ERIC Identifier: ED321488
Publication Date: 1990-00-00
Author: Jones, Geoffrey
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children
Personal Computers Help Gifted Students Work Smart.
ERIC Digest #E483.
Since the early 1970s, schools across the nation have been adding instruction
in computing to programs for students of all ages and abilities. Gifted
and talented students in many schools now have access to computers in their
classrooms, and an increasingly large percentage of these students have
home computers. As the goals for technology education and the promises
of educational change have grown, the hardware and software used in both
schools and homes have improved steadily. Educators, business and industry,
the government, and the general public believe our most able students must
be computer literate for our nation to be competitive in the next generation.
Only recently, with the gulf between promises and achievements widening,
have voices of concern been raised (Holden, 1989).
The disparity between theory and practice is attributed to many causes,
ranging from a lack of educational focus to a shortage of funding. But
even those reporting problems have found evidence that students are working
"smarter," whether they are learning and using more information, understanding
key concepts and relationships better, or developing higher level thinking
skills. Gifted students are benefiting from increased use of computers
because their special needs are being met through informed use of technology.
THE NEEDS OF GIFTED AND TALENTED STUDENTS
The identification of gifted and/or talented individuals and the determination
of their specific needs is complicated by the widely different opinions
of what giftedness is and how it is manifested. Basic research is as varied
as Howard Gardner's (1983) theory of multiple intelligences and Joseph
Renzulli's (1977) dependence on congruence between ability, commitment,
and creativity. Most agree, however, that the talents of gifted youngsters
are dynamic, rather than static or fixed, and that the youngsters and their
talents must be nurtured.
How schools nurture and the effects of various practices are the focus
of much research. June Cox (Cox, Daniel, & Boston, 1985), with the
Sid W. Richardson Foundation, conducted a national study of current programming
for able learners. Donald Treffinger (1986) has written prolifically on
gifted programs. Others have explored the relationship of specific processes
such as problem finding to nurturing specific talents such as creativity
(Getzels & Csikszentmihalyi, 1976).
Combined with practice and experience, the research suggests that the
following tenets are essential to good programming for gifted and talented
*Instruction recognizes students' unique learning styles.
*Students are supported as they grow in self-confidence and self-awareness
of their strengths and weaknesses.
*Students progress at a rate most appropriate for them.
*Structured opportunities are provided for individual and small-group
investigations of real problems.
*Students are encouraged to develop and practice higher level thinking
*Opportunities are provided for students to establish goals and determine
*Students learn with and from each other.
*A wide range and variety of materials and resources are available.
*Student interests are used as a basis for learning.
COMPUTERS ARE IDEA ENGINES
The computer has evolved well beyond the ancestral calculator that did
amazing computations. It has become an idea engine--a tool for discovery,
exploration, and collaboration. Computers are designed to process information,
and the results they furnish are as limitless as the human beings using
them and the problems and applications for which they are employed. Computers
can manage data whether the information they store is organized as numbers,
names, words, dates, or any combination of facts. Computers can produce
graphics in charts, pictures, animation, color, and three dimensions if
the necessary peripherals and programming devices are available. They can
be used to manipulate text, correct spelling, critique grammar, and speak
several languages. When connected with telephone lines or other cabling,
they can share information. Instructed properly, computers can make "intelligent"
decisions. They do all of this accurately, with speed and increasing flexibility.
At the simplest level, as intelligent tutors offering computer aided
instruction (CAI), computers provide only modest support of program goals
for able learners. Instruction is individually paced, different learning
styles may be accommodated, and some self-confidence may be gained. However,
this use of computers fares poorest in the research. Teachers are still
better at traditional stimulus/response instruction.
At a higher level, students are provided opportunities to do research
and apply complex thinking skills by working with real problems and computer
Learning becomes fun and more challenging. Some of the best software
on the market falls into this category, and the results of time spent with
computers in this mode are not easily dismissed. Students are taught programming
languages that aid them in beginning to turn a computer into a real tool.
