Fulfilling an Academic Dream: Opportunity & Persistence Pave the Way

Donka FamilyWhen Abdurahman Donka was in second grade, he came home from the library and announced, “I want to go to college.” That was six years ago. “His father and I weren’t exactly sure what that was,” said his mother.

Abdu had been studying the histories of famous people “and many of them had attended prominent universities,” he said. “I wanted to go.” He wanted to attend one of them also. That aspiration was reinforced when he read about Barack Obama. “He came from humble beginnings, too,” said Abdu, “and look at all he accomplished.”

Now in grade 9, Abdu is attending Andover Phillips Academy, a prestigious secondary boarding school, as a Jack Kent Cooke Young Scholar and it would surprise no one who knows the young man if he follows the footsteps of the President. At some point their paths will diverge, if for no other reason than Abdu doesn’t want to occupy the White House. Abdu wants to be a neurosurgeon.

The Donka’s immigrated from Ethiopia 12 years ago. Abdu was two years old when his family was granted political asylum.

The Donka’s moved into a two-bedroom apartment in Chicago. Income was tight and expenses were daunting.

Abdu signed up for Center for Talent Development’s assessment program, Northwestern University’s Midwest Academic Talent Search (NUMATS), and did well for his grade level. He discovered information on the Jack Kent Cooke Young Scholars program listed on the CTD website when he was in grade 7 and decided he wanted to apply.

As with many applicants, the Donka’s found the application formidable, but they were determined. “If Abdu didn’t apply, there was no way he would be selected,” said his mom. “We wanted to help every way we could.” Abdu was methodical in his approach, asking his teachers for recommendations early in the process and writing and editing his essays over and over again. “He would do his homework first and then work on the application every night,” said his mom.

“Abdu and his parents were very systematic about completing the application,” said Yolanda Toni, responsible for the gifted program, called SPINOUT, at Fairview Elementary School, where Abdu was a student. The Donka family also turned to the outreach manager, Tammie Stewart at CTD to answer questions they had about the application process and the program in general.

Abdu tried not to get too excited. But the stakes were high. They got higher when he was notified he had made the initial cut. “I kept asking my mom and dad, ‘Do you think I’ll be selected?’”

Abdu was.

“I was jumping up and down. Up and down. I was so excited! We called my dad. He kept saying, ‘Are you sure?’”? The package was right there. No matter how many times Abdu and his mom looked away and looked back, it was still there. Abdu was a Jack Kent Cooke Young Scholar. That night Abdu e-mailed every person at Fairview who had helped him. “After that, I calmed down. Well, a little.”

They celebrated at home. They celebrated at school. The SPINOUT program event had a small celebration. The school paper ran an article about Abdu’s selection. “It’s important that Abdu was chosen,” said Toni. “The scholarship opens so many more doors for him. But it’s also important for others to see that programs like this exist and if you have the perseverance to complete the application process, you can put yourself in the position to be selected.”

They celebrated at CTD, too. “I get a list of those chosen and I always look through to see which of ‘my’ students have been selected,” said Tammie Stewart, JKC’s representative for the Midwest. “Since I had worked with Abdu’s mom and was familiar with the family, well their name jumped out at me. I e-mailed them my congratulations right away.”

Gianina Lockley from Jack Kent Cook e-mailed Abdu about various schooling options and talked to him on the phone. Later she visited. “At first I didn’t want to go to boarding school,” said Abdu. “I thought it was too expensive, too hard to get into.” But the JKC Educational Advisor sent him research sheets with what the average SAT® applicants had scored, application due dates, etc. She also explained the financial aid programs that would make the dream a possibility.

“We are so grateful to all the people who have helped us,” says Abdu’s mother. “When we left Ethiopia, we wanted to find a place that was safe to raise our children and a place where they could be educated. We have found both.”

If you know a motivated student like Abdu, please help spread the word about the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship opportunity. Awardees receive funding for four years of educational programs (either high school or college depending on the scholarship for which they apply). Applications for the Young Scholar program, for students in grade 7, opens in mid-January and closes mid-March.

CTD Alumnus Named 2014 Davidson Fellow Laureate

Ravi JagadeesanRavi Jagadeesan Awarded $50,000 for Extraordinary Work in Mathematics

Ravi Jagadeesan, an 18-year-old from Naperville, Illinois, and a Center for Talent Development alumnus, has been selected as a 2014 Davidson Fellow Laureate by the Davidson Institute for Talent Development.

When we heard that Center for Talent Development alumnus Ravi Jagadeesan had been selected as a 2014 Davidson Fellow Laureate by the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, we reached out to congratulate him on his achievement and to find out more about his experiences.

Jagadeesan’s winning project, “A New Galois Invariant of Dessins d’Enfants,” provides greater understanding of the relationship between different mathematical structures. Having completed the project during high school at Phillips Exeter Academy, Jagadeesan says it feels great to have his accomplishments recognized. “The process was a lot of fun, too,” he adds.

That’s not to say it wasn’t also a lot of work. Jagadeesan can’t, in fact, quantify the amount of effort the project entailed. “It was always in the back of my head,” he says.

Jagadeesan’s introduction to in-depth study of a singular topic came from Center for Talent Development’s Summer Program. As an elementary student participant, he studied engineering one summer and epidemiology the next. “The Summer Program broadened my knowledge of science and helped me develop my thinking skills,” Jagadeesan says. “Those were the first times that I studied one subject intensely, which was different from going to school and doing a little bit of everything.”

It wasn’t until the summer after grade 9, however, that Jagadeesan realized his passion for mathematics. After attending the Mathematical Olympiad Summer Program and Canada/USA Math Camp, he was hooked.

Jagadeesan’s advice to students trying to choose a specialization is simple experimentation. “Try out one thing and see if it works,” he says. “If it doesn’t, try something else.”

Once students have discovered their passion, Jagadeesan advises them to stick with it. “Study what interests you even if you don’t initially understand it,” he says. Jagadeesan believes this idea served him well throughout his award-winning math project. “The background of this project was extremely difficult to learn, but I found it really interesting, so I kept working on it,” Jagadeesan explains. “There were a couple of moments when things just clicked. About four months into it, I was able to connect a bunch of ideas. Then again, about eight months in, I was able to understand how what I was doing connected to the work of others.”

