Academic journal article Journal of Secondary Gifted Education

Talent Development in Science: A Unique Tale of One Student's Journey

Academic journal article Journal of Secondary Gifted Education

Talent Development in Science: A Unique Tale of One Student's Journey

Article excerpt

This narrative presents the educational route followed by an Intel Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) winner who was not always recognized for his scientific abilities. Factors contributing to the success of this gifted student are presented, as well as his creative insights for solving the problem that gave rise to the winning project. Further, the major issues that emerged from this student's story can inform both professional development and instructional practice. These issues include: the need to recognize science talent or creative productive behaviors in students with special needs; students' need for an experiential science curriculum that incorporates multidisciplinary perspectives from which to study and apply the discipline of science, not merely the subject matter; the power of collaboration between students with similar interests; and the value of developing instructional strategies that accommodate a variety of learning difficulties and learning styles.


Science fairs have long been the showcase of gifted students across the United States. The following story describes the path of one student as he developed a project that eventually won the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF).

Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of this case is that this gifted student was atypical in numerous respects in his pursuit to win this prestigious competition. First, he had been identified years earlier with a specific learning disability. He also suffered from bouts of depression and experienced social isolation. Not surprisingly, he was unmotivated. Finally, he did not like school. The typical response to this type of student would include medication, social skill instruction, and remediation. Instead, his parents firmly believed that more was to be gained by accentuating the positives, so they encouraged him to pursue his passions and follow his dreams. This article will describe how a talent-development approach influenced the success of one young scientist and what schools can do to identify and nurture twice-exceptional students appropriately.

Bill, a high school senior, smiled with pride as he described the award-winning project. As Bill explained, "I'm a Civil War buff, and my buddy loves science. We thought, if we could team up, we would improve our chances of winning an award." These two young men's research project, "Photorhabdus luminescens: Its Inhibition of Pathogens and Possible Relationship to the Healing of Civil War Wounds That Glowed," placed high in two prestigious competitions: second place in the Siemens Westinghouse Competition and first place in the Intel International Science Fair Competition in 2001. It is always interesting to trace the development of talent, and, in so doing, we can usually discern some predictable patterns. However, this story of success follows a path less traveled from novice to expert, and it offers new insights into ways to develop science talent in nontraditional students.

Bill's Academic Background

To understand the uniqueness of this triumph, we need to explore how Bill was able to accomplish this feat despite his disabilities and school difficulties. A twice-exceptional learner in school, Bill was plagued throughout his school career by mild depression, as well as learning and attention deficits. School was not always an ideal environment for him. Bill was diagnosed as learning disabled in 7th grade when the school system finally acknowledged that there was a 2-year discrepancy between his ability and performance. But, Bill's problems had surfaced as early as preschool. Poor peer relations, inappropriate social behaviors, and a reluctance to complete written assignments punctuated his early childhood years. His parents requested a psychoeducational assessment when he was in 4th grade, but the psychologist declared that the discrepancy between his performance and ability was not large enough to merit special-education services. …

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