The Importance of Intersectionality in Empowering Underrepresented Gifted Students: We Are More Than You Think We Are

By Joy Lawson Davis, Ed.D., coeditor of Empowering Underrepresented Gifted Students

The Importance of Intersectionality in Empowering Underrepresented Gifted Students: We Are More Than You Think We AreAs educators working with gifted students, we have to be as cognizant of our students’ affective needs as we are of their intellectual and academic needs. We realize that our students are generally more sensitive, more intense, more empathetic than others. Our interactions with our gifted students broaden our understanding of their diverse social backgrounds, interests, and needs.

Gifted students, like all students, have multiple and overlapping identities that result from the varied social constructs that affect their lives: cultural or ethnic group, family and community, how society perceives them, gender, income level, academic strengths, interests, language, and more. This concept is called intersectionality. Intersectionality, as a term, was coined by law student Kimberlé Crenshaw as she examined the impact of the intersection between race, gender, politics, and the law.

Navigating Multiple Worlds

As we aim to improve how we address the needs of underrepresented students in gifted education, it is becoming more apparent that viewing the many worlds our students navigate daily is critical in establishing positive, affirming, and empowering relationships with them. Underrepresented gifted students are at a disadvantage in our school environments because they are typically not identified early, do not have a voice in creating programs to meet their varied needs, and do not have equitable access to gifted education and advanced learner programs when compared to their majority culture, more affluent peers. One of the reasons for this lack of identification and understanding is that educators who work with them are unfamiliar with the concerns and issues of their families and communities; how society views them; their ethnic and cultural differences, norms, and traditions; their gender concerns; their language differences; and other social constructs with which they identify that shape their identities. The graphic suggests some of the multiple social identities that intersect to form the individual identity of underrepresented gifted students.

intersectionality graphic

Suggested Strategies for Educators and Schools

Educators must become more familiar with the concept of intersectionality, how it impacts the daily lives of their underrepresented gifted learners, and how those students navigate their multiple worlds. To do this, I recommend a few strategies:

  • Increase opportunities for students to honestly share their life stories in safe spaces and with culturally sensitive adults.
  • Allow gifted students choices for selection of course, completion of classwork, or end-of-year projects.
  • Make space for underrepresented gifted students on advisory councils, school boards, and other policy-making committees.
  • Give students agency and voice in the creation of instructional designs that meet their interests, strengths, and needs.
  • Encourage students to share their views regarding the challenges and benefits of gifted education services.
  • Encourage teachers, counselors, and other adults to share their cultural stories with colleagues and students.
  • Host gifted programming and information sessions in the communities where your students reside.
  • Ensure that gifted education training sessions are provided in the first languages of your underrepresented gifted communities.
  • Solicit mentors from targeted underrepresented committees to assist with student support.

These suggestions are only few of the many that may assist with improving educator and student relationships and that use intersectionality as a lens through which to create more accessible and equitable gifted education services. More specific recommendations can be found in the upcoming book Empowering Underrepresented Gifted Students. When educators view their underrepresented gifted students as complex and multilayered social beings, they increase their potential for improving their students’ social, intellectual, academic, and psychosocial outcomes.

Crenshaw, K. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Anti-Racist Politics.” University Chicago Legal Forum (1989) vol. 1: 139–167.

Davis, J.L. & Douglas, D., eds. Empowering Underrepresented Gifted Students: Perspectives from the Field. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing, 2021.

 Joy Lawson Davis, Ed.D.Joy Lawson Davis, Ed.D., is a career educator with over 40 years of experience as a practitioner, scholar, author, and consultant with an expertise in equity in gifted education and cultural competency education. Dr. Davis has served in local, regional, and state leadership positions in gifted education. She also served as an at-large member of the National Association for Gifted Children Board of Directors. A graduate of the College of William & Mary, Dr. Davis holds both master’s and doctorate degrees in gifted education and has led professional learning workshops, appeared on podcasts, and been a long-term program consultant, and served as a keynote speaker and distinguished guest lecturer across the nation, in South Africa, Dubai, Turkey, and the Caribbean. Dr. Davis has published numerous articles, technical reports, and book chapters related to achieving equity in gifted education. She is also author of two books: the award-winning Bright, Talented & Black: A Guide for Families of African American Gifted Learners and Gifted Children of Color Around the World: Diverse Needs, Exemplary Practices and Directions for the Future, co-edited with Dr. James Moore III. Dr. Davis is currently the Special Populations columnist for Teaching for High Potential and serves on the Gifted Child Today advisory board. Dr. Davis is co-founder with other equity colleagues of the Jenkins Scholars program, a national program developed to recognize highly gifted Black students. She lives near Richmond, VA.

