Banana slicer
Image by Dave Makes via Flickr

First a disclaimer: If you read that title and thought, “Oh cool, another list of [sites/games/activities] I can plug into my [instruction/centers/homework/busywork] to keep my gifted kids [challenged/engaged/occupied/from bugging me],” then this is not the post you were looking for.

Next a confession: I tend to find those sorts of posts disappointing at best and discouraging at worst, for several reasons:

  • They are often a collection of what Alton Brown might call “digital unitaskers”: sites and software that do one narrowly-defined thing, sometimes very well. A good example is the often praised SpellingCity.com. While it does spelling drill extremely well, that’s all it does. At their worst, unitaskers do something that is done just as well (or better) by other tools. If there is anyone in the world who actually needs the banana slicer pictured above….
  • They tend to focus on sites filling a niche. If you’re teaching dental hygiene, for example, HealthyTeeth.org has some great resources. If you’re not, then my mentioning it won’t help you much.
  • The sites linked in these posts frequently amount to little more than textbooks with animation or automated drill-and-practice. Check out the 4-H Virtual Farm, a well-designed, engaging, colorful site which is very appealing to young children. Unfortunately there is little for students to do beyond clicking links to read paragraphs about aquaculture or view videos of people training horses. A few sections are slightly interactive, but the student’s role is almost completely passive.

Don’t misunderstand me. There is a place for all of these kinds of tools. I myself have used them, and even created one when I didn’t find the niche tool I needed. My problem is that they are overhyped (“This is the greatest site for 3rd graders ever!”) and improperly used as prefab filler or busy work.

What I want for my gifted kids, though, are more opportunities to participate in high-level activities with depth, and to have experiences they could not have on their own in the classroom. I want my students creating, evaluating, proving, arguing, defending, persuading, constructing, investigating, interpreting, predicting and imagining.

Those tools are out there, and I am aware of many of them. My New Year’s blog resolution is to find more and share them with you. Here are a few of the kinds of tools that I will talk about over the next few days and weeks. Most of these are not new—my goal is to discuss the particular aspects that make them ideal for teaching gifted students. Tell me in the comments what else you’d like to see, or if you have used sites that allow the kind of open-ended problem solving I’m looking for.

  • Blogging
  • Wikis
  • Podcasts
  • Interactive Fiction
  • Internet “Hoaxes”
  • Web Design and Programming
  • Virtual Environments
[Note: as I create the posts, I will come back here and modify this list and create links to the specific topics. This will then become an index of sorts to the related content.]
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