Does Google Have All The Answers?

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In today’s high-tech world, students increasingly turn to the Internet for research. Google prevails as the leading tool to find answers and in conducting research, according to an article called Why ‘Googling It’ Is Not Enough.

Although easy access to information is valuable, a recent report from the Pew Research Center highlights concerns among educators that students’ digital literacy has not kept pace with their use of technology. Students once perused books, consulted firsthand sources and had to synthesize information found in multiple formats to complete research projects. With answers now a click away, some educators argue that doing research “has shifted from a relatively slow process of intellectual curiosity and discovery to a fast-paced, short-term exercise aimed at locating just enough information to complete an assignment.”

Teachers also acknowledge the benefits of search tools like Google with its abundance of information, but some “express concern that easily-distracted students with short attention spans are not developing the skills required to do deep, original research.” In response to this concern, the article outlines three ways to encourage students to go beyond Google:

  1. Promote digital and traditional literacy by teaching students to vet sources.
  2. Encourage students to find face-to-face sources.
  3. Guide them to search deeper—beyond the “top results” in their initial query.

For tips on how to help students increase their digital fluency, read our previous blog post, “Gifted Kids May Be Tech Savvy, But Are They Fluent?” by Susan Corwith, PhD. and Carl Heine, Ph.D.

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.

Hey Lady, You’re Blocking My View: Reflections of a Classroom Teacher Moving Online

by Anne Stevens

After fifteen years of classroom teaching, I moved some of my favorite content online as a new instructor for Gifted LearningLinks at the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University. Now, I am three courses into the experience, and I am starting to see the ways in which I underestimated online learning.

+ Today’s digital tools require a lot less explaining.

Initially, I wrote up extensive directions and step-by-step guides to building new work with GIMP, Prezi, iMovie, etc.  I discovered that students prefer to use the screencast of our live Adobe Connect session instead. The students go back and watch bits of it if they get stuck, and then they are off and running!

A recording of a demonstration in GIMP in Adobe Connect.

+Long Powerpoint lectures in any context are a thing of the past.

Deep discussion of two or three images in a synchronous online meeting with students is more effective than the delivery of a longer lecture. For an asynchronous experience, engaging media like TED talks, documentary films like Art21, or virtual fieldtrips to sites like the Library of Congress or the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum are much more productive and diverse learning experiences that students can do when best fits their schedule.

+ The online classroom needs to be flexible and asynchronous.

I thought, at the start, that regular synchronous meetings were a necessity. While younger students appreciate the regular online sessions, older students prefer the flexibility of independent work. Online learning serves the motivated gifted student, and reinforces her sense of ownership of her education, interests and time. Revision of my curriculum is done to make it more spare and self-sufficient to fit into my talented students’ distributed learning matrix.

+ Peer- to- peer synchronous interactions are valuable.

While the individualized support I provide is important, students are excited by interactions with peers in the online classroom. While some of these students are digital natives, most have had the core of their education in a standard classroom. Their online experiences express the potential of this new world. The more I can fade into the woodwork, the better: students feel independent and build community.

Students screen sharing their work and using chat to discuss it in Adobe Connect.

Asynchronous online courses like those offered by Gifted LearningLinks are, by necessity, a flipped classroom. We describe our courses as facilitated independent study, which they really are. Students study and watch lectures independently, produce projects and take tests, and interact with the instructor for feedback and next steps. The flipped classroom is an exciting place to be, with comments flying during synchronous sessions and peer critique written out with careful, specific language. Asynchronous communication is used as well—email, screencasts and discussion boards—in much the same ways we use it in our adult work lives: to set meetings, to review deliverables, to evaluate and discuss next steps.

Gifted LearningLinks started out as correspondence courses, where all the student work went back and forth through U.S. Mail and teachers and students spoke by phone. Now, with new tools coming online on a weekly basis, we discuss every change in the field as potential opportunities for our teachers and students. I see now that online teachers are made, not born, and the learning community of the future is flexible, with an emphasis on quality communication and connected experiences.

Anne Stevens is the coordinator of Creative Studies at the Center for Talent Development and teaches in the Saturday Enrichment Program, Gifted LearningLinks and Summer Program. Her upcoming GLL Enrichment course, Images + Text: Reading & Writing Workshop begins April 1, and she teaches an honors elective course, Art & Literature of the Graphic Novel for grades 6-12.

