Monthly Archives: May 2012

Spring 2012 Academy Highlights

Another successful session of our Academy classes has concluded, so we thought we would share a few photos and highlights from the Spring 2012 session.

In a new class this session, Biochemistry students learned about the chemistry of living organisms. Scientists Like Me II introduced students to even more influential scientists and their work. Returning favorites included Games & Theory – where students explored the math, economics, and social science behind games from tic-tac-toe to chess – and General Chemistry.

Games & Theory Class

The Games & Theory class taking a moment from their games to smile for the camera

Chemistry III: Biochemistry students

A couple of smiling faces from the Chemistry III: Biochemistry class

General Chemistry students

Chemistry I: General Chemistry students gather around an experiment

All of these courses – along with other challenging and hands-on courses like Rocket to Calculus, Astronomy, and Playwriting– will be offered over the summer!

Academy provides young students working at the 2nd-8th grade levels with challenging enrichment classes that focus on exploration and application of knowledge. The two Summer 2012 sessions will run from June 18 to July 6 and July 16 to August 2. Register today!

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The Many Faces of Gifted: Garrett (Part II)

By Carole Rosner

Every gifted child has a unique story. The following story is part of a series of posts highlighting gifted children and adults we have found through IEA programs, depicting the many faces of gifted.

Last week, we shared Part I of a story about Garrett Marcotte, an Apprenticeship alumnus who is now working as a software engineer at Facebook.


Garrett Marcotte
IEA Apprentice at Avery Research Center in 2004
Software engineer, Facebook

In 2004, Garrett was a high school sophomore who had just finished – and enjoyed – AP Chemistry and was interested in applying what he had learned in class to a real work environment. The IEA Apprenticeship at Avery Research Center gave him a taste of what life is like in an actual chemical research lab, and “the residency at Caltech, the chance to meet other students with similar interests, and the opportunity for one-on-one mentorship were added bonuses that made the program a great fit.”

Garrett worked at Avery on a project in optical spectroscopy, the study of how light interacts with physical objects. He was assigned to devise a test method for the thin plastic film Avery developed that was able to change its opacity in response to an electrical current. Garrett explained:

We wanted to evaluate the effectiveness of the ‘transparent’ and ‘opaque’ states. Was ‘transparent’ actually see-through, or was it slightly blurry? Did ‘opaque’ still let some light through? Did it distort the images behind the film? Were the properties uniform across the surface of the film or did they vary from point to point? Did the properties stay constant with repeated switching, or were there changes from use? Most importantly, we wanted to attach numbers to each of these qualitative questions so that we could compare and rank different formulations for the film.

The test process I developed involved first photographing an image with and without the film, and then uploading that image to a computer to be analyzed. The bulk of my time was spent writing the code for the algorithms that analyzed the images. I had to devise the exact details of the metrics we wanted to measure, get the program running to compute them, and then calibrate my results against baseline measures we could get with other equipment in the lab. Then I had to streamline the process so it could be done quickly for dozens of samples, and have all the data presented neatly for comparison. It was a tall order for a sophomore with limited exposure to calculus, programming, image processing, and a number of other fields that could have made my life much easier. But because of the challenge, every success was all the more fulfilling, and I worked down to the final day to have a finished product I could genuinely be proud of.

As for working in an adult environment at such an early age, Garrett said that the resources available at Avery Research Center were amazing:

There was a moment in the first few days when I realized that not only did the equipment in the lab cost more than my house and everything in it, but I had free reign to use any of it, and if I needed help, a trained specialist was close at hand to point me in the right direction. That confluence of high tech and specialized knowledge is rarely seen even in the best funded of research universities, and seeing the possibilities at Avery was one of many experiences that led me away from academia and into a career in industry.

After that summer experience, Garrett approached his high school studies with a different perspective. He was better able to filter the lessons through the lens of practical application.

“Today I could redo my project in a few days better than I did in six weeks at Avery. But there’s no question that those hours of effort pushed me to where I am today.”

To see where Garrett is today, read Part I of this story.

IEA’s Apprenticeship Program – mentioned in this story – links gifted high school students from across the country with mentors who advance each participant’s skills through the application of knowledge and exposure to real world experiences. If Garrett’s experience sounds like something you would enjoy, apply for our Apprenticeship Program today!

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The Many Faces of Gifted: Garrett (Part I)

By Carole Rosner

Every gifted child has a unique story. The following story is part of a series of posts highlighting gifted children and adults we have found through IEA programs, depicting the many faces of gifted. IEA’s Apprenticeship Program – mentioned in this story – links gifted high school students from across the country with mentors who advance each participant’s skills through the application of knowledge and exposure to real world experiences.


