Developing good study habits before entering college is an essential skill that many gifted and talented children and their parents overlook. Some parents are often surprised to learn that their bright child can ace a schedule of honors or Advanced Placement courses with little studying. They might assume that if their child is receiving top grades in the most advanced classes offered by their school, he will be well-prepared to handle the rigors of university courses. This is an unlikely outcome without good study habits, and waiting until college to learn how to study is much too late when one might already be dealing with living on one’s own for the first time. Here are three tips to help foster this important skill while you still can.
Find a Challenge That Requires Studying
If a talented child attends school in a structured setting, chances are she is already being asked throughout the school day to cover material she already knows or can learn quickly. To ask her to take time at home to study the same material is to double her frustration. You’ll have greater success instilling good habits if you ask your child to study material that actually challenges her.
The experience may take some getting used to by both child and parent because, if done correctly, it will involve:
• A healthy struggle to understand new ideas,
• Getting less than perfect scores,
• Not always being the smartest kid in the room, and
• (Drum roll, please) having to study to do well.
Sometimes subject or grade acceleration can help, but parents should keep in mind that even with acceleration, a gifted child is still being asked to learn material that was designed for the way a typical student’s brain works. A better alternative to getting through standard curricula faster is to find an alternative that will encourage your child to understand subjects more deeply by addressing the “Why?” questions bright children are so naturally inclined to ponder.
Encourage a Growth Mindset
Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck, is noted for her ground-breaking research on praise and motivation. She found that children who believed that a person’s intelligence was fixed tended to believe that truly smart people don’t need effort in order to succeed. By contrast, those who believed intelligence could be developed were much more likely to credit hard work as a key factor in achievement. (Going back to our previous point, Dweck also found that children who were praised for their intelligence instead of their effort were more likely to avoid challenges for fear of failing and losing praise.)
Dweck’s later research showed that children can be taught this growth mindset when educated on how the brain gets stronger and smarter through the process of learning. In this later study, students who were taught about brain development in addition to study skills outperformed those who were taught only study skills. The latter group was not motivated to put those skills to use. So parents, make sure your child understands the positive impact he can have on his brain and save your praise for the effort he puts into learning and studying.
Turn the Tables and Have Your Child Quiz You
One way to make studying more fun and give your brain cells a workout at the same time is to have your child test you. Turn the tables by being a student again with your child as the teacher. Have her create, administer and grade an exam that you take. Bright children often enjoy discussing and sharing their knowledge and may be more than happy to “show you up.”
In the process of creating the questions, your child reinforces in her own mind the concepts on which she will be tested. When grading, your child must go through the analytical exercise of determining whether your answers are correct and why incorrect answers are wrong. Even if you know the material well, be sure to throw in some wrong answers and ask for explanations of the right answers.
There is no simple solution for helping a gifted child develop the study habits he will need in the complex world of university life. However, should he find himself facing true intellectual challenges for the first time without this basic learning tool, he may be at a distinct disadvantage relative to his classmates, regardless of the natural ability that used to take him so far. Like most good habits, studying is one best formed at a younger age when behavior and attitude are more malleable.
Give your child the benefits of a true challenge with gifted math and computer science online from IMACS! If you’ve completed elementary school math, explore our Elements of Mathematics: Foundations online courses. Get weekly IMACS logic puzzles on Facebook.
“The obsession with arithmetic skills that characterizes so many elementary curricula is indeed curious. Consider an analogous situation: No one would ever suggest that the be-all and end-all of the school English curriculum is proficiency in spelling. … It would not occur to anyone to argue that a child who has not first mastered spelling should be denied the right to read and write. … Of course, we must also be concerned with spelling, but we are not obsessed by it. The spelling will come, and surely come more easily, if children enjoy and appreciate the uses of language.”
From “Mathematics Education: A Humanist Viewpoint”, Braunfeld, Peter, Burt A. Kaufman, and Vincent Haag, Education Technology, November 1973.
If you read the guest blog post by IMACS alumnus, Steve Krouse, the following sentence may have resonated with you, either as a memory from childhood or as a more recent parenting experience: “The summer after 8th grade I took Algebra II to catch up in math (a subject I despised only a few years prior because of my failure to perform in arithmetic timed tests).” Thankfully, Steve found his way and is doing well in college today.
