I went for a half-day on Friday to the New England Conference for the Gifted and Talented, and I had a pretty good time. Dr. Ron Mallett, the physicist whose work on time travel has been so interesting, and whose motivations for that work no less interesting, was one of the speakers for the keynote panel in the morning. So was Liz Pape, the founder of the Virtual High School, and Yolande Smith, who is a vice president of the Bushnell Performing Arts Center in Hartford, CT. An impressive rank of leaders, all told. I was pleased to go.
I wound up learning the most in a session run by Rachel McAnallen of UConn in Storrs, though. She taught a workshop titled “Without Geometry, Life is Pointless.” Using toothpicks and paper plates, popsicle sticks and pens, she had us building three-dimensional models of Sierpenski Tetrahedrons, isocahedrons (known as d20s, for those of us with Dungeons and Dragons experience — mine started in the Gifted and Talented wing of my elementary school during the after-school program) and other models of the Platonic solids. I was deeply impressed. She used a lot of materials from this gentlemen, Bradford Hanson-Smith, whose work should be known to many more math teachers — or so I think.
Throughout the sessions, though, one essential question nagged at me:
We know that these kinds of enriching activities work to promote learning in ‘gifted and talented children’, and that they raise those students’ test scores… so why don’t we do instruction this way for every kid?
I thought it was scandalous that no one seemed to be asking the question besides me. The whole conception of “Gifted and Talented” programs seems to hinge upon the ‘us vs. them’ Enlightenment-era model of the mind that Sir Ken Robinson warned about in this video.
How do we get past this division, and get this kind of instruction to every student in school?