Congratulations: you’ve got academic talent and the potential to go far. Now it’s time to start learning how to use your talents and respect your abilities by forming the mental habits you will need to reach your dreams. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Brain power: you’ve got this!
Heavy weights crash against the floor as drops of sweat roll off foreheads and earbuds feed inspirational tunes into the ears of gym-members struggling for just…one…more…rep.
It’s no secret why people work out. But while biceps, triceps and abs are nice, there’s another “muscle” you don’t want to forget about: your brain.
Scientists are just beginning to understand how exactly the brain works, though we do know one thing already for sure: if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. Here are a few activities that are sure to keep your brain sharp, especially during school breaks:
- Turn off that TV and try some reading. Find the right book and you’ll be teleported into a world full of adventure. If you’re not sure where to start, see the section “Be an Active TIPster!” for information on TIP’s Book Club!
- Pull out your safety goggles. There are tons of science experiments you can safely conduct at home. And you’ll be surprised how many of the needed materials are already lying around the house.
- Learn another language. Being bilingual can improve your cognitive skills and overall brain function. There are tons of language learning apps available for download on computers and smartphones, or check out Rosetta Stone Foundations for TIPsters. Buena suerte!
- Tackle a subject you don’t get to study in school. Choose something you’ve always wanted to learn about, whether it’s secret codes, archeology, creative writing, medicine, or more. Then find a good online source for studying it—or check our TIP’s Independent Learning options.
When it comes to exercising your brain, there are lots of activities to choose from. The important thing is to find something challenging that you enjoy. See the “Extracurriculars & Community Service” section for more great ideas on ways to keep your brain sharp.
Seven habits of highly successful students
- Think about the future. Keep in mind how the things you do today affect your life tomorrow. It’ll motivate you to do your best and make the most of opportunities.
- Stay sharp. Live a healthy lifestyle (that means eating healthy, exercising, and getting lots of sleep). Your brain performs better when you take care of your whole body.
- Stay organized. Keep track of school supplies, assignments, and important dates. It’ll make your life easier and you’ll waste less time trying to catch up.
- Ask questions. Be curious. See everything as a learning opportunity—because it is!
- Handle failure positively. Don’t get down on yourself: move on from failure and get better. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s how you react to them that can make the difference between failure and success.
- Believe in yourself. Understand your own potential. Respect your abilities. Set challenging goals for yourself. Then go achieve them!
- Know when to have fun. Make time for playtime: you’ve got to give your brain a break now and then. Having fun is part of leading a balanced life and achieving success in the long run.
Discover and explore what you love doing
Nobody is good at everything. That’s why the world needs all kinds of talented people. Just look at the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City, built in the late 15th century. It is one of the most famous structures in the world. What would it be without Michelangelo’s breathtaking paintings on its ceiling? It took architects and artists to create this masterpiece.
Let’s not forget the 1969 Apollo 11 mission, when humans first set foot on the moon. It took a team of scientists, pilots, and strong leaders to finally stick that American flag into the dusty gray lunar soil.
We could talk all day about how many times the world needed a team of experts, each specializing in a certain area, and different talented people showed up to get the job done.
So focus on your strengths and celebrate them. Being gifted and talented doesn’t mean you have to be good at everything. Talent comes in many forms. You can be gifted in academics, leadership, creativity, athletics, and arts to name a few areas. Whatever your talents are, take pride in them and do your best.
Human Computer: The Brain
As a gifted student, your mind does a lot of work. There’s waking up early to learn, spending hours of concentration in the classroom, and, let’s not forget, storing a seemingly endless database of new information—especially if you go above and beyond the challenges of regular coursework. All of which is why you should take pride in that powerful computer in your head, the most important organ in your body: the brain.
So what exactly is your brain made of? And how does it work? The largest part of the brain is the cerebrum, which makes up 85% of your brain’s weight. Not only does the cerebrum store your memories, it controls every movement, every thought you have, and every decision you make.
Looking even closer at the brain, we can see that, like all living things, it is made up of cells. You exercise these brain cells regularly when learning a new skill, solving a difficult math problem, reading a novel, or just trying to figure out that new videogame you’ve just purchased. Zooming back out, we can see that the brain is connected to the rest of your body through the nervous system, which is like a network of tiny wires that allow commands from the brain to be relayed throughout the body.
Did we mention that your brain is divided into two halves? The right and left hemispheres act both independently and together. For decades, scientists thought these hemispheres powered specific sides of the body and controlled specific math or language abilities. But newer research indicates that the real story, like the brain, is much more complicated. It turns out the ability to do math, understand what we read, or understand what someone else is saying to you actually requires both hemispheres, working together and working separately. Cognitive neuroscientists today are continuing to study the left and right hemispheres of the brain in an attempt to fully understand how the human brain works—making it an exciting and interesting field of study.
