Teaching Students About Climate Change

By Garth Sundem, author of Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Character: Choices That Matter Around the World

Teaching Students About Climate ChangeSex. Drugs. Evolution. Cancer science. Climate change.

Climate change is one of those things: You just know that no matter how you teach it, you’re going to end up talking to parents. No matter how you slice it, this is less than awesome. But that doesn’t change the fact that you’ve been tasked with wading into the landscape of preconceived notions and intractable beliefs to help your students identify some version of the “truth” . . . whatever that may mean. Gird your loins, educator! It’s time to teach climate change.

And it’s funny: Just as Free Spirit Publishing reached out to me about writing this post on teaching climate change, my wife, a school psychologist, was teaching fifth graders about puberty at Mackintosh Academy, a gifted school in Boulder, Colorado. And, for my day job as a science writer for the University of Colorado Cancer Center, I had been chatting with cancer researchers about the challenge of working with patients who disbelieve Western medicine.

For example, yesterday I talked with Benjamin Brewer, Psy.D., director of Clinical Psychology Services for the Blood Cancer and Bone Marrow Transplant Program at the CU School of Medicine. It’s easy for most of us to think that we have a tough job . . . until we compare it to his.

“I’m kind of the guy that people on my team come find when a patient has a different worldview about medicine,” Brewer said diplomatically. (Don’t worry—this does come back around to teaching climate change!)

Brewer says a patient’s challenging beliefs tend to start with fear (“They can’t confront the authenticity that they have to go through this procedure,” he says) and lead to what he calls “Googling for beliefs”—searching for support for what they already believe.

Here’s an experiment you can try at home: Go to Google and type in the words “chemotherapy” and “poison.” Recently, the top result was an article titled “The Truth About Chemotherapy—Toxic Poison or Cancer Cure?” It had been viewed 40,000 times and shared on Facebook 12,000 times. And the takeaway was pretty clear. According to the article: “The truth is that chemo is toxic, carcinogenic (causes cancer), destroys erythrocytes (red blood cells), devastates the immune system, and destroys vital organs.”

In fact, of the first ten Google results, only one, from Cancer Research UK, could be seen as even remotely impartial. Other results included goodies like “Chemo is toxic poison. I used natural therapy to beat cancer” and “Chemo kills—the facts about chemotherapy and real cancer cures.”

“When you Google ‘chemotherapy is bad’ you end up on the chemotherapy is bad channel,” Brewer says. In other words, people who explore their beliefs online find support for their beliefs.

How does a patient know to believe a doctor instead of some guru on Tumblr? Brewer has thoughts on that, too: “I can tell them how accomplished a doctor is in his field, that he’s discovered cancer-causing molecules . . . and it’s surprising how completely ineffective that argument is.”

Instead, Brewer says, it’s “like a Chinese finger trap—you kind of go back a little bit to get out of it. If you keep pressing from the scientific view, people can shut down and go the other way quickly.”

The strategy Brewer uses is to “engage their curiosity.” In short, his tip borne of hundreds of hours of experience in literal life-and-death situations is that rather than teaching, he tries to meet patients where they are to explore their beliefs together. At the end of the day, he respects patients’ decisions and defends their decisions to the rest of his team as long as patients have made those decisions with clear eyes; you can choose to treat cancer with marijuana as long as you understand that all the real evidence says this is an exceptionally bad idea.

In this post about teaching climate change, the takeaway is that you can’t teach climate change. You have to explore climate change. The first rule of Fight Club is similar, but it turns out that you can at least talk about climate change . . . in some districts.

