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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Cultivating Multiple Intelligences at the Key Learning Community

With a curriculum based upon Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences, this K-12 Indianapolis school emphasizes exploration and deep understanding over rote memorization. Students are highly engaged and present portfolios of their work every year. View a 2009 update on the school or read more about this story.
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The Key Learning Community: Cultivating Multiple Intelligences (Transcript)

Pat: There has to be exploration and it has to be decided by the children, not the teachers.

Narrator: It's unusual enough for teachers to meet voluntarily each week before school starts to share insights and discuss educational theory.

Beverly: We teach our children to speak up for themselves and to go after what they want. They'll be very assertive to the college of their choice and then bug that college to death until they get in.

Narrator: But at the Key Learning Community in Indianapolis, Indiana they've invented a whole new language to talk about learning.

Teacher: A student might be DLN or DLA in one thing.

Pat: Well doesn't what you are saying fit with the concept of personal mastery?

Narrator: Principal Pat Bolanos was one of the group that first met in 1984 and decided to create a school dedicated to developing multiple intelligences and finding new ways to assess students.

Pat: I wanted to find another way to assess students other than traditional standardized ways of assessing students. I'm the mother of a large family so I saw in my own children how very different they can be and where they can have strengths in many areas. So initially Howard Gardner's theory which was not written for educators at all made so much sense.

Teacher: Okay, does anybody know when the Civil Rights Act was passed?

Student: Nineteen sixty-four.

Teacher: Good, okay.

Pal: This theory said that they are- people are not smart, or dumb, or someplace in between, but actually there are eight distinct areas of intelligence that you could be very strong and capable in one area of intelligence and very weak in one or two of the others. And so from our experience we said let's say that all of these areas of intelligence are equally important for all children, and we will design a school that honors that starting principle.

Student: That's the alien right there and he's going to go back to his home planet and have a book and have pictures.

Teacher: And that's this?

Student: Yeah of all the stuff.

Narrator: Compared to other schools in Indiana, the emphasis here is on visual and performing arts education, but students in this K through 12th grade school actually spend an equal amount of class time developing their skills in science.

Leili: A big chain with all the amino acids in it.

Narrator: And athletics.

Student: What did you say his name was?

Student: O'Conner.

Narrator: And language arts, and music.

Narrator: After determining that every child should develop their multiple intelligences, key learning founds like Beverly Hoeltke had to come up with a new way to assess them.

Beverly: Any time you see the shape of a triangle those also represent the strengths that he has. Math is one.

We had to have the multiple intelligences so there on the progress report they're highlighted in bold letters. Csikszentmihalyi's work was very, very important to us so we needed to have some symbol system that reported out to others what we were looking for in children and that first was the triangle being intrinsic motivation, the child learning about a topic and then going on their own and finding out more about that topic. And then we had the box which was extrinsic motivation and that's just the child doing exactly what the teacher is asking for. And then we have a circle which means passive and the child hasn't engaged in the activities that has been presented at that time. Then we came up with a symbol system of (R) being rapid progress, (S) being steady progress, and (N) needing help.

Narrator: Csikszentmihalyi's concept of flow is at the center of the learning process here. In fact there's a dedicated space where students go each day to practice going with the flow.

Gwendolyn: This is the flow room and it's where the kids come in and try to get in a state of flow, and flow is being totally involved in an activity, whatever the activity is. It might be reading, it might playing, working on the computer, it might be doing music or it might be writing. If we can get them just to focus on one activity and give themselves a chance to be totally involved in that activity it will help them learn to get in a state of flow.

Narrator: The juices really get flowing when students get to play to their strengths. In this case, an elective period or pod dedicated to novelty tunes from the '20s and '30s.

Geoff: The pods are a means to give teachers and students an opportunity to do something that they really love and a passion about during the day. It kind of keeps us going. And I started out last year teaching a pod about jazz and what it's about, and I wanted them to gain a sense of jazz musically the rhythms and the chords, so I went back to my roots and where I stared and that was the ukulele so we put up a website and we started looking for people that would support us and donate ukuleles, we had no budget. And they started pouring in and we dug up a lot of old tunes from the '20s and '30s and the rest is history.

Geoff: One of the really interesting things is that some of the kids that struggle during the say are some of our most talented strummers and it really gets them through the day. It makes- gives them a feeling of success and gratification that they may not get in a traditional setting.

Geoff: I think it's important that we teach the children the things that they're strongest at.

Student: Blueprints for better bumpers.

Narrator: Projects are another important part of the key curriculum. Students are expected to present two major projects each year which are captured on videotape beginning in kindergarten.

Max: I'm gonna take a trip to Venus. Oh, I loved that one. I wrapped myself in tinfoil and a helmet. But now I'm pretty much using computers because you can do a lot more stuff with computers as you think of more complex ideas. This is a trilithon. This is also a trilithon. Trilithon means three stones. It gives you a chance to actually get used to doing presentations in real life. Like if you're an office worker and you have to design like a toy or something, then you have to present it to a group of people and you don't get stage fright if you come to this school and get used to doing projects your whole life. It's the closest planet to earth. This is the sun right here.

Narrator: Students who are about to graduate assemble digital portfolios of their project work. They hope these CDs will help them get into their school of choice.

Teacher: And we can start making our movie with our images so you kind of decide which ones you'd like to come up first.

Narrator: But many say the education they receive is their greatest asset.

Leili: Compared to what some of my friends in other schools do I think it's more interesting over here because you really get to understand the thing more than just, you know, memorize stuff for a test and then write it down and forget it.

Narrator: This bold experiment in education is still a work in progress. And while standardized test scores show that Key is performing on a part with other schools in the state. Teachers here look beyond test scores to judge the worth of the program.

Principal: We never use our test scores to show the effect of this program. We do well enough and then leave us alone and we'll go back to our own agenda of projects and a better form of assessment, more comprehensive form of assessment. We talked about our symbol system because we're going into the time now when we're going to put those marks, those symbols on our progress report and report out to parents what they all mean.

Beverly: We've been at this for 15 years so and we're still evolving.

Narrator: And it will be an ongoing process because we're constantly learning about the learning process.

Narrator: For more information on what works in public education go to

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Associate Producers:

  • Leigh Iacobucci
  • Sara Armstrong


  • Heidi Emberling

Additional Editing:

  • Karen Sutherland

Camera Crew:

  • Eric Seguim-Arnold
  • Ward Laver


  • Susan Blake

Additional Footage Courtesy of

  • The Key Learning Community

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