Nourishing Your Brain
Your brain is fueled by glucose, a simple sugar that circulates in the blood and is produced from carbohydrates. Carbohydrates include sugars, starches, and fibers, which can be found most easily in fruits, grains, vegetables, and dairy products. Not enough energy to the brain can result in a decline in cognitive function, including trouble in learning, use of language, or remembering things. That’s why eating healthy, especially at breakfast time, is essential! Studies show that eating a healthy breakfast has a positive impact on brain activity, alertness, and academic performance. Take advantage of the vitamins and nutrients in things like cereal, toast, fresh fruits, muffins, or oatmeal in the mornings. Whatever you eat, try to keep in mind the importance of making healthy choices to keep your brain working at its peak!
Keeping Your Brain Strong
Keep your brain cells strong and active by challenging yourself to mental activities, physical exercise, and getting socially involved. For example, learning how to play a new musical instrument, solving a puzzle or playing ‘thinking’ games like chess, scrabble or Sudoku are all good ways to expand your knowledge and stimulate your mastermind. Would you rather get physical? Exercise boosts your brainpower, too, by generating new brain cells called neurons. Stay active by walking your dog, dancing, or joining a karate class. Lastly, don’t be afraid to talk on the phone with your family and friends or make new friends at school! Getting involved in clubs, sports, or volunteering is a good way to begin interacting. Don’t forget that socializing is a form of mental exercise, too.
As you can see, that super computer in your head works hard all day, every day, to ensure that you can learn new things, retain information, and perform the day-to-day functions that life requires. Your brainpower burns tons of energy. Just like technology, your brain needs proper care and fuel. That’s why it’s just as important to keep and maintain a healthy brain as it is to maintain a healthy body.
Sleep is Essential for Brain Power
If you have a bedtime, you probably don’t enjoy being told when to go to bed. It likely makes you feel like you have less freedom. But no matter what your bedtime routine looks like, it’s important to note that sleep plays a crucial role in your life as a student.
A good night’s sleep is one of the key components to living a healthy life. It helps your brain recharge after a long day. It gives you the energy to do the things you love. And, sleep prevents you from walking through your day feeling like a zombie.
How does sleep do these things, you ask?
Well, it’s because your brain is anything but dormant while you’re snoozing. When you’re asleep, your brain actually cleans itself. Just like street cleaners come out at night to clear the roads of a city, your brain clears the highways of your brain. During the day, chemicals substances build up in your brain as a byproduct of the processes that take place. Sounds gross, right? When you sleep, your brain flushes out these substances, returning itself to a pristine condition.
Because it keeps your brain clean and running at its best possible state, a good night’s sleep promotes better memory, concentration, and learning. For students, especially gifted students, these functions are extremely important.
Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
How can you make sure that you’re getting a healthy quantity and quality of sleep? It starts with your nightly routine.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, there are a few things you should avoid in the hours leading up to your bedtime. First, avoid eating sugary snacks or drinking beverages that are high in caffeine, as these can keep you from getting to sleep. Experts disagree on the effects of eating at all before bedtime, but you shouldn’t go to bed hungry, either. If you need to eat close to bedtime, your best bet is to stick to healthy options like milk, toast, or fruit.
Another thing to steer clear of at night is the bright screens of smart-phones, TVs, computers, and tablets. While it’s tempting to want to scroll through social media, catch the end of a show, or beat one more level on your gaming system right before bed, studies show that the bright light emitted from these devices confuses your brain. The lack of light at night helps signal to your brain that it is time for sleep, and exposing your eyes to bright light sends a different message. If you want to read before bed, try a dim lamp and an old fashioned book.
This last one is a tough one. As much as you may look forward to sleeping in on the weekends, it turns out that this practice may lead to less sleep for you in the long run. It seems counterintuitive, but overloading yourself with sleep just a couple days out of the week throws off your body’s natural sleep cycle. Experts say that, at the most, you should sleep an extra hour a night on weekends.
In short, sleep is an essential part of our lives and balance is the key. Too little of it, and our bodies can’t function like they should. Too much of it at a time, and our sleep cycles become disrupted. Just like with anything else, there are guidelines to follow that will give you the best results possible. So consider using some of our sleep tips in your own life, then do some research on yourself to discover how you can get a healthy amount of sleep each night.
Gifted Students Get Their Sleep
A 2015 study conducted by Duke TIP researchers and other gifted education research specialists examined how academically talented students from the U.S. and India spent their time both in and out of school. This study found that, while there were differences in how Indian and American students spent their study time, students from both countries reported sleeping over eight hours a night—meaning neither group was sleep deprived. U.S. students did report sleeping more than Indian students during the weekend, though only by .8 hours.
Why not try keeping track of your own sleep habits and how they affect your mood and school performance? You may find that you feel and perform at your best with a specific number of sleep hours. If you do, be sure to get enough sleep for your body!
You’re in the Big Leagues Now
Dealing with multiple classes, lots of teachers, and new priorities
By the time you finish fifth grade, you’ve spent a lot of time in elementary school – like, exactly all of your time in school to be precise. Elementary school is the longest stage of your educational career, usually six or seven years, compared to middle school and high school, which usually take up three and four years respectively.
