As 21st-century skills and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) are increasingly emphasized in schools, gifted programs are being updated to keep pace. The middle school gifted program in St. Joseph, Missouri will soon begin working alongside local businesses to provide its students with real-world, hands-on opportunities. Students will use an interactive online component to work from their schools, and they will also learn from experts off-site to gain an understanding of robotics and innovation, life sciences and chemistry, leadership and problem-solving skills, and entrepreneurship and business principles. As students work with these mentors, they will develop strategies, use creativity, and shape innovative ways of serving the community. Those in charge of the program say they want students to gain a sense of community, become more empathetic, and get a better grasp of the real-world applications of STEM disciplines.
The shift in education from traditional methods to problem-based learning methods is based on a two-fold premise: first, that students will be more interested in learning if they can see real-world applications to what they are doing; and second, that they will be better prepared for real-world careers, and will have better developed interpersonal communication skills, if they have backgrounds in relevant areas and team-based projects.
For students whose schools do not offer programs like St. Joseph’s, opportunities for real-world learning can be found elsewhere, such as through mentors. The Davidson Institute for Talent Development offers tips not only for finding a mentor for your gifted child, but also for how to make the most of a mentorship—by making a collaboration focused on a specific goal, for instance, and by encouraging students to ask questions. Local mentors can be found through the National Mentoring Partnership and through The Mentoring Group, and in areas where mentors are scarce, the International Telementor Program can provide long-distance mentoring opportunities.
Gifted kids can seek out additional real-world opportunities through competitions, volunteer work, and summer programs. Hoagies’ Gifted Education page provides a comprehensive list of competitions that can capture students’ interest, and Duke University’s Talent Identification Program (TIP) offers tips about encouraging leadership in gifted kids through volunteer work, mentoring, and summer opportunities. Through these channels and others, students can capitalize on their interests and gain real-world experiences that challenge them and prepare them for future learning and professions.