Kids, See How You’re Smart: Use Your Intelligence(s!)

There’s nothing more heart-wrenching to me than a child self-critical of his or her brainpower, tossing off statements about ‘the smart kids” while excluding themselves from this tribe.

I see this often in my work at Shaping Youth, and it’s painful to observe, much less ‘counter-market’ because media and classroom ideals often reinforce this type of self-selection.

On this ‘first day of school’ in our under-funded, over-stressed, limping along California public school system packed with kids zoning out from lecture-based ‘cram it into the test’ rote review, I’d like to offer this uplifting post by Robyn McMasters, of the MITA Brain Based Center about embracing multiple intelligences to enable REAL learning to flourish.

(As an added bonus, Robyn’s blog led me to Chris Morgan’s Learn2Develop blog where I found bookworm picks and these free finds: 25 tools for learning professionals) In your world, is getting straight A’s considered ‘intelligence?’ Is scoring a gazillion points on an SAT ‘intelligence?’

Are teachers sifting ‘who’s bright’ using content retention as the benchmark for intelligence? What would happen if we teach kids early on to draw upon their mixture of all eight intelligences instead of “Doing School” (review here) as author Denise Clark Pope calls it at Stanford’s Stressed Out Students hub.

To keep schools from becoming ‘irrelevant’ and rejuvenate those dig-in-the-heels students that find the whole institution to be a crashing bore, it seems we should be drawing upon multiple intelligences to foster kids’ gifts and strengths.

That may also mean redefining the perception of what constitutes ‘intelligence’ itself.

I’ve seen fabulous educators rack their OWN brains to eke out a morsel of student engagement amidst a groaning, burdened, inherently flawed NCLB carrot and stick game to win funds for improved test scores…

Is this the system we want to use to quantify perceptions of ‘intelligence’ in U.S. youth? NEA teachers aren’t wild about such narrowcast views of determining “intelligence” either…

After all, critical thinking skills enable kids’ “brains at work” to actually learn how to learn …MUCH more fruitful than single-focus brain functionality in echo-back mode that we so often seen in schools.

Consider the vast dividends for humanity by exploring the untapped, unused brainpower within us all…Discovering new solutions to complex scenarios…Experimenting with prototypes in virtual worlds…digital media and learning innovations…weaving in Howard Rheingold’s participatory learning with amped up creativity for innovative, smarter, more sustainable outcomes. Sure as heck beats a bunch of lectures! In fact…

The entire MITA manifesto uses brain-based evidence to reveal that lectures themselves work AGAINST the human brain!

Mind you, most kids in a classroom snore stupor would reinforce that data with a big fat, “Duh!” but scientifically, MITA founder Dr. Ellen Weber details why lackluster performance is directly tied to talking head lecturers versus interactive engagement:

“…Working memory can only hold small bits of information, and because retention comes when we do something with that information, in order to move it from the brain’s short term memory into the basal ganglia where long term facts and habits are stored…Brains require workouts to learn and grow… lectures foster a coach potato mentality.”

The MITA research goes on to say that lectures are actually capable of either working ‘for OR against growth’ in higher education, citing a Univ. of Phoenix dropout rate of 40% with students finding their studies costly, irrelevant or interfering with ‘real life.’ Yowza.

As Albert Einstein would say,

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”

Seriously though…it’s all how you “present” school! Real life is key here…Kids engage when they can relate.

So how can we best champion the everyday heroes in education eager to inspire and instill lifelong learning instead of robotic spew-backs of bubble-dot prowess?

Kids’ brains are forming new impressions about learning every nanosecond, and I’ve seen students tank in the exact same subject from one quarter to the next as relevance shifts to irrelevance just by a narrowcast use of ‘intelligence,’ shutting down brain functionality to an inert form of mind blob.

As Dr. Weber writes in this post, “routine patterns are filed in long term memory and require much less energy to use than a person’s constantly changing working memory does…Your brain is wired to seamlessly link simple routines from brain modules that you’ve already shaped through extensive training and experience. This storage place,  sometimes called the basal ganglia tends to operate exceedingly well without much thought.”

