Enrichment Activities for Gifted Students: Author Q&A
Enrichment Activities for Gifted Students: Author Q&A
PUBLISHED: Monday, February 08, 2021 by Andilynn Feddeler

Enrichment Activities for Gifted Students outlines a variety of extracurricular academic activities and programming options for gifted student talent development. The book provides everything busy educators need to know about offering, funding, and supporting enrichment activities and programs that develop students’ content knowledge and expertise, build valuable real-world skills, and extend learning beyond the walls of the classroom. Learn more about the book and enrichment options for gifted students in this interview with the author, Todd Stanley.

Q: How is this book organized? What is included in each section/chapter?

A: I tried to make the book as user-friendly as possible and set it up as more of a reference book than one you read from cover to cover. I divided the chapters into subject areas, such as math, language arts, science, and social studies. I also included chapters that were related to skills such as creative thinking and leadership. Within each of those chapters, I have five examples of an academic extracurricular activity (AECA) involving that topic, four of which are nationally known programs, and one that can be a homegrown program that you start at your school to fit a specific need. I broke down each activity further into the following headings:

  • What is this activity?
  • Who can be involved?
  • Where does this activity take place?
  • When does this activity occur?
  • Why should students participate?
  • How do you run this activity?

 A person should be able to read the section on that AECA and have a pretty good idea of what it involves and how to run it. 


Q: How are enrichment activities and programs beneficial to gifted students?

A: As someone who has been doing these AECAs for more than 20 years, I have seen the long-term benefits of such activities. I see this in former students, one of whom participated in Destination Imagination 23 years ago. When we sat down for coffee just last month, he still remembered the experience and what his team’s challenge was. I have also seen the benefit in my own daughter, who participated in many of these AECAs, such as Model United Nations, Business Professionals of America, and Youth and Government. The experience she gained in public speaking in an authentic setting gave her the confidence to be successful in procuring co-ops in her field of study. It has given her an advantage over other students who did not have these experiences. 

Personal anecdotes aside, in the October 2019 issue of Gifted Child Quarterly, there is an article by Jonathan Wai and Jeff Allen. They looked at 21 years of data to determine effective ways to help gifted students develop their talents, especially at the secondary level. They took a look at extracurricular activities and the effect they had on academic growth. The results were a little mixed. Activities such as community service, debate, performing arts, or cultural clubs were found to have positive effects on a student’s academic growth. Nonacademic clubs, such as social clubs, radio/tv, or sports, were shown to have a negative impact on student achievement growth. 

The conclusion Wai and Allen (2019) drew about extracurricular activities is “how academically talented students allocate their time is of potential importance.” In other words, some extracurricular activities will develop talent better than others, and students just need to choose the right ones. That is the purpose of this book: to help educators identify which programs would best benefit their students. 

I think the most important benefit is that students get excited about learning. By the time many students get into high school, their education has become more of a job they have to do rather than something they want to do. The passion and excitement I see from students involved in AECAs is something I rarely see in their classrooms. 


Q: What are some of your favorite enrichment activities to get students involved in?

A: I really enjoy the ones where students get to combine problem solving with creativity. Whether it is Destination Imagination, Invention Convention, Future City Builders, or the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, students must combine their intelligence with their creative thinking skills in order to be successful. Nothing is more exciting for me than the night of the district Invention Convention where the 50 or so kids I have been working with suddenly bring their ideas to life. It is like Christmas morning for me—the excitement, the energy, the colorful displays. I recruit teachers in the district to help judge the convention, and they are always impressed with the ideas of kids as young as kindergarteners. 

My other favorite aspect of students being involved in AECAs is that they find a place where they can fit in and use their intelligence to be a star. Often, the only way students are going to experience this is through athletics. But if you are not an athlete, what avenues do you have to work with a team, compete, and represent your school? That is what AECAs provide for students. I am not a huge fan of math in general, but when I attended the MathCounts Competition, I was amazed at how exciting the event was. In one event, two students were put on the stage and challenged with solving a problem the fastest, and I looked around the auditorium and saw hundreds of kids, and adults for that matter, attempting to solve it themselves. It was like they were watching a baseball game.

The same goes for the Science Olympiad, which I had never seen before. I took a field trip to Northern Ohio to interview the advisor who had won multiple national titles. She had invited me to their invitational. There were thousands of kids, running around the school on a Saturday, getting stoked about science. It was like going to a football game on Friday night. There were even tailgaters in the parking lot. These students were getting the chance to show their abilities in ways they typically did not. 


Q: How can educators with limited funding provide adequate enrichment for gifted students?

A: Unfortunately, some AECAs can end up being pricey either for the school or the students. As great as FIRST LEGO League is, a starter kit for that competition can cost north of a thousand dollars. If you were to win your regional and state Destination Imagination competition and get invited to Globals, the cost of attendance is $5,500 per team, which does not include travel expenses.   

However, there are plenty of programs that have little to no cost, especially the homegrown ones I talk about in the book. For example, the chess club just needs some chess sets. I petitioned one of our Title I buildings through their PTO to purchase these for the school, and they gladly did it. It was only a couple hundred dollars for 30 nice chess sets that are going to be used for decades by hundreds of kids. For STEM clubs that I run, there is no cost to the students. I provide any supplies we need and procure most of them from the school supply closet. A stock market club uses only pretend money, meaning no actual money needs to be spent to run such an activity. 

The Invention Convention, which I have been involved with for more than 20 years, has fought hard to make sure there is no cost to students. Business Professionals of America is usually sponsored by the vocational school. My daughter got to travel to Anaheim, CA, and Dallas, TX, to compete at the National Leadership Conference at no cost to herself. 

For those AECAs that do include costs, there are creative ways to raise funds for teams, whether it be finding a sponsor, running a fundraiser, or asking if the school district would be willing to foot any of the bill. Some teams will sponsor a warm-up tournament for something like the Science Olympiad. The team makes the money it needs for registration for the state and national tournaments by charging teams from other local teams to compete at their invitational.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from this book?

A: As with all of my books, I hope for readers to find something that is going to be meaningful to them and beneficial for their students. I also hope readers understand that gifted students need a place where they can be themselves and be celebrated for their abilities. AECAs provide that opportunity for them.

Mostly, what I am hoping readers take away from the book is the confidence to run an AECA of their own. Students need someone to champion the cause and provide adult leadership. Most of these AECAs simply die out of a district if there is no one willing to run them. I ran Invention Convention, Model United Nations, and Destination Imagination at my previous district, working with thousands of students over the course of nearly 20 years. When I left for another district, those programs all died out. No one was willing to take up the reins even though there was clearly a demand for it. I was even contacted by former students who asked me to supervise them for Model United Nations, which I did for a few years before becoming too busy at my new district to continue. Students need champions in order to be champions. If from this book I am able to inspire someone to be that for students, then I will be a happy man.

Todd Stanley is the author of more than 12 teacher education books, including Project-Based Learning for Gifted Students: A Handbook for the 21st-Century Classroom and Performance-Based Assessment for 21st-Century Skills. He helped create a gifted academy for grades 5–8, which employs inquiry-based learning, project-based learning, and performance-based assessment. He is currently gifted services coordinator for Pickerington Local School District, OH, where he lives with his wife, Nicki, and two daughters, Anna and Abby.