Allowing Collaboration in the Gifted Classroom

What I love about students who are gifted is that many of them can be so creative, and think much differently than their average learner peers. Sometimes that creativity doesn’t always work well with others. Sometimes due to their unique social and emotional needs such as perfectionism, multi-potentiality, and others can sometimes make working with a partner or a small group difficult. 

As a teacher, and a believer in developing 21st century skills, I had to at times, nudge and prod my students who were gifted to work together. I would work to develop relationships with my students. I also created an environment where all of my students could get to know each other, and start to build safe relationships with each other. Once this started, my students would begin to talk about what they liked, and what they had in common.

What I liked most about my classes was once I had my students collaborating on projects the discussions my students had were so productive. It was great to see my students interacting with each other. They would learn from each other how they learn, think, and process problems.  

What changed a lot of my teaching was a book titled Project-Based Learning for Gifted Students: A Handbook for the 21st-Century Classroom by Todd Stanley. His book helped shape my idea of collaboration with students who are gifted. If you haven’t read this book, I would suggest getting it.

After reading this book, I started to format some of my units in the same style as Todd Stanley described. Feel free to check the out in the link provided.

How do you foster collaboration in your gifted classroom? What can be gained from students who are gifted collaborating with each other in different projects? If you aren’t incorporating 21st century skills in your classroom, what is keeping you from it?


Skills Needed By Gifted Children

Building on what I posted the other day, I thought that if teachers begin to create activities and assignments that have rigor, then there are some skills that gifted children will need to know. Just because these children are gifted, doesn’t mean that they have acquired skills to meet those rigorous activities and assignments.

Many gifted children as they go through elementary school unchallenged, and they don’t learn skills most of their peers learn through struggling. Once they hit middle or high school the classes get more challenging, and they don’t have any coping skills to deal with the challenges. Here is just a few things I believe every gifted child in elementary and middle school should be taught.  (This isn’t a complete list, just a few.)

john-clow-stressed-out**Teachers don’t assume gifted students have these skills just because they are brilliant. These skills are essential not only in school, but also in real life beyond college and in to a career.

Study Skills: 

Before a teacher starts to use strategies that will help challenge their gifted children they should review different ways to study material. They should know how to organize information in ways in witch will meet their personality. Some students do better color coding material. Using different colored pens to match the material they are studying.

Gifted children should be taught how to use a planner. In today’s world everyone has a cell phone, or uses Google products. Both a calendar, and can be personalized to meet their needs. Having this tool at their disposal is great, but they need to know how to use it to get the benefit from it. (Some students need to use the paper version of a calendar or planner which is also alright.)

Since gifted children learn quickly, and retain huge amounts of material they don’t often learn to study for a test. Teach them strategies on how to study for a test. There are many materials on how to study for the SAT, or ACT. Use some of these ideas to help see why these skills are needed. Many of the skills needed to do well on these tests can use transferred to other tests and tasks that may take in the future.

Research/Note Taking Skills:

Many of our gifted children begin taking college level classes in middle and high school, and some wait until after high school. Regardless of when they begin taking this level of classes gifted children need to know how to research effectively. They should know how to use the library effectively. They need to know how to use the reference department, and other facets of the library.

They also need to know how to use the internet effectively. Checking on sources, knowing what is fake or not, and which sites are credible to use are important skills. Teaching our gifted children to recognize bias on different sites is also an important skill.

There are a variety of ways to take notes. Finding the system they are most comfortable with that will work for them is important. One great way that can be personalized in many different ways is the use of Cornell Notes.

I know that all students will benefit from knowing these skills.  Many teachers are under the assumption that gifted children can automatically do these skills because they are smart. Having these skills is important. For gifted students to use these skills effectively they have to be challenged and struggle. They only way that is going to happen is when teachers create activities and projects that are challenging, have stretch and complexity, and are rigorous.

If our gifted children are learning this while they are in college, or after we have failed them.

What skills do you think gifted children should know to help make them successful in and beyond school?

Gifted Children Need Rigorous Assignments…Not More Work

workplace4-kbf-621x414livemintAs I talk to fellow teachers around my area they ask a common question: “What do I do with my gifted students since they get finished before everyone else?” Many of their first thoughts is to add more work to their plate. Many believe if they can do 25 math problems in 10 minutes than I will give them another 25 to do to fill in time. That really doesn’t do much for the gifted child. Adding more work is just a punishment particularly when they already know how to do the work.

