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Chemical Education International, Vol. 3, No. 1, AN-6, Received in October 10 , 2002

Applications OF Multiple Intelligences Theory to Chemistry Teaching and Learning

Dr Boo Hong Kwen
Science and Technology Education
National Institute of Education
Nanyang Technological University
1 Nanyang Walk Singapore 637616
email hkboo@nie.edu.sg


Abstract: There are two general views of intelligence - a view of intelligence as a trait, a more or less stable or "fixed" entity or a view of intelligence as a quality that grows. Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences is an example of the latter view of intelligence. This multiple intelligences theory (MIT) was developed "as a contribution of psychology and, most especially, as a counterweight to the predominant notion of a single intelligence, that is putatively measured adequately by a single short answer instrument". MIT assumes that intelligence is not a single fixed entity but is dynamic and multi-faceted. It assumes each intelligence can be cultivated. It also assumes that all students have available, for stimulation, the entire array of human intelligences. This paper discusses the issues, implications and applications of the MIT in the context of chemistry teaching and learning.

Introduction - Two contrasting views of human intelligence

There are two general views of intelligence - a view of intelligence as a trait, a more or less stable or "fixed" entity or a view of intelligence as a quality that grows [1]. The former view is the more traditional view, also known as the standard view of intelligence. In this view, intelligence is generally regarded as the single general ability to solve problems, utilize logic or think critically, and this intelligence is a trait that each individual is born with, and that the amount of intelligence an individual has is more or less fixed at birth. Moreover the amount of intelligence an individual possesses can be measured by standardized verbal tests. These tests are mainly short-answer, paper-pencil ones which emphasize logical-mathematical and linguistic skills.

This traditional view is being challenged by a relatively newer theory of intelligence put forth by Gardner [2-6] generally known as the Multiple Intelligences Theory or MIT for short. This multiple intelligences theory (MIT) was developed "as a contribution of psychology and, most especially, as a counterweight to the predominant notion of a single intelligence, that is putatively measured adequately by a single short answer instrument" [4]. MIT assumes that intelligence is not a single fixed entity but is dynamic and multi-faceted. According to the Gardner [4, p. x] "an intelligence is the ability to solve problems, or to create products, that are valued within one or more cultural settings". There are at least eight forms of intelligences or distinct areas of mental activities or skills (in contrast to the single form in the traditional view), which are anatomically separate and can operate independently or in concert. Every individual is born possessing all the intelligences in varying amounts. These intelligences are dynamic in every individual (in contrast to the traditional view which sees intelligence is more or less fixed at birth) and can be nurtured and strengthened or ignored and weakened.

Brief description of the various forms of intelligences in MIT

The following is a list of the various forms of intelligences together with a short description of each.

  • verbal-linguistic: the ability to manipulate language effectively to express oneself. Also allows one to use language as a means to remember information. Includes sensitivity to the sounds, meanings and rhythms of words. Well-developed in writers, poets, storytellers, lawyers, editors and journalists
  • logical-mathematical: the ability to think conceptually and abstractly, and capacity to discern logical or numerical patterns. Well-developed in mathematicians, accountants, statisticians, scientists and computer programmers.
  • visual- spatial: the ability to think in images and pictures, to visualize accurately and abstractly and create images to solve problems. Well-developed in architects, artists, sculptors, cartographers, anatomists, guides and scouts.
  • musical-rhythmic: the ability to recognize and compose musical pitches, tones and rhythms. Well-developed in music performers, composers and people who enjoy listening to music.
  • bodily-kinesthetic: the ability to use one's mental abilities to coordinate bodily movements. Well-developed in athletes, dancers, actors and mimes.
  • inter-personal: the ability to detect and respond appropriately to the moods, motivations and desires of others. Well-developed in teachers, clergy, caring professionals and salespeople.
  • intra-personal: the ability to be self-aware and in tune with inner feelings, values, beliefs and thinking processes. Well-developed in entrepreneurs, therapists, philosophers, and people who exhibit self-discipline and personal authenticity.
  • naturalistic: the ability to recognize and categorize plants, animals and other objects in nature. Well-developed in botanists, zoologists, ecologists, explorers, farmers and hunters.