While Jagadeesan espouses perseverance, he says it’s important to get away from work regularly, too. For fun, Jagadeesan plays piano and especially enjoys pieces from the Classical and Romantic time periods. “It’s a good mental break,” he says. “Playing piano requires me to use my mind a bit differently, and that’s very refreshing.”

CTD wishes Jagadeesan well in his first year at Harvard University, where he is pursuing a degree in mathematics and statistics!

Awards and Scholarship Opportunities for High Achieving Students, and Educators!

Tammie StewartBy Tammie Stewart, Community Outreach Manager, Center for Talent Development

As community outreach manager, I connect with parents and educators and introduce them to valuable opportunities for academic enrichment. Last year, I authored a blog on Talent Talk highlighting awards, fellowships and scholarships for high-achieving students. Students who don’t qualify for financial support may be eligible for merit-based scholarships. Due to the popularity of the post, I’d like to share an updated and extended list of the opportunities:

Scholarships Description Time Frame
The Council for Exceptional Children Yes I Can Awards Awards honoring children and youth with exceptionalities who shine; winners receive two-nights of hotel accommodations to attend the awards ceremony and participate in a special field trip in San Diego Nominations for 2014 due Oct. 31; look out for this opportunity in fall 2015!
Wisconsin School Counselor Association High School Scholarship Program Four $1,000 scholarships awarded to high school seniors in Wisconsin and will be attending a post-secondary education program during the 2015-2016 school year Applications due Nov. 1
National Center for Women & IT Award for Aspirations in Computing Young women in high school can apply; National award winners are selected from across the country and the Wisconsin Affiliate award winners are selected from within Wisconsin Application open now through Nov. 2
The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation College Scholarship Supports high-achieving high school seniors with financial need who seek to attend the nation’s top colleges and universities Applications due Nov. 4
Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Students in grades 7-12 can apply in 28 categories of art and writing. Public, private, parochial, or home-school students in the US, Canada, or American schools abroad are eligible. Awards range from $500 to $10,000. Deadlines range from Dec. 15 – Jan. 15 and vary by region
Thiel Fellowship Awarded to 20 entrepreneurs under 20 years old Applications due Jan. 15
Davidson Institute for Talent Development Fellows Scholarships Awards $50,000, $25,000 and $10,000 to extraordinary young people (18 and under) who have completed a significant piece of work Application open Nov. 3 through Feb.11
The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Young Scholars Program Gives high-achieving students with financial need the guidance and resources necessary for them to excel during high school, college, and beyond; students apply in grade 7 Application will be open mid-January through mid-March 2015
Google Science Fair Online competition open to students ages 13-18 around the globe Application reopens in Feb. 2015
Institute for Educational Advancement Caroline D. Bradley Scholarship Provided by the Institute for Educational Advancement; Scholars receive a four-year high school scholarship that covers day student tuition or an approved alternative educational program Look out for application information in spring 2015
Illinois Association for Gifted Children Carol Morreale Scholarship $1000 award for a student in grades 1-8 with demonstrated excellence in language arts and/or mathematics; financial need is a consideration Look out for application information in late summer 2015

For Parents and Educators

There are also a number of scholarships available to the educators, administrators and parents who work with high-achieving students, including those posted on these websites:

We would love for our readers to share any additional opportunities you may know of for young scholars and their educators in the comments section below. Center for Talent Development is proud to celebrate the achievements of our students and educators during our annual NUMATS Award Ceremony, and we’re always glad to share more opportunities to support teachers and students. I hope these opportunities will provide motivated students with options that will lead to an even brighter future!

If you are the parent or teacher of an academically gifted child from a family experiencing financial need, feel free to contact me directly for guidance and additional information on the Jack Kent Cooke Young Scholars and College Scholarship Programs (JKC). You can e-mail me at tammie-stewart@northwestern.edu or call 847/491-7127 to learn more.

Don’t Curb Your Enthusiasm

By Erik Parsons, 2e Education Specialist and Advocate

Erik ParsonsAre high-ability individuals destined to be ‘nerds’?

Having high ability doesn’t make an individual a nerd etc. and not all ‘nerds’ are gifted and/or talented. But many (perhaps even most) high-ability individuals are too often characterized this way.

Our culture is paradoxical in its tendency to elevate and applaud achievements of unique individuals while simultaneously disregarding, disparaging or even actively abusing those who fail to meet societal norms. Being viewed as ‘different’, even when that difference is a reflection of an individual’s unique strengths is often a social liability and can be a source of conflict for gifted individuals because they have different learning needs.

This dynamic contributes to the pathologization of giftedness: the underlying assumption that, because gifted individuals are identifiably different from the norm, there must be something fundamentally ‘wrong’ with them, which is further reinforced by the lack of understanding and identification of twice-exceptionality (the concurrence of high ability and disability/disorder). Non-normative behaviors arising from personality traits, which aren’t actually disruptive (i.e. mild introversion), are often mistaken for disorder/disability and vice versa. Additionally, confirmation bias makes it difficult for high-ability students to shake off ‘outsider’ labels. As a result, being branded with an ‘outsider’ label may seem like an inevitable disadvantage to actively reaching one’s potential, which can make gifted individuals question whether or not it is ‘worth it’ to pursue fields which interest them and play to their strengths.

However, there is a silver lining to the clouds of ignominy, which may accompany high achievement. In recent years, thanks largely to the greater ubiquity of the Internet and inroads into mainstream popular culture, these labels have lost much of their stigma. Through linguistic re-appropriation and public forums unconstrained by geography, robust communities of self identified ‘nerds’, ‘geeks’, ‘weirdos’ etc. have developed around one key principle: enthusiastically pursuing and sharing interests without regard for prevailing socio-cultural norms. This means high ability isn’t a prerequisite for geekiness; all that is required is passion, grit, enthusiasm and a willingness to take risks. Such communities provide opportunities for individuals to pursue their interests with genuine peers, as opposed to being limited to age peers who may not share the same interests and/or ability levels. Perhaps more importantly, these burgeoning communities can provide a positive social environment in which being ‘outside the norm’ is a common bond rather than a liability, engendering a tolerant environment responsive to socio-cultural and intellectual diversity.

