Book Review: Differentiating Instruction with Menus: Science

51ngmwuarelScience….is hands-on and can be as fun as you can make it. Science teachers work real hard to teach complicated ideas in science to you children. This book is a great resource that many of those teachers need to get. Differentiating Instruction with Menus (Science) covers Physical, Biological, and Earth Science. Laurie took some of the most important topics of each and created some great menus for them.

These menus will help to deepen student engagement, and interest in science. Everyone of us have had students who has a desire to learn everything, and wants to learn it now. Well, this book and the series, will help you with those students. By creating a choice board, a menu or tic-tac-toe board you allow students the freedom to learn multiple topics over a selective period of time. Students love the fact they can pick and choose what they will learn, and what products they will do to share their learning.

I would encourage all teachers and home school parents to check this book out along with the whole series. These books contain so much information to help you not only use the menu, but you can use the information to make your own menus.


Book Review: Differentiating Instruction With Menus: Math

This is part 1 of 4 of this series.

20160523_101558The differentiating Instruction with Menus series is one of my favorite series. It happens to be one of my most used series to date. I have found that all gifted children are very smart, they still need some differentiation in the lessons.

I feel that giving gifted students a choice is a great idea. I want my students to feel as if they are in control of their learning, their grades, and their work. There is a lot of research that supports this idea, and Laurie discusses that in the introduction of the book.

As I began to read through the 3rd-5th grade second edition I started to get inspired about somethings I could do with the my upper grades students based off the menus Laurie has placed in this book. But, if I were a teacher who had 3rd through 5th grade students, this book series is one I would get. In regards to Math, what I like about this book are the menus. Laurie gives a short description of the type of menu along with the benefits, limitations, and time considerations. Everything that a teacher would need to know about a type of menu is there. There are also several menus that are listed that a math teacher can use in their classroom linked to State Standards.

If you do products with your students, you always need to have a rubric for your students to follow. This book has some great examples of rubrics. It also has idea for rubrics for students taught lessons, to teacher directed products. Laurie also has ideas and examples of how to get student feedback. All the menus and feedback forms are great, and can be used as is, or can be used a jumping off point.

I this book is a great resource for teachers and parents. I would hope that anyone who teaches math to gifted children would use this book. This resource can be used in a classroom setting, or homeschool setting.  Not only would I suggest you use this book, but also use the whole series. I have it, and I use it often in my teaching.


Addition of Complexity

I was reading a blog post from Ian Byrd today, called 7 Ways to Add Complexity. Ian does a great job of explaining ways that will add complexity to the gifted classroom. Complexity is a great way to add rigor to the curriculum.

One aspect that I feel is important to gifted children is that the curriculum be challenging and relevant. Gifted children want to be challenged. It is our job as GIS to figure out how to challenge them in a way that makes them grow, not only in learning, but as a person.

Last year I did a competition with my 7th graders. My students had to create a working simple machine based on some household items. The items changed as the challenge did each week. For one challenge I gave them a few household items such as plastics spoons, rubber bands, different sized popsicle sticks, and some pushpins. They had to make a catapult that would shoot a penny more than 10 feet. They worked with a partner to figure this out. I gave them 10 minutes on the computer to research catapults, and do make a rough design on paper. Once the time was up students had to use that materials and their simple sketch to make their model. Each of my students loved this. My extroverts loved to boast about their models, and my introverts were proud peacocks when they won.

Complexity can come in different forms. It can come in shortened time, and few resources. Complexity doesn’t have to be something over the top. Sometimes, you just have to shake things up to make them more interesting. Using items that are different from what the students would expect is great way to get complexity. For example Ian writes in the article mentioned above, that he had a 6th grader write an essay using kindergarten paper.

In our world of education, we have to push our gifted students more and more. We are expecting them to show growth through the year on standardized tests. I believe that without complexity and a good knowledge of differentiation skills students won’t progress like they should.

What do you do to add complexity to your curriculum? What differentiation strategies do you use that work best with gifted students? Share in the comments section below.

A Shameless Plug: On Sunday Feb 28 at 9pm ET #ohiogtchat will be doing a review of Ian’s work on Differentiation on Twitter. For more information follow @jeff_shoemaker and @HeatherCachat, or go to our website

Building a Culture of Creativity

Creativity is an important element for the Gifted Classroom.

