Sleuthing challenges gifted pupils

With a crime-scene investigation, a range of science experiments, and the inside story into political success, gifted children from throughout Nelson are in for an inspiring day.

The all-day Inspire Conference at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology in Nelson tomorrow will cater to 250 students from schools around the region, from year 3 to year 13, as well as teachers and parents interested in gifted education.

Speakers include retired university professor Colin Sutherland, speaking on cryptography, chaos theory and knot theory, Nelson police youth education officer Senior Constable John O'Donovan speaking on crime scene investigation, and Cawthron scientist Paul McNabb speaking on killer toxins.

Nelson MP Nick Smith will also speak on how he became involved in politics, and Nelson-based Labour list MP Maryan Street will talk about the political process and changing the world.

The event has been organised by gifted education group Ministry of Inspiration, formed out of a Ministry of Education-funded group for gifted education that held quarterly seminars.

Event organiser Leanne Pressman said once the ministry funding ran out at the beginning of 2012, the group decided to continue their work, and organise a larger conference for the gifted community.

Year 3 and 4 pupils will come for the morning and complete a crime scene investigation and three science sessions with hands-on, interactive experiments.

Year 5 to year 13 pupils will also come in the morning, and will choose four of the 17 lectures held by various speakers. "It's like being in university," Mrs Pressman said.

Then from 3.30pm teachers and adults will have an after-school session with a panel discussion about recognising gifted pupils and catering for their needs.

Mrs Pressman said the group had originally planned to leave the registration open for three weeks, but the conference had proven so popular that classes were full within a few days. "If we had held a three-day conference we would have still been able to fill this up."

Families and pupils were "crying out" for more of a challenge, she said.

There was a real reticence among parents to put their child forward and say they were gifted, but the term was not elitist, she said.

"I've had phone calls from parents of three-year-olds who are reading novels, exploring multiplication tables and doing all these wonderful things and parents are still hung up on the term ‘gifted'."

When they were identified, gifted pupils were often ignored in schools, she said.

"People believe that they will be all right if they are already smart. People feel like it's OK to leave them in class."

But their intelligence did not mean that they were self-motivated, and this tendency came back to bite them later on in life, she said.

"A lot of them are really quite lazy but that's because they have been allowed to cruise."

Gifted children were also much more likely to become depressed, contemplate suicide, and have unstable personalities, she said.

"Those are all such preventable things."

The group was hoping to make it an annual event, and was in discussions with several organisations about funding.