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

Identifying, Nurturing, and Celebrating Exceptional Talent

Students at the NUMATS Award CeremonyIdentify. Nurture. Celebrate! These words encapsulate how Northwestern University’s Midwest Academic Talent Search (NUMATS) helps families and educators of high ability students recognize and develop their exceptional talents. On Saturday September 7, Center for Talent Development hosted hundreds of students and their family members at the annual NUMATS Award Ceremony in Evanston, Illinois.

In addition to the students who were honored for high scores on the ACT®, SAT® and EXPLORE® tests taken through NUMATS, four teachers were chosen by top students to receive certificates reflecting their impact on gifted students’ achievements. Peruse the photo album from our recent awards ceremony for a glimpse of how NUMATS celebrates bright students. This inspirational event brings families to Northwestern’s prestigious, beautiful campus for a day of recognition that includes awarding of certificates and medals, presentations by accomplished young people and scholars, and scholarship awards.

But the awards ceremony is only one small component of NUMATS. So, how did the students in these photos get to this point?

Identify: The process starts with accurate assessment of students’ achievement through NUMATS’ above-grade-level testing. Grade-level tests, including state exams and popular computer-adaptive tests typically used in schools, can’t measure the full extent of high-achieving students’ knowledge, so NUMATS uses a different approach.For over 30 years, NUMATS has utilized the EXPLORE®, ACT® and SAT® tests to remove the “ceiling effect” of grade-level tests. Students in grades 3 through 6 take the EXPLORE test, typically administered in grade 8 for high school placement. Students in grades 7 though 9 take the ACT or SAT – the same tests given to high school students preparing for college entrance.

Nurture: Using the test data, the next step is to provide guidance and learning opportunities. A wealth of resources is available through an individualized NUMATS Toolbox. Families receive

  • Scores and interpretive resources that help them understand and use the data;
  • A statistical summary to identify how their children are achieving compared to other bright students across the Midwest;
  • Personalized recommendations for planning course sequences through high school;
  • An educational programs guide, providing information on summer, online, and weekend opportunities throughout the U.S.;
  • Articles, webinars and other parenting resources.

And, as a program of Center for Talent Development (CTD), NUMATS connects families to a premier talent development center offering programs and services that help exceptional students discover their unique voice, explore opportunities, cultivate a love of learning and become bold, creative achievers.

Participating in consecutive years provides a record of academic growth, enabling educators and families to work as a team to help students thrive.

Celebrate: NUMATS focuses on strengths and recognizes exceptional academic ability. As the award ceremony photos illustrate, NUMATS provides ways to recognize students’ abilities in the same way other talents, such as athletic or artistic, are commonly celebrated.

If you want to become a member of the NUMATS community, or know a student who could benefit, contact NUMATS today.

Complete our web form to connect with a NUMATS staff member. Or you can


Call     847/491-3782 ext. 3


Ask Paula — Summer 2013

OK.Paula“Ask Paula” is your opportunity to seek advice and find answers about parenting and education.  Here, our gifted expert and CTD Director, Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, offers her insights.

Q: How can parents and educators ensure that they are not overwhelming or over-accelerating students?

Research has shown that acceleration, when used in schools, is typically done conservatively rather than “generously”, so over-accelerating is not usually a problem. However, the decision to accelerate a child is complex, involves many factors, and must be implemented carefully and thoughtfully. Above-grade level testing— e.g. 3rd through 6th graders taking the EXPLORE test (typically designed for 8th graders) and 7th through 9th graders taking the ACT or SAT (typically designed for 11th and 12th graders)– through CTD’s NUMATS program, is an excellent way to identify students whose reasoning abilities in math, science or reading are significantly above grade level and are, therefore, good candidates for subject or grade-level acceleration.

The key to successful acceleration is planning and managing expectations. Prior to acceleration, assessment of the child’s previous knowledge and skill level in the subjects he or she will be accelerated in is critical. For example, if a 6th grade child is being accelerated into algebra, a comprehensive test of pre-algebra and algebra can identify both gaps and areas of proficiency. It is important that both teachers, especially the receiving teacher, and parents, expect knowledge and skill gaps rather than perfect knowledge of the courses to be skipped, and work out a plan to address them. The plan might include some self-study over the summer or perhaps working with a teacher during the school year or using a flexible distance education program to fill in gaps (such as CTD’s Gifted Learning Links). If a student is being accelerated in language arts, the receiving teacher might suggest some specific literature or books for summer reading.

Another part of the plan for successful acceleration should be a timeline to evaluate the student’s adjustment and success in the new placement, using agreed upon criteria to measure these. Questions to ponder in devising a plan might include how long of an adjustment period to give; how often parents, students and educators should meet to assess progress and share perspectives on the placement; what the expected levels of academic performance, social integration with older students and independent study should be; and what is an alternative plan should the accelerated placement not work out.

Another component to successful acceleration is managing expectations of the teacher (e.g. that the student may not get everything correct and may have skill gaps, need time to adjust, be immature in some areas compared to the older students); of parents (e.g. it may be a rough start and the students may have an emotional reaction to an increased level of challenge and new social context); and of students(e.g. may feel under-prepared and lonely at first, may have to do some catch up initially). If full grade acceleration is being considered, one tool schools can use to determine if students are good candidates is the Iowa Acceleration Scale. It addresses many of the issues I have described, and helps educators and parents make informed decisions.

Not all gifted students are accelerated or choose acceleration as an option in school, but many do take on outside of school learning activities, extra-curricular activities, and additional courses to satisfy their interests and desire to learn. These are important activities for many children, giving them opportunities to connect with like-minded peers and receive instruction from enthusiastic and exceptional teachers. These activities engender motivation and build competencies and expertise. It is important to consider how much is “too much”, though. Growth in knowledge and learning, whether it is in a particular subject or in “non cognitive” areas such as organizational skills, result from the proper level of challenge and the right mix of challenge and support. Too much challenge creates anxiety and too little results in boredom and complacency.