But why do some mathematically talented children, who perform exceptionally well in untimed situations, have difficulty with timed arithmetic tests? More importantly, how can we help these kids?
A good first step may be to let these children know that their intelligence is not in doubt because such tests are hardly good indicators of mathematical ability. Rather their primary aim is to measure how many facts a student can recall correctly within a finite period. After all, a student who can memorize and regurgitate math facts is not necessarily able to understand the reasoning behind those facts. Further exacerbating the issue of speed is the fact that in answering an individual problem a student begins by reading the problem and ends by writing the answer.
Just looking at the structure of the tests themselves points to three possible reasons why some bright children perform poorly on them. One might be the repetitive nature of timed tests—you have to do many of the same kind of problems, over and over. When gifted children are asked to do a repetitive task their minds often wander to more interesting thoughts. (And for a child, there are so many fascinating ones from which to choose!) Any resulting score or grade will seem low and out of sync with the child’s natural abilities.
When this happens, why don’t people think “That’s a natural outcome” instead of “That child needs to focus”? Surely you have been obligated to attend a function (e.g., industry conference, religious service, etc.) that was of little or no interest to you. It’s very likely that your mind, gifted or not, “strayed” to more engaging thoughts. Was this a definite sign that you are unable to focus? No. And the same is true for a bright child whose mind wanders away from a bunch of monotonous arithmetic problems.
Another explanation may be the speed at which the child reads, comprehends, and solves each question. Contrary to popular misconception gifted children can, in fact, be slow processors. Others may be perfectionists who go over each problem multiple times to avoid getting wrong answers. Some may be visual-spatial learners who would do better with shapes instead of numerals. Besides, we all know high-functioning adults who are slower at some things and faster at others. How does the slow-processing child grow into the successful adult? Chances are, someone along the way helped that child redefine slowness as carefulness and focus on a career field where carefulness is highly valued.
Finally, a timed test taker must write the answer to each and every problem on the page. This requires significant fine motor skills. For younger children, fine motor skills are often still developing. For gifted children of any age, their thoughts sometimes outpace their fingers thereby causing frustration that can interfere with clear thinking. Again, some may be perfectionists who want the numbers to look just so. Why can’t these students be allowed to give answers orally or type them on a keyboard? Sometimes, you wouldn’t know that we live in the 21st century with the way tests like these are still administered in some schools.
There are certainly other reasons why a mathematically talented child may not perform well on timed arithmetic tests. Organizations like the Davidson Institute for Talent Development provide a wealth of information such as this article on the topic. Whatever the reasons, these kids should be helped by the adults around them to understand that low performance on such tests are neither a measure of math ability nor a predictor of future success. We owe it to them to keep unhelpful and sometimes debilitating barriers out of their way on the path to excellence and high achievement.
Explore your mathematical talent at IMACS! Check out our online courses in gifted math and computer science. Visit www.elementsofmathematics.com to learn about our Elements of Mathematics: Foundations online courses for middle school students. Get weekly IMACS logic puzzles on Facebook.
The Institute for Mathematics and Computer Science (IMACS) is pleased to announce Elements of Mathematics: Foundations, a new series of online courses designed for bright secondary school students. EMF is a self-contained program that allows the talented student to complete all of middle and high school mathematics except calculus before leaving middle school. The curriculum is the result of more than a decade of research and development by an international team of mathematicians and educators and has been in use with gifted and talented students for over 20 years.
Advances in online technology allow IMACS to bring these courses to a global audience. The first course, Operational Systems, is FREE for students who enroll before January 1, 2013. IMACS plans to roll out the remaining 14 modestly-priced courses over the next several years. Visit www.elementsofmathematics.com for detailed information about EMF.
Acceleration vs. The EMF Approach
For mathematically talented schoolchildren, subject acceleration is an oft-advised tool for addressing their need to learn more challenging material. Through subject acceleration, a student works on math curriculum that is normally taught at a higher grade level. While acceleration does help bright students avoid repetition of material in which they are already proficient, by definition it cannot help them avoid the tedium that is the standard US mathematics curriculum.
