Multiply with MI: Using Multiple Intelligences to Master Multiplication

By Wills, Jody Kenny; Johnson, Aostre N. | Teaching Children Mathematics, January 2001 | Go to article overview

Multiply with MI: Using Multiple Intelligences to Master Multiplication


Wills, Jody Kenny, Johnson, Aostre N., Teaching Children Mathematics


Katie sings the multiplication facts quietly to herself. Sam tries to solve problems by tapping his pencil in rhythmic patterns. Jose draws pictures from his teacher's tile-array models. Alima sorts her crayons into groups to help herself find the answer. Lin checks his solutions with his neighbor. Maria uses logic to extend her knowledge of simple facts to harder ones. These children naturally express their intelligence strengths as they attempt to master their multiplication facts. Their teacher knows that children learn in different ways and seeks to consciously translate these differences into learning methods that will be meaningful. Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences has significant implications for all mathematics teachers who are looking for diverse instructional methods that encourage depth of understanding by tapping students' particular inclinations. As Gardner (1991, p. 13) says, "Genuine understanding is most likely to emerge and be apparent to others... if people possess a number of ways of representing knowledge of a concept or skill and can move readily back and forth among these forms of knowing."

In his 1983 book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Howard Gardner proposed a revolutionary revision of our thinking about intelligence. Traditional views and testing methods emphasize a unitary intelligence capacity based on linguistic and logical-mathematical abilities. Gardner suggests that intelligence is based on multiple "frames," each consisting of unique problem-solving abilities. Gardner's eight intelligences are called logical-mathematical, naturalistic, bodilykinesthetic, linguistic, spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and musical. All people use all these intelligences in their lives, but through unique relationships between "nature and nurture," each person has a particular mix of intelligence strengths at any given time.

What does multiple-intelligence theory have to do with teaching mathematics? It allows teachers to use eight different possible approaches to mathematical learning and teaching. This multipleinstruction approach-

* results in a deeper and richer understanding of mathematical concepts through multiple representations;

* enables all students to learn mathematics successfully and enjoyably;

* allows for a variety of entry points into mathematical content;

* focuses on students' unique strengths, encouraging a celebration of diversity; and

* supports creative experimentation with mathematical ideas.

Because the idea of multiple intelligences is a theory, not a strict educational methodology, it can be applied flexibly and in diverse ways that work for particular students, teachers, and contexts (see table 1). Teachers' strategies may vary from establishing specific times of direct instruction using various methods to setting up multiple-intelligence centers or stations that students visit at flexible times throughout the day. Although all children will benefit from experiences with all intelligences, teachers can encourage students to "lean" on their strengths to achieve mathematical understanding.

The following application of this multiple-intelligence theory to mathematics instruction focuses on building mastery of multiplication facts as an example. The goal is for children to use their different intelligence strengths to attain initial conceptual understanding of multiplication, then to move toward developing their own thinking strategies for harder facts, gradually building mastery through practice and problem solving. Multiple-intelligence theory can be adapted to any other mathematical concept or skill.

Logical-Mathematical Intelligence

Logical-mathematical intelligence includes the five core areas of (1) classification, (2) comparison, (3) basic numerical operations, (4) inductive and deductive reasoning, and (5) hypothesis formation and testing--all basic "tools" of the mathematician. …

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