Keep Their Bikes Rolling

Bike Photo by Click Flash Photos

I’ve been reading Gifted Grownups and came across a passage referencing the brain’s reticular activating system. This is a region in the brainstem that distinguishes between relevant and irrelevant stimuli, regulating interest as appropriate1 2.

Falling Bikes

When we don’t receive enough stimuli, our brains start to run into problems.

I love the imagery Marylou Kelly Streznewski gives us:

It’s a bit like trying to ride a bicycle very slowly. Thus, when stimulation falls below the level necessary for that particular person’s neural development, she may become what we on the outside describe as bored, restless, distracted, annoying. From Gifted Grownups

This is why a classroom built on worksheets and fill-in-the-blanks is difficult for gifted kids to sit through. Their bicycle is not moving fast enough.

And what’s especially vital for gifted students is that their “neural development” is higher, requiring more stimuli to stay interested than the general population. Their bikes require more speed to stay upright.

Ramp It Up!

So how can we ramp up stimulation in class to keep kids bikes rolling? Let’s look at increasing three traits:

  • novelty
  • speed
  • complexity


Come at ideas from unexpected angles. Integrate art, historical figures, and cultural items in your lesson openings. Constantly collect interesting items and images to fuel novelty.

Pinterest is a perfect tool for saving great imagery and I use Twitter to keep a record of (and share) interesting links I come across. I also like to snap pictures with my iPhone when I’m out.

Examples of spicing up lessons with novelty:

Probably my favorite example of a novel approach to math is this proportion lesson about mullets!


Gifted kids learn faster. For them, moving at a typical classroom pace can be like watching a movie you’ve already seen in slow-motion. There is no stimulation and the bike is probably going to collapse.

Carol Ann Tomlinson states:

Educators sometimes call that “acceleration,” which makes the pace sound risky. For many gifted learners, however, it’s the comfortable pace-like walking “quickly” suits someone with very long legs. The Dos and Don’ts Of Instruction

So move faster. They can handle it.

  • Check for understanding often and, if they get it, move on.
  • Set up stations and rotate rapidly.
  • Combine lessons when possible. Do you really need to teach adding and subtracting decimals on separate days?


We can speed that bicycle up by adding complexity to a topic as well.

The three tools of complexity, as described in Kaplan and Gould’s The Flip Book, are simple ways to increase complexity:

  • multiple perspectives: how do different viewpoints affect the understanding of a topic?
  • change over time: how has the topic changed throughout its history?
  • across the disciplines: how do we see math, science, poetry, history, and so on within a topic?

These simple tools pack on complexity and ramp up the stimulus for our gifted kids.

Keep It Rolling

Increasing brain stimulation for gifted kids during lessons means a reduction in behavior problems, an increase in enjoyment, and a more comfortable learning environment.