DISCOVER “Personalized Education”
For many parents and educators, school reform is a critical issue facing our education system. The resulting demand for change has spawned numerous, high-quality reform models, emphasizing, among other things, the importance of small classroom and school size, parental and teacher involvement in school planning, high expectations of students, performance and standards-based testing instruments, and technology infusion. These components, and others, are changing schools from the bottom up, raising test scores, while increasing student engagement and teacher satisfaction.
Yet they form only part of a burgeoning movement that has the potential to completely reshape definitions of teaching and learning. In this movement (with significant contributions from the DISCOVER Projects at the University of Arizona) classrooms are oriented around problem solving (instead of drill and practice), hands-on learning, and integration of fine arts (for their own significance and as learning enhancements). The entire methodology of learning is different. Students are assessed in their strengths according to the Theory of Multiple Intelligences (Gardner, 1983; 19__), and they have a certain degree of latitude in choosing the learning methods they find most engaging and effective (student choice). Classroom organization is different, as are teaching strategies.
The project discussed here proposes to develop, test, and distribute on a large scale, core elements of the above methodology that do not yet exist or are mostly theoretical models or small pilot projects. Its elements will provide students, parents, teachers, and administrators, powerful new tools, making possible a “customization” or “personalization” of education. Specifically, the project will develop national standards-based curricula for all grade levels, K-12, based on all of the above criteria. Additionally it will enhance the already successful DISCOVER Assessment with a wide range of new “hi-tech” data collection techniques that will allow development of what is called a “Strength Profile”, to provide a detailed interpretation of the Assessment results. The Strength Profile will tie the Assessment directly to the new Curriculum, allowing teachers to tailor or “personalize” the lesson plans to individual students or groups of students. This approach, although seemingly impractical at first glance, has proven effective and popular with teachers in pilot projects. Many schools already are implementing small prototypes.
The following pages detail how these methods
will be developed, researched, tested, and made
available. Our mission is to further DISCOVER’s
philosophy of developing assessment and teaching
methods that work well with all children,
regardless of race, economic status, environment,
or culture. Diversity will be a key component
of the project, and implementation will occur
throughout the United States, as well as internationally.
The DISCOVER Projects began in 1987 under the direction of Dr. C. June Maker at the University of Arizona. At the time Dr. Maker had been analyzing various new theories of intelligence, the most notable of which was Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. She also had been studying groups of gifted children, as well as successful scientists who had overcome disabilities, to isolate factors contributing to exceptional success. She eventually determined the most important component of exceptional success was the superior ability to solve complex problems. The DISCOVER Projects were created to study, categorize, and measure a broad spectrum of “problem solving strategies” used by various age groups of differing ethnic, economic, and cultural backgrounds.
Dr. Maker and staff soon realized that even though patterns of problem solving ability emerged, individual strategies differed substantially according to the category of problems presented. It became obvious that there were very few “generic” problem solving skills. Instead, an individual might solve certain types of problems in a superior way, yet be average or below average with others. This observation fit perfectly with Gardner’s theory and other theories suggesting that we all have more than one type of intelligence, and the DISCOVER staff began categorizing problem solving strategies according to identified intelligences (then seven). Eventually Maker’s research not only verified many aspects of multiple intelligences theory but also showed overwhelming evidence that different intelligences can be effectively measured by observing how many and which problem solving strategies an individual uses. A fascinating two-way correlation appeared—the amount of any given intelligence possessed by an individual can be assessed by observing problem solving skills and conversely, problem solving skills and overall leaning capacity can be improved by learning “through” or “by applying” one’s strongest intelligences.
As an example of how problem solving relates to different intelligences, consider the following problem: a heavy rock needs to be moved to the top of a hill. A person with a high degree of Linguistic Intelligence may employ strategies such as asking other people what ideas they have, or may find it helpful to organize a plan of action by first writing out thoughts. A person with high Spatial Intelligence may approach the problem by drawing a diagram of the various components needed to do the job, or by making a physical model of the process. A person with a dominant Musical Intelligence, or related artistic abilities, might not care whether the rock gets moved at all but might become excited about contributing to strategies that move the rock in a “novel” “showy” or otherwise “interesting” way and likely will be more concerned about aesthetics and elegance of the project, rather than cost or practicality. On the other hand, a person with higher Logical-Mathematical Intelligence may first want to know why the rock has to be moved to the top of the hill in the first place and is there an alternative…or if not, how much does it weigh and what resources are available, or would it be more efficient to make the hill smaller first! Of course, such extreme reliance on only one intelligence is rare. Individuals are a complex combination of all the intelligences, in various degrees.