Not much thought? Hmn. Not exactly what we’re looking for in terms of student engagement with school…The MITA site reads,

“Traditional universities and high schools tend to neglect active student involvement…Research evidence shows that students understand deeply when they investigate authentic problems, rather than simply recite back isolated facts on standardized tests. When students enjoy a climate where they think critically and creatively and where they relate classroom instruction to tasks and experiences they encounter outside of school, they prepare for meaningful contributions to humanity.”

That last phrase particularly resonates with me, because passive mass media and marketing (TV, magazines) often succeed in buffering kids from applying global relevance to humankind, whereas interactive media conversations (social networks, digital dialog) have succeeded in ‘shrinking the world’ with ‘one world’ vision revealing interdependence of causal links and actions.

At Shaping Youth (and in my own life) I try to use as many ‘intelligences’ as I can muster on any given day…

We tend to use experiential, participatory learning to ‘connect the dots’ with hands-on demos to “lift and reveal” motivations, core truths and outcomes that resonate…

Whether it’s our health sciences games like Dare to Compare: A Gross Out Game for Good Nutrition, addressing behavioral cues like Idolized where kids can offer up healthier role models, and debunk gender-based math perceptions among preteen girls, sessions like DayWatch riffing on marine bio and eco-literacy, or Survivor: School Edition for media literacy re: cliques and tribes/being voted off the lunch table and how to combat cyberbullying, I think part of why it ‘works’ is the emphasis on blending “multiple intelligences.’

When kids are given a voice and invited into the conversation they expand it in amazing new ways…

I’ve learned tons from watching kids apply our content to their own lives with relevance, sharing their experiences peer to peer, and leaping from monologue to dialog with trust and confidence they’ll be heard.

If we can tap into these unused corners of the brain, and access new worldviews to add into the mix, the ingredients are there for kids to stir up solutions to problems holistically rather than nibble at the fringes without seeing the human links to leverage that brain power.

So how can we encourage the use of multiple intelligences in school and beyond? At home? At work? In leadership as agents of change for social innovation or cause-marketing to ‘turn brainpower green?’

Just as Robyn McMasters’ fabulous examples speak to specific applications and real world outcomes that people can relate to in business, you can pragmatically apply the same strengths to make a difference in the lives of children…

Shaping Youth embraces what the MITA crew calls the “two-footed question”—one foot in the lesson, one foot relating to students directly…

Mind you, I never knew it was ‘called that’ but hey, I’m not a PhD brain scientist!!

It’s encouraging to know my ‘intelligences’ have ultimately landed me in the same place…using the same tactics for our own work.

MITA’s Dr. Ellen Weber wrote an article for about these “two-footed questions” resulting in happier teens and higher grades.

So what ‘dya know!? See folks?

Intelligence is NOT always quantifiable and measured as a piece of paper…The key is to strengthen our weakest intelligences, and maximize our core by figuring out our interests to begin with! How about you?

Do YOU know your intelligence mix of gifts and talents?

Kids love quizzes, so after I ripped through the fun little MITA intelligence survey to force myself to impulsively ‘pick my top fifteen’ true statements without ‘over-thinking’ (my fatal flaw) I asked my daughter to do it…

Never thought it would end up being an insightful bonding experience that actually opened my eyes to a few surprises. Woohoo, Viva intelligence!

Best of all? She never once asked, “Did I get the answers right?” or “What’s my score supposed to be?” 😉

Survey to See How You Are Smart

(Notice it doesn’t say “how smart you are!?’ Big diff, kiddies! Pick 15 that intuitively speak to you…Kids, rest assured, you’re a lot smarter than you think you are!–Enjoy!–Amy J.)