Empowering Underrepresented Gifted StudentsJoy Lawson Davis, Ed.D., is the coeditor Empowering Underrepresented Gifted Students

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11 Great Minds in STEAM to Get Students Excited About Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math

Adapted from STEAM In a Jar® Experiments, Activities, and Trivia for Your Classroom

Your students are probably already familiar with some famous names in STEAM, like Leonardo da Vinci, Marie Curie, Sir Isaac Newton, Thomas Edison, and John Coltrane. But there are many others, past and present, whose work in STEAM may be less familiar to your students. Here are 11 great minds in STEAM to inspire your students and get them excited about science, technology, engineering, art, and math.

11 Great Minds in STEAM to Get Students Excited About Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math

1. Shirley Ann Jackson (1946– )

In 1973, Jackson became the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and only the second African American woman in the country to earn a Ph.D. in physics. Much of her work has been with the properties of elemental particles. In 1995, she was appointed chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and in 1999, she became president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

2. Avicenna (980–1037)

Avicenna is considered one of the brightest thinkers of the Islamic Golden Age. His medical encyclopedia The Canon of Medicine was still being used as a medical school textbook 600 years after his death. In addition to his work in medicine, he was an influen­tial philosopher and poet.

3. Mario J. Molina (1943– )

Before 1974, cooling systems and many pressurized products like hairspray used chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs. But what happens when you spray CFCs into the air? Mexican chemist Mario Molina helped show that they float up, up, up through the atmosphere until they destroy the ozone layer—the atmospheric blanket that protects Earth from radiation. After this discovery, govern­ments cracked down on the use of CFCs, and the ozone layer has started to recover. Molina and his colleagues Paul J. Crutzen and F. Sherwood Rowland shared the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their discovery.

4. Murasaki Shikibu (circa 973–1014)

If you’ve read about hobbits or kid detectives or any other book of fiction, you can thank Murasaki Shikibu. Her book Tales of Genji is widely consid­ered to be the world’s first novel. Most scholars think she started writing the book just after her husband died. It took her almost a decade to finish! Shikibu’s reputation as a writer earned her a respected position in Japan’s royal court.

5. Emmy Noether (1882–1935)

German mathematician Emmy Noether is remembered for her ability to think about complex things in new ways. For example, she applied her knowledge of algebra to the study of theoretical physics. One thing she showed is that the laws of physics don’t change across space or time. This sounds simple, but the idea, which became known as Noether’s theorem, shows how asteroids tumble in space. Even today, her theorem influences the search for subatomic particles.

6. Ada Lovelace (1815–1852)

Actually the Countess of Lovelace, Ada was the world’s first computer pro­grammer. She used paper punch cards to write instructions to be carried out on a giant mechanical calculator called the Analytical Engine. She imagined what computers could do, even writing that “the engine might compose elabo­rate and scientific pieces of music.”

7. Wang Zhenyi (1768–1797)

Wang Zhenyi is remembered as one of the greatest scholars of China’s Qing dynasty. In one of her innova­tions, she used a mirror, a lamp, and a round table to prove how lunar eclipses work. She was only 24 when she published a five-volume set of mathematics textbooks.

8. Grace Hopper (1906–1992)

Early computers spoke machine language—the beeps and blips of on-off switches. Grace Hopper taught them to understand human words. In 1954, she oversaw the invention of the programming language FLOW-MATIC, which used statements related to human language to control computers. In 1959, Hopper’s language became the bedrock of another English-like computer language named COBOL. The ability to program computers with words opened the door for millions of computer programmers, and COBOL became the most used computer lan­guage of all time.