What is “too much” is very individual and parents need to monitor and listen to their child for signs of distress, worry and anxiety that are excessive or do not dissipate over time. Parents and teachers also need to increase support for a student who has taken on a challenging course load or accelerates by actively listening to concerns and offering solutions, which might include adjustments to other aspects of a student’s schedule, assisting with communications with teachers and administrators, helping a student adjust expectations for achievement and friendships, and helping a student acquire study and organizational skills and effective coping strategies.

Time management is a critical skill to acquire and parents can guide children in thinking about what activities or courses matter most to them, require a greater investment of time and energy, or are critical to a future course of study. It is important that parents actively engage with their child in decision making regarding his or her choices for courses in school and outside of school programs and activities with the goal of helping them make the best choices and become independent critical thinkers and decision makers.

Do you have your own question for Paula? Let us know in the comments section below, or on Facebook, and watch this space next quarter for Paula’s replies!

Understanding Student Achievement

D. Betsy McCoach

D. Betsy McCoach, PhD

by Drs. D. Betsy McCoach and Del Siegle

Why are some children willing to tackle new challenges, while others seem insecure or uninterested? What can parents do to promote an achievement-oriented attitude?

Many factors contribute to achievement, and motivation is one important component. What have we learned about motivated students and their achievement-oriented attitude? Three things stand out:

  • Motivated students find value in their school experience and believe their work will produce beneficial outcomes.
  • They believe they possess the skills necessary to be successful.
  • They trust their environment and expect they can succeed in it.

    Del Siegle, PhD

    Del Siegle, PhD

When students value the activity in which they are engaged, see the outcome as beneficial and have positive perceptions of themselves and their opportunities for success, they are more likely to implement self-regulation behaviors, set realistic expectations, and apply appropriate strategies for success.

Children need support and encouragement to pursue their interests and passions. Providing this encouragement is an important role for educators and parents. Adults can help students see the value in the work they are doing, believe in themselves and their abilities, learn to trust that their environment will support their productivity and set realistic expectations. Early development of achievement-oriented behaviors will help young people lead productive, fulfilling lives.

We look forward to discussing this issue and what parents can do to promote an achievement-orientated attitude during CTD’s Opportunities for the Future Conference on June 29.

D. Betsy McCoach and Del Siegle are scholars in the field of gifted education. Dr. McCoach is an associate professor in educational psychology and in the Measurement, Evaluation and Assessment program at the University of Connecticut. Dr. Siegle is the Head of the Department of Educational Psychology at University of Connecticut, where he teaches in gifted and talented education.

Problem-Based Learning and Gifted Students

by Anne Hayden Stevens, Creative Studies Coordinator, Center for Talent Development

Early this spring, I set out on a project with my two children decorating our windows for Easter. We had a simple plan: painting big colored eggs on paper, and hiding them in a strip of paper grass that would line the bottom of the window. As I gathered materials for this activity and we discussed execution, it became clear that my daughter and son had very different ideas about how it should be done. She was impatient to get started with her plan, while he really wanted us to see and understand his idea. After some negotiation, my son drew out his concept and described it to us, we discussed our options, and we agreed to incorporate both ideas into the design.

Grappling with questions is the essence of problem based learning and design thinking. Students are challenged with an open-ended problem—one that can be solved many different ways. Problems like this mirror real life. While initially we scaffold students with examples, specific rubrics and outcomes, research is showing that students are better prepared for college and the workplace when they are faced with open-ended problems early and often.


A student and parent working on executing a student sculpture concept in Math, Physics & Sculpture, a Creative Studies course in CTD’s Saturday Enrichment Program.

For our gifted students, we know that standard rubrics and outcomes can function like the ceilings our students often hit on tests. Specified, grade-level outcomes do not challenge these students enough. They can achieve excellent grades, but are they grappling adequately with the work? Open-ended problems allow learners, and gifted learners in particular, to push themselves.

It has been two years since the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University started implementing Creative Studies courses, which ask questions like the ones asked in this article about Poetry and Robotics on PBS’s Mind/Shift blog. How can we integrate content area learning (Language Arts, Math, and Science) with the technology and design contexts that students will face in their college and professional lives? We have developed courses based on a STEM to STEAM model, which pairs the rich content of the traditional disciplines with studio-based experiences like art and design.

The benefits of these programs to gifted students are many. First, gifted students need contexts in which to share and debate their ideas. Our students have no shortage of background knowledge and grand plans, and gifted enrichment programs exist to challenge and engage these interests. ‘Studio Time’, in which students explore an open-ended design challenge, is the most popular component of our Creative Studies courses.

Second, our Creative Studies model creates a studio experience for the gifted student where they can plan, negotiate and create without ceilings or boundaries. Students have to try out their ideas, fall short, and re-approach the problem. Finally, students who have visual and spatial talents can explore them in tandem with rigorous content area exploration. Experience and research are demonstrating that hands-on experiences can cement content knowledge acquisition better than traditional testing methods.

Where else can we expose our students to open ended problems to cultivate ideation and experimentation? The key benefit of pairing Robotics and Poetry is novelty, in the best sense. Students are challenged to innovate.  Students are creating something new, which, in the context of traditional school curricula that tend to cycle every year, is radical. This builds a space of possibility where the unpredictable can occur. New problems don’t have ceilings or boundaries. Every unanswered question, each political or environmental challenge, is an opportunity for problem based learning. These are the questions that keep our gifted students on the edge of their seats in a discussion, or bent over a model for hours at a time. Our mission is to engage students throughout their academic career with new and exciting problems.


The author’s son executing his window design.

CTD is offering a number of Design Studio courses in our Summer Programs such as Math Studio in our Leapfrog program for children age 4 through grade 3, Graphic Design through Visual Communication, Design Studio and Design Entrepreneurs, in partnership with the Segal Design Institute at Northwestern University for older students.

