Cash in on Learning: Inexpensive Field Trips to Engage and Enrich Gifted Students

Richard Cash EdD, FSP AuthorNow that the school year is well underway, you may be noticing that some of your brightest students are flying through the introductory information or reviews that are prominent in the early fall. In celebration of National Go on a Field Trip Month in October, I’d like to share with you a way to value the time of your gifted/advanced students when they have completed work ahead of schedule—or have compacted or tested out of material—by sending them on “field trips” to enrich their learning.

Traditionally, a field trip is an off-school-site adventure that the teacher organizes and most if not all students attend. Often, activities accompany the trip that may or may not be related to the curriculum. This kind of field trip is great for lots of reasons, and many Web sites can help you plan for a general field trip, such as:

However, not every field trip requires a bus, chaperones, and tickets for entry. I’d like to suggest a few twists to our ideas of field trips and show how they can be enhanced to stretch gifted/advanced learners.

Virtual Field Trips
One low-cost way to address your gifted/advanced learners’ needs is to construct “virtual” field trips in which any student can explore topics of interest. This is an extremely valuable way to connect the multiple interests of your gifted/advanced students as well as help them connect what they are learning each day to those interests. Here are a few excellent resources for virtual field trips:

Explore the dozens of virtual field trips at these sites, select ones that your students may be interested in, and bookmark them on a classroom computer or in a Google Document students can access. You may want to consider putting the trips into categories, such as:

texas-natural-bridge-caverns-crystal-calcite-structure public domain by  Yinan Chen wikimedia commons

Tour a cave in your area, or online, like this one in Texas.

  • The Arts
  • Nature
  • Problem Solving/Investigations
  • Sports

Make sure you have investigated the sites yourself to ensure student safety and that your Internet service can manage the bandwidth required by some of the sites. Also, check to make sure the sites are not blocked by your district’s server. Nothing is more frustrating to kids than having an interesting site marked only to find the district server walls off the site.

Next, have some form of an activity the student can do while on the field trip. It could be as simple as writing a letter to the teacher about what he or she did and saw on the trip, or something more complex like creating a Webquest or class presentation on what was learned on the trip.

Another idea is to have students construct their own virtual field trips for others to enjoy. Have the students review one of the sites above and use that as an example or template of how to create a trip for other students. This could be a great semester-long or year-long project for your advanced students. The platform is very learner-friendly for this purpose.

Local Field Trips
Consider taking a field trip around your local neighborhood. Focus students on connecting the school to local businesses, religious or community organizations, the people in the neighborhood, and so forth. To prepare students for this kind of a trip, have them write letters of introduction to select businesses, organizations, or neighbors around the school requesting a chance to stop by the business, organization, or front yard to meet on the day of the trip. This is a great way to let students see how the school is an integral part of the community and will give them a better sense of community pride.

377px-Milles_Godofpeace in Saint Paul City Hall by Ziggur wikimedia commons

The Indian God of Peace sculpture in the Saint Paul City Hall.

When I taught first grade, my students learned about the concept of community by seeing how all parts of the community interacted with each other. To help the children get a real feel for community, we took a field trip into downtown St. Paul, Minnesota. My school was located about a mile and a half out of the center of the city. It, like most schools, didn’t have a lot of money for field trips. So to lower the cost of the field trip, my teaching partners and I contacted the Metropolitan Transit Commission to arrange for a bus to pick us up at a specific time at a bus stop close to the school and drop us off at a bus stop downtown (the bus did not stop to pick up other riders along the route). Our students, many of whom had never ridden the city bus, got a chance to see how public transportation was a strong partner in the community.

Once downtown, we took a walking tour of important buildings (such as City Hall, police headquarters, and the courthouse), historical and significant buildings (such as museums, concert halls, and places of worship), and architecturally interesting buildings (such as skyscrapers in Art Deco, modern, and post-modern styles). Prior to the trip, we contacted the local tourist organization asking for materials we could use on our walking trip. Our students kept a journal of each of the locations and tried to connect how each of the sites worked together to make a strong community.

Extending a Field Trip
With local field trips for your whole class, you can have your gifted students do the preparation work. Don’t confuse this idea with having them do “more” work or the teacher’s work. What I’m suggesting here is that the gifted/advanced students take this as an opportunity to learn greater planning, organizing, financial, mathematical, and leadership skills. Have them consider the content of the trip and what would be interesting to most of the students and plan for it. Will it be all walking, or will you need transportation? What will the costs be for each student or for the school? How can you raise the money needed to go on the trip? Students can also organize chaperones to assist on the outing and get information to them about what is required before and during the trip.