What gifted children need isn’t more work… its more rigorous assignments. To find out what you students already know I would suggest that you start with a pretest. If your gifted children score a 100% or close to 100% then allow them to choose an aspect of that curriculum and dig deeper into it. Allow students to explore the complex nature of the content. While doing this can cause some issues with grading, because not all the students are doing the same work, which can be a common concern, as a teacher you will figure out how to fit this into your grade book.

When developing rigorous assignments for gifted children you need to include thinking skills. You should have assignments where they have to use divergent or lateral thinking to come up with an answer. The use of Blooms or DOK will help with verbs and ideas of products that students can do.

One of my favorite ways to add rigor to assignments is to make it project based or problem based. Using real world issues and ideas can help add rigor. These type of projects can have multiple answers, and allow students to use multiple skills to complete it. Using the book Project-Based Learning in the Gifted Classroom by Todd Stanley is a great place to start. You can also look to for help on ideas, ways to set up the classroom, and other resources.

Finally, when creating rigorous assignments teach students strategies, not necessarily the answers. In the real world answers aren’t always simple, and sometimes they may never get an answer. So teaching strategies on how to get an answer is must intriguing and challenging.

Gifted children love to learn, and be challenged. When we don’t feed their mind gifted they can be discipline issues. I encourage all teachers to not give more of the same work to gifted children, but to give them rigorous, challenging, and mind stimulating projects and assignments.

What do you do to add rigor to your assignments for gifted children in your classroom?

Hormones, Egos, Attitudes, and Middle Schoolers

I have been a middle school teacher for almost 20 years. I have worked with some great people, and and have had some wonderful students over that time span. I love being a middle school teacher who teaches gifted children. I was called to this awesome career.


What I love about gifted middle schoolers are their hormones, egos, and attitudes. Sometimes as a middle school teacher you have to wade through all sorts of stuff. My gifted students are all unique, but they all have to deal those three things. Traversing these issues is a something that middle school teachers face everyday.

Gifted children are very smart. They have the need and desire to have and be friends, but going through the maturation process can be rough. As gifted children get older they begin to separate from their peers emotionally and socially. This can be a complicated process. So I try to hard to allow my students time to form friendships. The culture of my classroom is that it is a safe place to be yourself. Hormonal changes are natural, and they can’t be stopped, but we as teachers can help guide them through it. Gifted students may not know why they feel the way they do, but as long as you are open to talking to them you can help make a difference for them.

Middle School gifted children can have egos. I know for some this may seem like new news, but it is true. Gifted children get used to being one of the smartest people in their class. When gifted children realize this, they can start to get an ego. Having an ego isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is how this ego is developed. Gifted children don’t always like to compromise, because they often feel that their ideas are the best. Gifted students need to learn art of compromising when working with a small group. In our classroom, I try place a lot of emphasis on compromising since we do a lot of group/team projects. I try to model to them that being smart is great, but leading and showing others they can effectively contribute with the group is better. Keeping a middle schooler’s ego in check isn’t easy. It takes time, but in the end they will see the value in what they can do when they work together.

Along the same lines as egos are attitudes. Middle schoolers in general can go through different emotions that can change their attitudes on a multitude of things in just a short amount of time. This is actually one of the aspects that draws me to be a middle school teacher. Gifted children have attitudes that can rival average learning students. They are quick to see the injustice of the world; they are quick to judge the decisions they deem unfair; and they also want to change the world with their ideas and viewpoints. I have seen my students rally behind a classmate who is struggling with some personal aspects. I have seen my students stand up for one another when they feel one of their classmates is treating them unfairly. I have seen the fire of debates between students, and the realization in their eyes when they realize they can impact the world around them. If you are going to be a middle school teacher you are going to deal with student attitudes good or bad.

Middle School is just that…middle school. They aren’t in elementary school, and they don’t see themselves as little kids. They aren’t in high school, but they can see themselves there. They are stuck in the middle. When you realize this group of students is awesome, it is then you realize you are middle school teacher.

What do you like about middle school?



Space and Science on Display

**I want to first start out by saying this post isn’t necessarily about gifted education.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to go with the Lima Senior High School Moon Rover team to Huntsville, Alabama to participate in the NASA’s Human Exploration Rover Challenge. They were the only high school in Ohio to participate. This is the first year we were able to compete with two rover teams.

IMG_1806Watching high school and college students going up against each other in a challenge was awesome. Every school had different designs, different materials, but all had to meet the same requirements.

Our students came up with a great design, and they built it. They made some alterations to the rover based on the data they collected from the course. It was all science and engineering.