I enjoy is giving students a task or project, and letting them go on to do what they want with it. I feel that it is important to let students be creative.

I feel that gifted students need to have the freedom to use their own ideas, designs, and interests in the projects that I give them. I do a lot of Project Based Learning projects. I like the real world aspect of this type of learning. So, in the spirit of real world learning, I don’t necessarily have a one correct answer. I do use a rubric to grade their work, but I don’t expect every student or groups of students to have the same answer to a project.

It has taken me a while to get students to trust me that there is no one correct answer to a project. I don’t guide them to what I think they should do in a project. Instead, I ask a lot of questions. I guide them by questions, or by challenging their thinking.

Here are a few other ways I have built creativity in my classroom.

  1. Be a facilitator: I try to guide my students when needed. I ask a lot of questions, and only give suggestions when they ask. I get out of the way.
  2. Know when to step in: I try not to rush to help a student too quickly.  I let them struggle a bit. I feel that through the struggle they will gain more than knowlegde. They will gain perserverance.
  3. Value students thinking processes: every student thinks differently. I often times will have my students take the Right Brain Left Brain test to see how they think.  Each student has a mode of thinking they prefer to use. I try to embrace that. It a student thinks better on their feet walking around I try to commodate. If a student thinks better listening to music (with head phones on), or they are verbal thinkers, then I try to embrace it without compromising other students thinking processes. When students pair up for a project, sometimes they want to work with their friends. Sometimes they work with students who think like them.
  4. Be clear / Be upfront: I give my students clear guidelines of what I expect from them. I give them a rubric that everything outlined for them except the answer. I am upfront with them that there is not a singular right answer, but multiple. They need to find the one that works the best meeting the criteria I give them.
  5. Know your students: Try to sit down with each group or individual students and have them walk through their project. Get to know how they learn, think, and what their interests are. When students know you are invested in them, they will begin to trust you. When they begin to trust you also begin to trust. Trust can go along way.

I know there are probably many other ways you may be fostering creativity in your classroom. I would love to hear about them in the comments section below.


Moonshot Thinking

To be audacious. Creative. Think Big. Courageous. To have Moonshot Thinking.This is what we want our students to have. Last week I wrote about not passing limits on our students. This week it’s about it is about expanding the limits of creativity of our gifted students.

I hope that you had the chance to watch the short video above. Every time I watch it I get inspired to try something new. I showed this video to my students, and asked for their reactions. It was interesting to get their views on it. Some, just like me, thought it was inspiring, moving, and some just thought it was interesting. I am not sure, but I think some of my students thought this video was about someone else. I was hoping they would get the idea that this video was about and for them.

Some asked, “what is a moonshot?” On the description of this video it reads:

Moonshots live in the gray area between audacious technology and pure science fiction. Instead of a mere 10% gain, a moonshot aims for a 10x improvement over what currently exists. The combination of a huge problem, a radical solution to that problem, and the breakthrough technology that just might make that solution possible, is the essence of a moonshot.

I believe the expectations for our gifted students has been lowered with all of the testing that is going on. We have a curricula that is not as challenging and deep as it should be thanks to high stakes testing like the graduation tests, and PARCC tests. Many gifted students are only worried about passing, or getting a high score on those exams, not about moonshot thinking.

We have cut out the creativity, the imagination activities, the inventive play from our curriculum to meet the standards the test makers think is important, but not real world relevant skills. We need to get those things back. Our students are constantly being measured in math, science, and reading against other countries who have those elements in their curricula. How can our students really compete if they don’t have the push or stretch of learning more than what is being presented to them in the classroom?

We need to get moonshot thinking back into our classrooms, and schools. The Maker Ed. Movement is one way we are getting this back. We need to stretch our students’ minds, imagination, and creativity in any way we can. Teachers need to give students to courage to try something new. So what if they fail? Everyone can learn from failure.

So, how can we impart this Moonshot thinking to our gifted children? (Here are a few of my ideas. You can probably add to this list.)

1. Introduce them to Technology: Our students need to have coding, gaming, and computer technical skills to adapt to new technology.