Anne Hayden Stevens is the coordinator of CTD’s Creative Studies strand and an instructor in the Saturday Enrichment, Gifted LearningLinks, and Leapfrog programs. She has an MA in Visual Studies from the University of California at Berkeley and a BFA in Printmaking and Drawing from California College of the Arts.

Bring World Science To Your Kitchen Table

How does a high school student in Chicago, Illinois operate a sophisticated Geiger counter housed in a laboratory in Queensland, Australia?  Through the wonder of technology and the advent of remote science labs.

Most high schools don’t have the resources to provide elaborate science laboratories.  The iLab Network, developed by Northwestern University’s Office of STEM Education Partnerships (OSEP), allows students to conduct their own experiments remotely with actual world-class laboratory equipment.

At the CTD Opportunities for the Future Family Conference on June 29, students in grades 7 and 8 can enjoy hands-on experience with an iLab.  Students who opt to attend the remote science lab session will access and operate that Geiger counter in Australia. They will learn basics about radioactive elements then design and run multiple trials of an experiment.

iLabs are a prime example of how technology is impacting education and the vast resources it opens up especially for gifted students in need of additional challenge.

Recently, Northwestern University’s Office of STEM Education Partnerships received the 2013 Innovations in Networking Award for Educational Applications for its iLabs Network Program.  You’ll find a compelling description of the labs in this article: A Paradigm Shift in the Way Students Experience Science Labs.

The CTD Opportunities for the Future Conference, taking place on the Evanston, Illinois campus of Northwestern University, is open to gifted students and their parents. Adults attend a keynote address and subsequent presentations while students (grades 4 – 12) enjoy interactive workshops that focus on interesting fields of study and future career paths. You’ll find full information about the conference on the CTD website.

Join our Summer Conference Facebook event here!

Strategic Game Plan

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

Monday Night Games were big at CTD this winter.  6pm found a group of energized CTD staffers gathered around the conference table, immersed in games of strategy.  The goal was to figure out how and why such games might impact exceptionally bright third grade students.


CTD staff combine work with play as they experience the challenge of strategy games during one of several Game Nights.

Strategy games will be introduced this summer through the CTD Leapfrog program. Leapfrog is for children age 4 though grade 3 who demonstrate strong math or verbal ability.

Talent Talk recently sat down with Ann Gadzikowski, Early Childhood Coordinator at CTD. She described the approach to developing the strategy games course and offered some overall guidelines on selecting summer learning activities for young gifted students.

Explain the approach to Leapfrog course development, using the new strategy games offering as an example.

ANN:  There are differences between the traditional American board games many of us grew up playing, such as Monopoly, and what’s known as “Euro-style” games, such as Settlers of Catan. The latter tend to be more complex, with more variables.

For example, in Euro-style games players usually earn victory points based on different measures of success, such as the ability to compile resources or build a long road. We recognize that these complex game structures work well for gifted learners because the children are challenged to develop sophisticated strategies without the pressure of a “winner-take-all” type outcome.

Part of the course development process involved CTD staff members sampling the Euro-style games. Throughout the winter, on the first Monday of the month, CTD staff members were invited to a participate in “Game Night.” We ordered pizza and snacks and enjoyed playing the games together.

For me, one of the most interesting things that came out of Game Night was that we, as adults, got to experience what it feels like to learn something completely new. None of us had previous experience with the games. We had to read the instructions, experiment, ask each other questions, and go back to the rules for further clarification.

Here we were, a bunch of smart professionals, having to start from scratch to understand and remember the rules and strategies of these games. I often thought, “This must be what our Leapfrog students feel when they are truly challenged by new and difficult concepts.” Our Game Night experiences helped us think carefully and intentionally about the pace of our courses and our instructional practices.

Given your findings, what did the games course emerge as?

ANN: The course is called “Rule Your World: Playing and Analyzing Strategy Games.” It is an all-day course for students who have completed third grade and it will require students to use a variety of high-level math skills as they develop and test their game strategies. The games played in class will include many Euro-style games such as Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, 7 Wonders, and Dominion.

The benefit to students who learn and play the games in a class, rather than on their own at home, is that the instructor will guide the students to develop, articulate, and test their game strategies in organized and reflective ways. Students will document their strategies using both words and images and this documentation will allow them to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the strategies over time, and then refine and improve their strategies.

This time of year parents of gifted students are searching for meaningful learning experiences their child can enjoy during the summer months.  What should a parent look for when it comes to younger children?

ANN: One of the first considerations should be, “What subject areas or topics really interest my child?” You can often figure out what topics children find exciting by observing their play or noticing what books, games or movies are their favorites.

A child who uses her stuffed toys to set up a pretend animal hospital may be interested in learning more about veterinary medicine. A child who is eager to help you count the coins in your pocket might be interested in learning more about economics.

When parents know what topics really interest their children, they can plan for summer activities, both formal and informal, that are related to those topics.


CTD’s Leapfrog program allows young children to explore their interests in ways that are challenging, fast-paced and engaging.

Is there a prevailing philosophy for early childhood programs that serve high-ability kids?

ANN: CTD’s goal with the Leapfrog program is to develop each child’s academic strengths and talents through hands-on courses that are challenging, fast-paced, and engaging. Content is generally one or two grade levels above the standardized curriculum. Although courses are academically rigorous, it is important to incorporate some aspect of play, such as constructing architectural models out of wooden unit blocks or pretending to establish a space colony on Mars.

To challenge advanced learners we need to do more than just quicken the pace, we need to go deep, study the details, make connections, and create engaging projects together. In Leapfrog, we focus on a single topic for an entire week.

Even a PreK/Kindergarten course such as Smelly Science involves in-depth research and experimentation with real materials. We are not just flipping through a textbook! For example, the children explore the causes of smells by conducting experiments with contrasting smells and they research and discuss big questions such as, “How do smells affect the way we think and feel?”