What was the most interesting aspect to the weekend was having the ability to go up to other teams and ask them about their rover. Teams would openly share their failures and successes. They shared what they loved most about their rover, and how they felt they did against past years from their schools. Teams also gave permission to take pictures of their rovers. The comradery amongst teams was great. They all had the shared experience of designing, building, and racing their rovers.

After two days of racing, we gave the students the chance to check out the Marshall Space Flight facilities.  They got the chance to see rockets up close, and have the opportunities to talk to real astronauts.

What I hoped our students took away from the weekend was just how important STEM, and STEAM programs are. I hope they saw that having skills like welding, carpentry, and machining are important career and technical skills. I hope they saw that engineering isn’t necessarily a single person career, but a team effort.

I hope they took away from the weekend perseverance, tenacity, and team work. I saw our students overcome some issues with their rover, and come through on the other side with a better product. They started out together as 2 teams, and left as one large team. They had goals, some were met, and some we have to try again next year.

Overall, students from all schools had an opportunity of lifetime. They raced each other, they inspired each other, and they helped to propel the idea that this generation could impact the future with their creativity, skills, and their experiences with science and engineering.

Why I Love Project Based Units

The past two weeks my students have finished their research, and now are moving into filming and editing their Mythbusters style video.


One group, who chose the myth that a bike could set off a light sensor, did most of the filming this morning. They wanted to get as authentic data as possible. So we had to wait until all the cars had left the driveway of our school to test their myth (which wasn’t easy).

The students timed their peer riding a bike over the sensors for several minutes before giving up. We then used my van to drive over the sensors, and we timed to see when the light would change from red to green. It happened at about 50 seconds. Based on the information they gathered today they thought their myth was busted. Then we got a twist.

I posted the above picture on Facebook with a description of what my students were doing. We were amazed that I got a response from a friend of mine. My friend told me that if the senor was readjusted to have increased sensibility then the bike would have set off the senor, and turn the light from red to green. My students went nuts!

After hearing the news, my students went through their research and notes they took to try to come up with a way to understand the sensors a little more. We concluded that with that new piece of information that their myth was plausible.

This is why I love Project Based Learning. You never really know where the project will lead you when you don’t know the absolute answer. My students got some authentic data, and they got an authentic real answer. All of their research was leading them to the fact it was impossible for a bike to set off a street sensor. My students were so excited to see that something they thought they could prove to be false has a slight chance of hope of being true.

Project Based Learning is something that I am planning on continuing, because I feel that it gives my students a real chance of learning something real. It makes them critically think, and research and organize their work.  They have the chance to see learning in action. They gained skills in interviewing, anylzing data, forming a thypothesis, and using critical thinking skills to come up with an answer. I believe these skills will be used by them after they get out of school and into the community.

What are you doing to help give your students a chance at authentic real world learning? Have you tried Project Based Learning? If so what are some of your experiences?


Catching my Breath

The last few weeks have been busy here. My classes are working on their Project Based Learning units. This one will be the last one of the year since we only have a few class meetings left before summer starts. Four of my classes are writing, acting in, and editing their Mythbuster’s Video project. The fifth class is designing a cross-country vacation for a family of four. The projects have been keeping me pretty busy.

My Tuesday through Friday groups are in various places in their Mythbuster’s projects. We started to film last week on Thursday and Friday. I can’t wait to show those videos off to everyone. My students are working hard at it.

My Monday group just wrapped up its vacation project. They have been planning on taking a family of four from Washington D.C to Seattle Washington with some cool stops along the way. I am impressed with what they came up with, and how they allotted their budget.

On the burner now is the field trip that I am taking my students on in two weeks. We will be going to COSI in Columbus, Ohio. COSI stands for Center of Science and Industry. It is an awesome museum with so many hands-on activities for children and adults to do. I will post about this trip after it occurs. I should have a lot of pics and stories to share.

Next week we will have our state exams, the Ohio Achievement Assessments. My students are somewhat nervous. Some aren’t. I continually encourage them to do their best on the tests. Generally my students do well on these exams. The one thing I worry about now is will there be enough growth from their previous year’s score. I don’t know, but we will soon find out.

So, with just a few weeks before the school year is out, try to catch your breath. Enjoy these last few weeks with your students. I know I am trying. particularly with my 8th graders. I will miss them as they move on to the high school. I have watched these students grow from little 3rd graders into teenagers. I know they will be successful in the high school. I also know many will continue to keep in touch.

How are you doing with catching your breath with all of the end of the year activities your school is doing before summer starts?