Identification with, and participation in such cultural groups isn’t compulsory; even if some assume it to be so. However, their existence provides evidence that being stigmatized for high achievement needn’t be compulsory either. It gets better.

Erik Parsons is an unrepentant board gaming, D&D playing, technology loving, performing-arts engaged, Doctor Who obsessed, self-identified (capital ‘G’) ‘Geek’ with laserdiscs of the original Star Wars trilogy mounted on the wall to prove it. He lives and works in Evanston, IL and specializes in twice exceptional education and counseling. Additionally he is working on a series of “TED talk” style presentations on twice-exceptionality intended to increase awareness and understanding of the unique needs and gifts of high-ability individuals with developmental, learning, emotional, processing and physical disorders.

On Saturdays during the fall, winter and spring, Center for Talent Development’s Saturday Enrichment Program offers free seminars for the parents of gifted students led by experts in the field. Erik Parsons is presenting on “Recognizing the Capacities of Twice-Exceptional Learners” in Chicago on October 18 and in Evanston on November 8.

Northwestern University’s Midwest Academic Talent Search (NUMATS) Recognizes High Achieving Youth during the 2014 NUMATS Award Ceremony

Families Celebrating at the 2014 NUMATS Award CeremonyThis year’s elegant NUMATS award ceremony, hosted by Center for Talent Development, took place on Evanston’s beautiful lakefront campus on September 6, 2014. The prestigious ceremony recognizes students who scored in the top 1-2 percent of the almost 20,000 students who took an above-grade-level test through NUMATS this past academic year. Nearly one thousand individuals attended the ceremony to celebrate approximately five hundred students.

Dr. Patricia BeddowsHighlights included a morning program in which Northwestern University students Tiffany Chang, David Chi and Connor Tatooles shared their pathways to a select college and offered students insights into how their current career aspirations developed. The impressive afternoon ceremony featured Dr. Patricia Beddows, assistant professor and assistant chair in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Northwestern University. Dr. Beddows holds a PhD in Geographical Sciences from University of Bristol, England, and is a specialist in the hydrogeochemistry of karst environments. She enthralled students with her undersea adventures in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, and her team’s discovery of the oldest, most intact skeleton of an early Paleoamerican.

Through NUMATS, students in grades 3 through 6 took the EXPLORE® test, typically administered to grade 8 students, and students in grades 6 through 9 took ACT® and/or SAT®, typically administered to high school students in their junior year. Three of our students received perfect scores in the composite/combined category of the tests, and 131 first place medals were awarded for perfect scores in reading and/or math! Of the remaining 20,000, the mean scores of our student population exceeded that of the mean for the typical student in the grade-level for which the EXPLORE, ACT and SAT tests were designed! Since these students have surpassed the ceiling of their in-school grade-level tests, taking an above-grade-level test is the only way for them to demonstrate what they know, understand and can accomplish. Taking the test each year through NUMATS is the best way for them to continue measuring their academic growth.

We at NUMATS congratulate all participants and award winners!

For information about participating in NUMATS and to find this year’s test dates, visit www.ctd.northwestern.edu/numats/program/dates/.

Growth & Competition

Students playing a gameBeing a good sport and realizing that losing a game doesn’t mean you are a “loser” are big, emotion-based ideas. While the idea of competition begins around age 7 or 8, a recent NPR story points out that the part of the brain that manages the emotions around losing is one of the last to develop. Comparing yourself with the person next to you can be damaging to one’s self-esteem and can also be limiting, instilling the idea of a fixed ranking among peers. A recent story on NPR focuses instead on coaching kids to compete against their own personal best. “Experts warn: Don’t try to cut winning out entirely. It can’t be done. And it’s OK for kids to want to win. Adults just have to help them find the balance between winning and — key word here — improving.”[1]

High-achieving students may not encounter failure often. Healthy competition can give gifted students practice at reading social cues and managing their emotions while fostering a mindset geared toward personal growth.

What are some examples of how adults can help encourage a growth mindset in young minds?

[1] Turner, Cory. (August 5, 2014) “When Kids Start Playing To Win.” National Public Radio.

The New Imperative: Coding

CTD Leapfrog StudentsMost parents have had the experience of being completely stymied by a piece of technology only to have a child fiddle with it and solve the problem almost instantly. While this kind of interaction is a little disheartening for grown ups, it is a sign of things to come: today’s kids are well versed in technology. Students are living in a world of tech, which is changing by the minute, and schools are revisiting their uses of technology in all aspects of the curriculum. One area that is getting a lot of attention is coding. Teaching students in early elementary school to write code is not as far-fetched as it may sound. Just like learning a foreign language, young children are often more able to grasp the technical language required to learn coding and see it as fun and exciting. This is especially true of gifted students who readily embrace the complexity and creativity of coding.

More and more coding classes are popping up across the United States. Ali Partovi, founder of Code.org, views coding as a new imperative to public education and would like to see it become a high school requirement.[1] Schools in Chicago, New York and California are poised to do just that.[2] Backed by both Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, Code.org is training teachers all over the country in computer coding so classes can be offered from early childhood through high school. It is currently being realized that many MBA candidates are struggling to learn coding later in life.[3] All indicators suggest students should be learning to code as young as kindergarten so they are familiar with the language of computers by the time they reach college and graduate to the workforce.

The language and skills of coding can be introduced to children at a very young age through play, games and conversation. According to Center for Talent Development (CTD) Early Childhood Coordinator Ann Gadzikowski, “When children play with blocks or Legos they are creating patterns and sequences, similar to lines of computer code. When children learn to jump rope or ride a bike they are developing the tenacity and perseverance necessary to test and re-test a tricky computer program. When children see clouds in the sky and decide to put on their rain boots, they are identifying variables and predicting outcomes, much like a programmer who develops code using ‘if/then’ conditions.” Teaching children to code involves drawing children’s attention to these coding skills that they already practice and then building on this foundation to develop true tech expertise.