According to Gardner [5, p.83-84] intelligence is a construct that draws on biological and psychological potentials and should not be confused with a domain or discipline which are "socially constructed human endeavors". It should also not be confused with the concept of learning style, or cognitive preference or working style which designate an approach that an individual can apply equally to an indefinite range of content. "In contract, an intelligence is a capacity, with its component computational processes, that is geared to a specific content in the world. These contents (with their yoked intelligences) range from the sounds of language to the sounds of music to the objects of the natural or the man-made world."

Applications of the MIT to chemistry teaching and learning

According to Gardner, just as there are varieties of looks and personalities in the classroom, there is a variety of minds or intelligences in the classroom. Teachers should think of all intelligences as equally important. "… plurality of minds begets a plurality of ways to make sense of various worlds" [6, p. 212].

Teachers should teach to a broader range of talents or abilities or minds than the traditional logical-mathematical and verbal-linguistic abilities which are normally catered to in the typical classroom. All students benefit by being exposed to a variety of experiences which engage or stimulate the different "minds" or intelligences in them. This means that teachers should structure the presentation of material in a way that engages most or all of the intelligences. The engagement of intelligences can take place at any of the stages of a lesson i.e. at the opening stage or during main explanation or during closure as part of review of the main concepts covered in the lesson or topic.

Gardner [7] suggests that the possibility that some students might have failed certain school subjects such as chemistry or find the subject difficult in school because of a mismatch between their intelligences profile or preferences and the methods or media used to present or teach the content of that particular subject to them. For example, a student high on musical-rhythmic and bodily-kinesthetic intelligences and low on verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences could find it difficult to grasp the topic of particle kinetic theory if the teacher presents the topic by using the didactic method alone. In contrast, if the teacher had used role play or pantomime with pupils performing movements or dances, accompanied by music, the concept could have been better grasped and remembered.

The ideas put forth by Gardner generally go down well with teachers, including chemistry teachers, who have been encouraged or trained to organize, manage and facilitate a variety of learning experiences and media/resources in order to cater to the variety of learning styles or cognitive preferences in the classroom. The multiple intelligences theory provides an additional foundation or basis for the use of a variety of methods and media in chemistry teaching/learning. The theory also ties in well with constructivist teaching/learning strategies which emphasize active learning, using of trigger activities to "grab" the attention of learners, motivating learners to want to learn by providing reasons for learning and by using posing problems of interest or relevance to them.

The following table lists some teaching/learning strategies or activities that can be used to enhance learning in students with strengths in each of the intelligences (Table 1). The table can also be read as illustrating how the various intelligences can be stimulated or enhanced in students through the various different learning activities or strategies.

Table 1. Multiple Intelligences vis-ŕ-vis Chemistry Learning Activities/ Strategies

Form of intelligence Learning activities or strategies
Verbal-linguistic Read, write, send email, search the internet, write poetry such as chemical limericks [8], news reports, fiction stories concerning topics such as environmental pollution, bonding, Periodic Table (specific example 3).
Logical-mathematical Investigate/solve problems/puzzles on environment-related topics (such as haze problems, water shortage). Use computer software (database, spreadsheet, programming, simulations, multimedia authoring) to investigate atmospheric pollution
Visual-spatial Draw pictures or diagrams of events, phenomena "experienced" or "observed". Make models (atomic, molecular and kinetic particle). Extract or present information as concept maps, mind maps, charts or diagrams, photos and spreadsheets. Use or design videos, filmstrips, multimedia presentations.
Bodily-kinesthetic Interviews, projects, hands-on investigations, field trips. Use dance or pantomime or role play to illustrate effect of pollution on organisms, particle arrangement and movement during phase changes.
Musical-rhythmic Create/sing songs e.g. "Sing a song of atoms", learn tunes, write tunes and rap songs, create mnemonics, play classical music in background
Inter-personal Lead/participate in small group discussions, ask clarifying questions; cooperative groups, group games, collaborate with peers from other schools/regions/countries and exchange data on topics such as environmental pollution and air quality.
Intra-personal Self-reflection or journal writing, independent study, self-paced instruction and individualized projects and games in which opponent is computer.
Naturalistic Classify objects, events and phenomena according to natural surroundings, find origins. Classify a given group of substances according to whether they are elements, mixtures or compounds.