If you want to explore climate change with your students, let’s move from moderately relevant theory to practice. Check out this awesome lesson by my friend Kristi, Ph.D., who dictated the following to me:

“Take a small [reusable food container], about twelve inches by eight inches. Put in a block of sand or soil. Take warm water and put it in to represent a lake. Put plastic wrap on the top. Over the landform, you add an icepack, and you can watch the water cycle. That’s your control. Then you can do things like using one of those infrared thermometers to take the temperature of the lake or the temperature of the ice pack. Essentially, with climate change, you increase the temperature of the lake, and you watch the increased water cycle and the overall effect. The condensation happens quickly; the ice will melt. It’s amazing, when you make minor adjustments to the lake temperature, how big of an impact it makes on the water cycle in general in this closed ecosystem. Or you can also do a single ice cube and do a cold lake, a medium lake, and a hot lake. Everything is ramping up. You can watch. If you want to go totally crazy, you can plant simple grasses in the soil in your ecosystem—see if there’s an effect of having vegetation.”

I often have little idea what Kristi is saying. This can be not a good thing. On the other hand, it leaves room for interpretation and personalization of instructions. For example, what I hear is, “You should eat all of the Reese’s Easter eggs.”

Maybe I’m hearing what I am predisposed to hear. And that is the danger for your students. If you teach, they may hear only what they want to hear. But if you engage with them in the collaborative process of exploration, you may both discover new points of view. Let the objectivity of your experiments be the “truth.” And if these experiments result in the amalgam of peanut butter and chocolate, please consider sending them to me via Free Spirit Publishing.

Author Garth SundemGarth Sundem is a TED-Ed speaker and former contributor to the Science Channel. He blogs at GeekDad and PsychologyToday.com. He has been published in Scientific American, Huffington Post Science, Fast Company, Men’s Health, Esquire, The New York Times, Congressional Quarterly, and Publishers Weekly. Garth grew up on Bainbridge Island, Washington, and currently lives in Boulder, Colorado, with his wife, two kids, and a pack of Labradors.

Free Spirit books by Garth Sundem:

Real Kids, Real Stories, Real ChangeReal Kids, Real Stories, Real Character


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11 Ways to Green Your Classroom

By Liz Bergren

11 Ways to Green Your ClassroomMost of us are aware of the urgent need to create a more sustainable environment. Climate change is on our minds and is a current source of political debate. According to the EPA, the temperature of Earth has risen 1.5 degrees over the past 100 years. It projects that the Earth’s temperature will rise another 0.5 to 8.6 degrees in the next 100 years. We have seen changes in our weather, such as excessive rainfall, droughts, and heat waves, and impacts on animal behavior.

Teaching kids the importance of reducing their carbon footprints is essential for the health of our planet. As fall approaches and you get ready to start a fresh school year, consider the following strategies for a “greener” classroom and school.

1. Get kids competing.
Kids love competition, so consider turning recycling into a contest. See who can recycle the most excess paper after a project. Have kids inventory what they recycle at home or which parts of their home lives they consider to be “green.” Tally up totals and offer a prize for the biggest recyclers. Turn recycling into a grade-wide competition by putting bins in the hall to see which class can collect the most paper or other recyclable products.

2. Bring in a local professional.
Find someone in your area who is responsible for recycling, waste reduction, or reusing materials and invite that person to speak to your class about ways to “green” your classroom.

3. Look to nature for art supplies.
There are so many colors in nature! We can use them for dyes for homemade playdough or even to make paint. A great class project could include students researching colors in nature and bringing those sources to class. Potential items for natural dyes include beets, mustard seeds, turmeric, and spirulina. Discuss the potential harm that toxins from traditional art supplies could do to the environment.

4. Have a taste-testing day.
When I was a teacher, I used to have my students explore how chemicals used as herbicides and pesticides on our food can impact our health and the environment. We would discuss the differences between conventional farming and organic farming and sample produce from both. I’d assign each of my students a different fruit and give them the task of tracking down one piece of conventional fruit and one piece of organic fruit. Then we’d cut up the fruit and discuss the differences in texture and taste. Anything to eat is always a big hit in the classroom. Obviously, there are some constraints to this project, as it requires money, and allergies are always important to consider.