It’s also important that the students have opportunities to collaborate with other really bright children. They work on projects with kids who are just as excited about learning as they are.


CTD’s Leapfrog summer program will be offered at 6 different locations in the Chicago area this summer.  Week-long sessions are available from late June through July.  Visit the CTD website for complete information.

Do you have suggestions on the types of activities that can help young, gifted learners continue to develop their cognitive, emotional and social abilities during the summer months?

Ann Gadzikowski has a MA degree from the Erikson Institute for Advanced Study of Child Development in Chicago. She has worked as a teacher and director of preschool programs. Ann is an accomplished author.  Her latest book “Challenging Exceptionally Bright Children In Early Childhood Classrooms” has just been released and is currently available through RedLeaf Press.

Nurturing the Entrepreneur

by Cassie Sparkman, Equinox Summer Program Coordinator, Center for Talent Development


Gallop recently released data that suggests student engagement wanes as young people progress from elementary to high school. Experiential and project-based learning is proposed as a method to reignite interest and motivation.

The Center for Talent Development (CTD) has developed a new set of courses designed to cultivate entrepreneurial spirit and innovation. “Partnership” courses for high school students will debut as part of the 2013 CTD Summer Program.

The three-week courses aim to provide real-world experience to students who have passion for the subject matter and connect them with industry professionals.

Courses are designed to help students develop leadership, dialog, listening, organization and follow-through skills in addition to knowledge and expertise. Students will collaborate in small teams and tackle existing challenges, enhancing their ability to think creatively and innovate solutions.

The Starter League is a Chicago-based company that trains aspiring programmers and web designers worldwide to build and launch new technology products. They are working with CTD to provide programming and web application development courses. Students will find themselves on a track to turn their online ideas into reality.

Two courses are the result of a joint venture with Segal Design Institute at Northwestern University. They are modeled on college level programs currently available to NU engineering students. The Design Entrepreneur course incorporates the principals of Design for America, which began at NU and is now expanding to other universities. High school students will get hands-on experience in collaborative design from ideation to production to presentation and nurture their ability to devise creative solutions to future challenges in their careers and personal lives.

Traditionally, education courses for academically gifted students provide accelerated study and the opportunity to delve deeply into subject matter. The new partnership model extends beyond the classroom and allows young people to apply their talent in ways that are more career oriented.

Entrepreneurism has led to breakthroughs throughout world history and may be more important now than ever. Let’s make sure our brightest young minds catch the spirit!

Check out the full roster of CTD summer partnership courses on our website.

Northwestern University is a breeding ground for entrepreneurs – read about it here.

Is the focus on entrepreneurism a good way to re-engage older students?  What other methods work?

Cassie Sparkman coordinates CTD’s Equinox Summer Program for high school students. She has been working for several years to develop a partnership / apprentice program designed specifically for academically talented students.

Rainy Day Activity: Writing Collage

by Libby Galin

Spring brings plenty of rainy days providing the perfect opportunity for young, aspiring writers to put pen to paper. However, sometimes just sitting down and writing a story or an article can be a daunting task. All writers are encouraged to use warm-ups to get their creative juices flowing. Writing warm-ups help budding authors tap into their creativity, think more deeply about their piece and find an entry point to defining key things about their written piece such as voice, setting, character, tone and imagery. Encourage your young author to get the creative process started with a writing collage: a visually appealing and creative mix of the written word and an artistic piece.

This activity is for students in grades 5 through 8 but can be modified for younger children too.


  • Magazine cut outs or old photos
  • Notebook
  • Timer
  • White or construction paper
  • Colored pencils or thin markers
  • Child safe scissors
  • Glue
  • White paper: approximately 12” x 18” (smaller or larger will work fine depending on the size you want the final product to be)
  • Computer/word processor (optional)


1.  In a magazine or in a box of old photos that may be used for a project, identify 3-4 pictures that inspire you.  Cut the magazine pictures out or set aside the photos. (Don’t think too hard about what the photos should be; simply select the pictures that you like.)


2.  Set your timer for three minutes. Choose a photo. In the three minutes, describe in the richest, most vivid detail what you see in the photo or what the photo brings to your mind. As you write, use the five senses. Think about how things would look, feel, smell, taste and sound in the photo.


3.  Repeat for each picture you selected.

4.  Rewrite your description for each picture on a piece of white paper using colored pencils or thin markers using your best handwriting (or type the descriptions using your favorite font). Let the shape of your words to be creative and to reflect the picture you are describing.  For example, the white paper the words are on could be the same shape or size as the picture.


5.  Create a frame for each set of words and each picture by cutting out construction paper that is the same shape but slightly larger than the paper or picture.

6.  Glue the written descriptions and pictures on to the frames.


7.  Glue the framed descriptions and pictures on to the large piece of paper, arranging them using your artistic eye.



  • Examine your finished collage. Why do you think you chose the pictures you did?
  • What is the mood of your collage? What about the pictures, colors and words convey this mood?
  • Which picture and written piece do you like best? Why?
  • What stories could you develop from your written pieces?


  • Use one of the descriptions you wrote as a jumping off point for a story. Create plot, identify a voice, theme, characters, setting and conflict.
  • Choose your favorite picture and description. Use this as a starting point for a poem.

Modifications for younger children:

Have younger children select simpler, brighter pictures from magazines for kids, such as Highlights or Ranger Rick. Assist with cutting and gluing when necessary. Use specific prompts while they write or dictate their thoughts to an adult or recording device:

  • What do you see in this picture?
  • What colors are in the picture?
  • Is it a happy or sad picture?
  • How does it make you feel?
  • Where is the picture?
  • What is it like in that place?

Additional Resources:

Libby Galin, MS Ed, has taught several classes for the Center for Talent Development in writing, literature, creative studies and science. She has worked with gifted students in a variety of settings throughout her career including a traditional classroom, a pediatric therapy center, as a yoga instructor and through the CTD. Her next writing class is Fan Fiction, offered for grades 6 through 8 during the upcoming Spring Session of the Saturday Enrichment Program.

