The Course

These have to be the most insightful words I have seen written about educating children in the last two centuries! Thanks for sharing them, Dave.
The Course.

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We Have Shifted …

I have finally migrated my Thinkers Online Blog to my personal website

I will leave this one here for a while so that everyone finds their way.

Thanks for all your feedback and comments.

I have also set up a Facebook Page where you can follow what Thinkers Online is up to.

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The Sweetest Sweetcorn

For those who don’t know, I am in Samoa with my creative-gifted husband, working on raising the tourism dollar post-tsunami. Another entry to my weekly update for folks back in New Zealand, this week, involved much about giftedness – repeated here for your consumption…

Gifted ideas in Samoa tourism

The sweetcorn patch

Harvested the sweetcorn and had our first meal – what a sweet treat that was! A few meals from the beans, but the tomatoes are s-l-o-w ripening!! One nearly turning red, out of about 450 last count!!

Three months of using the long drop – not a milestone I am particularly pleased about – and I may have a flush loo in a day or two!! Dennis and I built the framework and steel for the concrete roof, and will pour the concrete later today as it cools down! Then the inspection hole covers and it will be ready!! Learnt a lot about pioneer life starting from scratch up here in Samoa, starting with just a bush-covered piece of land. It’s hard work, but it makes everything you achieve, however small, so much more worthwhile.

It’s a conundrum though. One minute I am out developing the land – the next, entertaining the Prime Minister as he checks out his proposed website in my ‘huge mossie tent come office’. Later, I am ‘speaking’ with gifted professionals around the globe, and then I rush off to cook over a single gas-cooker in my camp kitchen, from a very limited range of foods! Talk about a “Tale of Two … Lifestyles”.

Internet marketing in Samoa bush

Internet marketing in Samoa bush

But, that is what Samoa is like. The rich and the poor live side by side. There is no real “Million Dollar Mile” like I remember from Milford/Takapuna. But there are extremes in accommodation, set beside each other in the same village. One house might be palatial, behind a 2m fence and gate, and the neighbour’s could be made from cut-down local trees, thatched roof, no walls, and no privacy from the passing road traffic. The one thing they probably have in common though, is a couple (at least) of dogs!

It is 3 days short of 6 months since I relocated to Samoa. The best thing for me so far, has been the bonding with my husband as we embark on this journey together. It is not an easy task, to be called into a country to work with people who need help, but for whatever reason, find it hard to accept it. The world is changing, and while it is nice for cultures to stay tucked up in their own little world, if they want to earn the tourist’s dollars, they have to learn to engage with them, where they are at. In tough economic times, if businesses are not engaging on the internet – they are going to miss out big time!

I have learnt a good deal about gifted people, their struggles to get their ideas valued, and the loss to society if they are not given space to develop. What are we educating gifted students for, if not to make their lives more meaningful, and give them access to answering the world’s problems in their unique ways? Education of the gifted for me, does not stop when they graduate, but is a lifetime mission.

With my creative-gifted husband, I am helping others to understand him and accept him for who he is, and helping him to understand his impact on others, as we work to achieve the goals of our SWAP Foundation in Samoa. We want to put Samoa on the ‘Internet’ to lift the tourism spend here, by investing what we know about internet marketing and fresh, new business ideas. I see the ups and downs as the frustration of being misunderstood grips him. When your mind is running faster than the others around you, and you can see the vision clearly, there is an unrealism that seems to take place, while waiting for others to catch up, understand, or get with the programme. But, he has enormous patience and stickability – failure is not an option he accepts freely.

Gifted advocates who live with giftedness on a daily basis are essential for smoothing the waters around gifted individuals, helping to make them understandable to the public. It’s a tough job, but one I accept as my mission.

Fa’a Soifua, for another week. May yours be filled with the joy and gratefulness of learning something new every day.

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Intense kids … Intense adults

Blog tour

This is a special blog post as part of the NPGC Blog Tour.

National Parenting Gifted Children Week is hosted by SENG(Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted).Please follow the Blog Tour!

Download SENG’s free NPGC Week ebook, The Joy and the Challenge: Parenting Gifted Children.

I touched on some of these intense individuals in a post last year Life at the Edge . I said back then,

“We can’t demand a gifted person change their ‘being’ to fit into our ideas of adequate provision for them.”

(Thanks Lisa for the thumbs up on that line!!!)

