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Clear Lake School District in Iowa! Making Gifted Education the Floor to Every Classroom!

“Strengths are an outgrowth of interests activated by exposure and practice. Identifying and activating strengths encourages students’ belief in their potential…

Developing an individual’s strengths (or talent) provides the individual with a sense of self that is likely to motivate the individual to exhibit those strengths more frequently leading to a reinforcing, generalizable cycle of success(Anderson, 2005)."

Yvette Jackson, The Pedagogy of Confidence, 2011, p.91

This is the first of a series of blogs on that I will post to highlight how different schools and/or districts throughout the country and beyond are changing their view of “Gifted Education” to ensure that all students interest, strengths, and passions are identified, nurtured, and cultivated. In essence making gifted education the floor to every single classroom accessible and available to ALL Students. We start with the question, what is and/or are the strengths of each child who walks through our school door? How can we answer this question if some students don’t have equal access to opportunities to find what they are interested in and to have that interest turn into a passion and for that passion to burn so intently that they focus on it turning it into a strength! It becomes a gift when then can share it with others, in essence “gifting it” to their friends, families, and the greater community at-large. How does it make you feel when you are able to give a present or gift to someone? How does it make you feel to contribute and make connections to another person? How do you feel when you add value to a person’s life or a situation? I can’t think of any educator who doesn’t want this for their own child! A child who feels so passionate about something and become so good at it that it allows them to be a “gift” to others by sharing their strengths and talents with the world. This can only happen if students have access to opportunities that will give them the chance to find their interest. When talking “giftedness’ we are not referring to the traditional sense of high IQ which we know through Carol Dweck’s work that the brain is malleable, and IQ can change with persistence and effort. This can happen for all students, and I would argue that we move away from the traditional use of IQ to measure success. We are referring to any area that is a possible strength and that they are fiercely passionate about pursuing including the arts, technical education, social emotional skills etc. The key to it all is access and identifying strengths of students as the primary vehicle to helping them realize their gifts!

Superintendent Doug Gee and his amazing educators at Clear Lake School District in Iowa are doing just that. They are creating access to a wide range of opportunities for all students to help them find their interest and stoke their passions. I asked Doug to share the wonderful opportunities they are providing for all students at Clear Lake from PreK-12 to make gifted education the floor for every single classroom. The following is what he had to say:

Clear Lake School District , Creating Equity by Ensuring Access for ALL

By Doug Gee-Superintendent

Why did we decide to start Project Lead The Way (PLTW) Launch?

Because of the way the modules engage students in the learning process and all the modules are real-world problems students need to solve using knowledge and skills they have learned. Play is the highest form of research (Albert Einstein).

Our goal is to teach our elementary students how to think like a scientist and engineer focusing on...

● Asking questions

● Developing and using models

● Planning and carrying out investigations

● Analyzing and interpreting data

● Using mathematics and computational thinking

● Constructing explanations

● Engaging in argument from evidence

● Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

We want to teach ALL students these skills so they can get into more content specific areas in middle school and high school. These expose the students to all the different areas of not only science but the process to solve problems in all content areas.

This has allowed us to expose students to areas like Biomed, engineering, computer science and our apprenticeships.

Process for starting it (steps we took)

1. Applied to be part of the STEM Scale-Up program in the 2016-2017 school year.

2. Two Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) Coaches attended Master Teacher Training in the Summer of 2017.

3. Created an implementation plan and presented it to the classroom teachers. This included a gradual implementation of each PLTW module.

4. Classroom teachers were trained by the Master Teachers at the beginning of the school year to implement the PLTW curriculum.

ALL students had access to the modules. We didn’t want this to be just a specials class or a class for some students.

We started with every teacher teaching one module the first year and then two the second year, three the third year and by the fourth year we aligned the appropriate modules with our essential Next Generation Science (NGS) standards for grades k-5. We also piloted the PreK launch modules and now use PLTW in the preschool classroom. To get the funding to purchase the modules we worked with local businesses. We needed modules for all classrooms, because we wanted to ensure ALL students had access to all the modules, which would require a significant investment. We have always taken the approach that if it is good for students then we need to find a way to make it happen. So, through grants like STEM Best and the scale up program along with local business partnerships we raised over $300,000 over the last five year to fund the PLTW programs. We have also raised an additional $500,000 to start a new Agricultural Science/Future Farmers of America (AG/FFA) program, new Computer science program, new Biomed program and two apprenticeship programs.

How PLTW incorporates the social emotional into the learning in each module

● Every PLTW module gives students the opportunity to engage in collaborative problem solving.

○ Sharing ideas

○ Listening

○ Respecting others’ opinions

○ Compromise

○ Coming to consensus

● Productive struggle - mistakes are opportunities to learn.

● Valuing contributions of team members

This allows teachers to incorporate social emotional standards in with the academic standards. We would often hear teachers, especially at the lower elementary, saying that their students didn’t have enough time for play to learn the social emotional standards. The PLTW launch modules allowed students to learn social emotional standards at the same time they were learning academic essential standards.

How it gives ALL students access to these modules, which is giving ALL students access to Gifted education

Opens the door for all those things like thinking like a scientist and engineer.

Adding PLTW-Launch to our elementary gives our younger students who come from an at-risk environment an advantage

The PLTW-Launch modules at all levels provide opportunities to close the gap. Adding this opportunity gives all students an opportunity to engage in computer science, engineering, and biomedical science regardless of their background or academic level.

Students are exposed to traditional science concepts but then apply those concepts using higher level thinking skills to solve a problem.

How PLTW has created Access for ALL and how it cultivates the gifts of all students

Because the modules are delivered in the general education classroom, all students have access to this type of learning. All students can think and do these types of activities. It also encourages students to bring out this way of thinking. Teaches kids that failure is Okay. Builds confidence in risk-taking and encourages students to do hard things.

These modules are cross-curricular, so it exposes students to the idea that science is everywhere. There are many different skills that go into science. For example, by incorporating the story at the beginning, it introduces students to a real-world problem and engages students that would maybe otherwise be reluctant in science.

How does it make gifted education the floor to every classroom?

By our teachers implementing these modules they are being exposed to different teaching strategies and how to better engage students. By teachers being in the role as facilitator it allows students to take control of their learning, which brings out the different strengths in ALL students. For example, you do not have to be a great artist to draw a sketch or a good science student to be successful in the modules.

By continuing PLTW in MS and HS we have encouraged students to find their niche and have made it possible for them to pursue their passions by adding PLTW classes in the middles school, worked based learning projects, AG/FFA, computer science, Biomed and apprenticeship programs.

Is your school or district challenging the traditional view of gifted education and providing multiple opportunities and experiences for "ALL" students to find their strengths and what they are passionate about? Do all students have access to what has traditionally only been for students with a "gifted" label? If this sounds like you, contact Brian! He would love to celebrate you on this page!

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