Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Teaching Primary and Preschool Maths Using Multiple Intelligences (PART 1)

Yong Lee Min and Suriani Othman
West View Primary School

Paper presented at the ERAS Conference 2011

(3498 words)

This paper documents the journey which West View Primary School (WVPS) went through in the teaching of Mathematics using Multiple Intelligences (MI). The ideation and evaluation processes led to an innovative prototype which not only met the learning needs of pupils but also served as a tool for the capacity-building of teachers. The prototype was trialled on Primary 4 pupils in 2008, and implemented to Primary 1 to Primary 6 by 2010. As part of our school’s TLLM Ignite1 project in 2008, we have carried out an action research on a study that investigates how the incorporation of teacher-developed activities based on the theory of MI impacts pupils’ engagement, motivation, attitude and achievement in the learning of Mathematics.

A total of 140 low and average-ability Primary 4 pupils and three teachers were involved in this project. Post-intervention data indicated improved attitude and an increase in pupil’s motivation and engagement. Pupils taught through MI also produced higher achievement scores in their post-intervention tests. Teachers have also gained professionally from this project. The success of the project led to a refinement of the prototype and an emergent model for MI-based lessons in the teaching of Mathematics in WVPS.



Mathematics has always been an unpopular subject amongst the majority of pupils in the school. Pupils tend to dislike Mathematics as they are not able to achieve their desired academic scores. Some pupils even develop fear and anxiety in the subject. Through the TLLM Ignite1 project, the school hopes to develop in pupils a love for Mathematics. We believe that pupils have different dominant intelligences, and they can be better engaged if we use multiple bridges to reach out to them in the teaching of Mathematics.

According to the Singapore Mathematics Syllabus for primary schools (MOE, 2007), “the primary aim of the Mathematics curriculum is to enable students to develop their ability in mathematical problem solving. The attainment of problem solving ability is dependent on five interrelated components – Concepts, Skills, Processes, Attitudesand Metacognition. Students’ attitudes towards Mathematics are shaped by their learning experiences. Making the learning of Mathematics fun, meaningful and relevant goes a long way in inculcating positive attitudes towards the subject.” Hence, by addressing the attitudinal aspect in the learning of Mathematics, through the teacher-developed activities based on the theory of MI, pupils will be fully engaged in their learning, understand concepts better and most importantly, enjoy the learning of Mathematics.

The traditional approach for learning in Mathematics creates passive learners.  In order for pupils to take an active role in Mathematics, it is important to engage the learners (Bednar, Coughlin, Evans, & Sievers, 2002). Engaged learning is an active involvement in the learning process (Soh & Tan, 2008). According to Fredricks, Blumenfeld and Paris (2004), “pupil engagement is a multi-faceted construct that includes affective, behavioural and cognitive dimensions”. All the three dimensions are interrelated and are equally important in engaged learning. Teaching through MI is a great example of strategies for engaged learning.
Howard Gardner (1991) believed in different learning styles and identified eight intelligences. According to Gardner, all individuals have a blend of the eight following intelligences:

  • verbal-linguistic – the intelligence of words,
  • logical-mathematical – the intelligence of numbers and reasoning,
  • visual-spatial – the intelligence of pictures and images,
  • musical-rhythmical – the intelligence of tone, rhythm and timbre,
  • bodily-kinesthetic – the intelligence of the whole body and the hands,
  • interpersonal – the intelligence of social interactions,
  • intrapersonal –the intelligence of self-knowledge and
  • naturalistic – the intelligence of the world and nature around us.

Chapman (1993) stated that each person is born with all eight intelligences, but because of cultural differences some intelligences develop more than others do.

Gardner (1993) stated that an instructional technique that is heavily reliant on one of the intelligences minimizes opportunities for pupils who may not possess a propensity to learn in this way. These students, who may not achieve in the traditional way, may become lost to both the school and the community at large. Creating opportunities for all pupils, by enriching the classroom through MI, develops pupils and brings out their strengths.

Gardner (1999) suggested there are many ways to motivate children, depending on how they learn. More meaningful material can spark pupils’ natural curiosity about the world around them. In order to arouse curiosity, Robinson, Silver and Strong (1995) suggested that two things need to be accomplished: make learning a mystery to be solved by the pupils, and have content related to their lives. Pupils become bored if a teacher becomes apathetic with the subject matter, when pupils receive work that is not meaningful to them, or if curriculum lacks variety. The intention to use MI is to use more ways rather than one traditional method to reach out to pupils. The logical-mathematical intelligence is not a strength in many pupils. Teaching Mathematics to the other intelligences will strengthen their logical-mathematical intelligence (Bednar et al., 2002).
Hoerr (2002) stated that the effectiveness of MI is supported by the findings of a study conducted by Harvard’s Project Zero. In interviewing the principals of 41 schools using MI, 78% of them said that their schools had realized gains on standardized achievement scores and 63% attributed the growth to practices inspired by MI theory. Not surprisingly, the use of MI paid other benefits in these schools as well: 78% of the schools reported improved performances by students having learning difficulties, 80% reported improvement in parent participation, and 81% reported improved student discipline. Teaching to the MI improved assignment completion, class participation and engagement of learners (Cluck & Hess, 2003).

Given the numerous benefits in using MI, we have used MI in the planning and implementation of our Mathematics lessons on “Fractions” and “Decimals” in 2008. The primary purpose of the research was to find out if the use of MI in the teaching of Mathematics will result in pupils’ increase in motivation and engagement and will have a positive impact on their attitude and achievement in the subject.   The following are our research questions:

  1. Is there an increase in the level of engagement among primary four pupils who are taught Mathematics using the MI strategies?
  2. Do primary four pupils who are taught Mathematics using MI achieve a higher review test scores than pupils who are not taught using MI?
  3. Does a longer exposure to MI strategies have a positive impact on primary four pupils’ engagement, motivation, attitude and achievement in their learning of Mathematics?
The study involved four Primary Four classes. Table 1 shows the distribution of the pupils.

Ability Group
Low-Ability Group
Average-Ability Group
No. of pupils
No. of girls
No. of boys
Table 1: Distribution of pupils by class
Table 2 shows the mean score of their 2007 Mathematics overall marks. The project groups and comparison groups are comparable in Mathematics achievement.

Ability Group
Low-Ability Group
Average-Ability Group
Mean (SD)
33.3 (12.1)
30.8 (12.9)
63.5 (9.7)
64.6 (10.7)
Effect Size
Table 2: Mean score of 2007 Mathematics overall marks

MIDAS Questionnaire
To measure the MI profile of all the pupils and teachers involved, the school engaged Multiple Intelligences Research and Consulting, Inc. to administer the MI psychometric instrument“Multiple Intelligences Developmental Assessment Scales” (MIDAS) which had well-established reliability scores.

PETALSTM Questionnaire
To measure pupils’ engagement, motivation and attitude towards the learning of Mathematics, pupils took part in a survey using the PETALSTMEngagement Indicator Questionnaire. The questionnaire had six components, namely Pedagogy, Experience of Learning, Tone of Environment, Assessment for Learning, Learning Content and Engagement. 

More Primary school and preschool maths provider on creative maths and Heuristics Maths, click here.

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