Living with “intensity” is not something you necessarily grow out of, or can change (no matter how much we try to demand it from others). It is part of who you are and when the only person you can generally change is “yourself”, we need to look at how we can co-exist with intense people that we might find incredibly challenging at times.

Living with intense kids certainly brings this home quick smart – but chances are, you or your husband may be quite intense yourself, as it can be in your DNA. Have you managed to live with each other? How did you do that? Or didn’t you do that too well?

I want to look at this from the perspective of a step-mother (me) coming into a ‘gifted man’s life’ at 43,  who had single-parented his own two kids since they were preschoolers. Now teenagers, they were pretty set in the ways Dad had brought them up. They also carried some of those intense genes in their DNA too.

Step-parenting is difficult at any time, but when you are suddenly thrown in at the deep end with intense, bright kids, you can really struggle. I did – for the first five or so years! It was in this time that I would constantly say to myself – they are only doing it the way they know – the way dad has brought them up. You see, “Dad” didn’t know his own idiosyncrasies either. He had never understood why so many people misunderstood him, or why he was not like the others. Bullied consistently through his younger years at school this gifted man had certainly developed ways to fit in. His mother has since said to me that she didn’t know what to do about the bullying, so regretfully, she just left it for him to contend with on his own.

So, we have the scene set – creative-gifted adult and children (and from what I can see, two creative gifted grand-parents in the first place) meeting ‘step-mother’ ( who just happened to be a teacher passionately interested in giftedness and learning difficulties in an effort to understand her own two children).

Disaster – WWIII – Armageddon – you name it, and it was like that in our household as we all tried to learn about each other. I lost my son (albeit temporarily, to live with his own father) early on in the marriage – but in retrospect, it was time for him to get better acquainted with his own father, rather than try to cope with this ‘man from another planet’ I had re-married!! (My kids, too, had been brought up by their mother – me – almost single-handedly for fourteen years, so we also had our own ways of doing things).

Well, as you know, when conflict happens, you can either confront it, go along with it, or pretend it never happened. Being overly sensitive, going with the flow was not the first choice for any of us. You will see it in the classroom – these little people often have great difficulty adjusting to doing things a different way to what they have already done before, know, and understand. It takes them time to adjust to change, and sometimes, they can’t accept the need for change at all!

Conflict resolution skills should be an important aspect of any classroom programme, but especially so for intense gifted students, who unfortunately can often get upset over things the average student hasn’t even noticed. But, just as we don’t want to expect them to change, we must teach gifted students how to compromise with others, or resolve issues, in cases where we can’t always have it our own way. In my situation, it didn’t help that ‘Dad’ would tell his kids to not worry if something bothered me, because I was on my own planet. He didn’t realise that his  own planet was also out of the solar system many of us know!

This exemplifies the second point of comparison – how many times have you said as a parent of your gifted child, “Don’t worry about what the teacher says, he/she just doesn’t understand you the way I do”? This is not going to give the child good negotiation skills, or teach them respect for teachers in general. Far better would be to teach them ways of explaining themselves to the teacher in a non-confrontational way why something is of such importance to you that you need too disagree, or change what is being said or done.

Time can be a healer, as the two parties start to understand one is not out to criticise the other, but as I said, we took about seven years to start to rally together as a family, and that was after some of the older teens moved away from home. We only give these intense gifted students just over ten months with a teacher and a group of students to get to know each other, then we split them up and send them off with another group the next year. Often, a child with a challenging personality is shifted around to give the other students a break from them, and it is rare for a teacher to have them for more than one or two years. This just means building relationships has to start all over again each year, and this is a daunting task that can simply make school too much of a challenge for them to bother with. Many well-meaning teachers say they don’t want anecdotal records from the previous child’s teacher, as they want to start them with an unbiased, clean slate. But for some students, what knowledge has been gained by a previous year’s teacher can just be wasted, or the wheel re-invented, which effectively reduces the useful length of the schooling year by a couple of months each year as they progress.

There is as much a need to educate intense children about their differences and how they will affect other people, as there is for teachers to be educated about what life is like for intense individuals.  I remember reading a Pearl Buck (1892 – 1973) quote in my gifted studies, and I think it is so appropriate for intense people,

The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanely sensitive. To them… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death.
Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create — so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, their very breath is cut off…
They must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency they are not really alive unless they are create.