After thousands of observations, 119 effective problem solving strategies were recorded and organized into a performance-based assessment instrument now known as the DISCOVER Assessment. Observers rate the level of different intelligences possessed by an individual based on their problem solving skills in that area. The Assessment can be used, in its numerous forms, with children ages three and up, as well as with adults. The Assessment’s effectiveness has attracted considerable attention, especially as an alternative to traditional assessment methods for identifying gifted students and as an “ethnically and linguistically fair” assessment of abilities. Today the DISCOVER Assessment is used in many states and several countries, despite its continued evolution as a research project.
But simply assessing children’s intelligences and their use of effective problem solving strategies was not enough. Teachers needed curriculum ideas that would take advantage of the Assessment results.
DISCOVER researchers began looking at connections between three components—problem solving, multiple intelligences, and learning ability. They determined that each of us approaches all problems primarily through the filter of our dominant intelligences; we learn best by first applying natural areas of strength. This fact alone suggested that children sitting quietly behind a desk listening to an instructor may not be the best model for learning and, in some cases, actually may be detrimental. For example, high-energy, high Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence children are often misdiagnosed as having Attention Deficit Disorder and given drugs to calm them down when exactly the opposite should occur. These children learn best (and very effectively) by moving their bodies in the learning process—for them, lack of movement actually retards learning!
The scope of the DISCOVER research grants at that time was not large enough to develop full-scale, multiple intelligences-based curricula for all grade levels. So researchers opted instead to design experimental curriculum models in the form of guidelines for schools or individual teachers, demonstrating how they could reshape their exiting curricula. As a result, each school using the models developed their own “version” or prototype of a DISCOVER Curriculum. There were many variations and, of course, some were more effective than others. Part of the curriculum component in the current proposal will be to collect and analyze these examples for good ideas that can be incorporated into the final DISCOVER Curriculum.
The key idea of the curriculum models (and central to the new DISCOVER Curriculum) is that students use their dominant intelligences to stimulate learning in all subjects, especially weaker ones. After a child is assessed and a profile developed to show his or her combination of strengths, the learning experience can be customized, allowing the student to learn weaker subjects by using the familiarity and comfort of natural strengths. For example, a child with low oral and written linguistic skills will not learn math effectively by listening to lectures or reading a textbook, but may catch on quickly when the concepts are presented in another way. Consider the high-energy child example above. This child might have difficulty concentrating during a traditional addition/subtraction lesson but will understand the concepts quickly and permanently if allowed to walk or jump forward and backward the proper number of spaces along a number line on the floor. Probably this child will learn the alphabet more quickly by forming the shape of the letters with his or her entire body. On the other hand, a child with high musical intelligence will learn letters best by singing the “ABC” song, whereas high Spatial Intelligence children might respond best to letters that are three-dimensional, colorful, and graphically detailed, or to making letters in a tray of sand.
Classrooms using DISCOVER Curriculum models may look similar to traditional classrooms but actually are designed to teach the same lesson many different ways at the same time. All children in the class eventually learn the same core subject matters, but by using methods of their own choosing, as guided by their teacher(s). As a bonus, this teaching method not only improves learning but also increases students’ task engagement, resulting in fewer discipline problems.
Data from numerous pilot projects and implementation
experiments show the DISCOVER Assessment and
Curriculum Models, used together, do increase
test scores and overall academic performance.
Of course, significant change often takes years
because of the difficulty of changing attitudes
and methodologies. But the eventual results
well justify the efforts. In Tucson, Arizona,
Maker’s staff worked with one particular school
for seven years, along-side other like-minded
organizations and projects (in a school reform
effort), and saw the students’ average standardized
test scores rise from a percentile in the low
20s the first three years, up to the mid 60s
in the seventh year. Currently DISCOVER
staff are analyzing results of a multi-year
project on a much larger scale, where an entire
district in St. Paul, Minnesota uses the DISCOVER
Assessment with 8,000 children every year.