Fort_Clatsop_OR_replica_2007 creative commons by GSWilliams wikimedia commons

Find local historic sites, like Fort Clatsop in Oregon on the Lewis and Clark Trail.

Finally, let the gifted/advanced students be the trip leaders. Divide all the other students into small teams, each with a leader interpreting for the group. The interpreter highlights the location, sharing historical facts and points of interest or significance. As with any student-directed project, the teacher must provide oversight to ensure safety of all students and educational value.

After a trip like this, have the gifted/advanced learners reflect on what they learned about their planning, organizing, and leading. Other students in the class can reflect on what information they learned on the trip that they found to be the most interesting.

Field trips have a significant effect on enhancing all students’ learning. For gifted/advanced students, they can do even more by expanding their knowledge base and increasing their management and leadership skills.

Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally. His most recent book is Differentiation for Gifted Learners, coauthored with Diane Heacox, Ed.D. He is also author of Advancing Differentiation: Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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Author Spotlight: Ron Shumsky, Psy.D., and Susan M. Islascox, M.A.

The staff at Free Spirit is privileged to work with many amazing authors. We will be sharing more author spotlights with you, and hope you enjoy learning about these writers who are dedicated to helping kids succeed. The following interview was recently published in our newsletter, Upbeat News.

SGSchoolSuccess1This month’s spotlight is on Ron Shumsky, Psy.D., and Susan M. Islascox, M.A., authors with Rob Bell, M.Ed., of The Survival Guide for School Success: Use Your Brain’s Built-In Apps to Sharpen Attention, Battle Boredom, and Build Mental Muscle. The premise of their book is simple: From struggling students to academic all-stars, everyone can do better in school. By developing executive functions, described as “mental apps,” we all can improve functions like focus and organization, which research proves are more valuable to school performance than intelligence or talent. Read on to meet these teachers and learn about how they came up with such a creative approach to academic achievement.

Q: How did the three of you team up? Tell us a little bit about your journey and decision to write The Survival Guide for School Success.



Ron: Susan and I had been trying to teach kids about attention for a very long time—using the tools available in our field, mainly centered on ADHD and so forth. This yielded paltry results, so we started taking a different approach—showing kids how attention actually works, and by extension, how to work it. This worked better, and we decided to write it up. At that point, we also brought Rob on board as illustrator and creative designer; creating images which enable the reader to see attention, rather than just read about it.


Susan Islascox

Susan: Ron asked me whether I was interested in teaming up for a six-month project to write a book about helping students use their attention better. Ten years later I think that the six-month period is finally over. As a teacher who helps struggling students with their academic work, I always pursue ways to assist them better navigate their school life. So, clarifying ways to teach how to use executive functions more efficiently was a fabulous opportunity for me. We approached the book from the perspective that everyone can work their attention better; people with a label of ADHD don’t have the corner on the market with needing strategies to manage their time or pay attention more efficiently. This process has certainly made me a better teacher.

Q: What sets this book apart from other books about learning to focus?

Ron: 1) It’s about attention and how it works (rather than ADHD and how it doesn’t). 2) It shows attention, rather than just talking about it. 3) It teaches kids how to operate attention better, rather than just telling them to do so (and blaming them when they don’t).

Susan: Finding more effective ways to help students understand how their minds work and use strategies to be more successful in life, has always appealed to me. That is just what we did in my classroom when we revised and fine-tuned our apps. Now, I love it when my students articulate how they plan to use the apps to make school life more manageable: how one student plans to use her Pizza Cutter app to break a big assignment into smaller tasks, how another student identifies what’s on his Video Screen app that highlights his reason to start an undesirable undertaking, how yet another student uses her Calendar app for fitting in all the tasks into a busy day.

Q: What was your favorite thing about school as a kid?

Susan: Miss Feyder’s second-grade book corner in Sioux City, Iowa, has a special spot in my heart. She gave us a challenge to see how many books we could read. That project sparked my curiosity, and my competitive spirit—I couldn’t get enough. Books became my avenue to explore new worlds, learn new information, and immerse myself in the stories of others. It propelled me to be a lifetime reader. It also helped that I received a chocolate rabbit at the end of the school year for reading so many books at ever higher reading levels.