Pearl Buck

Parenting intense gifted children is hard work, but then it can be so rewarding, too. If this post has given you any ideas about how-to or how-not-to, then it has been worth it for me. Any questions you have will be answered, subject to the internet in Samoa, which is where I now reside (in paradise, my husband says!!!) We have managed to hang in there through the tough times, thanks to our gracious Father, and the bedlam from the past is becoming a distant memory.

Manuia le aso (Have a good day!) 

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Gifted Awareness Week New Zealand

This week coming New Zealand is hosting its annual Gifted Awareness Week – a time when we hope to reach more eyes and ears in an effort to alert the general population to this special group of people in our community – the “gifted”. In many ways they have been prone to losing the use of their gifts or having their uniqueness shunned through general ignorance of those around them. I once told my course supervisor in post-graduate Gifted Education, Tracy Riley – “I will never really feel like I have passed this course (despite the A’s she gave me in some projects) until I have learnt to live with my husband! He is creative-gifted; he didn’t know ‘why’ he was different until I came along when he was 43 and recognised all the traits from my studies, and then life began to take off in a new direction for him! His culture around him had always been in putdown mode, but now he was in a position to fly.

I never fully understood the term “culture” until I landed smack in the middle of a Samoan village three months ago and had to deal with differences in language, food, clothes, weather, housing and just about every other thing I had taken for granted back in New Zealand. I think many gifted children must have a similar experience upon entering school. What they knew as normal – nurturing one-to-one, questions promptly answered, inquiring into the “whys?” and “hows?” of nearly everything they saw, and parents with the time (even if stretched) to nurture their search for knowledge, suddenly replaced with a single teacher amongst a myriad of chattering kids who don’t seem to know nearly as much in their five short years of life!

Just the same as I can’t expect a young Samoan boy to understand what I am doing or saying in English (and sometimes I have to put up with the sniggers at the ‘palagi’) so we can’t expect the gifted child to fit in to a neat box called a ‘mainstream classroom’. I must learn a little Samoan language to gain some respect of the locals (Manuia le aso, “Have a good day” has worked wonders for me!) The gifted child needs to understand how a regular classroom differs from ‘home’ and what to expect when they enter school. And please, the teachers need to know what to expect from their new ‘bundles of energy’ so they don’t take things the wrong way (from parent or child alike)!

Just as the Samoan boy will start to see, understand, and accept my ‘palagi’ ways with the guidance and help of his parents, so will the peer group in the classroom will start to see, understand, and accept the child who thinks differently to them, with the help of their teacher.

When we talk of equal opportunity for the “gifted” in schools, we do not mean equal inputs for all. This equity is based on the individual’s starting points and looks at equality in ability to advance for all. This will mean a different type of input for all – depending on their speed of learning, their most beneficial style of learning, and the outcomes expected. All cultures have their ways of ‘knowing’ and ‘behaving’ and the decision on what inputs are needed rests with those who know the individual cultures best. Parents are an immediate resource in this area, and should not be overlooked, especially in minority cultures where specialist expertise might be rather thin.

Many South Pacific Island cultures favour ‘giftedness’ not as an individual trait but as a talent that should be used for the benefit of the community. They see all members associated with the ‘gifted individual’ as having helped that person reach their goals, and in their culture of sharing, they share in the success as well. Individualistic talents are rarely highlighted, except maybe if you make the Manu Samoa Rugby Team – then you are ‘the man!’ Even the awarding of matai titles (hierarchical leadership titles) is for the benefit of the family as a whole.

Programmes aimed at raising leaders can be far more acceptable than individual acceleration in personal interest subjects. Traditions need to be passed down from one generation to the next, and it is often seen that a village that possesses a unique skill will ensure the children learn it to keep it alive. This can be seen most emphatically in the bowl-carving village of Uafato – where bowl carvers work tirelessly from Monday to Friday ready to take their bowls or weapons to the Saturday markets in Apia, to sell. Children at a young age can be seen copying their parent’s skills with a chisel. One day, when they are old enough, and their carving is refined, it too will sell at the markets.

Sometimes it is not until we move out of our own comfort zone that we are willing to accept there can be another way of doing things. Teachers have the responsibility to grow and nurture all sorts of individuals in their care, so they need to be the most well informed people. Not until teachers have met, discovered and understood gifted students will they be able to beneficially help them in a mainstream classroom to reach their capabilities. Gifted Awareness Week to me needs to address the lack of awareness among our front line teaching staff first. Yes, funding is an issue, but funding without teachers willing to implement the programmes is uneconomic. Once the teachers are on board, then they too will raise their voices for funding as well, and the swollen effect should make a bigger statement. Only when they are on board will there be a difference made for the benefit of our gifted kids in the classroom.