Many testing and teaching methods in use today are grossly out-of-date and do not take advantage of the significant changes in knowledge that have occurred during the past 50 years. We desperately need to increase the effectiveness of modern teaching, testing, and assessment methods, to keep pace with our rapidly changing society. We must ensure that each child’s natural abilities are identified, encouraged, and challenged, regardless of economic status, culture, or any potential barriers. Many teachers and parents are actively searching for alternatives to standard methodologies that simply are not working any more. Children are changing as rapidly as the world around them. They need a flexible learning environment that captures their interests and imaginations, while propelling them to academic excellence.
To date the DISCOVER Projects have focused on research and development of the Assessment instrument, with periphery development of Curriculum and Strength Profile components. The Assessment, despite it potential impact for reshaping how we measure intelligence, only scratches the surface of potential change unless accompanied by full implementation of the proposed Curricula and Strength Profiles. The combination of the three will provide educators the same power that specialization and customization have brought to science, medicine, and industry. One size does not fit all students’ learning styles and we now have the ability to maximize their learning potential like never before. This proposal will build the tools necessary to integrate many years of research and field tests into mainstream education, potentially affecting millions of children around the world.
The project has four primary goals: model schools, curricula, Strength Profiles, and technology integration. Each is explained in detail below. The project will span a five-year period, with concurrent segments of development, field-testing, and implementation. During the five-year period, DISCOVER staff will work with a minimum of 10 schools, up to a maximum of 20, with school selection based on obtaining a maximum diversity of characteristics: geographic, cultural, economic, ethnic, differing grade levels, and differing teaching strategies.
By the end of the five-year period, the resulting products will be ready for distribution, and each participating school will receive staff development on how to disseminate the materials to other schools in their district. Other non-participating schools will be able to take advantage of the products, as well, after having received appropriate training.
Technology integration into the entire process will be fundamental. Yet we recognize that some non-participating schools, while wanting to take advantage of this project’s outcome, may not have sufficient resources to purchase all of the necessary equipment. This situation is unfortunate but should not preclude usage of techniques that otherwise can still be effective. Therefore all of the below components will be designed to allow “low-tech” usage, if necessary.
Although less versatile and not as effective, even this “low-tech” implementation will be a vast improvement to the learning environment of most classrooms.
We envision the project’s funding to come from
a collaborative effort of several foundations
and state agencies, as well as contributions
from participating schools and donations from
organizations, companies, tribes, individuals
and international groups. This partnership
will operate with the common goal of helping
reshape the methodologies of education within
their sphere of influence. Schools will
be asked to pay for travel and some staffing.
Other funding sources will be asked to cover
the bulk of required staffing, specifically:
1) technology development and support, 2) assessment
trainings; 3) curricula teams; 4) general development;
5) teacher training and school staff development;
and 6) project administration. Non-school
funding sources will be sought, also, to cover
materials for general operations and project
development, as well as equipment for schools,
and to provide notebook computers, digital cameras,
and other equipment for assessment.
A school wishing to participate should display characteristics of “model schools”, or a willingness to adopt these characteristics. The “model school” characteristics include: 1) student choice in learning—for example, incorporating centers designed around multiple intelligences where students learn according to their interests and strengths; 2) schools are small—less than 600 students—or are large schools that have been divided into smaller internal sections; 3) parents are significantly involved in reform efforts and school planning, as well as with on-going activities; 4) teachers participate in some form of one-to-one mentoring or other activity that helps students feel personally understood and valued; 5) a majority of the teachers want school improvement and believe in philosophies presented in this proposal; 6) the principal believes in school reform philosophies and actively supports the objectives of this project; 7) the school is willing to replace poor teachers; 8) multiple intelligence-based assessment and curriculum are used; 9) learning is performance-based—for example, students are graded and advanced based on demonstrating understanding of underlying concepts in addition to content, perhaps using portfolios; 10) learning is hands-on and varied according the domains/categories of intelligences; 11) learning is active, incorporating many forms of movement; 12) class size is small, allowing more individual attention from the teacher; 13) learning is problem solving-based, with lesson plans designed around problems that progress from simple and closed to complex and open-ended; 14) students are held to high standards and high expectations; 15) programs implemented by the school are research-based, to assure reliability and validity; 16) various forms of fine arts are integrated throughout the curriculum, to enhance learning.