For gifted students, coding is enticing because it allows them to create complex structures, predict outcomes and try out their own theories.

This fall, CTD’s Weekend Experience Programs are offering more classes in coding in addition to weaving coding experiences into existing classes.

[1] Barseghian, Tina (May 13, 2014). “Ali Partovi: Why Learning Code Is Imperative In Public Education.” Mind/Shift.

[2] Ritchtel, Matt (May 10, 2014). “Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and Lately, Coding,” New York Times.

[3] Weinberg, Cory (July 11,2014). “B-Schools Finally Acknowledge: Companies Want MBAs Who Can Code,” Bloomberg Businessweek.

Want Your Kids to Love Their Future Jobs? You Can Help.

If we want our brightest students to flourish in adulthood, finding satisfaction and pursuing eminence within their chosen careers, we need to be intentional about supporting them on their paths. This starts with a great education, but it doesn’t stop there. We, as teachers and parents, need to be purposeful about fostering not just their intellectual development, but their career development, as well. But what does that mean, exactly? How is it done?

Here are three easy steps recommended by Paula Kosin, career consultant. Kosin has spent years working with gifted students and is a popular presenter at Center for Talent Development (CTD) conferences.

1. Teach kids that a) people work, and b) they have choices about that work.

Young ArcheologistsThe first step, ideally done with elementary students in the lower grade levels, is simply to make them aware that adults work. “Little kids are aware of firefighters, police officers, teachers, nurses and doctors—the people in their world,” Kosin says. She espouses teaching them that the actors in the movies they watch, the musicians at the orchestra, the zookeepers and the bridge builders are all working too.

“Make children aware that people have choices about jobs and there are different work environments,” Kosin adds. “The nurse who works in an emergency room has a different type of job than a school nurse, for instance.”

2. Help kids become aware of their talents.

Student Musicians“Parents can be really instrumental, as can teachers, coaches and other adults.” says Kosin. “They can serve as a mirror, reflecting back to kids the things they do well, and putting labels on those activities.”

This can be as simple as snapping photos of young kids engaged in doing what they love to do, be it drawing, building things, performing, or reading a book. A collage of these photos can be a powerful visual of a student’s talents.

Kosin cites the example of a high school student who organizes friends to do a post-prom trip to the Indiana Dunes. “The parent,” says Kosin, “can then say, ‘You really did a good job. You organized 12 different friends, figuring out transportation, food and music. At the last minute, when some people couldn’t come, you shuffled the deck quickly and figured out how to adapt to change. Those organizational and problem-solving skills, combined with your ability to think on the fly, are going to be really important in a job someday.'”

Children need to know what they do well and why those skills and abilities matter in the world, both for the present and the future.

3. Don’t be afraid to consult a third-party counselor.

“Sometimes, gifted students are interested in a career or subject matter, which is completely foreign to their parents,” says Kosin. “They can do some exploration on their own, but they could also tap into a career counselor in the same way they would a tutor.”

Without good career counseling and support, gifted kids, especially, can flounder. “Gifted students can easily go in one direction, and then another direction, and then another. Each works for a couple of years, but then it isn’t challenging enough,” says Kosin. “You don’t want to have a gifted student with so much potential going all over the place because they’ll get frustrated and not develop their skills to the point that they otherwise could.”

“What you want for anybody, but especially for gifted students, is a career direction they can sink their teeth into and one that will keep them motivated for the long-term,” says Kosin.

If you are interested in learning more about guiding gifted students to plan for a bright future, join us on June 28 for Center for Talent Development’s annual Opportunities for the Future Conference in Evanston, Illinois. Adults attend a keynote address and stimulating presentations while students in grades 4 through 12 enjoy interactive workshops that focus on interesting fields of study and future career paths. Children age 4 through grade 3 are invited to participate in supervised activities while family members visit sessions. Full information about the conference is on the CTD website.

What the Black Footed Ferret can Teach Students

By: Tania Pachuta & Amy Lindgren

Your task is to develop a plan to reintroduce the endangered Black Footed Ferret into the short grass prairie. Where do you start? What are the barriers and challenges to consider?

This Problem-Based Learning (PBL) scenario is one that educators explored during CTD’s recent Educator’s Conference with Shelagh Gallagher, PhD, noted gifted education consultant and expert in PBL. PBL is a teaching method that moves the teacher into a facilitator role, allowing students to engage actively in the learning process. Originally developed for use in medical school as a method for training new doctors, extensive research has shown that PBL methods increase achievement, productivity, and engagement among students more than didactic teaching methods.

By its design, PBL allows for natural and extensive differentiation, works well with Common Core, and can be used with a variety of subject areas from late elementary through high school, making it an excellent approach to use with gifted students.

Here’s how PBL works:

  1. Problem Engagement

“Hook” student interest using a short, authentic introduction activity. This activity defines the students as stakeholders, gives only a portion of the information needed to resolve the problem, and sets time parameters for the unit.

  1. Inquiry & Investigation

Students gather information necessary to define the problem. (For instance, did you know a Black Footed Ferret may eat more than 100 prairie dogs in one year—a potential barrier to reintroduction!) Instruction is embedded within activities where students are challenged to think critically about all possible questions surrounding the potential problem.

  1. Problem Definition

Using data from their inquiry process, students determine both the issue(s) and constraints influencing the outcome. The problem is structured using the formula “How can we…in a way that…”

  1. Problem Resolution

Students determine the best model or solution to the problem using criteria-based decision making. Groups present their findings using a range of culminating activities, such as writing a newspaper editorial or building a model.

  1. Problem Debriefing

As a class, students review and reflect upon their work, as documented in their “Problem Log” (a portfolio/journal), assessing the success of their problem resolution as well as their collaboration efforts and skills.

If you are a teacher interested in incorporating PBL in your classroom, we recommend checking out Gallagher’s PBL resource books on the Royal Fireworks Press website.

amy tania

Tania Pachuta and Amy Lindgren are both former classroom teachers and now assistant coordinators for CTD’s Saturday Enrichment Program. Their goal is to support teachers in their use of PBL at CTD, providing an exceptional learning experience for students and professional growth opportunities for educators.