Ron: Last day of school, graduation, getting it done and finished.

Q: What was your least favorite?

Ron: The stultifying boredom, particularly in middle and high school (elementary school was markedly less so, and by college and beyond I’d learned ways to deal with it). Indeed, this is a central part of our book; how to apply yourself and take on work that you have little or no interest in doing.

Q: What is your favorite thing about school now?

Susan: I enjoy meeting the new students in my class—each adds a new dimension to my understanding about what it means to learn. My favorite part is witnessing when students figure out what works best for them as learners. I especially like watching wide-eyed goofy ninth graders grow into more mature learners who, by their graduation time, already know themselves so much more than what any of us, teachers and parents, would have expected.

Q: And what do you like best about working with your students?

Susan: When students meet with academic success without sacrificing their spirits.

Q: What makes you a “Free Spirit”?

Susan: I love the opportunity to keep learning: living in Japan while teaching at an international school has been a fabulous experience. I see the American culture from a new perspective while learning from my host country’s treasures and warts. My family likes traveling, especially hiking in the nearby mountains and enjoying the local delicacies. Not owning a car during all of this time has enabled us to discover many corners of Japan by bicycle, train, and on foot. Also, I love cooking and baking for friends and relatives; I consider myself the reigning queen of Tokyo in the baking of runzas and jelly-filled muffins. And I definitely am one of the few who prepares yakisoba when I visit family in the Midwest of the United States.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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Guest Post: How Does the U.S. Constitution Affect the Lives of Teachers and Students?

By Judge Tom Jacobs, author of What Are My Rights? Q&A About Teens and the Law

Judge Tom Jacobs, Free Spirit Publishing AuthorOn September 17, 1787, thirty-nine delegates gathered in Philadelphia and signed a document establishing the basis of our government and way of life. The U.S. Constitution has endured for 227 years and remains a vital part of life in the United States in the 21st century.

What does this document mean to you? Does it affect your daily life as a teacher, and if so, how? Are educators bound by its provisions? How do the rights of students interplay with school officials?

The Constitution does not stand alone. It must be read together with its twenty-seven Amendments, which were ratified between 1789 and 1992. The first ten Amendments, referred to as the Bill of Rights, apply to everyone regardless of age.

Three of the Amendments play a significant role in education. The First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech and religion, freedom of the press and association, and a right to petition the government. In 1969, the Supreme Court held that teachers and students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate. Consequently, the First Amendment applies to teachers and students, and both enjoy the freedoms set forth therein as well as the responsibilities thereunder.

US bill of rights public domainThe Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. Educators are faced with new challenges due to technology and the advent of digital privacy. The courts are striving to catch up with technology while teachers deal with serious legal and privacy issues regularly. The Fifth Amendment provides teachers and students with due process and specific protections when involved with the criminal justice system as an adult or juvenile.

The freedoms guaranteed under these amendments are not absolute; there are limits depending on the circumstances. A balance must be struck between the rights of each student and the responsibility of a school to provide a safe learning environment for everyone on campus. Since the landmark 1969 Tinker decision, state and federal courts have considered thousands of cases brought by students and school administrators that have challenged school rules and policies.

The current status of school law and privacy rights can be gleaned from a few examples of recent cases. Discuss these issues with your students and see if they appreciate how the Constitution and Bill of Rights affect their lives.

  • In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that a search warrant is generally required before searching a cell phone taken from someone under arrest. The logic and reasoning of the Court may be applied to the school setting whereby teachers and principals need “reasonable suspicion” that a rule or law has been broken before searching a student’s cell phone.
  • “Reasonable suspicion” must also exist before a school official conducts a search of a student’s person or personal belongings (backpacks, purses, car, etc.).
  • Schools are prohibited from demanding a student’s password to social media accounts unless a danger to a person or property exists.
  • Cyberbullying by a student against a classmate or administrator may result in suspension, expulsion, or a referral to the police for prosecution. The First Amendment does not protect all speech. This applies to teacher-on-student bullying as well. What teachers text or write online, especially concerning their students, could result in disciplinary measures by the school and ultimately termination of their employment.
  • Some states authorize school officials to use corporal punishment as a disciplinary measure in controlling student behavior.
  • School dress codes are legal but must be enforced without discrimination. For example, a school that permits message buttons and T-shirts may ban wearing a symbol of the Confederate flag if, considering the climate on campus, it constitutes “fighting words” (incites an immediate physical response).
  • A school may refer a student and the parents to juvenile court when chronic truancy jeopardizes a student’s education.