The following are some specific examples of how the various forms of intelligences can be catered to in the teaching of some specific chemistry concepts in the secondary school chemistry curriculum. The specific form(s) of intelligence(s) enhanced or stimulated in a particular activity is/are enclosed in parentheses.

Example 1: Kinetic particle theory
During the closure or consolidation phase of this topic, students working in cooperative groups (inter-personal intelligence) or as a whole class can be asked to plan and execute a role play (visual-spatial and bodily-kinesthetic intelligences) simulating the arrangement and movement of particles in a substance which exists as a solid at normal room conditions. They could then be asked to role play how the arrangement and movement of particles would vary with increasing absorption of heat energy. In this way, they should have a better understanding of the expansion of solids, liquids and gases upon absorption of heat and the phase changes involved (solid to liquid and from liquid to gas).

For further consolidation of the theory, students could also be encouraged to role play the changes in reverse, i.e. when a gas is cooled so that it condenses to form a liquid which is further cooled until it freezes to form a solid.

The role play could be accompanied by the use of suitable music (fast tempo for gaseous state, slower tempo for liquid state and even slower tempo for solid state) and appropriate dance movements matched to the tempo of music (musical-rhythmic intelligence).

Example 2: Atomic structure
This topic can be taught by several approaches, which could include the story-telling approach relating the story (verbal-linguistic intelligence) of how the scientist view of the atom develops from the time of the ancient Greeks to the current view that the students are expected to understand and remember. The narration of the story can be assisted by the use of models, pictures, drawing and diagrams, computer-related graphics (visual-spatial intelligence).

The review and consolidation could be done by encouraging students to write a song/rap about atoms (musical-rhythmic intelligence). The following is an example of a composition of a song by students to be sung to the tune of "Sing a song of sixpence".

"Sing a song of atoms,
a composite of particles.
Proton, neutron, electron,
Are in atoms big and small…."

Example 3: Periodic Table
The development of the periodic table could be presented by a cooperative group of students (inter-personal intelligence) after having completed a literature investigation (verbal-linguistic intelligence) on the topic. Students could, among other things, be encouraged to design and present a multimedia presentation (visual-spatial and logical-mathematical intelligences) on their investigation results.

For consolidation or review, students could be given the task of inventing games (logical-mathematical intelligence) based on the families or groups in the periodic table. They could also be tasked to imagine that they are one of the elements in the periodic table and to write autobiographies or stories (verbal-linguistic intelligence) concerning their selected element such as "A day in the life of Francium" (or whichever element they opt for). They could also write and sing/recite songs/raps (musical-rhythmic intelligence) about the different elements in the period table such as the following song which can be sung to the tune of "I hear thunder, I hear thunder" or "Are you sleeping, Are you sleeping".

"I am sodium, I am metal
In Group I (repeat)
I am very active
I react with water
Be my friend (repeat)"

Students could also be encouraged to create their own mnemonics (verbal-linguistic and musical-rhythmic intelligences) to help them remember the first 18 elements in sequence, which is a requirement in the secondary school chemistry examinations syllabuses.

This mnemonic creating activity had been tried out with students and it was found that many students did enjoy this activity which stimulate the flow of their "creative" juices.

Period 1 of the periodic table comprising hydrogen, the smallest atom, and helium, the second smallest atom and the first noble gas element can be easily remembered, and should not require any mnemonic as a memory aid. The noble gas element that comes immediately after helium in group VIII or group 0, neon, is also easily remembered.