I had to learn to live with my creative-gifted husband whom many had misunderstood, and written off, before we could truly flourish together and became all that we could be as a married couple! I am pleased I pushed through the barriers – it has given me life up in a tropical paradise, trail-blazing many roads to assist a third-world country, post-tsunami.

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One Space – Free Online Learning Courses for Single Parents

One Space is a popular UK social networking site for single parents from Single Parent Action Network (SPAN). It launched a series of free online learning courses recently.

The online learning courses help to up-skill single parents in current work practices so that they can gain and maintain successful employment.

The interactive learning modules are easy to follow and available 24 hours a day to enable lone parents to fit their self-development around family commitments and work at their own pace.

I know and appreciate how well online learning can benefit single parents unable to get childcare for their little ones. I was in that position many years ago now, and completed my first ever degree from Massey University, extramurally, as was available then – through the post). I completed my Bachelor in Business Studies – Accountancy over six years. It fitted in well around my roles as full-time child caregiver and my part-time work with an accountant. I retrained as a teacher when I found accountancy professional development cut too far across family time. Later, I went on to study my Masters in Education via online study while I taught in a full-primary school.

Online education became an interest, and then developed as a major for me during my Masters’ research and study. I developed an online journalism course for gifted seniors who anticipated following this line of work after school. It included role play exercises to familiarise participants with taking an alternative point of view on a topic. By doing so, they had to research a topic much more deeply and their journalism improved as a result.

So – well done One Space, for not only recognising a need for single parents, but for using current technology to improve the chances for those in need.

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Knowing who you are helps

I have spoken about this before – but I have just read “Belinda Seiger’s revelation to herself” and she puts it very succinctly. If we are intense people, it pays for us to realise that BEFORE we scare all our buddies away!

Before we can build relationships with other people, we simply need to know who we are first, and how we appear to others. This is a lesson for not just gifted people who need to learn to engage in a ‘foreign’ world to themselves, but to any of us who think that everything out there is just like them.

Coming to live in Samoa, in a new culture, is a big learning curve. To Samoans, my everyday actions can be interpreted as rude – in THEIR culture.

“So, I just wanted to dash out and post a letter – but I was still finishing my doughnut! I dare not leave it in the car – my husband would have ‘seen food and eaten it’!!! I took it with me, but later found out it is rude to eat while you are walking in Samoa! So I hid it under my fan (lucky you can’t go out on the street without a fan to keep you cool) and kept walking …”

Many mis-communications come from people who just don’t realise how their words and actions appear to others around them. Sometimes, I have described this to my husband as him “walking around with his blinkers on”. Other times, I have joked it away with friends as him being a “man on a mission”. They have either learnt to accept his intensity, or been driven away by it.

I am a little intense too – I am always challenged by what I could have done. Many times through life I seem to have missed opportunities – sometimes because I was too early for them, before others were ready to listen. I was in the right place, but at the wrong time! This young girl may have smothered her need to achieve by smoking weed – I have taken to cryptic puzzles lately, just to keep my mind active, while I flounder about thinking which way to go next!

Sharing online – just another way to look at life.

Update : Sonia Dabboussi gives another view of this in her blog:

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How to be alone … and enjoy it

Just a snippet here as I start to get myself out of the last two months of online ‘alone-ness’ – endured while I packed up myself, my house and all my worldly goods, to immigrate to the lovely South Pacific ‘tropical paradise’ of Samoa. You can read about my experiences on my Facebook page – Debbie-Adele Smith.

I watched a video on You Tube entitled simply, How To Be Alone. It was an acted out version of a beautiful poem that would definitely give power to an introvert. Some people would like to be alone, but seem to be pressured by society to be more social. We need to teach our students, the introverted gifted, especially, that it is okay to be alone.

I especially liked a comment made about this video, and ‘liked’ by many more –

“Don’t look at being alone as the absence of other people, but the presence of yourself.”

This really does look at ‘alone-ness’ from another point of view… online.