EMF is not an accelerated version of the standard US mathematics curriculum. Instead it provides a deep and intuitive understanding of foundational concepts. This allows the suitably talented child to progress quickly through material for which others would require significant drill and practice. The curriculum then proceeds to cover concepts in a mathematically consistent way, going well beyond the typical gifted math class offered in schools or online. Topics from the standard curriculum – and much, much more – are taught in an intellectually engaging way.
Six Ways In Which EMF Is Unique
• The EMF curriculum was designed from scratch specifically for gifted and talented children to leverage their advanced capacity for learning and to engage their unique ways of thinking.
• EMF provides a deep, intuitive, and lasting understanding of mathematics as a cohesive body of knowledge that opens the door to scientific discovery and technological advancement.
• EMF focuses on the powerful and elegant ideas of mathematics, the kind that gifted and talented children find deeply satisfying and inspiring.
• The EMF curriculum exposes students to subject areas not found in the standard curriculum such as operational systems, set theory, number theory, abstract algebra, and probability and statistics.
• EMF maintains a level of mathematical rigor found typically at the university level while making advanced concepts accessible and fun for a younger audience.
• EMF gives students a true sense of what it takes to excel in college math courses, which is not the same as the skills needed to do well in standard math classes or at math competitions. EMF students do not have to “unlearn” certain habits before they can move forward with more rigorous math courses.
Is EMF Right For Your Child?
EMF courses are self-study and require a certain level of intellectual maturity. Talented students who have completed all of elementary school math but have not yet completed algebra and geometry would gain the most from EMF. However, students who already have some experience of algebra and/or geometry may still find benefit because EMF introduces concepts that are not covered in standard high school mathematics classes.
Parents who register their child at www.elementsofmathematics.com will be offered the option of having their child take a free online aptitude test to help determine their child’s level of readiness.
Elements of Mathematics: Foundations, the most advanced mathematics curriculum ever devised for talented secondary school students, is now available online. The first course is FREE for students who enroll before January 1st, 2013. Register at www.elementsofmathematics.com. Get weekly IMACS logic puzzles on Facebook.
Whatever your political leanings, it’s clear that the anti-1% movement in the US continues to take its toll on Mitt Romney’s chances of becoming president. Are there similar negative feelings toward the intellectual 1% in our country? Chester Finn, Jr.’s recent op-ed in The New York Times entitled “Young, Gifted and Neglected” echoed a sentiment widely felt in the gifted and talented community for a long time now. Support, both financial and non-financial, for publicly funded gifted schools and programs has always been woefully inadequate. The struggle to keep such programs going is one with which we at IMACS are deeply familiar. (Read about our history in the public sector here.)
As Mr. Finn points out, one of the most common but inaccurate criticisms of gifted programs is that they are “elitist.” In math and science, related obstacles to greater support are (1) a lack of understanding of how important these fields are to sustaining and improving the quality of life for us and generations to come and (2) unrealistic expectations about how and when the payoff from supporting talented children comes. Some of this is rooted in the sad state of math and science literacy in the US, and some is influenced by our always-on media culture.
At IMACS, we’re the first to celebrate advances in technology, but one undeniable consequence of our “insta-world” is that people want to see the results of their actions right away. The same may be true of the tax-paying public. By definition, the large majority of parents do not have gifted children. Human nature is such that people are inclined to advocate for what benefits themselves or their own. So how do you convince them that it’s worth supporting someone else’s kid because five or ten or 20 years from now, he or she may discover the cure for a disease that someone they care about might suffer from one day? This is a mighty challenge, but that’s what the gifted and talented community specializes in, whether it’s the amazing work our kids do or the tireless advocacy of their parents on their behalf.
As one “science guy” recently put it, “We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future.” While raising math and science literacy over time is the best long-term solution for everyone, gifted or not, that doesn’t help today’s bright kids whose growth years are ticking away. It certainly would help if media outlets gave as much exposure to Taylor Wilson’s nuclear research as they do to Taylor Swift’s love life. Let’s get out there as parents and educators unabashedly shining a positive light on our best and brightest students. After all, they’re not here to ruin the curve but to improve people’s lives by solving the toughest problems. There shouldn’t be any doubt that this 1% will give back to society many times over.
Editor’s note: Going forward, The IMACS Blog will be published every four weeks with our next post appearing on October 25, 2012. Thanks to all our readers for your continued support!
