Whenever I’m looking at an app or a website or a book of lessons, I have three rules:
- Who made this?
- Does it emphasize thinking or memorizing?
- Does it highlight or hide the content?
Let’s break these rules down.
1. Who Made This?
First, I figure out who created this tool or resource. I want to know if they have any experience as a teacher of gifted students. That will be immediately clear because, if they do, they’ll definitely say so!
If the creators of the resource don’t specifically mention their experience in gifted education, I can assume they have none. And, if I’m working with gifted kids, I’ll probably pass on this tool since the creators don’t understand the unique needs of my students.
Now, this isn’t hard and fast. Excellent teachers can produce excellent resources, even without direct gifted education experience. I’ll highlight my friend Robert’s site Open Middle below. He’s not a gifted education expert, but he (and his partner is a darn good teacher.
2. Thinking or Memorizing?
Here’s one of my mottos: make sure students are thinking not merely remembering. So, is this resource just giving kids another way to repeat the same steps over and over? Is it just a fancy version of flashcards? Is it merely practice?
Or is it slowing them down and giving them interesting ways to dig deeper into the content.
The books written by the three ladies above all push kids way deeper into the lessons’ content. Students will be working with big ideas, contrasting across disciplines, and exploring truly interesting questions.
The site Open Middle is a resource for math questions that get kids thinking, not merely memorizing. Greekymon!, the most popular lesson at Byrdseed.TV, gets kids thinking about Greek and Latin roots, not just memorizing a list.
3. Highlighting or Hiding the Content?
If the tool or resources tries to hide the content by turning it into a game, I’ll pass. A key to teaching is to learn to highlight what’s interesting about the content.
And friends… any content is interesting. We just have to find the right lever to unleash curiosity.
When a math resource tries to hide fractions behind a game, that tells me that the creators think fractions are boring. But fractions are fascinating! I’d buy a fraction tool that encourages kids to experiment with fractions. What happens when you make the numerator bigger/smaller? What happens if you put a decimal in the denominator? Can you have a fraction inside of a fraction?
Open Middle doesn’t try to hide math! They’re proud of how interesting math can be. You can see a few more examples of other math resources/tasks that are proud of math here.
Great lessons highlight what’s interesting about the content itself. We don’t need to turn spelling into a game if we can get kids interested in spelling itself.
So those are my three rules for evaluating resources for gifted classrooms. Unfortunately, few tools pass! We’re awash in educational resources created by app developers rather than great educators. Do your best to seek out tools that build on high-quality lesson design and avoid those that merely “look fun!”
And I do have a few reviews of specific resources over here.
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