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One thing we will be doing here is passing on ideas from experts whom we encounter in the course of reporting.
My expert du jour is Joseph S. Renzulli, the director of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented at the University of Connecticut. In a phone chat, he said his career has mostly focused on gifted students, but for some 25 years he has been interested in how technology can help students of all ability levels.
With Sally M. Reis, a principal investigator at the center, he spearheaded development of an online tool that helps match learning activities to students’ individual learning styles in the different areas of their school curriculum.
Renzulli gave some examples of higher-order activities that students can benefit from as a curriculum supplement: One game challenges students to dissect and preserve their own mummy, as in Ancient Egypt; other online opportunities let students perform “virtual” knee surgery, build a roller coaster, analyze documents on the Underground Railroad, or listen to oral histories of ex-slaves.
Those sorts of stimulating activities can increase students’ motivation to learn by making it more enjoyable and purposeful, Renzulli says. “Motivation is a very complex process, but anything you enjoy doing, you tend to put more effort into,” he says.
Incidentally, the Renzulli Learning System, which launched in 2005, uses an online survey tool—“the profiler” —to gauge students’ best learning styles. Most activities are gleaned from the Web, with many developed by museums or professional and scientific societies; others are developed by Renzulli and Reis and their colleagues. Schools can gain access to the system, which is marketed by the University of Connecticut Research and Development Corp., for an annual site license of $5,000, which makes it available to every teacher, student, and parent.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.