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Multiple Intelligences and Lab Safety

By Megan Thaler
Biology Teacher, Robinson Secondary School, Fairfax, VA

Owl Nesting Habits

How you perceive the world is how you learn about it. Are you a straight-line thinker going from A to B to C in logical procession? Or do you think in terms of sounds that create rhythm in your brain when memorizing text or numbers? These thought patterns reveal more than just your choice of how to relate to the world. They indicate how your brain is hardwired for intelligence, or rather, "intelligences," that also determine your learning style.

In 1983, developmental psychologist Howard Gardner formulated his theory of multiple intelligences. Gardner recognized 8 types of intelligence: logical-mathematical, musical, natural, linguistic, kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and visual-spatial. A student who scores poorly in one type of intelligence may possess high aptitude in another. Therefore, teachers who organize lessons around these intelligence types will provide students many ways to demonstrate understanding. Students can then learn in the manner most suited for their particular intelligence type. Students also will enjoy the personal relevance of these lessons because they are encouraged to explore their individual strengths.

Understanding your students’ learning strategies is important. Administering an online quiz, such as "Multiple Intelligences" provided by the Birmingham Grid for Learning, accomplishes this easily. Have students complete the quiz as classwork or homework. If possible, print their results, provided in a "color wheel" grid format. The color wheel makes it easy to assess their scores at a glance and compare the different intelligences. The results will help you determine the most engaging and successful activities for your students. Try to incorporate many different intelligences when planning lessons.

Test Gardner’s theory

The concept of multiple intelligences adjusts to fit any topic or content area. Planning a lesson around lab safety is an excellent way to practice this—and cover some important procedural information with your class. First, group students according to their highest ratings. To create relatively equal group sizes, place students in groups according to their 1st- or 2nd-highest score. Then give each group an assignment that demonstrates students’ knowledge of laboratory safety and equipment while still allowing them to be creative, such as the following activities.

  • The Musical group rewrites a popular song with lyrics reflecting safety and lab rules.
  • The Naturalistic group creates a poster or comic strip associating possible ways to break a major rule with types of animals most likely to do so. (For example, snakes break the "hold the microscope with 2 hands" rule because they obviously have no hands.)
  • The Kinesthetic group, the most physical group, produces a skit with some members playing pieces of equipment while others demonstrate how to use them properly. Class members outside the group guess the identity of the equipment in question. The kinesthetic group repeats the process showing what not to do in terms of safety rules.
  • The Linguistic group, which works well with words, writes a story about the worst possible day in biology class, in terms of safety and equipment, imagining everything that could go wrong.
  • The Numbers group (logical/mathematical) creates a crossword puzzle that helps the class review equipment names and safety rules.
  • The Visual/spatial group, which enjoys diagrams and drawing, draws decorative warning labels and instructive signs for different pieces of equipment and safety rules for posting in the classroom.
  • The Interpersonal group, which works best interacting with others, conducts interviews with science teachers about the most unsafe practices they have seen in their labs and which pieces of equipment are the most useful. Alternatively, they poll other students to address common misconceptions about the topic.
  • The Intrapersonal group, which excels working independently and being reflective, writes a journal entry pretending to be a piece of lab equipment. They write about interesting experiments that they hope to participate in, their proper use, and unsafe handling about which they are worried.

Expose students to different learning styles

End this activity in a fun way that allows appreciation of all the work by having groups share their assignments. Perform skits and songs with as much interaction from the audience as possible. Display posters and signs with input from the class about where to locate them. Read aloud or post on the class Web site the "worst-day" story, interview results, and journal entries. Give the crossword puzzle as a homework assignment or a warm-up the following day.

Tailoring assignments to different types of intelligences is a little extra work for the teacher, but it can spark students’ interest in topics normally seen as rather routine. Repeat this strategy throughout the year for different topics, with different results each time. Once students grasp the concept, mix things up by assigning them to their lowest-scoring group: they may discover aptitude in areas they never considered before!

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