Is your student interested in pursuing a career in writing? CTD’s annual Opportunities for the Future Conference on June 29 will feature sessions dedicated to various writing types and career options. Writing courses are also available through CTD’s Summer Program. Check out the offerings on our website.

Slides from CTD Seminar, “Parenting Your Twice-Exceptional Child”

Center for Talent Development recently hosted a free seminar titled “Parenting Your Twice-Exceptional Child: Developing Talent and Accommodating Needs.”  Guest presenter, Dr. Megan Foley Nicpon, spoke about best practices for addressing the needs of twice-exceptional students, including identifying and developing talent domains.


Dr. Megan Foley Nicpon, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Counseling Psychology at The University of Iowa and a licensed psychologist and researcher at the Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development.  She is an expert in the field and has authored a variety of articles on supporting gifted students with co-existing disabilities.

We got many requests to  post resources from this seminar, and just received Dr. Foley Nicpon’s presentation slides.

You can find them here:

If you missed Dr. Megan Foley Nicpon’s article we posted last month, you can still view it by clicking here.

Poll Shows Student Engagement Drops Over Time

picAccording to a recent Gallup Student Poll, there’s a decline in student engagement as students progress from elementary school to middle school to high school.  The findings from this survey, posted in a blog titled, “The School Cliff: Student Engagement Drops With Each Grade,” include that: “A majority of elementary school students—almost eight in 10—qualify as engaged, the poll found. By middle school, however, that number drops to six in 10 students. And when students enter high school, it drops to four in 10.”

The blog suggests a combination of factors may contribute to this decline in engagement, ranging from “overzealous focus on standardized testing and curricula to our lack of experiential and project-based learning pathways for students.”

Supporting entrepreneurial pursuits is one way the blog suggests schools can encourage students.  According to the blog, students with high entrepreneurial talent are among those whose engagement declined. “Forty-five percent of students surveyed by Gallup say they plan to start their own business someday … yet a mere 5% have spent more than one hour in the last week working, interning, or exposed to real business.”

Do you think the reasons proposed in this article account for disengaged students?  Or do you attribute the findings of this survey to something else?

Check out CTD’s Summer Program offerings, including our new Partnership Courses focusing student entrepreneurship, such as the Starter League: an innovative training ground for programmers and web designers located in Chicago.   

Ask Paula! — Fall 2012

“Ask Paula” is your opportunity to seek advice and find answers about parenting and education.  Here, our gifted expert and CTD Director, Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, offers her insights into helping emotionally intense and sensitive children and recommends resources related to grouping high achieving students in a heterogenous classroom.

Q: Hi Paula, our son who is 6 is very bright. He is also very sensitive. He was crying last night because he feels his best friend from Gr. 1 seems to be hanging out with a different boy and my son feels like he is losing him as his best friend. He feels very sad and hurt and is very expressive of his feelings of loneliness, abandonment and loss. Is being this sensitive a trait of gifted boys? I do not see this in my niece who is also gifted. Also, please advise the best way for me to help him. I let him talk through this and listened. Thanks much! -Faiza

Hello Faiza,

Your story about your son’s sensitivity and emotion is not an uncommon one for gifted children. First, as with any personality characteristic, there is a great deal of variability across individuals, even within a group of gifted children. So, it is also not surprising that your niece and son are different. I have two daughters  and one is much more sensitive and intense in her emotional reactions to things (like her mom) than is the other. Many scholars within the field of gifted education believe that a heightened level of sensitivity and more intense emotional reactions are some of the defining characteristics of giftedness, but in my experience, many, but not all gifted children, exhibit these.

It can be challenging as a parent to deal with intense sensitivity on the part of a child. Our immediate tendency is to minimize their feelings and say, “you are over-reacting.” But as a first step, I think it is always important to acknowledge and accept a child’s feelings and it is wonderful that your child is able to articulate his feelings so well and feels very safe in expressing them to you.

Our role as parents is to be emotional coaches, so to speak, guiding our children in understanding their feelings and reactions and helping them to acquire strategies to regulate them. You could consider consulting with a psychologist about ways in which your might respond to your child’s sensitivity  and strategies you might use to help your child dial down the intensity. The goal would be to use and model these strategies with your child so that he can acquire them and use them independently as he develops and matures.

Some resources on the topic of emotional intensity and sensitivity are available on the the website of the Social Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG–, the website of the National Association for Gifted Children (–parent resources), and the website of the Davidson Foundation ( The books, “Emotional Intensity in Gifted Children” by Christine Fonseca (Prufrock Press, or “Living with Intensity” by Susan Daniels and Michael Piechowski (Great Potential Press) might also be helpful to you in terms of offering concrete strategies to use.

I always say to my daughter who is very sensitive that it is her best characteristic, enabling her to be so empathic and caring, and also her most challenging, because it makes her feel different and “not normal”. I can tell you from experience though, that if you work over time with your child to help him or her gain understanding of his feelings, emotions and reactions, his sensitivity will be an asset for him in his life.

Q: Can you suggest any good studies or data showing gains (academically or emotionally) made by clustering TAG students into groups? -Wisconsin Talented and Gifted Coordinator

I can recommend two resources for you regarding research on cluster grouping within classrooms. Right now this is a “hot topic” within gifted education as the trend has been to keep gifted children within heterogeneous classrooms rather than put them in pull-out programs or separate classrooms.  Several models for cluster grouping gifted students together within otherwise heterogeneous classrooms have been proposed by a couple of different authors. One of these is by Marcia Gentry and Rebecca Mann, “Total School Cluster Grouping and Differentiation” published by Creative Learning Press. Another is “The Cluster Grouping Handbook. How to Challenge Gifted Students and Improve Achievement for All” by Susan Winebrenner and Dina Brulles, Free Spirit Press. The authors of both of these books explain cluster grouping and cite research studies to support their claims of its effectiveness with meeting the needs of gifted students.

