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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 a 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 you 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 provide students many ways to demonstrate understanding. Students can then learn in the manner most suited for them and enjoy the personal relevance of these lessons as they explore their individual strengths. 

Understanding your students’ learning strategies is important. To accomplish this easily, administer a quiz, such as a "Multiple Intelligences Inventory" provided by the College of Education and Human Development at George Mason University. Have students complete the survey as classwork or homework, and then have them display the data in a bar graph. Students may wish to share their results, which will help you determine the most engaging and successful activities for your students. Try to incorporate activities for your students’ different types of 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 incorporating this concept—and to 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 first- or second-highest scores. 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 the 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 with pieces of equipment while others demonstrate how to use the equipment properly. Classmates 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 logical-mathematical group creates a crossword puzzle that helps the class review equipment names and safety rules.
  • The visual-spatial group, which enjoys diagrams and drawing, creates 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 by 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—the interesting experiment it hopes to participate in, its proper use, and unsafe handling that causes it to worry.

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 website the "worst-day" story, interview results, and journal entries. Assign the crossword puzzle as homework or as a warm-up the following day. 

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

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