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Empowering Girls Through “Glitter” Science

2014 October 20
by Jeanne Bernish

During the summer I had an opportunity to attend KikiLIVE 2.0, a one day creative STEM experience designed for 5th-9th grade girls. Hosted by the creative folks over at Kiki Magazine, the event provided opportunities for girls to explore how technology is pushing the boundaries of fashion.

The girls raced from room to room at Cincinnati Country Day School where the event was held. Between testing fabric in a chem lab to building circuits and exploring Arduino projects, I was struck by how large a role STEM plays in fashion. What fabric makes sense for a handbag design accounting not only for fashion but strength, absorption, flammability, etc. and how do you (safely) test for these attributes? Did you know there is conductive thread as well as paint for circuit building and e-textile projects? What can you create using random bits of old toys and game pieces for building blocks? You can check out some of the stations offered during the event here – but if you want to get a sense of the energy and excitement from the day, check out this short video recap:

STEM and the Gifted Girl

2014 July 7
by Jeanne Bernish

I consider myself fortunate to have enjoyed raising a boy and a girl, each of whom have had more than a passing interest in maths, technology and science. As a mom I have always been on the lookout for activities which supported their interests, especially during the summer months. But I have also been troubled at the lack of activities and opportunities for girls which segue into what we typically define as STEM. Over on the Bedtime Math blog I wrote about a truly gifted crafter AND mathematician in “Measure Twice, Cut Long” which explores some of the mathematics crafters have to work with. And I know many gifted girls who design clothing and costumes.  Textiles, yarn-bombing and the rise of the feminist hackerspace aren’t often included in summer brochures for STEM camps that lead with coding and robotics. Enter KiKiLive 2.0:

KiKi Live 2.0

A one day summer experience for 5th-9th grade girls hosted by KiKi Magazine at Cincinnati Country Day School. Crafting, fashion and wearable technology, participants will explore how technology is pushing the boundaries of fashion. I plan to pop in on Saturday and check out the fun. Look for a follow-up blog post next week after I have experienced my first KiKi Live event.


Getting Gifted Wrong, For Everyone

2014 June 4
by Jeanne Bernish

My husband sent me a link this morning to a “Room for Debate” topic on Gifted Education in New York City public schools. I have a feeling of dread – a conditioned response – whenever “New York Times” and “gifted education” appear in the same sentence – mainly because New York City seems to spend an inordinate amount of time and effort getting gifted education wrong and the New York Times seems to expend little effort in requiring education pundits to stick to the topic at hand when writing about it. So much is laid at the feet of gifted children and today’s response by Halley Potter of the The Century Foundation and David Tipson of  New York Appleseed “Eliminate Gifted Tracks” was in keeping with my expectation. In fact, if theirs was the only response you had read you would be forgiven for thinking the topic was “Time to Punish the Smart Children For Years of Racial Segregation in New York City Schools” rather than “Should Public Schools Offer Gifted Programs?”

Potter and Tipson trot out the idealistic but improbable “gifted education for all” argument which is entirely devoid of real meaning or evidence. It is a statement designed to end the conversation and works only in the most dedicated social justice circles where every demographic must be defined in terms of racial diversity. Stay with me for a moment while I go out on a limb here:

By definition the gifted population is comprised of individuals who score 2 standard deviations above the mean on an ability test. In a room of 100 people, 70 of them will have an IQ ranging anywhere from 85 to 115 (average IQ). Of the remaining 30 people, half will have an IQ below 85, half will have an IQ above 115. For those who have an IQ below 85 perhaps one or two may even be severely learning disabled. Now, do we only serve the special needs populations on each end of the average range if they fit within a certain racial profile? And hey, if the interventions for the student with an IQ of 70 work so well, why not apply them to the entire room so everyone can benefit?

If you stuck with the forum you may also have read:  “America’s Future Depends on Gifted Students” from Rick Hess of American Enterprise Institute and “Tracking Students by Ability Produces Results” by Bruce Sacerdote, a professor of economics at Dartmouth College – to these authors I give an A for sticking with the topic and providing evidence to support their responses.

Gifted doesn’t describe or factor diversity, only intellectual capability measured by an approved instrument. As long as pundits and experts stick to that baseline, we can have a useful debate on how to serve gifted students. Withholding appropriate education interventions for our fastest learners in our public schools out of a misguided sense of entitlement or elitism is shameful and needs to stop.