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“Find Your Great Work” Movie – by Michael Bungay Stanier

Following on from yesterday, watch this Find Your Great Work Movie – by Michael Bungay Stanier. Michael challenges us with five ways to find our great work:

  1. Things only get really interesting when you take full responsibility for the choices you make.
  2. Changing your focus changes what is possible.
  3. You must make the full choice – what to say “yes” to, and what to say “no” to.
  4. If everyone’s happy then you are not doing great work.
  5. If you’re doing it yourself, you are not doing great work – will you open the door to others?

Great work will make a difference to others. Sometimes we can be so wrapped up in what we want to do, we forget about our impact on others. Being empathic takes you out of the zone of self-fulfilment to ‘other centred’-fulfilment. As teachers, we need to look at our students to see that they are truly learning, before we accept any praise for ourselves. Unless they are truly learning, we are not truly teachers. Are we?

Just a thought to ponder online, as you prepare for the variety of students in your class this year!

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The 5.75 Questions You’ve Been Avoiding – by Michael Bungay Stanier

This got me thinking – it was just an interlude that started to challenge my ‘procrastinating’ personality. Watch the short video – The 5.75 Questions You’ve Been Avoiding – by Michael Bungay Stanier and ask yourself if the .75 question is numbered correctly! Is it only worth .75, or should it really have been entitled the “5 and 100 questions”?

1. What’s going well for you?
2. What are you trying to ignore?
3. What’s BORING you?
4. How do you want to be remembered?
5. Who do you love?
So…what next?   Make the change.

Just a questionable few thoughts … online

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Prisoners Of Time

Sometimes, when you read something, you can believe it is just what people need to hear – until you look at the date and you wonder – Haven’t they heard this already?

This happened to me during my Christmas reading, when I chanced upon a report “Prisoners of Time”, first published in the United States in April 1994 as the Report of the National Education Commission on Time and Learning. The Education Commission of the States reprinted it in the Education Reform Reprint Series in October 2005, noting that the series’ aim was

“to confront, once again, education policymakers and the body politic with out-of-print critiques of American education that are as relevant today as they were at the time of their original publication” (p. 1).

May I add, today, in 2011,  nearly six years on, many aspects are still the same around the ‘worlds of education’.

“The problem with our schools is not that they are not what they used to be, but that they are [emphasis added] what they used to be.” In terms of time, our schools are unchanged despite a transformation in the world around them.” (p20)

What particularly caught my eye at the time was the title – “Prisoners of Time” – as it was a great description of what happens to many of our gifted students who get trapped in an annual, age-bound school system.

Second thing I liked, was the coloured illustrations to liven up the report – and really kept me reading it (visual person that I am!!). It seemed to me that it doesn’t take much extra effort to make something stand out, but it can make a huge difference on the impact.

Our gifted kids don’t need a completely new curriculum, but they need a process that can make things different enough to capture their attention and keep them engaged. This doesn’t happen when you make them stay in their age appropriate classes for all lessons, or when you don’t give them the opportunity to really show you what they know, so as not to have to repeat things unnecessarily. Who wouldn’t get bored at school if that happened on a regular basis.

We have access to above-level testing of students, and to pre-test before topics are started. It should be happening with all students, built into a system of planning what will be appropriate for your class each year. And even if testing isn’t appropriate, there are many other ways to find out what will make a difference in these student’s learning. (Go to any Gifted Education website and read about “Differentiation”). Later in the report, recommendations explain …

“And because they progress through each standard at their own pace, students can graduate as early as age 14 – or as late as age 21.” (p39)

Now this might be American, but gifted students worldwide come up against these issues – still! Maybe if we read the articles and acted upon them when they first come out, or at least when they are reprinted for emphasis, we would start to make a change for all our kids, and not just the gifted.

Just a thought about reform … online!

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How can we empathise, if we have never known?

There have been many tragedies around the world in recent years – tsunamis, bombings, floods, droughts, eruptions and earthquakes. There is a tendency to hear, to sympathise, to help if we can, and then to “forget” and get on with our own lives. Here is a video of the Samoa that was left behind after the 2009 tsunami.

It still rings as sad for me today as when I saw the devastation, first-hand, on the south coast communities three months after it had happened. The burnt brown line was still evident on the hillsides at the level the water rose to. The sight of demolished homes – just the concrete floors left – and the absence of people along the coast, made you ask the question – Where are they now?

A drive up the roads inland to higher ground revealed communities completely relocated away from the danger zone. They had to start from scratch – rebuilding lives and homes. For some, they had to do this among the sadness that had gripped their lives as they mourned lost family members.