At IMACS, the young and gifted are nurtured and celebrated. Check out our courses in gifted math and online computer science. Register for our free aptitude test. Get weekly IMACS logic puzzles on Facebook.
In our prior blog post where we discussed the importance of effective teachers for gifted students, we also made the point that such teachers should be armed with higher quality curricula better geared toward bright kids. This week, we delve more deeply into what raises the quality of curricula and renders them more suitable for bringing out the best in talented students.
Fast Forward vs. Delve Deeper
Let’s start with the obvious. Gifted students often understand new information after having it explained to them once. This is in contrast to a typical student who benefits meaningfully from review and reinforcement of new topics. There may be times when gifted children benefit from review, but they generally find repetition unutterably boring. Consequently, bright kids who are subjected to curricula that emphasize review can develop a dislike for school or, in the worst case, of learning.
Advocates of free online resources often point to online technology as a remedy in situations like this because you can skip over the boring parts of a lesson and cover more topics. But who wants to spend time and mental energy searching through a lesson to avoid the repetitive parts? More importantly for talented children, are we really aiming for quantity of topics over quality of learning as a badge of honor for the brightest among us? Gifted students’ time would be better spent gaining a deeper understanding of a subject using material that was specifically designed with their ability level and thirst for knowledge in mind.
Challenge and Failure as Preparation for Success
Online curriculum development for talented students is about more than just going faster and avoiding repetition. It’s about presenting challenging ideas along with the appropriate interactive tools to explore and understand them. It’s about asking questions that require genuine thought to answer rather than just a cursory understanding—or worse, a simple memory—of something. It’s about asking questions in such a way that, in the process of determining the answer, the student’s understanding gets deeper.
Parents and administrators should recognize that accelerating through standard curricula is not the same as studying coursework designed to challenge the gifted mind. Challenging talented students is essential for putting them on a path toward future success. These kids have the potential to solve our most intractable problems and invent products and processes not yet imagined. As anyone who has accomplished even one of these amazing feats will tell you—it’s not a sprint but a marathon fraught with many false turns. This relates to the much-quoted findings by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck that praising intelligence undermines motivation and performance as compared with praising effort. A child who has not learned to put forth great effort in conquering ability-appropriate challenges or in developing resilience in the aftermath of failure will never reach his or her full potential.
Address Misunderstandings Immediately
For many subjects, including mathematics and computer science, ideas learned at one stage serve as the foundation for learning more complex ideas at later stages. Likewise, a misunderstanding of an earlier concept jeopardizes the understanding of future concepts that build upon it. It can be difficult to dislodge misconceptions that have had some time to settle:
Thus, any praiseworthy online education program should cause students to address a misunderstanding at the moment that they are having it. If you wait until some later time to give a student corrective feedback on their work, the moment of maximum learning has already passed. Remember that we’re talking about young students who are simultaneously learning various new ideas across multiple subjects. When a student is already focused on learning the next topic, it’s less effective to try to bring his or her mind back to an “old” idea.
How an online education program goes about detecting and addressing flaws in student understanding is critical to whether the program is really delivering on its promise to teach in the truest sense of the word. This is not a trivial exercise that can be accomplished by a system that instantly tells you whether a multiple choice selection or one-word answer is correct. Gifted kids can typically regurgitate information from memory or reflect back basic knowledge without much effort. But this doesn’t mean that they understand a topic at a depth commensurate with their ability. Any online curriculum that purports to educate yet relies on several, even many, simply structured questions as a measure of true understanding is short-changing its students, especially the bright ones.
Simply put, talented online students deserve curricula that address their unique intellectual needs along with technological tools designed to fit the particular curriculum and not the other way around. They deserve more than the same material they can get in school with improved presentation and a fast-forward button. Delivering on the promise of educating students online is possible, but it takes much more thought, planning, and investment to do than is widely accepted in the current media coverage and commentary.
Mathalicious blog recently posted a well-written and compelling article about the consequences of our nation’s sudden elevation of the popular video tutoring Web site, Khan Academy. If you haven’t read the piece, you absolutely should because it explains beautifully the key reasons why parents and school administrators should be cautious about jumping on the bandwagon of free, technology-based resources as a means of effective teaching.
