When designing a learning environment and academic activities for adolescents, we as teachers have to be sensitive to the individual divergence of our students. Students have a variety of ways that they prefer to learn.
There is a gigantic body of academic research on learning styles and developmental psychology, but for simplicity’sake I will touch upon Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences theory.
According to Dr. Gardner’s writings on multiple intelligences, people learn in different ways. Here is a list of the multiple intelligences he has defined:
School, specifically mathematics, prefers people who learn best using logical-mathematical and spatial strategies. Number sense, algebra, calculus and statistics can be described as logical processes. Spatial skills can be developed through the study of geometry, engineering and mapping. It is in the mathematics classroom that these skills can be developed for those who prefer to learn in other ways.
However, it may be beneficial to incorporate other learning styles when designing mathematics activities.
Here are a few ways that the other five intelligences can be incorporated into mathematics instruction to ensure that diverse learners are engaged:
- Linguistic – students can write a short story, persuasive speech or descriptive essay about mathematics or philosophy of mathematics
- Musical – students can use a virtual oscilloscope to study the frequencies and wavelengths of the sounds of their favorite songs and look for patterns
- Bodily-Kinesthetic – physics demonstrations in real life and online can help people make sense of mathematics of movement
- Intrapersonal – students can be asked to reflect on how they use mathematics each day or on their philosophies regarding the usefulness in studying mathematics
- Interpersonal – students can work in groups to investigate mathematical problems, design new products/machines using mathematics, analyze existing models, etc.
Using all of these domains in mathematics instruction whenever possible will ensure that learners are having their preferences respected. Students will also have more opportunities to challenge their perceptions of their own learning styles by being directed to learn in a way that they are not used to. Think of the typical stereotype of a math genius. Perhaps he/she has superior logical skills, but they may develop better interpersonal skills during a group investigation. Incorporating multiple intelligence theory into activity design helps all learners.
Do you diversify your instruction to appeal to a variety of learning preferences? Please feel free to share in the comments.