Garrett Marcotte
IEA Apprentice at Avery Research Center in 2004
Software engineer, Facebook

“Just go for it, because the earlier you gain experience, the greater the benefits you’ll reap from that experience later on. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone, and never be discouraged by failure. Learn from it and do better next time, because you will improve.” – Garrett Marcotte

As a high school sophomore, Garrett participated in IEA’s Apprenticeship Program, working with Avery Research Center. Today, Garrett is a software engineer at Facebook, designing and writing the code that makes the popular social networking service work.

After high school, Garrett attended Princeton University and graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Science and Engineering degree in Electrical Engineering and minors in Computer Science and Robotics. While at Princeton, Garrett took every class he could in all subject areas because he “didn’t want to miss out on any of it.”

Garrett has worked in a variety of jobs, including internships at JPL and Google, a research position at USC, and as a teacher’s assistant and grader at Princeton. He also spent a summer trying (unsuccessfully) to launch an internet start-up company.

Garrett has been at Facebook for about 18 months and enjoys the work very much. He hopes to get involved again in a start-up company someday. “I’m particularly interested in applying technology to education, politics, non-profits, and global issues, so I could easily see myself doing something in that area. But there’s so much exciting innovation going on all around me every day that I’m really just trying to keep pace with all the opportunities and go wherever I can have the most impact and really make a difference in the world.”

Although a Facebook IPO is looming, Garrett focuses on the task at hand:

What really attracted me to Facebook was the opportunity to touch the lives of hundreds of millions of people on a daily basis, to contribute to a product that has changed the world, from the individual level of reconnecting friends and families up to the international level of helping millions organize for a common cause. In the Silicon Valley tech world there’s a strong belief that if you build a great product then you will be rewarded accordingly. Facebook is no exception, so the focus of all the employees that I know, from Mark Zuckerberg on down, is the same as it’s always been: to make Facebook the best that we possibly can and a real force for good in the world.

Garrett credits the Apprenticeship Program with giving him a huge jump start on his life path in several ways:

First, it helped me evaluate my interests. The fact that I signed up for a chemistry program but ended up spending most of time programming and working with electronics made it pretty clear where my real passion lay. And it was due to the diversity of projects available and freedom in selecting a project that I was able to reach that realization. Second, the program was a stepping-stone to future opportunities. The experience of owning a project, driving an end-to-end solution, and working within all the constraints of a real-world environment formed a central part of my college applications and job interviews for several years after the program. Finally, I jumped several years ahead of the curve in the field of signal processing, and in particular the most important software program in that field, Matlab. Most of my peers had no exposure to either of these until college, and because of that I was prepared for higher level courses and more advanced opportunities at a younger age. For example, I’m certain that I would not have been able to intern at JPL right out of high school if it hadn’t been for the skills I picked up during the Apprenticeship Program.

Although Garrett doesn’t see the other Apprentices on a regular basis, their paths have crossed a few times. “The shared experience of the Apprenticeship program really is a common bond that ties us together even after several years.”

For more about Garrett’s Apprenticeship at Avery Research Center, read Part II

There are still spots available for our Apprenticeship Program in Los Angeles and San Diego. Apply today!

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Too Fast, Too Slow, Just Right – Acceleration for the Gifted Child

By Elizabeth Jones

Kyle started to read when he was two. He carried the first Harry Potter book with him to preschool and proceeded to finish the book in a week. His preschool teacher told his parents that he needed to skip kindergarten, but the school district said it was against policy and that he should start kindergarten with his age peers. Kyle started to cry every morning and would try to negotiate ways to get out of going to school. He had few friends and was extremely emotionally intense. Reading was the only thing that made him happy. Knowing that something had to change, his parents pleaded with the district to do something. They worked with experts to assess their child and to learn coping mechanisms to help him deal with his intensity. Eventually the child was offered a grade skip, but the policy was not changed and the family was told not to discuss the issue.

In an ideal world, schools would identify and address the intellectual, creative and personal needs of all children. However, large class size, lack of funds, philosophical differences, inadequate teacher training, wide variety in student abilities and a myriad of other issues prevent this from being a reality.

Many gifted children only have the option of participating in advanced extracurricular programs. While a lifeline for highly able students, these classes are held after school and on weekends, which means students remain unchallenged during the traditional academic school day.

Research is clear on how to best meet the needs of gifted and highly gifted children in school, and it involves some form of academic acceleration. Acceleration is a program, service or administrative decision that shortens a student’s time in a course of study. Schools that offer services for gifted students are usually comfortable with subject area acceleration, curriculum telescoping and compacting. These forms of differentiation are good ways for students to remain engaged in learning.

Unfortunately, many parents are met with resistance when advocating for services for their bright young children. As experts in gifted education, we continually advocate for change to ensure that all bright, curious kids have a chance to be successful. Unfortunately, lasting effective change in our schools can take years, and these brilliant floundering students need challenging and enriched learning opportunities now.