2. Give them time to tinker, explore, create proto-types, and develop ideas. We have to stretch our students. We have to give them time, activities, and technology that will encourage  them to try new things.

3.  Encourage students to find their passion. Students need to be encouraged to find their passion and explore all avenues of it. This could be a club that meets before or after school sponsored by teachers, parents, or advocates. This could be class (like the one Don Wettrick runs).

4. Teach the 4 C’s in our classroom.  The 4 C’s are Critical thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity. We need to design our lessons with these elements in mind.

There any many different things that we can be doing that will benefit our gifted students. What do you think? What would you add to the list?

By the way to see what moonshots has been taken check out: Solve for X.

Don’t pass on Limitations

The other day I was talking to a colleague who told me about an interesting fact. He said “Did you know a flea can jump about 3 feet high? But if you stick a flea in a gallon jar the flea will jump and hit the lid. After a while the flea will jump up to the lid but not hit the lid. If the fleas have baby fleas the fleas will watch their parents and jump up to the lid but not touch it.”

That fact made me thing for while. If we are not challenging our students we are placing limitations on them. Just like the baby fleas. They can still jump 3 feet, but they don’t know it. That limitation was passed on by the flea parents and the environment they were placed in. Have you thought about the environment you are creating for your students? Is your environment you create in your classroom one that challenges your students, or does it impose limits?

Think about your classroom environment, your teaching skills, and your examples you give your students. What limitations are we placing on our students as they watch us? We need to be cognizant of the environment we create. We need to have a classroom where are students can feel comfortable enough to try, fail, revise, and succeed. Our students need an environment to grow, mature, and develop intellectually.

Every classroom is different, but here is a few things that can help:

  • Celebrate successes
  • Celebrate failures
  • Encourage “back to the drawing board” mentality
  • Encourage students to enjoy the process of learning/revising

A large part of limitations can be your teaching skills. As teachers we need to continually hone in our craft. Going to conferences, using YouTube as a resource, or observing exemplary teachers in your building or school district is a great way to help hone in your teaching skills. Staying current of new teaching techniques is a must.

Think about the types of examples you give your students. I always like to give non-examples, or examples of what not to do rather than show good finished examples. Some students who want to please the teachers will often mimic their teachers examples especially “teacher-pleaser” type students. I always like to give my students a rubric with their projects. This way they know what is expected right off the bat. Having that rubric to me is better than an example. This allows them know my expectations, but lets them be free to be as creative as they want.

Really take a look at the classroom environment, your teaching skills, and your examples you give your students. How are you limiting your students? I know that I need to constantly work on all three aspects of those areas. I don’t want to place self-imposed limits on my students. I want them to have a place where they can call their own creative sanctuary.

Makerspaces in the Gifted Classroom

This past weekend the OAGC Teacher Division held its bi-monthly #oagctdchat. They had Aaron Maurer as their guest, and they talked about Makerspaces. You can check out the transcript here.

I learned a lot about Makerspaces through the chat the other day. I came into the chat with some misconceptions about the philosophy and ideas behind the Makerspace movement. Some of those misconceptions included money, limitations to space, and assessments of Maker projects. I left the chat thinking this is definitely something I want to pursue.

One thing that really struck me as I participated in the chat was students don’t get time in the day to play. Below are two tweets that Aaron made that really hit home for me.


Students need to have time to tinker. I know there are assessments, tests and quizzes that students prepare for, but they need to think, plan, develop, and make things using the creative process. Students gifted or not need to have time to use their imaginations and make proto-types of inventions that could change the world.

As many of you know from reading this blog, that I love to use Project Based Learning in my classroom. This is a type of Makerspace. Having students solve problems that are real-world based are important. We talk about making students college ready, but how are when we give them a curriculum that is 2 miles wide and an inch deep. We must stretch our children educationally, and we do that when teachers offer things like PBL, Genius Hours, and Makerspaces.

If you use Evernote, they have a list of all of the resources that have been mentioned in all of #oagctdchat chats. I would suggest joining in the Note. It’s very helpful. Below are the resources that were shared for the Makerspaces chat.

For the Newsletter (Need a login)
Resources Mentioned From Our Chat
Makerspace Educators on Twitter