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Curious Minds - From The Classroom

From The Classroom


One of the prevailing myths about gifted students is that they really don’t need special help, in part because they come to school with a depth of knowledge beyond that of their peers. This can be likened to believing a talented musician, left to his or her own devices and denied the instruction and support of an experienced teacher, will nonetheless succeed. 


In reality, of course, when a student’s advanced academic ability and high achievement are not taken into account and met with appropriately differentiated and challenging instruction, the result can be frustration, which in turn can create many other problems. Without support, guidance, and challenge, gifted students can begin to underachieve in an effort to “fit in,” become socially stigmatized, or develop deep discouragement and perhaps even depression.


It is important to remember that although bright students can be impressively capable, and in some cases may know more than their teachers, they often are unable to generate the skills or maturity needed to support their own development and learning. What’s more, they often require the specialized kind of support—such as higher-level classes, compacted curriculum, independent study opportunities, and early access to college—not always provided in a traditional learning environment.  

Read more: Do Gifted Students Really Need Extra Help?

Imagine an evil villain inviting Dr. Who and two of his companions to try out a new video game only to have them get sucked up inside the game! That was the plot of a story created by a student in the new, four-week, Project A course, Dr. Who: Write Your Own Fan Fiction, which I just taught for WCATY. The students’ “mission”: to write an original Dr. Who story featuring a specific incarnation of Dr. Who and his companions. Students had to study the characters to make sure they didn't do or say anything out of character. They had to use the show's backstory and setting but create a new adventure or challenge for Dr. Who. 

Project A courses, offered for the first time this fall, were developed in response to schools’ request for shorter interventions than WCATY’s nine-week, blended learning Academy classes. A little less rigorous than Academy courses, Project A classes are taught entirely online and involve no face-to-face meetings. They can be used to determine if students are ready for the Academy.


Students are required to complete final projects, which are posted in WCATY’s new DoOR Gallery to be viewed by the entire WCATY community. The courses are structured to include two forums and an assignment each week. One forum is based on a guiding question and the other involves group work. The assignments include activities to help students complete their projects. 

Read more: Project A: Mission Accomplished!

As WCATY’s newest outreach specialist, Anne Rogalski will be working on technology issues, conducting research on student learning, and acting as the registrar for its Academy students who are not affiliated with a school or school district. But what makes her a particularly good fit for WCATY is her interest in creating and delivering curriculum that provides authentic instruction to middle school students.

“It’s a luxury to be able to create new curriculum, bounce it off of awesome, incredible people such as those on the WCATY staff, and then tweak and reinvent it as you go along,” says Rogalski, who will be teaching a number of Academy courses this year. “Most teachers don’t have that kind of luxury. I find it energizing.”

Rogalski comes to WCATY with BA and MA degrees from the University of West Florida–Pensacola, and an MSE degree in educational administration from the University of Wisconsin–Superior. She is currently a PhD candidate in educational psychology at UW–Madison. 

An educator in Wisconsin for the last 22 years, Rogalski was a vice-principal and history teacher at Columbus High School, in Marshfield, and an adjunct instructor at Lakeland College, in Sheboygan. Most recently she worked in Stevens Point, as principal of Saint Peter Middle School and as an English teacher and improvisational coach at Pacelli High School. In 2012, Rogalski received a Herb Kohl Educational Foundation Teacher Fellowship.

Read more: Anne Rogalski a Great Fit for WCATY


Student engagement takes many forms. For middle school students enrolled in Journalism: The Fourth Estate, a Summer Transitional Enrichment Program (STEP) class offered by WCATY last summer, it meant:

    • •Getting up the nerve to ask a question of the local police chief at a televised press conference amidst a group of “real” Madison-area journalists.
    • •Turning a notebook full of arcane facts on the science behind greenhouse gases and dismayingly depressing quotes on global warming into a front-page newspaper story that won’t freak out readers. 
    • •Tracking down the home phone number of a source who lives out of state. And calling reluctant sources again and again and again to get them to talk to you.
    • •Deciding if it is unethical to sample the candy you’ve been given by a source at the end of an interview on UW–Madison’s “Candy School.” 
    • •Collaborating on a story with a classmate who disagrees with you about how much background information readers need. On deadline.
    • •Using Twitter not to interact with friends, but to share news with readers.
    • •Resisting the urge to roll your eyes when your editor—also your instructor—tells you to rewrite your story because you’ve buried the “lede.”
    • •Finding and fixing the misspelled name of a source minutes before the paper goes “to press.” 

Read more: When Students Engage in Journalism

Given that effective leaders must convince followers of the importance and relevance of the cause they espouse or the organization they lead, persuasion is central to leadership ability.

Students in our WCATY online Academy class uRule the School have been developing their persuasive skills through action research projects they conduct in their schools. Students develop a research question (e.g., “Does the placement of the salad bar in the lunchroom affect how many students eat fruits and vegetables for school lunch?”), review existing research on the issue, design their own research study with their school as the site, write up the project in a final report, and then act on their research findings.


One of the ways students act on their research is to write and send a persuasive email to someone in their school or district with the power (either informal or formal) to impact change. Students can watch the following video for guidance on the principles of persuasion; typically, in their emails, they introduce themselves, describe the issue they are concerned about, explain why it is important and what they found in their research, and propose suggestions on how to improve the issue. Students review and provide feedback on one another’s emails, which in the past they have sent to superintendents, principals, school board members, school counselors, teachers, food services directors, and student council presidents. 

Read more: Combining the Science of Research and the Art of Persuasion