TAG has always dealt with the challenges of meeting the needs of gifted students who enroll with varying degrees of skill development, as well as with maintaining a focus for the entire school. We want all of our students to reach their goals as expressed in our mission statement. The TAG Forum, held in early September, includes the areas of study skills, research methods, social/emotional needs of the gifted, character development, goal setting, and career planning. The TAG Forum also provides a “starting ground” for Freshman Foundations (9th grade seminar) with reinforcement and development of topics in Explorations, Connections, and Horizons seminars, which are part of the 10th, 11th and 12th grade differentiated curriculum.
The Forum, an all-day activity, begins with a keynote speaker or panel speakers. In 2013 our speaker was Jameson Toole, a Google employee and doctoral student at MIT. Jameson, who currently works with Big Data (check out Jameson’s TEDx Talk here), discussed his current work and what educational path he took to get to his current position.
This past year, 2014, our keynote speaker was Catherine Cuellar, head of the Dallas Arts District, who discussed her own life trajectory from growing up in Dallas to her current position. She gave meaningful and relevant advice to students and answered any questions that students were willing to throw at her.
After the keynote speaker, students rotate through a series of small group seminars by professionals from a variety of fields across Dallas. In these sessions, students gain exposure to a variety of career opportunities to push them to think more critically about their passions and interests.
A great deal of time and organization are necessary for the planning of this activity. Our teachers understand the importance of this activity as it relates to the success of the students. In fact, the Forum was developed because teachers saw a need to expand services for our gifted students. In addition, the Forum would not have been so successful without the participation of the guest speakers. These individuals had to be knowledgeable about our program and receptive to the needs of the gifted high school student as they discussed their own careers and professions.
TREK is an off-campus interdisciplinary seminar over the course of three days. Students need the opportunity to concentrate on one topic to achieve depth of insight and to develop their problem-solving skills. An important benefit of TREK, and indeed one of its stated goals, is the opportunity for significant community building among students and staff. Students and teachers get to know each other early in the school year as small groups are intentionally mixed by grade level, gender, and ethnicity.
Planning the annual TREK requires a great deal of time and organization for the students to achieve their objectives in three days. Arranging for a camp location and guest presenters, gathering materials, and creating traditional name tags and notebooks are just some of the tasks that must be completed beforehand if a TREK is to be successful. Multiple resources including gifted journals, web sites, and inter/intradisciplinary curriculum such as that developed by Sandra Kaplan are used. Gifted strategies are also integrated throughout the curriculum.
TREK has been a part of the TAG enrichment curriculum since 1982. Each year students are asked to respond to the effectiveness of TREK. Consistently students find this interdisciplinary activity to be one of their favorite learning experiences. Students frequently become so involved in TREK that they give up their lunch and free time activities to work on their TREK products.
TAG Interim Term (TAG-IT)
TAG-IT is a two- or three-day concentrated program that incorporates multi-culturalism and character education while fostering a love for lifetime learning. Several years ago our teachers were asked, “If you could teach any ‘mini-course’ in or out of your teaching field for three days, what would you want to teach?” The response was indeed positive as teachers considered the things they enjoy doing outside of class or the topics they do not have time to include in their regular curriculum. This was the beginning of the TAG Interim Term (TAG-IT), usually scheduled between semesters or at another time that will not interrupt regular course curriculum. Small groups of students work with a teacher for the entire two or three days of TAG-IT, exploring a wide variety of topics and interests. All TAG-IT courses culminate with some kind of product: a report, a demonstration, a presentation, a model, an original piece of art, etc. Both teachers and students have enjoyed this opportunity for uninterrupted, in-depth learning or for exposure to topics which often spark life-long interest and participation. During TAG-IT, students and teachers pursue a single topic from a broad list of course offerings.
Past course selections include:
- ballroom dancing,
- stained glass making,
- biomechanics of athletes,
- rock climbing,
- chemistry and the art of Raku,
- DNA analysis using gel electrophoresis,
- relaxation techniques,
- ham radio certification,
- glass blowing and neon glass making,
- Broadway musicals,
- needlework (knitting, crochet, embroidery),
- French culture and cuisine,
- Texas poets and authors,
- connecting with the DallasMuseum of Art,
- analysis and comparison of science-fiction movies,
- women writers, and
- bird-watching and identification.
TAG Ideas Festival
TAG held its first “Ideas Festival” at school on May 30, 2014. The purpose of this day is for TAG to get a deeper understanding of student sentiment and perspectives on TAG courses and programs. Having a stronger understanding of student perspectives will enable TAG to be more strategic and effective in targeting areas for growth and improvement, as well as provide insight into the most effective and helpful things that TAG already does. The festival will become an annual event at the end of each school year.
During the “festival” students rotate between five different, 45-minute sessions throughout the morning. In these sessions, students will take anonymous surveys about their individual classes and the overall TAG experience and participate in student-led focus groups about different areas of interest (TREK, Forum, Extracurricular activities, academic workload, etc).