Survival of the gifted

Agility and the ability to adapt are necessary for survival, but sometimes assistance comes in handy. Education is no different, and research continually throws up new ways of meeting challenges and rethinking the culture around learning.

For gifted students, the challenges can create unique opportunities.

Holy Spirit Primary School, Kurri Kurri, has been part of the Catholic Schools Office (CSO) Gifted Education Lead Schools (GELS) program for the past year. This year, two Year 6 students, Emily Rose and Xavier Collingwood, were included in the CSO Virtual Academy.  

Emily has always been interested in why humans behave the way they do, and what triggers certain emotions such as fear, love and hate. Xavier likes solving problems close to his heart.

They are the first students from Kurri Kurri to be accepted into the Virtual Academy and from their initial information session both were visibly elated to be included in the program.

Their core passion is ridding the oceans of pollution, and the vision of their Virtual Academy project is to eventually solve the problem of shark endangerment and rid people's fear of sharks. Their method is to take advantage of the popular pastime of gaming.

The Holy Spirit duo have not only had to adapt to their homes now being their classroom, but also to the methods they use to collaborate. The pair use Zoom videoconferencing and OneNote to engage with each other, their gifted education mentor Penny Banister, and the Virtual Academy educators.

Before COVID-19 restrictions came into place, Emily and Xavier were given at least three hours per week to work on their Virtual Academy tasks and were provided with a meeting room for conferencing. Now they do it all from home. The Virtual Academy has also become more flexible with various conferences for small groups now offered such as a girls-only group.

“I wasn’t expecting school to finish as suddenly as it did, and I didn’t get a chance to say a proper goodbye to my friends,” said Emily. “It has been really hard without that social connection. But this is one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed the girls-only Virtual Academy group. I can talk to like-minded people. We’re all working towards the same goal and the feedback has been really useful.”

She says she and Xavier are getting used to working from home using OneNote and Zoom videoconferencing to complete their project, which aims to provide a medium to educate the community on the patterns of human behaviour whilst also acting as a platform to raise awareness about shark extinction and the greater marine ecosystem.

And where better to convey the message than the popular gaming platform Minecraft.

“Gaming is my biggest hobby,” Xavier said. “We believe Minecraft can be educational and is a platform that will be well received and help achieve the change we want to see with this problem.”

Their end aim is a computer game-style shark education and awareness campaign. Each obstacle in the game would debunk a myth about sharks and make people aware of their endangerment and their importance to the ocean’s ecosystem. 

As Australian Geographic recently stated, many recent scientific efforts have suggested that most (but not all) shark populations are declining. This decline in number has implications for management (environmental, fisheries and public safety), conservation and pure public interest.

Holy Spirit Primary principal Paul O’Heir says one of the school’s key teaching strengths is the commitment to curriculum differentiation and ensuring that students’ individual needs are met.

“Giftedness is found across society and therefore we need to provide these students with the relevant support,” Mr O’Heir said.

Adaptation has its rewards and Ms Banister says the passion and enthusiasm Emily and Xavier have shown towards their Virtual Academy tasks and the new way of learning is a credit to them, their families and the Holy Spirit staff.

“To say that the staff at Holy Spirit, Kurri Kurri, are proud of them is an understatement,” Ms Banister said. “The idea that these two children were given the opportunity to extend and challenge themselves in an area of interest to them has been amazing. Not only to extend themselves academically, but for their emotional wellbeing.”

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Brittany Gonzalez

Brittany Gonzalez is a Marketing and Communications Co-ordinator for Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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