A New Guidebook for Gifted Philanthropy

2013 November 20
by Jeanne Bernish

In a retrospective post written in October on the World of Learning blog (Three Decades of Indifference) I laid out a dismaying set of missed opportunities and our resultant failure to serve academically gifted students in spite of the alarming call to action published in  A Nation at Risk 30 years ago.

Closing America's High Achievement Gap

The very next day I received a copy of Closing America’s High-Achievement Gap, written by noted education expert Andy Smarick. Chock full of resources and ideas for donors to spur high-achieving students into appropriate learning environments, this publication from The Philanthropy Roundtable is available as a free download and should be required reading for any gifted advocate, education policy influencer, parent or teacher of academically gifted students.

From the Preface:

“Of the 60 million or so American school children, how many are learners who are never challenged to their full potential? How many students of every economic, ethnic, and geographic group will languish in school not because it is too difficult or they lack drive, but because paltry academic options they are afforded fail to stretch or challenge them?

The donors profiled in this guidebook show that philanthropy can dramatically enhance the learning level of high-potential students, including those from low-income families. This work can be taken up on its own, or woven seamlessly into broader education support. But if ambitious and passionate donors fail to make this issue a priority, it is likely to remain one of the great failings of the U.S. education system for decades to come, penalizing many children and the nation as a whole.”

How appropriate to receive this clarion call just as I was bemoaning the lack of progress for gifted children over the last 30 years. With gifted education under attack in Ohio (see this Advocacy Alert from OAGC) the timing could not have been better. With a neat and tidy guidebook showing multiple paths for donors to have maximum impact, who will lead the charge on behalf of these students?

Putting the “M” in STEM

2013 September 16
by Jeanne Bernish

The Maker Mom (also known as Kim Moldofsky whom I am calling the “M” in STEM) is partnering with Texas Instruments Education Technology to host a Twitter #STEMChat on Tuesday, September 17th from 9-10 Eastern. I am thrilled to be included in the list of panelists again this year (I had so much fun doing it last year!)

Not only can you look forward to a lively and informative chat about getting back into the STEM of things this back-to-school season, but you’ll also have a chance to win a TI-Nspire™ CX graphing handheld. See The Maker Mom: Back to School STEM and a Giveaway for more details on how to win this great device during #STEMChat (and another chance on her blog.)

And if you can’t make the Twitter chat but still want some inspiration for getting back into STEM, check out the new STEM Behind Hollywood resource from TI. Did you say “Zombie Apocalypse Webinar?” I thought so.


Constant Vigilance!

2013 July 16
by Jeanne Bernish

“Constant vigilance!”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Last week I happened upon a link to an “anti-Common Core” post on someone’s Facebook wall. Embedded in the post was a video of a young girl executing a math problem using a TERC/Investigations method for solving a simple addition problem. Videos like these have been around for some time – but recently they (and other absurdities) are beginning to surface in response to the upcoming Common Core implementation. I’ve been meaning to blog on this topic for some time, from a parental point-of-view, but like many topics in education it is a multilayered and complex topic not easily distilled into a 500 word post. So I was particularly pleased to find someone had the good sense to write a (much longer) post on this very topic (“5 Things Every Parent Needs to Know About The Common Core“) which I hope will dispel some of the myths and misconceptions flying around about it.

The Common Core is not a construct of the Obama administration.

The Common Core is not an effort to overtake a state’s authority to educate its citizens.

The Common Core is not a national curriculum.

The Common Core is an effort to instill reading and math standards across our education system. If your school administration tells you that gifted education has been discontinued “because of Common Core,” or that the number of tests each year has risen “because of Common Core,” or your child must learn the lattice method for multiple digit multiplication “because of Common Core,” they are being less than honest. To the last point the issue is the difference between standards and curriculum. An example of a standard:

  • CCSS.Math.Content.2.MD.A.1 Measure the length of an object by selecting and using appropriate tools such as rulers, yardsticks, meter sticks, and measuring tapes.

Now if your school district elects to use a curriculum that teaches this standard in some ridiculous way, that is not the fault of the standard. That is the fault of the curriculum. On an increase in the number of tests? Ideally the Common Core will replace state level tests by 2014-15 school year.

If our nation is to become competitive in the world economy we will have to focus our resources on improving achievement in reading and math. You can call it anything you’d like – but without a common set of standards, and some way to assess the effectiveness of the curriculum teaching those standards, how can we possibly begin to compete (or even align) with the rest of the world for college and career readiness?