9. Fazlur Rahman Khan (1929–1982)

Imagine the frame of a building made from toothpicks and marshmallows. Until the work of Fazlur Rahman Khan, that’s how skyscrapers looked (except with steel instead of toothpicks and marshmallows, of course). Now imag­ine a tube made from a rolled-up piece of paper. With the right materials, this design can be lighter and stronger, and it doesn’t have as much inside space taken up with bars and beams. Khan’s tubular design helped skyscrapers resist the forces of wind and earthquakes and allowed buildings to be taller. From 1973 to 1998, his 110-story Sears Tower (now named the Willis Tower) was the tallest building on Earth.

10. Harriet Powers (1837–1910)

Powers was an enslaved African American woman from Georgia who sewed stories into quilts. Her Bible Quilt (1886) hangs in the National Museum of American History, and her Pictorial Quilt (1898) hangs in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

11. Chien-Shiung Wu (1912–1997)

Chien-Shiung Wu was a physicist who worked on nuclear and particle physics during and after World War II. Rather than working only in her mind or on paper, Chien-Shiung Wu designed experiments to prove or disprove theories in physics. Her work earned her the nickname the “First Lady of Physics.”

For more great minds in STEAM, as well as experiments, activities, and other trivia, check out STEAM In a Jar®.

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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Wishes and Thanks on Labor Day

Wishes and Thanks on Labor DayThe Free Spirit Publishing staff is taking a long weekend in honor of Labor Day, and we hope that you find time during this end-of-summer break to relax and recharge, especially as we head into the new school year. We’ll be getting outside and diving into a good book (or two).

To everyone whose work supports the social, emotional, and educational needs of young people, thank you for all you do.

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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How to Improve Children’s Sleep with Mindfulness

By James J. Crist, Ph.D., author of What’s the Big Deal About Addictions?

How to Improve Children’s Sleep with MindfulnessMindfulness is a popular topic these days. It can be helpful for a variety of problems, including stress management, anxiety, chronic pain, and depression. Mindfulness is also a useful intervention for children with sleep problems. Up to 50 percent of children experience problems sleeping at some point in their lives. Kids who are fearful or have trouble dealing with stress often struggle with falling sleep, particularly if they are sleeping alone. Other kids may wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble falling back asleep. Insomnia can also be a side effect of certain psychiatric medications or drinking caffeinated drinks. Sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, can also make sleep more difficult and less restful.

Early identification of sleep issues is important, since it can help prevent associated problems such as daytime sleepiness, irritability, trouble controlling one’s behavior, and learning difficulties. It is hard to function at your best if you are sleep deprived. While the causes of sleep issues may differ, many children can benefit from learning to use mindfulness as a way of promoting good sleep.

What Is Mindfulness?

According to Psychology Today, mindfulness is a state of active, open attention to the present. This state is described as observing one’s thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad. Two key factors are involved: awareness and acceptance. Put simply, mindfulness involves noticing your thoughts and feelings in the present moment and accepting them for what they are without trying to get rid of them or fight them. While the origins of mindfulness draw from Buddhist and Hindu teachings, they are applicable to many situations.

A recent Stanford Medicine study found that elementary school children who participated in mindfulness training two times a week for two years slept an average of 74 extra minutes a night. That boost in total sleep time included an additional 24 minutes of rapid eye movement (REM), the dream stage of sleep when memories are consolidated and stored. Interestingly, this improvement occurred without specific training on sleep hygiene (good sleep habits). Yoga-based movement training was also helpful. The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, found that improvement in sleep began within three months of starting mindfulness training, and it increased with higher participation.

One theory as to why mindfulness helps with sleep is that teaching kids to manage their stress in healthy ways during the day helps them feel less anxious and stressed at night. In this study, children who reported using mindfulness more often slept more during the the study. This may be especially important for at-risk kids who experience more stress due to family and environmental factors.