Teachers and administrators can research these issues and how they’re addressed in their state by referring to the school district’s policy manual as well as by following protocol to obtain legal advice from the district’s lawyer.

As you can see, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights are living documents that we cherish and celebrate on September 17, 2014. They form the basis of our individual rights, and without them our world would be very different. Take a moment with your students to reflect on more than two centuries of struggle to preserve our way of life in the United States.

Thomas A. Jacobs, J.D., is the author of three Free Spirit books, including Teen Cyberbullying Investigated. He was an Arizona Assistant Attorney General from 1972–1985 where he practiced criminal and child welfare law. Teen Cyberbullying Investigated from Free Spirit PublishingHe was appointed to the Maricopa County Superior Court in 1985 where he served as a judge pro tem and commissioner in the juvenile and family courts until his retirement in 2008. He also taught juvenile law for ten years as an adjunct professor at the Arizona State University School of Social Work. He continues to write for teens, lawyers, and judges.

Visit Judge Jacobs’s website,, for free interactive educational tools that provide current information regarding laws, court decisions, and national news affecting teens. It’s the only site of its kind to provide legal questions and answers for teens and parents with the unique ability to interact with Judge Jacobs and other teens.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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Guest Post: Teach the Way They Learn

By Susan Winebrenner, author of Teaching Gifted Kids in Today’s Classroom

Winebrenner_FSP Author“If they are not learning the way we are teaching them, we must teach them the way they learn!”

This quote from Kenneth Dunn, a leader in the study of how kids learn, was a life changer for me. One thing I had trouble understanding as a classroom teacher was why kids kept demonstrating the same learning problems from year to year. Sometimes they struggled in spite of carefully constructed special education interventions. Sometimes they struggled in spite of coming from an upper-middle-class area where most families had stay-at-home moms, and where parents were extremely supportive of their kids’ success in education. And sometimes they struggled even though their families had other children who were extremely successful in school. What was the explanation?

Math instruciton public domain by USD DoD wikimedia commonsI believe it has to do with the way we are teaching them. A huge percentage of struggling students have visual and tactile-kinesthetic (T-K) preferred learning modalities. All babies are born this way. However, in order to “do school” successfully, a child’s brain must transition to comprehending learning tasks that are presented aurally. Traditional learning practices greatly rely on students being able to discriminate between isolated sounds (phonemic awareness and phonics), and success in those areas is much easier to attain by auditory learners.

Students whose lifelong preferences continue to be visual and T-K are also likely to struggle for another reason. Most formal school lessons appeal to the brain that thinks comfortably logically, analytically, and sequentially. Those thinking practices are much more intuitive for auditory learners. Therefore, students who can learn by listening—and who love teachers who talk and explain a lot—become successful in academic areas. Those who would be much better able to learn by way of experiences that incorporate lots of visuals—and that encourage students to move and “learn by doing”—tend to struggle.

Inquiry-based_learning_wikimedia creative commons by AmerasiaLike all students, advanced or gifted learners also have preferred learning modalities, though it might not always be obvious since many are competent learning through all types of learning experiences. Even so, they—just like all students—can be much more productive and cooperative if their styles are honored.

What almost all advanced learners prefer are learning opportunities that include these components:

  • Pre-assessment options that allow them to demonstrate the areas of the upcoming content they have already mastered
  • Very short instructional lessons and attention to the fact that they often learn new material after a brief introduction
  • Frequent opportunities to work independently—perhaps even most of the time—OR frequent opportunities to work with partners or groups of like-minded advanced learners
  • No extra-credit or busy work just because they finish ahead of others
  • In-school time to work on topics connected to their own personal and passionate ongoing interests

Whether or not you are using Common Core, it is relatively easy to structure independent study time for students to connect their areas of interest to the required standards. All these guidelines have one thing in common: they involve changing the way we teach to accommodate the way our students learn.

TeachingGiftedKidsinTodaysClassroomNOCDSusan Winebrenner is a full-time consultant in staff development. She presents workshops and seminars nationally and internationally, helping educators translate educational research into classroom practice. Specific information on all the techniques discussed in this post may be found in her books: Teaching Gifted Kids in Today’s Classroom, Teaching Kids with Learning Difficulties in Today’s Classroom, and The Cluster Grouping Handbook.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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Guest Post: Does Your Child Have the Emotional Vocabulary for School Success?