Take MITA’s Mini-Quiz on Multiple Intelligences by Dr. Ellen Weber

1. It’s often hard for me to sit still. I’d rather be up and active ___.
2. I often organize a time schedule to plan my week. ___.
3. I enjoy taking great photographs. ___.
4. Designing a web page is a stimulating experience for me. ___.
5. I’m often start throwing and catching games. ___.
6. I could easily design an advertisement board to showcase ideas. ___.
7. Preparing to debate an issue is a challenge I jump at. ___.
8. Sometimes I find myself tapping rhythms on the table while waiting. ___.
9.  Sharing stories is great fun and others encourage me to tell them. ___.
10. For me, sketching a building is far easier then baking a cake. ___.
11. When working in a group I enjoy summarizing people’s thoughts. ___.
12. Multiple-choice tests are usually easy for me. ___.
13. Someday I’d like to join a march to show my concern for others. ___.
14. I’d like to learn how to play guitar or another instrument for fun. ___.
15. One favorite activity is keeping a personal journal. ___.
16. As I read texts, I make more sense of it by outlining each chapter. ___.
17. Choosing the best metaphor in a poem is meaningful and I do it well. ___.
18. I love the challenge of participating and sometimes leading teams. ___.
19. When dining in a restaurant, I enjoy listening to background music.
20. I enjoy walking alone at times rather than having someone join me.
21. When I read novels I often compare personal choices I would make. ___.
22. When following a map, I can usually find destinations easily. ___.
23. After I’ve been to a concert, I hear melodies in my mind for days. ___.
24. Whenever I catch fish, I love to clean and cook them on a campfire. ___.
25. I enjoy singing in a choir, even in a busy week. ___.
26. When I write I tend to base stories on personal experience. ___.
27. I easily identify patterns and derive larger meanings from data. ___.
28. In all four seasons I learn from and enjoy observing nature change. ___.
29. My best thinking surfaces when I brainstorm with other people. ___.
30. Helping others complete a project brings me a lot of satisfaction. ___.
31. Finding solutions for numerical problems is fun. ___.
32. I would like to write a joint public relations press release. ___.
33. I often schedule sports like golf, tennis or softball into my  calendar. ___.
34. I would leap at chance to act out appropriate gestures in a play. ___.
35. I’d like to learn more about me by completing an interest inventory. ___.
36. Learning new dance steps or moving to music brings me satisfaction. ___.
37. As I walk in woods I often pause to observe wild animals’ habits. ___.
38. I am drawn to water outside, such as lakes, creeks, rivers or oceans. ___.
39. I would enjoy writing an essay for a contest. ___.
40. Sometimes I awake early so I can go outside to watch the sunrise. ___.

Ready for the big answer…? Score your survey by circling items related to each intelligence.  See your stronger gifts, then glance at what your intelligences look like in real life.

Verbal-Linguistic:  7, 9, 11, 17, 39

Logical-Mathematical: 2, 12, 16, 27, 31

Visual-Spatial: 3, 4, 6, 10, 22

Musical: 8, 14, 19, 23, 25

Bodily-Kinesthetic: 1, 5, 33, 34, 36

Interpersonal:    13, 18, 29, 30, 32

Intrapersonal:    15, 20, 21, 26, 35

Naturalistic: 24, 28, 37, 38, 40

For the record, I’m heavy on naturalistic intelligence, whereas I thought for sure I’d be ‘verbal/linguistic’–Go figure. —“Know thyself!”–AJ

Visual Credits: Bookworm/Learn2Develop blog, MI graphic: Strong National Museum of Play, Zzzz graphic:, Basal Ganglia illustration/Dr. Ellen Weber’s blog at MITA



  1. p.s. The post was running way too long but I wanted to direct you to a couple of cool ‘brain’ sites I love…, plus a few clips from their latest newsletter that just landed in my inbox:

    Major Implications from Brain Research

    Should Social-Emotional Learning Be Part of Academic Curriculum?: It is clear by now that our brains are more than cognitive machines. For example, emotions can either enhance or inhibit our ability to learn. Daniel Goleman explores the implications of “new studies that reveal how teaching kids to be emotionally and socially competent boost their academic achievement.” Brought to you in partnership with Greater Good Magazine.

    More soon…

  2. Science Daily on Cognitive Health news…which fits into the simulations/virtual worlds written about earlier

    “1) There were a few interesting research papers presented at the last American Psychological Association conventions around the theme: Playing Video Games Offers Learning Across Life Span, Say Studies –Skills Transfer to Classroom, Surgical Procedures, Scientific Thinking (press release).

    Probably the most interesting study was that of 303 laparoscopic surgeons, which “showed that surgeons who played video games requiring spatial skills and hand dexterity and then performed a drill testing these skills were significantly faster at their first attempt and across all 10 trials than the surgeons who did not the play video games first.”

    The note goes further to explain the implications from this research:

    “The big picture is that there are several dimensions on which games have effects, including the amount they are played, the content of each game, what you have to pay attention to on the screen, and how you control the motions,” said Gentile. “This means that games are not “good’ or bad,’ but are powerful educational tools and have many effects we might not have expected they could.”

