you do in a certain building, with people of a certain age, during certain hours. That's a win for gifted students. I'm curious if any readers of this blog have incorporated online AP courses into their children's individualized learning plans.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Should Science Be Part of NCLB?

I know that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is not particularly popular within the gifted education community. The law definitely provides a convenient excuse for districts to divert resources from programs for advanced students -- something many seem to want to do anyway. But given that it's unlikely to be gutted, here's a different question: should science be part of NCLB?

Science teachers claim that, particularly at the elementary school level, schools have decided to spend much less time on science instruction since NCLB focuses on math and reading. On one hand, math and reading are pretty foundational, and lay the groundwork for all other subjects. Schools may be spending less time on science, but there are probably other neglected, important subjects too (like foreign languages, history, civics, etc.) that are losing time because of NCLB. Why just science?

On the other hand, broadening the standards movement to include other important subjects has upsides too, and science is certainly an important one. What is measured gets taught. The only way that some schools will start doing lab experiments with young kids is if they know it matters to their bottom lines and reputations. But will standardized tests actually cover scientific knowledge? Hard to know! I'm curious what readers of this blog think.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Google Enters The Science Fair Scene

Young scientists wishing to compete on a national (or international) stage have lots of options these days: The Davidson Fellows program, the Intel Science Talent Search, the Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology, and ... Google.

Yes, Google has created a Google Global Science Fair (accepting applications until midnight eastern tonight!) for young scientists to demonstrate their experiments. Google hopes to differentiate its program by being strongly virtual: students upload information about their projects, and lots of people will be able to see what's been entered and judged. The vast majority of humanity will never attend a science fair in a conference center or school gymnasium, but people might check out a cool uploaded video on YouTube (hopefully demonstrating something more profound than the whole baking soda and vinegar volcano bit, but hey, the Diet Coke and Mentos video was pretty popular, so you never know...) The prizes also sound like fun, including a trip to Switzerland and a visit to the Galapagos islands.

The New York Times had a somewhat skeptical article about the contest a few days ago, asking if this was a bit of a marketing ploy to get young people hooked on Google's office products, but I figure hey, the more options the better! Anything that makes science more lucrative and interesting for young people is probably a good thing.