5. See who can make something out of recycled or discarded materials.
Look to discarded fabric or old clothes for sewing projects or collages. Use old eyeglasses, string, or beads to make jewelry. Reclaimed wood or other surfaces can be a canvas for paint.

6. Bring living things into the classroom.
If you bring in a plant, then students can have the experience of caring for something. Have them take turns watering and pruning. If possible, have a class pet, perhaps a lizard or a fish. Students will be able to monitor the animal’s environment and understand what it needs to be healthy and comfortable.

7. Choose eco-friendly pens and pencils.
If you do a little searching, there are many places where you can order pencils and pens made from different recycled products. Making these available to your students can spark conversations about how so many things can be recycled and turned into completely different products. Check out theultimategreenstore.com or ask about recycled school supplies at your local office supply store.

8. Designate rules for paper use.
Create a lesson that explains how paper is produced and how overconsumption of paper takes away from our forests. Have students create a class plan for reducing paper consumption.

9. Use hand towels instead of paper towels.
One way to reduce the use of paper towels in the classroom is to have students bring in their own hand towels to use for handwashing. This is easiest if you have a sink in the classroom, or students can simply take their towels with them to the bathroom for washing before lunch. Have students bring their hand towels home for washing once a week.

10. Encourage students to join networks or organize school campaigns.
Share with your students local organizations that work to keep your area clean. Arrange a walking field trip to pick up trash around your school. Have your students brainstorm ways to get the whole school or grade involved in the reduction of litter or water use or in the overall protection of the environment.

11. Model environmentally healthy practices.
Go paperless as much as you can, which isn’t too hard anymore. Use digital presentations to avoid the use of paper for homework. Assign online homework if your students have access to digital devices. Bring a reusable cup or bottle to class instead of plastic water bottles or coffee cups. Reuse paper for passes or thank-you notes. Encourage healthy practices for your students and find teachable moments to help the environment.

Liz BergrenLiz Bergren is Free Spirit’s education resource specialist. She is a former teacher with 15 years of classroom experience. In addition to being a teacher, she spent five years working for Park Nicollet’s Melrose Institute where she counseled and taught classes to patients who struggled with eating disorders. She has a B.A. in health and secondary education from the University of St. Thomas and an M.Ed. in family education from the University of Minnesota.


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Earth Day Activities for Elementary School Students

Earth Day Activities for Elementary School StudentsBy Andrew Hawk

It seems that with each passing year, people everywhere are getting a little greener. This trend needs to continue in order to ensure a clean and vibrant planet for the generations to come. With Earth Day almost here again, teachers can help raise students’ awareness of how they can help take care of the third planet. Here are some activities that I hope you will try this Earth Day.

Plant Something
Planting something is perhaps the original Earth Day activity. When I was in elementary school, pine tree seedlings were distributed annually on Earth Day. After several years, my parents’ backyard began to resemble a pine tree farm. Planting something on Earth Day is still a good idea; it just needs teachers to make it a little more exciting. Teachers could bring in pots and have students plant flowers to be sent home for Mother’s Day. Science teachers could incorporate the age-old activity of growing lima beans in transparent cups with sponges. These could be started on Earth Day and transferred to the ground later. Many schools have started their own gardens—another great way to celebrate Earth Day.

Make “I Pledge” Sheets
Work with your students to make “I Pledge” sheets, and then let them get adults they know to sign the pledges. Common pledges that benefit the environment include to stop buying bottled water, to stop using coffee pods, and to start using reusable grocery bags. Change is difficult for some people. This being so, you should let the adults choose the number of days they are willing to pledge. Even if people pledge to do something only on Earth Day, it is a start.

Make and Pass Out Flyers
A great way to integrate writing and spread awareness about the environment is to work with your class to produce an Earth Day flyer. These flyers could focus on things people can do to help the Earth or even on something about the history of Earth Day itself. Copy the flyers and pass them out, too!

