Ken Smith, an author/teacher who I met at NAGC, recently sent me the science edition of his series Challenging Units for Gifted Learners. I reviewed the language arts, math, and social studies books earlier.
Smith uses his Ph.D. in cognitive psychology to target gifted students’ unique thinking processes. Units are designed for deep exploration with many avenues of thought. All projects are based on ill-structured problems, with no “right answers.”
He also runs his district’s enrichment program, so the units are designed for busy teachers. Each unit is structured into step-by-step, daily lessons (even including homework ideas!).
I think this double-pronged attack makes these units noteworthy and useful for teachers working with gifted students.
Unit One: Memories
The first unit is on human memories and definitely got me excited. It’s framed as a research project into memory retention. Now, I’d have a hard time justifying such a fascinating unit with my state standards, but Smith builds in grade-level math concepts such as mean, median, and mode. Typical science standards such as hypotheses are also covered. This gives me a perfect excuse for those curious administrators.
Students will go beyond basic statistics and use variance, standard deviations, and bell curves. None of this is presented as stand-alone material. Instead, lessons are taught so that students can build on their research into human memory. Awesome.
Smith recommends five weeks of three, hour-long meetings per week. I love that the units are large in scope, allowing students to really dig into an idea (and giving teachers breathing room for planning!)
With our stats unit coming up, I can’t wait to see my class comparing their research into verbal memories.
The other units included are:
- Human Psychology Role Play: in which students diagnose troubled patients (played by school staff members). Students use their understanding of human body systems and reported symptoms to create their diagnoses. There’s a pretty interesting “Physician’s Packet” and glossary of medical terms included in this one.
- Physics: Students work with motion graphs, independent and dependent variables, velocity, and acceleration to help athletes overcome a problem with their game.
- Food Science: This unit is built around nutrition and incorporates chemistry and biology. Students complete experiments to test for sugar, protein, and fat and investigate processed foods. I know this would fit in well with our fifth grade science standards in California.
Every unit in the book includes targeted standards, an explanation of connections to gifted thinkers, and possible adaptations.
With up to 36 students in my class, I really appreciate the structure given in these units. I often have to make adaptations to work with my larger group, but it’s worth it to explore the interesting topics.
If you’re looking for some big units to challenge your students’ thinking, one of Ken’s books will surely help you out. You can pick up any of them up at Amazon. You can also purchase eBook versions over at Prufrock
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