Educators may also be interested in the book “Best Practices in Gifted Education” by Ann Robinson, Bruce Shore and Donna Enersen and published by NAGC. It addresses a variety of gifted education topics, and there is a Flexible Grouping chapter that cites numerous studies as well as provides some good examples and offers best practice recommendations.
Do you have your own question for Paula? Let us know in the comments section below, or on Facebook, and watch this space next quarter for Paula’s replies!

What is the Importance of Teaching Non-Cognitive Skills?

by Kourtney Cockrell, Coordinator of Project EXCITE with the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University

The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research recently released a literature review, entitled, Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners: The Role of Noncognitive Factors in Shaping School Performance.”  While the study does not focus on gifted students, the findings could shed light on why some really bright kids don’t perform as well as expected based on their assessed abilities or why their intellectual talents go unnoticed altogether.  This fascinating read suggests non-cognitive factors such as study skills, motivation, time management, mindsets, and a host of other variables might be more indicative of future academic and career success than intelligence and ability alone. Even more, differences based on race, ethnicity and gender might be greatly reduced by focusing on these non-cognitive factors.

This review emerges at a time when test scores and academic rigor are gaining more and more attention, suggesting that if we can just provide students with challenging coursework and assess them to ensure that they’ve retained this content and knowledge, then students will be more prepared for college and the workforce.  However, success and achievement in school and the professional world rely on much more than just being “smart.” Successful students and professionals have to be persistent or “gritty”, organized, confident, problem-solvers, able to advocate for themselves and much more. Unfortunately, most of these behaviors are not taught in traditional classrooms.

Perhaps the larger question is, can these behaviors be developed and if so, how?

The University of Chicago Review provides an in-depth analysis of five categories of non-cognitive factors and investigates precisely these sorts of questions. The Review explores whether these factors are malleable, how they are affected by the context of the classroom and if/how these factors can be taught in the classroom.

Even more intriguing is how these non-cognitive factors play out when explored through the lens of race, ethnicity, gender and other forms of identity. The Review highlights the complicated and interdependent nature that all of these behaviors have with one another. For example, an African-American student’s confidence, motivation and persistence can be diminished if he/she doesn’t feel a sense of belonging in the classroom or doesn’t feel capable of succeeding; which can be substantially influenced by teacher expectations, family environment and the school/community environment.

Continued research is needed on the topic of non-cognitive behaviors and traits, but the potential outcomes are encouraging. If researchers and educators are able to identify how to measure and cultivate these important skill sets, students benefit and become more prepared for 21st century jobs and opportunities.

To download the University of Chicago Literature Review, visit this link:

Kourtney Cockrell has spent her professional career working in diversity affairs in the nonprofit sector and in higher education. As the coordinator for Project EXCITE, Cockrell works closely with the Evanston community, her colleagues and staff at CTD and the Evanston Public School Districts to manage outreach programs and activities aimed at closing the achievement gap.

Rainy Day Activity: Heading West with Pecos Bill

by Kaitlyn Crites

Pecos Bill was one of the roughest, toughest cowboys in the entire West! Raised by coyotes who would expect anything less?  Did you know he used a rattlesnake as a lasso? He rode a tornado through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona! Accounts of Pecos Bill are known as tall tales, exaggerated stories passed from one generation to another.

Why should students study tall tales?  These symbolic, insightful tales have survived for centuries, and reflect the cultures, values, mores and beliefs that shaped history.  In addition, they comprise a genre of literature all their own.

One of my favorite tall tales is that of Pecos Bill. There are several books for young people I recommend that cover this legendary figure’s engaging antics and lead to good discussion.  Children PreK through grade 2 will benefit from reading with an adult. Students grades 3 through 5 will also enjoy the books.

Pecos Bill, Colossal Cowboy: The Graphic Novel by Sean Hamann Tulien and Lisa K Weber

Pecos Bill by Steven Kellogg and Laura Robb

Here are a few questions to stimulate discussion with your child post read:

What does exaggeration mean?  Why do people exaggerate when they tell a story?

Do you think that Pecos Bill was really raised by coyotes?  How do you think that story got started?  Do people really believe he traveled on a tornado?

Pecos Bill roamed far and wide (you can pull out a map to track his course.) Why do you think he headed in the direction he did? What was he looking for?

Pecos Bill used a rattlesnake as a lasso. What would you use to make one?

Pecos Bill wore a vest. Why do cowboys wear vests? 

I teach a Saturday Enrichment Program course at the Center for Talent Development titled “Superheroes of the 1800s.” Students learn about the first American adventurers through creative hands-on activities related to geography and language arts. One activity the kids embrace could be easily replicated at home to augment learning about tall tales. We make western vests to get more in tune  with legendary cowboys like Pecos Bill. You and your child will be ready to jump into the saddle after creating this western vest!  And, if someone is searching for a unique Halloween costume this might fit the “Bill”!

Materials Needed:

To have your cowboy or cowgirl create their own western vest, recycle a brown paper bag from your local grocery store, and round up one or more of the following: crayons, markers, colored pencils, paint, glitter, construction paper, stencils, foil, stickers, ribbon, pins, buttons, and/or whatever else is lying around the house that will add color and contrast!

Instructions for Doing the Activity:

  1. If there is writing on the brown paper bag, turn it inside out.
  2. On a flat surface, cut from the center of the bag’s open edge to the middle of the bottom with scissors. Cut out a neck hole on bag’s bottom. Cut armholes in bag’s sides. Trim the front edges to complete the vest.
  3. Decorate your vest however you would like using art supplies found at home.  Almost any item works, so get creative!
  4. Cut vertically along the bottom of the vest to fringe the edges.
  5. If you would like to add rosettes, tear two aluminum foil circles (one smaller than the other) to make each.  Put a small circle on top of a larger one. Then, poke ribbon or yarn through layered rosette and into the vest and knot both ends.
  6. Try on your finished product!  Pecos Bill would be proud!