    Very thoughtful quote. Please note a few elements about the study and the quote itself:

    – “video games requiring spatial skills and hand dexterity”: meaning, that precise type of videogame. Other types may have other effects on cognition, depending on, as the note says, “the content of each game”, defining content as what players need to do in order to succeed at the game.
    – “laparoscopic surgeons”: it is clear that these are important skills for a surgeon and not so important, say, for an economist. Perhaps more economists should be playing Age of Empires?

    – “are powerful educational tools”: yes, and in fact that is the premise of the Serious Games field, but there also an unspoken factor here: efficiency. If the main goal is entertainment, then the more hours of fun, the better. If the goal is a functional outcome (cognitive or real-life), then one would want the intervention that works in the least amount of time. In other words, could a videogame be specifically designed for laparoscopic surgeons to improve the cognitive skills they need most for their jobs, and would that be more efficient than spending X amount of hours playing a variety of general games? Probably, as you can explore in this interview with Prof. Daniel Gopher on cognitive simulations.”

  3. Obesity crisis or cognitive crisis? This one’s intriguing too…

  4. ack! One more..and it’s fabulous (Laurie, this one’s another ‘whoa, awesome’ even beyond your last one!) Folks, Laurie Bartels blogs here at Neurons Firing…and she’s amazing!

    Here’s her great roundup of links for educators re: kids brains and neuroscience, from sleep, nutrition, activity, to emotion!!

  5. Amy, what a thoughtful post and thanks for the way you value ideas and roll these into incredible doables.

    That is what brain based business is all about — and it comes from brains like yours that value many people’s insights in ways that offer encouragement and support to the brain based growth that can happen.

    As I read your post I am reminded of the research that creativity is the opposite of criticism – and it applies what it values. bravo — you do this at the peaks! What a privilege to meet you! Ellen

  6. Amy, I am perplexed by your notion of a post as being way too long. Since I look at deep research and see it applied brilliantly — I am not sure you can do so in just a few lines. it is just the length that it takes to get the research into action and test it in the workplace. Surely — that is what you are doing here — and doing it with mastery I might add:-). Thanks for the insights! Ellen

  7. Amy, wow! I can see you really explored the meat of the work I do with Ellen Weber.

    The reason I felt so called to this work is that I had a son, who is extremely smart, but he just never did his work in high school. Sitting and listening to teacher talk turned him off. My daughter balked against a language class in which she could memorize the English meanings of Spanish words quite easily, but in a week’s time, the meanings left her. Something was drastically wrong.

    When I saw how Ellen Weber taught at the college level, I was both amazed and inspired that there could be something different. I told Ellen that I valued what she was doing and if there was anything I could do to help, I would like to support her work. Soon she asked me to be the Coordinator of the MITA Center.

    Because of my curiosity and fascination with all the theory and the research that was foundational to her work, she told me that I needed to go back and get my PhD. Funny that my first reaction was that “I was not smart enough.” We all have myths about our intelligence, and I’m sure that kids in school are especially prone to this. She helped me to see that I’ve believed a myth and I moved beyond it. I attended the University of Buffalo for four years and recently obtained my degree. Yes, your brain can work just as well when you’re older as when you’re young. It makes a difference when you tap into your gifts and talents! That’s one reason why you’ll see me emphasize them on my blog.

    Thanks, Amy for providing such a powerful assessment of the work that Ellen and I do and visualizing the opportunities that this affords many students. We work today with university and business leaders since change often begins with them.

    I so share your joy of the naturalistic intelligence!

    Keep up the good work you do here to bring about the best for our youth.

  8. WOW! I am speechless and honored to have such academic rock stars pay heed to lil’ ol’ me…

    (yes, I guess I too am still battling the ‘I don’t have a PhD’ hang up, being a bit of an ‘outlier’ in both my work and my straddling of two very different worlds (biz/industry and child advocacy!)

    Robyn, it’s great to hear more of your personal background, it’s fun and inspiring to see one set sights with a ‘can do’ attitude of service (‘how can I help?’) guiding you into an intended career path. I feel much of that dynamic pertains to my creation of Shaping Youth itself!