Research What Other Countries Do
A couple years ago, I had a student who had lived in Germany while her father was stationed there. I was surprised at several things she told me. One example was that in Germany the police regularly check trash cans that are waiting to be picked up by trash collectors. Citizens in Germany are ticketed if the police find recyclable materials in their trash cans. You can integrate social studies into your Earth Day celebrations by having your class research what other countries are doing to save the planet.

Interview Past Generations
Never underestimate how much students can learn from talking to people from past generations. As any grandparent or great-grandparent will tell you, the world has changed a lot in the past several decades. Work with your class to develop a list of interview questions that focus on the environment and the use of electronic devices. After they conduct the interviews, have your students share what they learned with the entire class.

Proposal PageDo Service Projects
What exactly takes place will depend on the grade level of your students. However, even kindergartners can walk around the school grounds and pick up litter. If you have the resources to do something in the community, that is great too. Students can benefit in several ways from helping improve their town or city. They feel a sense of satisfaction when they make the world a better place. Complete some research in your area and pick an environment-centered project to complete with your students. Bonus! Download “How to Create a Proposal,” a free printable page from The Kid’s Guide to Service Projects: Over 500 Service Ideas for Young People Who Want to Make a Difference. Upper elementary students can suggest project ideas and learn to write a formal proposal using these simple steps.

Reconnect with Nature
Plan an outdoor field trip to a nature spot in your area. In many cases, children are trending away from spending time outside away from and without their electronics. A great outdoor field trip may be just the ticket to help students learn the joys of unplugging. If you can’t take a field trip, talk to students about things they can do outdoors after school.

Hold a Fund-Raiser to Save the Rain Forests
On websites such as www.rainforesttrust.org, an acre of rain forest can be purchased for as little as $10. Celebrate Earth Day by holding a fund-raiser to raise money to purchase acres of rain forest and help stop deforestation. Students will be proud to know they have taken part in an activity that will have a long-lasting, positive impact on the environment.

Calculate Your Class’s Carbon Footprint
The term carbon footprint has become a popular buzzword in recent years as scientists around the world are working to raise awareness about global climate change. Take a few minutes in your science lesson to teach your class about carbon footprints. It’s difficult to calculate carbon footprints by hand, but a quick internet search will provide you with several choices for online carbon footprint calculators.

Explore the World’s Receding Glaciers
Many people do not realize how fast the world’s remaining glaciers are melting. A person can visit various parks, such as Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska, to see glaciers in person—and to see how fast glaciers are disappearing. While this isn’t possible for most classrooms, you can plan a webquest, for example, through the National Park Service website, and take your students on a virtual field trip to see the current and past condition of Earth’s glaciers.

Andrew HawkAndrew Hawk has worked in public education for fourteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grade as a classroom teacher, and for the past three years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.


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.


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2017 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

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10 Lessons from Gifted Education

10 Lessons from Gifted EducationBy Richard M. Cash, Ed.D.
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.

With the movie Gifted coming out everywhere next week, we’re republishing Richard Cash’s insightful lessons on gifted education that were originally published in 2012. In the comments, share your own lessons you’ve learned from working with—or caring for—gifted, talented, or creative kids.

I’ve never met a teacher who went into education thinking, “I’m going to teach gifted kids!” When I started teaching, I fell into the field of gifted education purely by happenstance. My first degree was in theater, so I had to find a job that could afford me the pleasure of being in front of an audience and creating characters every day. What better way to have a captive audience than by being a teacher.

During the job application process, I was encouraged to apply at a “gifted and talented” school because I had a talent focus (theater). Long story short, I was hired at J.J. Hill Magnet School for Gifted Children in St. Paul, Minnesota. Over the next ten years, I taught sixth- and first-grade gifted students. During that time, I learned a lot of lessons about how to work with gifted kids. Here are ten of those lessons.