Additionally, the principal and a majority of teachers and parents must be familiar with DISCOVER philosophy and committed to working with DISCOVER for the duration of this project. Schools must also agree to form cooperative planning groups with other participating schools and actively collaborate on project goals. Additionally, schools will be asked to fund the following components: 1) travel and related expenses for DISCOVER staff when conducting Assessment trainings, training teachers, or working with Curriculum writers; 2) travel and related expenses for teachers and Curriculum writers to visit the University of Arizona, attend project-related conferences, and visit other participating schools; 3) half the salary for a site coordinator (the other half will be funded externally) who will act as the on-site DISCOVER representative, along with expenses necessary to cover travel and training for this individual; 4) stipends necessary to cover leaves of absence for any teachers who will participate in some phase of the Curriculum writing or who will participate in more extensive staff development to become a DISCOVER certified representative, to the local district, for Assessment trainings, teacher Curriculum workshops, and other similar activities; 5) salary and training for an on-site technology manager who will support the Assessment teams in the collection of various forms of digital data. This person also will prepare and upload data to the DISCOVER database for use in the Strength Profiles, and support teachers in understanding and troubleshooting technology used in the curriculum being field tested; 6) necessary technology and software, if not covered by foundation funds, grants, or donors.
In return, participating schools will receive:
1) full training to establish local Assessment
teams that will conduct DISCOVER Assessments
at that site; 2) a new Strength Profile for
each child assessed—as available; 3) staff development,
support, and use of the new Curricula—as available;
4) support for implementing components of “model
schools”; 5) technology package, including portable
computers, web cams, digital camera or video,
digital sound equipment, DISCOVER database hub
software; 6) leadership training that will prepare
local staff for implementation of the Assessment,
Strength Profiles, and Curricula at other schools
in the district (not included in this project);
7) facilitation of teacher exchanges, school
visitations, conferences, and other forms of
The new Curriculum will be based on the current field-tested models and on additional research conducted throughout this project. Curriculum writers will be organized into teams, with some team members based at the University of Arizona and others on-site at each participating school. Team members will communicate regularly, taking full advantage of technology. Internet chat rooms, Internet long distance, and web conferencing, will help reduce costs of interaction between writers, especially those based overseas. Face-to-face meetings will occur, as well, during bi-annual conferences involving all writers, DISCOVER staff, and other participants or interested observers. Individual team members occasionally will visit the other sites, as needed, to maximize flexibility and diversity in the Curricula. Funding for a basic amount of travel is anticipated in this proposal. Some team members will be full-time writers and others will be teachers or content experts (scientists, artists), contributing to the project in the course of their regular career. A portion of project funds will be allocated to cover leaves of absence for teacher-writers. Teams also will interact with reviewers—field experts who do not write curricula but advise regarding its content. Technology experts will offer support throughout the writing process. All primary writers will be experienced teachers (either past or present) and experienced curriculum writers, but substantial contributions will come from qualified student curriculum writers, as well.
Different subjects will be written and tested sequentially. Language Arts curricula will be written in the first year and tested in the second. Mathematics curricula will be written in the second year and tested in the third. Science curricula will be written in the third year and tested in the fourth. Social Sciences curricula will be written in the fourth year and tested in the fifth. Fine Arts and technology will be integrated throughout the 5-year period, into all the curricula.
Curricula will be created for grade levels K-12, to cover all content areas contained in the National Standards. Students will engage in hands-on exercises designed specifically for the various identified intelligences. Learning will be active and oriented around student choice in how they learn the core content areas (with emphasis on Centers—see below). All lesson plans are to be oriented around a structure of progressively more difficult problem solving, and students will advance on to new concepts as their performance shows mastery of the subjects. The new Curricula will be tied directly to the Assessment, through the Strength Profiles, and thus designed with built-in flexibility, to be implemented according to the Assessment results. The new Curricula will be flexible in scope, allowing it to be used either as written, or as a companion to curricula already used in a school.