We won’t rehash here what’s already been said well by Mathalicious, nor do readers of this blog who like KA need to rally to its defense. IMACS acknowledges that KA is a valuable resource that has a place in the overall education portfolio for many students. But we also strongly believe that KA, or whatever the next free resource to be Web-ified is, is no substitute for high-quality curricula and the effective teaching thereof. This is particularly true for gifted and talented children.
Free Resources Are Good at Presenting Information and Sparking Curiosity
Children, bright ones in particular, are born self-directed and self-taught. As they enter school and progress through the regimented structure of age-based, test-driven instruction, it’s no surprise that this natural thirst for learning diminishes. For a gifted child this is intellectual torture, and the pain has only spread across our nation as budget cuts erode the quality of or eliminate altogether public school gifted programs. So it’s no wonder that many talented children and their parents have come to value a Web site like KA.
What’s not to like? KA offers a myriad of topics for a curious mind to explore. You pick which video to watch, and you decide when to move on if it’s boring. And KA’s founder, by most accounts, is pretty good at explaining concepts in a non-threatening way. For typical kids, this can be a superior alternative to classroom instruction. For gifted kids, this is a wonderful way to spark curiosity and access above-grade-level material. Those of us from an older generation are reminded of cherished times flipping through encyclopedia volumes, letting the books fall open where they may, and reading about some new topic that we’d never heard of before. Whereas the World Book cost parents a small fortune and took up a big chunk of bookshelf space, KA is free and fits on the smartphone in your pocket! So far, so good. Here comes the “but.”
Pedagogy Still Matters, Especially for Mathematically Talented Kids
But how does that spark become a burning fire of passion, dedication, effort, and tenacity—qualities necessary for a gifted child to achieve his or her full potential? A key component of the answer is teachers. More specifically, teachers who understand how to inspire bright children, who can guide them when they struggle, and who know how to unleash the power of their natural talent. Optimally, these teachers should be armed with higher quality curricula better geared toward kids who only need to be told things once. They should have the experience to know that the places where talented kids struggle are often different from the usual stumbling blocks for the general population, and they should understand that high-fliers sometimes need help in overcoming the fear of failure.
Nowhere is this more evident than in math where the abstract nature of its concepts and language call for an experienced and interactive guide. To a gifted child, the difference between one-way, rules-based, memorization-laden math instruction and student-involved, teacher-guided, reasoning-based interaction is like intellectual starvation versus a bountiful feast. The nourishing environment of the latter allows mathematically talented minds to devour, understand, apply, and sometimes grow the body of knowledge. No pre-recorded video that restates, however pleasantly, the usual instruction found in US math classes, with the added benefit that you can rewind and repeat for reinforcement, is going to elevate a mathematically bright child to the next level.
Bright Online Students Should Have Access to Supportive Instructors
At IMACS, we made a deliberate choice to use an interactive teaching approach that incorporates substantial student-led exploration guided by effective teachers. Our collective experience on how talented kids learn best, which questions they tend to ask, and where and why they tend to struggle has been gathered over decades of teaching our curriculum in a classroom setting. This wisdom has been painstakingly built in to our eIMACS online courses, which feature tools that provide immediate feedback at exactly the moments students most frequently need it.
Needless to say, a gifted child is wonderfully unique and creative. So it comes as no surprise to us that our students come up with questions from time to time that we hadn’t anticipated. This is exactly why each eIMACS student is assigned a principal IMACS instructor to answer these questions and provide individualized guidance when needed.
We know what you’re probably thinking, and yes, this blog post is self-serving. But it’s also what we genuinely believe because we’ve borne witness to the success of these ideas, having taught thousands of bright students this way over the years. As such, we feel compelled to share our experience with readers, especially parents and others who may be making decisions now or in the future on how to best foster mathematical talent (or any talent for that matter). As with coaching in elite athletics, effective pedagogy is essential to the full and fulfilling intellectual development of gifted children, and its value should not be discounted so readily. Don’t let talk of free videos convince you otherwise.
“Indeed, your conception of failure might not be too far from the average person’s idea of success, so high have you already flown.”
- JK Rowling, Harvard commencement speech, June 2008
“People who have an easy time of things, who get 800s on their SAT’s, I worry that those people get feedback that everything they’re doing is great. And I think as a result, we are actually setting them up for long-term failure.”
