By Hiroko Sato
GROTON — Show Gordon Platt a triangle, and the seventh-grader will immediately think of a building.
A three-sided polygon is the strongest shape of all, he says. And, during a math class at Groton-Dunstable Regional Middle School, Gordon often ponders how he could apply the laws of geometry to design creative buildings.
Helping him figure that out is the job of his math teacher, Carol Bradford. Gordon often asks her why she solves a problem in a certain way, and she will guide him to come up with outside-the-box ways to tackle it.
Language arts teacher Christine Robinson is always prepared to push advanced students harder, too. For an assignment to make a visual book report, she gives Gordon and his classmates the choice of using computer software, such as Microsoft PowerPoint, or hand-draw posters.
The jigsaw puzzle Gordon meticulously designed for the class after reading a mystery book shows how much pride he takes in his work, Robinson said.
“They don’t do the minimum — they do the maximum,” Robinson said of Gordon and other so-called accelerated students.
Perhaps that’s why the Groton-Dunstable Regional Middle School just won the top-in-Massachusetts status in Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth rankings.
After making it one of the school’s top goals to help gifted students develop their talents for the past three years, GDRMS was recently named the state’s number-one school in the CTY 2009 talent search. The annual ranking is based on the number of second- through eighth-graders from each school who participate in the CTY Talent Search.
To participate in the search, students must score at the 95th percentile on a standardized test — or the “advanced” level, in the case of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. They will then take School and College Ability Test (SCAT) or Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT), and those who performed at an average level or higher would be admitted into CTY’s courses designed for students who have exceptional mathematical and verbal-reasoning abilities.
Groton-Dunstable had 113 students participate in the search this year, according to CTY. There were 57,100 participants nationwide, including 2,339 from Massachusetts. Usually, about half of participants qualify for CTY courses, said CTY spokesman Charles Beckman.
Past search participants include many successful Americans, ranging from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to singer Lady Gaga.
While the ranking takes only the number of participants into account, the top status indicates a high concentration of gifted and talented students in the school, Beckman said.
It was welcome news for Principal Steven Silverman, who made it a priority to help students like Gordon when taking the reins of the school three years ago.
“Under the No Child Left Behind Act, we are leaving behind a huge population of kids who are gifted and talented, high-end learners,” Silverman said.
The school doesn’t have an enrichment program, but all teachers give students individually catered challenges.
To take it a step further, Silverman said, he has implemented several initiatives over the last three years. He hired a consultant from the University of Connecticut who comes to the school several times a year to provide professional development. A Johns Hopkins representative has also visited school to provide faculty and parents information about CTY’s summer and online courses.
Silverman also set up an enrichment committee, which meets monthly to discuss ways to help talented students develop their gifts in academics, music, arts, sport and other disciplines.
“I am very excited about the possibility over the next few years,” Silverman said.
Seeing the principal’s commitment to it, as well as his openness to new ideas, makes a difference, Robinson and Bradford said.
Silverman said “differentiated teaching” — meaning recognizing students’ skills and interest levels, and challenge them accordingly — is the key.
As for Gordon, he said he never feels bored in class. He is fascinated by cars and automotive engineering, as well as math and science. He said he can quickly make connections between the theories and formulas that he learned, which he believes helped him perform well in the SCAT test he took in fifth grade without preparation.
While in class, he always asks himself how he can use what he has learned in the real world.
“I give myself the challenge in my head,” Gordon said.
This weekend, he is attending sessions in Scottsdale, Ariz., touring Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West house.
“You are with a lot of other kids who are ready to learn and focused,” Gordon said of the trip.
For more information about the CTY program and the Massachusetts Top School list, visit http://www.cty.jhu.edu/ts/topschools/MAtop.html.