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The Boy Genius and the Genius in All of Us A review of The Boy Who Played with Fusion, by Tom Clynes

boy who played with fusion Book-Jacket-copy-199x30In The Boy Who Played with Fusion, Tom Clynes tells a fascinating story about a boy’s pursuit of a passionate interest in nuclear physics, and draws some surprising conclusions about the nature and development of genius-level intelligence. Clynes considers the roles played not only by innate ability and environmental factors such as parenting, teaching, and mentoring, but also by temperament, motivation, culture, and politics.

The Boy Who Played with Fusion chronicles the remarkable childhood and adolescence of physics prodigy Taylor Wilson, now 21 years old. Taylor did his first enormously successful TED Talk at the age of 17, and has already investigated such arcane topics as magnetic confinement fusion, radioactivity, and gamma ray lasers. He has several inventions and patents under his belt, including a specialized particle accelerator that could revolutionize the production of diagnostic pharmaceuticals, at one-thirtieth the cost and one-tenth the floor space of conventional methods; and a portable neutron detector that promises to counter terrorism. He is a young superstar who has attracted attention from Nobel prizewinners, Barack Obama, and the media.

The Boy Who Played with Fusion is also a book about parenting and education in America today. Clynes raises important questions about the nature of genius, and how best to nurture its development. He concludes that parents are the most important catalysts of each child’s intellectual development. “The challenge is to find the outlet that best fits a person’s unique set of interests and characteristics,” he writes. “As a start, give kids lots of exposure to different experiences in their younger years, and pay attention to what they pick up on.” (p. 273) He recommends pulling kids out of school if that’s the best way to give them authentic learning experiences in areas of deep curiosity. He observes that attendance and grades are a lot less important than actual learning, especially in the early years.

Taylor Wilson thrived at the Davidson Academy for highly gifted learners, but his brother Joey, who scores higher than Taylor on intelligence tests, did not. After thinking about this, and talking to a number of gifted education experts, Clynes concluded that gifted education needs to be individualized; a one-size-fits-all gifted program can’t possibly work for everyone. Educators better serve children when they focus on (1) encouraging kids to discover and explore their values, goals, and interests; (2) helping kids develop talents into fulfilling careers that will provide a foundation for a happily productive life; and (3) encouraging the kind of intellectual risk-taking that moves a field’s or a society’s knowledge and practice forward. Specific educational approaches that worked for Taylor at Davidson that Clynes argues should be applied by all educators include individualized learning, targeted acceleration, dual enrolment (high school and university simultaneously), and the acceptance of every kind of diversity.

Amazingly for such an erudite subject, The Boy Who Played with Fusion is a pleasure to read. It’s beautifully written, in an intelligently thoughtful and accessible tone. Clynes enlivens challenging intellectual concepts with personal observations, concerns, and questions. Seamlessly, he weaves into the story informal conversations with all the players in Taylor Wilson’s story, as well as with a wide variety of educational and psychological researchers, including Carol Dweck, David Henry Feldman, Susan Cain, Ellen Winner, Scott Barry Kaufman, Joan Freeman, Barbara Kerr, Dean Keith Simonton,and David Lubinski, among many others. “Take your kids places,” writes Clynes, summarizing the extensive and growing body of evidence that suggests that a lasting capacity for creativity is enhanced by early exposure to unusual and diverse situations. “Early novel experiences play an important role in shapingthe healthy development of brain systems that are important for effective learning and self-regulation, in childhood and beyond.” (p. 75)

Although the subject of this book is extraordinary in many ways, Clynes’s attitude toward talent is not exclusive, elitist, or person-centered. He is aware of the confluence of circumstances required to nurture the development of giftedness and talent, and remarks that “the latest research suggests that nearly everyone has the capacity to achieve extraordinary performance in some mode of expression, if each can discover opportunities in a domain of expertise that allows his or her unique set of personal attributes to shine.” (p. xv)

Clynes makes it clear that talent development is not about money. As Taylor Wilson’s story illustrates, optimal child development experiences do not need to be expensive: “Whether we use it or not, we have the recipe…parents who are courageous enough to give their children wings and let them fly in the directions they choose; schools that support children as individuals; a society that understands the difference between elitism and individualizededucation and that addresses the needs of kids at all levels.” (p. 281)

The Boy Who Played with Fusion is an essential contribution to our understanding of the most important underlying questions about the development of giftedness, talent, creativity, and intelligence. It is urgently relevant to every parent, teacher, psychologist, educational administrator, and policy-maker who cares about children’s learning and about the future of our civilization.

For more:

The Boy Who Played with Fusion, by Tom Clynes

Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids, by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster 

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Ten Ideas for Parents Who Want to Raise a Happily Productive Child

front cover rszOn Dec. 7, 2014, I had a lot of fun doing a podcast interview with Scott Barry Kaufman. We had an interesting conversation about the nature and development of giftedness and talent, with some serious moments, and lots of laughs. He synopsized our talk brilliantly, writing, ‘Just had a delightful chat with Dona Matthews. I highly recommend her book, co-written with Joanne Foster, Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids.’