Games & Giftedness

By Anne Hayden Stevens, CTD Creative Studies Coordinator

A recent Chicago Tribune article on Minecraft discusses leveraging the game to help students think both creatively and critically while engaging them on their terms. We have been integrating games into our curriculum for many years here at CTD. We realize that our students truly thrive in challenging, student-centered interactions with their gifted peers. What happens to these relationships as networked strategy games move online?


Game play is used in many industries and science fields to train workers and to explore theoretical models. Game designer Jane McGonigal believes that we can heal ourselves or solve world problems with games. She designed a game to move out of a concussion-induced depression. She determined that doing small missions each day to build different forms of resilience (mental, physical, social, and emotional) could help her heal. Her game, Super Better, is currently being used as a healing tool by thousands of users.

Due to the popularity of Center for Talent Development’s recently piloted Design Studio: Minecraft Edu course in our Saturday Enrichment Program, we are running it over the summer as well as in a special two-day accelerated course this June 14-15. Families and students love the course because it offers history, science and strategy, as well as game play. Students at all expertise levels collaborate, share interests & knowledge, and build new skills together. Students tackle challenges that build mental and social resilience: designing castles, building houses together, and learning how to build with redstone. Students also demonstrate emotional resilience, facing server failure and damage to their projects by other students.

Our student population is accustomed to hitting the academic ceiling in school. Minecraft has no ceiling: the game cannot be won or completed. This is both liberating and engaging. Observers in our MinecraftEdu classroom noted ‘flow’ in the student’s engagement with the server world and each other. This is supported by gaming research, which states that game worlds can be powerfully motivating for students.

Minecraft (and a host of other creative building games) challenge the dusty notion that games are counterproductive in our daily lives and learning. Minecrafters challenge themselves with sustainability, crafting and sharing recipes, and building complex traps and systems. Advanced Minecrafters build new servers for their in game, in room peers, cultivating skills in Java and backend programming.

Our CTD Minecraft instructor noted,

MinecraftEdu encourages and allows for collaboration on a level not seen in other games popular with elementary students. For instance, there is no collaborative aspect to Angry Birds or Temple Run, but elementary students will play those games for long periods of time. While playing Minecraft, students are being asked to think spatially, strategically, and use multiple bases of knowledge (as opposed to practicing over and over to figure out exactly when to press ‘jump’).

This teacher observation points to the transfer capacity of skills gained in Minecraft. Gaming is compelling in part because we explore social structures in games. Networked gaming, whether supporting citizen science, or harboring international crime, is our future. Current global projects indicate that we will crowd source solutions to world problems through games. We are preparing our Center for Talent Development students to cultivate the resilience and technical skills they need to help shape the future.

CTD’s Accelerated Weekend Experience is offering a two-day Minecraft course on June 14-15 for grades 4 through 9. Look out for more Minecraft courses through CTD’s Fall 2014 Saturday Enrichment Program, Gifted LearningLinks, and Summer Program.

Three Ways to Maximize the Return on Your NUMATS Investment

By Audra Nelson, Parent

This post is for the 20,000+ of you who invested time, money, and talent in Northwestern University’s Midwest Academic Talent Search (NUMATS) this year. First, let me say that I admire and congratulate you on being savvy enough to participate in NUMATS in the first place. You’ll hear more on that someday soon when I share a parenting confession.

Audra with her kids

Author Audra with her kids

Here is what you need to know now. NUMATS is not just a test; it’s a tool. Like all tools, it works best if you put it to use. So don’t let it join that dusty treadmill in the basement!

As a busy parent, I know how easy it is to be long on intentions and short on follow-through. (Or is that just me?) Below, I’ve outlined three steps to help you follow through on your NUMATS investment and get the most bang for your buck…and your child’s time and effort!

1. Analyze the NUMATS Statistical Summary.

On in-grade tests, your child might seem like a whiz at everything. While lovely in theory, that information isn’t actually helpful. So take a close look at the NUMATS Statistical Summary, which provides more specific information and more accurate percentile rankings. Identify your child’s relative strengths and struggles, and compare the results with what your child likes to do. This will give you a clearer picture of your child’s needs and talent areas and empower you to make better decisions, too.

2. Act on the recommendations in your child’s NUMATS Toolbox.

As defined by federal law, gifted students are those “who…need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop [their] capabilities” (No Child Left Behind Act, P.L. 107-110, Title IX, Part A, Definition 22).

Many people think gifted students will do well, regardless of their environment. But your gifted child needs the challenge of high-quality enrichment activities in order to grow and learn according to his/her ability. That’s why NUMATS provides recommendations and an academic plan.

So register for Saturday, summer, or online courses that will allow your child to delve deeply into subjects of interest. Did the academic plan recommend advanced or accelerated courses? Talk to your child’s teacher and/or principal about possible options. Start those conversations now, while there is still time to make changes for next year.

3. Use this year’s scores as a benchmark, and set goals for next year.

One of the main reasons for testing is to assess growth from year to year. In-grade tests aren’t capable of this, as gifted students’ scores are generally flat from year to year. The NUMATS Statistical Summary, however, allows parents to see not only how their child scores this year, but how their child would need to score next year to stay in the same or move to a higher percentile ranking. Take a look at this, and talk to your kids about their goals for next year. Annual testing will give you, as parents, the assurance that your child is being challenged at appropriate levels and the resources to help your child challenge him/herself, too.

Those are just a few ideas for increasing the value of your NUMATS participation. What are your ideas? How has NUMATS helped you?

TEDx is Coming to Northwestern!

Northwestern University will be hosting their first-ever inclusive TEDx event featuring students, faculty and alumni on one stage for a full day of talks on April 12 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the McCormick Tribune Center Forum. The talks will be streamed live and also be posted online afterwards at TED.