The LOGO languages and the concepts introduced in Mindstorms (Papert, 1980)
and the more advanced Turtle Geometry (Abelson & diSessa, 1984) provide
platforms for students to invent their own syntax, integrate knowledge,
and share ideas. All students in gifted and talented programs should be
introduced to such computer applications and programming.
Unfortunately, many students never move beyond this level. The newfound
mastery of the power of the computer is seductive. Every problem presented
can be solved. The graphics are spectacular. Nonusers are awed, and even
the teachers are often surpassed; "hackers" emerge. However, little is
to be gained from merely a faster CPU, better resolution, gigabytes of
storage, or technology. The real power of the computer derives from the
quality of the questions students ask and attempt to answer.
ASKING BETTER QUESTIONS
In November, 1987, Control Data Corporation challenged students across
the country to put their best questions forward as part of a contest to
promote a new supercomputer. They wanted to know what students were interested
in and how they would use a computer to discover, explore, and collaborate.
Teachers were asked to spend the next 6 months building and guiding learning
experiences that reinforced and clarified the students' topics. Teams were
formed--each student member having an independent project--to pool strategies,
share learning, and expand alternatives. Time was spent in the library
reading professional journals and investigating tangents. At the end of
the school year the students with the best-developed questions (still no
solutions) were invited to spend the summer in Minnesota working with a
powerful computer and mentors from Control Data staff. After nearly 8 months
of investigation, the students reported what they had learned to a panel
of scientists who read each paper and spent several hours listening to
the students and sharing their own knowledge and experience.
The impact of that program on each of the 1,475 schools that participated
nationwide was remarkable. Computers had been used to frame better questions,
define important problems, and stretch students farther than they or their
teachers had thought possible. These gifted and talented students combined
their individual strengths and needs with a conglomerate of people, resources,
and technologies that changed their learning experience. It is important
to note that the use of computers, although significant, was not the focus
of the program. The students were not studying computer science or applications.
GIFTED AND TALENTED STUDENTS WORK SMART
When computers are used to support program goals and meet individual
student needs, they can help gifted students work smart.
*When choices are provided and experimentation allowed, individual learning
styles and preferences can be accommodated and enhanced through the flexibility
of the computer to interact with pictures, words, numbers, or any other
medium the student is most comfortable with. The flexibility of the technology
is the key concept. Different students find different word processors,
graphics packages, databases, and spreadsheets easier to use.
*Structured experiences designed by well-trained teachers can help students
use computers to develop strengths and overcome or neutralize weaknesses.
Word processors do improve writing and expression of ideas. Databases can
be as rigid or open as the student needs. Solving problems and answering
questions are satisfying outcomes. Students grow in confidence as they
build their repertoire of skills.
*Computers can be used to match students' paces. They are patient and
will hold on to an idea for a long time. They do more complex tasks when
students are ready to use them in more complex ways. They provide information
when students are ready for it.
*When students assume responsibility for the process, they work smarter.
Computers serve people. People define problems, set goals and objectives,
and determine roles. The better students understand the learning process,
the better they will use technology.
*People learn from people. People are on the other end of the information
and ideas accessed through a computer. Students have contact with these
people via software, bulletin boards, or face to face in discussions and
group projects. Students can meet a lot of smart people through computers.
Abelson, H., & diSessa, A. (1984). Turtle Geometry. Cambridge, MA:
Cox, J., Daniel, N., & Boston, B. (1985). Educating Able Learners
Austin: University of Texas Press.
Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.
New York: Basic Books.
Getzels, J., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1976). The Creative Vision:
A Longitudinal Study of Problem Finding in Art. New York: Wiley.
Holden, C. (1989, May 26). Computers make slow progress in class. SCIENCE,
Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas.
New York: Basic Books.
Renzulli, J. S. (1977). The Enrichment Triad Model: A Guide for Developing
Defensible Programs for the Gifted and Talented. Wethersfield, CT: Creative
Treffinger, D. (1986). Blending Gifted Education with the Total School
Program. East Aurora, NY: D.O.K.