What gifted students are learning in Sonoma
In October, Sonoma’s gifted and talented elementary students spent the morning engaged in creative thinking activities at the first of the GATE symposia scheduled this year.
Fourth- and fifth-grade students identified as gifted and talented while in the third grade, representing Dunbar, El Verano, Flowery, Prestwood and Sassarini, met at Prestwood for the event. In randomly assigned groups, students worked collaboratively to develop unique, new or alternative uses for a common household object, and then developed a marketing plan to advertise and sell their new ideas.
Gifted and talented education is a program targeted at the top 3 to 5 percent of students in the district who have skills that stand out in general intellectual or academic ability, leadership skills or visual or performing arts. Students are admitted to the program through a matrix of factors that include the SOI (structure of intellect) GATE test, and teacher and parent input.
Like students who struggle with developmental and learning disabilities, students at the top range of the intellectual scale also have specific learning and social emotional needs that lie outside those of the general student population, and SVUSD remains committed to serving the needs of this group of students despite budget cutbacks at the state and local level.
All teachers in the district have received training, and implement differentiated teaching strategies, to meet the varied needs of learners in their classes every day. Some of these techniques include questioning, grouping, pairing, team time, projects and alternative grading rubrics used in general education classes.
In addition to these strategies, the GATE symposia – planned and taught by a GATE-certified teacher – provide opportunities for gifted and talented students to work together and also be exposed to some of the challenging classes, clubs and opportunities available at the middle- and high-school levels.
Over the past three years, gifted and talented fourth and fifth graders have tried the “Big Bad Wolf” at a mock trial, with volunteer leaders from Sonoma Valley High’s award winning mock trial team and attorney Steve Barbose acting as judge. They have solved a “crime” using CSI techniques with the help of advance placement biology students from Sonoma Valley High and the forensic support of the Sonoma Sheriff’s Office. They created new and more effective scarecrows using wood frames built and assembled by students from the SVHS industrial arts program.
At one symposium, entitled “Tracking Trends,” students interviewed a panel of experts (volunteer residents of Sonoma Hills Retirement Community) to learn about the cars, toys and music popular in the past so that they could make predictions about what directions these items might take in the future.
One student left the interview room with the experts telling the teacher, “These people know everything! Did you know there used to be these things called phonographs? Have you ever heard of a phonograph?”
They have investigated the effects of UVA and UVB radiation from the sun, built rockets, dissected owl pellets, designed and flown paper airplanes, and investigated the effects of art on history with SVHS art students creating podcasts and other multimedia projects to show their learning. Parent volunteers are instrumental in supporting learning at GATE symposia and deserve a debt of gratitude for their time and efforts on behalf of this group of learners.
SVUSD’s next GATE symposium will be Jan. 23 at Prestwood, where students are researching the history and purpose of holidays and their relevance in our society. Students will have the opportunity to create new holidays or request that existing ones be officially removed from the calendar. It will be fascinating to see what new holidays these divergent thinkers will come up with.
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Suzanne Heiser is the GATE coordinator for the Sonoma Valley Unified School District.