Monday, July 14, 2008

Mad Hot Science

Today was AJ's first day of Gifted Camp, a camp founded and directed by a well-known educator and advocate of gifted children and operating under the aegis of a university. [I'm bypassing links and using altered names in my discussions of the camp and classes for security reasons] This is our first experience with classes designed specifically for gifted children and we weren't exactly sure what to expect.

Our interactions prior to the first day gave me the impression of a lack of organization, probably due to not enough staff people. There were many glitches, including unreturned phone calls, a mailing with no mention of the address of the school where the camp is taking place, and promises of paperwork that did not arrive. However, none of it was particularly major -- the address was easy enough to find, the paperwork was not important. And this has not had much effect on our impression of the place.

When my husband Mr. Spy dropped AJ off at camp this morning, the school was full of lost and confused parents wandering around the school trying to figure out where they were supposed to go. AJ barely made it to his first class on time.

But after that, it's been all good. AJ loved his classes and his teachers and his fellow students. He is taking three 50 minute classes and gets to change rooms in between them, just like a big kid. They are doing exciting, hands on things. In his first class, devoted to mechanical physics, they experimented with pulleys and ropes to try to pick up a heavy cement block. In his second class, they experimented with common kitchen items to see which would dissolve most quickly in water and which would not dissolve at all. His third class, he said, was his favorite. They are working in teams to solve a math mystery, working with number patterns and codes and math problems over the next two weeks to earn jigsaw puzzle pieces that will fit together and tell them the solution. When he got home, he was totally switched on, excited about all of it.

But I'm still struggling with a couple of issues, which are, in a way, related.

Issue 1:

Afterwards, AJ and I went up to the pool to rest our brains in the sun. AJ was talking excitedly about going to camp in the morning. Of course, the other parents asked me which camp he was attending, and I hestitated. Do I tell them he's going to Gifted Camp? It sounds like bragging. But if I don't, what do I say? I'm a lousy liar, so I just told them the truth, but in such a small town, I wonder about the wisdom of it.

Issue 2:

Yes, AJ needs more academic challenges in his life. He gets grouchy when he's bored, even if he's the one who's not taking the initiative. He doesn't always know what to ask for. And I'm happy to be able to offer him more challenges. But really, what they're doing, at least on the science side of things, is something that could be happening in school. Why don't we start scientific experimentation in preschool? Maybe they do in some places, but not in the ones I can afford. Rising second graders don't need to be gifted to have fun with pulleys or to understand some of the physics behind it. Maybe they won't all get it the first time around, but why not let them try?

These both get back to my difficulty with the label "gifted." I don't doubt that there's genetics behind it. But really, how much of giftedness has to do with opportunity? With parental involvement? With good teachers well paid? And if we're helping out our gifted kids, is there something we can do to help everyone else as well? I'm still not sure I know the answer to this.

Later at the pool, I was sitting next to the mother of a girl in AJ's grade. She and I have had many discussions about the wisdom of our school's decision to isolate the ESL kids in their own classes, rather than figure out how to integrate Spanish and English speakers in one classroom. We both feel that this segregation is egregious and will have far-reaching consequences for those kids in the future. Today, she announced she was running for the school board. She has had it and she wants to do something about it. I told her I'd vote for her. I considered whether I would run and decided I wasn't really interested in being involved in that way, at least not at the moment. Because advocating AJ's needs takes up too much of my time already. Am I being selfish? Most definitely. But is there more I can do from my own angle? Perhaps. I'll have to give it some thought.


Egg said...

Your comment about starting science in school earlier is one which I get on a soap box about regularly. At my place of employment we're all focused on getting kids interested in science because of lack of science education and of people entering science related fields for careers in U.S. but we're aiming it at an older target audience and ignoring the younger kids and it makes me crazy. I had one of the education folks help me tone down the floor demos when her highness' class was there and they loved it, in fact it's been almost a year and half and her highness yesterday was explaining static electricity to me based on what she remembers from one of those demos and she even got the word static correct.

Her highness is about to be subjected to the gifted label for school every day come fall I'm not sure how to deal with that either.

My Kids' Mom said...

1. I've found that some of our best camps have been that disorganized. Maybe they're spending all their time at curriculum planning and they miss the boat a bit at "parent orientation"

2. "He's at an academic camp." If they ask for more information, then give it, but you don't have to offer it if you don't want to.

2. If school time was really used wisely (homeschoolers claim a school day can be accomplished in an hour) then maybe there would be time for fun, hands on experiments. Good teachers work them in, to teach the concepts they're supposed to teach. But to stray too far from the information that they will be tested on means that slower kids may not totally grasp the required concepts before testing time.

3. Never feel guilty.

FreshHell said...

How many girls are in these classes that AJ's taking?

Harriet said...

MKM, an "academic camp" is a good thing to try. I like it. But I suspect that this group would have pressed me for the name. It's that kind of place. But maybe I'll try it next time (if there is a next time) and see what happens. Freshhell, I'm not sure. There are definitely some. When I dropped off AJ, we were a little early and there were only two kids there before us, both boys. But AJ says there are girls in all three of his classes. "How many?" I ask. "I don't know," says AJ. "Some."

FreshHell said...

That's good to know.