Top Five “Talent Talk” Posts of 2011

As we begin an exciting new year of blogging at CTD, we decided to take a look back at our first full year of “Talent Talk”.  The following are the top five posts that got your attention in 2011:

5. Developing Critical Thinking Skills- September 15

Saturday Enrichment Program and Gifted LearningLinks Coordinator (and mom to a gifted teen) Amy Gyarmathy discusses critical thinking skills…and how to get your teen to actually apply them in everyday life.

4. “Ask Paula” Answered, March 2011- April 5

CTD Director, Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, Ph.D, tackles your toughest questions about gifted education. This month, she addresses twice-exceptionality, visual-spatial learners, and keeping a gifted six-year-old engaged in after school activities.

3. Beyond “Angry Birds”: The Art of Problem Solving Through Computer Games- May 31

The key words in the title may have bumped this item into the top five. CTD Summer Program Instructor Jason Major shows us a fun way to build math and problem-solving skills through online games. Not guaranteed to improve your Angry Birds score.

2. Early Readers in a General Preschool or Kindergarten Classroom- April 26

Is your three or four-year-old reading? Leapfrog and Spark Coordinator Ann Gadzikowski illustrates ways to engage early readers in story dictation and tips for finding reading material that is both challenging and age-appropriate.

1. Jim Delisle’s Four Things You Should Never Say to Gifted Children- April 28

Our most popular post of this year links to this list of forbidden phrases for parents of gifted children from gifted expert Jim Delisle.  No one is perfect, and the article offers solutions for teaching high-ability children how to deal with an inevitable failure.

Thank you to YOU, the readers! We look forward to bringing you more great posts in 2012.

What was your favorite “Talent Talk” post in 2011? What would you like to see discussed here in 2012?

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.

Does Online Learning Make the Grade?

by Roxanne Greenberger

“A new experience can be extremely pleasurable, or extremely irritating, or somewhere in between, and you never know until you try it out.”–Lemony Snicket, The Blank Book

Are you skeptical about online instruction? Concerned that it might not be as effective  as the traditional classroom experience?

Online learning is education’s new frontier. Understandably, many parents and teachers have questions.

CTD is an advocate. We believe online learning is a valid and engaging teaching method.  Web-based courses can be particularly well suited for gifted students, allowing them to set their own pace and schedule.  In addition, online programs offer many students access to honors, AP® and enrichment courses that may not be available in their school.

If you are among the skeptics, let me make the case for online learning by highlighting five key benefits:

1. Online learning is motivating and makes use of popular mediums.

Today’s students are multitasking youth who are as comfortable in front of a computer as they are the television. Giving students this educational platform  is a motivator. Online courses often incorporate multimedia and allow students to work with their intellectual peers in a flexible environment that can be tailored to meet personal  learning styles. The nature of the online format allows students to explore in depth, topics which appeal to them.

2. Online learning is the answer to scheduling dilemmas.

The modern world moves fast and schedules fill up quickly. Gifted students often find themselves unable to accommodate all of the classes they would like to take during school hours. In the online format, classes are available 24/7, and students can work as they  choose. Prerequisite courses can easily be managed online in order to promote students to advanced courses earlier.  Taking online courses can provide more time to pursue additional interests.

3. Online learning provides high quality educational experiences delivered by expert instructors.

Online institutions have the ability to recruit the best instructors available for any given subject matter without the limitations of physical distance. With access to experts and flexibility to determine what courses will be offered, online learning can help schools and families expand course options, particularly  AP and Honors level courses.  Online helps fill gaps and open new doors. Instructors from around the globe can deliver a wealth of courses to students in any time zone, on any continent, at any time.

4. Online learning is differentiated and provides students increased interaction with their instructor.

Online instructors have the ability to adjust course pace and content to meet the needs of individual students. And, contrary to some popular belief, one of the best aspects of online education is the student’s access to the instructor. Imagine having your teacher’s undivided attention and being able to ask questions at any point when you are in need of further explanation. In many ways, being an online student is much like having your own private tutor who is invested in your success. Many students appreciate the opportunity to ask questions they might not be willing to voice in front of the class, for fear of being judged. Online learning also allows students to pursue projects tailored to their personal interests at a pace comfortable for them.

