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Cinematherapy for Gifted Children (or adults) using Disney’s Encanto

As a teacher/mother of gifted children and a professional developer for teachers providing gifted services, I am always on the lookout for great movies (or TV shows) that help gifted individuals examine their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. My personal favorites are Good Will Hunting, Little Man Tate, Gifted, and episodes of Modern Family. Both my sons have used Good Will Hunting as a learning experience, cautionary tale, and motivation to explore, rather than hide from, their particular gifts. I have found that watching movies like these provide hours and hours of great conversations and deep personal reflection. The problem, of course, about most of the movies I love is that they are NOT appropriate to show in a school setting. I do use a lot of smaller clips of movies like Meet the Robinsons (failure scene), but I think that some really great lessons and conversations are hard to come by in 3-5 minute clips…

All that changed when I recently watched the Disney animated feature, Encanto. [Be warned that there are some spoilers ahead if you have not seen the movie] I didn’t really view it from a gifted lens until close to the end, but now that I have that perspective, I can’t help seeing some great opportunities for classroom social-emotional instruction. The movie centers around an extended family who live together and at a particular age a source of magic bestows a gift upon them which they then use to benefit their family and entire village. The main conflict of the movie is that the central character, Mirabel, is the only family member not given a gift and she has to live with the others and figure out her life purpose. She isn’t jealous of her family, but she is unsure of what to do with herself and her life. Through circumstances throughout the movie, the magic surrounding the family has the potential to disappear and Mirabel works to save it and find herself. What is so interesting about the movie is the examination of some of the characters and how they struggle with their gifts. One character, Luisa, is terrified of losing her gift of strength and consequently feels that she will be useless without it. Another character, Isabela, secretly despises her gift of creating flowers (roses mostly) in reds, pinks, and purples because she feels extreme pressure to be perfect. A mysterious character, Bruno, renounces his gift of predicting the future because he doesn’t like terrifying people, which can be a stepping stone to discussing underachievement. Every family member with a gift shows their struggle with their management of their individual gift. Even the Abuela that holds the magic is scared that if she doesn’t have it, then the people of the village will be angry with her.

All of these moments throughout the film can unearth powerful talking points with students and opportunities to learn about common personality challenges with being gifted. For example: perfectionism. Isabel, the girl that can make beautiful flowers has to struggle with dealing with the pressure of being perfect. Imposter Syndrome – feeling like people are going to find out that you really aren’t gifted or that your gift is going away. The movie also sets things up nicely to discuss – who are you if you aren’t defined by your gift? Will you lose your gift? Did they make a mistake in labeling you gifted? How do you feel about the pressure of being gifted? Another great point to explore can also be the discussion about the main character Mirabel – what if you don’t see yourself as being gifted? We have a tendency to only recognize obvious and culturally recognized gifts – athletics & academics, but what about the gift of leadership or interpersonal gifts?

A great character to discuss with gifted people is the character Camilo, because he is a shape-shifter. Gifted children can struggle to figure out how to survive in the world with other gifted people and non-gifted people. Do they emulate whoever they are closest to? Should they? How do they know who they truly are? These are tough questions to explore and think about together. This may bring up lessons on mindset and social dynamics with expectations – real or perceived. There is the character of Dolores that can hear anything from far away. This leads her to say or tell things that she really shouldn’t say or tell. I have noticed that gifted students are very observant and as soon as they have a thought they quickly voice it without thinking of of the consequences. I liken it to speaking without a filter or even blurting out in class. This character can lead to lessons on listening rather than hearing and blurting or even speaking over others.

My favorite character by far is Pepa whose gift is to create the weather around her that reflects her emotional state. How many students (or people for that matter) have we known that have the ability to change the climate of any classroom instantaneously by their moods. Will it be a good day or a bad day for all of us? Seeing it so hyperbolically represented in a fictional character can be a springboard for a discussion on how overdramatic representations of emotions can be incredibly disruptive to other people. So, you got a problem wrong. Does that really mean you have to throw yourself on the floor and scream and shout? If you are out of sorts, does everyone have to be out of sorts with you? Can you stop to realize that you are in control of the cloud of rain or the sunshine over your head and you can choose the weather pattern? I think that can be a great stimulus to lessons on stress management and sensory reaction.

There are so many opportunities to use the Disney movie Encanto to bridge social-emotional experiences. In my opinion, teaching gifted children is 1% content and 99% social-emotional instruction! If I were looking to create a general lesson plan surrounding the film, I would start with students answering some questions ahead of time to prime their thinking.

  1. What gift do you feel that you posess?
  2. Why do you feel that you were chosen to be in the gifted program?
  3. How do you feel about being gifted? Is there anything you wish you could change?
  4. How do your family and friends treat your gift? How does that make you feel?

After watching the movie, I would have the students discuss the questions, either from their own perspective or from the perspective of the characters (which can be easier if they don’t want to appear vulnerable). This movie could be a catalyst for an entire year theme of learning to understand the magic that we all possess (I love themes!). In reality, there is no magic to being gifted. If we pull the curtain away, we are all just people trying to survive this world and understand ourselves. Giving gifted children tools to understand perfectionism, mindset, stress management, underachievement, listening skills, and general characteristics of being gifted can be incredibly powerful and build a solid foundation (stealing a theme from the movie) for a lifetime of happiness.