Lesson One: Gifted students are kids first
Gifted kids can come off sounding like little adults. They possess a great deal of knowledge about many topics, use sophisticated language for their age, and may often prefer older friends, sometimes adults. These characteristics can confuse teachers into thinking that gifted kids also possess the sophisticated emotional levels of adults. The most important lesson I learned about working with gifted kids is that I can’t focus only on their intellectual abilities; I also have to focus on them being kids first.

Many times, gifted kids’ emotional development will be right on target with their chronological age, which may seem to contradict their intelligence level. In some cases kids may be asynchronous, where their emotional level is not at age level, which can be stressful for them and those around them. This asynchronicity (when emotional level does not equal intellectual level) can be difficult for gifted children to handle or comprehend. Therefore, as one of the adults in their lives, I had to constantly keep in mind their development as children. I still needed to nurture them, assist in their emotional development, and offer an approach to learning that included a sense of wonder and play.

Lesson Two: I will never be smarter than my gifted students
It’s true; gifted kids know a lot. Whether they are holistically gifted (in most if not all subject areas) or targeted gifted (very advanced in a single or dual content area), I had to let go of the need to know more than my students. Gifted students characteristically gain a lot of factual and procedural knowledge rapidly and can regenerate/regurgitate that information like wizards on Jeopardy or in Trivial Pursuit. Life is more than Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit, though. Life is about using the facts and procedures effectively to solve real, complex problems.

Having that understanding, I then changed my position in the classroom from the “sage on the stage” (I told you I was a theater person) to more of a “guide on the side.” I had to step into a different role with my students. I had to admit to students that I didn’t know everything in a content area and that my job was to guide them toward finding answers to meaningful questions they had about the topics. This adjustment in the way I thought ultimately made me a much better teacher. I became students’ learning facilitator, not their font of knowledge. I helped them develop greater sophistication in their knowledge. They also acquired more complex thinking strategies because they had to solve problems where one right answer (the regeneration/regurgitation reflex) wasn’t effective. I learned that I may not have been smarter than my gifted students, but I was wiser.

Lesson Three: There is a difference between being gifted and being talented
Previously I suggested that gifted kids can either be holistically or targeted gifted. Well, there is more to this thing called giftedness than just those two descriptors. After teaching gifted kids for a couple of years, I decided to work on my master’s degree in curriculum and instruction with a focus on gifted education. During that time, I learned a lot about the conceptual nature of giftedness through such luminaries as Feldhusen, Ford, Gagné, Kaplan, Renzulli, Rogers, and Sternberg, to name a few. Each of the experts had a little different perspective on the terms gifted and talented, but all were focused on the highest achieving (or likely to be achieving) students. It took me a very long time to wrap my head around what it meant to me as a classroom teacher, because we used the terms so interchangeably. After working with so many students, I finally grasped my own meaning of these kids we call “gifted” and “talented.”

To me, gifted students are those with very high IQs or other performance/ability measures that document their extreme cognitive differences. Talented students are those who enjoy or are passionate about a subject area, work hard at learning it, and are consistently at or near the top of the class. Other general differences are:

  • Gifted students have significant documentation of cognitive extremes, whereas talented students show their achievement during the learning process.
  • Gifted students may not always be your most compliant students, whereas talented students are often “teacher pleasers” and play school well.
  • Gifted students can be obnoxious/difficult/quirky/socially maladjusted/stubborn/independent, whereas talented students don’t often rock the boat during class and are amenable during instruction.
  • Gifted kids often don’t know how to work hard—largely because they never needed to, thus not learning how to—whereas talented students work hard because they have learned how to from the very early years.
  • Gifted students’ abilities come from an indescribable place (some might suggest it is innate to the individual) very early in their lives, whereas talented students develop their prowess over time and their talent may not be fully developed until later in life.
  • Gifted students ask questions that may not be easy to answer, whereas talented students answer questions posed by others.
  • Gifted students may also be “holistically gifted” (having strong abilities in the core academic areas of reading and math), whereas talented students are most likely to be strong in one or two areas, either academically or in the performing arts, sports, leadership, and so forth.