The challenging task for most students is to learn is to remember the rest of the periods 2 and 3 elements in sequence.

Hence it could prove interesting and useful to encourage students to create their own mnemonics to help them remember these elements.

The following is a mnemonic invented in the process of trying to remember the period 2 elements in sequence.

"Little Boy Blue Cannot Open Fire" (which is similar to the first line of the Nursery Rhyme "Little Boy Blue" which has the following as the first verse: "Little Boy Blue Come Blow Your Horn". )

Little=Li, Boy=Be, Blue=B, Cannot=C, Open=O, and Fire=F

The period 3 elements can be remembered in sequence with the creation of the word "Namgalsipsclar" in parallel with the word "Rumpelstilskin". (The fairy tale of a miller's daughter who is asked to spin straw into gold for the king or else she dies. Rumpelstilskin helps her out of her dilemma, in exchange for her first-born child.)

The symbols for the period 3 elements are found in sequence in the word "Namgalsipsclar" i.e. Na, Mg, Al, Si, P, S, Cl, Ar.

Example 4 Electrolysis
The concept of "electrolysis" in the secondary school chemistry syllabuses could be taught by using the Predict-Observe-Explain (POE) strategy, which has been proposed and widely used as one of the constructivist teaching/learning strategies.

Here learners working in cooperative groups of 2 to 4 (inter-personal intelligence) are asked to discuss and predict what they would observe if electricity is passed into saturated sodium chloride solution using carbon electrodes. Through the process of prediction, the teacher would be eliciting the prior knowledge of the learners. After allowing learners to articulate their prior ideas, the experiment could then be conducted, either as a whole-class demonstration or as a cooperative group investigation (visual-spatial and bodily-kinesthetic intelligences). In their cooperative groups students would then try to reconcile their observations with their predictions and come out with an explanation (verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences) for their observations.

Science journal writing to enhance or stimulate intra-personal intelligence as well as verbal-linguistic intelligence

In all the four specific examples discussed, intra-personal intelligence can be catered to by asking students to maintain science journals which involve them in keeping records and reflections on the activities/investigations experienced by them. There could be four phases of journal activity - pre-investigation, during investigation, post-investigation, and communication phase [9].

This journal activity is unlike the traditional lab or science practical report which tends to focus on factual and procedural knowledge. Instead, this particular type of 4-phased journal activity could take students beyond the factual and procedural knowledge to focusing on conceptual understanding, science processes and attitudes besides catering to the enhancement and stimulation of intra-personal intelligences in the learners.

Conclusion

Teachers have often sought to help students learn meaningfully and effectively, and in the process to develop a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence. In the process of helping students learn meaningfully and effectively, they have been trained and challenged to use a variety of learning activities and media to cater to different learning styles or preferences. Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences at the classroom level, provides an additional theoretical foundation for using a variety of learning activities and media to cater to different forms of intelligences or minds in the classroom.

References

[1] Boo, H.K.: Children's Conception of Intelligence - Effects on Achievement Goals and Behaviour. Scientas, 20, 29-32, 1986.

[2] Gardner, H.: Frames of Mind. New York: Basic Books (1983).

[3] Gardner, H.: To Open Minds: Chinese Clues to the Dilemma of Contemporary Education. New York: Basic Books (1989).

[4] Gardner, H.: Frames of Mind. New York: Basic Books (1993).

[5] Gardner, H.: Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century. New York: Basic Books (1999).

[6] Gardner, H.: The Disciplined Mind: What All Students Should Understand. New York: Simon and Schuster (1999).

[7] Gardner, H.: The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and How Schools Should Teach. New York: Basic Books (1991).

[8] Williams, F.: The Use of Chemical Limericks in the Classroom. J.Chem. Ed., 72(12), 1123-1124, 1995.

[9] Shepardson, D. P. & Britsch, S.J.: Chidlren's Science Journals: Tools for Teaching, Learning, and Assessing. Science and Children, February 1997, 13-17, 1997.

Posted November 27, 2002.

 

Last modified 27.11.02

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