Tuesday, April 07, 2009

MI: the 'New' Buzzword

One of the latest 'buzzwords' in education is the theory, first espoused in 1983 by Howard Gardner, regarding Multiple Intelligences, or MIs. This concept plays well into the social fabric of the technological revolution, as it shows the need for educators to examine more extensively the 'how' of learning as well as the 'why'. So much of the way students learn today is wrapped in this theory, either by design or default. Once computers moved from 'media' (although admittedly this was short-lived) to 'multimedia', so did society. With the advent of personal computers in the early 90s, and cell phones and the WWW hitting the general population in the mid-1990's, life as we know it changed dramatically. It seems as if almost overnight everyone had a phone attached to their ears for most of their waking hours. Households were figuring out how to include the very expensive computer into the family budget.

In schools, computers started trickling into classrooms, then curricula. Suddenly the world was awash in tech terms. Unfortunately, in many instances, instructors were trying to fit this new square peg into the old round hole, and despite a lot of banging on that square peg, it never fit snugly into the hole. But to their credit, many tried to make things work. Of course, there was also the problem of fitting the fat square tech peg into the skinny round hole of the available curriculum budget. Once the WWW came into play, we had the additional learning curve that using these interactive websites incurred. Web 2.0 brought on even more problems for the classroom instructor. Suddenly (or so it seemed) we were inundated with potential websites and tools, and classroom instructors, already weary from all the accountability issues, started to lose interest just as their students found it.

Email was cool, but then blogs and wikis came into the picture. Students were involved in text-messaging (TMs), instant messaging (IMs), social network sites (think Twitter, Facebook, My Space, Jaiku etc), and Second Life, which isn't real at all, but students sometimes think it is. Schools were now outfitted with computers and peripherals, but their use was spotty, even among the best instructors. So it was inevitable that the concept of MI which was developed prior to the personal computer wave would find a home in the post Web 2.0 phase. And yes, we are well into Web 3.0, and 4.0 and...trust me, we can .0 to infinity and beyond.

What does this mean for the average, tech-challenged classroom instructor? Well, the good news is that Web 2.0 doesn't always require a lot of tech savvy. As a matter of fact, you can turn that part over to the students, who are usually quite capable of incorporating it into their work. In the latest issue of Edutopia (April/May 2009, Edutopia.org), there is question that was asked in the Sage Advice column last month: "How do you address multiple intelligences in your classroom?" The responses are great, and show that instructors are indeed trying to creatively inspire all of most of the multiple intelligences that their students possess.

My favorite was from seventh grade science and math teacher Carol Craig in Trinidad, West Indies: "Right now my students are working on 'Rock Concerts'. They are divided into groups of 4, with 2 rocks assigned to each group.
They research their rocks, write a song using the facts, design a t-shirt that they wear at their performance, and perform the song in front of their classmates. They also create a poster, a model and a presentation for the perfomance. They can add a dance if they like."

I personally love this assignment. It's an extension of the theories from old tv shows like Schoolhouse Rock. Give the students a somewhat boring assignment (my apologies to earth science instructors but rocks are not usually not the most engaging subject), and make it into a project that they can all use their varying MI skills to achieve. Creating a song using their research is a wonderful way to remember the information (remember: "Conjunction Junction, what's your function?"), and allows for collaborative learning (yet another current buzzword, or is it buzz phrase?) with real learning goals (bzzzzzzz, bzzzzz).

Instructors have always had aspects of MI in their classes (field trips, movies, film strips) but now the goal is toward using the available tools for project-based environments that are heavily into socializing. This is the new educational curriculum. Be there or -be square...

Information on Howard Gardner and Multiple Intelligences:

"Howard Gardner claims that all human beings have multiple intelligences. These multiple intelligences can be nurtured and strengthened, or ignored and weakened. He believes each individual has nine intelligences:

Verbal-Linguistic Intelligence -- well-developed verbal skills and sensitivity to the sounds, meanings and rhythms of words

Mathematical-Logical Intelligence -- ability to think conceptually and abstractly, and capacity to discern logical or numerical patterns

Musical Intelligence -- ability to produce and appreciate rhythm, pitch and timber

Visual-Spatial Intelligence -- capacity to think in images and pictures, to visualize accurately and abstractly

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence -- ability to control one's body movements and to handle objects skillfully

Interpersonal Intelligence -- capacity to detect and respond appropriately to the moods, motivations and desires of others.

Intrapersonal Intelligence -- capacity to be self-aware and in tune with inner feelings, values, beliefs and thinking processes

Naturalist Intelligence -- ability to recognize and categorize plants, animals and other objects in nature

Existential Intelligence -- sensitivity and capacity to tackle deep questions about human existence, such as the meaning of life, why do we die, and how did we get here.

Howard Gardner1 defined the first seven intelligences in FRAMES OF MIND (1983). He added the last two in INTELLIGENCE REFRAMED (1999). Gardner is a psychologist and Professor at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education, as well as Co-Director of Harvard Project Zero.

Based on his study of many people from many different walks of life in everyday circumstances and professions, Gardner developed the theory of multiple intelligences. He performed interviews with and brain research on hundreds of people, including stroke victims, prodigies, autistic individuals, and so-called "idiot savants."

According to Gardner,

All human beings possess all nine intelligences in varying amounts.
Each person has a different intellectual composition.
We can improve education by addressing the multiple intelligences of our students.
These intelligences are located in different areas of the brain and can either work independently or together.
These intelligences may define the human species."

Concept to Classroom