- Dominic Randolph, Headmaster, Riverdale Country School, New York Times Magazine, September 14, 2011
Two weeks ago, the science world was abuzz with talk of a report that neutrinos seemed to have traveled faster than light. News of this finding traveled pretty quickly as well, as media outfits worldwide ran headlines that (gasp!) Einstein may have been wrong. News like this would have been dismissed summarily were it not for the fact that the research team involved in this experiment are not exactly a bunch of weekend armchair physicists. They are part of the OPERA Collaboration working at CERN.
So why would these esteemed scientists put themselves out there to be met by the inevitable wave of skepticism, even ridicule? Because they understand that if they made an error, opening their research to scrutiny in order to find and correct the mistake is exactly what will help them advance their work and the work of others. In fact, the official press release announcing these unexpected observations quotes CERN Research Director Sergio Bertolucci as saying, “When an experiment finds an apparently unbelievable result and can find no artefact [sic] of the measurement to account for it, it’s normal procedure to invite broader scrutiny, and this is exactly what the OPERA collaboration is doing, it’s good scientific practice.”
At IMACS, we couldn’t agree more, and would further assert that the same principle applies in mathematics and computer science. Learning to fail well in these subjects is particularly important because of their exacting and objective nature. Your proof is logically consistent or it isn’t. Your computer program compiles or it doesn’t. There is generally no interpretive latitude around whether you’re right or wrong. There is no arguing that the instructor’s subjective judgment based on his or her personal ideology caused your poor grade. Add to that the tendency of talented students to have a strong aversion to failure and you can see that how resilient one is in the face of failure will be a major factor in determining how much success one has going forward.
While we’re not experts in educational psychology at IMACS, we’ve taught thousands of talented children over the years and are parents ourselves, and what we observe is that learning to fail well is a “scaffolding” process. A talented child who is allowed to have small failures early on without harsh consequences and who is involved meaningfully in determining and executing corrective action shows greater resiliency when faced with the next level of failure. This process builds on itself as the child grows older and the circumstances and consequences become more serious. The failures may grow, but so does the child’s ability and confidence to handle them effectively and independently.
So parental readers, take a look at your mathematically or scientifically talented, award-winning, perfect-scoring children and ask yourself, at this age when the consequences of failure are not so great, are they developing the resiliency that will allow them to take the intellectual risks that are necessary for great success but may also lead to major failure? Do they know from experience, not from having you tell them, that they have it in themselves to bounce back? Ask of yourself, do I allow my child to feel safe about having small failures now so that he or she can rise up from a bigger failure later when I’m not always going to be there to pick up the pieces? If not, then perhaps it is time to lead by example and show that you can make adjustments with an eye toward the long term. After all, if your child is someday going to make the next groundbreaking discovery in physics, he or she should get a head start by learning to fail well now.
Have you heard a story like this before: My daughter used to enjoy math and science when she was in elementary school. She’s always been strong in those subjects. But now that she’s going into 7th grade, it’s no longer “cool.” She’s actually afraid that her classmates won’t like her anymore if they find out how talented she is. Her computer science teacher called to tell me that she doesn’t want to take the honors programming class next year, even though she was the top student in his class last year. How do I make her understand that she should pursue her natural talents regardless of what her so-called friends think?
There is no easy or single answer to this difficult parenting problem. The factors that motivate a child are often as unique as that child. But in our experience at IMACS, one factor seems to be pretty consistent across the board: In this age range, parental influence starts to wane, sometimes rapidly, and outside parties such as friends and teachers gain in influential power. If you don’t have buy-in from a tween or teenager on a particular idea that involves her, then you’re probably not going to get anywhere. In fact, there’s a good chance that the reaction you get is the exact opposite of the one you want. Such is the process of growing up. It just seems more painful to now find yourself on the parental side of this equation.
There are two broad pieces of advice that we can offer based on the anecdotal evidence we see and hear with our female students. One is to get your daughter involved in one of the growing number of programs that promote science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The earlier you get girls excited about STEM, the better. Studies have shown that if girls are not interested by middle school, it’s almost impossible to get them to pursue any of these fields in college or as a career. Getting your daughter involved in math and science enrichment during elementary school is a great first step. Whatever the age, look for a program with a healthy proportion of female participants, or even a girls-only program if available in your area. When a girl is surrounded by other girls who are also interested in these subjects, then being a “math and science girl” doesn’t seem so “out there,” and the stereotype that STEM is for boys is less likely to be reinforced. Your daughter might also feel more confident and willing to take more risks in learning if she’s not surrounded by boys.
