by Erika Solberg
We love the variety of our SCATS campers. They arrive from a wide range of backgrounds with their own special laughs, outlooks, interests, and talents. They also arrive with different kinds of giftedness — abilities from at least one of the five identified domains listed below. Because SCATS students take four classes, they can choose from various disciplines and are exposed to different teachers and groups of classmates. In addition, as our observations from the first days of camp make clear, they also have learning opportunities in all the domains of giftedness.
All definitions below courtesy of the McCracken County Public Schools website.
Specific Academic Area Aptitude
In this domain, students possess “either potential or demonstrated ability to perform at an exceptionally high level in specific academic areas significantly beyond” that of their peers.
One of the many SCATS classes this year that targets a specific area aptitude is Molly Miller’s Mathematical Sequences. The first challenge she assigned to her students on Monday was to come up with the numbers 1-20 using four fours and any math operation. To start them off, she gave the example of + + 4 = 7. “You can get as creative as possible or stay basic,” she told them.
Excited to see what they could do, the students started working immediately, some exclaiming over successes and others offering suggestions to a neighbor or asking questions like, “Can we go to negatives?” and “Can I use radicals?”
Molly said yes to both questions and assured the class that they could ask as many questions as they wanted. Later, one student’s answer seemed off, but after he walked her through it, she told him, “Creative — I like it!”
Another student was struggling to get started, but Molly told her, “Just try the basics — addition, subtraction. Once you start seeing the patterns, you’ll get it.” Sure enough, in a few minutes the student had multiple answers written down.
Later, Molly explained how the students’ enthusiasm and capability were infectious: “When I teach math at school, many students feel like they’re bad at math. But these students are like, ‘Oh, challenge accepted!’ Their confidence helps me to help them.”
General Intellectual Ability
Gifted students in this domain excel “in a variety of cognitive areas, such as abstract reasoning, logical reasoning, social awareness, memory, spatial relations, and the analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of information.” They have the ability to do well in all content areas.
Many SCATS classes ask students to observe, process information, and hypothesize across a number of areas. In Katherine Beals’ Fables, Fairy Tales, and Folklore, students spent part of Monday’s class analyzing how film adaptions of the fairy tale “Snow White” have changed over the years. Katherine asked them to “think about what endures and what changes.”
They looked a clips from several versions. A clip from a 1989 British live action film depicted the scene where the witch tempts Snow White with the poisoned apple. Students noted how much darker it was than the 1937 Disney version: “It’s eerie — you’re looking at Snow White through bars and vines.” They also commented that it was a lot more realistic and appeared to have been made for an adult audience.
After watching a trailer for an upcoming live-action Disney version, students decided that it was more realistic than the original but still had a “vintage” feel. They also observed that the trailer showed the poisoned apple but not the prince, leading to a discussion of why de-emphasizing the prince might appeal to a modern audience.
Throughout the class period, students showed an awareness of many areas of thought, including textual analysis, visual effects, psychology, and cultural trends.
Similarly, in Lara Lim’s Roller Coaster Physics, students were asked to reason and synthesize in a range of areas. Their first-day projects involved researching roller coasters throughout the world in a variety of categories, such as fastest, tallest, and longest. As they listed their data and analyzed such items as median speed, they reminisced about memorable roller coaster rides.
Afterwards, Lara asked them to think about their results from a variety of angles and to draw conclusions. One student pointed out that the top coasters in each category had been built in the 2000s. Another noticed that some coasters showed up on multiple lists, such as the fastest and the tallest. A third student observed that the most recently built coasters were not necessarily the fastest.
When Lara asked why no wooden roller coasters appeared on their lists of the fastest, Carter Hutchins hypothesized that because of friction, there was a threshold for how fast a wooden coaster could go. The class also theorized about why the state in the U.S with the most coasters was California and why coasters in countries like Japan were more likely to have more original designs.
Although the class will be physics-focused, the first day made clear that it will also involve such skills as analyzing and synthesizing ideas and being aware of different cultures — a perfect blend for students in the domain of general intellectual ability.
In this domain, gifted young people “perform at an exceptionally high level in social skills and interpersonal qualities such as poise, effective oral and written expression, managerial ability, and the ability, or vision, to set goals and organize others to successfully reach those goals.”
Emily Fox’s Leadership class had a difficult challenge their first afternoon: in two teams of four, they tried to build a taller building than the other group from half a deck of cards and one sheet of paper. Both teams struggled — as soon as they erected a small structure of cards, it would collapse. One team ran through possible new strategies and praised each other. The other team worked more separately, with one student doing most of the card building and another focused on the sheet of paper. Ultimately, both teams ended up rolling the paper into a tower and placing some cards on top.
