Sunday, May 27, 2012

Multiple Intelligences and STEM

Anyone who has kids or works with kids understands that not only does each have his/her own personality, but each also prefers to learn information in their own ways and also have preferences in how they share what they have learned. There are many different theories of learning styles out there, enough for everyone to find one they like best. For me it is the Multiple Intelligence theory.

Since my early years in undergraduate education (back in the 1990's) I have been a fan of Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligence (MI) Theory. Dr. Gardner's writings were not originally meant for the education community, and many educators find his writing a bit theoretical. However it is the educators who sat up and listened knowing he was on to something. Teachers like the MI theory as it explains learning styles in more detail than the commonly used learning style trilogy; auditory, visual, and kinesthetic.

As a young teacher, I had mostly freshman students and felt our first week of class time was best spent talking about learning styles, note-taking, and test-taking strategies. I myself learn best visually and didn't realize this until college. I wanted my students to figure out how they best learn, so that they could stop fighting themselves when it came using their study time most efficiently. For all 12 years that I was in public education, my students always learned about the MI theory of intelligence. More about how I integrated the MI theory in an upcoming article up. 

I won't go into a lot of detail, but essentially the MI theory states that each individual perceives, processes, and describes what they learn in different ways. The MI theory has 9 categories; 
  • Verbal/Linguistic (Word Smart)
  • Logical/Mathematical (Number Smart)
  • Visual/Spacial (Picture Smart)
  • Musical (Music Smart)
  • Bodily Kinesthetic (Body Smart)
  • Existential (Theoretically Smart)
  • Naturalist (Nature Smart)
  • Intrapersonal (Self Smart) 
  • Interpersonal (People Smart)
But don't think of these categories as all-or -none. Rather, each person each possesses each of the 9 categories in varying amounts. During some phases of our lives we might be stronger in some but change to others as we mature. I believe our goal is to improve in all of the intelligences to help us to be more well rounded.

Teachers often teach the way they themselves learn. I am highly visual, and use a lot of graphics, drawings, stick figures, and tables when I teach. Early in my career I did it unintentionally, just thinking I was reaching more students this way. In reality, while focusing on visual, I was ignoring others. So in order to become a better teacher, learned to teach in ways which I was not entirely comfortable. For example, I do not like playing educational games as a way to review, as a bodily kinesthetic might enjoy, or using debate as the verbal individual might appreciate. But I learned to use a variety of teaching methods (tools) in order to reach as many kids as I could.

As STEM teachers, most of us have a strong slant toward the Logical/Mathematical, with varying other areas of strength. And the students who do well in our classes are also likely strongly logical/mathematical. Remember, we don't have problems reaching and teaching students who learn and think like ourselves. What we need to consider is how excite students who don't naturally gravitate to STEM subjects.  What can we be doing to help ALL students enjoy and see the value in STEM areas?

Consider teaching a STEM lesson:

  • Discussing a children's picture book (Here's a lesson idea for The Lorax by Dr. Seuss)
  • By having students use manipulatives (yes, even in high school!)
  • Using music (mp3) or YouTube videos (mp4) Great resource for this is
  • Having students use their bodies to model abstract (microscopic) concepts and act out how it functions.
  • That address the "why?" or importance of subjects as you teach them (for the existential individuals)
  • Using Think-Pair-Share before opening up a classroom discussion. 

Consider Allowing Students to Share What They've Learned by:

  • Journal writing (blog); to help them apply what they are learning to themselves and the world around them.
  • Digital Storytelling (YouTube Videos)
  • Teaching a simplified version of the topic to a younger grade
  • Designing a game to teach a concept (video, athletic or otherwise)
  • Writing a song about the topic (new lyrics to well known melody)
  • Constructing a scrapbook or writing poetry
  • Acting out a skit or song, in front of a live audience
  • Leading an online discussion on the topic


Birmingham Grid For Learning: Has a a very good online MI survey for students to take. (Does not include the Existential intelligence) Students can save their code and refer to it later.

Printable Survey: This is very similar to what I give my students. The survey doesn't try and hide which questions are from which category, as they are grouped together. But still a valuable survey and easy to score, if you don't have access to an online version.

How do you keep your non-logical mathematical students engaged?  

Thanks Tina for suggesting this resource! 

This article is the first in a series about the Multiple Intelligence theory. You might want to check out the others!


  1. Hey Dr. Harland,
    I just wanted to say thanks for teaching us this in high school. It made it SO much easier to learn in high school and college because I already knew what things made it easier for me to study, and what things would be futile to try!

    1. Kory, So glad this helped you. For me it was a college history class that I figured out that I was visual. I assigned colored highlighters to different things; like people in orange, dates in yellow, and events in green. (I loved being able to write in the text book, but I didn't like having to pay for the books!) This gave me purpose as I read. I also liked to draw pictures (I'm not an artist mind you) to bring text into some sort of graphic really helped me. I sure wish I had learned this earlier! I'm assuming you are strongly visual/spacial?

  2. Have you heard of a book called HOW AM I SMART? by Dr. Kathy Koch, Ph.D.? It's an excellent resource that takes Dr. Gardner's work and makes it more accessible, particularly for parents. You might like to get a copy and the recommend it to others who'd like to really understand each intelligence more deeply.

    1. Tina, thanks for bringing this resource up! All parents would be better served if we understand and can explain to our kids, HOW are kids are smart. Our answers to that question may determine how confident they are for accomplishing all kinds of new tasks.

  3. I used Think-Pair-Share a lot while teaching! Thanks for the's even interesting to see how family members learn differently. Over the course of our marriage, we have learned that we are completely different processors when it comes to learning new information. It will be interesting to see how our kids learn best! ~Andrea

    1. Andrea, yeah, I love think-pair-share. Not sure how it will translate into the homeschooling setting! Pair and share is the same, maybe think, write, share?

      Learning styles are interesting because they are not static. We can become better at processing information in many ways if we practice. But one way will always become more natural for us. I know my sister and I learn differently. The earlier our kids can figure out how they learn, they can apply principles of that intelligences to all subjects to help them learn!

  4. My husband and I have been reading up on multiple intelligences lately. As homeschooling parents of three, we've noticed that all of our children learn a bit differently. We feel that learning the best way to teach each of them is important. I think it's great that you're trying to do the same thing on a larger scale in your classroom!

    1. Patricia,

      You said it! Understanding how our kids view the world is so important! Once kids understand themselves a bit more, they are more confident!

      Doing this on a scale for a full classroom is challenging to say the least. I even told the kids, there is no way I can promise you that everyday you'll love this class. I can't teach to everyone's style every class period. But we did spend a lot of time talking about how they can take the information they are supposed to learn, and use their own MI strengths to study! And that works great because it puts the responsibility back on them!

      Now that we are homeschooling, I look forward to using my views of MI and learning in general to provide a tailored learning experience for my son(s)!


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