The other piece of advice is to find a trusted adult female who works in a STEM field to mentor your daughter. It’s important for girls to have STEM-minded peers, but they also need successful female role models to look to and learn from. We mean no disrespect to the many excellent male mentors out there, but there is no doubting the power of “seeing is believing” when it comes to convincing girls that they can have a successful future in STEM. And while it’s inspiring to read interviews with Google’s Marissa Mayer or actress Danica McKellar, building a positive one-to-one mentoring relationship with an accessible adult has much more impact. Your daughter can receive regular guidance that address the specifics of her situation (e.g., career options, scholarship applications, college admissions). Plus, it will be coming from an adult other than Mom or Dad who, at this stage of adolescence, have zero credibility.
Below, we’ve compiled a non-exhaustive list of organizations, programs and resources for encouraging and motivating talented young girls to get and stay engaged with STEM. Many have organized mentor matching services. If your daughter is approaching high school, we’ve also included two organizations that focus exclusively on high school girls. We encourage you to explore these links and to inquire further in your local communities for similar opportunities. Your daughters are counting on you, whether they know it or not.
Organizations that Encourage and Support Young Girls in STEM
National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) – The NGCP brings together US organizations that focus on motivating girls to pursue careers in STEM fields. The program directory currently lists over 2,000 organizations and programs by geographic location. Select “Mentoring” in the “Resources Needed” list to find programs that offer mentoring services. The NGCP Web site also has an extensive list of resources, including the NGCP newsletter and links to dozens of girl-serving organizations and Web sites.
Girls’ Electronic Mentoring in Science, Engineering and Technology (GEM-SET) – GEM-SET is part of the Women in Science & Engineering program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The goal of GEM-SET is to connect young girls in middle school and high school with professional women mentors in the STEM fields. Girls must be affiliated with a partner organization.
Inspiring Girls Now In Technology Evolution (IGNITE) – IGNITE originated in the Seattle school district and has grown to include chapters around the country. The organization connects middle and high school girls with professional in STEM careers who act as role models and mentors. Programs also include job shadowing, field trips, career fairs, guidance for internship, scholarship and college admission applications.
Girls, Math & Science Partnership (GMSP) – The Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh sponsors this program for 11-17 year old girls. The main BrainCake Web site is designed to be totally cool, fun and interactive – so very now. Girls can also fill out a simple survey to be matched with a mentor.
Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) – The AWM Mentor Network matches mentors with girls and women who are interested in mathematics or are pursuing careers in mathematics. Grade school and high school girls can apply. Mentors may be women or men, but students have the option of indicating a strong preference for a female mentor on the application.
Aspire – Aspire is the K-12 outreach program sponsored by Society of Women Engineers (SWE). The organization’s signature event is WOW! That’s Engineering where local SWE chapters bring girls and women engineers together to learn about and do engineering. You can contact your regional SWE section to find out if they will be hosting a WOW! That’s Engineering fair in your area.
Sally Ride Science – This organization was established by America’s first woman in space to support girls’ and boys’ interest in math and science, and to make a difference in society’s perceptions of girls’ roles in technical fields. Sally Ride Science sponsors one-day science festivals for 5th – 8th grade girls. Girls entering 4th – 9th grades may participate in hands-on science camps that provide an opportunity to explore science, technology, and engineering on the campus of some of the most prestigious universities. Locations for the summer 2011 included Stanford, Berkeley, UCSD, MIT and Caltech. The parent handbook includes very helpful information and advice on raising talented girls.
My Gifted Girl – My Gifted Girl is a community for gifted girls and women in all subjects, including STEM fields. They serve as a resource for parents, educators, mentors and other organizations that support talented girls and women. Free membership gives you access to My Gifted Girl message boards where mentors can answer posted questions and contribute in specific subject matter areas.
