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Curious Minds - WCATY News



WCATY’s Project A Missions are underway! This new, online program, designed in response to customer feedback, takes problem- and project-based curriculum approaches to the next level by giving students the opportunity to become project managers in charge of selecting, planning, revising, and reflecting upon a plan of work. 

The 110 students undertaking four-week missions in Project A October classes come from around the state, from both school and home settings, and grades five through eight. Yet there is one thing they all have in common: a passion for the topic at hand. Whether students choose to explore psychological exploration in our Happiness class, mathematical investigation in Math of Pirates, historical research in It Never Happened, fan fiction creation in Dr. Who, or pattern finding in Nature Dissected, they become more self-directed learners while working and bonding with like-minded peers around common interests. 

Last week, during Week One, students jumped into action, selecting a problem from a range of inquiry options, joining a research group, writing a hypothesis, and beginning to develop their projects. Students also were asked to articulate their positions on key issues related to the content by taking part in a class-wide discussion.   

Read more: Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It


According to Warren Buffet, the way to get smarter is to read. A lot. “I just sit in my office and read all day,” Buffet tells Farnum Street blogger Shane Parrish.

We at WCATY are here to second that notion, and to invite you back to read another year of blog posts published as Curious Minds, a platform that draws on the voices of our staff, instructors, students, parents, alums, and other advocates to help tell our story and that of the larger gifted community. 

In Curious Minds posts our students will share some of what they are up too, at times revealing the fun—and sometimes frustration—that comes along with being the most advanced learners in their schools. Parents will talk about the joy and challenges of raising children whose gifts run the gamut from intellectual to creative. Instructors will reflect on the best practices they use to ensure that their students are not just achieving, but growing intellectually and academically, and to describe how they work to provide the deep, authentic learning experiences that lead to expertise. 

Curious Minds will also bring you news of WCATY—of our staff, programs, and connections with UW-Madison. And we’ll highlight the big developments in education in general and gifted education in particular, inviting not only experts in the field but also readers to join in the conversation. Feel strongly about how the Common Core is affecting gifted education? Want to review the newest bestseller on higher education? Need a place to sing the praises of how well your daughter’s math teacher is differentiating instruction in her classroom? Curious Minds is somewhere to share your thoughts.  

But back, for a moment, to Buffet. According to Parrish, “When asked how to get smarter, once held up stacks of paper and said, ‘Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge builds up, like compound interest.’”

Here’s hoping some of your reading this year will be here, at Curious Minds.


Priscilla Pardini is WCATY’s communication coordinator and editor of Curious Minds.



Tom Sinks, one of WCATY’s first online Academy instructors—and no doubt one of the very first teachers in the country to teach middle school students via an online platform—recalls taking to the new model right from the start.

It was a great way, he says, to offer advanced learners a chance to “think deeply rather than just regurgitate facts while interacting with other bright students they otherwise never would have met.”

Sinks will retire from WCATY at the end of summer. “I’m not worried about getting bored,” he says. “But I will miss the kids.”

That first course Sinks developed and taught for WCATY was Utopia; its curriculum featured Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, classics not typically tackled by middle schoolers. Yet, says Sinks, “They enjoyed the challenge being thrown at them.” He also found it easier than he had expected to get to know his students. “We discovered very quickly that kids, and especially GT kids, are very open with their feelings when they are working online. Their personalities really came through in their posts.”

This was in 1997, when online classes were just coming on the scene, and were tailored almost exclusively to adults and college students. At the time, Sinks was a fifth-grade teacher working in the Oregon School System, a job he held for twenty-six years. Prior to that, he’d spent two years with the Peace Corps in El Salvador. When he retired from the classroom in 2001, he began teaching more Academy classes, and in WCATY’s Young Student Summer Program (YSSP). He also helped train new Academy instructors. 

Read more: WCATY's Incomparable Instructor Tom Sinks to Retire

For years, WCATY has provided innovative and challenging courses through its online Academy. Students take these classes—offered through a hybrid-learning format—in lieu of those offered by their school districts. Students work independently during portions of their regular school day and attend three face-to-face meetings over the course of each nine-week class.  


Now, new WCATY offerings are being developed in response to a Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction mandate that all school districts implement the Response to Intervention (RtI) model, a reform effort aimed at providing high-quality instruction for all students and targeted interventions for particular groups of students. Such interventions typically are delivered through 30- to 45-minute “blocks” of time during which student receive small-group instruction tailored to their learning needs.

The DPI defines the target population for RtI as those “at risk for poor learning outcomes or in need of increased challenge,” opening up the process to address the instructional needs of gifted students. However, many districts lack the capacity to do so, due to a lack of professional development for staff or funding constraints, and have approached WCATY for assistance.  

Read more: New WCATY Classes Respond to School Needs

Summer is just around the corner, and the WCATY Summer Programs will begin soon.  As we are gearing up for a season of fun and intense learning, we’re giving our students a chance to gear up as well.  The WCATY “Get Motivated” campaign begins with the launch of the WCATY MEME page.  This is a place where WCATY kids can create Internet MEMES in celebration of their favorite "nerd" program. 

The WCATY MEME generator is pre-loaded with a collection of pictures of WCATY kids and staff enjoying WCATT Programs.  MEME users can add their own witty sayings to our collection of pictures, or they can upload their own WCATY photos.  If they want, they also have the ability to leave comments on other MEME images.  Completed MEME's can be downloaded and viewed on the display page.  For our launch, the first pictures have been placed in the Motivator image format.   Click on over, and show your WCATY spirit!