Being nervous about transitioning into an new environment like middle school is totally normal. Studies have shown how our brains are hardwired to find patterns and cling to routine. It’s a survival tactic; we feel a little safer when we know what to expect. However, this survival tactic is not always a good thing; it can sometimes cause us to miss out on awesome experiences.
Middle school is one of those potentially awesome experiences. With more freedom for students, a wider array of class subjects, and usually a greater selection of extracurriculars, middle school can be both a key period of development for you as a student and lots of fun. The best way to ensure you make the most of it is to address the things about middle school that make you nervous, so let’s do exactly that.
Lockers, Being Late, Getting Lost
In elementary school, teachers and administrators typically lead students around from place to place, and for most of the day, you’re in the same classroom. In middle school, as mentioned earlier, it’s likely that you’ll have a lot more freedom – which is a great thing. That also means that you’ll have to be responsible.
First, there’s combination lockers. Odds are that in between classes you’ll be able to go to your locker and swap out the right book for your next class. With limited time between classes, you may feel a little rushed or worry that you could end up late for your next class. This is a valid concern, as having trouble with lockers is pretty common. However, you can set yourself up for success. Talk to a parent about purchasing a combination lock to practice with at home. The more you use it, the more comfortable you’ll be – and less likely to be late because of locker trouble.
Another concern new middle school students may have is getting lost. Often, but not always, the middle school students attend will be much larger than their elementary school was. And even if it isn’t bigger, it’s still unfamiliar to you. To prepare yourself for quickly navigating this new landscape, take advantage of any opportunities to tour the school ahead of time. If this is not possible, you should also be able to view a map of the school online, via your school’s website, and familiarize yourself with the location of your classes, the bathroom, cafeteria, gym, etc.
Finally, if you find that you have a class located far away from the class that follows, leaving you no wiggle room for hold-ups or hall traffic jams — be sure to let your teachers know what you are up against. That way, your first teacher might let you leave a minute or two earlier at the end of class to make the trek in time or your second teacher might be more understanding if you show up late for their class. It is especially important to talk to the second teacher if your school has rules that call for automatic detention or another punishment after a certain number of late arrivals to class. If your teacher knows in advance you have to make it all the way across the school grounds in five minutes flat, they will be more understanding when you occasionally show up late to their class.
Navigating a New Social Landscape
It’s not just the physical building and routine that is changing, though. The way you interact with your friends is changing, too. With the change in schedule, the times you’ll see your friends may change. While in elementary school you probably spent all day in a single class with the same group of students, in middle school, you’ll be swapping between classes and finding yourself among different groups of students.
You may say “but I loved being with my best friend all day!” And while it’s true that this change can be a little frustrating, you can also see it as a great new opportunity if you think about it in a fresh way. Every time you switch to a new class and find yourself among a new group of students, that’s a chance for you to make new friends. And with more options for extracurricular activities like sports and clubs, you’ll be able to interact with old friends and continue to forge new friendships through shared interests.
You aren’t just limited to activities during the school year, either. Finding summer camps that allow you to explore your interests is another great way to meet peers who share your passions. It’s important to keep in mind that being able to make new friends and adjust to new environments will benefit you long beyond just middle school – high school, college, and the rest of your life! Browsing through your school’s website with a parent or talking with a school administrator or counselor are great ways to start exploring what activities you’d be interested in trying.
Dealing with Multiple Teachers
You’ll probably be spending time with a few different teachers throughout the day. While you may have enjoyed the bond you felt with your elementary school teacher, learning from different teachers throughout the day presents its unique advantages, too. Most notably, middle school teachers often focus their efforts on a single subject. For students, this means your teacher will be well-equipped to answer your questions and provide you with appropriate coursework. Having multiple teachers is also the chance to experience and appreciate different teaching styles throughout the day.
At this point, you may be asking yourself, “How will I keep all of my teachers straight, not to mention what they expect from me?” If so, you can relax: your teachers are wondering how they can keep all of their new students straight at the exact same time! One way to get off on the right foot is to attend any open houses your school may sponsor before the school year begins so that you can introduce yourself and meet your teachers in advance. Another way you can stay organized is to designate a separate spiral notebook or section in a bigger binder for each class, writing down the teachers’ names and their classroom rules and expectations at the front of each class’s section. That way, if you find yourself unable to remember whether your teacher will accept a handwritten assignment or not, you can always flip to the right spot in your notebook and refresh your memory about what they want.
An Important Step
As you get ready for some big changes in the way you succeed in school, try to keep things in perspective. Like we mentioned earlier, our natural response to change isn’t always the best response. The things that come along with being a middle schooler (lockers, changing classes, making new friends, extracurriculars) may be a little scary at first, but they are also important steps in your journey as a student.
Don’t shy away from them; prepare yourself as much as possible, and beyond that, give yourself some time to adjust. One day soon, this new environment will feel much more familiar, and you’ll be glad you overcame your fears.