TEDx NorthwesternU 2014 will focus on “how our increasingly complex world is driven by new collaboration and interdisciplinary thinking.” One of the presenters, Stephen Dowling, has been an instructor and Academic Coordinator for the CTD Summer Program. He is presenting “Teachers: Let’s Cross Paths More Often.” We asked Dowling to share a preview of his talk and reflect on his own role as an educator and administrator:

Forty years ago during a lecture at Harvard University, the American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein said, “the best way to know a thing is in the context of another thing.” Far be it from me to disagree with Lenny, but I’m not sure he could have anticipated a moment when it’s the only way. Knowledge doesn’t exist in neatly divided topics anymore: it’s tossed in a massive, digital pile, and left for us to comb through in our own time, in our own way. This generation of K-12 students will be most effected by the new, digital reality of information; they can go online, play “six wikis of Shakespeare,” and find themselves immersed in the particulars of Mediterranean climates. From drama to science in six mouse clicks! They need guidance as they learn to navigate this brave new world, and I believe interdisciplinary education will play a key role moving forward. Simply put, our students will be best served when disciplines cross paths in the classroom as they do in the world.

I’ll be speaking on this topic during the upcoming TEDxNorthwestern conference on April 12th, and my work at CTD as an instructor and administrator has informed my thinking. Time and again, I have seen CTD instructors jump over disciplinary boundaries to reach a struggling student: trouble with music theory? Think of it geometrically. Struggling with covalent bonds? It’s just a tightly choreographed dance. Some CTD courses are specifically interdisciplinary—Leapfrog’s “Rule the World,” or Apogee’s “Open for Business” —but so many others embrace interdisciplinary thinking beneath the surface. Spark’s “Survivor Math,” for example, blends tough math and science topics in games of island living and Robinson Crusoe derring-do. For gifted students, especially, this is critically important—it sparks their already vibrant imaginations into overdrive and provides windows into further possibilities for exploration. Let’s embrace the messiness of digital information and teach our children to see things as they might be, not just as they are.

Dowling’s session will raise an important question that we challenge you to weigh in on here: how should the way we access knowledge in the 21st century inform curricula and teaching?

Read more about this special event at www.tedxnorthwesternu.com. Free livestream tickets are available at www.eventbrite.com/e/tedxnorthwesternu-2014-crossing-paths-tickets-10567448523.

College Applications – Focus on the Factors You Can Control

By Cassandra Geiger & Jenise Holloway

ctd blog 1About 250 colleges and universities in the United States are deemed “selective.” About 50 colleges have acceptance rates of 30% or less; a few creep into single-digit admittance. These institutions claim higher graduation rates, world-renowned faculty, top facilities and resources, and large endowments.

Students and their families applying for admission to colleges and universities, regardless of the institution, often find the process overwhelming, anxiety provoking and sometimes confusing. The stress increases when applying to “selective” schools, where gaining admission may seem impossible.

The key to keeping a healthy and constructive perspective on the selective admissions process is understanding which factors you, as a student or parent, can control or influence and to what degree. Early identification and acknowledgement of these factors can reduce uncertainty and stress.

Factors within student/parent control

  • The classes you take in high school.
  • The quality of your work on assignments and projects.
  • How you spend your time, whether it’s a job, community service, sports, clubs, etc. Avoid the temptation to add “resume stuff” — take classes for the intellectual challenge and engage in activities for the genuine interest.
  • The research you do to develop your list of colleges and when you do that research. Your chance of success improves when you have the right information early in the process.
  • The timeliness of your applications; Submit all required material – applications and other supporting documents — on or before the due dates.
  • The quality of your application and essays. The earlier you start the process, the more time you have for “quality control.”
  • The number of applications you submit. A well-thought-out and researched list of colleges that includes reach schools, strong possibilities, and “safeties,” can reduce the panicked tendency to apply to as many schools as possible.
  • Your presence on social media and the information you make available for viewing.
  • Perspectives about the process and openness. Keeping an open mind and adopting a long-term view will go a long way toward reducing your stress.

Factors student/parent can influence

  • The attitudes and behaviors you display that distinguish yourself as a learner, not just a student.
  • The alignment between your professed interest and actions. Admission officers will notice if you say your dream is to be a medical doctor, but you are not enrolled in any higher level math and sciences classes. Similar observations will be noted if you profess your dedication to community service, yet have not participated in any activities that support your claim.
  • Your willingness to envision a future at various colleges and universities not just your first choice, the most prestigious or the one your friend likes.  This also requires moving beyond biases and preconceived notions of a college or experience derived from a visit. While bad weather, an unenthusiastic tour guide, or an extremely charismatic admissions rep can leave a lasting impression, none should be the sole factor in deciding whether a college is a good match for you..
  • The impression a student makes on admissions personnel regarding an applicant’s autonomy and independence. If only the student’s parents are asking questions, calling, and completing application tasks, it leaves doubts about whether a student has the capacity for independent long-term engagement.

Factors beyond student/parent control

  • The institutional priorities and needs of colleges. They change from year to year.
  • Size of the institution and the number of acceptances offered.
  • The number of applicants and the talent level (Rank, GPA, extra curricular activities, or other accomplishments) of the students you are competing against.
  • The content contained in your recommendation.
  • The admission representative(s) who read your application.

During the entire process, it’s helpful to remind yourself that multiple factors contribute to a denial or acceptance. Rarely is there one factor at the root of an admissions decision. So focus on the aspects of the process that you can control and make them the best you can. Good luck!

cassandra-profileCassandra Geiger directs the Northwestern Academy, a joint initiative under the Good Neighbor, Great University Program to identify and prepare academically talented, low-income youth from Chicago Public Schools for successful matriculation to selective colleges and universities. She previously worked with the Schuler Scholar Program as a college counselor.

Jenise-Holloway-webJenise Holloway is CTD’s Project EXCITE Advisor. She has spent more than 10 years working with students and their families through early college awareness initiatives, college admissions and retention.

Challenging Exceptionally Bright Children in Early Childhood Classrooms

by Ann Gadzikowski, Early Childhood Coordinator, Center for Talent Development

I recently had the pleasure of presenting a seminar for parents at Lake Forest Country Day School on the topic of “Challenging Exceptionally Bright Children in Early Childhood Classrooms.” I presented ideas from my book by the same name, published in 2013 by Redleaf Press, and while the intended audience for the book is teachers, I’ve found that parents are often very interested to hear about what they can be doing at home to support their children’s learning and development. The seminar included two big “take aways” for parents: The importance of play and benefit of making mistakes.