“Self-paced courses allow students who learn quickly to complete courses at a pace that remains engaging and avoids boredom before they move on to the next course. Flexible courses give students who need more time and practice to accomplish course objectives the built-in opportunity to take the time without the stigma of asking for an exception to a rigid calendar.”
Getting Students More Learning Time Online: Distance Education in Support of Expanded Learning Time in K-12 Schools, by the Center for American Progress (May 2009)

5. Online learning prepares students to take responsibility for their academic growth.

Engaging in the creation of their own coursework and taking responsibility for their progress drives students to be more productive. Online students report they engage more fully because they are not as distracted by other students. The online experience can mitigate outside factors  (social-emotional, time constraints, etc.) and personalize the learning experience, making it more rewarding.

“Students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction.”
iNACOL Fast Facts About Online Learning A Summary of Research on the Effectiveness of K-12 Online Learning, iNACOL (September 2009)

The CTD online learning program, “Gifted LearningLinks”, offers stimulating classes for advanced students from PreK (with parent participation) through high school. Our new 2011-2012 course catalog is now available. Check it out online, or call (847) 491-3782 X5 to request a printed copy.

So, proponent or skeptic?  What do you see as the pros and cons of online learning for gifted students? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Roxanne Greenberger is the Director of CTD’s Saturday Enrichment Program and of Gifted LearningLinks. She enjoys the stimulation of working with insightful and talented educators and loves creating courses that challenge students’ intellect and inspire them to venture into new subject areas.

Rainy Day Writing

by Dana Turner Thomson

After over 30 years of teaching – primarily gifted students in both pullout enrichment programs and in daily gifted language arts classes — Carol Lee thought she might be ready to retire.  But, as she told me last week, “I knew, when I retired from the classroom, that there was no way I could stop teaching.”  And so it was that she began teaching the Online Writers’ Workshop (OWW) for CTD’s online Gifted LearningLinks program.

Ms. Lee

At first, she was a little uncertain about the online format.

“Knowing my students well and enjoying their company had been very important to me in the classroom.  I was worried that I could not experience that when teaching online, but I could not have been more wrong,”

“The process of writing, and of course the content of what is written, reveal much about the writer, but the online venue itself also offers multiple avenues for truly connecting with and supporting my young writers.  Online chat discussions, for example, bring the entire group close together based on trust, because each student has to risk receiving feedback about their own creation – the story – and likewise comment on the stories of each of the other students.  I’m also able to have discussions with each student and post individualized comments about their writing in their Work Area on the Discussions Board.  And students and parents email me with questions and comments, so we share conversations that way as well,”

“The most important part of teaching for me is to connect with each student – everything else that we do depends upon the quality of that connection.  The ways that I keep that connection real are different from what I did in the classroom, but they have the same effect,”

“I am honored to hear from students about how exciting and worthwhile it was to have this experience of being with a group of students of varying ages and a teacher who really care about THEIR writing and want to discuss it with them, and to hear what they think about the writing of others.  And quite a few take the class more than once, which is a special treat for me, because I am able to watch their growth over semesters and even years. One of my students, an 8-year-old, wrote a delightful book over the course of two OWW sessions, and her family self-published it and it is selling quite successfully at Amazon.com,”

Ms. Lee has shared below one of the brainstorming techniques she does with students in her OWW courses.  I’m very excited to try it with my extremely verbal and imaginative 6-year-old.  She’s not word processing yet, so I am going to adapt Ms. Lee’s activity for her by using story dictation — anyone want to place bets on whether my typing skills can keep up with her ideas?! (By the way, if you want to read more about story dictation, read Ann Gadzikowski’s fantastic post on early readers.)

P.S. Don’t waste any time worrying about about Ms. Lee’s spoiled retirement plans. Teaching for CTD’s online Gifted LearningLinks program allows her to keep in constant contact with her students despite frequent travels across the nation.

Brainstorms!

by Ms. Lee

Begin with storms from your brain about your story. You get to choose everything about the story you will write, from beginning to end.

But first, do not sit down and write your story! Nope–try this instead: Into a word processing document, type every story detail your mind can hold.

You do not have to use complete sentences or paragraphs; just type in your ideas as you have them.