Looking Ahead to High School
National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) – The NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing recognizes high school girls for their computing-related achievements and interests. Winners are chosen for their computing and IT aptitude, leadership ability, academic history, and plans for post-secondary education. Just reading the profiles of past winners is an inspiring experience. They demonstrate that you will find talented girls from a variety of backgrounds and experiences no matter where you look across the country.
Digigirlz – Digigirlz is Microsoft’s program to give high school girls the opportunity to learn about careers in technology. The company hosts Digigirlz Days where students get to interact with Microsoft employees and see what it’s like to work there. They also sponsor multi-day High Tech Camp for girls at no cost.
If you would like to learn more about IMACS’s STEM-focused programs for elementary, middle and high school students, including our distance-learning program, contact us at info @ eimacs.com. Prospective students can also take our free aptitude test.
Former IMACS instructor, Brandi Parsell, offers advice on how to address the ultimate question in a way that stimulates logical reasoning and critical thinking skills.
It can be endearing, or at times downright frustrating – that eternal question, “why?”. When bright children discover that single word, they seem to grab onto it and won’t let go. Sometimes the answers are simple, and sometimes we find ourselves at a complete loss for words.
This innocent question, however, is a signal to parents that a child is ready to be challenged to think logically. The creativity is there – we can see it in their everyday play. It is how we encourage that creativity and shape it into critical thought that will form a solid basis for a child’s learning ability.
Critical thinking is one of the hardest subjects to teach older students; any schoolteacher will tell you so. But if you begin to give your children the necessary tools when they are as young as three or four years old, they can develop these skills more easily. When the question of “why” is put once again on the table, the best policy is to ask, don’t tell. Challenge your children; ask what they think the reason might be. Chances are you will be pleasantly surprised.
Often parents believe that when their child reaches school age, he or she will at last find satisfaction for that curiosity. Talented students, though, may become bored with traditional school curriculum. When such a student is not challenged to exceed our expectations, this frustration often takes the form of careless errors and lack of effort. If children begin to develop these kinds of bad habits, too often they give up quickly when faced with a truly challenging problem. It is important that bright students are encouraged to go beyond what is merely “expected” of them.
“Talented students owe it to themselves to stretch their minds as far as they can,” said Burt Kaufman, co-founder of IMACS. Burt spoke from experience. For over 40 years he worked closely with bright pre-college students and developed challenging mathematics curriculum materials to stimulate them to become true students – disciplined logical thinkers with an insatiable thirst for knowledge and understanding.
Parents are a child’s first teachers, and the best teachers don’t give away the answers. Turn your child into a detective, and yourself into their greatest source for clues.
IMACS’ Director of Curriculum Development, Dr. Ted Sweet, discusses the importance of challenging the gifted and talented student in order to reach his or her full potential and to avoid common pitfalls. Ted is a graduate of Project MEGSSS, a predecessor program to IMACS. He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Miami and his Ph.D. in mathematics at UCLA. Ted joined IMACS in 1998.
Burt Kaufman, one of the foremost American mathematics curriculum developers of the last half-century (and my high school mentor), once made an observation that resonates with many educators of bright and talented children. It was that good grades obtained through little or no effort ultimately led to poor study habits and general intellectual laziness.
Even parents of children enrolled in “gifted” programs of the type currently in favor with many public school systems sometimes complain that their child is “coasting” at school.
Unfortunately, students that solve every problem with ease often get out of the habit of focusing and thinking systematically, skills they will need if they are to reach their full potential. Not surprisingly, it can be a challenge for parents to explain to their bright children that getting an ‘A’ may not be enough to ensure their future academic success.
Bright students whose mental agility and intuitive cognitive abilities are not sufficiently challenged can start to develop problems during elementary school. These may manifest themselves in the form of so-called “careless errors” when doing arithmetical problems, for example. And talented students who have not been stretched intellectually will typically “give up too easily” when they finally encounter challenging problems that require careful analysis. In extreme cases, behavioral problems may start to develop.
The question of how to satisfy the intellectual needs of bright and talented children has been studied in depth by the professionals at IMACS. Our research demonstrates that bright students who are exposed to curricula that foster the careful, logical analysis of significant math problems benefit in many fields outside mathematics. A student who learns to truly think does not leave that skill in the classroom.
What classes that you coasted through do you wish had been more challenging for you?
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