I don’t think we can really ever fully empathise unless we have been through something like this ourselves. I have visited these communities three times over the last year and some of the cars and homes are still where they were left after the water receded – up against a tree on the waterfront, or washed up inland to the foot on the cliff.

I watched in horror tonight as locals counted the number of cars that were swept past their second floor offices in the Toowoomba floods in Australia this week. They were not facing the bodies others had already experienced, so it was more a game to watch, than a reality they were living through. Unless you have been involved in it, you will probably forget all about it in a few weeks time.

I think this can be the same for some teachers who have never had a gifted child in their class before. It is something that they have never experienced so, in an effort to understand the differences, they try to reframe them into a perspective they do understand. Differences in focus are classified as unusual, or even deliberate misbehaviour. The intensity to which they hold their focus for topics they enjoy is compared to their flightiness in other subject areas, and they are immediately expected to have the same focus in all topics – I mean, “if you can do it one day, why can’t you do it another?”

When you have been a parent who has lived with the child 24/7 for at least five years before they start school, then you might have some understanding of how intense these little people can be. But parents are so often overlooked as a resource to help understand the gifted child. These children are different for all their lives (not just when it doesn’t suit your programme at school) so understanding them is essential for them to be accepted, where ever they are.

I am not saying the gifted shouldn’t learn to respect how their differences affect others in their school. This is a must, and just as important as us learning to understand them.

At the end of the video of the Samoan tragedy, you saw the Apia city grocer loading bulk food onto his truck to take straight out to the stricken areas. No guarantee of payment for any of it – but a man who empathised with what it would be like for the people, and acting accordingly.

To give children the best we can for them each year, it is up to us as teachers to really get to know them as early as possible in the year. Start by finding out who you will be having at the end of the previous year, when possible, and make a special effort for those who seemed to struggle for some reason in their previous year. Contact parents early if you find something not right in the new year. Ask them how they deal with any unusual behaviours at home – but be prepared to hear they don’t happen there. This can be completely true, because they are not amongst twenty or so other children competing for one adult’s time at home. But it could also be the opposite, and parents who may have suffered from similar difficulties themselves at school may be too embarrassed to admit it. You will need to approach these things with care and sensitivity to encourage an honest, open relationship.

When we have walked a mile in their shoes, we are much better able to comment constructively on changes that might help. Until then, we have to accept that parents have given us the responsibility of educating their child, and we must be as professional as we can.

Just another point worth thinking about … online.

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A Kid With Passion – All Grown Up!!

Passion excites people – and what could be more exciting than  breaking a world record for the Guinness Book of Records? Note from Self – My own daughter did this just last year when she was the 27th, I think, (and last) person to be slipped into a mini with the All Stars Cheerleaders from Auckland. At 22 (and only 50kgs) she was a welcome addition to the team, but it was not without difficulty that they squeezed her foot in as the front driver’s door was closed. She was left “crowd surfing” (on a calm day!!) the rest of the bodies, with her head somewhere near the back window!!

This next person I want to introduce you to is a record breaker extraordinaire! He’s been at it for over a decade. Look at Alistair Galpin’s next world attempt online, and  support his team as starts “Shaking History“, with proceeds towards the Auckland Down Syndrome Association Inc. I don’t want to even try to explain this – just click-through to the Shaking History website and see for yourself.

Count all the World Record’s he has been involved in breaking over the last decade. You might ask yourself – what would this kid have looked like as he went through school? When I finally meet him, I may just ask him this very question.

Just thinking … online.

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Refocusing Thinkersonline in 2011

This blog was born out of a desire to reach gifted students and their families and teachers in the “way” of the future – online. I believe that in a world of such fast pace now, we often don’t look behind the surface and ask the question, “What is really happening here? Is there something I have missed?”

This year, I am going to move this blog’s content beyond the “gifted” (although I remain passionate about their cause)  and focus on thinking ‘beyond the square’ to life in general. There will be some categories you can read that apply specifically to your cause. There will be other comments that talk about my walk through what I believe will be a very challenging, but most rewarding, year ahead.

I have just returned from Samoa where my husband has been working for over a year now trying to raise the online awareness of the 2009 tsunami-stricken “Pacific Paradise” to boost tourism numbers again after such a damaging wave of destruction! He has worked with the local village people to share his creative ideas to raise the ‘palangi-appeal’ of their local areas (read – what do European tourists expect?). Now, he has finally reached the ear of the Prime Minister, Tuila’epa, and 2011 looks a promising year for progress.