Afterwards, however, Emily revealed that she did not think the students would succeed in the short time she had given them; the exercise had really been about teamwork and leadership skills. Therefore, she asked the students to write down “two things that you did well with leadership and teamwork, and two things you want to work on — these are your growth areas. They aren’t bad things but instead are motivators for next time.”
When the students shared some of their thoughts, one said she had worked well with her teammates but that they could have brainstormed more before starting to build. Another said he had had a hard time not just taking over.
Emily praised these observations and said, “All week long we will track growth areas — where have you done better? Where else do you need to grow?” She noted they were off to a good start because she had heard a lot of teammates encouraging each other: “There was a lot of ‘That’s okay — let’s try again.’” Their cards may have folded, but the students had not.
Students who are gifted in creativity demonstrate “innovative or creative reasoning, advanced insight and imaginations, and [ the ability to solve] problems in unique ways.”
The domain of creativity is addressed not only in arts-related classes but also in classes where thinking outside of the box is essential (for more on creativity at SCATS, see last year’s post, Creativity Is Everywhere at SCATS).
Students in Karen Furlong’s Get It Write! did a Blackout Poem activity on the first day. Given pages neatly torn from books, they picked out words and phrases to make their own poems not connected to the original meaning of the text. They then used markers to black out all but their chosen words, creating a page where their bright words stood out among the dark lines.
Some students volunteered to share their work and discuss what the poem meant to them. Matthew Feragola’s poem ended with the beautiful phrase, “close-up pictures of love,” while Alyson Butler connected her poem to her grandmother, who worked for women’s rights.
Creativity tends to be contagious, and after the exercise, the students spent some time discussing whether or not penguins have knees; “what ifs” spread around the room as these young minds sparked off each other’s ideas into new possibilities.
Meanwhile, in Meghan Althauser’s Breakout Room Frenzy!, students were problem-solving. The course, building on the popularity on escape rooms, promises to give students “a summer of solving puzzles and tasks.”
On Monday, pairs of students were given cards describing a problem for them to fix with an original solution, such as how to organize loose change or pick up litter easily. Despite it being late in the afternoon on the first day of classes, every head was bent over the task, with students brainstorming and sketching out ideas while Meghan moved around the room providing suggestions and encouragement.
When students had their solutions, they created a blueprint on big sheets of paper, making sure to include labels and instructions. Their work revealed plenty of creative thinking. Kate Hans and Myra Jones drew the front and back view of a string-and-door-stopper contraption that would open and close a door without getting out of bed. Jay Hale and Akasha Glover, who had been given the problem of how to get a cool drink without leaving the comfort of floating in a pool, designed an inflatable buoy cup holder and cooler.
As they sketched their idea, they continue to refine it. They had originally planned to fill their devices with helium and ice, but Jay asked, “Do we need ice? Maybe we could use nitrogen — or dry ice.”
Akasha agreed. “We’ll have to figure out how dry ice interacts with helium — or we could do it with layers, so the dry ice is in one layer and the helium in another.”
The students’ designing, questioning, rethinking, and redesigning, all key creative tools for any engineer, are sure to lead to some inventive breakout challenges this week.
Visual and Performing Arts
In this domain, students possess “either potential or demonstrated ability to perform at an exceptionally high level in the visual or performing arts … such as art, dance, music, drama, and speech and in activities requiring exceptional gross or fine motor skills.”
In Alecia Meyer’s Musical Theatre Exploration, students are preparing a group performance of “A Million Dreams” from The Greatest Showman. The song will not only sung by the students, however; they will also be making the artistic decisions necessary to make the song their own.
On Tuesday, following vocal warmups, which included an especially melodious version of “Mama made me mash my M&Ms,” they sang along to a demo version of the song. Next, Alecia guided them through the process of making decisions on what to change or keep in the arrangement they are working with. Trace Martin suggested a male solo at the beginning followed by a female solo, with the whole group coming in for the chorus. Next, following an idea from Addie Patterson, they decided that the boys will sing harmony in the second section, and that a section written for just female voices will instead be sung in harmony by the group.
After they finished fine-tuning the arrangement, students interested in the solos auditioned, with the class selecting the singers through secret ballot. Mac Bettersworth, who did not want a solo, entertained the class with her kazoo while the votes were counted. The group chose Trace and Gracie Adams, and they decided Mac should try playing the introduction to the song on her kazoo. “I’m going to come in tomorrow and master that,” she declared.
With this group of gifted performers, anything is possible.