Symposium returns for sixth year in Austin

Published 10:28 am Friday, June 13, 2014

School may be out for the summer, but the lessons haven’t stopped. Only this time, it was the teachers’ turn to learn.

The sixth annual Gifted and Talented Symposium was held at Riverland Community College this week. On Thursday, Richard M. Cash of Minneapolis worked to equip teachers with problem solving and critical thinking skills for the 21st Century.

“My passion is teaching teachers,” he said.

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This year’s symposium, which sold out with 230 people, started Sunday with a pre-confrence and ended Thursday. The symposium included several workshops with different speakers, including authors, gifted and talented directors from places like England, and distinguished lecturers. There were even activities throughout the symposium for children.

“Thinking can be tough, but also thinking can be fun,” Cash said. “We’ve gotta teach kids that the thought process is actually a fun process, and can be enjoyable, not regrettable.”

Cash gave an extended keynote address titled “Essential Thinking and Learning Tools and Strategies for 21st Century Gifted Learners.”

“Helping teachers help teach students to make connections, think and then solve problems that are worth solving — that’s kind of the message that I’m transmitting today,” Cash said.

Cash’s background is in gifted education. He majored in theater, and as a trained actor, Cash said he was always trained to think creatively and critically, along with strong problem solving and decision-making abilities, skills that are now considered essential in the 21st Century.

“We were trained in that stuff back in the ‘70s — ain’t nothing new,” Cash said.

Cash was a teacher/program director until 1999, he then moved to Rochester as a program coordinator until 2001, and moved to Bloomington after that. He is now an international consultant with his company, nRich Educational Consulting, working with teachers around the world. Cash most recently returned from China, is planning to leave for Poland in about two weeks, and plans to go to Indonesia in the fall.

Cash also hosts training sessions at numerous Minnesota school districts. With such a full schedule, Cash’s trip to the Austin symposium was scheduled a year in advance. This was his third time speaking in Austin.

The symposium came from a collaboration between the Austin Public Schools District, The Hormel Foundation and the Minnesota Department of Education on how to improve education for gifted students and meet their needs. Austin residents were able to attend the conference for no cost, but it was open to non-locals as well. The conference typical sells out, according to organizers.

The lessons stuck with local teachers. Woodson Kindergarten Center instructional coach Karol Langemo learned a lot from her first symposium.

“I’ve learned not only a lot of just really great ideas,” Langemo said. “How to hook students, [and] different strategies to get them involved with the learning that’s happening in your classroom.”

Langemo liked that many of the activities and strategies are not only for gifted students, but can be used in any classroom. She got ideas for things she can implement next year.

“I got a lot of great ideas [from a miniseries on the outdoor classroom] that I’m going to share with the science committee at Woodson, and a few resources that we can use with our students to just help them make observations daily in nature, and overall with themselves,” Langemo said.

She spoke about implementing a journal idea where the students would keep one daily observation.

I.J. Holton Intermediate School math teacher Kyle Bendson also learned a lot during his first Gifted and Talented Symposium.

“My biggest ‘aha’ moment I took out of this was the idea of struggle,” Bendson said. “We need to have student struggle to have success.”

He was also intrigued by the idea of building student experiences.

Bendson was a big fan of Cash’s philosophies and concepts.

“I like that he portrays his information in the way that we should teach. He’s very outgoing, very hands-on,” Bendson said.

Bendson recommends coming back next year. He is excited about all that Austin does for the symposium and all the opportunities offered to teachers.

The summer lessons aren’t over yet

Riverland Community College will host a statewide Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) symposium starting June 16. Educators and community members are welcome to attend. The symposium will have work sessions with nationally recognized practitioners, will introduce participants to the SENCER models of curriculum and active learning, and will have hands-on workshops. The symposium is designed to show participants how to put into practice different STEM techniques.

The event is sponsored by Riverland Community College, Winona State University, Minnesota State University, Mankato, Austin Public School, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, SENCER Network and Riverland’s Global Education Committee.