NRC/GT Researchers: Brandwein Always Looked Forward

Spring 2000 Masthead

E. Jean Gubbins
University of Connecticut
Storrs, CT

As educators and researchers, we have a natural inclination to look back at educational theories and practices to see what has been learned and to look around to determine how we can improve current instructional strategies and curricular approaches. Then we use formal and informal data to make decisions about what comes next. These data-based decisions have a considerable impact on the young people we work with every day.

At The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented (NRC/GT), many of our publications focus on identifying the gifts and talents of young people whose potential abilities may go unnoticed. Obviously, it is easier to recognize demonstrated abilities of students such as the following:

  • read and interpret text that is 3 or 4 years above age/grade level;
  • construct and solve complex mathematical problems, illustrating an advanced level of conceptual understanding; or
  • design and implement a new approach to a science experiment, resulting from rejections of earlier hypotheses.

Some 3-year-old children already recognize letters, speak in complete sentences, write their names, draw basic geometric shapes, and ask questions about how things work. Their inquisitiveness is remarkable, which encourages adults, siblings, and older children to create more opportunities to promote their curiosity and zest for learning. It is more difficult to recognize potential gifts and talents among children who may not have had exposure to numerous early educational opportunities in the home or at school.

Looking back at the works by Dr. Paul F- Brandwein is an incredible educational experience. His contributions to identifying and nurturing the obvious and latent talents and gifts of young people would fill more than the 16 pages of this newsletter. A literature search of publications illustrates the breadth and depth of his work that provides the blueprint for making decisions about why we must constantly question and rethink how we create educational opportunities.

In 1955, Brandwein produced a book entitled The Gifted Student as Future Scientist: The High School Student and His Commitment to Science. This book was later updated and published in 1981. There are several sections of the book that I review periodically. As a scholar and researcher, Brandwein asked himself: What Makes a Scientist? He then pursued the following strategies as a way of responding to the question:

  • noted characteristics of scientists through observations;
  • checked the growing body of knowledge through discussions with colleagues, teachers, and supervisors;
  • prepared a booklet describing the high school program in which he worked; and
  • asked for a critique of his findings and conclusions from 100 experts in the field of science teaching.

Brandwein looked back, looked around, and made decisions about what came next. He stated:

. . . [F]rom the observations of working scientists as well as from common sense observations, it seems clear that Genetic and Predisposing Factors were not all that operated in the making of a scientist. Opportunities to get further training and the inspiration of the individual teacher were clearly factors to be considered in reaching a working hypothesis on the nature of high level ability in science.

Brandwein’s study of research scientists supported Genetic Factors, such as high oral and written verbal ability and high mathematical ability. He believed that Genetic Factors

appear[ed] to have a relationship to high intelligence and may have a primary basis in heredity. Naturally, Genetic Factors are altered by an environment. It fact, it is clearly understood here that . . . any individual is the product of his [her] heredity and his [her] environment. (p. 9)

Predisposing Factors were characterized by persistence and questing. Persistence requires an extended time commitment to a research question that must be addressed despite failures and frustrations. Questing means “a notable dissatisfaction with present explanations and aspects of reality” (p. 10). These factors, however, may be necessary, but not sufficient to explain the making of a scientist. Continued study revealed the importance of the Activating Factor or “opportunities for advanced training and contact with an inspirational teacher” (p. 11). As a researcher and scientist, Brandwein offered a working hypothesis:

High level ability in science is based on the interaction of several factors—Genetic, Predisposing, and Activating. All factors are generally necessary to the development of high level ability in science; no one of the factors is sufficient in itself. (p. 12)

Brandwein did not generate hypotheses about teaching and learning from a position outside the classroom. He was the teacher, the researcher, and the scholar who implemented his ideas in schools. He experimented with instructional and curricular approaches and made adjustments as warranted. He created a learning environment for students whose potential in science was “to be determined.” A brief overview of the operational approach to identifying, nurturing, and supporting potential does not do justice to Brandwein’s ability to determine “what is next?” (see Brandwein, 1981). In the operational approach, high school students participated in general science and the talent search began. He posed questions such as:

  • Whose curiosity is insatiable?
  • Whose work is exemplary?
  • Who goes beyond course requirements?
  • Who has science-related hobbies?

Invited and self-nominated students were involved in laboratory work beyond their scheduled classes, such as preparing lab materials, assisting in experiments, maintaining a school museum, or participating in science clubs. Students continued to receive guidance and encouragement to pursue additional science opportunities. These opportunities became increasingly specialized and required a considerable commitment to scholarly work. Students were living and working as junior scientists, lending further research evidence to the working hypothesis related to high level ability in science. As the breadth, depth, and complexity of the science work increased, Dr. Brandwein posed new questions and tested hypotheses about learning and teaching. He continually challenged his thinking.

The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented continually approaches research by looking back at what has been learned, looking around at current practices, and determining what’s next. We are adding to the knowledge base initiated by so many renowned people in our field. An effective way to peruse our research findings to date is to visit our web site at Abstracts and findings are available for each research monograph produced by the NRC/GT. This collection represents a small portion of our contributions to the literature, however. Our most recent count of publications totals over 500. Obviously, the web site is a more efficient way of looking back at what we have learned. Our 10 year research journey has benefited from the past and current work of so many scholars, researchers, and practitioners. Dr. Paul F-Brandwein is one person we always look to as a role model as we continue our search for answers to questions about learning and teaching.

Brandwein, P. F. (1981). The gifted student as future scientist. Ventura County, CA: National/State Leadership Training Institute.
Brandwein, P. F. (1995). Science talent in the young expressed within ecologies of achievement (RBDM 9510). Storrs: University of Connecticut, The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.


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