Sunday, June 8, 2014

Once Upon A Time and Why It Matters Today

Once upon at time, I was told to share my story and how it influenced my path in life.  When I was in Kindergarten at Lower Chanceford Elementary School (now demolished), I distinctly remember being asked to come into a small room with a strange little man and asked a lot of questions.  I even remember being asked when Columbus discovered America.  Afterwards, I would watch everyday as a small group of students would move to the back of the room, behind a chalkboard.  Something mysterious and magical happened back there that I was never part of.  Fast forward to my second year in college as an education major.  I was taking the obligatory educational psychology class when the inevitable discussion about IQ testing came up.  It sparked a memory.  I called my mother that night and asked how I did on what I deduced was an IQ test back in Kindergarten.  Her response was something to the extent that I had missed the "cut score" by two points and that I had an learning disability called auditory processing disorder.  In short, it means that unlike most men, I have non-selective hearing.  This was a lot of fun in the era of open classrooms.  As I would later learn in my special education courses, I am what is referred to as Twice Exceptional or GT/LD.  Yes, you can be "gifted" and "learning disabled".  

Once upon a time, this used to be called gifted, but the label was the primary focus rather than the service provided.  This takes us back to my story.  I put "gifted" and "learning disabled" in quotes because the terms are so nebulous.   For some reason we recognize that there are a variety of learning disabilities but less likely to recognize different types of giftedness.  We tend to lump gifted kids into broad categories with narrow expectations.   The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) defines gifted children as  "gifted individuals are those who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude or competence in one or more domains."  I don't see this as a functional definition.  That is to say, I don't know how to meet the needs of those students or even if the curriculum is not meeting their needs.  The assumption is that we are not meeting their needs.  

So, what does this have to do with transitioning to the NGSS.  Well, it has more to do with the curriculum philosophy we are using to develop the new science curriculum.  As we work towards a personalized learning environment, the selection of student learning objects becomes very important.  Perhaps more importantly, will be what we decide to do for students who already demonstrate mastery of content.  Rather than coming up with elaborations after the fact, why not build them up front.  The great challenge we as educators face is seeing improvements in ALL students.  This includes those that have demonstrated competence in an area of study.

Historically, we spent vast quantities of time trying to bring the bottom up and leaving the top to fend for themselves.  However, in this age of "Student Learning Outcomes" where all students must show growth, what do you do for the students already performing at high levels of expectation.  For example, the student that comes into your class already able to demonstrate their knowledge of physics by building a paper rocket that can reach an expected height and discuss how forces influence the flight of the rocket.   If that student builds the same rocket at the end of the unit and shows no improvement, have we not failed that student?    It is not that we have to stop worrying about students with special needs, but we have developed great skills in having these students show growth.  Indeed, I believe Title I schools will get the recognition they finally deserve for the work they have been doing.  The shock will be when traditionally high achieving  skills do not show gains.


  1. You can let them try Kahn Academy or put them with another child with similar interests and let them propose problems for each other to solve. Or you can put them to work on a project in the community that involves their interests. Get them into an after school science project in an informal science program. Give them a chance to work with someone at a local science museum.

  2. Another idea.....have them write their own book on the topic.

  3. A couple of elaborations we were looking at are related directly to engineering designs. For example, make it "cheaper". Create a cost sheet of materials and have students update their design but doing it cheaper. Another option has to do with the actual design. Have students build the design in less time.