We can’t. Some schools strive to prepare their students in the best possible way to be successful in college and careers – hopefully yours is one of them. Some schools will do just what they need to do to get to the next school year and maintain a meaningless state level rating, all the time decrying the imposition of any national standards in reading and math. Whichever school it may be, maintaining “constant vigilance” is key to understanding valid arguments for and against the Common Core – and any other education reform measures.




Is it Bedtime Yet? Join #STEMchat Next Week

2013 June 20
by Jeanne Bernish

Graduation (and party), end of school year, a harrowing reorg at work and the season finale of Game of Thrones left me asking myself if it was bedtime yet just about every day until we left for our annual trek to the beach.

I managed to get through it all and also accept an opportunity to contribute to a soon-to-launch parent blog sponsored by Bedtime Math. I love the concept of bedtime math. Last year I wrote about how parents with few math skills can still provide a strong foundation for their children in the subject. Bedtime Math was not around when my children were at that read-to-me age. If it had been our evening routine would have incorporated it (I have since run into several people with young children who subscribe to the daily math email) and, although the book won’t be out until next week, you can check them out now on Facebook.

bedtime math book

The concept behind bedtime math is simple. If you ever read a bedtime story to your children you already know the joy of connecting over a book – and the confidence regular reading can instill in a child. In a delightful change on the bedtime reading routine, Bedtime Math founder Laura Overdeck and her husband decided to enhance their children’s bedtime routine with a daily math problem. Intended for young kids through elementary schoolers (three different levels of problems are offered each night) the bedtime math problem is also available through email subscription via their website.

On June 25th, Overdeck is releasing her book: Bedtime Math: A Fun Excuse to Stay up Late. If you want to learn more about Bedtime Math – and how to begin to incorporate fun math (yes, I wrote fun + math) into your evening routine, please join the sponsored #STEMchat and #BTMath hashtag on Twitter on Tuesday, June 25 from 9 – 10 PM Eastern. Panelists will include yours truly and:

@Bedtime Math

Candace Lindemann, @CandaceApril, is mom, military wife, nationally recognized educator and prolific writer whose work can be seen at her site, Naturally Educational as well as at Lifetime Moms and around the web. She’s also a new Bedtime Math blogger.

Melanie Edwards, @ModernMami, is an engineer with a background in information technology who blogs at Modern Mami and around the web. She’s also a new Bedtime Math blogger.

Fred Goodall, @MochaDad is a writer, speaker, education advocate who writes at

And @KimMoldofsky (AKA @STEMchat), The Maker Mom and founder of monthly #STEMchats on Twitter designed to bring parents, educators and STEM professionals together to share resources and ideas to raise STEM-loving kids.

This post and the upcoming Twitter chat is sponsored in whole or in part by Bedtime Math.


Preview of a Presidential Library

2013 April 25
by Jeanne Bernish

Earlier this month I had the privilege of visiting the George W. Bush Institute on the campus of Southern Methodist University. In the midst of construction leading up to the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library, the Philanthropy Roundtable held its opening session in the newly finished theater of the Institue. I do not often have the opportunity to attend such events, but I had a two-fold reason for wanting to attend this conference in particular: 1) I had hoped to connect with Andy Smarick over an interesting post he authored over on the Flypaper blog that hit home:

Many of us are focused on providing better educational opportunities to low-income kids, especially those in cities. This is certainly where I’ve spent most of my time.

And for this reason, we’ve built organizations and pursued activities with this in mind. But as a result, our community has all but ignored the needs of suburban and more affluent families.

Our community’s reflexive response to this charge to date has been, “So what? We can only do so much, and urban ed reform is where we’re directing our scarce resources.”

But this fails to recognize that everything we do takes place in a political-policy context, and state legislatures and Congress include lots of people who represent suburban, middle-class, and affluent areas.  (from General Failure on the Flypaper blog)

and, 2) A trip to Dallas would give me an opportunity to reconnect with a student I had interviewed from one of our subsidiary high schools who is currently studying civil engineering at SMU.

I never did connect with Andy Smarick – (but I am fascinated by the topic of spreading education reform to our leafy suburbs. My work at KnowledgeWorks often leaves me struggling to understand why so much innovation in the education sector seems to be passing the middle class by. Competency based education, online learning and credit flexibility have much to offer the high ability student.)