Teaching Mathematical Modeling

As I was preparing a unit on expressions (translating, evaluating, and simplifying), I decided to branch out and include a real-world “problem” to entice students to see the benefit of writing equations and expressions.  I ended up creating a video detailing a pretty involved scenario in which students would need to sift through possible constants and variables.  At the end of the video, I asked the question – How can you model a possible solution to this problem?   Because my 5th grade son’s teacher is such a great sport, she offered to test the lesson in her classroom and we certainly found some interesting results.  Upon being asked to generate a model for the problem, all the students started drawing these elaborate schematics and asked if they could create them in 3-D.  It became very evident that students aren’t quite comprehending the numerous meanings of math models.  Looking over Henry Pollak’s discussions on math modeling for the common core, I decided to make a follow-up video helping students see that mathematical modeling can take many different forms.   Here is the link to the original video:  I would love for teachers to try showing this video to their students and see if their misconceptions for math modeling are the same.  The youtube link for the math modeling video is

Using objectives purposefully in the math classroom

When I was first asked to write my objective on the board in my classroom, I flat out refused.  I dug my heels in the sand and complained, “What for?”   It seems that administrators were convinced that statements such as, “Students will be able to ….”  was the latest and greatest idea for making students achieve unrealistic goals.  Personally, I didn’t see the point!  Did the students care?  Why was I writing something for the benefit of my administrators that only walked through my classroom about once a year.  One more thing to do in an already crowded day!

Many years into my career, I had the incredible opportunity to participate in a professional development course led by Corbett Harrison and Kindra Fox, that focused instruction on the research of Wiggins and McTighe and their book, Understanding by Design.  It was as if a perpetual light-bulb had been turned on over my head!  Students need to know what they are learning and why they are learning it.  Also, we have to set our learning targets before writing our lessons, then we create the acceptable evidence of mastering that target, and only then should we plan lessons to achieve those goals!  I was doing everything completely wrong!

After one year in this professional development course, I was hired to be a trainer and teach other teachers how to bring Wiggins and McTighe’s research to life in all math classrooms.  I am completely passionate about creating essential questions that engage students and involve them in their own learning.  I love to get students enthusiastic about what they are learning.  In that vein, I created a video that is meant to “hook” students into learning about surface area and volume.  Not only does the video raise interesting and exploratory questions, but it also provides a driving essential question that can be used throughout an entire unit on 3-D Geometry.  Here is the link to the essential question video,, which is on you-tube.   I hope your students enjoy!

How can you combine linguini and trigonometry?

The other night, my son was discussing what he was learning in trig class and it made me reminisce about the days that I taught trig.   When I first started teaching that class, it scared me.  If you made the tiniest mistake, the students turned on you like wolves.  After a while, I got my groove and turned the class into a great inquiry-based course that I adored teaching.  One of my favorite lessons from the beginning of the year is an activity called linguini trig.  I adapted it from an article I found called “Spaghetti and the Sine Curve” that appeared in The Mathematics Teacher in the 90’s.  The whole lesson is an amazing way to show students how the trigonometric functions are graphed and it gives them a solid foundation in periodic graphs.  I decided to replicate the lesson on video (about 15 minutes long) for teachers to see how the lesson looks from start to finish or students could view it to solidify understanding of the concepts of graphing.  The link to the video on youtube is   I hope you enjoy!    Here are some documents you need for the lesson: graph template001 graph template002

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The CCSS 8 mathematical practices

As I spend time examining the Common Core State Standards for math, I am struck by how powerful the mathematics is in there.  What concerns me the most is that the CCSS was written by mathematicians who have a fantastic handle on what mathematicians need to know, but I think the documents lack a bit of down-to-earth verbiage for teachers and students.  When I read the 8 mathematical practices, I was impressed at how the practices discussed the habits of mind that it takes to be a mathematician.  The more I read it, though, the more I realized how difficult it would be in its current state to use in the K-8 classroom.  For the past two years, I have used the 8 practices in my classroom (grades 6-8) to not only drive my instruction, but to guide the methods that I use to help students become mathematicians.  I also have a version of the practices for the lower grade levels (K-3).  Over the course of two years, I feel that I created a student-friendly version of the practices and engaging lessons to help students use them every day in the classroom.  I have a narrated power-point to explain my lessons and there are documents to use in the classroom at my websitesmall_picture_8_practices.

Welcome to my blog!

My name is Holly Young and I am a mathematician, math teacher, and math trainer.  I just recently left the classroom and decided to go out on my own to create resources for math teachers.  By and large, math teachers have the raw deal in teaching, especially in secondary schools.  The onus falls on the shoulders of the math teacher to lead every day, every minute of every lesson.  We don’t have scores of amazing National Geographic videos or Discovery websites that further our curriculum.  If we have to be out of the classroom for a day, then we usually lose a whole day of instruction.  It is my goal, therefore, to create useful media that math teachers can access and help forward student learning.  I have lessons available for multiple grades and topics at and I will continue to add more lessons and useable media.  This is a journey for me, so I will be constantly improving and creating new resources.  If you have suggestions of what resources you would like to see on my website (or blog), please feel free to let me know.

This first file that I am posting came to me as a sudden inspiration while training teachers on creating essential understandings (questions) in the classroom.  As I was asking teachers to write an essential understanding that encompassed multiple grade levels along the same CCSS strand, I kept asking them, “What is the essence of this strand, and why do we need to learn it?”  The result of that exercise came to me in a flash when I asked myself, “Why do we study the main topics in mathematics?”   Math_poster