    Essentially, I couldn’t find anyone doing this kind of work specifically…lots of info-based nonprofits and fiefdoms vs. solution-based ‘jump in the volcano’ trial and error to see ‘what works’ to be an agent of change.

    Which brings me to Ellen’s comment…

    The REASON I consider my posts ‘too long’ is that ‘what works’ for OUR audience (which has shifted far beyond academics and thought leaders to kids, parents, biz, etc.) is ‘short blurbs, visual cues and data nuggets’ —based on feedback we’re getting requesting a ‘micro-blog’ version of Shaping Youth…

    To Ellen’s point, I just can’t seem to distill the info, as it’s just too content rich to understand the full wrap-around scenario if abbreviated too abruptly!

    Youth teams (and busy parents) have begged me to offer a video format of 1-2 min. “top of the news” types of thoughts and Tumblr style “here’s what interests me today” micro-blogs and Twitter tweets, and I know I MUST do so as we grow for more massive reach.

    Still, the ‘verbal/linguistic’ intelligence within me says, “if you cut too short without telling all sides of the story, you’re giving short shrift to some important items of relevance and diminishing the potential for those that CAN dive into the deep end rather than stay in shallow waters.

    It also concerns me that attention spans have become so ‘sound bite’ driven that we’re eroding brain ‘workouts’ in favor of superficial data nuggets.

    So…I’m trying to ‘work on a balance’ and find a way to get some HELP (student interns, anyone interested?) to do a ‘short form’ take on some of these topics and ‘youth voices’ feed via podcast ( and such…without giving myself MORE work to where I never have time to GET OUT IN NATURE to use that naturalistic intelligence that brings me such peace, self-nurturing, and well-being.

    sigh. See? I can’t even keep my comments short! 😉 Thank you both so much again for your kind words. –Amy

  9. Amy, over the weekend I was thinking about your mind and your ability to conceptualize ideas… I came back to encourage you to go for a PhD and I have several reasons. It would put you in a better position to share your message to kids and parents and teachers as well…

    Now I can see it crossed your mind, too.

  10. Yep. It absolutely HAS crossed my mind…but I think media is my method…it’s just rallying the support/foundation/funding to shore up the execution for a more massive reach so that it’s scalable. I learn everyday on the front lines ‘what works and what doesn’t…and am more of an applied science type…so I just need the ‘bandwidth’ as they say to ‘JUST DO IT’…

  11. Adding this link, just in from The Teaching Company site, ( which I use for road trip/CDs in my quest for lifelong learning…

    This is a freebie excerpt from Lecture 20: “Understanding Language in the Brain” by Dr. Jeanette Norden of Vanderbilt School of Medicine:

    …”One of the shattered “paradigms” in neuroscience is the former idea that language is exclusively a left hemisphere function. But what is the main function of language? The main function is communication. While Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area are indeed found in the left hemisphere of the brain, one question that is being asked is what happens in the similar areas in the right hemisphere? What does the right hemisphere do?…” etc.

    Find out more in her article, which concludes with quite the positive…”Language in humans is not just about communication–language actually helps us organize sensory experience. This is of great interest to neurolinguists. We categorize objects in our world with words, and once a meaning is mapped to a word, you can no longer look at something without seeing a “table” or a “chair” or without seeing a “woman” or a “cat.” The word has been mapped to a meaning in your brain, and short of neurological disease, you can’t lose the ability. This is part of what the brain is designed to do.

    So language, this incredibly unique capability that we alone as humans have, helps us communicate with others and organize our sensory experience. Short of brain damage, you will always be able to communicate in this fashion with other people. It’s an incredible, wonderful capability that we have.”


  12. That’s interesting. For any teachers reading, is this going to effect your methods?

  13. This is a very interesting article. I have two children, my son who is the eldest is very clever and is very good at retaining information he has learned, on the other hand he has no sense of time or direction. My daughter on the other hand is not so “gifted” as her brother but even though she is nearly 3 years younger is much more with it and independant. I believe that all children learn in their own ways and that some are gifted at somethings, and not in others. It is only because we use such an academic scale as the way we judge success that one child is perceived as “brighter” than another.

  14. Emma Smith says

    Hey Amy, that was pretty much informative. The article cleared almost all my doubts related to the same. Thank you.

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