Separate each new idea from the next with a white space by hitting “Enter” twice,  so that it is easy to follow when you start writing.

If you are stuck, try brainstorming by answering:

What?
Where?
When?
Who?
How?
Why?

In OWW, once the brainstorm is finished, we just rearrange the ideas into the order that they appear in the story. Voila! An instant outline!

Now you are ready to sit down and write!

Dana Turner Thomson: is CTD’s Research Director. Dana has also served as assistant editor of Gifted Child Quarterly and as editorial assistant for the Journal of Secondary Gifted Education. When not surrounded by CTD students, she receives inspiration from her two young children and their boundless curiosity about the world.

Beyond “Angry Birds”: The Art of Problem Solving Through Computer Games

Our second Rainy Day Activities installment focuses on computer games as a fun way to engage in rigorous mathematics activities. CTD instructor Jason Major uses technology to engage students in the CTD Summer Program and in teaching of gifted students within the Chicago Public Schools, where he has taught for four years. In the post below, Major recommends online programs as a way for students to gain practice on their own as well as a vehicle for fostering friendly competition.

“Sometimes in my classroom, we will get the laptop cart and play a game with all 32 class members!” says Major.

In addition to reinforcing mathematics principles, online learning can provide challenges beyond classroom lessons and give students agency over their learning process.

“Students learning in an accelerated environment have to take responsibility for their own learning a lot,” says Major. “They need to be self-motivated and dedicated. It takes discipline.”

And within classrooms? “Rather than merely progressing to the next level, courses oriented toward problem solving go deeper into subjects,” says Major. “I would like to see schools give kids harder material rather than passing them along.”

Ready, set, start problem solving!

Introduction:

Killing time at home on the computer?  How about instead of your 57th game of Angry Birds today, you learn some new math and try some interesting problems?

There are many online math games and programs, but the Art of Problem Solving (AOPS) website  has completely free offerings like “For the Win” and “Alcumus,” which are unique.

The target audience for Art of Problem Solving site is gifted and talented math students–students just like those served at CTD.  While students through high school (and even beyond) have plenty to keep them interested and challenged, students as young as fifth grade could be ready to attempt some of the problems found in these fabulous applications.

Materials Needed:

computer

web access

pencil and paper

calculator (or try it without one!)

Instructions:

Special note: If students are younger than 13, they will need their parents’ written permission to obtain a login for the web site. Since the web site is not a “closed” environment, as with any online activity, parents and/or guardians should be aware of students’ activity.

There are two free applications on the site.  Alcumus is an online learning tool that tracks students’ progress in Algebra, Number Theory, and Counting and Probability.  As students get problems correct, they are given “experience points” and can move up to higher “levels.”  Students can also choose “focus topics” that supplement what they are learning in their every day math class (and at a much higher level in most cases).  If students don’t know how to do a problem or get the problem incorrect, they are able to read the solution before trying the next problem.  Students are also able to “master” topics and move on to the next one.  Simply put, it’s the best supplemental activity for gifted math students that Major has found.

The other free activity offered by AOPS is For the Win, which is modeled after MATHCOUNTS’ “Countdown” round.  Students challenge each other online to see who can solve problems the fastest.  They can play against anywhere from one to dozens of other students at the same time.

Modifications for Younger or Older Students:

Older students can be part of “Math Jams” that take place periodically on AOPS that often are geared towards upcoming math contests like the American Math Competitions (AMC)  or the American Invitational Mathematics Examination (AIME).  AOPS is also working on modifications for younger students as well.

Additional Resources and Links:

Mathletics ($60 per year)

ALEKS system  ($20 per month)

Google to hold international science fair

Calling all young scientists! Google unveiled yesterday plans for a global, online science fair open to all kids ages 13-18.

“We believe that science can change the world—and one way to encourage that is to celebrate and champion young scientific talent as we do athletes and pop idols,” Google wrote in a blog post yesterday.

Find all the details about the fair here. The deadline to submit a project is April 4, 2011, and prizes include a $50,000 scholarship, a trip to the Galapagos Islands, and internship opportunities with Google, Lego, and Scientific American.

You can also follow the science fair on Facebook and on Twitter. For project ideas and other science resources, check out Cogito.org!