FLEX Program a showcase for students — and their teachers

The summer enrichment experience for academically gifted students is facilitated by Elon's Master of Education program, with M.Ed. and special licensure candidates crafting curricula to meet a variety of student needs and goals for the graduate-level capstone course. 

Students in the fifth-grade cohort of the FLEX Program were tasked with building an obstacle course like those seen on the popular “American Ninja Warrior” program.

​More than a dozen rising fifth-grade students on Wednesday showcased the obstacle courses they built as part of the FLEX Program, a summer enrichment experience for academically gifted students from Alamance County Schools offered by Elon’s School of Education

Tasked with coming up with courses and obstacles inspired by the popular “American Ninja Warrior” show, they constructed miniature models that incorporated spinning platforms, ziplines, swinging ropes and all manner of challenges for competitors to overcome. Guided by teachers April Brown and Jenny Rathjen, these students produced their courses during of eight days of research, experimentation, collaboration and construction. 

Sixth-grade students faced the challenge of creating their own films for the FLEX Film Festival.
​The students weren’t the only ones showing off what they built on Wednesday. Their teachers had the opportunity to show off what they have learned, too.

Brown and Rathjen are among nine students in the graduate-level Collaboration, Consultation and Innovation capstone course that’s part of Elon’s Master of Education curriculum. This cohort of graduate students, who are either seeking special licensure for teaching gifted students or are pursuing a master’s degree in education, is charged each year with facilitating the FLEX (Formative Learning EXperience) program. 

This July 25 showcase of the work of these 70 academically gifted students was a demonstration of what their teachers have learned across four graduate education courses focused on how to meet the academic, social and emotional needs of these students. The gifted students have been learning from their teachers, and their teachers, in turn, have been learning from them. 

“These teachers are taking what they have learned in courses and shaping them into the curriculum,” said Glenda Crawford, professor emerita and coordinator of the FLEX Program. “They need to show that they truly are able to design a curriculum that is responsive not only to the academic but to the social and emotional needs.”

Prior to beginning work on the capstone course, these nine graduate students completed courses in the foundations of gifted education, how to address the social and emotional needs of these students and on building a curriculum for academically gifted students. 

​As an offering for local academically gifted students, the FLEX Program provides an educational and social experience for Alamance County students that combines classroom time with social interaction and physical activity. Students are divided into four cohorts — 3rd/4th grade, 5th grade, 6th grade, 7th/8th grade — each of which is led by two or three teachers.

Before the students arrived on July 16, their teachers had already been hard at work building the curricula based upon the interests of the students. The sixth-grade students were tasked with creating a film for their FLEX Film Festival program while the seventh- and eighth-grade students were immersed in the theme of “Civilizations: Outplan, Outbuild, Outgrow” with the challenge of rebuilding Earth’s society following an apocalypse.

Leading the 3rd/4th-grade group, teachers Chuck Buckley and Annabelle Jones discovered that their 16 students were most interested in art and cooking. They developed a curriculum with the “Feast for Your Eyes” theme that looks at how to creatively use those two subject areas to engage students and provide them opportunities to collaborate with each other. 

Buckley said he and Jones looked at ways to help build community among the students in their group through shared activities. That included creating cooking challenges that involved altering recipes — determining ingredients based on serving a larger group, or seeing how recipes turned out if ingredients were left out. 

Annabelle Jones, a Guilford County teacher who is a candidate in the Master of Education Program, works with a student during Elon's FLEX Program. 
In the realm of art, students picked a topic that was important to them, and painted it, with written explanations of why they painted the picture and a biography of themselves and their interests. On Wednesday, each student stood by their painting and talked about it with parents and visitors to the showcase. 

“It’s been an eclectic collection of experiences, all designed to help the students increase their understanding of themselves and how they think,” said Buckley, who teaches at Brooks Global Studies in Greensboro and is pursuing his Academically/Intellectually Gifted Licensure through the Elon program. 

Jones, who is pursuing her master’s degree, said she approached the challenge of crafting a curriculum as a teacher, and also as a parent of academically gifted students. “We have learned a lot about the social and emotional needs of gifted learners, and that those needs need to be met,” Jones said. 

That meant integrating elements throughout the curriculum to address those needs, such as helping students address stress that they might feel and social challenges they might face, she said. There was an emphasis on helping them learn to work together, she said. 

“Sometimes, they may think, ‘It’s just easier if I do it myself,'” Jones said. “We wanted to have that mentality that they learn that people may gain from working with each other, and that’s how the real world works. A lot of thoughtfulness and planning went into this. I was able to really gather some ideas of how to individualize for each student and their needs.”