Lesson Four: Not all gifted kids are creative and not all creative kids are gifted
Similar to lesson three, I needed to unpack and define the differences between a gifted student and a creative student. When I was a student, I had a difficult time in school. In fact, I repeated fifth grade due to poor academic performance. My teacher and parent felt it was best for me to have another run at the curriculum and an additional year to mature (I was young compared to my grade-level peers). It worked, but it did not put me at the top of the class. I did feel more socially mature and more equal to my new classmates; however, I still felt awkward academically. I tended to gravitate toward the arts (music, theater, and dance) because there wasn’t always one right way to do things and I learned better through preparing for a performance. I graduated high school, taking an arts-focused route, and went on to college to pursue a degree in theater.

After graduating from college, finding work in the real world was difficult. Additionally, I didn’t want to perform a routine job that involved crunching numbers (using math) or having to be static most of the day. Therefore, I went into sales, where I was able to act and perform, but I wasn’t totally fulfilled. I eventually landed in the classroom (after attaining a post-bachelor degree in education), where I found that my talents and creativity could be nurtured and explored. I found that creativity can stand alone or in combination with giftedness or talent.

So, from my personal and professional experience, to add creative characteristics to the list of gifted and talented characteristics above:

  • Creative people may not be at the top of the class—but they can be gifted or talented.
  • Creative people try and try and try and try . . . you get it . . . and make a lot of mistakes that they learn from.
  • Creative people ask questions they are willing to find the answers to.
  • Creative people like making up their own rules or directions.
  • Creative people enjoy coming up with new ways to do things.
  • Creative people sometimes don’t fit in the classroom that seeks one right answer/orderliness/rule followers, and so on.
  • Creative people may enjoy working with others but need to learn how to collaborate and not dominate the process.
  • Creative people need to learn content to be truly creative.

Lesson Five: As a teacher of the gifted, I needed specialized professional development to do my job well
With all the complexities of giftedness, teachers who work with gifted, talented, and creative students must get specialized training. After floundering around in my classroom for the first year, I realized I had so much to learn about how to best meet the needs of gifted, talented, and creative kids. Seeking my master’s degree was a great process, but I could have used much more job-embedded and sustained professional development. Advanced learners’ needs are unique. Addressing those needs through curriculum and instructional practices is essential for them to achieve to their highest potential and be successful in life. Just as with teachers of students who have exceptional needs on the other end of the IQ spectrum, teachers of gifted students should have continuous concentrated training to most effectively work with this specialized group of kids.

Lesson Six: Some gifted kids can be socially maladjusted
Not all gifted kids have issues with being socially awkward or maladjusted, but in my experience, those who do have issues have these issues because they have not learned how to work with others of differing intellectual abilities. We learn our social skills from the people around us. In many cases, young gifted learners spend a great deal of time either associating with older students or adults, or self-isolating while in early grades (avoiding others who don’t think like them). This leads to learning more mature behaviors at a very early age. These behaviors may not fit with same-age peers or in an early learning setting, therefore further socially ostracizing gifted learners. Young gifted children may also recognize themselves as so uniquely different from their age-mates that they may identify themselves as “weird” or “strange.” Their social need for adjustment leads to lesson number seven!

Lesson Seven: Gifted students need personal social and emotional support
Gifted students need help adjusting to social settings and dealing with their own emotional asynchronous development. We all develop our emotional abilities in stages that correspond to our cognitive development. In many cases, though, gifted students’ cognitive progress is accelerated, thereby making their social maturation seem out of step, or asynchronous.

Gifted students will sometimes self-isolate or be shunned by their peers due to their increased cognitive abilities. In other cases, young gifted children may prefer older children or adults because they “speak the same language” or are interested in similar topics. Whether through self- or peer-isolation or the preference of older colleagues, gifted kids may not secure the social skills necessary to navigate the classroom landscape.

