2014-03-13 / Schools

Middle schoolers expand their minds in gifted magnet class

By Stephanie Bertholdo

ENGAGED—The students are thriving in the LVUSD GATE (Gifted and Talened Education) class at A.E. Wright Middle School in Calabasas. 
STEPHANIE BERTHOLDO/Acorn Newspapers ENGAGED—The students are thriving in the LVUSD GATE (Gifted and Talened Education) class at A.E. Wright Middle School in Calabasas. STEPHANIE BERTHOLDO/Acorn Newspapers In Sue Lee’s sixth-grade GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) classroom at A.E. Wright Middle School in Calabasas, young girls are not twirling their hair or doodling notes to their friends. There are no fidgety boys staring out the window or into space.

Instead, the students—11-and 12-year-olds—in Lee’s class are abuzz with excitement. They vie for their teacher to call on them when a thought-provoking question is posed.

Lee is the GATE teacher for Las Virgenes Unified School District’s self-contained gifted magnet classroom, launched this year for A.E. Wright’s sixth-graders. The new magnet program that keeps gifted kids together in one class for all core subjects (math, language arts, science and social studies) will expand into seventh and eighth grade and in other middle schools in the district in the coming years.

The rules for GATE education have become simpler, said Principal Kimmarie Taylor. “To qualify for the new GATE program, students meet one on one with a school psychologist for an assessment,” Taylor said.

“We are looking for students with a 130 IQ or higher,” she said. Upon recommendation, students are given IQ tests in fifth grade.

When I visited Lee’s class, some children were sprawled on a couch while others sat on comfy chairs or traditional boardroomstyle desks. Students had finished reading a 12th-grade-level news article on the WaterCar, an amphibious vehicle, and were asked to expand upon the concept of the WaterCar and discuss with a partner what would be needed to make such an invention applicable in the real world.

The kids debated a water highway and the need for special helmets.

Lee then wondered out loud what Henry Ford would think of the amphibious car. The kids immediately chattered among themselves, considering Ford’s probable take on a vehicle that could filch Ford Motor Company’s profits from traditional car sales.

Then Lee took the questioning a step further and asked her students to consider how they would make a quick buck based on the sale of WaterCars.

Some kids thought custom paint jobs would be profitable, while another boy believed custom color tablets that could spew a rainbow of colored water from the WaterCar’s jets, leaving a trail, would be a popular—and profitable—accessory.

Another student piped in that any chemical used to color the water should be eco-friendly.

Seat covers, stickers, custom refrigerators, T-shirts and bobblehead dolls were all discussed as potential moneymakers.

And so it went—questions about how the WaterCar might impact the environment, feverish talk among the students, and vying to be called upon to share an idea, thought, or other questions.

When the bell rang for lunch, many students stayed to discuss what they like about their class.

Sophia said she loves being in a class with the same students all day because it made for an easier transition into middle school. “It’s fun to have people think the same way that you do,” she said.

Matthew said he likes how math is taught in the class. They don’t just learn about fractions and how to divide. Instead, they manipulate paper to create 3-D models to show what a fraction looks like.

Emily said the concepts she’s learning in class are meant to be “kept” rather than learning something temporarily to pass a test.

Gabriel W. added to Emily’s thought, saying that it was important to understand subjects on many levels. “In real life we have to learn to discover stuff,” he said.

Adina said that Mrs. Lee will assign a math problem from the book, but not explain the steps to solve it. “She gives us a problem to do at our own pace,” Adina said. “She lets us figure it out.”

Evan Bartelheim, LVUSD’s director of instruction, addressed the changing tides of gifted education. In the past, segregating children by ability was frowned upon by educators.

“It’s important to differentiate between segregating or tracking students and ability grouping and addressing students’ individual needs,” Bartelheim said. “The research literature indicates that gifted students benefit significantly when grouped with their intellectual peers.”

Taylor talked about other areas that have changed in gifted education.

“Giving GATE kids more work is the wrong thing to do,” Taylor said. “Having GATE kids help teach the other kids in the class because they already know the content is also the wrong thing to do. They need different work—they need to have their thinking challenged, their depth of understanding broadened, and their skills sharpened. The GATE classroom allows students to connect and interact with their intellectual peers. They are encouraged to think like scholars and to look at different situations, topics and concepts through multiple perspectives.”

Lee’s students are only 11 and 12 years old, but they’re already considering life goals. College, of course. But Jack is practical. He said he wants to devise three life plans—A, B, and C—to make sure he is “well set up” for success.

Rohail said he plans on becoming a chemist, and Nicole said her comfort with math will help her become a top chef.

And Nicky said, “When I grow up I just want to be successful.”

Lee couldn’t help but throw in a question for kids to ponder: “Does being smart equal success?”

Since Sophia wants to be the first female president, she thinks being smart matters.

But then the little girl emerges. She is not happy that her parents, both successful attorneys, have to work in the summertime.

“I think parents should get time off during the summer so families can go hiking, biking and swimming and not just watch TV.”

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