Scott went on, writing a great synopsis of many of the points Joanne Foster and I wanted to make in that book, framing it as ten ideas for parents, to help them raise a happily productive child:

  1. Be wary of your child’s “potential.” All children have a tremendous capacity for intelligence, no matter what anyone might predict, or how well they do on an intelligence test.
  2. Think about intelligence as a process rather than an innate essence that some people have more of than others. Intelligence is more about doing than being.
  3. Remember that intelligence develops incrementally, and varies across time, situations, and domains.
  4. Support your child’s particular kinds of intelligence. Each child has his own profile of different intelligences.
  5. Think carefully about the implications of any test results your child achieves, especially IQ. Scores don’t always mean what they seem to mean.
  6. Look for and encourage children’s involvement in music and second language learning experiences. These are valuable for all kids, but especially for those who don’t learn in traditional academic ways.
  7. Support your child in acquiring a growth mindset— the attitude that ability develops one step at a time, with hard work, persistence, and patience.
  8. Don’t praise your child for being intelligent. It’s better to be specific with your praise, by focusing on what she’s doing and how she’s doing it.
  9. Do praise your child for working hard. Thoughtful attention to detail (which can be painfully slow, challenging, and effortful) is how intelligence grows.
  10. Learn to have and display an open mind about obstacles, criticisms, and mistakes. Avoid blame. Think constructively about failures, seeing them as opportunities for learning about what needs more work.

You can find lots more about Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids at www.beyondintelligence.net

Thank you, Scott Barry Kaufman! You can find his podcasts and more about his wide ranging work supporting the development of intelligence, creativity, and imagination at http://scottbarrykaufman.com/

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Intelligence, IQ, Tests, and Assessments: What Do Parents Need to Know? What Should They Tell Their Kids?

child-studyingWhat is intelligence? Do IQ tests measure it? What can parents expect by way of results and interpretation? What should parents tell their kids about the results?  How do test results help in deciding on an educational program? These are some of the thorny questions parents ask us about testing and their kids.

It’s a complicated and important topic that we’ve written an article about, published in the September 2014 issue of Parenting for High Potential. You can find the article here: Intelligence, IQ, Tests, and Assessments.

Here are a few of the fundamentals:

Intelligence develops step by step with the right kinds of supports and opportunities to learn. High-level abilities develop when children engage meaningfully in various forms of reasoning and a range of learning experiences, confronting challenges, overcoming obstacles, and developing resilience along the way. Parents can encourage their children’s interests and nurture their creativity and critical thinking. Parents can also help kids build their skills by modeling patience, persistence, and hard work in their own pursuits.

IQ tests have limitations. There are many reasons for test scores to underestimate a person’s abilities, including illness, test anxiety, language barriers, and lots more. Because intelligence tests include only a narrow range of abilities and are limited in many other ways, and because intelligence changes over time with learning opportunities, motivation, and effort, IQ scores are not accurate predictors of anyone’s future success. These scores can provide information about a child’s learning needs at a given point in time, but any comprehensive understanding of a person’s capacities should rest on careful consideration of other sources of information as well. These include observations, reports, and portfolios of completed assignments in different subject areas.

What should parents tell their child about test results? Parents who realize the limitations and temporary nature of test results can be honest with their child. They can provide as much information as the child is interested in, including test scores, as long as they make it clear that the scores are indicators of the way the child answered a bunch of questions in a certain circumstance on a given day, and are subject to change. Parents should emphasize practical implications, rather than numbers, saying things like ‘Your science scores weren’t as good as your language reasoning scores. Maybe we can find science stuff you’d like to learn about.’

“Now what?” When assessment results are thoughtfully interpreted by a professional, they can provide useful information for educational decision-making. They can inform parents about their child’s strengths and weaknesses, indicate practical implications for instruction and learning, and suggest available options. Well-informed parents can make better decisions for and with their child.

 

To discover more about testing—including types of tests, when to test, how to interpret test results, and how to make wise decisions for your kids—check out our recent book, Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids, and additional resources at www.beyondintelligence.net.

Seeing Beyond the Distraction of IQ

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In our work with families and schools, we’ve noticed that people sometimes confuse encouraging the development of children’s real-world intelligence—that is, raising smarter kids—and raising their IQs. It’s a distinction worth noting. Here’s why.

Intelligence is so much more than a score on a test. Secrets for raising smarter kids include keeping the emphasis on thinking, learning, challenging, creating, finding balance, playing, working hard, collaborating, persevering, and becoming wise. Boosting a child’s real-world intelligence may boost his intelligence test score, but not necessarily. And vice versa. Read more

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Are Some Kids Born Smart? Or Do They Become Smart?

Are some kids born smart? Or do they become smart? Is there anything parents and teachers can do to help kids become more intelligent or use their intelligence more productively?

Carol Dweck’s work on mindsets is part of a transformation in progress concerning how people understand giftedness, and how gifted education is delivered. In this article published in the Growth Mindset Blog, we think about some of the myths that are being challenged by recent findings on mindsets and intelligence.

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Intelligence and Bullying

rsz_boy_with_arms_crossedAnyone who’s different than others is more likely than other kids to feel isolated. This is especially true in the early adolescent years of 11 to 14, when fitting in is more important than at any other time in a person’s life.

Being smart is enough to trigger rejection, envy, or aggression by classmates, although it doesn’t always bring the knowledge or wisdom to deal well with social problems like these. Rejection can take the form of bullying, whether with gestures, words (Nerd! Brainiac! Geek!), physical violence, or cyber-attacks, all of which can be hurtful or even traumatic. Read more