Leapfrog student playing with blocks

The Importance of Play

Young children with keen interests, intense curiosity, and advanced cognitive abilities are more likely to demonstrate the complexity of what they know through open-ended play experiences than through traditional academic methods, such as reading and writing or reciting math facts and times tables. Construction play using wooden blocks, for example, is a very rich and creative experience that helps introduce children to math and science concepts related to geometry, fractions, and physics. Opportunities for planning, problem solving, and negotiating are available whenever children play together, but this is especially true when children are working together to build something. Communication during block play can include statements of leadership (“Let’s build a fort!”), questions (“Where should be put the look-out tower?”), assertions (“The gate is too small. Let’s make it wider.”) and even humor (“Look, I built a toilet!”).  Developing and honing communication skills are another benefit of children’s block play.

Parents can encourage block play by purchasing a decent set of wooden blocks (natural wood in uniform sizes) and by providing the time and space to play with blocks. Girls, especially, often need encouragement from parents and teachers to dive in and experiment with construction toys in order to resist stereotypic misconceptions that blocks are just for boys. Many successful scientists and architects, such as Frank Lloyd Wright, have traced their passion for experimentation and design to their early experiences with blocks and construction toys.

The Benefits of Making Mistakes

You may have heard the phrase, “We learn more from our mistakes than our successes.” Easier said than done. Exceptionally bright young children can be perfectionists who are determined to get it “right” every time. Letting loose and experimenting with new materials and ideas can be a challenge. For example, in CTD’s Leapfrog course, Rocket Science, the children who learn the most are often the ones who build rockets that fail on the first launch. They must carefully examine the workings of the rocket model and develop a plan for correction. This process helps students explore and deepen their understanding of how the rockets work. Students who are successful launching their rockets on the first try, however, might not be motivated to take a second look at the details and characteristics of rocket construction. The students who repair and rework their rockets seems to leave the course with more knowledge and a greater sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Leapfrog teachers celebrate these kinds of failures as wonderful opportunities for advanced learning.

Parents can play a role in encouraging children to literally “mess around” as they play and learn. Parents can provide their children with open-ended materials such as clay, wire, and cardboard to construct inventions and models. A full recycling bin can be an excellent source of inspiration. A great example of this pro-mistakes attitude can be found in the picture book, Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty. In this book, little Rosie builds a cheese-copter that crashes after hovering just a few moments in the air. Rosie is discouraged, but her aunt proclaims, “Your brilliant first flop was a raging success! Come on, let’s get busy and on to the next!” Parents can support children’s learning but praising their efforts and explorations, even when they fail. Especially when they fail.

Ann Gadzikowski is the Early Childhood Coordinator for CTD’s Summer Program. She earned her master’s degree from the Erikson Institute for the Advanced Study of Child Development in Chicago. If you’re interest in reading her book, please contact Redleaf Press.

TEST is a Four-Letter Word

By Juliet Frate, NUMATS Coordinator, Center for Talent Development


Has testing become a(n) (un)necessary evil in your gifted child’s life?  If so, you are not alone.  Parents and educators alike often express dismay at the number of tests that have become part of the day-to-day school experience in this era of data-driven accountability.

We know high-stakes, state-specific, summative assessments engendered a rash of locally developed, subject-specific, formative assessments to avoid surprises at the end of the year.  Administrators and teachers then began to feel the pressure to “teach to the test” to ensure job security.  Parents, too, realized that test scores can impact the opportunities available to their high-achieving children . . . as well as the real estate value of their homes!  (Read Testing Miss Malarkey for a humorous take on testing today.)

The problem, though, is not assessment itself, but rather the who, what, when, where, why, and how of assessment as currently legislated and utilized.  So let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.  Assessment, when used efficiently and effectively, provides the feedback needed to inform and support all planning, teaching, and learning.  In reality, assessment can play a pivotal role in the process gifted learners use to construct meaning and gain the knowledge, skills, and conceptual understanding needed to reach full potential.

The American Psychological Association’s Joint Committee on Testing Practices (2004) tells us, “Test users should select tests that meet the intended purpose and that are appropriate for the intended test takers.”  So let’s advocate for policies that specify

  • Assessment practices – How will the data be collected (e.g., multiple-choice questions, open-ended response)?  How will the collected data be evaluated (e.g., checklist, rubric)?
  • Assessment purpose – Does the assessment provide evidence OF (summative), FOR (formative), and/or AS (reflection) learning?  How will this evidence be used?
  • Assessment recording and reporting – How will the results of assessments be documented and communicated?

And let’s remember that one assessment, one snapshot in time, cannot tell the whole story.  (Take a look at Zoom to see how one picture can be misleading!)  Rather we need a photo album approach . . . especially for gifted students.  We currently advocate for accelerated placements, enrichment opportunities, and differentiated instruction.  But in this era of data and accountability, we must also advocate for differentiated assessment. 

Julie Frate is the coordinator of Northwestern University’s Midwest Academic Talent Search (NUMATS). If you are interested in including above-grade-level testing in your child’s portfolio of differentiated assessments, visit http://www.ctd.northwestern.edu/numats/register.

One Key to Long-Term Career Satisfaction: An Interdisciplinary Career

Northwestern University's 3D wall“What you want for anybody, but especially for gifted students, is a career direction they can sink their teeth into and one that will keep them motivated for the long-term,” says Paula Kosin, Career Vision career consultant and frequent presenter at CTD conferences.

How is that possible, though, when many gifted students have interests all over the map?

“When we work with students that have multiple interests,” says Kosin, “they often have a number of aptitude strengths as well. They may be high in creativity and spatial abilities, high in math and high in problem-solving abilities, too. How do you engage all of these strengths in the context of a job and inspiring career? The challenge then is in finding or creating a role that enables them to use as many of these strengths as much as possible.”

To provide gifted individuals with adequate challenges, Kosin recommends career roles that offer interdisciplinary opportunities, both in subject matter and in using their entire range of aptitude strengths.

“You could start out as a nurse, and then add a Master’s degree in computer science, for instance, and move into the health informatics field, meshing your medical knowledge with computer database management,” explains Kosin. “Another example might be a nurse who attends law school and then, as an attorney, specializes in medical malpractice cases.”