Acceleration in the form of grade skipping is most common in early years of elementary school because it is often easier to determine basic mastery of content and skills. Research has demonstrated that, with solid planning, a grade skip is a positive solution to meeting the needs of highly able students.

Grade skipping

  • Requires limited financial resources
  • Positively impacts academic progress
  • Strongly improves social adjustment
  • Results in higher self esteem

Tom Southern and Eric Jones share that high ability students who are accelerated are actually more likely to make friends with students who have similar academic interests and are more socially mature.

study published in 2001 was conducted on 320 adults who were accelerated as highly gifted children 10 years earlier. The study found that more than 70% had no regrets about the experience. Of those that reported regret, 20% indicated they wish they had been accelerated more.

In our experience, the students who have the most satisfying experiences with acceleration are those who are performing well beyond their grade level peers, have an IQ score above 140 and have demonstrated frustration with the level and pace of instruction in the classroom. We have also noted that highly able students who are self-directed, excited and focused when presented with rigorous new challenges, have multiple interests and are somewhat socially mature do extremely well with grade skipping and advancement in single subjects.

Thoughts on what schools should do to accommodate the needs of highly able youth

  1. Develop policies to address acceleration, including
    1. Criteria for grade skip, subject area acceleration and telescoping
    2. Credit or placement based upon performance
  2. Train parents and teachers on forms of acceleration and strategies for success
  3. Offer advanced placement and honor classes to student in middle school and high school
  4. Provide information on early admission to college or dual placement

It is important to continually monitor the success of student progress academically, socially and emotionally. Kyle was accelerated again in third grade and entered junior high when he was ten. He participates in advanced enrichment classes, sports and music programs after school. For now it is a good balance. He is happy and is still interested in learning.

How does your child’s school respond to the need for acceleration? Please share your experiences with us in the comment section below!

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5 Definitions of Giftedness

By Jennifer Kennedy

You are told your child is gifted, but what does that really mean? There are many definitions of giftedness. None are universally agreed upon, but many share certain defining characteristics. Here are a few:

  1. Some definitions address the “asynchronous development” found in gifted kids. One such definition comes from the Columbus Group (1991):
    “Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.”
    This is the definition we use at IEA.
  2. Through the Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act – part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – the federal government currently defines gifted students as:
    “Students, children, or youth who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities.”
  3. In Gifted Children: Myths and Realities, Ellen Winner defines giftedness with these three atypical characteristics:
    • Precocity – “They begin to take the first steps in the mastery of some domain at an earlier-than-average age. They also make more rapid progress in this domain than do ordinary children, because learning in the domain comes easily to them.”
    • An insistence on marching to their own drummer – “Gifted children not only learn faster than average or even bright children but also learn in a quantitatively different way.”
    • A rage to master – “Gifted children are intrinsically motivated to make sense of the domain in which they show precocity.”
  4. The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) defines giftedness as the following:
    “Gifted individuals are those who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude (defined as an exceptional ability to reason and learn) or competence (documented performance or achievement in top 10% or rarer) in one or more domains. Domains include any structured area of activity with its own symbol system (e.g., mathematics, music, language) and/or set of sensorimotor skills (e.g., painting, dance, sports).”
  5. Most states also have their own definition of “gifted” for program and funding purposes. To see your state’s definition, look here: It is important to note that few districts differentiate between the different levels of giftedness. A child who scores in the 130 – 140 range on an IQ test is very different than the child who scores in the 150 – 180 range.

While no two definitions are the same, there are a few guiding principles which can help structure our thinking about giftedness.

  • Annemarie Roeper, who developed the Annemarie Roeper Model of Qualitative Assessment, helps bring together many of the different theories with her conception that “giftedness is a greater awareness, a greater sensitivity, and a greater ability to understand and transform perceptions into intellectual and emotional experiences.”
  • Some believe there are many areas of giftedness, not all of which are what we typically think of as intellectual. The following are six categories of giftedness to which experts and definitions often refer:
    1. General intellectual ability
    2. Specific academic ability
    3. Creative ability
    4. Leadership ability
    5. Visual and performing arts ability
    6. Psychomotor ability
  • While some define giftedness based on IQ score, IQ tests do not always tell the whole story, and identifying solely based on IQ tests can ignore many kids considered gifted by other criteria.
  • “Gifted” is not the only word that can be used to describe these incredibly bright and talented young people. (For an exploration of the various terms most often used, take a look at Stephanie Tolan’s post “What is in a Name?”) The word itself is not what is important. Neither, in many ways, is the definition. What is important is that we identify these highly able young people and help them reach their full intellectual and personal potential.
  • Gifted children, no matter how you define or identify them, have different educational needs than their age-peers. Their education needs to allow them to grow with their unique intellectual development.

Due to the variety of definitions in the field, it is often more effective to use specific descriptions of your child’s abilities and insights. This may make it easier for others to understand your child’s needs.

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