One of the central features of the Curricula will be establishment of an “Exploratorium” in each school, essentially a large room full of “Centers” where students explore different content areas. Centers will contain “tools” of the eight intelligences: 1) Linguistic; 2) Spatial; 3) Logical/Mathematical; 4) Bodily/Kinesthetic; 5) Interpersonal; 6) Intrapersonal; 7) Musical; 8) Integrative (Naturalist); and other areas of interest, as identified by Dr. Usanee Anuruthwong at the Srinakharinwirot University in Bangkok; 9) Emotional Quotient; 10) Social Studies; 11) Invention; 12) Computing; 13) Decoding; 14) Natural Phenomena; 15) Critical Thinking; 16) Problem Solving; 17) Imagination; 18) Five Senses. The Centers will be designed to challenge and engage students, in age-appropriate, ever-deeper exploration.
The Exploratorium will have additional uses.
It will act as a place to demonstrate how teachers
can move from a structured to less-structured
environment. In this environment, teachers
will act more like consultants to students,
helping guide their choices. The Exploratorium
also will serve as a consistent place to observe
students and field test new components of the
Creating what we call “Strength Profiles” will form a powerful bridge between the Assessment and Curriculum. The prototype that currently exists is useful, but limited. It is a paper report, only, and rates the 119 problems solving strategies over five categories. The child being assessed receives a rating between 1 and 5 in these five categories. The combination of ratings signifies the areas of strengths and gives a rough idea of how the child might learn best.
The new Strength Profile will expand the number of categories from 5 to 26, by rating the 119 problem solving strategies over Gardner’s Core Capacities (a more detailed breakdown of the Intelligences). Furthermore, problem-solving strategies will be classified, within each intelligence, according to more general traits, such as creativity (e.g. fluency, flexibility, elaboration, and originality) and motivation (e.g. follow-through, and focus). The resulting profile will be a far more specific and useful picture of abilities. It also will be completely digital, with video, pictures, sounds, and other data relevant to the child. The new Strength Profiles will be accessed through the Internet.
The new Strength Profile actually will appear in four different forms to serve different audiences: 1) Student Form—for younger students, a simplified and fun explanation of their combination of strengths and what this might mean to them; for older students, a more detailed explanation, complete with suggestions for how they might use their strengths to learn more effectively, with possible suggestions regarding career and/or higher education subjects. The DISCOVER web site eventually will be equipped with additional information, such as sound bites from professionals in various careers, telling about what they do in their jobs; 2) Parent Form—a detailed analysis of the child’s strength patterns. It will include suggestions for how they can help encourage their child’s development, based on his or her strengths, and how they can provide an environment rich in materials that might stimulate the child’s interests and learning potential. This version of the profiles also will give suggestions for possible topics of conversation with the child’s teacher(s) regarding the child’s learning progress; 3) Teacher Form—a detailed analysis of strengths for each child in the class, along with a classroom summary. This report also will include suggestions for how the DISCOVER Curriculum can be tailored to each child and ways it can best serve the class as a whole, based on the distribution of strengths; 4) Administrator Form—a summary of strengths for an entire school (or grade), useful for planning and designing school-wide programs, as well as for placing students in these programs.
We estimate a period of approximately two years
necessary for completing the Strength Profile
infrastructure. The required staffing
will consist primarily of writers and tech personnel.
The process will involve writing hundreds of
“strength description components” that will
be stored in a new database, which in turn will
be linked to an expanded version of the current
DISCOVER main database. Generating the
Strength Profiles will be a fully automated
process that searches for necessary data and
assembles the various reports, made ready for
distribution on the Internet. To accomplish
this task, DISCOVER personnel will need to establish
a server with sufficient resources to handle
data transfer and remote access for the Strength
Profiles and other information.
Technology will play an important role in this project, as well as in subsequent usage of the resulting products. The DISCOVER Assessment, in particular, will receive a substantial infusion. In the new Assessment, data will be entered automatically as much as possible, or will be entered in more efficient ways, such as through the use of localized portable computers. The use of paper forms for data collection (except products created by children such as drawings, constructions, and written stories) will be minimized. The new Assessment process will require a technical staff person who will assist in preparing and processing data for each student. Each school will be given DISCOVER software (yet to be created) that will organize the data into the proper format for direct transfer into the DISCOVER main database (thus allowing the automated creation of Strength Profiles). Along the way, the main DISCOVER database will be modernized and expanded to store video, pictures, sound, scanned images (such as written products of children) and all other pertinent data. As described above, the Strength Profiles database also will be constructed, along with related programming, and the entire network will be integrated with the DISCOVER web site.