By Goldie Millar, Ph.D., and Lisa Berger, Ph.D., coauthors of F Is for Feelings

Goldie Millar, Ph.D.

Goldie Millar, Ph.D.

With school underway, it’s a good time to check in with your kids to make sure they have what they need to succeed this year.

Pencils? Check.
Notebooks? Check.
Backpack? Check.
Strategies for preventing meltdowns and outbursts?
Ways to cope with the emotional ups and downs school brings?
Ways to stand up to bullying?

Lisa Berger, Ph.D.

Lisa Berger, Ph.D.

Chances are, you might need to check off a few more items. Being ready for school involves more than backpacks filled with the right supplies. All children need help preparing for the social-emotional experiences school inevitably brings. Setting children up for success means giving them the tools to express themselves clearly and share what they need. Success includes dealing with peers, solving problems, and most importantly, advocating for themselves when things go wrong.

It’s never too early—or too late—to help your child develop these lifelong skills.

What Am I Feeling?
All children need support and encouragement to identify what they are feeling. Caring adults can help children develop their “feelings vocabulary.” For young children, introducing the feeling words mad, sad, scared, and happy can be a place to start. (c) Jodielee | Dreamstime.comAnchoring the feeling words in everyday experiences can help a child begin to understand what is happening for them emotionally. For example, kids who cry when faced with separation from their parent can be gently helped to understand that they are likely feeling scared, and that scared feelings are okay. As children get older, increasing their emotional vocabulary to include a wider range of human emotions will give them more ways to express their internal world, reduce frustration, and take active steps toward meeting their own emotional needs.

Friend or Foe?
As parents, we know our children are exposed to all kinds of people, friends and foes alike. Kids who have an emotional vocabulary to draw from when discussing their experiences will more easily navigate the peer world and reach out to supportive connections when needed. Kids who feel connected to peer supports will consequently find school a more comfortable place.

On the other end of the spectrum, bullying behavior is everywhere, and our children will encounter it no matter how hard we try to protect them. Children who are taught feeling words are better able to identify their emotional experiences and recognize how others are feeling. (c) Zurijeta  Dreamstime.comThis skill builds empathy and decreases the likelihood that a child will act out frustration and anger in bullying ways. And the ability to articulate their internal world will increase the likelihood that kids will speak up and seek support from caring adults when they are bullied. Overall, children who communicate their emotional needs and experiences to the adults in their lives are more likely to feel they can effectively navigate the social world.

What Is the Solution?
Children encounter all kinds of problems every day. Some are fairly benign, like “What clothes should I wear?” More challenging problems may be related to peer relationships: “Why was I not invited to the birthday party?” They may also stem from academic issues: “Reading is hard and I don’t want to do it.” Problem solving is a life skill that grows and remains important throughout our lives. We can help children develop their problem-solving ability by listening to them express what is happening in their lives without judging, blaming, or rushing to the rescue. In this way, we validate their feelings and help them identify problems. It is then possible to help break down the problem into smaller, more manageable parts. This way we support kids as they learn ways to solve or cope with their problems in order to move through them.

Speaking Up
Children are well-positioned for success when they have practice in identifying, naming, and expressing their feelings, as well as in using that emotional vocabulary in peer relationships to solve problems. As caring adults, we cannot be in the classroom, schoolyard, or playground every moment (although we might want to be). Children need to be able to advocate for themselves and express what they need. Self-advocacy skills are related to academic success, the quality of peer relationships, and overall life satisfaction. Teaching kids to talk about their feelings and advocate for themselves is a great way to help kids be ready for school.

Goldie Millar, Ph.D., is a clinical and school psychologist. F is for FeelingsSince earning her Ph.D. in counseling psychology from the University of Toronto in 2003, Goldie has worked with children in hospital, forensic, community, and educational settings.

Lisa Berger, Ph.D., is a clinical, counseling, and rehabilitation psychologist who works with adolescents and adults in a private practice. In 2003, Dr. Berger received her Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Toronto. She has practiced in hospitals, post-secondary institutions, and community-based settings. Lisa’s professional interests include emotional health and wellness, psychological trauma, and emotion-based therapy.

Drs. Millar and Berger are the coauthors of F Is for Feelings. They both live near Toronto.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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