Introducing Children to Mindfulness

One of the easiest ways to introduce mindfulness to children is to focus on breathing. This is often referred to as “belly breathing” or “square breathing.” The basic format is breathing in slowly to the count of five and out slowly to the count of five. Instructing kids to put their hands on their bellies when practicing can help, since the belly rises when breathing in and falls when breathing out. When we slow the breath and get more oxygen into the lungs, we feel a sense of relaxation. It can help to suggest to kids that as they breathe out, they imagine all the stress of the day leaving their body though their breath. Some kids enjoy picturing their stress as colored smoke that leaves their body when breathing out.

Listening to calming music is another way of practicing mindfulness. Focusing on the music while tuning out the rest of the world can be a great way to ease stress. Many kids (and adults) find it easier to sleep while listening to relaxing music.

Another technique that can be a form of mindfulness is guided imagery. This involves listening to someone describe an imaginary experience, such as walking on the beach, noticing sounds such as the wind or ocean waves and smells such as salty air and flowers. These activities help children focus on relaxing activities, rather than thinking about things that may cause them stress.

Many apps are available to help kids learn mindfulness, including mindfulness around sleep. Some also share free resources online. Examples include the following:

Other Mindfulness Techniques

If a child suffers from separation anxiety, parents can help by making recordings of themselves reading a mindfulness meditation so that their kids can listen to them when parents are not available or even after they have gone to bed. This can encourage kids to stay in bed, rather than waking up their parents.

The book Sitting Still Like a Frog by Eline Snel is a resource parents can use with their children. It includes simple mindfulness practices and comes with a CD as well. To introduce mindfulness to kids, the author gives the example of how frogs often stay perfectly still, noticing everything around them and saving up their energy for when they need it. By imagining themselves acting like frogs, observing their surroundings in a curious way, kids can learn to do the same.

Another example of promoting relaxation is “The Spaghetti Test.” This involves imagining that your body is like a stiff, uncooked piece of spaghetti that softens as it cooks, until it becomes limp and relaxed. Tensing and relaxing different parts of the body is another way to achieve a relaxed state.

The Importance of Practicing and Modeling

As with any other skill, learning to be mindful takes practice. By practicing, your brain learns to start a process faster because it knows what to do. So encourage children to practice mindfulness throughout the day, not just at bedtime. Good times to practice include first thing in the morning while waking up, before going to school, and before starting homework. Even a few minutes of practice during the daytime can make mindfulness more effective when you really need it to work at bedtime.

You can also practice mindfulness with children. They will likely be more open to mindfulness if you do the exercises with them, and it may help you lower your stress as well!

Good Sleep Hygiene Is Also Important

Of course, mindfulness does not replace the importance of good sleep hygiene. Avoiding electronic devices for at least an hour before bedtime is recommended. Keeping lights low, using a white noise machine (such as a fan), and keeping the sleeping area cool all facilitate good sleep. Regular exercise also helps, though not right before bedtime. Try to have your child use their bed only for sleeping, so their brain associates their bed with sleeping, rather than for entertainment or doing homework.

Keeping to a regular sleep schedule helps regulate sleep patterns. Monitor your child’s diet, since settling down for the night may be harder if they consume too much sugar. Some kids find that reading before going to sleep helps calm them and makes it easier for them to fall asleep.

Melatonin is a hormonal supplement that can help people fall asleep more easily. Our brains release melatonin when it gets dark. Bright lights, including the blue light that many electronic devices emit, can suppress the production of melatonin, making sleep more difficult. Not all physicians recommend using melatonin with children, which is why it is wise to check with your child’s pediatrician first. They can also help rule out other possible causes of sleep problems, such as sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome.

When More Help Is Needed

While mindfulness and sleep hygiene techniques can be very helpful, they do not work for everyone. If your child’s sleep problems do not respond, or are causing issues in other areas, seeking professional help is wise. Treatment for underlying mental health issues may be needed.

