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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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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.

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An Interview about Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids

front coverIn an article posted on June 21 at www.educationnews.org, Michael Shaughnessy interviewed Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster about Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids. He asked some tough questions, including what parents’ responsibilities are for nurturing their children’s creativity and intelligence, what parents can do to reduce kids’ stress around standardized testing, and whether parents (or teachers) should be responsible for kids’ developing social skills.

You can see the interview posted here: http://www.educationviews.org/interview-dona-matthews-joanne-foster/

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Controversies and Misconceptions: Intelligence, IQ, and Gifted Education

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Intelligence is a much more interesting, democratic, and dynamic process than a lot of people realize.

There’s a dangerous but all too prevalent misconception that some people are born intellectually gifted (and the rest of us aren’t). From this perspective, traditional models of gifted education make good sense. All one has to do is figure out who has the extra dollop of intelligence, call them ‘gifted,’ and segregate them with each other in order to give them special educational experiences. Under this misconception about the nature of intelligence, the best way to ascertain whether a person belongs to the gifted category (or not) is to administer an intelligence test. The resulting score—an intelligence quotient or IQ—is then interpreted as being stable over the person’s lifetime.

The more that’s being learned about the brain, however, the more that cognitive scientists and neuropsychologists are emphasizing the dynamic nature of intelligence and the diversity of developmental pathways that lead to gifted levels of competence and achievement. Ability is spread much more broadly across the population than the demographic distribution of IQ scores would suggest, and is much more amenable to environmental influences like family life and day-to-day experiences. Read more

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Play Outside! Twelve Ways to Health, Happiness, Intelligence, and Creativity, and to Environmental Sustainability

play outside

Spending more time outdoors, preferably in natural settings, may be the simplest, healthiest, and most economical remedy for the terrible increase in numbers of children diagnosed with social, emotional, and learning problems over the past two decades. It may also be the answer to many problems suffered by adults in our increasingly rushed, technology-focused lives. And on a global scale, there’s evidence that more people spending more time in natural spaces would contribute to solving the environmental challenges that are increasingly disrupting our lives.  Read more

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From Apathy to Possibility: Scott Barry Kaufman’s Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined

ungifted: intelligence redefined

What’s it like to be on the receiving end of well-meaning sympathy for your learning disabilities, accompanied by low academic and career expectations? How does it feel to want to engage in the challenging learning activities that your friends in the gifted class are experiencing, and to be told you never will? Cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman—scientific director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Imagination Institute—describes his personal journey through special education, and what it taught him about the nature of intelligence, talent, and creativity.

I’ve been thinking and writing about these issues for a few decades, but nonetheless, my copy of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined is full of underlines and dog-eared pages where I’ve marked research findings, quotes, and ideas I hadn’t yet encountered or thought about in the way Kaufman describes them.  This book gave me fresh perspectives on many important ideas in my field and deeper understanding of many of the foundational concepts, as well as introducing me to research findings I hadn’t seen. Read more

the wonder of the ordinary

The Wonder of the Ordinary: A Crucible for Creativity, Talent, and Genius

the wonder of the ordinary

Parents can help their kids find their own particular kind of genius by encouraging their sense of wonder in the ordinary. You may or may not want your child to be a genius—an exceedingly rare and extraordinarily high achiever in a particular field—but you can help him develop his intelligence, creativity, and talents, by ensuring he has enough time for unstructured play and daydreaming.

In The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents, William Martin wrote, “Do you have agendas for your children that are more important than the children themselves? Lost in the shuffle of uniforms, practices, games, recitals, and performances can be the creative and joyful soul of your child. Watch and listen carefully. Do they have time to daydream? From your children’s dreams will emerge the practices and activities that will make self-discipline as natural as breathing.”

Read more

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Protect Your Child’s Playtime: It’s More Important than Homework, Lessons, and Organized Sports

protect your child's playtime

If you want your child to grow up to be confident, co-operative, intelligent, creative, and successful, protect his playtime from all the encroachments of life in a fast-paced, ambitious, technologically wired world.

Playtime is one of the most cost-effective investments a parent can make in a child’s education. It requires nothing more than time, space, and imagination. It does require your faith in her inner strength, her capacity to make her own fun; it requires stepping back and letting your child discover who she is, what she enjoys doing, and the ability to pursue her own interests.

While parental support for learning is enormously important to kids’ success, that can be tragically overdone. Instead of being filled with spontaneous improvisation and discovery, children’s time is increasingly being scheduled by adults and gobbled up by electronic devices. By robbing kids of ample time for imagination, exploration, and collaborative invention, we are taking away essential opportunities for them to develop the skills required for real achievement and fulfillment over time. Read more

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Every Child Can Do Math: One Step at a Time, with Patience and an Open Mind

every child can do math
We all know people who can’t do math. They’re better to take the easy math courses and drop out of math as early as possible. That’s what most North American teachers and parents think should happen, and that’s what usually does happen. The kids become adults who ‘can’t do math,’ avoiding careers they might otherwise be interested in, often passing on their ‘poor math genes’ to their kids.

In his Junior Undiscovered Mathematical Prodigies (JUMP) program, John Mighton has demonstrated that everyone can do math, even kids labelled ‘slow learners’ or ‘learning disabled,’ even those who are many years behind their age and grade in mathematical achievement. Read more

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Canadian Aboriginal Students: What They Can Teach Us All about Gifted Education

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‘We are gifted and very talented. But you’re not going to find out the way you are asking us your questions.’ Alanis Obomsawin, award-winning filmmaker of Abenaki descent.[i]

Although I haven’t been able to find solid numbers on the participation of Canadian students from Aboriginal backgrounds in gifted education programs, there are many indications that it’s lower than we’d see in kids from non-Native communities. The lower participation rates are partly a result of the poverty of educational opportunities experienced by many of the children growing up in Aboriginal communities, as well as the social and economic conditions their families experience. There are, however, other factors operating here, too, factors that suggest that Native perspectives on giftedness and talent development have something to teach mainstream educators about gifted education. Read more