The goal is to establish a foundation in one career, and as the individuals build competency, they are able to add on to that foundation with additional degrees, skills or experiences. This doesn’t always entail additional education; it could just mean seeking out more diverse opportunities within one field.

As an example, Kosin cites individuals who have an aptitude profile and interests that are a good fit for a science career. “They may love science and research,” says Kosin, “but if people with high idea generation abilities are stuck in a solitary lab all day, they will be crawling up the wall. They need to be interacting and talking with people.”

Paula KosinKosin’s solution for these individuals might be to “look for opportunities to teach, train and do workshops so that they’re using their full range of natural strengths. This results in greater job satisfaction, and ultimately, greater satisfaction with their lives.”

For more career development advice from Paula Kosin, consult the winter 2014 issue of Talent.

What is the point of Talent Searches?

If you’ve ever wondered, or been asked “What’s the point of Talent Search?”  (or, NUMATS in CTD’s case), check out this simply stated, helpful blog written by a parent and educator. Lynn Elizabeth Marlowe, an advocate for gifted and 2E students and homeschooling consultant, answered this question in a recent blog post:

1. They offer out of level testing.

2. They can lead to cool camps and online courses.

3. The test results can help the child take higher level coursework during the school year.

4. For homeschoolers, these out of level tests can offer a way to gauge what level the student should be working at and can also serve as the end of year assessment (in most states).

5. Sometimes talent searches lead to awards.

Read more here: www.lynnelizabethmarlowe.com/2014/01/28/talent-searches-what-is-the-point/

Want to register for NUMATS this year? Spring testing dates are still available! http://www.ctd.northwestern.edu/numats/program/dates/

Vote Now! What Will Be Top Careers In the Future?

What do you think will be the “hot” careers in 10 years?  Paula Kosin will address this subject in the winter issue of CTD’s newsletter Talent. Kosin, career consultant at Career Vision, first talked about careers of the future to CTD students during an extremely popular presentation at our Summer Conference earlier this year. She has since compressed the research she had conducted for that talk into a blog posting. Kosin lists (with explanations) the following areas as those that will be in demand in 2020: Medical, Education, Neuroscience and Mind Control, Genetics, Biometrics, Hydroponics and skyscraper farming, Green, Nanotechnology, Space, Digital Media.

We’re eager to hear your thoughts and will publish the results at a future date.

Is it Too Early to Think Career?

By Juliet Frate, NUMATS Coordinator, Center for Talent Development


As the parent of a gifted child, you want your child to develop his or her talents and reach full potential.  So you pay close attention to academic development because you know your child has the ability to earn top grades and scores . . . and potentially to earn a scholarship for a highly selective college or university.  You also pay close attention to personal and social development because you know that how your child thinks, feels, and acts can impact academic success . . . and you don’t want anything holding her back.

But do you ever think specifically about career development?  “Of course!” you say, “That’s why I help my child identify career goals and make sure he takes the courses he will need to make that happen.”  Well, that is career decision-making, often considered one of the latter stages of career development.  Career development, like academic, personal and social development, begins early and takes place over time.

The various career development theories address the ages and stages in which specific tasks or milestones take place.  Generally these involve career awareness, exploration, decision-making, and establishment, with accomplishment of the previous stage being a prerequisite for success moving forward.  And in that the competencies of career awareness and exploration are closely connected to the development of self-awareness, self-concept, and self-knowledge, these competencies clearly play a role prior to the secondary and postsecondary years of education; i.e., prior to career decision-making.

If you want your gifted child to develop his or her talents and reach full potential, consider a stronger focus on career development beginning now! Here are some online resources you can consult to get started:

And stay tuned for our next blog post, on Careers of the Future!

Juliet Frate is coordinator for Northwestern University’s Midwest Academic Talent Search. She has worked as an educator and researcher for over 30 years.

New GLL Earth Science & Earth and the Environment Sequence Offers Online and Lab-Based Learning

By Anne Stevens, Creative Studies Coordinator, Center for Talent Development


Did you know we have only mapped a tiny fraction of the world’s oceans? Or that you can analyze data online from the oceans to the sun as a citizen scientist? Earth science is an exciting frontier of science, and laboratories around the world are opening their data sets to the public.

Every year CTD’s online program, Gifted LearningLinks (GLL), revises and updates its curriculum to reflect student and faculty interests. This year, we have added an Earth Science course to our Core Curriculum, and Earth and the Environment to our Honors Elective offerings.

This course series is part of our larger effort at CTD to integrate and sequence student experiences in our programs, creating program pathways that allow for acceleration and a depth of experience that meets the needs of gifted students.

In addition to sequencing content, this course series makes use of the blended learning model. Research has shown that the blended model, pairing the best elements of online with face-to-face learning, is a rich and differentiation-friendly learning structure.

In our Core course, students will work in the four areas of earth science: astronomy, geology, hydrology, and meteorology/climatology. The course instructor is emphasizing the relative infancy of the earth science field, and the significance of the role that earth scientists will play in future study and policy around energy and climate change. Students will be exploring data from the Hubble Deep Field data set, as well as working with real-time plate tectonics data from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

In our Honors Elective course, students may move on to study how the earth’s interior is explored using seismic waves, the history of the earth and global tectonics, mountain building, earthquakes and volcanism, and biogeochemical cycles of the earth.

CTD’s optional two-course sequence will culminate in a weekend intensive in a lab on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Students in grades 6 through 8 can sign up for Earth Science during the Winter session, then register for Earth and the Environment in March, and attend the weekend intensive if they wish in May or early June (date TBD). The optional weekend program at Northwestern will tour select Earth Sciences labs on campus and participate in hands-on activities and discussion with guest speakers.

CTD’s Summer and Saturday programs, hosted on Northwestern’s campus, give students a glimpse of college academic life. This special opportunity provides our online students with that same experience, allowing implementation of their newfound knowledge and research experience in Earth Science. 

Anne Stevens is the coordinator of Creative Studies at the Center for Talent Development and teaches in the Saturday Enrichment ProgramGifted LearningLinks and Summer Program