George W. Bush Presidential Library on SMU's campus

George W. Bush Presidential Library on SMU’s campus

I did, however, have the opportunity to attend the opening remarks at the George W. Bush Institute. The grounds surrounding the building were simply beautiful and the native flowers in bloom were a welcome change from the not-quite-yet Spring of Ohio. Here are some of my pictures from the evening:[easyrotator]erc_45_1366905762[/easyrotator]

Community based learning opportunities

2013 April 21
by Jeanne Bernish

In Cincinnati we are quite fortunate to have many local employers interested in creating opportunities for high school students to become familiar with careers in technology – so much so that they sponsor an annual “TECHOlympics.”

This year I attended (again) as a volunteer and wrote about hacking a Kinect motion sensor on the The Maker Mom. If you haven’t yet checked it out, The Maker Mom is curated by Kim Moldofsky, #STEMchat founder, who is dedicated to helping parents raise STEM-loving, Maker-friendly kids. The blog highlights Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, gifted education, and STEM for girls and I am thrilled to have a post published there.

When Enrichment is the Best We Can Do

2013 January 27
by Jeanne Bernish

A poorly reasoned article published earlier this month in the New York Times implied racial segregation in the gifted classroom in city public schools, suggesting that all children deserved enrichment – not just the ones who have an ability test showing that they are gifted.

A big shame-on-them was promptly and correctly issued by Chester Finn on the Flypaper blog along with an OpEd rejoinder in the offending publication drawing largely on the data supported in Exam Schools: Inside America’s Most Selective Public High Schools. And although I was pleased to see someone stand up for the voice of gifted I was also left with a nagging feeling that as a nation we we are missing the point. Yes, “Exam Schools” are critically important and there should be more of them. But what do we do for these kids earlier, in grade school or middle school? Then I ran across a wonderful Blog Talk Radio interview with Dr. Linda Silverman (thank you Maker Mom for posting the original link.) The following quote was transcribed by me from the Blog Talk interview:

“What is gained in the name of democracy by allowing a child who has already learned a concept to sit in class bored while the teacher goes over and over and over material they’ve already mastered. Who gains from this? How does this serve anybody?”

I believe one of the essential challenges facing gifted education is understanding and articulating the difference between what Silverman calls “the psychology of eminence” and the psychology of giftedness.

1- Giftedness is seen by many to be an artificial designation of the education system rather than a psychological designation.  This does a huge disservice to the intellectually gifted student and any advocacy efforts undertaken on their behalf. There are scientific implications of giftedness we haven’t begun to comprehend along with patterns and combinations that could emerge when studied alongside other exceptionalities (e.g. dyslexia, Aspergers, vision and auditory issues, etc.)

2- There is general confusion between giftedness and what is perceived to be a natural outcome of giftedness – eminence. Silverman introduced the notion of eminence as a white male construct. To obtain eminence in your field requires resources, assets and a single dedicated focus that is simply rarely available to the general population. It’s not fair but that’s how it is and it is wholly unrelated to giftedness.

3- Research from Karen Rogers demonstrates that the learning rate of children above 130 IQ is approximately 8 times faster than for children below 70 IQ. How does a teacher in a public school classroom of 30 meet the need for a faster paced curriculum for the handful of students that require it? Proven accommodations for gifted children in the classroom include ability grouping for faster paced learners, telescoping curriculum, acceleration (subject and whole grade when appropriate – see The Davidson Institute for more ideas) – but all of those accommodations are rarely employed for a variety of reasons wholly unrelated to the well being and education of the gifted student. What is left? Enrichment.

And here we are back at square one with the clarion cry for equal access to museum field trips for all students – the ones in remediation along with the ones who ready for Shakespeare in 3rd grade. It is well intentioned but poorly thought out.

What does “equal access to enrichment” look like in the classroom? While the student who needs remediation visits the museum he is missing the hour block time normally dedicated to bringing him up to grade level in reading. The gifted kid who is already reading at grade level – or two, three or four years above grade-level – also enjoys the museum. The next day everyone goes back to the assembly line of school routine in which the teacher has to now spend two hours of block time to make up what the students not reading at grade level missed while they were at the museum. The gifted student? Well they can sit for two hours and watch and wait. Perhaps by 9th grade they will be lucky enough to get into an Exam School and actually learn something.

Enrichment is what we do when we have nothing else in our toolkit to offer the gifted kid. It is the very least we can do for these children.


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