Modifications for Younger or Older Students:
For younger students, parents can assist in cutting the brown paper bag and additional items that will be added to the vest.

For older students, parents can trace circles on the brown paper bag for their child to cut independently

Additional Resource Link: offers multiple tall tales of Pecos Bill.  Parents can read these stories and have their child act it out while wearing their vests.  For example, taken from Pecos Bill Rides a Tornado, ‘Well, Bill jest grabbed that there tornado, pushed it to the ground and jumped on its back.’  By using his/her imagination, your child can grab a tornado from mid air, push it all the way to the ground, jump on its back, and ride it like wild old Widowmaker

Kaitlyn Crites teaches for CTD’s Saturday Enrichment Program. Visit the Saturday Enrichment Program website for winter courses related to storytelling and adventure. Saturday Enrichment Program is offered at multiple sites throughout Chicagoland.  Other writing and literature courses are available online through the CTD Gifted LearningLinks program.

Born This Smart?


“Do genes make the genius? Or is it really true that practice is what puts people in Carnegie Hall?”

The quote above comes from a recent piece in the Huffington Post where two experts continue the debate around intelligence and the influences of nature and nurture.

Scott Barry Kaufman, PhD, a cognitive psychologist specializing in the development of intelligence, creativity, and personality, in his blog entry supports the argument that environment and development have more impact than heredity when it comes to some human characteristics including intelligence.  Children are not “born this way” (with all due respect to Lady Gaga) but rather traits and talents are developed over time, and people differ at the rate at which certain abilities are developed. He writes, you can’t take the heritability estimate of a trait at face value. What’s more, you can’t make inferences about an individual based on heritability calculations.”

Zach Hambrick, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University, takes a different approach, acknowledging that while deliberate practice and nurturing has a significant impact, general intelligence is also key. He explains, “Experts are born because people come into the world differing in ways that turn out to matter for real-world achievement. But experts are made because there is no getting around the necessity of a long period of practice and training for reaching a high level of performance.”

The research presented on both sides is fascinating. And, the debate goes on. You can add your vote to this interactive discussion online at

So, what are your thoughts on this age-old question?

Susan Corwith, Ph.D. is an associate director at Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University and oversees the Summer Program and Civic Education Project. She holds a Ph.D in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, an MS in Curriculum and Instruction, and a BS in Secondary Education, all from the University of Wisconsin.

Flipped Classrooms: Maximizing Class Time

by Randee Blair, Associate Director, Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University

A recent hot topic in education has been the flipped classroom debate. With the growth of online options, learning has expanded outside of the school classroom, and this trend only seems to be growing.

What’s flipped is that instead of doing homework, students watch online instructional movies, videos, lectures and visit websites at home, with the opportunity to revisit challenging sections and formulate questions. The teacher then has more time to facilitate discussion, based on these questions and is then able to help students with activities and assigned problems reinforcing the concepts during class time.

Why are flipped classrooms gaining popularity? In a flipped classroom, “Class time is spent focusing on [students’] needs, not on the teacher’s schedule,” says science teacher Brian E. Bennett on SmartBlog on Education. “Students are encouraged to make decisions, question, succeed and fail in a supportive, dynamic learning environment. Choice is rampant in flipped learning, and students are given an opportunity to defend their choices as a partner in learning rather than a subordinate.”

Flipped classrooms allow for flexibility and have become a way for teachers to differentiate their instruction in order to meet individual student needs. Education consultant Jonathan Bergmann is a pioneer of the flipped classroom concept. Bergmann said in an April interview: “The benefits are huge. Kids learn to become independent learners. They figure out how to learn for themselves.”

Others are not yet convinced. A blog entry titled “Flipping’ Classrooms: Does It Make Sense?” quotes teacher John Hrevnack: “[a] concern I have is that the lecture is portrayed as the teacher speaking and the students listening.  This is not the way that most teachers ‘lecture.’  Most teachers use an Interactive Lecture.” Hrevnack describes the “Interactive Lecture” as one in which the teacher prepares questions to spark students’ interest during the lecture and getting them to think critically. Live or personalized online programs may assuage these concerns and offer the advantage of interacting with peers from far off and diverse communities.

“Flipped learning is not a one-size-fits-all approach nor is it appropriate in every situation,” concludes Bennett. Given that e-learning is not going away, how can schools use it to their students’ greatest advantage? “Let’s begin to focus on the philosophical decisions teachers and schools need to make to move education forward in a connected world,” he suggests. “For me, flipping the learning process was the best way to make that shift, and that’s simply what it is — a tool to push teaching and learning forward. I am continually learning and improving on what has worked in the past to become a better teacher.”

Gifted LearningLinks is CTD’s online course program. At this time most courses are taken independently by students. However, more schools are starting to take advantage of the program as a way to differentiate for academically gifted students.

What do you think about flipped classrooms?

Randee Blair is Associate Director at the Center for Talent Development with direct responibsility for online Gifted LearningLinks and the Saturday Enrichment Progam.  She spent 30 years in the Illinois public school system as a teacher and curriculum coordinator for math and gifted education.  She is an esteemed speaker who presents at conferences across the country and author of several professional development books for teachers.

Race to the Finish: Thinking Like an Olympian

In light of the 2012 Summer Olympics, journalists are exploring what goes into becoming a talented athlete.  A recent article called “Michael Phelps’ Mom: ‘Don’t Push’ Kids Into Sports” discusses parenting talented children.  The star athlete’s mom has been there for him from the beginning, but not in a way that some would expect.

In contrast to other parents, Phelps’s mom has never pushed her son into doing anything he wasn’t enjoying — in her son’s case, swimming.  Even when Phelps’s swim coach charted his potential for the years to come, his mom laughed and responded, “If [Michael still] doesn’t enjoy it, this isn’t going to happen!”  Her perspective is that kids need to enjoy what they are doing above all else.

