I will never forget or downplay the incredible experiences I had working with children within a regular school setting.  I did this not as a teacher, but as a therapeutic shadow to specific client children. In that role, I was able to observe and interact not just with my clients but with all the children in the class. This gave me a great opportunity to just watch and admire these young minds at work. It also gave me the chance to find among the students at least one, and usually more, shy geeks.  

Shy geeks? These are intensely bright children who for one reason or the other keep their intelligence close to their chests. In many cases, because of their shyness they performed poorly and were often mistakenly labeled as “slow achievers.”  Who is not to say that among this muted group there is not at least one Einstein, Fermi, Feynman, etc?  I believe it from the bottom of my heart.

So, for quite awhile now, I have been thinking about ways to gently nudge out these potential geniuses.  The idea of a Lego Test came to my mind after viewing several dramatic reports on the fact that Legos are very much alive and well. Legos are like favorite snacks; they are irresistible and captivating.  I do not believe any child can sit for more than 10 seconds before they have reached out and started piecing together a Lego creation.

Here is my general idea of the Lego Test and how it would be applied and interpreted.

  • First, one does not swoop in and grab up candidates. Their very shyness will destroy the key element of the test – relaxed, unmonitored, creativity.  The candidates must be wooed carefully to ease their shyness.
  • A fair amount of time must be devoted to building the candidates confidence in what we are asking them to do.  No pressure, and with lots of friendliness to further ease their worries and shyness.
  • The key to the test is, there are NO requirements or special rules.  The children are presented with the most complete Lego set imaginable. It must include all those really terrific extras. The only instruction is that the candidates take all the time they need and build or not build whatever they want.
  • The test environment is quiet and each candidate works alone. They can call for help at any time (their questions are also part of the test). They can also refuse and that must be honored, but not without at least a bit of gentle encouragement.
  • When they have finished, they will be asked to explain, in detail (conversationally), what they have built, what it does or represents, and why. There own explanations and reasoning are the test results, and the absence of an explanation or reason is of equal importance.

Well, it will take quite a bit of time to develop this into a real test, and the test monitor must be well trained to properly assess and record the children’s responses.  In this regard, the child that asks for crayons and paper instead of the Legos should be fully accommodated (Some of Lockheed-Martin’s key members of its “skunk works” design group probably started out with crayons and paper.).

I know, I have not told you why I want to do this with respect to the space sciences.  We need every kind of talent imaginable to carry us forward into the new world of space exploration.  Scientists, engineers, technicians, artists, writers, organizers, these are some of the very special talents that exist today in our space program and must continue to exist.  That continuation can only come from a steady flow of young minds with these talents. Sure, there will always be many youngsters already determined to enter these fields, but I want to make sure we do not miss any, and especially those that may have incredible talent.This latter goal is the source for my idea of the Lego Test and the search for shy geeks.  They are out there, and if we ignore them, we stand to let slip from us a bounty of creativity.