My husband is a creative-gifted man, with passion and intensity that often alienates him from others around him. It had been a challenge to learn to live with this, but hence my passion to help our gifted kids learn about themselves, and others to learn about them, too!

I want to start by introducing you to some projects that kids with passion have started around the world. Free the Children was started in 1995 by a 12 year old, Craig Kielburger, who visited India to see what child labour meant first-hand. Our gifted kids have the passion and intensity to do alot more than they are often given credit for in their early schooling years.

What might this boy have looked like as a 5 year old – just seven years earlier? Might he have been fidgety on the mat, quick to expect justice in the classroom, uninterested in mundane copying word activities? People who make a difference in the world can often be shunned because of their ‘differences’ by the very people who are in a position to positively effect a far greater outcome.

Parenting and teaching is a mighty responsible task – are we serving our kids respectfully? Just a thought … online.

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Merry Christmas

Well, unlike years gone by, I am up and away for a Christmas in the tropics (Auckland has given us a very humid 28C over the last couple of days just to prime me up) – 31C where I am going, and 100% humidity!

But, before I go, I need to share this great recap on how knowing your child’s IQ can help and hinder you. It comes from the Talent Igniter series and is based on policies in countries other than my home country of New Zealand, so I will add a note for my local colleagues here:

NB NZ colleagues The first bullet point in the list:

  • You should not go into the school and demand anything. Schools have absolutely no legal obligation to meet the learning needs of advanced learners.

IS NOT APPLICABLE in New Zealand. Our schools do have a mandate to provide an eduation that meets the gifted child’s learning needs written into the National Administration Guidelines.

However, I suggest, the manner in which you approach the school should not be “demand”, as their first sentence rightly says, but more enquire and work with the school to provide what is best. You may need to find a school that understands what that might just mean for your individual child, because in New Zealand, school boards are left with the responsibility to define ‘giftedness’ as their own community feels appropriate.

The following bullet points on the Talent Igniter series list, however, are good advice no matter what education system you are working in.

  • You should not go into the school waving the test results round and expect the school to believe they mean anything all that significant. Most educators do not believe IQs really mean much. They will likely point out that your child doesn’t do his work perfectly, that they have plenty of kids like yours, and that just because a child has a high IQ doesn’t mean she really understands all the material at higher levels. (I add – Not a helpful way to get anything done, anyway!)
  • You should expect to hear about how there isn’t any money for gifted learners even though what they need generally doesn’t actually cost any more money. Most schools generally already have everything a gifted young learner needs but they won’t allow the learner to go where what they are ready to learn is already being taught.
  • Don’t tell them your child is bored and needs more challenge. It’s simply offensive and counter productive.
  • Don’t assume or expect that (I add, ALL) the educators at  your child’s school have any specific training in the identification, instruction, or needs of gifted learners, what IQs are or what they mean. It is not part of the curriculum in (I add, MANY) schools of education.

I believe the Waikato Association of Gifted Children (in New Zealand) is looking at how to advocate for their children by asking about helpful advocacy ideas used by the other special needs organisations. They initially suggest you take an impartial ‘other’ with you who is knowledgable about what would help your child best. Seems to me like they are onto it down there. Good work!

Well, enjoy your Christmas break, being with your gifted kids, or without them, depending if you are an educator or a caregiver. And I mean that sincerely – some gifted kids are ‘lovable rogues’ and are often hard work. We all need a break to refresh and renew our passion to get on board with them again for an often ‘wild ride’.

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Notoriety comorbid with giftedness

With all the current discussion about Wikileaks, no matter how you view Julian Assange and his team, you have to credit them with some level of intelligence to be able to get their hands on the documents in the first place. And now, after falling out with his former partners, who are off setting up Open Leaks, it is revealed that this gifted guy became obsessed by his power, and started to alienate the very people who started the mission with him, to reveal truth that world powers were keeping hidden.

When gifted people use their high intellect for questionable deeds, they can do it expertly and gain much notoriety from it. These two go hand-in-hand. So we shouldn’t expect all our gifted students in our classrooms to be excellent scholars, because like all kids, some just enjoy the darker side of life. Or sometimes, it is the intensity with which they do things that draws them to extremes of behaviour.