Dr. James J. CristAuthor James Crist is the clinical director and a staff psychologist at the Child and Family Counseling Center (CFCC) in Woodbridge, Virginia, and a substance abuse counselor, working with addictive disorders in teens and adults. At CFCC, he provides psychological testing and individual, couples, and family psychotherapy for children, adolescents, and adults, specializing in children with ADHD, depression, and anxiety disorders. Visit his website at

Free Spirit books by James Crist:

What's the Big Deal About Addictions? Answers and Help for Teens by Dr. James J. CristSiblingsThe Survival Guide for Making and Being FriendsWhatToDoWhenYou'reScaredAndWorriedWhat to Do When You’re Cranky & Blue

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5 Tips for Helping Children Understand Anger

by Deborah Serani, Psy.D., author of Sometimes When I’m Mad

5 Tips for Helping Children Understand AngerAnger is generally a natural response to certain issues or situations, yet it is often felt or expressed in ways that are scary, confusing, or even unhealthy. Many people consider anger a “bad” emotion and view its expression as destructive. As a result, experiencing anger can be difficult for both children and adults.

Indeed, anger is a feeling most people prefer not to experience. But when we understand anger, it can become a healing, transformative, and empowering force. Anger in children can be a response to a situation that’s in need of a solution. It can alert adults that more love, safety, or protection is needed. Anger in a children can help them learn more about their own needs and self-care—and how to vent frustrating feelings. Anger need not be a negative experience.

Most children require guidance, support, and instruction as they learn to identify and regulate angry emotions. It’s not always easy for little ones to understand feeling mad. What we don’t want to do as adults is stigmatize or present anger as a bad emotion to feel or express. We need to encourage children to be mindful about their frustrations: why they occur, how to express them, and ways to resolve them.

Here are five tips for helping children understand anger.

1. Teach Children That Anger Is Natural

Explain to little ones that anger is an emotion that arises when we feel frustrated, disappointed, or hurt. Teach them that anger is something adults and children feel. Even babies feel angry sometimes. Help them understand that while anger is a natural reaction, there are ways for it to be expressed in healthy and unhealthy ways.

2. Talk About Healthy and Unhealthy Expressions of Anger

Anger can be expressed in adaptive ways (mindful words and problem-solving) or maladaptive ways (yelling, getting physical, or being aggressive). Helping children understand and learn healthy ways to express anger can give them self-confidence, teach them positive social interactions, and help them self-regulate confusing emotions. Encourage children to Use your words when anger presents. This will help little ones move away from using physicality (breaking toys, hitting, or other aggressive behaviors) to express anger. When children show maladaptive behaviors, redirect them by prompting: “Instead of throwing your toys, tell me what’s bothering you.” “Instead of hitting your brother, tell him why you are mad.” Make sure you praise children’s adaptive expressions of anger so they can feel good about their emotional choices.

3. Teach the Whys of Anger

Help children understand why they are angry. And help them identify the situation that they are reacting to. What need is not being met? Who or what is frustrating them? This helps children construct a mindful view of anger and why it’s happening.

4. Problem-Solve Ways to Reduce Anger

Teach children ways to resolve their anger. Does the situation need a compromise? (“Maybe you and your brother can take turns playing with the swing.”) Are boundaries or limits needed? (“I know you’re angry that it’s getting late and we have to leave the park. You can choose only one more ride at the park before we go home, or we can go home now. What would you like to do?”) Or is children’s anger stemming from fatigue, hunger, or sleepiness? (“Do you think you’re hungry for a snack? Or you’re sleepy? Could that be why you’re mad right now?”)

5. Be a Healthy Role Model

Make sure you take the time to model these strategies whenever you can. When you show children how you express your own angry feelings in healthy ways and problem-solve the situation to resolve it, you reinforce their evolving skills.

Deborah SeraniDeborah Serani, Psy.D., is an award-winning author and psychologist in practice for 30 years. She is also a professor at Adelphi University, and her writing on the subjects of depression and trauma has been published in academic journals. Dr. Serani is a go-to expert for psychological issues. Her interviews can be found in Newsday, Psychology Today, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, The Associated Press, and affiliate radio programs at CBS and NPR, among others. She is also a TEDx speaker and has worked as a technical advisor for the NBC television show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. She lives in New York City.

Deborah is the author of the Sometimes When collection.

Sometimes When I'm Sad  Sometimes When I'm Mad

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