Davidson Academy’s Unique Teaching Methods

The Academy’s teaching methods focus on thinking skills and a sincere regard for the uniqueness of each individual learner. The faculty and staff at our middle and high school are well versed in the needs of profoundly gifted students and every aspect of the Davidson Academy experience is molded to fit those needs.

Since students of high ability are homogeneously grouped, instructors are able to teach classes at very advanced levels and use methods that provoke understanding, thought and debate. Instructor selection is based upon a combination of traits which include professional qualifications, sincere warmth, passion and ingenuity.

At the core of Davidson Academy pedagogy:

  • We are committed to building a rigorous curriculum suited to the needs of profoundly gifted learners.
  • We create dynamic classes that focus on higher-order thinking skills, challenging students to think creatively and critically and express themselves effectively.
  • We offer students access to experiential opportunities outside of the classroom.
  • We group students by ability, and we build each student’s schedule based on students’ knowledge, skills, and interests according to their personalized learning plans.

This learning environment is particularly suited to the needs of extremely bright students in other respects as well. Profoundly gifted students need to interact with like-minded cohorts in order to discuss, experiment, and reach their potential as learners. Such students also need instructors who understand how to shape classroom experiences around the uncommon nuances of their thinking. The interpersonal and instructional dynamics at the Academy accommodate both of these needs in a school atmosphere that is vibrant with intellectual energy and dialogue.

Because the Academy groups students homogeneously, instructors are able to teach classes at very advanced levels and use teaching methods that provoke understanding, thought, and debate. We emphasize different types of classroom discussion strategies, promote higher-level thinking skills rather than memorization, and focus on the analysis of primary sources. Students are encouraged to thoughtfully challenge themselves and others. In all subjects, students will explore multiple “right” answers or processes and debate the merits of each. Students also develop and present various ways of solving problems and supporting arguments.

We understand that students have different learning styles and vary the types of assignments given to keep the curriculum stimulating for all students. We also create opportunities to engage with the real world through hands-on projects. It’s not uncommon to find our students building trebuchets for a physics assignment, reenacting important history topics, or doing community outreach while honing their Spanish speaking skills.


Our unique teaching methods are brought to life by the faculty at Davidson Academy. Middle and high school courses at the Academy are taught by a variety of licensed secondary instructors, university professors, and qualified community members. Instructor selection is based upon a combination of traits which include professional qualifications, sincere warmth, ingenuity, and passion for their subject areas and for teaching. Many of our instructors hail from the nearby University of Nevada at Reno, and most of the instructors at Davidson Academy have a master’s degree or higher in the subject they are teaching. Additionally, the University professors who teach courses hosted by the Academy receive instruction in working with profoundly gifted students so we can ensure that not only are they qualified in their subject matter but that they also understand the needs of our students. The Academy faculty looks to students for inspiration regarding course content, instructional methods, materials, and the overall evolution of the school.

Director of Curriculum, Erin Vienneau discusses her experiences teaching at the Academy in this interview with Laura Vanderkam for the Gifted Exchange Blog. 

"The teachers at the Academy are simply exceptional. They know every one of us by name. They know our strengths and weaknesses, and use that knowledge to meet the needs of each individual student. They never stop pushing us to learn more. The teachers have not only taught me the necessary equations and facts, but how to analyze them, how to present them and how to create my own ideas around them."  ~Davidson Academy Student

Independent Study and Internships

Along with these secondary and post-secondary instructors, the Academy enlists the services of qualified mentors and offers other forms of independent study in the context of the students’ personalized learning plans (PLPs). From community internships to learning opportunities at the University of Nevada at Reno and beyond, we remain open to varied opportunities for instruction and mentorship. Our students have pursued individual independent study opportunities in various subjects, including the following: Latin, Arabic, physical education, and more.

Students may also pursue internships for academic credit. Popular internships include working with a science lab at the University of Nevada at Reno. Some of our students have even had the opportunity to be published in academic journals, while still technically in high school! The faculty and staff at Davidson Academy is well connected with companies and organizations in Reno that span a variety of fields, and able to help students build important connections and unlock unique opportunities related to their academic areas of interest.

Additionally, students may also choose to be part of an independent study group, taking classes taught by other students. This unique teaching method at Davidson Academy provides our students with the opportunity to pursue an academic area of interest, without losing the benefits of group discussion and teamwork.

“My Independent Study evolved from a lab shadowing experience that I initiated during my summer break. My interest in Neuroscience led me to interact with world-class faculty members at a top-tier university as well as undergrads, grad students and a postdoctoral fellow who are dynamic thinkers. They investigate ideas, connect and collaborate to problem solve, and seek to create new understandings through their discoveries. I am currently involved in a lab that studies molecules, cells and circuits underlying circadian rhythms in mammals using techniques that include planar electrode arrays, real-time cellular imaging and genetic manipulations to provide insight into the roles of specific molecules, cells, and tissues in the varied repertoire of daily behaviors. As a Davidson Academy Online student, this unique opportunity is a major contribution which adds a new dimension, fresh perspective, exposure to new ideas and enrichment that extends beyond my online learning during the academic year.”  ~12-year-old Davidson Academy Online Student

Peer Advising Liaisons

At Davidson Academy, our students also have the opportunity to help their peers navigate the curriculum. We have developed a Peer Advising Liaison (PALs) program in which the PALs advise peers on academic skills, including note taking, learning strategies, stress management, organization, time management, and self-advocacy. Students apply to become liaisons and only the most highly qualified candidates are selected during an intensive interview process. All Academy students have access to the PALs, and all first-year and middle school students are assigned a PAL.

Student Schedules

At the Academy, student schedules are designed around the unique need of gifted learners. Classes are small, with about fifteen students, to promote personalized learning and attention.

Core classes meet Monday through Thursday. Most elective classes are offered as two-hour blocks on Friday, although there are some electives offered Monday through Thursday. In addition, nearly every student has an hour-long study hall block each day to work independently or meet with teachers and peer tutors. Students are also able to submit papers to the Writing Center to solicit feedback and assistance from highly-qualified peers.

To learn more about Davidson Academy’s teaching methods for gifted students, contact us today.