Just as we have mentors (managers and coaches) that help our top sports people cope with the stresses that this level of play exposes them to, so do our gifted children need mentors that can help them be guided through the minefield of life that their high intellect will expose them to. But, somehow, the sports community seem to accept they need a coach to make the best use of their skill moreso than the gifted academic.

It is no wonder we find gifted young adults going off the rails because they haven’t learned to cope with their giftedness early enough in life. They fall into their own trap of thinking they are invincible, and when they combine this invincibility with their creativity, they can become very misunderstood people. Their passion to achieve a good cause can sometimes tip the balance to a point where notoriety becomes the focal point.

Tip for the day: Look behind the behaviour, to the motivation, to see what is really going on. Give some of your gifted kids the leeway they need, just like we give our rugby players 10 minutes in the ‘sin bin’ when they goof up in a game!

Latest Update: I jut took my grandson to see “Megamind” – and it had just the same storyline as this post! Gifted ‘kids’ using their intellect for ‘evil’ or ‘good’ – or both! Maybe director Tom McGrath knows a bit about these kids, too!

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Bursting the “Bubble Dome”

I have just been drawn back to the amazing work of the team at “Bubble Dome” – a NZ-based company started by Rebecca Merle, with whom I had the pleasure of working with some years back. I can truly say “WOW” – these guys are really getting themselves out there, providing great holiday, after-school, and in-class workshops for students (and teachers) to use their personal creativity and learn with some great ICT tools as well.

Not just in New Zealand now, they have venues in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane as well. In fact, if you are in quick, you may be able to still sign up for some of the courses running prior to Christmas, and in January next year.

If your children have a passion for animation, movie-making, architecture, fashion design, science, robotics, or writing (among others), check their courses out now. The kids that go often say it is the highlight of their holidays. Let them break out of the traditional learning bubble and be wowed by the possibilities of learning with Bubble Dome.

Fabulous work, Bubble Dome Team.

And, NO, this is NOT a paid presentation as you get hounded by on tv!

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Free Online Tutoring

I have just had my attention drawn to these two wonderfully simple sites providing some great video tutoring in maths and science, among other topics, either as a supplement for studying school topics, or as a resource for home schoolers. Brightstorm and Khan Academy. Aimed at junior high school/high school, but obviously really great for gifted students who just want more!

Or in Bill Gates’ case, he just wanted to help his son with some homework and needed some revision too!! Sounds like me!

In the Kahn Academy’s case, just choose as much or as little as you like from over 1800 short videos with written instructions to follow on your screen as well.

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Informal Learning

I watched some videos by Jay Cross and Peter Casebow recently on the value and extent of informal learning. “What is informal learning?” I hear some of you ask. The opposite of formal learning – surely?

Informal learning is not a stand and deliver type of transfer of knowledge. There has been much more informal learning taking place with the rapid uptake of social learning tools on the internet. (You know, the types of sites the school authorities want to ban you from using in school – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a myriad of others).

Jay made the point that “conversation is incredibly powerful to transfer learning” and I guess, by way of deduction, it can be the place where reflection “in action” can take place. Why wait until the end of the day when we are too busy to reflect on the experience?

Education can’t be linear anymore. We have information coming at us from all directions, so we need to navigate it carefully while we are amongst it. A great idea for your computer labs in schools must be to get rid of the individual computers and chairs and put 2-3 seater benches at the computers so you automatically have groups of students interacting and discussing what they are learning.

They concluded by saying “Social networks are vital for informal learning” and conversation is the most powerful network to bring people together. However, keeping in mind the Pareto Principle, we are funding 80% towards formal learning, but in fact, 80% of our learning takes place informally.

Have fun talking … and learning.

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Unproductive … I’ll say!

Some gifted students never really get anything of consequence done at school. They drift through the system seemingly unable to produce anything of quality. This should not deter you, their teacher, parent, or mentor, from searching for their potential.

Procrastination is the enemy of time – isn’t that what they say?

I have been putting off doing this post for far too long – does that tell you something?

The fact is – I can’t write about this topic with any authority, as I struggle with it continually. Starting something at the latest possible moment (or even later than that if I can put it off!!!!) somehow gives me the adrenalin boost I need to actually get going and get it done! And generally – I get it done well! And some!!!! And on time!!!!! (I take my commitments seriously).

I will add to this post as I think of ways to overcome the “thief”, if I get a round tuit!

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