Gifted kids also can suffer from putting too much pressure on themselves to continually excel, stressing out over completion of work assignments, and feeling anxiety over perfectionism. Additionally, gifted kids can be the target of bullying. I find it interesting that it’s in school, where we go to become smarter, wiser, and better, where kids will bully each other about being smart! Some gifted kids are so emotionally sensitive that bullying can take a huge toll on them psychologically and educationally. Therefore, teachers would be wise to incorporate social skills lessons, relaxation techniques, and anti-bullying strategies into the daily classroom routine. If counselors, social workers, or school psychologists are available in your school, seek out their advice on nurturing the social development of your gifted students.

Lesson Eight: Parents of gifted children need support, too
Parents may need support in raising their gifted child. Some people believe that having a gifted child (or teaching gifted children) is easy. After working in this field for nearly a quarter-century, I can tell you that many parents struggle to find the right educational fit for their child and many teachers wrestle with providing the most appropriate curricular and instructional practices for gifted students.

Numerous support systems are available for parents from local and state networks of parents of gifted children to national associations for gifted children (such as the National Association for Gifted Children/NAGC or Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted/SENG). These agencies and associations have text and website resources, as well as meetings and gatherings to guide parents in making the best decisions for raising their gifted children. Teachers and school administrators can connect parents to these resources and also can learn from these resources themselves.

Lesson Nine: Teachers of gifted students need to be adept at offering advanced levels of differentiation
In my early years as a teacher of gifted students, I would pile work onto my students, thinking they enjoyed doing more. What I came to realize very quickly was that no one wants to be good at something if they have to do more of it. I slowly learned that gifted students need uniquely different curriculum and specific pedagogical approaches that stimulate their advanced abilities. All teachers should be differentiating for all learners. But differentiation for gifted students requires three specifics in modifying curriculum and instruction:

  • Accelerated pace of instruction where students move more quickly through the introductory levels of content and on to more challenging material
  • Complex thinking that includes rigorous critical reasoning and creative idea production
  • Depth of content where students use more refined information to investigate issues that are relevant to them so they are able to construct authentic products

Lesson Ten: Teaching gifted students is a JOY
This brings me to my final important lesson: Teaching gifted kids is a JOY. Just like any kid, gifted students can be frustrating and challenging. But at the end of the day, they are a delight to work with. They can be very self-sufficient, but also need our guidance. They love to work through stimulating problems, but need our support and structures. They can be ambitious to learn, but need our assistance in nurturing their abilities. Working with gifted kids has transformed my practice as a teacher. Through this work, I hope to be able to transform the teaching practices of every teacher I encounter so they too can change the lives of their students for the better.

I’d love to hear the joys, sorrows, excitements, and struggles you’ve encountered when working with gifted students. The more we share together, the better we become for our students.

Richard CashRichard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.

Free Spirit books by Richard Cash:

Self-regulation Advancing Differentiation Revised and Updated Edition Differentiation for Gifted Learners


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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Enter to Win the Laugh & Learn® Series

Enter to win the Laugh & Learn® series! 2017This month we’re thrilled to give away a complete set of eleven books from the Laugh & Learn series, featuring realistic topics, practical advice, silly jokes, fun illustrations, and a kid-centric point of view. The set includes the updated full-color edition of How to Do Homework Without Throwing Up, a Free Spirit classic that provides specific tips for starting, doing, and finishing homework. One lucky reader will win:

To Enter: Leave a comment below telling us how you use humor to teach social-emotional skills to children.

For additional entries, leave a separate comment below for each of the following tasks that you complete:

Each comment counts as a separate entry—that’s four chances to win! Entries must be received by midnight, April 21, 2017.

The winner will be contacted via email on or around April 24, 2017, and will need to respond within 72 hours to claim his or her prize or another winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way affiliated with, administered, or endorsed by Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Winner must be a U.S. resident, 18 years of age or older.


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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