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.
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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

Comments (7) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Quint Feldman's picture
Quint Feldman
former student of the Key Learning Community

i attended the key learning community for 6 years, and I have experienced nothing even closely related to the unique and progressive education presented in this video. My experience was that of apathetic instruction and loosely defined, connected, and implemented theories. My education was severely hampered by my time spent in that institution, and I do not recommend anyone to attend this school or to teach there.

Jake Staab's picture

As a former student, I would seriously dissuade anyone from attending or teaching at this institution. All you will find is a lack of implementation of the ideas stated in this video combined with an apathetic student body. Unlike the educational utopia portrayed in this video, the key learning community does not prepare its student for state-wide standardized tests, instead focusing on poorly defined theories and lofty ideals.

Quint Feldman's picture
Quint Feldman
former student of the Key Learning Community

[quote]What joy it brings me to see learning done in this fashion! I am so excited about what is being done in Key Learning Community school. What a bold move!

Elizabeth, the author of the book, it is Peter Senge.[/quote]

I hate to bring other's opinions into question, but i feel this comment is misleading of the actual experience one encounters at the Key Learning Community. The ideas presented in the video, while commendable, have little empirical evidence to back them. Howard Gardener himself even went so far as to say that there was "little hard evidence for MI theory." Furthermore, were they valid at all, their presence in the actual educational rubric is questionable at best.

Sharon Blake's picture

I am a student in college in the educational field. I do like the concepts in the video; however, I do believe that all students should be prepared for all State-Wide standardized test. These students have to take test to get into college and are expected to take test throughout college. Test scores matter in real life in college or not.

iv's picture

Hi! Thank you for your perspectives. In educational research, the lack of authentic student feedback often impedes our progress. It is wonderful that you and friend decided to post at the same time. As a teacher, I would like to acknowledge you both for your fine critical thinking and writing skills. I am not sure what grade you were at in 2009, but you articulated your views very well. Your participation in this community indicates a sense of citizenry. To me, that is evidence of learning...authentic assessments of Language Arts, Social Studies, and Technology. Perhaps we can also factor in math for your knowledge of "empirical evidence." Please do not deem your time in the program a waste of time. Your skills and understanding will serve you well in real life. You know, the earth is flat until proven differently is the analogy here. The worth of standardized testing is probably the distractor.

Due to cost and time, these tests often only portray a tiny snapshot of what a student can do at a particular time. From what I have learned from teaching, I think Multiple Intelligences has great potential to shape education of 21st century learners. It complements other best practices such as assessment for learning, project-based learning, differentiated instruction, and technology. Learning happens within us; it is a personal process. Though teachers and students may look from different directions, we do have the same destination. We do have your interest at heart; to help you achieve your excellence! Best wishes to your lifelong learning.

C White's picture

I taught in this school for 8 years. Some people have commented on the lack of focus on standardized tests and completely miss the point of this program. It is not that students are discouraged from being prepared for the future - rather, this program is about looking above and beyond the test scores (written outcomes) and considering the student as an entire person as they learn and grow. Human growth and development is not always "recordable".

Today, many schools are so focused on tests that children (particularly public school children) have become numbers and statistics. In my opinion, the elimination of individuality in the classroom is what is driving many of failures in education today. What makes learning new things interesting and what motivates people to consume information? If we as adults were viewed only as statistical data in our day to day work, we would also become passive about what we do - our individual personalities would become stunted and our strengths or skills would be unimportant.

Although it may appear that this is a "feel good" program, the early work in this school was driven by an enormous amount of research, consultation with educational psychologists and was built upon the kind of passion for teaching that is slowly being eroded by finger pointing and disrespect on the part of people who have never spent an hour in a classroom. I left the public school system because there were so many people with agendas unrelated to students and learning. I have remained involved in education in other ways. It saddens me to see how much the vision and intentions of Key have been misunderstood and (in some cases) maligned. The video presented above was the Key School before our communities became determined that standardized tests would be the only assessment tool used to predict student success and achievement. The early Key School was in fact working - but, we as teachers viewed the outcomes as the students themselves, not the test scores they achieved. That is a very different mindset.

Many of the early students knew what they were good at and pursued their futures knowing what their strengths and weaknesses were - and ended up in college. Parents were deeply involved in the school, after-school programs both supported working parents and further educated students - the school operated much like an extended family.

Philosophically, the role we each played was one of guide for each student - helping them realize their full potential. I think we would all agree that schools should be places in which each student can realize their full potential from K-12. But, all of these ideas continue to be lost because of budgets, rankings and statistical smoke screens and rubrics.

In addition to the teachers -the voices heard on the video were in fact student voices. They were not rehearsed or programmed nor would any of their thoughts or experiences show up on the paper used to assess them today. I knew several of the students personally when they were very young - two of them being extremely introverted as little ones. And.... they thrived at Key. I share all of this not because I wish for "the good old days" of this school. Rather, because it is this kind of creativity that will improve our schools not more testing and a complete focus on rote learning.

The people who achieve the most success in this world are not always those who make the best test scores. It is the creative, innovative, divergent thinkers who can envision and offer alternatives or unimaginable possibilities that could actually solve some of the most difficult challenges we face in the future. Key is about those unimaginable possibilities - or at least it was in the beginning.

anginlwatson's picture

Extraordinary learning program has started to improve and motivate learner skills by bringing wonderful learning activities which will attract student's attention to join and such innovative intelligence program.For providing better educational experience,This type of strategies are playing an essential role.Josh Warren

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