• "While online courses are usually little more than 'online course notes,' games offer entire worlds to explore. While educators wonder if we can create good online learning communities, game designers create virtual societies with their own cultures, languages, political systems, and economies," writes UW-Madison game theorist Kurt Squire.


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Click to see several of our curriculum design infographs.

  • WCATY curriculum has evolved through interactions with gifted students in many different contexts and is delivered in various formats such as online blended courses and challenging summer programs. What remains constant? Students choose our courses. This means that we must continuously reflect on the relevance and quality of our curriculum and our teaching. Through listening to our students, key curriculum design principles have emerged.



TabletopSarahActive Learning Shows What You Know: WCATY instructors believe in a constructivist approach to teaching in which they engage their gifted students in creating their own knowledge. Such an approach de-emphasizes the value of knowledge for knowledge’s sake, and instead suggests that the act of building and discovering knowledge is not only more meaningful to students but also highly motivating.

Integrated Themes Ask Teachers to Think Big: WCATY designers focus on Modes of Engagement that incorporate several different subject areas and emphasize higher-level thinking skills. This dramatic move away from the institutionally confining divisions of knowledge allows us to build thematically rich units that teach interrelated content by focusing on a variety of thinking and communication skills.

Situated Inquiry Gives Learning a Face and a Place: Designing the context—the “What?”, “Where?”, “When?”, “Why?”, “How?” and “Who?”—of inquiry-based learning is a key element of our design style. Students learn by interacting with their environment; thus, learning is context specific. That is why we define success as measured growth in problem-solving skills rather than in rote memory.

Interactive Learning and Games: Game theory adds yet another layer to our curriculum, confirming our belief that although the true power of teaching begins with the design of the learning environment, quality instruction also demands an examination of the problems that are crafted within it. This important distinction moves the definition of interaction beyond the use of two-dimensional resources to include as well social situations where risk and reward systems build dynamic student-to-student exchanges.


Leveled Complexity: Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of flow adds to this understanding by pointing out that solving progressively more complex problems can be especially motivating when skills are simultaneously developed. Encapsulated in the terms “complexity” and “skills” are other dualistic relationships that designers incorporate, such as convergent and divergent thinking, which in turn contribute to the creation of engaging learning experiences.

  • Our 10 Principels of Design

1. Begins with integrated, interdisciplinary, meta-concepts

2. Uncovers complex, real-world problems anchored in core philosophical conflicts

3. Builds upon authentic, job-driven processes to create iterative, skill-building cycles

4. Harnesses the Internet to provide detailed content expertise in a variety of mediums

5. Blends tools and environments to employ multiple channels of communication

6. Creates a dynamic, student-centered environment by providing choices and feedback loops based on those choices

7. Uses narrative techniques to sequence activities, incorporate multiple perspectives, create suspense, and provide opportunities for discovery

8. Enriches the student experience with individual and group activities that purposefully incorporate dissonant and diverse perspectives

9. Refines communicate skills through iterative revision processes

10. Uses product-based assessment models