In the end, talent and training drive athletes, artists and academics to perform or score their personal best.  Observing achievement across fields may lead to essential insights. Along with two leading experts in the field of gifted education, CTD director Paula Olszewski-Kubilius co-authored a paper calling for recognition and support like that used to nurture athletic and musical talent be applied to academics: “The science of optimal performance, applied to traditional academic disciplines as well as sports, music, and other domains, can help educators to meet the specific needs of high-ability students in every field.”

In what ways do you think practice and performance in sports and the arts differ or relate to academic talent development?

The Mother of Invention: Questions vs. Answers

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”  –Plutarch, Greek Philosopher (ca. 46 – 127)

Students are often evaluated based on the answers they know rather than the questions they conceive, an issue recently addressed in SmartBlog’s post called “Asking The Right Questions.”  There seems to be a trend towards memorizing answers to predetermined questions.  It is becoming less prevalent for students to be asking their own big questions.  The focus is on the answers.

Now, this makes sense logically.  Of course the answers are most important, right?  They are what we seek in the end.  But what about the means to the end?  Or, to put it simply, what about the questions?

Summer Program 2008

As we approach the month of August, we are also approaching National Inventors Month.  Remember that formulating questions is a key step in the inquiry process, and inventors became such by asking their own big “What if’s?”

The Teacher Report has some activities for this upcoming month, such as researching past and present inventors, creating an “Invention Box,” and more!

What questions does your inquisitive gifted child ask? What are some other activities you can do to celebrate National Inventors Month? For a list our questions and corresponding course descriptions, download the Saturday Enrichment Program catalog.

Food for Thought: What’s Important About Education?

Entry for the 2011 Summer Program T-shirt Contest

A recent article quoted a six year old’s reflections on his experience in a mixed ability classroom:

“They feed me peanuts all day. I like peanuts and I get full, but what I really want is one big juicy hamburger.”

The article discusses the need for differentiation in mixed-ability classrooms. “Despite research suggesting that gifted children perform better academically when instructed together with similar ability peers, support for these programs is at an all-time low,” the article warns. How can parents and educators ensure that gifted students aren’t left with peanuts? Options recommended in the article, appropriately titled New options emerge to enrich gifted students’ education, include computer-based supplemental activities, professional development opportunities for teachers, and additional challenges provided by parents to help serve gifted students.

But what is the essence of that big juicy hamburger? What elements of education are the most important to foster within today’s youth?

This month, ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) presented their reflections on this topic in a newsletter article titled “What Is The Purpose of Education?” In it, they addressed how education is an evolutionary phenomenon in that throughout time, education has shifted based on societal needs and changes. Yet leaders in education agree that the value of good teaching and the essence of education haven’t changed. James Harvey, a senior fellow at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, gets to the meat of the matter: “The most significant skill [young people] can develop in the 21st century is the same skill that served them well in prior centuries: a mind equipped to think, the most important work skill of them all.”

Share your methods for motivating and challenging your gifted student(s)!

Looking for supplemental opportunities for fall? Registration for fall courses with CTD’s Gifted LearningLinks and Saturday Enrichment Program is now open.

A Twitter Midterm? CTD Students Study Social Media

by Lindsey Wallem

While students are in my class, they spend up to five hours a week commenting on Facebook, writing Tweets, creating YouTube videos, reaching out to their friends, and making new ones. No, they’re not procrastinating. They’re doing their homework! What might be any other teacher’s nightmare is my students’ model behavior. I am a Gifted LearningLinks (GLL) instructor for the Center for Talent Development and my high school Honors Elective course is called “Social Media: More than just Facebook”.

Today’s teenagers are living in a very different world than that of even ten years ago. Social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, text messaging and blogging are everywhere; they are built into the structure of our teens’ lives. Smart phones are becoming less of a luxury and more of a necessity.  Young people have an innate desire to connect with their peers and the current technologies readily accommodate the urge.

To ensure that these students grow up using social media safely and successfully, I developed this online course with the help of Gifted LearningLinks’ program coordinators. Students learn how to manage a social media account in a professional way (a likely job skill in the future market)  and how to be safe and smart with their own online identity.

The course centers around a topic of the student’s choice that they wish to promote online; anything from crafting teen-friendly political news, to saving the whales, or bringing a 12th century historical figure to life. Their task is to create and execute their very own 18-week social media campaign.  Each week, we discuss a different theory or tool relating to social media, and they build upon these lessons to run their campaigns more effectively.

I have been extremely impressed with the students’ ideas and abilities. They take initiative and are fast learners. Whereas many adults struggle to make sense of the social media landscape, these gifted teens fit right in.  The  class has been a learning experience for me too, as my students anticipate the future of the social web on the course discussion board, and brainstorm about building “the next Facebook”! If I were an employer looking to expand my company’s social media presence, these are the types of candidates I would want to hire.

GLL is the perfect medium for a course like this. It all happens on the web, which is the students’ natural “field”.  I can view their progress as it happens, as the Facebook pages for their causes get more “likes” and their Tweets are retweeted. Even the midterm is held on Twitter! It is my hope that through this course students will learn valuable marketing  and communication skills,  as well as personal development skills that will prepare them for adulthood  in an online world.

Sign up for “Social Media: More than Just Facebook” and other GLL courses here.

The Center for Talent Development’s online learning program, “Gifted LearningLinks” offers stimulating classes for advanced students from Kindergarten (with parent participation) through high school. Our new 2011-2012 course catalog is now available.

What do you think? How do you teach your teen to be safe and successful on social media sites?

Lindsey Wallem coaches organizations on how to utilize social media effectively to share information, advocate for causes and gain supporters. She currently works on CTD’s marketing team to promote the Center’s programming through new media efforts.